The Readers I Have Been (and a nod to Anne Bogel’s new book)

Have you ever thought about the types of reader you’ve been throughout your life?

If you don’t enjoy reading, probably not. (And if that’s you, well, thanks for being here and reading my blog. Your efforts are greatly appreciated!)

Losing myself in a book has always been a favorite pastime of mine. If nothing else proves true about me, I am a reader. Though I’m fairly positive I didn’t emerge from the womb reading, I can’t remember not having my nose stuck in a book. There’s even a picture of three-year-old me “reading” to my younger sister.

In her newly-birthed book, I’d Rather Be Reading, Anne Bogel (aka Modern Mrs. Darcy) references Madeline L’Engle’s belief that a person is a compilation of all the ages he or she has been. Bogel goes on to add an addendum:

 

 

“Just as I am all the ages I have been, I’m all the readers I have been. […] I’ve been many kinds of readers over the years, and I remember them fondly. […] I’m the sum of all these bookish memories.”

I, too, am a sum of all the readers I have been.

The Readers I Have Been

As a kid, I loved the library (still do, actually). My mom, sister, and I visited every week or so; I got lost in the children’s section, thumbing through thousands of titles looking for the next adventure I would embark on.  I always walked out with my arms full of a stack that nearly reached my eyebrows. The Boxcar Children, Nancy Drew, The Saddle Club, and Mandie are among many of the series I devoured. (Don’t get me started on the ones I wasn’t allowed to read. *ahem* The Babysitters Club *ahem.* I’m still a little bitter about that. Clearly.)

In high school, I was the nerdy kid who lugged her biology textbook to youth group—not because I had a huge assignment to finish before boarding the bus the next morning (I was homeschooled) but because I wanted to finish the work before the prescribed deadline. I waded through the more grown up—but still tame—shelves of Christian fiction at the library: Francine Rivers, Janette Oke, Beverly Lewis (I was obsessed with her many Amish series) were among my favorites.

In college, after a brief stint as an education major, I switched to English. I started to rebel against my evangelical upbringing which frowned upon the likes of Harry Potter and the Twilight series and read them with a close circle of English major and professor friends.  I fell in love with The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, Frost’s poetry, The Transcendentalists’ essays, Alcott’s Little Women, and so many more. And then there were those I barely tolerated yet was grateful for the expansion they brought to my worldview: Toni Morrison’s Beloved (gave me nightmares for weeks), Hawthorne’s The House of Seven Gables (I adore ol’ Nathaniel, but this one was a slog to get through), The Red Badge of Courage (I’m not ashamed to say I never finished), Moby Dick, and almost all the British texts I was required to read. And a huge research project gave me reason to pour over all sorts of texts about American Sign Language and Deaf culture.

It was the most saturated reading period of my life. And it was glorious.

Shortly after college, two of my friends and I went on literary tour on the northeastern United States. Haley, Harvin, and I spent nine days soaking up the old hunts of our favorite 19th Century writers: Hawthorne, Alcott, Thoreau, Longfellow, Frost, Emerson, Dickinson, and Twain, and Poe. We traipsed through cemeteries, in and out of author homes, and around Walden Pond. The site of Thoreau’s cabin, Hawthorne’s sky parlor (which brought tears to all of our eyes), and Alcott’s bedroom left us wide-eyed with wonder. We were in our element.

During my late twenties, I fell into a deep depression. I lost my passion and zeal for just about everything, including reading. Survival was my objective. When you’re in survival mode, it’s difficult to find enjoyment in the escape that fiction brings. It’s equally difficult to find the mental stamina to concentrate on nonfiction offering. So I stopped reading. Losing my reading self was one of the hardest aspect of that three-year period. The written word (which Thoreau calls “the choicest of relics”) was like air to me and without it and other things I enjoyed, I withered.

Until someone in a Facebook group introduced me to Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly. I picked the book up and suddenly found myself reflected in the mirror of each page. For the first time in years, I began to feel a spark of life reignite in my mind, body, and soul.

I was a reader once again.

The Reader I Am Now

Since that day three years ago, I’ve read nonfiction almost exclusively. My job gives me the opportunity to read, write, and hang out with authors. My inner reader—the child combing the library shelves, the teenager lugging textbooks to youth group, the college student reading hundreds of thousands of words each semester, the depressed young adult who lost her words, and the mid-thirties woman who has finally found her sweet spot—is absolutely giddy.

And when I came upon this little gem of a book by Anne Bogel, it was a no-brainer. A book about readers written by a reader? Sign. me. up. This book showed me the absolute beauty and delight of the reader’s life. Bogel knows readers. She made me realize I have #readinggoals I didn’t even know I had. (Living next door to a library?! Obtaining my lifelong reading records?! YES, please!)

 

I’d Rather Be Reading

Anne knows what makes readers tick (flashlights under covers, TBR stacks, library fees, bookstore visits that last hours, literary road trips…) and she paints our picture just the way we would want: in written words.

If you’re a reader, give yourself the gift of this book.

If you know a reader, hand them this mirror in which they can see the magic and mystery of the readers they have been, are, and will be revealed.

Win a copy of I’d Rather Be Reading!

Guess what, readers? I’m giving away ONE copy of I’d Rather Be Reading

To enter:
-LIKE my public Facebook page if you haven’t already.

-COMMENT on my Facebook post about I’d Rather Be Reading. Tell me about one of your reading phases.

-SHARE my Facebook post about I’d Rather Be Reading

-Follow me on Instagram.

