My February 2017 Reads

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2017 Reading Challenge

2017 Reading Challenge
Rachel has read 30 books toward her goal of 150 books.
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My goal for February was to read primarily books by authors of color since it's Black History Month, and it's been such a great challenge. It has definitely opened my eyes to so many things I had never considered or been aware of before, and I'm grateful for that. I will absolutely continue to read books by more and more diverse authors of all kinds, because I truly believe it's one of the most important and necessary things we can do as citizens of this nation and world.

I did read a few books not by authors of color, primarily because I received them to review, or because they were due back at the library, ha!

It's blowing my mind that it's only the end of February and I'm at 20% of my 150 book goal for 2017... definitely think I'm going to make that goal, which I did NOT think was possible! (I secretly was thinking I would only hit 100...) I officially upped my goal  to 200 books, and just, YIKES. Here we go!

Here's what I read this February:


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Surrender to Love: Discovering the Heart of Christian Spirituality by David G. Benner

THE STARS: 4/5

THE PLOT: "In this profound book, David G. Benner explores the twin themes of love and surrender as the heart of Christian spirituality. Through careful examination of Scripture and reflection on the Christian tradition, Benner shows how God bids us to trust fully in his perfect love." (from here)

THE THOUGHT: I got this one through the yearlong mentoring program I'm part of at my church, and it was a great read for understanding more about the heart of spirituality. It's a short little book, but it's jam-packed with great thoughts!


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You Can't Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain by Phoebe Robinson

THE STARS: 3/5

THE PLOT: "A hilarious and affecting essay collection about race, gender, and pop culture from celebrated stand-up comedian and WNYC podcaster Phoebe Robinson." (from here)

THE THOUGHT: I've listened to several podcast epodes from Phoebe, and really loved her fresh, unfiltered, humorous take on some pretty hard-hitting topics when it comes to race and being a Black woman in America these days. She wrote this with such a vibrant voice that wove convicting messages in with humor and wit and sass so well. I learned a lot from this one, but never once felt like it was a book trying to "teach" -- she struck a great tone with this one and while it isn't my normal genre or vibe necessarily, I'm glad to have read it.


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Reclaiming Hope: Lessons Learned in the Obama White House About the Future of Faith in America by Michael Wear

THE STARS: 4/5

THE PLOT: "The former Obama administration “ambassador to America’s believers” gives an inside account of living with faith in the White House and argues that Christians have a responsibility to be a hopeful and faithful presence in public life." (from here)

THE THOUGHT: This book is an incredible read. I didn't vote for Obama and wasn't a fan for a while, but as time went on and as the political climate has changed dramatically, I've come to appreciate and respect Obama so much more. I've been interested in the intersection of his faith and politics for a while (since listening to a podcast with his faith advisor Joshua DuBois a while back) and this book was really a brilliant read. I learned a lot, was inspired and encouraged, loved the behind-the-scenes stories, and really appreciated the thoughtfulness and relatable nature of how Wear crafted this. Highly recommend this one if you're at all curious about how faith and politics coincide, if you're an Obama fan or someone who doesn't know much about the man, or if anything about the presidency interests you.

THE DEETS: I received this one from BookLook Bloggers in exchange for my review!


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The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

THE STARS: 4/5

THE PLOT: "Josh has more than basketball in his blood, he's got mad beats, too, that tell his family's story in verse, in this fast and furious middle grade novel of family and brotherhood." (from here)

THE THOUGHT: This was a really fun, fresh, and engaging read. It's a really well-written blend of spoken word/slam style poetry and story, and I loved it. I read it in one sitting, really loving the flow and rhythm of it all, while also really appreciating the depth of the themes and plotline being told from this young boy's perspective.


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Is the Bible Good for Women?: Seeking Clarity and Confidence Through a Jesus-Centered Understanding of Scripture by Wendy Alsup

THE STARS: 3/5

THE PLOT: "Using a Jesus-centered understanding to look at both God's grand storyline and specific biblical passages, Alsup gives practical, accessible tools for understanding the noble ways God speaks to and about women in its pages and the dignity He places on His daughters." (from here)

THE THOUGHT: This one... I'm still not sure about. It's the kind of title that makes my blood boil, but I wanted to give it a chance. There were parts I loved. There were parts I vehemently hated. There were parts that made me think and consider things from a new angle (which I appreciate) and parts where I feel like she totally missed the mark and did more damage to the perception of what it means to be a woman than has already been done... (did not appreciate that). So, I don't know about this one. Interesting thoughts, glad I read them, but probably wouldn't recommend this one strongly.

THE DEETS: I received this one from Blogging for Books in exchange for my review.


