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.

 

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.

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.

What women need to hear about beauty: Review of Enough Already by Barbara Roose

Enough-Already-252x378I will be the first to admit that I don’t really care for books about beauty or modesty or self-image. But this new book by Barbara Roose grabbed me with its title, Enough Already, a clever play-on-words that says to me “stop the beauty madness!” and “you don’t have to do anything else to be beautiful; you already are.” (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book through Litfuse Publicity Group in exchange for my review.)

And Roose delivers on those two statements with candid and compassionate truth about our “ugly struggle with beauty.”

Roose is honest about her own struggles with beauty and what she sees as her own imperfections. I immediately connected with her writing voice and think she’d be a fun person to know. When talking about beauty and image struggles, I need someone who has been there and gets it. And she does. She writes:

One of the reasons I share my stories is to give you permission to drag your stories and your beauty narratives out into the open so that you can stop struggling alone. (p. 27) BRoose-292

Even the women we think are the most beautiful have a beauty narrative that defines their self-image. I’m a fan of sharing those stories and working through them together, instead of seeing beauty as a competition. Roose devotes a chapter to relationships with other women at various levels, from friends to mentors, and gives guidelines for how those relationships can develop.

One of the most valuable parts of the book for me was the acronym C.A.R.E.S.–clothing, appetite, rest, exercise and smile. None of these areas felt like impossible goals. I could see in each area something I could do to take better care of myself. One of the things I love about the book is that it doesn’t separate the physical from the emotional or spiritual. Roose does not focus only on inner beauty and ignore outward care of our bodies. Hers is a holistic approach, and that’s why her book stands out for me.

Enough Already contains questions for personal reflection and group discussion at the end of each chapter, and all of them are thought-provoking. Check this one out if you’ve had enough of the beauty battles waging in your mind or in the media!

And read on for a giveaway opportunity! There’s still a few more days to enter!

Learn how to recognize your own outer and inner beauty as defined by God, not the media or others, in Barbara Roose‘s new book, Enough Already. What would it take for you to believe you are enough already? Most women know God loves them, but might he love them more if they finally lost that last ten pounds, or got their hair to lay right, or finally found a pair of jeans that looked good and let them breathe? Well, maybe God doesn’t care about jeans, but women do, and all the talk about inner beauty hasn’t kept all of us from staring into a mirror and taking an inventory that never quite measures up.

Barbara is celebrating the release with a giveaway! One reader will receive a cash card and writing supplies for her own inner-beauty weekend getaway!

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One grand prize winner will receive:
  • A $100 cash card for your own inner-beauty weekend getaway
  • A notepad/pencil set for your inner-beauty quiet time
  • A copy of Enough Already

Enter today by clicking the icon below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on April 12th. Winner will be announced April 13th on Barbara’s blog.

enough-enterbanner 

{NOT ON FACEBOOK? ENTER HERE.} 

A double dose of encouragement: The Art of Work by Jeff Goins and Do Over by Jon Acuff

I realize that any kind of post on April 1 is in danger of being taken as a joke, but trust me when I say, my reviews of these two books are NO JOKE! Just suspend your April Fools’ Day self for a few moments and read about these two books that unintentionally collaborate to create a whole new idea of work and purpose.

I will admit that with both of these books, The Art of Work by Jeff Goins and Do Over by Jon Acuff, I did not have myself in mind at first because I work at home as a mom and more casually as a writer. But the messages of both felt pertinent to this stage of life for our family. I am not one bit sorry I ordered either of these books. (I received an advance electronic copy of both for pre-ordering, so I’m not even required to review these books, but I want you to know all about them!)

Some background: I often feel bad about being in my 30s and not having a stable career or years of “tenure” built up at a company. The most I can boast is 7 years at the same newspaper, which felt like a lifetime, sometimes. I grew up thinking that you gave your life to a corporation or an organization, and if you didn’t find that out right after college, you were doomed to fail at life. (Okay, maybe there’s a little drama there.)

That’s no longer the narrative of the working world. And both of these books contain messages that are right and good for the times we live in.

art of workSo, first up: The Art of Work.

Rarely do I breeze through a non-fiction book, especially one that’s more business-minded. But that’s what I love about Jeff Goins’ writing. It’s creative, inspiring and encouraging, and not once while reading The Art of Work did I find myself bored or the writing dull.