-COMMENT on this blog post and tell me you’ve done all the things above!

I’ll randomly draw a winner on Friday, September 14, 2018 and send the lucky reader this lovely little gift book.

What I Read in 2017

My list was shorter than most this year. You know, since I was kind of busy and traumatized all year. I’d set a goal to read 30 books this year, but it just did not happen.

Let’s get to it!

January

The Best Yes by Lysa TerKeurst

Let me be honest–I know that this book held some deep truths for me when I read it, but one event-filled year later, I barely remember them. In fact, I just paused to flip through it again to jog my memory. I’m a little sorry I did, but also very glad I did. Numerous pages are turned down, sentences underlined, and expletives ranging from “Yes!” and “Whoa.” to “Damn,” “Yikes!” and “What the actual hell?” pepper the margins. Apparently, there were things in that book I need to hear (and probably still do.) This quote, in particular, stands out:

Friend, you are strong. You are persevering, tough, able to bend without breaking…a courageous gal, one who wants to learn the deep dependence of following hard after God Himself…From that cracked-open-heart place, a God-breathed strength will rise. Rise. Rise. And help you spit in Satan’s face as you declare, ‘You picked the wrong woman to mess with this time!’

When I read this on January 18, 2017, the timing amazed me, according to the note I made in the margin. I knew in my bones it was going to be a tough year; I didn’t realize just how tough it would be. And the words in this paragraph? They sounded inspiring a year ago, but I’ve felt the exact opposite of the picture they paint over the course of this year. Maybe I need to read this one again?

And the Day Came by Dr. Lynnette Simm

I led a re-launch campaign for this memoir in January and February of 2017. A Dallas-area college professor, Dr. Simm tells her story of finding healing in the aftermath of childhood trauma and abuse.

February

For Real: Navigating Truth Through Trials by Kerrie Oles

For Real was my first official solo book launch–and it was a blast! (I also did my first Facebook Live video with Kerrie–that was fun, too!) In the book, Kerrie asks REAL questions about how we react when faced with unexpected trials as she digs into the biblical story of Job–a man who continued to worship even as he was stripped of everything. How do we react when it seems as though the world is falling apart around us? How do we maintain our belief that God is for us and not against us? She takes a deeper look at the book of Job and his reactions to unexpected circumstances. Kerrie’s writing style is laid-back and conversational—with a hefty dose of humor for good measure! [I should DEFINITELY read this one again.]

(And hey, Kerrie! If you’re reading this: my book still isn’t signed! Coffee date??)

March

Love Lives Here by Maria Goff

You know that lovable guy with a goofy grin who wrote Love Does? Yeah–his name’s Bob Goff and his wife, Sweet Maria, wrote this treasure. I participated on the launch team for this one (led by book launch guru Anna LeBaron). Maria is, indeed, sweet and her hospitable personality saturates the pages of this book. She tells the story of how she fulfills her passion for creating a welcoming home while Bob is out adventuring. Maria writes,

I’m like a carrot.  I stay in one place and grow deep and long. I live most of my life under he surface…Bob, on the other hand, is like a guy shout out of a cannon. Every morning he climbs in, points toward the biggest collection of people he can find, and lights the fuse. Shoot a carrot out of a cannon and you have a bad salad. Plant a cannonball and you’ll go hungry…Figure out what you’re good at and what you’re not so good at.

And the last sentence of the book… [insert crying emoji here]

April

Of Mess and Moxie by Jen Hatmaker (ARC)

Of course I was on the launch team for my girl Jen’s new book! Anna and I read this one on the road during the Epic Book Tour; I read aloud while she drove for the most part. When we read the chapter where Jen described the paradox of her introversion and her hubby, Brandon’s, extroversion, we laughed so hard our faces hurt! (That chapter hit a little close to home as we spent months together in the car–one of us 100% extroverted and the other highly introverted!) Once again, with wit and whimsy, tenderness and tenacity, JHat balances the sacred and the sarcastic, giving her readers permission to admit their messes and live with unashamed moxie. Of Mess and Moxie was cathartic and refreshing, leaving me with a sense of having spent an afternoon with a familiar friend. (And the recipes she scatters throughout give me life.)

May

Love You From Right Here by Jamie Sandefer

This was the second and last launch team I led in 2017.  Love You From Right Here is a keepsake book for children in the foster system. To write a children’s book that so perfectly and succinctly navigates the complexities of foster care (for both foster parent and foster child) is no small feat, but Jamie  accomplished exactly that. This book has already filled a much-needed gap in resources provided to and for foster families. This sweet book grabbed me by the heart from the moment I first heard about it and continues to draw me into a state of wanting to do whatever I can to get it in the hands of those who need it most.

July 

Speak by Nish Weiseth

While on the road, a few weeks before we returned to Salt Lake City for the second time, I was scrolling Instagram one night while Anna was speaking at a book club. (No judging–by that point, I’d heard her story enough times to tell it myself, complete with her hand gestures to punctuate particular points. Even now, lines from her talk are running through my head.) Anyway–I found that Nish had commented on another author’s post about Anna’s book, The Polygamist’s Daughter. Impulsively, I messaged Nish and told her we were headed back to SLC and would love to connect her with Anna, suggesting that we could meet for coffee. Y’all. Never did I think she would actually respond! But she did. We traded a few emails and set a date to meet while we were in town. You can read my full review of Speak here. It was the only book that got its own post this year.

