"You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me."

-C.S. Lewis

What we read has such an impact on us, and I am always on the lookout for something that will inspire me to be a better person. Here is a sampling of books that have been in the teetering stack sitting on top of what is rumored to be my bedside table.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Lincolns: Portrait of a Marriage, by Daniel Mark Epstein

    I've been curious about the marriage of Abraham and Mary Lincoln for quite some time.  They are an intriguing subject even without the Presidency and the Civil War.  I suppose they serve almost as a cautionary tale of two souls who start out in love and on equal footing, only to slowly transform into a very strange relationship that makes so many wonder if either party regretted their decision to marry.  In short, Abraham married Mary with great plans for their future... and then life happened, as it does to so many of us.  The fact that their lives became such an influential part of American history doesn't mitigate the fact that I think many of us identify with them.  The struggles they dealt in their marriage with could happen to any of us on different scales.

     The book begins with their courtship, and ends with the moment of his death.  The pages in between are so well researched it is easy to picture every detail clearly.  Some of their struggles were kept fairly well hidden, but Epstein is still able to give us glimpses into their life through his careful research.  Both Lincolns, of course, battled mental illness of varying degrees.  But Mary in particular struggled with issues for which there was no adequate treatment.  And the further she slipped into her illness, the more their marriage changed as a result.

     I closed this book with new sorrow for Mary, but also a new respect for Lincoln.  He seems to have taken the "in sickness and in health" portion of the marriage vows very seriously.  The book shows a definite shift in his attitude and behavior toward Mary the worse she became.  And with the personal turmoil of their family life, it is a wonder that Lincoln the President was able to guide this country through arguably the worst time in its history.

     And just as an aside, Epstein's writing of the assassination is inspired.  He shifts the point of view to that of Mary's and we get a final glimpse into the fragility of her mind during one of the worst moments of her life.

     Well worth the read for any history buff.

     Five out of Five Stars

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Don't Give Up, Don't Give In, by Louis Zamperini and David Rensin

  This is the book I've been waiting for since I finished Laura Hillenbrand's biography of Louis Zamperini, Unbroken.   I loved that book, but it seemed to me that the real story of heroism came after the war, when Zamperini was able to overcome the atrocities that he was subjected to.  

     This book, which was finished just before Zamperini passed away, tells that story.  I felt on reading Unbroken that it glossed over the power of God in Zamperini's life.  Don't Give Up gets more into how instrumental Zamperini's faith was in helping him overcome post traumatic stress and its symptoms.  As his son writes in this book, "miracles happened to [Zamperini] to demonstrate the power of God in his life."  And that's the story that I think most people don't get to hear about outside of this book.

     More than just a testament to Zamperini's faith, this book also tells the lessons that he learned throughout his life's journey.  How do you forgive someone who has deeply hurt you?  How do you stay positive enough to weather the bad times?  How can you maintain your self respect and dignity at all times?  These questions and more are answered in this book.  And in providing us with his wisdom gained through years of unspeakable trial and a life given in service to humankind, I think Louis Zamperini has shown himself to be the kind of hero our society desperately craves.

     I highly recommend this book not just to those interested in Zamperini's story, but also to anyone who feels that there should be more to life than what they have. Life is not meant to be simply survived, but lived.  And Louis Zamperini understood that.

Five out of Five Stars

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Messy Beautiful Love, by Darlene Schacht

     This is a book that is well worth the read.  Darlene Schacht, creator of the blog "Time Warp Wife," has done a fantastic job of showing what God can do through one woman.  

     The book discusses what it is to be a wife in a God-honoring marriage.  More than any other book I have read, the role of the wife is carefully delineated here.  And in doing this, Schacht gives Christian women a true gift.  So much of what is written in women's ministry - and particularly the "trendy" books - does not follow Scripture.  It instead twists Scripture into what we want it to be.  

     Darlene Schacht doesn't do this.  This book is Scripturally sound, and I love it for that.  A woman seeking to learn what she can do to better her marriage can read this book without worrying about false doctrine.  And you can't say that about a lot of books out there.

     Beyond that, Schacht is a good writer, and this book is an enjoyable read.  She answers many questions about the Christian marriage.  She talks about so many issues that are central to a good marriage - the choice we must make to be kind when we don't feel like it, the difference between submission and inequality in marriage, the importance of nurturing our husbands, and many other topics important to the Christian wife.

     This book isn't a deep read, nor it is an examination of the psychology of relationships.  It's just one woman's impression of what our role as wives should be.  But it's appropriately backed by Scripture, and for me, that is more than sufficient.  

     I highly recommend this book to any wife who is seeking what her role should be in a God-honoring marriage.  I'll be keeping this book around for further study.

Disclaimer:  I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Five out of Five Stars


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Before You Plan Your Wedding Plan Your Marraige, by Dr. Greg and Erin Smalley

     There are 3 weddings (that I know of) in my family's immediate future, and so I've been looking for good engagement gifts.  One thing I've discovered is that wow there are a lot of books on this topic!  Unfortunately, I've also discovered that for every good pre-wedding book out there, there are 3 or 4 not-so-good books.  There are also a few that are so downright awful you wonder if the author is conducting an experiment to see how much one book can contribute to the high divorce rate.

     Before You Plan Your Wedding... Plan Your Marriage is one of the good ones - the best of the good ones, actually.  So I thought it merited a review.  Because honestly, every couple from the newly engaged to the long married would benefit from the wisdom in this book.  Each chapter lends itself to both personal reflection as well as discussion between the engaged or already married couple.

     The authors start by discussing how to have an engagement that truly prepares the couple for marriage.  That segment is followed by chapters that delve into better self-awareness.  The reader is guided through a series of highly effective (I know because I've done them!) exercises on learning more about what drives his or her own fears and expectations.  Why is all this self-evaluation important?  Because those fears and expectations are going to affect you in ways you can't always imagine.  If you can't articulate them to yourself, they're going to control you, when it should be the other way around.  They're also going to control your approach to difficulties in your marriage.  And an argument where you don't realize exactly what is bothering you is an argument that is never going to be truly resolved.

     Once the authors lead the reader through this journey into self-awareness, they teach how to use this self-awareness in a manner that is healthy to not just the individual, but the marriage.  The rest of the book is largely devoted to good communication strategies, forgiveness, and teamwork in a marriage.  There is also a great section on marital roles in a God-honoring marriage (and no, this doesn't mean the husband gets to boss the wife around).  There is also a very important section on leaving and cleaving, the Biblical ideal of becoming one with your spouse, forsaking all others.

     I feel that this book is Scripturally sound.  As such, it's going to be of benefit to the Christian couple.  However, if you aren't Christian, this book is still going to be immensely helpful to you.  The sections on self-awareness and good communication apply to everyone.  I've read many books on marriage, both Christian and secular, and this book leaves most of the others far behind.  The authors do a good job of mixing sound advice with amusing anecdotes, and it's a pleasure to read.  I recommend it to anyone who is engaged or just simply wants a better marriage.

Five out of Five Stars