The Art of Work will change your idea of calling and propel you toward embracing your purpose. Goins’ principles and observations are so simple they should be obvious but I found myself renewed and challenged by his way of thinking. Thoughts like calling being a journey and not a one-time event and how a life lived in multiple arenas is not chaotic but a portfolio. I will refer back to this book often to practice the principles and listen to my life.

If you’re not sure your life has a plan, or you’re following a plan and now find yourself lost, or you’re facing a career transition, this is a book that needs to be in your hands, not just on your shelf. Goins lays out an easy-to-follow guide that can be tailored to whatever your life entails. It’s not a how-to book in that it will give you a list of steps to follow to find your calling. It’s an invitation to listen and act based on what is already a part of your life.

I’d give this book more stars if I could! (I gave it five on Goodreads!)

Second: Do Overdo over

You guys. Jon Acuff. I have read his blogs but not any of his books, and for that I am now sorry. Acuff is funny and this book is full of his quirky humor. But it’s also practical and encouraging. Somehow (magic?) he presents useful and challenging tools for whatever job situation you might be facing without sugarcoating how hard it is to make changes. I laughed. I agreed. I groaned.

And I got excited.

Because Acuff’s book is motivating and enabling. If you walk away from his book without feeling powerful about work and career, it’s not his fault. It’s yours. I am convinced I can pursue my dreams using skills, relationships, character and hustle. And because I was reading an electronic copy, I look forward to going back over the exercises when the hard copy arrives after the book releases next week.

Acuff speaks from personal experience and tells the good and the bad in a humble and honest voice. We can learn from his mistakes and set ourselves up for a career we love.

An enthusiastic five stars for this one, too.

I have no idea if these two authors were aware of each other’s books releasing relatively close to one another, but their messages are complementary. You certainly don’t have to read both books or read them together, but if you’re feeling stuck or lost or overwhelmed by your work, I’d recommend taking a look at both of these books and letting them help you walk through the next steps.

This might be the first time in my life I read two back-to-back business-type books in a matter of days.

Messes can become miracles: Review of More by Tammie Head

WhMORE coveratever the mess, God can work a miracle.

Author and Bible teacher Tammie Head knows firsthand because that’s what happened to her. She tells a bit of her story and encourages others to believe in God’s goodness and power to heal in her book MORE: From Messes to Miracles. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book in exchange for my review.)

It’s a passionate plea to not let your past or present circumstances keep you from the life God intends. More is encouraging and strengthening for anyone wondering if the life they have is all there is.

And the book is full of inspiring word art. I think my favorite one is this:

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It’s hard to read this book and not catch Tammie’s joy and enthusiasm for Jesus. If you’re in the middle of a mess, let Tammie’s words lead you to more.

Read on for a Q&A with the author to find our her heart for this message. head, tammie

1. What do you want readers to learn from reading your book?

People everywhere are looking for something more. Churched and nonchurched alike. They’re in the grocery store aisle behind you, in the nail chair beside you, singing praise songs in front of you, and perhaps in the mirror staring back at you. People feel messy; plagued by looming feelings of ineffectiveness, indifference, depression, and purposelessness. However, all of us were made for more than surviving. Old stale religion never satisfies. Neither do the solutions the world has to offer. What all of us need is an encounter with God that reveals truth and sets our hearts ablaze. I have seen this in my own life as well as in countless lives around me.

2. Your life was a bit of a mess before you came to know Christ. How has He used your story to advance His kingdom?

I have watched God use my story repeatedly as a tenderizing agent for hardened hearts toward God. People cannot believe what God has done for me. In turn, I have also been privileged to lead many people to Christ, to the One who changed me. People are glad to know God loves and pursues even the messiest of people.

3. What encouragement do you have for men and women who feel like their lives are too messy for God to use?

If God can use me, He can use anyone! But even more profound than “He can” is this: He wants to! God specializes in taking the most broken of lives and turning them around for His glory. The Bible is full of broken men and women who, after encountering the Lord, were used dramatically by God and for His kingdom.

