Take a hike: Review of A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

Years ago, when my husband and I were on our honeymoon, we hiked a mountain and stayed at a lodge in the Smokies. It was close to, or maybe part of, the Appalachian Trail, and it was a beautifully challenging experience to spend most of a day hiking to where you were going to sleep and being without running water for short time. A few years later we discovered a few access points to the Appalachian Trail near where we lived in Pennsylvania, and we did a short day hike.

a walk in the woodsThough I don’t have any plans to ever hike the whole AT, I am impressed with and awed by people who do it. A friend’s son recently got back from hiking half the trail, so his experience was fresh in my mind as I picked up Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for my review through the Blogging for Books program.)

I had never read anything by Bryson before, but I learned quickly that he’s funny as well as observant. The book is full of not only thought-provoking musings about nature but hysterical anecdotes about the trouble he and his friend, Stephen, find themselves in as they hike the trail.

Bryson’s book is part memoir, part travelogue, part research paper as he includes historical information about the trail and the things that have happened on the trail along with facts about the park service. I learned a few things, was entertained and inspired. Reading this book made me want to take a hike–literally.

“Woods are not like other spaces. To begin with, they are cubic. Their trees surround you, loom over you, press in from all sides. Woods choke off views and leave you muddled and without bearings. They make you feel small and confused and vulnerable, like a small child lost in a crowd of strange legs. Stand in a desert or prairie and you know you are in a big space. Stand in a woods and you only sense it. They are a vast, featureless nowhere. And they are alive.” — A Walk in the Woods, p. 44

And although (spoiler alert) Bryson doesn’t hike the entire AT (and now that I think about it, that wasn’t the promise of the book), he does hike significant portions of it and discovers some beautiful areas of the eastern part of the United States. I’ve got a few places added to my must-visit list.

I’ll be adding more of Bryson’s books to my to-read list also.

I’ve heard the movie is not as good as the book (is it ever?) but I’d be interested to see it anyway. If you like the outdoors, even the occasional walk in the woods, check this one out.

The book of Acts for today’s Jesus followers: Review of Into the Fray by Matt Mikalatos

Earlier this year, NBC produced a TV show about the book of Acts, called A.D.: The Bible Continues, and it was an eye-opening and enlightening look at what following Jesus looked like in the early days of Christianity.

I thought I would never look at the book of Acts the same way again. And I haven’t. mikalatos_IntoTheFray_wSpine.indd

And with this new book by Matt Mikalatos, Into the Fray, I have another whole new way of looking at. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for my review.)

In  Into the Fray, Mikalatos retells some of the stories found in the book of Acts as if they were happening today. Because let’s be honest, how many of us encounter eunuchs today? (This was a particularly enlightening observation for me.) And how easy is it for us to read through these stories set in an ancient culture and walk away unchanged because they don’t seem to apply to us?

Mikalatos is one of the best storytellers around. I’ve recommended his books My Imaginary Jesus and Night of the Living-Dead Christian more times than I can count. He has a way of creatively telling a familiar story in a way that offers fresh challenges.

This book about the book of Acts clears any confusion Jesus followers might have about what the good news actually is and how to tell others about it. But it’s not a book about evangelism or outreach or preaching. It’s a book about transformation and how changed lives can turn the world upside down.

“We never expected our greatest lesson. It was a simple realization: we cannot change the world without being changed ourselves.”

Into the Fray pulls the book of Acts into contemporary culture, and each chapter includes commentary from Mikalatos about context and application of the passage from Acts on which the stories are based.

Fresh insights and relevant stories make this book a valuable study tool and resource for anyone who is engaging with the world around him.

The book of Acts will look new to you like never before.

Isn’t it just another day?: Review of Simply Tuesday by Emily P. Freeman

It doesn’t have the reputation of Monday or the comical-but-sometimes-annoying association with camels of Wednesday. It’s not the weekend (Friday) or almost the weekend (Thursday).

It’s simply Tuesday. So, what’s the big deal?

Simply-Tuesday-3D2Emily Freeman wrote a whole book about it called, wait for it, Simply Tuesday: Small-Moment Living in a Fast-Moving World. And it has redeemed Tuesdays in my mind. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book in exchange for my review.)

If your life feels like a hamster wheel or a merry-go-round, if pursuing your dreams is leaving you feeling deflated, this book is a refreshing reminder that it’s okay to slow down, live small and relish the life you’re already living.

