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!

#EpicBookTourTPD

Bluebonnets and Best Friends: The Summer of Endless Miles, Day 1

The first stop on the #EpicBookTourTPD was Temple, TX on April 1st. We joined a small group of new friends for a lunch meet-up and spent the night with our friend (and my #the4500 twin), Taylor.

After lunch, we ran some errands—which included an impromptu photo shop in a bluebonnet field by a gas station. I’d spent the previous weeks rolling my eyes at all the bluebonnet photo shoots that filling up my Facebook newsfeed, not quite convinced about all the hype these flowers produced in my Texan friends. So when we passed this field, Taylor and Anna insisted on continuing my initiation as a true Texas resident.

As we traipsed into the field, they warned of snakes. Then, when we found a spot that would provide a background free from street signs and buildings, they decided we should lie down. Um, excuse me? Didn’t you just tell me to watch for snakes? And now you want me to lie on the ground??? Yes, that was exactly the plan.

So we did.

As much as I don’t get the whole bluebonnets thing, I will admit  this was a fun photo shoot that I will always remember.

 

 

Because of my sister’s creative eye behind a camera, I’m certainly no stranger to unconventional photo sessions and this one was the first I’d participated in for a while. An impromptu bluebonnet photo session with two of my closest friends was definitely not a bad way to start an epic book tour.

 

Processing

Unprepared

“I don’t think you’re ready for this,” Anna warned as we approached the entrance gate. 

Peering out the window at the miles of flat land the seemed to stretch on forever, I wasn’t convinced that there was any sight as impressive as what I’d been told out there. I was intrigued.

We drove through the gate and parked at the scenic overlook. Opening the car door, the winds of the west Texas high plains immediately whipped my hair into my face. As I struggled to keep my hair out of my eyes, we walked out to the overlook. 

There it was. 

Palo Duro. 

photo courtesy of Anna LeBaron
 
The Grand Canyon of Texas.

Vast. 

Deep. 

Impressive. 

Unfathomable. 

I’m a woman of few [spoken] words in any given situation, but I had none as I looked across the canyon. The layers of colored rock, the hazy horizon in the distance depicted the rugged beauty my Carolina girl eyes aren’t accustomed to appreciating. To the left, to the right, to the fore–the canyon continued as far as my eyes could see. 


Vast. 

It’s the word that came to mind as we stood there, and that has stayed with me since. 

This year has brought many unfathomable, deep, impressive events. 

Like the rough landscape of a west Texas canyon cuts through the earth, 2017 has cut a crevice in my heart, mind, and soul that will forever be there. 

Just as the red clay of the canyon has properties with the power to stain, so have the events of this year stained my spirit, in ways both lovely and unbearable. 

As I gazed across the canyon, trying to make sense of its vastness, I also found myself struggling to make sense of this year, of these months whose memories are so intertwined with sweet and bitter. 

These months that have allowed me to experience so many different landscapes with both my eyes and my heart. Landscapes so breathtakingly beautiful and so bleak and unwelcoming. 

Part of me wants to sit with pen in hand for hours and pour all the memories into the page. But part of me does not want to remember, because every single fun memory is tinged with the red-dirt stain of loss. 

I want to write about those 23,461 miles that took Anna and I across the country. I want to tell the stories of how an introvert survived a four-month road trip. I want to share the pictures that prove we actually did it (because sometimes it all feels like a dream). Yet, remembering is hard right now. Not because I can’t remember, but because the bitter memories are still too fresh, too personal, too intertwined with the sweet. 

They are unfathomable to my brain that still tells me I can text my sister. 

They are a deep crevice that has been ripped through my heart. 
They are a vast wound in my soul. 

Nothing could have prepared me for 2017. 

I wasn’t ready for this. 

Five Minute Friday

An Introvert’s Guide to Surviving the Summer of Endless Miles {Five Minute Friday}

This week’s Five Minute Friday prompt is “Guide.”  The rules: Set a timer and free write for five minutes about the week’s topic. No editing allowed!

~*~

You wouldn’t  think a homebody in her right mind would ever volunteer to embark on a summer-long road trip of EPIC proportions, right? There’s a first time for everything though.

So how, exactly, does an introvert keep her wits about her when spending 4 months on the road?


1. Earbuds

These are your BFFs. Your lifesavers. Your constant companions. If you lose them—replace them ASAP at the next gas station stop. They drown out background noise, 80’s music, and extroverts who prefer to stay up late talking instead of sleeping like normal people. You might end the trip having purchased (and lost) 3-4 pair—but it will be worth it. Trust me.

