Posted in Book Recommendations, Joy of Reading

Favorite Books of 2018

I’ve always loved to read, but I have to say that my love has only increased in the past couple of years. When I was a child, I devoured every book I could get my hands on. As a young adult and young parent, I would go ages without reading anything other than my morning quiet time Bible reading and a devotional, then I’d binge on something fiction. Only in the last few years have I discovered the discipline of intentional, habitual reading.

That intentional reading habit has led me to some really great books. As I looked back across 2018, several really stood out. So, what were my top picks from the year?

Fiction

Well, Julie Klassen, Elizabeth Camden, Patrick W. Carr, and Timothy Zahn all came out with much-anticipated sequels this year. And Tricia Goyer added to her London Chronicles series. All of those were wonderful treats, as always, and all of them continue to rank among my “favorite, will read whatever you write” authors.

But, I also made a new discovery this year: Rosemary M. White. Early in the year, I selected a book to review, only to discover it was book number two in a series. So, I decided to check A Name Unknown out of the library so I’d be prepared when I received A Song Unheard to review. Before I even finished the first book, I knew I wanted to own it to read, reread, and share. And, I was thrilled to know that An Hour Unspent was due out in the fall. (I got it for Christmas and started 2019 with that one!) Meanwhile, I checked her Ladies of the Manor series out of the library over teh fall and thoroughly enjoyed it – so when I recently found the first two books in the series on a sale rack, I snagged them quickly.

Another new discovery was Kristy Cambron when I read The Lost Castle for review. My 15-year-old daughter was even more hooked than I and immediately proceeded to check out a stack of her books. She loved every one!

Nonfiction

As for nonfiction, several books really stand out.

The first two are books that I would recommend without hesitation to anyone – and actually go further than recommend. I’d encourage them both. They are both incredibly useful for very different reasons, but they are definitely going to be rereads over the years.

  1. Calming Angry Kids by Tricia GoyerI reviewed it here, so I won’t rehash that review. But, I will revisit the encouragement to buy it, read it, then have extras on hand to give away. The focus is parenting, but I cannot express how helpful this book is for relationships in general. I would argue that this is Tricia’s best book, and that says a lot.
  2. An Unhurried Life by Alan Fadling: My friend Joanna commented that she wants to underline and highlight every single word, and I agree! I had to read it very slowly and intentionally, and I still need to reread it. Oh, how convicting it was! Oh how much we miss because we are so hurried – and often we don’t even realize it. We’re just fitting in with the way things are when we should instead be breaking the mold and setting a new pattern.

But, there were several others as well. And, honestly, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend these, either.

I came back again this year to Mark Buchanan. I read a couple of his, but Hidden in Plain Sight really stood out. Then there was Survival Guide for the Soul by Ken Shigematsu, another revisited author. Such nourishment and challenge! Not God Enough by J.D. Greear felt, on the surface, like an “easy” read because Greear, like Mark Buchanan, is so incredibly conversation. Yet, the direct and challenging content forced me to read it slowly, frequently stopping and take a look at my thoughts, habits, and attitudes.

Finally, I read a book entitled Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop TalkingThis is not from a Christian perspective (I am increasingly intentional about working those in, too) and is more research-based, so the writing style was definitely different from what I’d learned to train my mind to process over the course of the year. But, it was a very enlightening read. My husband read it first and kept reading quotes, so I knew I needed to give it a go. Now, I’ve challenged both of my girls to read it. It offers such a valuable insight into the nature of introverts, and it is one I will probably review in coming weeks just to explore some of the valuable insight. If you are an introvert, it will help you understand yourself better. If you know and don’t understand an introvert, it will help you, too!

Of course, there were also the homeschool read-alouds, mostly re-reads by this time. But, still wonderful titles! We’re all looking forward to 2019. I just started Shadow Spinner with Steven, and Seven Daughters and Seven Sons is coming up next. Both rank among the girls’ all-time favorite read-alouds (and Seven Daughters and Seven Sons was a favorite among my siblings as well!). But, this past year, Steven couldn’t get enough of The Incredible Journey, and I always love reading The Master Puppeteer.

