Blue Ridge Sunrise by Denise Hunter
The first half of this fiction book reads like any other fiction book, not really one of the Christian genre, until about half way through the book. It’s not Urban Cowboy level dysfunction, but the characters are human. Around the middle of the book, characters start having realizations about how they are not making good decisions in their lives apart from God’s guidance; in that way, I think Denise Hunter does something new and interesting in the Christian fiction market, instead of starting with innocent characters. Some people will like it, and some will probably be upset by it. It’s a book about grace, about the role that control and independence play in our lives, and about how a family that is seemingly broken can come together. I like the idea of the grandma character, who leaves her peach orchard to the main character, Zoe, in her will, in an effort to bring Zoe back to her roots. I also like the imagery of Zoe as a lion, wild and untamed when she was younger. If you enjoy an enduring love story and watch Hallmark movies, you will probably like this book. Unfortunately, I kept thinking about Cruz Ramirez from the Cars 3 movie every time I saw Cruz’s name in the book — which took away some of the romance for me (haha, mom fail). The constant emotional dissection for every character does make the book feel like a therapy session at times, and certain plot elements seemed a bit contrived (I don’t want to give away too much of the book by going into detail on this point), but I thought it was a redeeming story overall. I can easily see this book as a Hallmark movie.
Staying Stylish: Cultivating a Confident Look, Style, and Attitude by Candace Cameron Bure
This hardcover book is filled with Candace’s tips on style, packing a suitcase, skincare, spiritual wellness, and other daily practices. I thought the photos were beautiful, even though I would have liked to see some more truly candid shots rather than so many shots that looked posed and edited. Her tip to organize your suitcase by items was a pretty good one (rather than by outfit, just in case you want to mix and match). I had heard a lot of the fashion advice before, but I thought it was pretty neat that she shared the brand of skincare she uses (Lancer Method). When she recommended books, I thought it was really neat that she has read A Million Little Ways by Emily Freeman. I would like to read some of the other books she recommends. Just the fact that Candace will take a journal and a Christian book along with her when she’s traveling makes me like her even more than I already did. I grew up with her as DJ Tanner, and I’ve watched some of the new Fuller House episodes on Netflix. I think this book would be an excellent gift for teenage girls and for women who grew up watching Full House.
NIV, The Sola Scriptura Bible Project: The Complete Collection
In the same spirit of Bible reading in the early church, the NIV Sola Scriptura Bible Project removes chapter and verse numbers, red letters, and cross references found in modern Bibles. The Old Testament is arranged according to traditional Hebrew ordering, and the New Testament is reorganized, placing each of the four Gospels as sectional heads. The printing job on the four books is absolutely beautiful, and I feel such deep appreciation that I was sent this version of the Bible for free in return for an honest review. I have this version of the scriptures setting on top of my bookshelf, and the four hardcover cloth books look wonderful decoratively — but they won’t just be a decoration. These will serve as a reading experience for the NIV scriptures. Today, I sat down and read the first 42 pages of the Torah volume. It is pretty neat to read Genesis without numbers or cross-references getting in the way. Of course, it is important to have chapters and verses listed in your regular Bible so that the scriptures can be studied and referenced more easily, but the reading experience with NIV Sola Scriptura is excellent. Obviously, the original writers of the scriptures did not put chapter and verse numbers in their texts. “The present system of chapter divisions was devised in the thirteenth century, and our present verse divisions weren’t added until the sixteenth,” the preface explains. As a person who loves to read, I am completely on board with this version of the Bible. I think it is an incredible idea, and I’m glad to own and read the Bible this way. This might even help me finally read the entire Bible from cover to cover, as I have wanted to do for a long time. I love it when Christians think outside the box and still stay true to God’s original message. As a side note, this set weighs about eight pounds; that’s more than my son weighed when he was born (lol).
30 Days to Peace
This hard cover journal is full of prompts focused on peace — how you define it, how you find it, colors that remind you of it, and so forth. I like the idea. I am going to keep this journal for the next month leading into the Christmas season, as a writing practice for Advent.
Everyday Watercolor: Learn to Paint Watercolor in 30 Days by Jenna Rainey
This book is easy to understand. It gives suggestions for the best supplies, but it does not overwhelm you with the suggestions. Some how-to books go so over the top on the recommended supply list that it becomes intimidating to move forward, but I think the recommendations listed here are do-able. I want to learn how to watercolor, so I think I am going to ask for the supplies for Christmas. The techniques could come in handy for Bible Journaling or as a way to bring a little more creative expression into my life in general. The steps seem easy to follow for a beginner who wants to build skills. I think the illustrations in the book are lovely.
Noelle by Greg Kincaid
This book is a quick read to get you in the holiday spirit, especially if you’re a dog person. It’s the fourth installment of novels about the McCray family of Kansas. I’m a newbie to the series, but it works fine as an independent read. The dog on the cover looks a little bit like mine, so I couldn’t resist. If you’re looking for a novel for the holidays, I recommend this one. Curl up with a quilt, your slippers, some hot cocoa, and your own dog by your side.
