Book Reviews

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!

Book Reviews, Uncategorized

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?