So, there you go – my favorites from 2018! You are welcome to join me on Goodreads to see the rest of the titles I enjoyed (you can check out my 2018 tags).

Posted in Family, Parenting, Reviews, Tricia Goyer

Calming Angry Kids

I love sharing books. I often have a list of books that I want to keep extras of on hand so I can loan or give them away. But, typically those books fit a targeted audience. Wives. Moms. Young women. Those who love historical fiction or fantasy or some other specific genre. Recently, though, I had the privilege of reading a book that I wanted to share with everyone.

Calming Angry Kids comes from the pen of prolific author Tricia Goyer. But, Calming Angry Kids was not just the next great book idea in a list of many. Instead, this particular endeavor was the result of tears, heartache, and pure determination. It was written with her skill as an author, but the credit goes to an entire family who chose to fight the fight and not give up. They chose to push through until they could see beauty birthed from the victory of overcoming the pure ugliness of anger. As much as I love reading everything that Tricia writes, I can honestly say that none of her books come close to the powerful message of Calming Angry Kids. And it seems others agree. Weeks before its scheduled October 1 release, Tricia shared the news that her book had already entered its third printing!

So, what is so powerful about Calming Angry Kids? Tricia doesn’t just speak from the perspective of a mom who has been there, although that would be a fitting description. She also doesn’t speak only from a clinical voice, although she has read exhaustively enough and interacted with enough professionals on the topic that she probably should be handed a degree! Instead, she combines the two concepts, delving into the psychology behind understanding anger at its very source while simultaneously offering help that is more than just clinical – it works in real life. In fact, it worked in her very real life.

The Goyers’ story is one of adoption and dealing with anger birthed from childhood trauma. It is a powerful story, and one that I know will help equip, strengthen, and encourage many adoptive parents. But, to say that Calming Angry Kids is only useful for adoptive parents – or even only for parents – is short selling the value of this book. This is about relationships. It is about understanding what causes others to behave in hurtful anger. What causes them to push away the very love they so greatly crave. My best friend regularly reminds me that “hurting people hurt people,” and that simple phrase fits beautifully with the message of Calming Angry Kids. When we find ways to work through our immediate emotional responses and choose instead to act out of truth, we can conquer the anger that plagues not only our children and others we come into contact with, but ourselves as well.

Calming Angry Kids is not a be-all, end-all solution to anger issues that plague our homes and our lives. But, it is a resource that shines a light in dark places, sharing tools and resources that will point us in the right direction. It encourages us to keep fighting even when victory seems impossible. It helps us to know that there is no shame in admitting that we need help. And it reminds us that there really is hope, even in a relationship that seems to be consumed by anger.

Yes, Calming Angry Kids is definitely a book I will readily and wholeheartedly recommend, not only to parents but to anyone struggling to find victory in a relationship haunted by anger.

Click here to read chapter one of Calming Angry Kids.

Posted in Reviews

Before We Were Yours

I tend to only review books that are sent to me for that purpose, but the more I read, the more I realize that I want to share about other outstanding titles I enjoy. I primarily want to do that because it will enable me to share more nonfiction (which I rarely agree to review because I read nonfiction much more slowly and don’t want to be rushed for the sake of deadlines). I’ll be starting those nonfiction reviews soon, but for today I have another novel to share.

I can’t remember where I first heard of Before We Were Yours, but some suggestion somewhere along the way led me to put it on reserve at the library. When I reserved it, there were sixteen people in line ahead of me – not surprising considering it spent six months on the New York Times Bestseller list. Fortunately, it was also a book my mom loved, so she bought her own copy and loaned it to me months before I would have gotten it from the library. I can tell you this, though: it would have been worth the wait.

