A devotional like no other: Review of Savor by Shauna Niequist

A book of daily readings, however long, is not usually high on  my list of books to read and/or use in my personal time of connection with God. Devotionals, in my past experience, are often too watered-down or simplistic for my tastes. I can’t think of one I’ve read that I would recommend enthusiastically.

savorShauna Niequist changed all that with her book Savor: Living Abundantly Where You Are, As You Are, a collection of 365 devotions. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from the Booklook Bloggers program in exchange for my review.)

This book is as beautiful on the inside as its cover is on the outside. It has a textured feel to it and is just pretty to look at. Fortunately for us, though, it’s not just a pretty face.

The daily readings are a collection of Niequist’s words, some from books she’s written previously, some new, I think, but I honestly can’t tell the difference. They are snippets of encouragement and reflection from a real-life wife and mom, writer, speaker, Christian-on-a-journey who doesn’t offer easy answers but poses challenging questions in a gentle voice.

I have been reading the book almost daily for about a month and I am still pondering questions I read weeks ago. Each day’s reading ends with a question or two that provokes not only deeper thought but sometimes action. As a result of my readings, I’ve sent cards I needed to send, encouraged someone I might have forgotten to notice, and asked myself questions I don’t know the answer to.

I’m so enthusiastic about this book I bought a copy for a gift. Rarely would I even consider giving a devotional book to someone as a gift but this book is a must-read for women at various ages and seasons of faith. At times she talks about motherhood, at times she talks about doubt and her faith journey. It is not a one-size-fits-all book because, as I’m learning, we are not one-size-fits-all women. But I think you’d be encouraged by Niequist’s words and challenged by her questions.

One challenge of reviewing a year-long devotional is that I can’t read and review the entire thing in a timely manner because I want to use it as it is intended. But from the selections I’ve read, I’ve gotten a sense of the book’s style and I am in love. I will continue to use it and reuse it in the months to come.

(Oh, and did I mention there are recipes? Shauna’s recipes are not to be missed! She wrote a whole book about food and cooking and fellowship. I keep it in my kitchen!)

Fairy tales are for grown-ups, too: Review of The Huntress of Thornbeck Forest by Melanie Dickerson

I didn’t know this about Melanie Dickerson when I first started reading her books, but apparently they are classified as “young adult.” As a not-so-young adult, I’ve enjoyed every previous book of hers, and the latest is no exception. Fairy tales for adults are a THING and Dickerson is a master storyteller. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book from the publishers through the Booklook Bloggers program.)

huntressThe Huntress of Thornbeck Forest has it all–adventure, romance, intrigue–in a Medieval setting with nods to classic tales like Swan Lake and Robin Hood. The story of Odette and Jorgen is thrilling and heartbreaking, full of the typical trials of a good romantic tale.

I found elements of the story a bit predictable, but that didn’t detract from the story. I look forward to each of Dickerson’s next releases as soon as I’m finished with the newest one. Her next effort is a Rapunzel retelling. I hope she never runs out of fairy tales to retell.

This is the second book I’ve read recently with a female Robin Hood type lead character, and I love that there are strong women starring in fairy tales.

You think you know a person: Review of Some Things You Keep by J.J. Landis {plus a giveaway!}

Confession: I can’t really say that I know J.J. Landis very well, but before I read her memoir, Some Things You Keep, she was at least someone  I had met in person and interacted with frequently on Facebook and blogs, and we have mutual friends.

Still, I was unprepared for the story I didn’t know. (That’s okay. It’s not a bad thing.)

But maybe I’m getting ahead of myself.

When we moved to Lancaster two years ago, and I outed myself as a writer to people I barely knew, one of the names that popped up as “someone I needed to meet” was J.J. I took advantage of the technology of Facebook and like a creeper I sent her a message and insisted that we be friends because of our mutual writer-ness.

She didn’t think that was weird (or if she did, she didn’t say the words out loud) and we became computer friends even though we lived in the same basic area.

Many months later, we finally met in person. (She invited me–a practical stranger!–to her house for coffee. I’m not sure I’ve ever been so nervous!)

me and J.J.

Proof that we actually met in person!

She told Facebook later that one of the friends who lives inside her computer came to visit for real. It was a beautiful time of getting to know one another.

I knew then that she was writing/had written a book and was trying to decide what to do with it. She had a story to tell and it needed to get out, and I caught glimpses of it through her blog.

So finally–FINALLY–this year, she published her story, Some Things You Keep, a story of letting go, holding on and growing up.

Some Things You KeepAnd  let me tell you, friends, that I am often nervous about reading/reviewing my friends’ work because I’m afraid it a) won’t live up to my expectations and I won’t be able to figure out how to tell them without hurting them or b) it will far exceed my expectations and I’ll be so jealous that I’m friends with amazing writers who have PUBLISHED A BOOK that I won’t be able to think straight. A third fear is that no one will believe me when I say it’s good because the author is my friend. That, I can’t control.

