Book Reviews

What Am I Reading?

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I love to review books. It makes me think about what I’m reading more deeply and forces me to understand multiple facets of the book that I might not have thought of otherwise. However, I mostly review the Christian life/theological books that I read. Not fiction. Ironic for an aspiring novelist, I know.

So today I thought I’d give you a look at my Goodreads “Currently Reading” shelf. Am I doing it to prove that I read more than just nonfiction? Or as a chance to write mini reviews about everything I’m reading? Maybe. But, either way, I wanted to share with you the books that I’m in the middle of reading. And maybe you’ll have some suggestions for where to go next…

The Sacred Search by Gary Thomas

Yes, I’m starting with a nonfiction book, even after all that about needing to review more fiction. It was at the top of the list though. The Sacred Search takes a look at why we get married and thinks about whether those are good reasons. Is being “in love” enough to sustain a marriage through the decades? And if not, what is? Now, I’m not contemplating getting married any time soon – don’t worry. But I know it never hurts to be a little more prepared when that time does come.

The Little Prince (Der Kleine Prinz) by Antonie de Saint-Exupery

Somehow, I made it through childhood without reading this book, so now I’m discovering the little boy who rules his own planet for the first time. In German. That’s right – senior year rocks when your German assignment is to read a children’s book, complete with pictures.

Dreamlander by K.M. Weiland

I have taken a break from this one to finish off a few other books that I’m almost done with. However, I love the out of the ordinary plot involving the real world and a dream world. One thing that K.M. Weiland excels at is world-building and this is no exception. It is one of those books that is fun to read, but definitely has some substance to it.

Gregor and the Marks of Secret by Suzanne Collins

This is one that I’m reading to my little brothers, albeit very slowly. The fourth book in the Gregor the Overlander series sends twelve-year-old Gregor on another adventure involving saving the city of Regalia in the aftermath of a devastating plague. This is my second time through the series and it’s still fun to read.

Just Write by James Scott Bell

I’m not sure I can honestly include this in “Currently Reading” seeing as it’s been several months since I last read some of it. But it is an interesting book on not only the craft of writing fiction, but also what a life of fiction writing looks like. James Scott Bell’s perspective as an author has been valuable through this book and I should probably start it over.

The Berlin Candy Bomber by Gail S. Halvorsen

Do you ever get to the last chapter of a book and then inexplicably not finish it? Yeah. This is the sweet and heroic story of the man who dropped candy for children during the Berlin airlift after WWII. It’s a little dense with military (and especially airforce) language, but worth the read. Now to finish off those last 30 pages…

Crazy Busy by Kevin DeYoung

My mom and I are reading this for a Sunday School class and it has changed the way I’m thinking about busyness and obligations, even four chapters in. DeYoung writes about the problem of busyness in America today and how we’re hurting ourselves. But he also provides key truths about us and God that should change how we see our busyness – and make us think twice before signing up to organize another event. This might come back as a full review at the end of the semester, but I recommend it already.

Notes from Underground and The Double by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

I finished Notes from Underground for school and wanted to read The Double on my own. The former is a jab at what would become of society should the ideals of Romanticism be realized (if I remember correctly from class). The nameless narrator tells stories that illustrate his version of freedom: bitterness and acting against his own self interest just because he can. It was a little bit disturbing to read, but very intriguing to listen to that perspective.

When People are Big and God is Small by Edward T. Welch

I’m reading this one with a woman who is discipling me and we’ve just finished chapter two. This book is about fear of man versus fear of God. It takes a look at the root of our fear of man (because pretty much everyone fears people to some extent) and I’m hoping it will go on to explore how to more fully fear God instead.

Cress by Marissa Meyer

This book is, admittedly, not the most scholarly of what I’m reading right now. It’s serving as some light reading (listening, actually – I’ve got the audio book) in the middle of all of the heavy reading I have for other purposes. The third book in the Lunar Chronicles mixes fairy tales with dystopia to form a new kind of future. It holds my attention while driving or running and gives a nice break from the the seriousness of life. It also provides a good opportunity to look past the story into the themes and messages and examine whether those are true or not.