One look at the synopsis reveals very clearly that Before We Were Yours is not a light and fluffy read. On the contrary, it’s quite hard, especially if you tend to start, like I do, by looking at the historical context for a novel such as this. Fiction, no matter how dedicated the author to depicting history, can rarely fully encompass the horror of dark points in our history. And that is the case in the story Lisa Wingate weaves of Rill Foss and her family. Despite the horrors Rill and her siblings endured, many families endured much worse in real life.

Rill’s story is set in the late 1930s and early 1940s during the days of Georgia Tann, a woman who “rescued” poor children from their bleak circumstances and matched them to wealthy families who desired children, usually for a hefty price. Some of the children were rightfully removed from their families by the state, victims of abuse and neglect. But others were literally stolen from happy, loving families whose only crime was poverty.

Decades later, a chance encounter leaves another young woman, Avery Stafford, stumped. An elderly woman she’s never met claims to know Avery’s beloved grandmother. Avery knows she should simply leave the question alone, but the woman’s cryptic statements, combined with her own grandmother’s failing memory and odd responses, spark her curiosity. Even more disconcerting is the fear that the connection between the two women may hide a scandal that could destroy her family’s political and societal standing. Determined to uncover the truth, Avery embarks on a journey that will change her life in more ways than one.

Before We Were Yours is the type of historical fiction I love – a glimpse into the side of history that never makes its way into the history books. Lisa Wingate explores both the immediate and long-term impact of historical events, while also building a beautiful tale of relationship and family. She combines the treat of being able to read a beautiful open-and-closed storyline with the reality that no life can truly fit within the beginnings and endings of a satisfying novel. The story also reminds us that hope and joy can be found even in the darkest of places. Even though the spiritual aspect of that reality is not really explored in Before We Were Yours, it is not difficult for believers to see how God’s hand was present even in the darkness that encompassed so many families during Georgia Tann’s decades of power. Yes, it’s a hard read, but it is also a worthwhile read.

I definitely recommend this book for adults and for older, mature teens.

Posted in Elizabeth Camden, Reviews

A Daring Venture

I recently glanced through all of my Elizabeth Camden books, remembering the plot of this one or a favorite character from that one. As I compared older books to her latest, I realized why I still do not hesitate to get my hands on each new release. Even though she releases at least one new title – if not two – every year, and even though her writing style and character development have morphed and changed over the years, there has never been a change in the quality of her research, creativity, and quality. Camden’s most recent effort, A Daring Venture, is just as captivating, and her characters are just as rich as ever.

A Daring Venture is unique in Camden’s ventures, however, in that it is a genuine sequel. Although once before Camden has taken a minor character from one book and turned him into a major character in another, nothing in those two books demands that they be read together. A Daring Venture holds its own as far as the story line is concerned, but readers will miss a great deal if they do not first get to know Nicholas Drake’s background through his sister’s story in A Dangerous Legacy.

(Note: This review, by nature, will contain some spoilers for those who have not yet read A Dangerous Legacy.)

Nicholas Drake’s inheritance from his estranged uncle has brought him fortune, but not automatically fame. Despite having vast resources, Nick must still fight a battle for recognition and acceptance among not only the wealthy, but also the political leaders in New York. He is convinced that being named Commissioner of Water for New York will allow him to earn the respect he needs to take care of the growing city, but he has no illusions that it will be an easy task. What he doesn’t expect, however, is the continued family tension that he cannot seem to escape – or that his new role might force him to sacrifice his heart.

Rosalind Werner’s world crashed around her early in life when a deadly cholera outbreak attacked her family. Now an adult, Rosalind has learned that impure water is not her only enemy. Educated as a research doctor in a time when women are not recognized as competent in the scientific arena, Rosalind must not only defend her qualifications, but also her controversial research findings – and even her personal reputation. But she never imagines the fullness of what it will cost her to stand and defend what she knows to be true.

