"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.

Monday, March 30, 2015

With Every Letter, by Sarah Sundin

     I picked this book up from the Kindle free store for a little light sick-in-bed reading, and goodness, was I pleasantly surprised!  This is the story of a World War II Army flight nurse who begins an anonymous pen pal relationship with an Army engineer.  For anyone who loved the movies The Shop Around the Corner and You've Got Mail, this is the book for you.

     Other reviewers have said that the writing is a bit simplistic, and I would have to agree.  It took me a few chapters to really get into it.  However, the research that went into this book and the incredible likability (yes, that's a word, I swear!) of the characters make this book a gem.  My grandmother's desire to become a WWII flight nurse and my interest in the era was what originally drew me to this book.  The incredible attention to historical detail did not disappoint!  The author's descriptions and the character development made it so easy for me to lose myself in this story.  And while there is a satisfying conclusion, I really hated to put it down.

     Highly recommended for anyone who is interested in the era, or who wants to read a well-researched novel about the brave, pioneering "Winged Angels" of the US Army Nurse Corps flight nurses.  These ladies were the real deal, gals, and this book is a fantastic tribute to them.

     Five out of Five Stars

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Women Are Scary, by Melanie Dale

     Women are Scary is ostensibly a book about how to find, make, and keep female friends while managing to be a mother at the same time.  What it ends up being is a humorous memoir about the difficulties that mothers have trying to maintain adult friendships.  Which, as most moms get, is a tough thing to do.

     I'm still not quite sure what to make of this book.  It starts off very funny, but the style started to wear on me after a while.  The author is a blogger, and while I'm sure her writing style is perfect for a blog, I think there just isn't enough substance here to be worthy of a full length book.  The premise is interesting, but you can't buy this book thinking it's going to be full of awesome relationship advice.  For moms out there, truly, I think we know who makes a good fit for us and who doesn't.  It all comes down to the time that we have for socializing.

     This book is valuable if you just want a good bubble-bath kind of a read that's going to cheer you up at the end of a long day full of too much spit-up and not enough adult conversation.  This book is going to remind you that you are fulfilling a very important God-given role, and that you are not the only one who doesn't channel June Cleaver every day.  

     I also appreciate this book because it acknowledges all mothers equally - adoptive, birth, "working", "stay-at-home" and every other label that society has put upon us.  It also has some incredible suggestions for simple charitable works that mothers can do while on play-date outings with each other.  I'll be looking into some of these ideas myself, and the book is worth a read if only for those suggestions.

     Three out of Five Stars

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

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Jesus Swagger, by Jarrid Wilson

Jesus Swagger: Break Free from Poser Christianity is probably a good book for brand-new Christians who are looking to become something more than Sunday Morning Christians.  The book's premise is the importance of living a Christ-like life at all times, not just for an hour on the weekend.  And the author gives us several ideas for how to do that in his own trendy writing style that will probably appeal to many younger Christians.  This message is a good one - after all, a true Christian life is led both inside and outside the church.

However, beyond anything that might help a new Christian think outside the box, I believe readers should exercise caution with this book.  First of all, it doesn't matter what urban dictionary definition of "swagger" the author chooses to use, the term has a negative connotation among most of our society.  It reduces our Lord and Savior to a bit of hipster slang.  And that's pretty rich coming from an author who criticizes the "Jesus is my homeboy" movement as being disrespectful to Christ.  I see no difference between that "#JesusSwagger."  The Bible tells us repeatedly to approach God in worship with "reverence and awe" (Hebrews 12:28, among others).  There is no reverence in this term.  It's a marketing gimmick, plain and simple.

I also take issue with the fact that while the author says once that church worship is still a good thing, the book tends to negate that statement.  A quotation that is particularly bothersome is, "Worshiping during church service is great, but worshiping outside of that element is even greater."  Can we really put one over the other?  Such a statement ignores the significance of listening to an educated pastor explain the true meaning of the Bible.  I can go out into the streets and preach to the masses all I want, but that is worthless if I have not myself taken the time to learn from a good teacher, or to surround myself with mature believers who will challenge me if I am wrong in my teachings.  And every Christian needs to know that, from the new believer to the seasoned pastor.  It is troubling that the two ways of worship are not given equal importance.

However, as I've stated above, I do think this book would be good for brand-new Christians to give them ideas of how to live their faith outside of church.  I also very much agree with the author's stance that churches need to stop making membership growth their main focus.  

The author has good intentions, but I believe there are better books on this topic.  This one is just a good introduction.