Let me be clear: J.J.’s book falls in the “b” category of those fears. Her memoir holds up to the standards set by memoirs of far more famous bloggers that I’ve read. As I turned the pages, I sometimes forgot that I was reading the story of someone I actually know. Her story, which includes family tragedies, drug and alcohol abuse, abortion and redemption is dramatic but never seems overly dramatized, if that makes sense. J.J. conveys her feelings about the life she lived in a way that acknowledges the truth without sanitizing it but doesn’t leave readers stuck in the mire. Each chapter of the book leads you to the next chapter of her life, and even though I know the person on the other side of these events, I kept turning the pages, reading one more chapter, to find out what happened next.

And her writing is beautiful. Here’s a sample:

Like my quilt was made with scraps of discarded fabric sewn together into something beautiful, so was my life. New life had come from the tatters.

In a way, I’m sad that more of you don’t J.J. She’s a sweet, sassy, qwirky librarian type with a dry sense of humor and a big ol’ heart for people. I have so many questions for her after her reading this book. Not because she left readers dangling but because I want to know more about this person whose life has known sadness and forgiveness.

Maybe you can’t meet J.J. or be her friend, but you can read her book. And she has graciously offered a book for free to one reader of this blog!

Want to win? Leave a comment here on the blog telling me about the best memoir you’ve read recently, or a true story that inspires you. I’ll pick a winner on Saturday, May 23.

And definitely check out J.J.’s blog in the meantime. You’ll be encouraged by her take on life.

 

Is it healthy to love a fictional family so much?: Review of A Love Like Ours by Becky Wade

I don’t know if it’s good or bad that I love Becky Wade’s Porter family so much. Or that I inevitably start reading one of her books when I have a house full of housework to do.

a love like oursBut whatever. I’m not sorry. At least not sorry enough to give up reading Wade’s books or immersing myself in the Porter family world. The latest in the series, A Love Like Ours, is a heartwarming (and heartbreaking) story of childhood friends who rediscover each other as adults. Lyndie is a spunky sprite of a girl with a love for horses and a dream of jockeying. Jake Porter is an emotionally wounded, physically scarred Marine veteran who excels at shutting people out. (Disclaimer: I received a free e-copy of the book through Litfuse Publicity Group in exchange for my review.)

The story is a testament of love and determination, of the power of relationships to bring healing, of sacrificial love and risking friendship for something more. I loved Lyndie’s spirit and how her life drew life out of Jake. I felt compassion for Jake’s struggles, and I cheered for his steps toward wholeness.

I think my favorite parts, though, were scenes where the Porter siblings–Bo, Ty, Jake and sister Dru–appeared together, especially one where the other three are confronting Jake about some things. It felt like a familiar family gathering with joking amidst serious talk, and the personalities of each character really shined. (Ty Porter is still my favorite, but don’t tell the others.)

Whenever I pick up a Becky Wade novel, I can count on her to deliver humor, romance and serious setbacks for the couple in question. She does it with such seamless storytelling that I’m almost sorry when I finish the book too quickly. (Also, the covers are all adorable. Check out Becky’s blog for the inside scoop on the making of these covers. I love this!)

If you like a fun romance for your summer reading, check out A Love Like Ours. (Or the other books in the Porter family series: Undeniably Yours and Meant to Be Mine.

And read on for more news about how you can help Becky celebrate this new book!

Fall in love with Becky Wade‘s new book, A Love Like Ours, a story of healing, romance, and cowboys. A glimmer of the hope Jake thought he’d lost returns when Lyndie lands back in Texas, but fears and regrets still plague him. Will Jake ever be able to love Lyndie like she deserves, or is his heart too shattered to mend?

To celebrate the release of her new book, Becky is giving away a $100 cash card and a book-inspired prize pack!

lovelikeours-400

One grand prize winner will receive:

  • A $100 cash card
  • A copy of A Love Like Ours
  • A copy of the Secretariat DVD
  • A scarf
  • A dog-tag/cross keychain
  • A pair of earrings
  • A Scarf
  • A Texas-shaped cutting board
  • A Jake Porter mug
love like ours - prize pack

Enter today by clicking the icon below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on May 26th. Winner will be announced May 27th on Becky’s site.

lovelikeours-enterbanner 

Thin line between love and hate: Review of A Nice Little Place on the North Side by George F. Will

Spring is synonymous with baseball, and even for a backsliding fan like myself, the sound of a bat hitting a ball brings a certain amount of comfort and nostalgia.

north sideIt’s these sorts of emotions George Will caters to in his book about Chicago’s Wrigley Field. A Nice Little Place on the North Side is part baseball history, part commentary on the Chicago Cubs, and I had a hard time deciding whether Will was for or against the city’s landmark stadium. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book from the publisher through the Blogging for Books program.)

Will’s book is saturated with stats, which make my eyes glaze over but provide context for the enigma that is Wrigley Field. For all the losing seasons the Cubs have had over the years, attendance at Wrigley should reflect that. But it’s almost the opposite, Will says. No matter the team’s record, attendance at Wrigley is steady. He chronicles the shift in the team’s leadership from creating a winning ball team to creating a winning atmosphere where people can commune in picnic-like conditions, whether the team is any good or not.