Beyond Good and Evil by Nietzsche

Okay, so this one’s for school and I don’t understand it at all. Based on class this week, it’s apparently about postmodernism. Nietzsche has kind of a sarcastic tone in his writing, in my opinion, and is not respectful of women at all (beware, ye feminists). I’m going to keep working on understanding his philosophy though, because I know it would be valuable to understand.

Battle Cry of Freedom by James M. McPherson.

Another book for school, but I love this one! Battle Cry of Freedom is an 800 page history of the Civil War. McPherson writes about all the contributing factors and looks at each side of the war by quoting directly from speeches, letters, books, and newspapers written at that time. Some of my classmates have called it dense and don’t seem to be enjoying it as much, but this future history major is loving every page.

A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix

This is another for-fun one that I’m reading rather slowly. It’s a dystopia set on different planets. The universe is ruled by millions of princes and this book tells the story of one of those princes coming into his title. So far, I’m enjoying it. I chose this book because I’m outlining a dystopian right now and I want to consider as many aspects of the genre as I can in the hopes of making my book unique and meaningful.

So there you have it. The exhaustive list of books I am in the middle of reading. I keep saying I need to finish a few and pare the list down so I can focus more on what I’m reading, but the number keeps staying the same. And it’s nice to have such a variety going at once.

Now I’d like to know: what are you reading? Do you have any recommendations for me? Have you read any of these books before? Comment and let me know! I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Kira

Book Review: The Cure

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We can never resolve our sin by working on it.

That was the first line of many that made me literally catch my breath and stare for a few minutes as I read The Cure by John Lynch, Bruce McNicol, and Bill Thrall. A few pages into chapter one and I was already filled with a feeling that few books give me: a feeling of longing, of knowing this is truth and it is truth that I have been missing. So here I am with another book review so close after the last. Because this is a book that must be shared.

I received The Cure from my best friend for my birthday. I remember asking her about it as she read it over the summer and then promptly forgetting the title. But she didn’t forget and gave it to me a couple months ago, assuring me that it gave a clear picture of Who God is and who we are in a powerful way. Turns out, she was right.

Once I started reading, I was hooked. The thought of this book is what got me out of bed several days while I was reading. But enough about me. What was so life changing about this short little Christian life book?

An analogy of two rooms runs through each chapter – the Room of Good Intentions and the Room of Grace. To be honest, I initially thought that was a bit silly. I mean, we’re all adults here (or almost). Do we really need a cute story to go along with our theology?

Yes.

The first chapter is titled “Two Roads” and discusses the paths to and consequences of both Rooms. It ends with the unnamed man finally coming into the Room of Grace. He has been trying so hard to please God. He knows he’s not happy and that no one around him is either. But he doesn’t know what else to do. Finally, he runs away from the Room of Good Intentions and sets out on the other road, leading to the Room of Grace.

As someone who has struggled with perfectionism and trying to get everything right for a long time, this book was the first to so accurately put into words all the feelings behind that. I learned things about myself and what I believe and then I learned the truth about God and how dear I am to Him.

After arriving in the Room of Grace, the man begins to learn what it means to live out of grace, not just good intentions. What it means is freedom, joy, purpose, nearness to God, and so much more. Each chapter addresses another aspect of a life of grace and is both painful and healing to read.

My review cannot do this book justice. I’ve tried to tell a few people about it, but my words never fully explain how God has used this book in my heart. Since reading it, I haven’t stopped thinking about it and before I was finished, I was ready to read it again. The pages are already full of notes, prayers, and, in some cases, tears.

I recommend this book to you, as my friend did to me, because it is a book everyone should read. Not just the perfectionists. Not just the Christians, even. Everyone. I don’t think it will ever grow old, though I foresee my own copy becoming quite tattered through the years.

Never has a book changed me like The Cure and I pray the truths in it will keep working in my heart for many years, freeing me and filling me with the wonderful joy of being near the Father. And I pray that you will read it and that you will join me in a more full and true understanding of this life we lead as disciples of Christ. I doubt you’ll regret it.