 

September

Stolen Jesus by Jami Amerine

I’d been following Jami on Facebook since early 2017 and found her hilarious. She often shares stories about her youngest boys, whom she refers to as “vandals.” They crack me up. But her more serious posts also spoke deeply to me. So  when the opportunity arose to be on her launch team for Stolen Jesus, I jumped on it. Jami is also another author I heard speak and was able to meet this year.

I was kind of amused by the review I posted on Goodreads, so I’ll just drop it here:

Are you frustrated by trying to be a good enough Christian? Do you hold Jesus at arm’s length, suspiciously gazing at him with one eye closed? Does your relationship with Him lend itself to a spiritual crisis a la Friends’ Ross and Rachel: We were ON A BREAK!
What if it isn’t the REAL Jesus you’re looking at?
In Stolen Jesus, Jami Amerine examines several versions of Jesus that we modern believers have dreamt up–the psuedo Jesus(es) who demand our deeds in exchange for His grace, our checklists for His blood. Once she “broke up with Jesus,” she was able to get to know Him more deeply than before. She urges her reader to strip away all the preconceived notions we have, simply stare into the face of Real Jesus, and hear what He has to say to us.
Amerine writes with the same wit and humor that draws readers to her blog and shares embarrassingly honest stories to illustrate her points. Consequently, Stolen Jesus will make you laugh and cry–maybe even simultaneously.

(I thought I was pretty clever with the Ross and Rachel analogy?!)

October

To Be Where You Are by Jan Karon

Jan Karon still holds first place on my list of favorite contemporary fiction authors. Even after 14 books in the series, opening one of these hefty novels is like coming home all over again. One day, Karon will stop writing the Mitford story (perhaps she already has with this latest offering–she’s threatened that the last few have been the end, but keeps surprising her faithful readers with one more trip up the mountain), and there will be a time of mourning. You think I’m kidding. I’m not!

November

The Dream of You by Jo Saxton (ARC)

This one will get it its own post in the coming days, but the very short story is that I’ve admired Jo for a lot of years (learning about her through a mutual friend and hearing her speak at IF Gathering the last two years) but this is the first book I’ve read of hers. I’m on the launch team for this and had the privilege of meeting Jo in November as well. Bottom line: this was exactly the book that I needed to read as 2017 came to an end (I just finished it today, but it counts for 2017’s list because I read the bulk of it before the New Year!). Jo’s words met me precisely where I am and affirmed many thoughts that are rolling around my head these days. [Releases January 23, 2018]

December

Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis (ARC)

The cover of this book is just plain fun, as is the title. Rachel is a popular lifestyle blogger who founded The Chic Site. In this book (which I’m on the launch team for, shocker), Rachel uses each chapter to confront a lie she has believed about herself and shares how she learned to replace them with truth instead. Some of the chapters didn’t apply to me, so I skipped them. I was able to read it in one afternoon, but definitely could have taken it slower in order to process each chapter more deeply–something I am planning to revisit for a few chapters in particular. Rachel uses humor and honesty to show her readers that they are “ultimately responsible for who [they] become and how happy [they] are.” [Releases February 6, 2018]

That’s it, folks. A whole eleven books for 2017. Here’s to more reading in 2018!

The Book I Can’t Stop Talking About

I know. I’ve talked about this book for months…years, even.

You likely already know what the title is.

But I’ll tell you anyway.

The Polygamist’s Daughter by Anna LeBaron.

(You would think I’d be able to spell “polygamist’s,” but no–I’ve misspelled it at least six times writing this post. Words are hard sometimes.)

For anyone who doesn’t already know, allow me to go ahead and offer the disclaimer that Anna LeBaron is a dear friend of mine. We met in an online group in early 2015, and well, the rest is history. I’m slightly biased when it comes to her words, both spoken and written, but I’ll do my best to keep my review as objective as possible. (I will refer to her as Anna from here out, however—talking about one of your closest friends in third person is a little odd.)

Ready? Let’s go.

First—let’s talk about the front cover. Tyndale nailed it with the book cover. The first time I saw it, I was speechless. Little Anna, posed and precious, yet hidden and silenced behind stark and cold censor bars. Blind and gagged. It’s haunting, chilling, and unsettling. Maybe it’s my highly-empathic nature or the fact that the first time I heard Anna’s story, I was a teacher of littles, but at the sight of the cover the instinctive urge to gather Little Anna up in my arms weighed on me. It’s a cover that would stop me in my tracks if I saw it sitting on a bookstore shelf. (I cannot wait to see it sitting on a bookstore shelf!)

On to the story: The Polygamist’s Daughter is the third book I’ve read about the LeBaron family, so I already had a pretty solid frame of reference for the people, places, and events Anna discussed. I’ve also heard her speak informally about her family of origin. As much as I already knew about Anna’s experience, actually reading her account from the perspective of “little Anna” unlocked a new wave of emotion—a host of emotions, actually.

Until late 2015, I’d read only a couple of memoirs. It just wasn’t my favorite genre. Since then, memoirs have earned a pretty high ranking on my favorite genres list. One thing I’ve found to be an indicator of my interest is binge reading sessions. There are some books that require you to find a comfy spot and remain there for the next 5-6 hours, hardly moving as you progress from cover to cover. This is one of those books.

The Polygamist’s Daughter plunges you into the depths of rejection, loneliness, anxiety, and depression. A desire to intervene and protect, shield and comfort young Anna will rise within you. As the story progresses, you will rejoice at the strength, bravery, and courage that Anna finds deep within herself. You will walk away with hope that light shines even from the darkest circumstances.