The book was interesting, especially in reading about some of the historical players, lineups and circumstances. I’ve been a Cubs fan for 30-plus years but even that doesn’t scratch the surface of the ball club’s storied history.

Fans of baseball history and longtime Cubs’ fans will enjoy the nostalgia the book provides. Stats enthusiasts will like the array of facts. Fairweather fans, or those with fond memories of Wrigley Field will bristle at times at Will’s suggestion that Wrigley Field is part of the problem when it comes to the Cubs having a winning team.

It’s a thin line between love and hate, and Will rides that line in the book. Only at the end do I sense a fondness for the park despite the decades of despair it has contained. Not a bad read, just not exactly what I was expecting. But I’m forever a Cubs fan and I have many fond memories of Wrigley Field that my husband and I are now passing on to our children. Win or lose, Wrigley Field is a special place for us.

When it’s hard to move on: Review of The Beautiful Daughters by Nicole Baart

With some authors I love, I’m reluctant to pick up their newest book and read it because I’m afraid this will be the one book they write I don’t like, or I’m afraid I’ll like it so much I won’t want the story to end. That’s the case with anything Nicole Baart writes. Two years ago, she wrote a book that was my favorite of the whole year before the year had even started. Sleeping in Eden is still on my list of all-time favorites.

the beautiful daughtersSo, when this beauty, The Beautiful Daughters, arrived a few months ago, I set it aside. For later, I said. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for a review.) Its release date was set for April, so I had some time.

Well, now it’s April, so I had to take a deep breath and dive in.

As usual, I had nothing to worry about.

Nicole Baart writes some of my favorite words and sentences. She plumbs the depths of human emotions. Her characters are haunted by a decision or a circumstance, and the drama that plays out as a result of their choices is riveting.

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So it is with The Beautiful Daughters.

Adrienne, daughter of an Iowa dairy farmer and Harper, the stunning girl from who-knows-where, formed an unlikely friendship in college. With Adri’s brother Will, his friend Jackson and the aloof heir to the Galloway fortune, David, they become The Five, a makeshift family. When a post-graduation trip to British Columbia ends in tragedy, Adri and Harper run from each other and the memories–Adri to West Africa as a nurse for a non-profit and Harper to a hellish existence she thinks she deserves. Five years later, they both return to Blackhawk, Iowa, where memories haunt them and the truth is revealed.

I’ve been reading Baart’s books for a few years, and her stories are better each time. While she used to write for the Christian market, her last couple of books have been in the general market, and her writing is the better for it. Her stories are grittier and more real and peppered with appropriate language for dark circumstances without being gratuitous. Yet, they’re still filled with hope.

The Beautiful Daughters is a story of darkness and light, of identity lost and found, of friendship and love and how choices can change the course of our lives, for worse and for better.

Nicole Baart releasing a new book is good news.

Want more good news? I have a copy to give away!

Leave me a comment here on the blog and I’ll enter you for a chance to win The Beautiful Daughters. (U.S. residents only.) Contest is open until Sunday, May 3, when I’ll pick a winner using random.org.

Have you read any of Nicole Baart’s books before? Check out her website and let me know which of her books sounds most interesting to you. (I wish I could give you your pick of books!)

 

A book that bares its soul and offers connection: Review of Scary Close by Donald Miller

For all the controversy he generates, I need the reminder that Donald Miller is just a guy trying to make sense of his world and himself through his faith, experiences and relationships.

scary closeOne thing I admire about him as a writer is his willingness to share his failings as well as his strengths, to acknowledge the controversies but not necessarily apologize for his words. It’s been a long time since I read one of his books but his latest, Scary Close, to me, felt like an honest, heartfelt baring of the soul. The Donald Milller I thought I knew from previous work is not the same writer of this book. That’s encouraging.

(Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book through the Booklook Bloggers program in exchange for my review.)

A writer like Miller might be tempted to withdraw and stop telling stories. But Miller opens up, however reluctantly, and talks about how relationships changed him. Healthy ones and unhealthy ones.

He writes much about his relationship with his now-wife Betsy and what he’s learned and is still learning about intimacy. I like to think I’m pretty good at going deep in relationships but Miller’s words challenge me to discover the real me behind the mask I wear.

Scary Close is written memoir-style but the truths Miller shares, what he’s learning about intimacy, are lessons for all of us to consider.

I’m glad my husband read this book before I did so that now we can talk through some of the things we read. Miller’s words make me want to improve my relationships across the board and offer the kind of vulnerability he’s received. (After reading Bob Goff’s generous and gracious foreward, I was so moved by his use of the word “love” that I told a friend I loved her. I don’t usually do this for people who aren’t family.)

Though Miller addresses topics like dating, marriage and parenting, his words apply to relationships as a whole. I love the hope he offers for those of us who have gotten the intimacy thing wrong.

Miller offers grace and encouragement for the journey.