I’m a little bit torn, though, because I’ve been encouraged recently by books that promote hustle and calling and going after what you were meant to do. Still, I think Freeman’s book is like a checks-and-balances offering in a world that constantly pressures us to do more, be more, and want more. Simply Tuesday presses pause on all of that and says things like this:

Home often comes when we’re waiting for the next big thing and finding home is often different from what we think it will be. We think we’re looking for a gate to something more or something different, but instead we find ourselves in a cul-de-sac. Home often seems to show up on Tuesday mornings rather than on Saturday nights. While we stand on tiptoe looking ahead, home whispers, Come sit for a while and take a breath. Perhaps you’re already here. (p. 59)

Freeman addresses areas of work, home, people, and soul in regards to Tuesday, as well as what lies beyond Tuesday. Her words offer practical, down-to-earth wisdom, and it’s not always easy to bear. She uses a bench metaphor throughout the book, and at times, though my soul felt like I wanted to sit on the bench, I almost felt like I needed to be forced onto the bench.

To sit. And look. And linger.

I suspect that Freeman’s words will sink deeply into my heart and mind with time. What she offers from what she has found is hope even if life doesn’t feel big and important. There’s no pity party here, and this is not like a support group for benchwarmers or those who are always picked last. It is an invitation to embrace the little and let go of the result, without expectation that small will certainly equal big in the end.

She writes:

These days I am careful not to color the word small in negative shades, as if it were something to run from or escape. I want to start small because I’m human and dependent, not in hopes that my small will grow into something bigger. … Small things don’t always turn into big things. But all things begin small, especially in the kingdom of God. (p. 239)

Simply Tuesday was my introduction to Freeman’s writing. To find out more about her and her other writings, visit her website here.

An invitation to be who you are: Review of Brave Enough by Nicole Unice

“Brave” is not a word I use to describe myself. I’m more of the timid and anxious variety. “Brave” makes me think of warriors and pioneers and go-getters who tackle every challenge that comes their way.

brave enoughSo, I was interested in this book by Nicole Unice, Brave Enough, because of the implication that I might have this bravery thing all wrong. I trust Nicole as a writer. She gently guided me through all my issues a few years ago in her first book, She’s Got Issues, and she speaks as someone who knows what she’s talking about because she’s just like the rest of us. No high horse, here. Nicole shares stories of imperfection and weakness, and for this, I am grateful. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book in exchange for my review.)

Brave Enough calls us to “get over our fears, flaws and failures to live BOLD and FREE.” Who wouldn’t want that? And from page one, she inspires us to imagine what that kind of life would look like.

What if, starting today, starting right now, you weren’t scared anymore? What if that worried energy were gone? …. What would you do? Who would you be? How would you live bigger? (p. xiii)

When I started reading this book, I was in the midst of a situation that had me very worried. And I was weeks away from a 10-day mission trip to Kenya. The words of this book were as applicable on that adventure as I’ve found them in my daily life since then. I need the challenge to live courageously in my day-to-day activities.

Nicole breaks the book down into characteristics or actions of brave-enough women. And each chapter ends with questions for reflection and a prayer related to the chapter’s theme. Most are the kind of questions I need to take more time with. (And definitely grab a notebook before you start this book. Lots of opportunity to journal and reflect.)

There’s also a section at the end for further contemplation about the Scriptures she used throughout the book and a space to think about what section might be the most applicable in this season. (A DVD curriculum is also available if you’re looking for a group study.)

Bottom line: Nicole understands the issues and challenges women face because she faces them too! And her heart for leading women beyond those issues and challenges is evident in her writing. I highly recommend both of her books for spiritual growth.

Why my vocabulary is changing (and so is my life): Review of For the Love by Jen Hatmaker

I may be slightly obsessed with all things Jen Hatmaker. The lady is funny and real and challenging in an inspiring sort of way. Her books 7 and Interrupted have changed my life in ways I can hardly describe.

ftl coverAnd now she has a new book out–there is much rejoicing, yay!–called For the Love and it is all of those things I described above and more. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for my review.) All you really need to know is that I dog-eared every other page, read it in one day and will be going back through the book to re-read and underline.

What Jen has written–I feel like I can call her Jen, even though we’ve never met–is a permission slip to not have it all together and to quit trying to meet whatever standards we women think we need to meet.

She says in the introduction:

I hope to lift every noose from your neck, both the ones you put there and the ones someone else did. We are going to let ourselves and each other off the hook, and in the end, we will be free to run our races well; to live wide, generous days; and to practice the wholehearted living we were created for.

It’s a fun journey, this book. Jen writes with conviction and humor. I laughed as much as I was challenged, and I could feel the freedom descending with each page. The book’s title is one of Jen’s catch-phrases, and I find myself using it more after reading the book. Don’t let that be a deterrent. Just be prepared to give yourself and others grace at the end of the day (and in the midst of it).

I could give you more quotes, but then I’d basically be plagiarizing the entire book. (Okay, here’s one more.)

be kind be you love jesus

I could tell you my favorite parts, but that’s the whole entire thing. I can’t think of a good reason for a person not to read this book. (Our little launch team of 500 even had 4 guys in it, so not necessarily for ladies only.) And if you’re a little iffy about God and faith, you’ll find Jen’s writing accessible and un-preachy.