Two out of Five Stars

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

Sunday, March 15, 2015

My Heart and Other Black Holes, by Jasmine Warga

Before I write my review of this book, I want to send a message to anyone who is contemplating suicide, is depressed, or feels as though there is something "not right" with life.  No matter how badly you feel, no matter how much guilt or sadness or frustration you are carrying, there is help for you.  If a medical professional has told you you're fine, or given you a prescription isn't helping, there is still help for you.  Keep seeking it.  And there is so much more information on this website.  http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

Do not give up on yourself, because no matter what you think right now, you are worth more than what you are going through.  And so many advances have been made even in the last twenty years that there is help for you no matter how impossible your world may seem.  There are people who are trained specially just to help you - yes, you - live a life that is meaningful and enjoyable.  It takes time, it won't happen overnight, but the new person they will help you become will be stronger and more filled with self-worth.


This book, as you may have guessed or were probably already aware, is about teen suicide.  To be more precise, it's about two teens who decide to make a suicide pact.  

The author writes that this book helped her deal with the loss of a dear friend, and I am glad she was able to use her writing in such a cathartic way.  I'm also glad that this book was accepted for publication, not only because the author is a gifted writer, but also because the subjects of depression and suicide hold so much stigma.  We need more discussion of both issues in a way that treats them seriously.  And this book does that.

I'm conflicted about the book, however.  There are adequate descriptions of what depression feels like, and I'm sure this is helpful to many readers who are experiencing depression.  But the author never really captures the bleakness of someone who is that close to suicide.  The words are there, but the emotion (or lack thereof) really isn't.

Aysel's decision to stay alive (and this isn't a spoiler, it's in the book synopsis) comes at a very alarming rate.  It troubles me that she decides life is finally worth living because of some boy.  What does that say to suicidal readers?  What if that boy never comes along?  What if that boy comes along but then breaks up with you?  There is very little sense that Aysel has decided that she herself is worth the effort to live.  There is just suicidal Aysel and non-suicidal Aysel who is all ready to live her life (with maybe a few therapy sessions) as though nothing has happened.  And darn it, she doesn't want to live life without Roman.  What a troubling message for someone who is feeling suicidal because someone just broke up with them!

The bounce back from serious suicidal ideation just happens too quickly.  What does that say to a depressed reader?  It takes a long time to recover from depression that serious, and I would hate for someone to think that their situation is hopeless just because it's taking them longer to recover than it does for the characters in this book.  

(Spoiler Alert in this paragraph) As far as Roman's story goes, we get a small sense of what he is going through, but again, there is more bounce back from his depression than one would expect after his suicide attempt.  He seems much more lucid and in control of his thoughts than someone in his position would tend to be.  The author does make a note at the end that true recovery does take a long time (and it does), but how many people read author's notes?  That note would have been better placed at the front, where more people might see it.

Now, I'm not sure how much of this is the author, and how much of it is a publisher who doesn't want to have that much sadness in one book.  (Because, yes, bookselling is a business, and you do have to take the target audience into account).  But it's a narrow path you travel when you put something like this out there.  I truly hope that readers who have depression or suicidal thoughts seek the help that is offered in the back of the book.  No one's life story is the same.  And the characters in this book are just that - fictional characters.  Happy endings like the one in this book take time, and I would hope that no reader would expect recovery to happen so quickly.

Two out of Five Stars

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

10 Ultimate Truths Girls Should Know, by Kari Kampakis

     There are so many powerful messages for girls in this book, it's impossible to list them all in an appropriately-sized review.  However, the 10 truths that are discussed in this book are certainly important for every girl to know.  The book steers girls middle school and up to a God-centered life that helps them get through the struggles of adolescence.

     The 10 truths themselves discuss issues such as popularity, confidence, dealing with boys, building a good reputation, and living a life for God.  A tall order for one book, and I do feel the book does fall short in a couple of areas.  The chapter on popularity in particular tends to be vague and starts with an example that might be too cliche for many girls to respect.  This chapter is the first chapter in the book.  I encourage girls to keep reading beyond this chapter if they find it irrelevant.  The book does get much better, and is full of so much Bible-based wisdom that is applicable to modern life.

     I particularly appreciated the comments at the end of the book that surrendering to God and His plan for your life is not something that happens in one day.  Rather, it's a life-long process that goes far beyond a simple altar call at summer camp.  And many details of that process are well developed in this book in a way that reaches out to adolescents.  With discussion questions at the end of each chapter, I feel this book would be an excellent choice for a youth group book club.  I certainly wish I had gone through a book like this with my youth group in middle and high schools.

     Four out of Five Stars

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