I don’t want to give away any spoilers, so I’ll just say this: Anna’s objective was to tell her story from the perspective of herself as a child and she and her contributing writer, Leslie Wilson, accomplished that beautifully.   Anna has skillfully told her story in a way that invites her readers into her experience from the perspective of an innocent child navigating her way into adulthood.

The Polygamist’s Daughter by Anna LeBaron with Leslie Wilson (Tyndale) releases March 21, 2017 and is available at most book retailers.

Learn more about Anna at www.AnnaLeBaron.com.

2016 Reading List


January

The Sound of Gravel by Ruth Wariner


I was on the launch team for this book in November and December 2015. It was the first “official” launch team I’d been on and it whet my literary appetite for spreading the word about awesome books. As part of the launch team, I’d already read the advance reader copy (ARC) of Wariner’s memoir, but that didn’t stop me from reading it again once the hardcover was in my hands. And this time I was able to slow down and take in the harrowing journey Ruth and her siblings took through their childhoods. (During the launch, we were passing 20 ARCs to approximately 100 people through the mail, so it was a speed-reading free for all. I read the ARC in one emotionally-exhausting night.) If you’d like to read my original review of The Sound of Gravel from earlier this year, you can read it here.

 

February

The End of the World by Amy Matayo (Advance Reader PDF)


This is the first book I read by Matayo. She writes realistically and develops solid, relatable characters. The End of the World is based on some sensitive subject matter, including foster care and child neglect. It was a heavy read. But one that gripped my attention early on and kept it. It’s told from the perspective of two main characters and Matayo seamlessly switches between points-of-view. It is a sweet story of friendship between two teenagers amidst a backdrop of a less-than-ideal foster care situation.
The Blood Covenant by Rena Chynoweth

Besides The Sound of Gravel and one other memoir, this was the only book I’ve read about the LeBaron family and those related to them. Rena was the youngest wife of infamous cult-leader Ervil LeBaron. In this book, she tells her perspective of living under his influence. It is both riveting and appalling. Once I started reading, I couldn’t put it down and read it in two days.


Stones of Remembrance
by Julie Presley

Julie Presley is my new favorite fiction author. She’s also a good friend. Julie is a self-proclaimed “edgy Christian romance author.” She writes real, relatable stories that speak truth and healing into the hearts of her readers. Her characters are those that you find yourself thinking about as though they are your actual friends. Julie writes each scene with depth; her use of imagery pulls you into the story. She has found a perfect balance between believable characters and riveting plot lines. She builds in scriptural truths without sounding cheesy, old-fashioned, or pious. And when it comes to relational tension? She’s got that down, too. You can find a more detailed review of Stones of Remembrance here.

Breaking Busy by Alli Worthington

From the very beginning, Alli writes with an honest wit, using her own life as an example of how to “break busy;” she encourages her readers to examine the things they do because they “should” and how pouring their energy into those areas leave us depleted when it come to the things that not only fulfill us, but also actually enjoy participating in. Each chapter concludes with a set of questions that allow us to dig deeper into figuring out why we’re piling on the busyness and provide action steps to change our behaviors and thought patterns.

 

March

Curious Faith by Logan Wolfram

Have you ever finished a book that you didn’t want to end and feel like you need to begin re-reading it immediately? Curious Faith is one of those books for me. I started reading it several month ago, but set it aside a few weeks later because it was hitting to close to home regarding some areas of crisis that were developing in my personal life. I needed to read Logan Wolfram’s words, but I didn’t necessarily want to hear them. I picked it back up once again a few weeks ago, and it couldn’t have been more perfect timing. (And I got to meet Logan at a local book signing—bonus!)


In Curious Faith, Wolfram shares her journey of becoming more curious about God and the life paths He was leading her down. She writes with enthusiastic passion, gentle instruction, and accessible vulnerability–particularly in sharing her experiences with miscarriage and infertility. She encourages her readers to think outside the box of preconceived ideas about how God works.

 

April

What to Do When It’s Your Turn (And It’s Always Your Turn) by Seth Godin

I brought this one home from Texas (it was an Anna-suggested read) and am still working my way through it. Apparently I need to digest its contents slowly.

May

Nor Forsake by Julie Presley (Advance Reader PDF)


Another favorite fiction selection by Julie Presley. As in Stones of Remembrance, Presley writes characters with relatable struggles. It’s not the usual sappy, plastic storyline. It’s real. And the way she weaves Libby’s story with Sarah’s story is well-crafted and artfully done. In Nor Forsake, you get not only one story, but two! Presley has earned a spot on my favorite writers’ list, for sure.

June

The Go-GetterPeter B. Kyne

Healing From Hidden Abuse: A Journey Through the Stages of Recovery from Psychological Abuse Shannon Thomas (Advance Reader PDF)

When I was given the opportunity to read an advanced copy of Shannon Thomas’ book, I accepted not because I considered myself in need of the subject matter, but because I thought it might be a good resource I could recommend to people in the future. I was dead wrong in assuming this subject did not pertain to me.

Within the first few pages of the introduction, as Thomas writes about the nature of psychological abusers (or “toxic people” as she frequently refers to them), I realized that I had, indeed, encountered these people—and they were people who had significant roles in my life. Once I got over the shock of that realization and could continue reading the book, I found it to be a treasure trove of information and encouragement.