Be the Gift by Ann Voskamp
I have not read Ann’s other two books that probably influenced this one, but One Thousand Gifts is on my reading list. Her latest book, Be the Gift, is full of spiritual truth, but it is not something to read when you want to just feel lighthearted and move on with your day. The feeling of sadness and sacrifice — and the quiet joy that comes in the midst of those when you focus on giving and thanksgiving — is prevalent. The feeling of sadness stuck with me in a way that made my heart ache for the tragedy that the writer has experienced in her own life. The Christian walk is often about self-sacrifice and joy in the midst of sadness. Rather than comforted, I felt uncomfortable (which is not necessarily bad, as the Christian life is not entirely comfortable if you are really following Christ). Part of “being the gift” in a hurting world is the willingness to minister to people who are going through hard times, to inconvenience yourself, to walk through the sadness with them, to give when others would take, to stay when others would pull away. At this current stage of my life, I find myself often putting the needs of others around me ahead of my own, which feels pretty draining sometimes, to be honest. I understand what Ann is saying, so I find myself going to Christ and praying, “Fill me so that I can keep doing what you are asking. Fill me so that I can do a better job at this life You would have me lead. Light my way. Guide my steps. Make the path straight.” Without thanksgiving, it is impossible to keep the mindset necessary to journey through hard times. Communion with Christ comes through thanksgiving and through sharing in — and accepting, with thanks — his sacrifice. This is how we have a strength that those who are not Christians might find hard to understand. This book is about turning your brokenness into abundance.
Finding Gobi: The Amazing True Story by Dion Leonard
I am a person who adores dogs; a dog story gets me right in the heart every time, and this story is no exception. Gobi, the cute little dog on the cover, starts running after Leonard as he competes in a marathon across the desert of China. Leonard and Gobi form a major bond, joined by their journey across sand and rivers, and Leonard is heart-broken to have to leave Gobi after the race. He begins a quest to bring Gobi home to Scotland with him, but international laws and cultural views about dogs create many obstacles. Leonard even takes a sabbatical from his job for six months in order to complete the logistics necessary to make Gobi a part of his life. The story is heart-warming, even though I found myself wondering how Leonard did not give up as the challenges seemed to stack against him. This really is a story about the lengths someone will go to for love. Since it is a young readers’ edition, the sentence structure is not necessarily compelling on an adult level, but the story itself is very compelling. I am now passing the book around to my students at school. I told them about Gobi and showed them the pictures, and many of them want to read this book. I told them we could make it into a little book club and talk about the book as students finish it. There are a few blank pages toward the back, so I told them to write each other short notes about what they thought of the book. I read some other reviews from people who wished this book stopped at the end of the race, but the story really is not complete if you stop after the race. Gobi pursues Leonard during the race, but then Leonard must pursue Gobi to complete the circle. Even though this book does not have an overt Christian message, it makes me think about how Christ pursues the church, and we pursue Him in return. Gobi: A Little Dog with a Big Heart is a children’s picture book, also by Dion Leonard. It has a ton of charm, and the writing easily holds a child’s attention. There’s something about a dog making friends with a marathon runner and going on a race together that really appeals to a child. The true story appeals to me as an adult too, especially because I am a dog lover. When I finished reading the book, my son said, “That was cool!”
The Life-Changing Manga of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo
I thought this book was really cute and gave me some ideas that I will apply in my own home. I have not read the original book that this manga was based upon, but you would have to be living under a rock to not already know about the concept of “sparking joy” that Kondo has popularized. I liked how the visual element of the manga made her folding methods really easy to understand. I plan on going through my clothes and books in the way that she describes and eventually tackling everything else in the order that she recommends. I already tend to be somewhat minimalist about what I’m willing to bring into my home; I don’t need every new gadget. My home is already joyful and functional, but her method can help me hone those areas even more. Some of her ideas sound a little silly, but I might try them anyway (no promises, lol). In the manga, the chaos of the poor main character is pretty exaggerated, and the story line is funny in its obvious direction; the character will start dating her handsome neighbor (who already knows how to be tidy) as soon as the poor gal figures out the magic of tidying up, of course.
Of Mess and Moxie: Wrangling Delight out of this Wild and Glorious Life by Jen Hatmaker
The direction Hatmaker is taking with this book is not as strong as the message she had in For the Love or Seven. I had high hopes for Of Mess and Moxie because I had read and enjoyed her last book (plus I had seen her current book featured in Redbook), but this collection of essays did not resonate with me. The title sounded intriguing, but I felt like the essays were not really cohesive, and the recipes seemed random (including variations on a couple recipes I have already seen in another Christian essay collection). Honestly, I will still try the recipes anyway, and I bet they will be good. I read two books this summer that had a pretty big spiritual impact for me (Start with Amen and He Calls You Beautiful), so my bar was set pretty high for Christian writing. I feel like a lot of the ideas that Hatmaker addressed have already been covered very well by Christian writers in recent years. I did think her “how to” sections were hilarious; for me, that was the best part of the book. Humor is definitely her strong suit.
I received all of these books in return for my honest review from Book Look Bloggers and Blogging for Books.