4. What encouragement do you have for men and women who are yearning to have more in their lives?

The more we’re longing for, at the end of the day, is God. More of His presence. More of His love. More of His power. And so on! What I want men and women to know is God wants “so much more” of us than we could ever want “so much more” Him. The deal is, we must risk making more room for God. The key is sitting with Him, soaking Him in, allowing Him to minister to us on a deep level and, lastly, deeply surrendering our lives to Him day-by-day.

5. What are some resources for readers who are ready to take the next step and start living for more?

I have written a Bible study called Duty or Delight: Knowing Where You Stand with God. I think that would be a great resource for digging deeper into more of a relationship with God.

6. Where can readers connect with you online?

Readers can connect with me at several social media sites. Twitter: @tammiehead Instagram: @tammiehead Facebook: Tammie Head My website and blog: tammiehead.com

Help for making nutritious food for families: Review of Supermarket Healthy cookbook

I became a fan of Melissa D’Arabian years ago when she was a contestant on Next Food Network Star, and though I never got a chance to catch her show, I appreciated her food philosophy: healthy, affordable meals for a family. (D’Arabian has four kids!)

supermarketHer new cookbook, Supermarket Healthy, is a handy resource for families who want to make the most of their grocery budget without resorting to the nutritionally lacking pre-packaged meals that are often cheaper but not necessarily better. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the cookbook from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for my review.)

D’Arabian offers practical tips for both the shopping and cooking phases of preparing a meal, and those tips are scattered throughout the recipes. I remember her offering these sorts of shortcut tips and tricks on the show, too. One of my favorites from the book is to always add the liquid first in the blender when making a smoothie because it creates a vortex. Previously, I would add the chunkiest ingredient, thinking it needed to be closest to the blades.

And let’s talk about the recipes. While some are a bit out of reach (and maybe more do-able in an area like California, where D’Arabian lives, because of more access to fresh produce year-round), I’ve already found some new favorites.

I’m not much of a smoothie person when it comes to breakfast but the Caffeinated Coffee-Oat Smoothie was a delicious and satisfying start to my day. I wasn’t sure it would fill me up for a morning, but it did! Super easy to make (as long as the blender is clean!) and filling. With a little do-ahead prep (cooked oatmeal), it’s pretty much a snap.

For breakfast, I also tried to Healthy Breakfast Benedict, a twist on one of my favorite breakfast dishes, eggs Benedict. This one uses spinach and a basil-cream sauce. I think this one could have been better because I didn’t properly execute the poached eggs. I usually fry my eggs, so my poaching skills are a little rusty.

Tuna Noodle Bowls was probably my favorite of the ones I’ve made so far. Our family is a big fan of tuna noodle casserole, especially on dreary winter days. It’s a comfort food that warms you from the inside out. The recipe we typically use is heavy and full of processed cheese and canned soups. So, I was eager to try D’Arabian’s take, which uses reduced-fat cream cheese, a leek and fresh lemon juice, among other ingredients. It’s a refreshing twist on the comfort food I love. Still comforting but with flavorful bursts of citrus that lighten it up. Like sunshine breaking through on a cloudy day.

I notice this trend in D’Arabian’s recipes: fresh ingredients full of flavor. And that’s part of what excites me about her recipes. I look forward to using even more of them as we move into spring and start to see more fresh produce at the farmer’s market and in the stores.

Other recipes I tried were the Poached Chicken Puttanesca, which used an olives, capers and tomatoes sauce, and Spicy Honey-Mustard Chicken, which was a last-minute dinner idea one night not long after I got the book. Both were satisfying dinners the family enjoyed.

I’ve yet to try any of the snacks, soups or desserts, but this cookbook will continue to be in my rotation for meal planning. I also hope to make more use of the pantry list at the beginning of the book so that some of these recipes are more accessible on short notice.

Overall, another winning cookbook from the Food Network folks.

You can read an excerpt here.

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Melissa d’Arabian was a corporate finance executive before becoming the host of Food Network’s Ten Dollar Dinners and Cooking Channel’s Drop 5 Lbs with Good Housekeeping. She also developed the FoodNetwork.com seriesThe Picky Eaters Project, serves as lead judge on Guy’s Grocery Games, and is the author of the New York Times bestselling cookbook Ten Dollar Dinners. Melissa has an MBA from Georgetown University, and lives with her husband and their four daughters in San Diego.