In a conversational tone, Thomas walks the reader through six stages that help the reader understand the tactics abusers use and how survivors can create healthy boundaries for themselves as they begin to heal from the damage inflicted through psychological abuse. She provides solid, relatable examples of this type of abuse and assures the reader that they are not at fault for having been targeted. Included at the end of the book are journal prompts for each of the six stages, a helpful tool the reader can use to process his or her own experiences. I highly recommend Healing From Hidden Abuse—whether you think you need to read it or not—as a resource for your own recovery or as an informative guide to walk alongside someone else on their journey to recovery.
Unfrozen: Stop Holding Back and Release the Real You by Andrea Wenburg (Advance Reader PDF)

Wenberg tells her story of feeling as though her deep desire to connect with others was “too much” for those around her to handle. She recounts her journey from childhood to adulthood, and how she learned not only to embrace her true self, but also to relate to others from a place of confidence in knowing that, because God created her as He did, she “can risk everything to show the kind of love Jesus has for me.”

If you have ever felt like you have something to give the world, but have been bound by fear–the fear of your voice being too loud or too quiet, the fear of being too much or too little, I would encourage you to read this book. Though the subtitle is indicative of a book of a self-help nature, it reads more like a conversational memoir.

July

I Don’t Wait Anymore: Letting Go of Expectations and Grasping God’s Adventure for You by Grace Thornton


A Mile Wide: Trading a Shallow Religion for a Deeper Faith by Brandon Hatmaker (Advance Reader Copy)

You might remember that time last year when I joined a second-string launch team and rogue-launched Jen Hatmaker’s book, For the Love. This year, Jen’s husband Brandon selected that same team (#the4500) to be his launch team (the A-team, this time around) for A Mile Wide. That was pretty cool—as was participating in two of Brandon’s book tour events—one in Houston and one in Dallas.


In the first section of the book, Brandon Hatmaker challenges us to look a bit deeper at our faith while also simplifying the true intent of the gospel. Rather than seeking out the “do’s” and “don’ts” of following Jesus, Hatmaker encourages us to look to Jesus’s interactions with people and how he met them where they were instead of requiring them to check off a bunch of good behavior/expectation boxes before interacting with them.

In the second section of A Mile Wide, Hatmaker discusses the need for community among believers and non-believers. He is passionate in his belief that the church should be missional, not sequestering themselves in a church building all the time, but intentionally serving others in the local community. Hatmaker extols the benefits of varying the types, locations, and venues for small group meetings and service projects, stressing that the meeting people where they are, like Jesus exemplified in the gospel, is the key to building relationships with them: “Jesus almost always met people at their greatest felt need as a part of addressing their spiritual need. He had compassion that allowed him to see through people and speak their language. Community and commission is that shared language between believers and nonbelievers.”

With a tone that is more conversational than condemning (you won’t find condemning words here, convicting, perhaps, but not condemning), A Mile Wide is a must read for anyone who desires to live out their faith in more missional-minded way.

 

August

The Thirteenth Chance by Amy Matayo (Advance Reader PDF)

The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield


 

September

Watching the Tree Limbs by Mary DeMuth

Until a friend loaned me this book, I didn’t know Mary DeMuth had written fiction. I’m so happy to have made this discovery! Watching the Tree Limbs weaves tragedy, mystery, hope, and truth together in an enchanting way. DeMuth is an enticing storyteller; every time a new clue or hint showed up to unravel the mystery of one of the characters, I thought I’d figured it out…until another surprising development came along. I loved this raw, gritty yet redemptive story and will definitely read more of DeMuth’s fiction.

The Undoing of Saint Silvanus by Beth Moore

Moore’s first foray into fiction was an intriguing read. A suspenseful plotline and plenty of spicy characters held my attention from early on. There were a few twists that I saw coming, but some that surprised me. There was a lot happening in the plot and because it all needed to be tied up at the end, the conclusion was a little anticlimactic. Still, The Undoing is a book I’ll likely read again. (Also—the fact that I met Beth Moore at a local book signing was totally awesome! She’s delightful!)

October

How To Manage Your Home Without Losing Your Mind by Dana K. White (Advance Reader Copy)


Is your house out of control? Cluttered? Messy? Disorganized? Driving you crazy? Dana K. White has tips and tricks that will help you get your space back on track. And she’s FUNNY. A book about housekeeping that’s also an enjoyable read? Yes! White provides lighthearted motivation to get out of your housekeeping ruts, de-clutter your home, and streamline your home-management routines without making you feel like a domestic failure. A must-read for anyone who feels overwhelmed by their daily chores!

The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls


The Broken Way: A Daring Path into the Abundant Life by Ann Voskamp

The Broken Way is an offering of hope and healing amid hardship, hurt, and heartbreak. Voskamp strips her own heart bare as she related the struggle of finding her way through breaking upon breaking, In One Thousand Gifts, she taught us to live full of gratitude; in The Broken Way, Voskamp reveals that the only way to be fully abundant is to pour thankfulness, love, and grace over those around us. With lyrical prose and understanding born only from living through broken places, Voskamp once again speaks deeply to the heart of her reader. (Ann Voskamp is also delightful in person.)

November

Bird By Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott

I just finished this book a few weeks ago and I already need to read It again—this time preferably with my own copy and pen in hand to take notes in the margins.

 

December

The Best Yes: Making Wise Decisions in the Midst of Endless Demands by Lysa TerKeurst

I’m halfway through this one and am finding it a very timely and useful book in this transitional season.