2. Naps

When you’re on the road for 8, 10, 12, hours a day every other day, naps are essential. You are tired. You need to conserve every ounce of energy you have so that you can extrovert once you arrive at your destination.

.
.
.
(Five minutes is NOT enough time to expound upon this list. But those two things were DEFINITELY my top two road trip must haves! Nobody wants a sleep-deprived, cranky, introvert running a book table!)

Five Minute Friday

Five Minute Friday: Speak


It’s time for the Five Minute Friday link up again! The rules, as usual, are that you write for five minutes with no editing. Today’s prompt is “Speak.” Here we go.

One of the best aspects of the Epic Book Tour was meeting authors from all over the country. I always have and always will be in awe of anyone who manages to wrangle their thoughts into a whole collection of words that becomes a book.

When we were in Salt Lake City this July, Anna and I had the opportunity to have coffee with Nish Weiseth one afternoon. This came about after I saw Nish’s comment about Anna’s book on another author’s social media and sent her a message asking if she’d like to meet when we were in town a few weeks later. (I TOTALLY did not expect to hear back from her). Since I’ve not mentioned that on any of my social media platforms, I thought I’d give her a shout out today.


Nish is funny, opinionated, laid-back, smart, sassy, and passionate. She loves her city and the people in it—which was clear in the couple of hours we spent with her.

Her book, Speak: How our Story Can Change the World (aptly titled for today’s FMF prompt) was published in 2014. Nearly four years later, her message of the power of story in connecting to those around us is relevant and true in light of current events:

With relationship comes trust and faith between friends. This is the missing piece of the evangelism puzzle that we’ve been looking for. Most of us who grew up in or around church and Christian culture have been told that the cross of Jesus is a salvation bridge between us and God. Some of us have handed out our tracts and cold-called strangers on the street to tell them about the glorious salvation of Jesus Christ. But really, it’s a lot simpler than that. Evangelism should simply be another by-product of genuine relationship with others…of understanding that ensures the conversation will be built on love.

What a lovely conversation that is.

If you’d like to learn more about Nish, you can find her at www.NishWeiseth.com, on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

(Oh—and if her name trips you up, “it’s Nish, like fish.”)

#EpicBookTourTPD, Five Minute Friday

Five Minute Friday: Place

Today’s Five Minute Friday prompt is “Place.” As always, the rules are to write for five minutes; no editing allowed! There were a lot of directions I could have gone with this word–and  I’ve barely scratched the surface with these five minutes’ worth of words.

~*~

For the last five days, my place has been either my bed or the couch. My mind and body have decided they’re taking a break—and a well-deserved one at that on the heels of the #EpicBookTourTPD.

In my wildest dreams, I never thought I’d come to the end of the summer of 2017 with the ability to say that I’d seen the ENTIRE country in four months’ time. And yet—there I sat, having found my place as road manager in the passenger seat.


2 women (who may be more than a little crazy).

112 travel days.

300+ stops/events.

23, 461 miles.

40 states.

Places upon places upon places.

It passed too quickly some days and too slowly other days, and the whole thing is very much a blur right now.

But there’s no other place I would have rather been this summer than in the Epic Book Mobile.

#EpicBookTourTPD

Summer of Endless Miles: The End Before the Beginning

The landscape is barren as the asphalt glides backwards under the tires. (Hello, West Texas.) Thousands of miles have accumulated, a few hundred more to go. We’re headed home. (And will have reached our destination by the time you read these words.)

It’s officially the last day of the #EpicBookTourTPD—the one-hundred-twelfth day, to be exact. Add this to the list of things I never thought I’d do. A four-month, forty-state road trip? With a total extrovert? No way.

To say that life has gone topsy-turvy over the last year is an understatement. So many layers of change—exhilarating change, traumatic change, anticipated change, unexpected change—have built up faster than I can process them. Because the positive changes are so interwoven with the negative change, it’s been difficult to write about them—much less celebrate them.

My sister’s death has cast a shadow over this summer. There’s no other way to slice it. It has shattered my heart into a million pieces again and again. I can’t imagine that will ever change.

(A plea: No canned platitudes in the comments please—well-intended or not, I’ve had about all of those that I can handle. And Jess is hard-rolling her eyes about it, too, I’m sure. If that offends your sensibilities, I’m probably talking to you. See my upcoming post on the most helpful words I’ve received concerning grief.)

