My January 2016 Reads

I decided to change up how these monthly book review round-ups look this year! Since I'm rating them all with stars in Goodreads anyway, I'll be including that in addition to a quote I loved, my brief thoughts on this book, and a paired recommendation (like something else from that author, or a similar book, or something I would recommend reading instead). Let me know what you think of the new format!

Thanks to 5 snow days this month and easy-to-read Harry Potter books, I crushed 14 books in January. Looks like 80 for 2016 will be happening much before 2016 ends... oops.


Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling.

MY RATING: 4/5 stars

A QUOTE:

It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.
— J.K. Rowling

MY THOUGHTS: My coworkers are obsessed with Harry Potter, so I figured it was time to revisit the books I haven't touched since they came out throughout my childhood. I'm surprised at how much I'm remembering from them, honestly. I didn't expect that. I'll never be a mega fangirl, but they're fun and easy books to breeze through, and it's a nice change of pace to read books like this!

IN ADDITION: Yes, I will finally watch the movies (or try to) for the first time once I finish all the books. We'll see how it goes.


I Said Yes: My Story of Heartbreak, Redemption, and True Love by Emily Maynard Johnson

MY RATING: 2/5 stars

A QUOTE:

I was finally letting God do His job. And He was allowing me to start over.
— Emily Maynard Johnson

MY THOUGHTS: If you like watching the Bachelor/Bachelorette shows, this is a SUPER fast and easy read and it definitely made me like Emily more than I did before. She tells her story of love, the shows, and faith, but it's nothing super deep (I never really pegged her as a super deep person, to be honest) or really surprising either. It's a light, breezy memoir, and I did learn more about the behind-the-scenes elements of the show, which was probably interesting part of this book.

IN ADDITION: I've heard some good things about Sean Lowe's book "For the Right Reasons" if you want a probably similar type of read from the male perspective.


Guerrillas of Grace: Prayers for the Battle by Ted Loder

MY RATING: 4/5 stars

A QUOTE:

O God,
let something essential happen to me,
something more than interesting
or entertaining
or thoughtful...
— Ted Loder

MY THOUGHTS: Ah. Poetry. Worship. Honesty. Vulnerability. Prayer. I love it all. This book is all of that together. It's beautiful. Our worship leader Paige shared one of Loder's poems during a recent worship set at church and I absolutely fell in love with it, and texted her right afterward to find out what it was. I didn't adore every poem of his (and I wouldn't expect that) but there were a good handful that I starred and marked and even copied into my journal to remember forever. If you're a Christian looking for heartfelt, earnest prayers in the form of poems, you will absolutely love this collection.

IN ADDITION: These poems (like many others) are worth reading out loud. Even just to yourself...hearing the words spoken just gives them a powerful richness that you can't always get from reading them on the page. Plus, it slows you down and makes you savor it all a little more. Just try it!


Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling

MY RATING: 4/5 stars

A QUOTE:

Never trust anything that can think for itself if you can’t see where it keeps its brain.
— J. K. Rowling

MY THOUGHTS: Honestly, I don't have tons of thoughts.


Out of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving Faith by Sarah Bessey

MY RATING: 4/5 stars

A QUOTE: 

Perhaps Jesus was a bit too wild for the Church.
— Sarah Bessey

MY THOUGHTS: I really enjoyed this one. My faith journey is drastically different than Bessey's in practically every way, but the honest way she shares how she has come to embrace all the wildly different and often opposite elements of her faith and practices is refreshing. It made me feel more at peace with my own faith (like what it looks like to be somebody who craves silence and times of reflection in worship but also wishes my church danced and clapped and moved a little more). If you've ever felt like you've outgrown your faith or you don't know what it looks like or you aren't sure how to define it or you just don't know what it all means, this book will surely speak to you and make you feel less alone and more at home in the mess of it all.

IN ADDITION: If you haven't read Jesus Feminist by Bessey or you don't read her blog, I highly recommend them both!


From the Tablet to Table: Where Community is Found and Identity is Formed by Leonard Sweet

MY RATING: 3/5 stars

A QUOTE:

A table requires that people unconceal themselves from one another, that for all their faults and failures and foibles and fixations, they still say to one another, ‘Here I am.’ When people tell the truth to one another, and when they hear the truth from each other, it is a sacred moment.
— Leonard Sweet

MY THOUGHTS: This book is super short and sweet, and in that, there wasn't a whole lot of meat to it. (FOOD PUNS BECAUSE THIS BOOK IS ABOUT FOOD/TABLES HAHAHA.) I'm a huge fan of gathering around the table (growing up, my family ate dinner together every night that I can remember, and it instilled a deep love in me) and have seen how fruitful it is for community, so this book just reinforced that even though it didn't blow me away.

IN ADDITION: Shauna Niequist's Bread and Wine is on a similar train of thought to this one, but I enjoyed it a lot more.


The Road to Character by David Brooks

MY RATING: 4/5 stars

A QUOTE:

The best life is oriented around the increasing excellence of the soul and is nourished by moral joy, the quiet sense of gratitude and tranquility that comes as a byproduct of successful moral struggle.
— David Brooks

MY THOUGHTS: I shared my thoughts about this one for #COLLABOREADS -- check out my review here!