The Polygamist’s Daughter: A Memoir by Anna LeBaron and Leslie Wilson (Advance Reader Copy)


This book is, by far, my favorite one of 2016. I wrote a blog about it here that tells why (in case you haven’t already heard and want to know!). Anna’s book is a memoir of her childhood growing up in a violent, polygamist cult and how she escaped it at the tender age of thirteen. She tells of horrific events she witnessed and the hope of not only having lived through them, but also of finding healing as she grew into adulthood. I can’t say enough about this book. It’s compelling, harrowing, hopeful, and redemptive. You’ll want to read it. (Releases March 21, 2016)

 

Although I didn’t meet my reading goals for the year, I’ve read a lot of great books, been on some fun launch teams, and met a lot of wonderful authors.

What was your favorite book of 2016?
 

 

The Polygamist’s Daughter: A Powerful Story of Hope and Healing

Life is full of wearying circumstances that we sometimes can’t find any understanding of why we’re faced with such pain. But there are other times when…we can eventually see that our journey has brought us full circle. Anna’s story is coming full circle with the publication of The Polygamist’s Daughter.

Let’s get right to it.

I got some fun mail yesterday:


After a full year of anxiously anticipating it, I received an advance copy of my friend Anna LeBaron’s book, The Polygamist’s Daughter, in the mail yesterday. I was literally jumping up and down and squealing. I haven’t yet found a way to put all my feelings about this book into words. But here, I’m going to try.


Anna’s book is a memoir of her childhood growing up in a violent, polygamist cult and how she escaped it at the tender age of thirteen. She tells of horrific events she witnessed and the hope of not only having lived through them, but also of finding healing as she grew into adulthood.

I’ve had the great privilege of witnessing the tail-end of Anna’s journey to publication a little more closely than others. I’ve sat with her through endless hours of edits and reminded her numerous times that her story matters. In some ways, I feel like this book contains chunks of my heart. (That is probably true for a lot of people who have met and lived life with Anna, though.)
When I was little—maybe seven or eight—I went through a phase of wanting to be a doctor or nurse—specifically, a “baby doctor or nurse.” It didn’t last long, but I’ve always remembered how obsessed I was with that train of thought. In the case of this book, I told Anna that I feel like a proud aunt over the birth of this “book baby.”


She replied that not only am I a proud aunt, but also a book doula. So, I guess maybe I’m a baby doctor/nurse of sorts, after all.

Life is full of wearying circumstances that we sometimes can’t find any understanding of why we’re faced with such pain. But there are other times when, if we walk the path long enough—and trust the process of navigating our way through the rocky terrain, the loss of directions, and the questioning of whether we’ll ever make it out of the valley—we can eventually see that our journey has brought us full circle. 

This doesn’t necessarily mean that it brought us back to our starting point, but rather it has connected our beginning point to another beginning point…and so on. A circle, by virtue of its character, doesn’t have a beginning or end point; it flows fluidly together in a continuous line.



The stories of humanity have been interconnected since the beginning of time and continue to weave through and around every person on this planet. We will never really know how intertwined our stories are to one another; however, occasionally our stories intersect with another’s in such a way that it brings us full circle in some aspect of our lives.

There have been many times over the past two years when I’ve stared ahead at the rocky path and wondered where exactly this road was leading. Being lost and without direction isn’t something I struggle with as much these days, but it rears its head occasionally. There are still deep valleys that I must walk through. But I’m beginning to see the fluidity of the circuitous path I’ve been wandering the last few years.


Part of that journey has been intersected by the journey of this woman who I’ve quickly come to know as a heart-friend.  (Anna’s name has appeared on this blog numerous times, partly because her encouragement has given me the courage to own my brave.) A month ago, the two of us attended a retreat (Splendid By The Sea) in coastal North Carolina. At the end of the retreat, circumstances allowed us to drive several hours inland together before we parted ways. As we drove, we marveled at the fact that we’d road-tripped to another Splendid retreat together just six months before. And here we were again.

A couple of hours later, we arrived at her hotel—the same one where we’d met just nine months before in the middle of Snowpocalypse 2016. We squealed a bit and laughed incredulously as we parked the car, darted inside the lobby, and took a quick selfie in approximately the same place we’d become internet-friends-turned-real-life-friends.


Once we were back in the car, I commented that we’d come full circle.
The fluidity of the circle doesn’t stop there, because after all—it is a circle.

Anna’s story is one that is coming full circle with the publication of The Polygamist’s Daughter.


As the back cover copy on the advance copy says, “my father had thirteen wives and more than fifty children. My childhood was filled with terror, desperation, and confusion. I barely knew who my family really was. The life we led made my stomach ache…but I never said a word.”

The censor bars covering her six-year-old mouth and eyes on the book cover are a chilling representation of the horrors she saw and the secrets she was forced to keep.

No more.

She has found the freedom and courage to tell her story.

Anna has overcome the aftermath of a multitude of tragedy. It will always be a part of her story. She will always be the polygamist’s daughter, biologically.

But it does not define her.

What defines her is her hope, her joy, and her genuine desire to love those around her fiercely. She lavishes these things on everyone she meets and leaves a trail of light wherever she goes.

I’m so blessed to be alongside her on this journey. It has been both an eye-opening and inspiring experience for me.
If you’d like to know more about Anna and her book, please visit her website, www.AnnaLeBaron.com.
The Polygamist’s Daughter officially releases March 21, 2017—check back here for my “official review” then!

Book Review: A Mile Wide, Brandon Hatmaker

What in the world did I do with my free time before I became a book launching enthusiast?

My T0-Be-Read stack is perpetually out of control. Seriously. Every time I get wind of another launch team opportunity, I have to seriously evaluate how much time I actually have to commit to another book.