Kira

What are you reading?

Book Review: Rediscovering Humility

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We often define sanctification as “becoming more like Christ.” A more apt definition might be “resting more in Christ’s love.” One of the major sins that many Christians try to sanctify themselves out of is the sin of pride.

I’ve just finished reading the book Rediscovering Humility by Christopher Hutchinson that addresses the attempt to eliminate pride by looking at it from the opposite side. What if we stopped trying to get rid of pride and instead started trying to live in humility?

Pastor Hutchinson begins the book with the admission that it is a work of which he is “exceptionally proud,” immediately setting the humble and slightly humorous tone for the rest of the study. He then goes on to describe why he wanted to write a book on humility – it’s not something the church talks about very much, but there is a need for such discussion.

Rediscovering Humility divides the subject of humility into three sections: Humility Found (Faith), Humility Embraced (Hope), and Humility Applied (Love). Before reading this, I didn’t realize there was so much to the pursuit of humility. The slightly thick and deep book looked a little daunting as I began. And it became more and more convicting as I read.

But I did not pour hours of reading and thought into this book just for the feeling of conviction or that of superiority upon finishing it (that would be ironic indeed). I continued reading because the underlying premise of each chapter was grace. If you’ve read this blog for long, you probably know that I am a perfectionist and hold myself to a high standard rather than resting in the love of God. Rediscovering Humility was the book on Christian humility that I needed.

On almost every page, Pastor Hutchinson writes about the source and example of our humility: Christ. He humbled Himself to the point of death (Philippians 2). He came to serve, not to be served (Matthew 20).

We are able to live in humility because our Savior first lived in humility. We live in humility by recognizing the grace and love that we have in Christ. It’s not a cruel game of trying harder and counting up failures. It’s a life of joy that comes only from resting in God’s grace. If we do that, we cannot help but be humble.

Rediscovering Humility is not an easy book to read. As I said, it is incredibly convicting. I’m still looking around and seeing all the ways that I am prideful that I never noticed before. As Pastor Hutchinson writes in the preface, “Pride is all-pervasive. It is capable of turning any old thing into a curse, especially those things that are otherwise praiseworthy. Pride so easily masquerades as godliness that even the attempt to quell pride may just as easily feed it.”

So, it is not a comfortable book to read. It will take hours, if done with a spirit of self-examination and a desire for understanding. But it is worth it. Because, at the end of the day (and book), it all comes down to grace.

Kira

What are you reading?

Book Review: Mary Poppins

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Some stories are heavily laced with deep meaning, themes, and protagonist goals. Others are simply stories: interesting events that are fun to read about. In my mind, Mary Poppins belongs to the latter group.

Mary Poppins is the story of a nanny and the family for whom she works. Mary Poppins, Jane, Michael, and the twins have several adventures over the course of Mary Poppins’s stay in the Banks household. Mary Poppins herself is rather prim, proper, and prideful. She isn’t necessarily a pleasant person, but the children quickly fall in love with her.

From that point on, they do many different exciting things. They manage to travel the world with a compass they find in the park, they join Mary Poppins’s uncle for tea, and they meet a woman made of candy, among other fanciful events.

While I love a book with a strong story, good theme, and well-written character arcs, sometimes nonsensical stories such as Mary Poppins are an excellent break from the seriousness of everyday life. Mary Poppins is a wonderful example of enjoying the journey instead of the destination.

And of course, who could talk about Mary Poppins herself without mentioning the original movie? Well, in brief comparison, the book and the movie are different in many respects. On the screen, Mary Poppins is more gentle and kind – and musical. If one does not expect both book and movie to portray exactly the same story, the two are very much enjoyable and worth the few hours to watch or read.

Kira

Book Review: Robinson Crusoe

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I never thought I would enjoy Robinson Crusoe.

Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe was assigned in a literature class I am taking this year as the second book of the semester. I entered into it with a slight sense of dread, trying to temper that with the hope that it wouldn’t be as bad as I thought it might. After all, how could a book with a single character for the majority of the story be interesting?