I love the combination of flaws and strengths in Nick, Rosalind, and even familiar characters Lucy and Colin. The relational interactions are vivid and powerful, battling real temptations and struggles. A Daring Venture is not a neatly packaged, every-problem-solved romance. Yet it is satisfying and beautiful at the same time. Camden has beautifully handled the transition from single-story writing to weaving a series, and I felt that the character development from the first novel to the second was well-handled and strongly presented. And, of course, the history reminded me once again why I devour Elizabeth Camden’s novels. The story line explored an aspect of history vitally relevant to each and every one of us, yet one we take for granted and do not truly even think about. I love diving into these historical glimpses, and I love the way they urge me to research on my own. Camden does a great job of merging fictional and historical characters and exploring the impact events and decisions made on real people.

Elizabeth Camden continues to succeed, providing my teen daughters and I yet another book to read and reread. And, the story isn’t over yet! I am already counting down to next year’s release of book three, A Desperate Hope!

This book was sent to me by Bethany House Publishers in exchange for my honest review.
Posted in Reviews

A Most Noble Heir

We all think we love – and would love to live – a good “rags to riches” story. But the reality of rising from one social context to another never runs as smoothly as the glorious fairy tales like to reflect. The struggle, rather than the fairy tale, is what is reflected in Susan Anne Mason’s A Most Noble Heir.

Nolan Price is perfectly at home in the stables, caring for the Earl of Stainsby’s horses. But Nolan’s real passion is for a place of his own with his beloved Hannah Burnham by his side. Just as those plans are coming together, however, his mother’s deathbed confession destroys every hope in an instant. Nolan is the earl’s son and rightful heir. His place is no longer in the stables but in the earl’s home, living as befits his station. Nolan wants none of it, and he is determined to move forward with his own plans. The earl, however, has no intention of letting Nolan go – and he has the power and authority to ensure his will is enforced, no matter the cost.

As can be imagined, the interactions and relational dynamics of A Most Noble Heir are intense. Every relationship Nolan holds dear is stretched and strained, and the one relationship he never had but truly wanted has now been forced upon him in a most undesirable way. At the risk of spoiling the story a bit, I must confess that Nolan’s reactions to his life upheaval left me preferring every other character – even the earl himself! – over Nolan. I wanted him to be, well, noble. I wanted to see what it was about this man that made Hannah fall in love with him. Looking back, though, I realize that what I wanted was fluffy idealism. The picture Mason has painted in A Most Noble Heir is a realistic one, depicting a young man with good character but an untried heart. His life, while encumbered with the challenges of servitude and relatively low station, has not truly been stretched. The sudden upheaval of everything he held dear stretches and strains him, revealing flaws that need purification and youth that needs maturation. Although I still find myself drawn more solidly toward other characters in the book, I see that Nolan is much more the picture of the noble heir than I initially believed him to be.

So, where does that leave the book as a whole? Despite the potentially heavy subject matter of A Most Noble Heir, this is a quick and easy read, full of sweet moments and even a touch of humor. Being married to a church history nerd, I did notice that a more modern concept of faith was incorporated into the narrative. While it will seem very fitting to contemporary readers, it is not an accurate historical depiction of what Christianity would have looked like, even for those with a solid and intimate relationship with the Lord. This does not distract from the story itself – it is simply a reminder that our appetite for both history and theology may be whetted by fiction, but we can never be content to allow fiction to be our main course in either discipline.

The storyline moves along at a good pace, and a small thread of mystery weaves its way throughout the narrative, leaving the reader wondering what other forces are working behind the scenes. Lessons are learned, character is developed, and a few surprises are worked in along the way. All in all, A Most Noble Heir is a fun read for lovers of late 19th century historical fiction.

This book was sent to me by Bethany House Publishers in exchange for my honest review.
Posted in Reviews

Keturah

Time flies when you’re reading good books! And I’ve read several great ones lately – and lost track of a couple of review due dates. So, since I have one review that’s a bit late and another that’s due now, you get two this week!

The first one is the latest historical fiction from wonderful storyteller Lisa Tawn Bergren. I was first introduced to her books through the God Gave Us children’s picture book series. Several years later, I was introduced to her adult fiction when I devoured her Grand Tour series. Then came her young adult River of Time series, followed by other books from each genre. The most recent delight from her writing desk is Keturah, book one in The Sugar Baron’s Daughter series.