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Swing Time by Zadie Smith

THE STARS: 2/5

THE PLOT: "Two brown girls dream of being dancers--but only one, Tracey, has talent. The other has ideas: about rhythm and time, about black bodies and black music, about what constitutes a tribe, or makes a person truly free. It's a close but complicated childhood friendship that ends abruptly in their early twenties, never to be revisited, but never quite forgotten, either. Dazzlingly energetic and deeply human, Swing Time is a story about friendship and music and stubborn roots, about how we are shaped by these things and how we can survive them. " (from here)

THE THOUGHT: I shared my review of this one for #COLLABOREADS here!


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The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl by Issa Rae

THE STARS: 3/5

THE PLOT: "A collection of humorous essays on what it’s like to be unabashedly awkward in a world that regards introverts as hapless misfits, and black as cool." (from here)

THE THOUGHT: This was similar to Tina Fey and Mindy Kaling's books -- a collection of essays with some common themes, but no real plot. I enjoyed it (especially because her voice and perspective as an "awkward black girl" is one I don't often hear in our culture) but didn't LOVE it or have a rave review. I really appreciated her style of communicating honestly about the stereotypes she faces as a black woman, and learned a lot as a result about how I can better break down some of my own biases and stereotypes.


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March: Book One by John Lewis

THE STARS: 4/5

THE PLOT: "March is a vivid first-hand account of John Lewis’ lifelong struggle for civil and human rights, meditating in the modern age on the distance traveled since the days of Jim Crow and segregation. Rooted in Lewis’ personal story, it also reflects on the highs and lows of the broader civil rights movement.

Book One spans John Lewis’ youth in rural Alabama, his life-changing meeting with Martin Luther King, Jr., the birth of the Nashville Student Movement, and their battle to tear down segregation through nonviolent lunch counter sit-ins, building to a stunning climax on the steps of City Hall." (from here)

THE THOUGHT: I didn't know what to expect from this trilogy, but I was blown away. I've never read many graphic novels (literally only like one last year for a reading challenge) but really appreciated it for the story Lewis tells here. These books are mostly told in flashbacks, with the modern day events of Obama's inauguration providing the context for why he's sharing these stories. It was powerful to read about all of his activism, his bravery in the face of incredible danger and unbelievable racism and prejudice... these stories reminded me of how brutally broken our country was just a short time ago, and how broken we still are. We have so far to go, but I was so inspired by Lewis to continue doing the hard work of reconciling and building bridges and bringing unity and justice to all of our neighbors, no matter their color. This trilogy is a must-read.


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March: Book Two by John Lewis

THE STARS: 5/5

THE PLOT: "After the success of the Nashville sit-in campaign, John Lewis is more committed than ever to changing the world through nonviolence - but as he and his fellow Freedom Riders board a bus into the vicious heart of the deep south, they will be tested like never before.

Faced with beatings, police brutality, imprisonment, arson, and even murder, the young activists of the movement struggle with internal conflicts as well. But their courage will attract the notice of powerful allies, from Martin Luther King, Jr. to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy... and once Lewis is elected chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, this 23-year-old will be thrust into the national spotlight, becoming one of the "Big Six" leaders of the civil rights movement and a central figure in the landmark 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom." (from here)

THE THOUGHT: (Read my above thoughts) -- I wept at this one several times. It was horrifying to read of the brutality that Lewis and his fellow Freedom Riders faced. It was sickening. It was heartbreaking. But it was also a necessary kick in the pants-- I never want to stay silent or passive when there is a necessary fight for equality and justice that needs to take place, and I want to rise up in the ways those men and women did, and fight for what is right. READ THESE BOOKS.


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Home by Toni Morrison

THE STARS: ?/5

THE PLOT: "An angry and self-loathing veteran of the Korean War, Frank Money finds himself back in racist America after enduring trauma on the front lines that left him with more than just physical scars. His home--and himself in it--may no longer be as he remembers it, but Frank is shocked out of his crippling apathy by the need to rescue his medically abused younger sister and take her back to the small Georgia town they come from, which he's hated all his life. As Frank revisits the memories from childhood and the war that leave him questioning his sense of self, he discovers a profound courage he thought he could never possess again. A deeply moving novel about an apparently defeated man finding his manhood--and his home." (from here)

THE THOUGHT: I loved listening to this one since Morrison herself read it (although I usually don't like audiobooks...) and was surprised by the plot coming from her, knowing what I've known about her in the past. It was a compelling storyline, but I just wish I had read it instead of listening to it... I really just don't get as much out of books I listen to, and I wish I could!