Much to my pleasure, Robinson Crusoe showed me.

Rather than purely an adventure story (though there is plenty of adventure both before and during Crusoe’s island stay), Robinson Crusoe is the exploration of a man’s heart.

At the beginning of the book, Crusoe is a headstrong young man. He would rather have his way than listen to the pleading and reasoning of his parents. So he goes to sea. After a few mishaps (and some good fortune), Crusoe is the only man to survive a storm at sea and is deposited on his island for most of the remainder of the book.

And this is the point where I believed I would lose interest and have to start forcing myself to read. But once the physical journey of Crusoe’s life slows, Defoe begins to emphasize the spiritual journey.

Being left alone on an island leads to plenty of hours for introspection. Fortunately for Crusoe, a few Bibles were preserved from the storm and he begins to read them, having never done so seriously before. From there, Crusoe surrenders his life to Christ. He is made into a new man and now sees his island as God’s providence rather than his own ill fortune.

Robinson Crusoe had its dull moments, of course. But overall, Defoe wrote a satisfying and convicting spiritual story. Often, when Crusoe recognized sin in himself, I came to see the same within my life. Unlike in many other stories however, Crusoe turned to repentance and Scripture at such turning points rather than his own intelligence or even depression.

Daniel Defoe’s classic adventure novel holds the treasure of biblical truth which the majority of books today fail to follow. Without waxing on about the depravity and darkness of most of today’s literature (if it can be so called), I will only say that the clear acknowledgement of God in Robinson Crusoe gave me great pleasure to read.

As to whether I would recommend this book, I would say yes. Read it. Push through the boring parts because there is truth and excitement just around the corner. Besides, it does us modern readers good to stretch our attention spans every once in a while. Especially for such a worthy book.

Kira

Book Review: The Prisoner of Zenda

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And now you see why I don’t usually take my own photos 🙂

After my post of a few weeks ago bemoaning the depravity of today’s literature, let me assure that there are indeed still excellent books in the world. Books that spin a tale of adventure and keep you up far later than is right (oops). The Prisoner of Zenda is one such book.

Rudolph Rassendyll is a typical young man with too much money, not enough ambition, and a peculiar connection to the royal family of Ruritania from several generations back. He is floating through life with ease – much to the frustration of his industrious sister-in-law. She takes it upon herself to nag him into becoming an attache to Sir Jacob. Rudolph takes it upon himself to go on a different trip entirely, visiting friends and going to see the coronation of the new King of Ruritania.

Once there, he stumbles upon the new king and his two closest advisors – Colonol Sapt and Fritz von Tarlenheim. The four spend an evening of celebration together which ends with much less joy than when it started. Rudolph is thrown into a role he never imagined having and holds the fate of all Ruritania in his hands. He must struggle with the king’s brother, Black Michael, to defend the throne, while keeping up appearances with the rest of the court – especially the Princess Flavia. And through it all, he must remember who he really is, though the rest of the world thinks him someone else.

Anthony Hope’s story of Rudolph’s misadventures in Ruritania is fast paced and written with the beautiful yet easily comprehensible language that seems only to spring from the 19th century. The style of the writing led me to be wrapped up in the fictional time and place of Ruritania and I even learned a new word:

compunction: a feeling of guilt or moral scruple that prevents or follows the doing of something bad (according to Google)

I won’t bore you with a lecture on why I love Anthony Hope’s language so much, but I will say that it was refreshing to have to work a little bit to stay engaged in the book. And the excellence of the story itself provided plenty of reward for the minimal efforts it required.

The Prisoner of Zenda holds within its pages an adventure novel, a romance, and a story of personal struggles and growth, all woven perfectly together to create one unified tale of a man thrown out of his own world and into one where much more is required of him. And, (maybe this is also typical of books of this time period) it was clean. I had no fear that The Prisoner of Zenda would take a dark or disgusting turn. It was a thoroughly enjoyable story from start to finish and one that I am glad to have read.

Kira

What’s your favorite adventure story?
Have you read any older books lately?