Graphic by Carlee Ann Easton

Graphic by Carlee Ann Easton

Seriously, just get a copy of this book and let the chains of expectation fall off.

Here’s the website for the book, for more information.

A free spirit and finding what satisfies: Review of Wild in the Hollow by Amber C. Haines

I only know of Amber Haines through other writers. She and her husband, Seth, both have redemptive stories and gifted writing voices, and reading her book Wild in the Hollow was a literary treat. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book through Icon Media Group in exchange for my review.)

wild in the hollowIn the book, Amber writes of her longings and desires, her attempts to be the person that would make people happy, the person that would make her happy. Her journey is littered with broken pieces and yet her story is one of hope and healing, of finding satisfaction in the only place that’s real and true. She writes in the introduction:

The way I remember home is the same way the prodigal son remembered his when he found himself eating scraps. It’s the place we know we can go, where we’ll be received and fed. It’s where we know we have a name. … At the basest level, we suspect that home is the place where we’ll find our fit, where we’ll finally be free. (p. 12-13)

Wild in the Hollow is the story of her journey home, not to a place but a people and a Person.

Her writing is like poetry and her stories come alive to the imagination. She inspires and convicts and challenges in the gentlest way. Reading Wild in the Hollow is like a hike through the mountains, full of uphills and downhills, a lot of hard work but the journey is worth it for the beautiful views.

If you want to read more of Amber’s writing, visit her blog.

How to live with unfulfilled dreams: Review of Longing For Paris by Sarah Mae

Ah, Paris. The word itself makes me sigh, just hearing it. And if I hadn’t had the unforgettable opportunity to visit Paris in college while I studied for a semester in England, the longing might be unbearable.

Okay, so there’s still a part of me that dreams of going back, this time with my love by my side. Isn’t it tragic that my husband and I have been to Paris separately, in our youth, but never together? Tragic, I tell you.

There’s something about Paris that hits on my longing for adventure and beauty and meaning. And it’s not just Paris. It’s Italy. It’s travel to anywhere I’ve never been. It’s my dream of writing a book. Of finding purpose in my work and life.

It’s the kinds of things that get pushed down or set aside in motherhood, things I’ve been wondering about: Are they recoverable? Do they fit in my life anymore as a mom?

Not long ago, I read Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love and I wanted to escape my day-to-day life–for real–to have those kinds of adventures and “find myself.”

LFPThank God–I really do!–for the next book to come along: Sarah Mae’s Longing for Paris: One Woman’s Search for Joy, Beauty and Adventure Right Where She Is. Pause for a moment and take all of that title in.

In this book, Sarah Mae recognizes our longings and affirms them as gifts from a God who cares about our dreams because He cares about us.


This book could not have come at a more perfect time. (Disclaimer: I received an advance copy of the book from Tyndale House Publishers in exchange for my review.) I’m in the middle of a year focusing on the word “whole” and my kids will both be in school all day starting in the fall. I have this amazing opportunity to rediscover who I am after feeling like motherhood swallowed me these last 7 or so years.

Longing For Paris encourages moms at any stage of parenting (or any woman with unfulfilled longings) that we can have that beauty, adventure and meaning we’re looking for, right in our own homes and towns. But it’s not just empty platitudes Sarah Mae offers; it’s practical ways to do this.

A few of my favorite take-aways from the book:

  • Adventure can be anything out of the ordinary: dessert before dinner, a French pastry from a local cafe, savoring your food. It’s a call to seek out the “Paris” wherever you are.
  • Beauty is what you make of it. In the ordinary, everyday, we can begin to think that we’re not beautiful or our lives are not beautiful. Taking a cue from the confidence of French women, who seldom worry about what other people think, Sarah encourages us to choose to see beauty. And one way to do this is to get rid of our frumpy clothes or anything we wear that doesn’t make us feel beautiful. I love this suggestion because I know there are clothes in my closet that negatively affect my attitude about myself.
  • Simplicity adds to our contentment with what we have. It’s weird how having more stuff doesn’t make us any happier, just more burdened. She told a story about having her kids choose 20 things to keep out of all their things. That sounded like a lot, but she realized how much more they actually had. Purging and simplifying our things helps us enjoy what we do have.

I took a lot of notes with this book, and I want to plaster some of the quotes from the book in front of me always so I can remember these words.


It’s a beautiful call to live a full and rewarding life, even if it’s not everything you hoped it would be.

If you love your life–most days–but wonder if there’s still room in it for your dreams, then this is the book that will help you live with that tension, not just in a settling for less kind of way, but in a deeply satisfying way.

You can find out more about the book here.