IN ADDITION: If you're a Brene Brown lover or an Elizabeth Gilbert fan and you also love biographies, this is the PERFECT book for you.


Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling

MY RATING: 4/5 stars

A QUOTE:

I solemnly swear I am up to no good.
— J.K. Rowling

MY THOUGHTS: It's funny because every time my brother and I say "serious", the other says "Sirius Black." We're weird. I don't have a lot of other thoughts about HP. It's HP.


The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming by Henri J.M. Nouwen

MY RATING: 5/5 stars

A QUOTE:

The same God who suffers because of his immense love for his children is the God who is rich in goodness and mercy and who desires to reveal to his children the richness of his glory.
— Henri J.M. Nouwen

MY THOUGHTS: This book... so good. I've heard (and been wrecked by) the whole point of this story in that both brothers are lost, even though only one ventures far away, but this book just went so much deeper than that. As somebody who genuinely loves and appreciates art, I couldn't get enough of all the meaning Nouwen pulled out of the Rembrandt painting. I always felt like the older son was more me (always been the homebody, the rule-follower, the "good one") but the way Nouwen described the lostness of both brothers and the ultimate goal to move toward the welcoming, loving, forgiving father for the lost ones in our own lives hit me hard and will stay with me, I'm certain.

IN ADDITION: I love all things Nouwen. His book of prayers (reviewed in this post) is my favorite.


Through the Eyes of a Lion: Facing Impossible Pain, Finding Incredible Power by Levi Lusko

MY RATING: 3/5 stars

A QUOTE:

The wonderful thing about the anchor of the soul is that it, too, comes equipped with a mighty chain. Hope has a rope: the Holy Spirit. Before entering God’s presence in the ascension, Jesus promised to send his Spirit to be our helper. He is our great rope that cannot be frayed, the one who has lashed our hearts to heaven.
— Levi Lusko

MY THOUGHTS: This book is heartbreaking in the story of the sudden loss of little Lenya, and it feels almost wrong to give such a vulnerable story less than all the stars, but I just didn't love Lusko's writing style or the arrogance I sensed in him around his church and his role as a pastor. The storyline of finding power in the midst of pain, though? Rich stuff that I can't even begin to imagine.

IN ADDITION: As far as memoirs go, I have to recommend Seth Haines (Coming Clean) and Amber C. Haines (Wild in the Hollow)-- their books were two of the best memoirs I've ever read and I enjoyed them so much more.


Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling

MY RATING: 4/5 stars

A QUOTE:

It matters not what someone is born, but what they grow to be.
— J.K. Rowling

MY THOUGHTS: Harry is a good dude. He sacrifices a lot for his friends and even his competitors, and I give him props for that.


Felicity by Mary Oliver

MY RATING: 5/5 stars

A QUOTE:

When did it happen?
”It was a long time ago.”

Where did it happen?
”It was far away.”

No, tell. Where did it happen?
”In my heart.”

What is your heart doing now?
”Remembering. Remembering!”
— Mary Oliver

MY THOUGHTS: I am a huge Mary Oliver fan. This new book of poems was delightful and made for such a sweet late night poetry binge. A must-read.

IN ADDITION: Mary Oliver can do no wrong, if you ask me. Grab her New and Selected Poems, Vol. 1 if you want a comprehensive place to start!


East of Eden by John Steinbeck

MY RATING: 4/5 stars

A QUOTE:

And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.
— John Steinbeck

MY THOUGHTS: This book came highly recommended, and it did not disappoint. The symbolism seeps out of every page, the parallels with Genesis and the fall and battle of brothers were strong and illuminating, and I couldn't put this one down. Thankfully, I tackled it during our snow week, so I had extra time to devour its goodness. It's one I'll be thinking about for a long while and wanting to revisit and reread again. It's real and raw and human in every way-- that's solid fiction that is definitely worth reading, if you ask me.

IN ADDITION: I want to keep reading (and re-reading) Steinbeck now! Any suggestions of what to tackle next?


Small Wonder: Essays by Barbara Kingsolver

MY RATING: 4/5 stars

A QUOTE:

Maybe life doesn’t get any better than this, or any worse, and what we get is just what we’re willing to find: small wonders, where they grow.
— Barbara Kingsolver

MY THOUGHTS: SO much of Kingsolver's thoughts on the environment, food, gardening, conscientiousness, faith, caring for goods/people/places/our world, politics, etc, resonate with me. Girl is my soul sister. She's from Arizona, too, which just adds to the connectedness I feel to her. These essays are poignant and powerful and we as Americans would all do well to think more like this and act more wisely to keep our planet alive and thriving.

IN ADDITION: I loved Prodigal Summer by Kingsolver too-- check out my #COLLABOREADS review of it here.


Amber Thomas and I would love to have you join us for February's #COLLABOREADS -- pick a literary classic, read it this month, and link-up with your review on Feb. 29! 

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