Book Review: Passion and Purity

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Every once in a while, a truly excellent book is born. A book that changes the perspectives and lives of thousands of people – quietly. This book isn’t made into a movie. It doesn’t go wild on the internet. It might even be rather slow to sell. But God is faithful and He uses it to further His kingdom, even decades after it was written.

Passion and Purity by Elisabeth Elliot is a quiet little book. It’s not particularly long and is the exact opposite of flashy. From the cover to the introduction to the book itself, Elliot creates an atmosphere of peace and rest. I finished this book in the space of only a few days, so eager was I to get back to the comforting read, and then was sorry when it was over.

Passion and Purity tells the love story of Jim and Elisabeth Elliot, a gripping and sweet tale that seems as if it could come out of a storybook. But their story serves a deeper purpose, as do all of our stories. Elliot uses their years of joy and pain to discuss faithfulness to God in the midst of romantic relationships – purity in the middle of passion.

I’ve heard this book recommended countless places and will now join the voices urging that everyone desirous of living a pure life read the short volume. Passion and Purity is the first book on relationships I have read (and I have read many) to focus so pointedly on living for God in all your life and not just what to do with these feelings tangled up inside. It recognizes that we were created to glorify God and serve Him alone – even if that goes against what our heart is telling us to do (thank you, Disney, for that worldview). We must not waste these years of singleness and we must not waste future years of marriage. All is for the glory of God.

As much as I hesitate to use the word, “relatable” describes Elisabeth Elliot’s work quite well. She understands what it feels like to want marriage so badly, but to be kept from it over and over. She knows the struggles of submitting yourself to the Lord’s plan for your life. She knows the daily discipline of obedience. And she offers encouragement, through it all.

And so I say, read Passion and Purity. Read it carefully; read it slowly; read it with open heart and mind. Elisabeth Elliot holds much wisdom from the life God has given her and she generously shares it if only we are willing to listen.

Kira

Have you read any good books lately? What made them worth the read?

Book Review: Hand of Vengeance

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Photography is not my forte, but at least you can see the cover.

Yes, yes, a second book review in a single week. That’s just the way it worked out. 🙂

Hand of Vengeance by Douglas Bond was recommended to me by Moriah Simonowich of Delighting in Him and one of my friends offered to let me borrow it. So I started this book by Douglas Bond in the midst of all the other books I’m reading in at the moment.

Living in an 8th century Anglo-Saxon community, Cynwulf is shunned by most of the people in his world. Being left handed and part Viking, the rest of the community is happy to both avoid and judge him. Until one of his weapons is found at the scene of a murder. Cynwulf becomes the chief suspect in a murder trial he wants nothing to do with and must try to clear his name and save his life.

Bond writes a compelling tale (one which kept me up late for “one more chapter” more than once). His characters are complicated enough to be brought to life. I felt as if I understood Cynwulf even though I’ve never been on trial for murder. I wanted to know what was going to happen to them, so I kept coming back.

As I mentioned in my review of Jane Eyre, wholesome books are becoming more and more difficult to find. A large majority of authors are content to write fiction overflowing with sin and vice (not to mention lazy grammar and writing). It’s a tragedy, and I don’t say that lightly. Books hold great influence over the thoughts and lives of those who read them and authors are entrusted with the responsibility of shaping minds.

That being said, Douglas Bond’s tale of murder, love, and geese is a refreshing read. He shamelessly and easily weaves in the gospel – something also not done well in many modern tales. Hand of Vengeance was relaxing to read. I knew I wouldn’t have to be on the lookout for anything sinful or dark that might make me need to put it down. The world needs more books like this one.

Kira

You can find Douglas Bond at douglasbondbooks.blogspot.com

or bondbooks.net

Are there any authors that you know are “safe” – that will deliver a great story without treading sinful waters? How did you find out about them?

From the Archives: Book Review: Jane Eyre

I began reading Jane Eyre after a ridiculously frustrating injury in April and I loved it, so I had to keep the review.