This is the good kind of problem to have.


If you’ve followed this blog, or any of my social media, for awhile, you’ve heard a thing or two about #the4500. If you’re new–well, it’s a long story. Here’s a very brief recap:

March 2015–Jen Hatmaker gathered a launch team for her book, For The Love. She amassed 5,000 applicants for 500 spots. She sent a very sweet apology email to those who didn’t make the cut. (I got that email.) One of those rejectees tweeted Jen, telling her “#the4500…are still your people.” Another one (Tracy) thieved that hashtag and ran to FB with it, creating a group and inviting people to come help launch Jen’s book unofficially. (I joined that group.) We went rogue, and together with the official launch team, we sent For the Love to bestseller status.

Fast forward a few months to the end of 2015…when we heard that Jen’s husband, Brandon, wanted #the4500 to be his official launch team. Our rogue, second string, B-team group was now the A-team. (#BDogsATeam, more specifically.)


We’d realized long before that getting a no from Jen’s launch team was actually the best yes any of us could’ve imagined. And now that Mr. Hatmaker wanted us to help him get his book into the world?

We’ve come full circle.

Before JHat’s launch team application and the birth of #the4500, I’d only followed Jen’s FB page for about a year. These days, I adore the Hatmakers. They seem like such real, down-to-earth people who truly strive to make a difference in both their local community and the global community. They are world changers, supporting a variety of social justice causes, as well as forming their own initiative, The Legacy Collective, whose mission is “to engage systemic problems related to social issues by resourcing what we believe to be the most innovative efforts and funding the most critical projects.”

I am thrilled to finally bring you my review of A Mile Wide: Trading A Shallow Religion For A Deeper Faith:

In the first section of the book, Brandon Hatmaker challenges us to look a bit deeper at our faith while also simplifying the true intent of the gospel. Rather than seeking out the “do’s” and “don’ts” of following Jesus, Hatmaker encourages us to look to Jesus’s interactions with people and how he met them where they were instead of requiring them to check off a bunch of good behavior/expectation boxes before interacting with them.

In the second section of A Mile Wide, Hatmaker discusses the need for community among believers and non-believers. He is passionate in his belief that the church should be missional, not sequestering themselves in a church building all the time, but intentionally serving others in the local community. Hatmaker extols the benefits of varying the types, locations, and venues for small group meetings and service projects, stressing that the meeting people where they are, like Jesus exemplified in the gospel, is the key to building relationships with them: “Jesus almost always met people at their greatest felt need as a part of addressing their spiritual need. He had compassion that allowed him to see through people and speak their language. Community and commission is that shared language between believers and nonbelievers.”

With a tone that is more conversational than condemning (you won’t find condemning words here, convicting, perhaps, but not condemning), A Mile Wide is a must read for anyone who desires to live out their faith in more missionally-minded ways.

I highly recoomend this book!

Disclosure: I received an advanced copy of A Mile Wide in exchange for my honest review.

You can learn more about A Mile Wide here.

Stones Of Remembrance: A Book Review

Books and words have always been an integral part of my life. They are my second skin, my place of solace, my preferred activity. Lately, new forms of this passion have taken over—launch teams and eBooks—both of which were foreign to me a year ago. Really, if you don’t count #the4500’s rogue involvement in unofficially launching Jen Hatmaker’s For the Love, I wasn’t even part of an official launch team until last November. And until now, I’ve just flat-out refused to read eBooks, because I’m stubborn and they are against my literary religion. Now? I’m on my fourth launch team in four months, and (gasp) just finished reading my second eBook of the year—Stones of Remembrance by Julie Presley.

I’ve had Stones of Remembrance on my to-read list for months—since I found out that Julie (who is a friend from #the4500) was an author, but hadn’t gotten around to reading it yet. A few weeks ago, an email from Julie landed in my inbox—and in it was an eBook version of Stones of Remembrance. I started reading it that night. I don’t know what I expected from Stones of Remembrance, but I certainly didn’t expect it to be as powerfully relatable as it was.

(FYI—any new subscribers to her email list get a copy of the Stones eBook. Go to her website, juliepresley.com, and give the woman your email address, people. She’s not spammy or annoying. Promise. You won’t regret it.)

Here’s the thing: I grew up on a heavy literary diet of Christian fiction. If it could be found on the inspirational or Christian fiction shelf of the library in the mid 90’s-2005, I’ve probably read it. As an English major in college, I dove into more classic literary works and found them so much more “meaty”—they made me think critically and view the world through different lenses. They became far more inviting than the glossy, easily-resolved Christian fiction I’d been accustomed to reading.

For me, the problem with typical Christian fiction is that it really doesn’t give room for characters to struggle with their faith. There might be an internal conflict or two, but it’s usually very brief and resolved quickly without much tension.

41g-gynckol-_sx371_bo1204203200_Not so in Stones of Remembrance. This story follows Allaya as she returns to her childhood vacation home for the purpose of reconnecting with God after being estranged from her family. Allaya wrestles with long-held pain, questioning God’s plan and seeking to reconcile her heart to His—and He talks back to her. The same is true for another central character, Finn—a childhood friend of Allaya’s who is trying his best to run from the voice of God. Yes, God has a speaking part in this book. And it is powerful. Over and over, as both Allaya and Finn bring their questions before their Heavenly Father, the response they hear is one of unwavering love and compassion. The back-and-forth nature of their conversations with God is sometimes agonizing—depicting the reality that God doesn’t always speak when we want Him to, or give us the answer we want right away.