For years, the widowed Lady Keturah Banning Tomlinson’s father has told his daughters again and again that the family sugar plantation in the West Indies is not the appropriate place for young women. But word of her father’s death is accompanied by word of dire financial issues, Keturah makes the decision that flies in the face of all societal convention: she is going to the West Indies to try to save not only the plantation but also her sisters’ inheritance back home in England. Unwilling to either be left behind or see their sister travel alone to Nevis, Keturah’s two sisters make the decision to travel with her. Challenges begin for the sisters almost immediately as they learn what it means for women to try to live and work in a culture dominated by men – white men.

Keturah offers everything I love about historical fiction. It is rich in exploration of the culture in which the story is set. That means the good and the bad, including a look at slavery. But that is not the only challenging topic Bergren deals with in Keturah. At the risk of introducing spoilers, our widowed heroine does not look back upon her short marriage fondly. Instead, she still bears the scars of the horror she silently and secretly endured as a young bride.

Because of this, I am a little more limited in my recommendation of this book than I might be with others this wonderful author. That doesn’t mean I don’t highly recommend it! It just means that I’ll only share it with my daughters as I know they are of an appropriate age to handle the material, and I will be careful to give warning to friends who still bear the scars of their own abuse experiences.

Well-written, well researched, and beautifully told, Keturah is a captivating introduction to The Sugar Baron’s Daughter series. I greatly anticipate the continuation!

This book was sent to me by Bethany House Publishers in exchange for my honest review.
Posted in Reviews, Roseanna M White

A Song Unheard

Sometimes accidentally requesting to review book two in a series has delightful results. Such was the case with Roseanna M. White’s Shadows Over England series. Having borrowed and read A Name Unknown, book one in the series, I was excited to dive into A Song Unheard.

The mysterious Mr. V has a new assignment for London’s most exceptional family of thieves, and this time the special skills of young Willa Forsythe make her the ideal choice. Willa has always loved music, but when a old, battered violin came into her possession, she discovered that genuine talent also flowed through her. Although formal training was never available, time spent in the alleys near the open windows of practice rooms or up in the rafters of performance halls fed Willa’s hunger for music and introduced her to new tunes she could then bring to life with her treasured instrument. So, when Mr. V needs someone to obtain a cypher key created by the father of famous Belgian violinist Lukas De Wilde, the musically-minded Willa is the obvious choice.

After barely escaping with their lives, Belgian musicians have temporarily resettled in Wales where, thanks to the generosity of wealthy patrons, they prepare for concerts that will hopefully bring in finances to help fellow Belgians displaced or left starving by the German invasion. But Lukas De Wilde no longer cares about his incredible talent or once-enjoyed fame. Instead, he thinks only of returning to Belgium to find his lost mother and sister. When the fascinating Willa Forsythe arrives in town, his anxious heart is soothed somewhat by the discovery of a raw talent that far surpasses his own. Her passion, her strength, and even her stubbornness captivate his imagination, and he is determined to provide the formal skills she lacks and free her natural talent to truly blossom.

As I picked up A Song Unheard, I confess that I expected to discover a formula, of sorts, to the series. I was still excited about the book, because I knew the author could make even a formulaic novel feel captivating! But, as I began to read, I quickly realized that this second book of the series would be as unique and fresh as A Name Unknown. From the relationship between Lukas and Willa to the progression of Willa’s assignment, this story weaves history and fiction together in a beautiful glimpse of life in the early stages of World War I. Readers are taken from the streets of Wales to the depths of occupied Belgium and back again with a look at the struggle experienced on both sides of the English Channel. As with the first book in the series, this second installment was creative and captivating, full of unexpected developments, sparks of joy, and depths of heartache.

A Song Unheard is definitely a book I will both share and reread, and I greatly look forward to An Hour Unspent, book three in the Shadows Over England series.

This book was sent to me by Bethany House Publishers in exchange for my honest review.