Originally published: 5/30/17


Classics. Those books that have lasted centuries, only to be left on the bookshelves of well meaning readers, unopened, unexplored. The shelves in my room hold many of these works of art, most of them as yet unread.

However, during the week of the neck injury awhile ago, I needed something to entertain me (other than Netflix – one can only take so much bad television). So I decided to tackle one of the books that I had been putting off for much too long. I figured my inability to move would provide motivation to actually finish the venture this time.

I chose Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte and completed about half of it before I was up and moving again. It happens to be quite a thick book though, and it took me a few more weeks of regular life to reach the end.

Miss Bronte’s protagonist, Jane, is a plain little girl at the opening of the story. Her life, young as she is, is already marked with suffering. Jane is an orphan, entrusted to the care of a guardian who does not love her. To get rid of the troublesome child, Jane is sent to a charity school where she receives an education and eventually ventures out into the world on her own. Life does not get any easier though, as she begins finding her way in the world, and Jane is left to face many difficult situations which try her courage, morality, and love.

As is often the case with old books (“classics”), I found Jane Eyre to be much more gripping and intriguing than I expected. The story is compelling and well thought out. Jane is a character who takes some getting used to, but is easy to grow to love. She is surrounded by a supporting cast with interesting backgrounds who leave their mark on the girl. Her tale is told by a woman with an excellent vocabulary and skill in crafting sentences.

I appreciated the moral questions raised by Bronte and how they were answered. As someone who loves to read, I’m finding it tragically and increasingly difficult to find books written in the recent past with clean language, themes, and choices. Jane Eyre was a breath of fresh air in that regard. Jane had to make terrible decisions, but she was strong and chose well. Emotion did not dictate the choices in her life – sound judgement and convictions did.

Though quite long, Jane Eyre was worth the read. I kept coming back to find out what would happen to the heroine and how she would respond throughout the weeks it took me to finish the book. Jane has left an impression on me, and, I have to say, I’m sorry the story’s over.

Kira

Are there any books you’ve been meaning to read for far too long?

From the Archives: Book Review: Crazy Love

I only read Crazy Love a few months ago, but I’m already looking forward to reading it again someday.

Originally published: 5/23/17


There’s nothing quite like a book that makes you take a good hard look at yourself. Crazy Love is one of those books.

I mentioned Crazy Love a few weeks ago in a different post before I had finished reading it. Now that I’m done, I had to review it because I absolutely loved it.

Francis Chan’s Crazy Love is about how incredibly out of this world God’s love for us is. It comes through in His every action – from salvation to the creation of caterpillars. Our sin left us with no claim to His love, but He poured it over us anyway. By the bucket full. When we stop and actually try to fathom for a moment the depth of this love, we are left with no other reaction than to pour out our lives in service to Christ.

We have no reason to fear death, no reason to conform to this world, no reason to worry or stress or be caught up with ourselves. This life is about God, even though we’re the ones living it. Chan makes that incredibly clear in his book.

Crazy Love is not overly eloquent or complicated. While I usually enjoy finer language in a book, Chan made his point simple and I appreciate that in this case. Rather than detracting from the book, the simplicity of the writing allowed me to focus on the message and how it applies to me.

It took me awhile to reach the point spiritually where I can see the benefit of conviction when I first feel it, rather than wanting to run in the other direction, toward complacency. It has led to a deeper appreciation of books like Crazy Love and how God uses them in my life. Francis Chan is not shy about saying that the church as a whole is not following God completely. But he doesn’t just leave it there. In “A Conversation With Francis Chan” at the end of the book, Chan stresses that he’s not attacking the church. Rather, he loves the church and wants to urge her to follow Christ’s calling.

“I’m not coming up with anything new. I’m calling people to go back to the way it was. I’m not bashing the church. I’m loving it.” (Crazy Love, pg 180)

Over all, Crazy Love was a convicting and, more importantly, encouraging read. It has led me to examine my own life and walk with God and to spend more time focusing on Him.

Kira

You can find Francis Chan on his blog: crazylove.org

And his Crazy Love website: crazylovebook.com

Have you read any convicting/encouraging books lately? Any that you can’t wait to read again?