Julie writes each scene with depth; her use of imagery pulls you into the story. She has found a perfect balance between believable characters and riveting plot lines. She builds in scriptural truths without sounding cheesy, old-fashioned, or pious. And when it comes to relational tension? She’s got that down, too.

Stones of Remembrance is edgy; it’s “not your mama’s Christian fiction.” It’s real. It’s honest. It’s authentic.

~*~

You can get your hands on a copy of Stones of Remembrance by joining Julie’s email subscription at Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

I’d love to hear what you think about the book if you read it!

Connect with Julie on Facebook.

You can also check out Julie’s latest project, Nor Forsake, here.

Breaking Busy by Alli Worthington: A Book Review

Earlier this week, a copy of Breaking Busy: How to Find Peace and Purpose in a World of Crazy by Alli Worthington arrived in my mailbox. Before this book, I’d never heard her name, so I wasn’t sure if her writing style would mesh with my reading style. I just didn’t know what to expect—but I was very pleasantly surprised.

Breaking Busy

From the very beginning, Alli writes with an honest wit, using her own life as an example of how to “break busy;” she encourages her readers to examine the things they do because they “should” and how pouring their energy into those areas leave us depleted when it come to the things that not only fulfill us, but also actually enjoy participating in. Each chapter concludes with a set of questions that allow us to dig deeper into figuring out why we’re piling on the busyness and provide action steps to change our behaviors and thought patterns.

 

Before I even started reading, I thumbed through the pages. Immediately, several quotes jumped out at me—honest phrases that meet me right where I am.  Here are two of those:

As we discover our passions and allow God to craft them into beautiful patterns, we begin to see what we are called to do on this earth, and our purpose begins to shine forth with color and clarity.” (69)

His no always prepares us for his perfect yes. God has set our feet upon a path that he created for us, a path that leads us to our calling, our purpose…” (90)

Breaking Busy is full of these truth-nuggets—and is relatable for women in any season of life: single, married, with kids, without kids, career-driven, homemaker, retired, college students, etc—anyone who is tired of trying to just keep her head above water. Alli Worthington offers hope and practical solutions for finding our “sweet spots”—whatever they may be.

~*~

Breaking Busy book. When we purposefully follow Jesus instead of blindly following tradition or succumbing to our own or someone else's expectations, we will find peace and purpose even in the midst of a world of c (1)
Photo courtesy of Alli Worthington, BreakingBusy.com

 

~*~

Full disclosure: I have been compensated by Zondervan for my honest review of Breaking Busy.

Guest Post: Sunshine’s Review of The Sound of Gravel

How did I come to write a review of a book that has ripped open emotion after emotion, a book that landed in my hands quite by accident?

How exciting to welcome my first guest post on my blog–and it be my mom! Meet Sunshine Leister:

mom pic

Sunshine Leister is a real estate agent, a coordinator for the Society of St. Andrew gleaning network, mom of four mostly-grown children and quite a few “adopted” children, Grandmama to two “adopted” granddaughters, an avid reader, and an accidental member of #the4500launches. She enjoys sharing with her friends on Facebook in a format she calls “Pondering Some Thoughts.”

If you need advice on herbs, essential oils, or want to join a local (Upstate SC) glean to feed the hungry in your community, she’s the one to call…if she can find her phone!

Two months ago, I threw her into #the4500launches Facebook group when she tried to steal away my Advanced Reader Copy of The Sound of Gravel by Ruth Wariner. Here’s what she has to say about the book.

~*~

Okay, confession time. I was not one of #the4500. So how did I come to be on this launch team (#the4500launches)? How did I come to write a review of a book that has ripped open emotion after emotion, a book that landed in my hands quite by accident?

Let’s be real. My daughter had been talking nonstop about another author, Anna LeBaron; a group of ‘rejects”called #the4500, and posting heart-rending, thought-provoking tidbits about The Sound of Gravel by Ruth Wariner on Facebook. I saw them. And I read them. And I waited with anticipation for the book’s release. And then an Advanced Reader Copy of Ruth’s book came to my house for Ticcoa—taunting me to break federal law and open her mail!

I was strong…until Ticcoa opened the package and placed the book on the table. As soon as her back was turned, I found myself settling into a chair, book in hand. Soon, I was found out as Ticcoa got ready to go home: “Mom! That’s my book! How far have you read?!”

I was four chapters in.

photo (5)
Caught in the act

Prying the book from my hands, she finally agreed to let me finish it after she’d read it—with the condition that I’d post a review. When I got it back (the next day—she read fast!), I cried, laughed, cheered, cursed, encouraged, smacked my head, and lived the life of Ruth Wariner. And yes, my heart leaned toward murder at times, and then catapulted to the abyss of conviction.

So many decisions, beliefs, deceptions mirrored instances in my own life, played out more subtly and unnoticed. A twist here, a darkness there, an enabling act that said “yes, it’s okay to treat me that way because I don’t want you to feel like a bad person,” a pressing down of anger because “we have to be nice girls,” or “a Christian doesn’t act like that.” Then came the realization that when it is a mother holding those beliefs, it is not only her life, emotions, and psyche that are changed and even depressed, but also that of her children.

As I read this book, layer after layer of denial was exposed and, hopefully, peeled away. I’ll be reading The Sound of Gravel again, because it is truly one that begs to be read more than once. Healing takes time and that costs very little.

~*~

For more information about Ruth and to read an excerpt from The Sound of Gravel, please visit Ruth’s website.