One of the most ironic things about this summer of endless miles is the fact that Jess was the sister with permanent wanderlust. She’d been to Europe twice and planned to visit many other countries. The two of us had dreams of a cross-country trip someday, but it seemed quite intimidating to me considering my homebody tendencies. When I decided to accompany Anna on this trip (and finally convinced her that it was a good idea), Jess encouraged me to go. After all the adventures, she’d dragged a reluctant older sister on, she wondered what alien species had abducted me. I’ve wondered the same.

When things went downhill fast with Jess’ health, I had to choose whether to go home to S.C. or stay on the road.  There were many factors that played a role in this deeply personal process that I won’t address here. Ultimately, I felt that there would be no better way to honor my sister than to travel the country and see what she could not.

More than 23,000 miles later, I believe I made the right choice. Would I rather have taken this trip with my sister than for her? Of course. No question. But she’s been with me every moment and every mile—and I’ve had her own traveling mascot, Migrating Monty, to remind me of that. (A plastic green dinosaur as one of my most treasured possessions? Add that to the growing list of things I never thought would happen.)

Now that the trip is done, I’m ready to start writing about it—in all its overwhelming, exhausting, exhilarating glory–starting here, at the end, before making my way back to the beginning. First, I’ll need a few good nights’ sleep in my own bed.

Stay tuned.

Five Minute Friday

Five Minute Friday: Try

It’s time for Five Minute Friday link up again! The rules, as usual, are that you write for five minutes with no editing. Today’s prompt is “Try.” Here we go.

~*~

“You have nothing to lose and everything to gain by trying.” (My beloved Mama D quoted this to me countless times during my college years; the original author is unknown to me.)

I used to be afraid to try. (Sometimes I still am…)

A fear of failure, of not meeting some preconceived standard stopped me from doing things I was curious about, thing that were necessary, or things I’d never done before.

Last year, I flew on an airplane for the first time after ears of telling myself—and others—that “Ticcoa doesn’t fly?” Why? Because I was afraid. I let my fears of disaster and apprehension of the unknown keep my feet planted firmly on the ground.

Nearly one-and-a-half years later, I’ve now flown almost a dozen times.

And guess what?

I love flying, actually.
(I still hate airports and the process of boarding the plane, but who loves that?)

And so, today’s prompt got me thinking—How often do we tell ourselves we can’t do something and allow that untruth to shape our lives? How often are we missing out on an entirely new and thrilling adventure because we aren’t willing to try?

Day to Day

Five Minute Friday: Collect

This week’s #FMFParty prompt is “Collect.” The rules: Set a timer and free write for five minutes about the week’s topic. No editing allowed!

~*~

I sat at the water’s edge, sifting through the sand and shells as they rolled in with the waves and were swept back out to sea.

Shells stretched for miles along the water’s edge. I wanted to collect them all—each one unique.
But I couldn’t.

I had to choose.

I had to choose which ones were worthy of making the trip home.

I’m learning I also have to choose moments. Which ones to keep and which to let go; which moment to grasp tightly and which to release.

There are a multitude of moments I wish I’d had time to collect with my sister.

Thirty years is too short a time to collect all the moments we wanted. There were more—many, many more that had yet to pass.

And because those moments are gone, I grasp at the ones that are left—the moments turned memories. I will lose some as time passes, just as I will lose some of the shells I picked up on the Florida coast. But there are some moments that have been collected that will be with me always.

Processing

Five Minute Friday: Comfort

I’m trying something new and joining in on the Five Minute Friday Party (#fmfparty),  a writer’s link-up hosted by Kate Motaung. Each Friday, she offers a single word writing prompt. The rules are to free write whatever comes to mind for five minutes using that one word as their prompt. No overthinking, no editing. Yikes! My friend Anna has “taken away” my delete key before–and I didn’t like it! We’ll see how this goes!

The water rushed over the cliff, dropping 186 feet into the natural pool at the bottom. We stood at the water’s edge, shaded form the July sun, a huge boulder at our backs.

Emotions rushed through my heart, thoughts flooded my mind, and tears dropped from the corners of my eyes.

The dam was beginning to break and I couldn’t stop it.

The grief that I’ve been holding back was cracking through the walls.

I turned around, facing the rock, and leaned into it, growling with frustration at my tears and the lack of comfort they brought me.

“Do you always snuggle up to rocks when there’s a person standing beside you??” she asked, holding out a hand.