March: Book Three by John Lewis

THE STARS: 5/5

THE PLOT: "Welcome to the stunning conclusion of the award-winning and best-selling MARCH trilogy. Congressman John Lewis, an American icon and one of the key figures of the civil rights movement, joins co-writer Andrew Aydin and artist Nate Powell to bring the lessons of history to vivid life for a new generation, urgently relevant for today's world." (from here)

THE THOUGHT: I just can't say enough how necessary, important, well-crafted, and powerful these books are. I'm so glad I stepped out of my normal comfort zone to step into this story, as hard as it was to relive all the horrible things that happened not long ago and are still happening today.


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Selected Poems by Langston Hughes

THE STARS: 3/5

THE PLOT: "The poems Hughes wrote celebrated the experience of invisible men and women: of slaves who "rushed the boots of Washington"; of musicians on Lenox Avenue; of the poor and the lovesick; of losers in "the raffle of night."  They conveyed that experience in a voice that blended the spoken with the sung, that turned poetic lines into the phrases of jazz and blues, and that ripped through the curtain separating high from popular culture.  They spanned the range from the lyric to the polemic, ringing out "wonder and pain and terror-- and the marrow of the bone of life."" (from here)

THE THOUGHT: These poems have such a distinct, beautiful, important voice to them, and it put me exactly in the middle of the pictures Hughes painted with his words, which I loved. Reading through that plot summary really does explain it well -- it was a celebration of experiences and stories so unlike my own, and they were so well told and so great to read.


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The Very Good Gospel: How Everything Wrong Can Be Made Right by Lisa Sharon Harper

THE STARS: 3/5

THE PLOT: "What can we do to bring shalom to our nations, our communities, and our souls? Through a careful exploration of biblical text, particularly the first three chapters of Genesis, Lisa Sharon Harper shows us what “very good” can look like today, even after the Fall." (from here)

THE THOUGHT: I'm really glad this was one of my reads this month-- it was the only faith-focused book I read from an African American author, and I was so glad for her perspective. I loved the focus on shalom in this one-- it addressed (without apology) so much of the brokenness and hurt that our nation and world are facing, and invited Christians into a way of peace, wholeness, healing, and justice. It was well-written and so timely.


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The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis

THE STARS: 4/5

THE PLOT: "this masterpiece of satire has entertained and enlightened millions of readers with its sly and ironic portrayal of human life from the vantage point of the demon Screwtape. At once wildly comic and strikingly original, the correspondence of the worldly-wise old devil to his nephew Wormwood shows C.S. Lewis at his darkest and most playful." (from here)

THE THOUGHT: My church is currently going through a sermon series called "If There Were an Enemy" based on this book, and I figured it was a good time for a re-read. (I so very rarely re-read books!) This one will really get you thinking, as it's written from a senior demon to a younger one, and is all about how to trip up Christians and "win" them to the dark side, essentially. Really makes you think more seriously about how Satan is at work in our lives, and really helps you to better be on guard.


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I Almost Forgot About You by Terry McMillan

THE STARS: 4/5

THE PLOT: "In "I Almost Forgot About You," Dr. Georgia Young's wonderful life--great friends, family, and successful career--aren't enough to keep her from feeling stuck and restless. When she decides to make some major changes in her life, quitting her job as an optometrist, and moving house, she finds herself on a wild journey that may or may not include a second chance at love." (from here)

THE THOUGHT: I wasn't expecting to enjoy this one as much as I did! I wanted to mix up my reads this month with a more light-hearted fiction pick, and this was a great one. It helped that the author herself read this audiobook, and once I sped it up a little bit, I really actually liked listening along! 


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Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

THE STARS: 4/5 stars

THE PLOT: "When Janie, at sixteen, is caught kissing shiftless Johnny Taylor, her grandmother swiftly marries her off to an old man with sixty acres. Janie endures two stifling marriages before meeting the man of her dreams, who offers not diamonds, but a packet of flowering seeds ..." (from here)

THE THOUGHT: I definitely understand why this one is such a classic. The voice in this one is so strong, and I had to really slow down and savor the dialogue (it's written in such a strong dialect, you can't rush through it!) and the storyline. It's a feminist novel if I've ever read one, and before its time, too, which makes it even more powerful to read. Highly recommend this one. It's beautifully written, moving, and rich.


The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy by Rachel Joyce

THE STARS: 3/5

THE PLOT: "Told in simple, emotionally-honest prose, with a mischievous bite, this is a novella about a woman who falls in love but chooses not to claim it. It is about friendship and kindness as well as the small victories that pass unrecorded. It is about the truth and the significance – the gentle heroism – of a life lived alone." (from here)

THE THOUGHT: I really enjoyed The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (read my review in this post) and this was the sequel, told from Queenie's side of the story instead of Harold's. It was a fun companion  to the first, but not quite as engaging or fun to read, although I am glad I got to see her perspective and get a fuller sense of their story than I would have from just Harold's story. I will admit I teared up at the end of this one, and didn't really see the conclusion coming like it did! I definitely recommend reading these both as a pair.


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