Review: What Falls from the Sky by Esther Emery + Giveaway

In less than a month, we’ll be entering one of the most popular seasons of the church calendar, when Jesus asked his disciples to give up Facebook for 40 days. (Excluding Sunday check-ins, as part of breaking the fast, of course.) I can’t condemn this practice at all – I have given up or put extreme limits on social media during Lent and it’s always been a needed breath of air.

_140_245_book-2130-coverGiving up social media for a month or a short season is one thing. All internet (and internet related conveniences) for a year? That’s an entirely different sort of fast. This is exactly what Esther Emery does – no internet, no cell phones, no debit cards for an entire year.

When I first read the synopsis for What Falls from the Sky, I wondered what kind of “year long experiment memoir” this would be. I should have known better. Emery’s honest writing and keen observations on life made this much less an experiment in living without internet and much more the type of memoir that makes all other memoirs pale in comparison.

Emery’s story of moving from Southern California to the Boston suburbs while simultaneously making ties to community – both old and new – much more difficult in this technology age is not at all what my current life looks like. And yet, the lessons she learns and the powerful storytelling she uses drew me in. I felt like I was walking alongside this year of challenges and struggles. I found myself assessing our own life choices in new ways and through a different perspective.

Emery gracefully blends her own story into a greater picture. She draws the reader into her own details without ever making it seem like her choices should be anyone’s but hers alone. There is no pressure to live life by her choices – this is a tale of what happens to Emery and her family because of those.

I haven’t enjoyed a memoir like this in quite some time and Emery restored my love of this genre. If you’re looking for a thought-provoking, beautifully written story, I’d highly recommend What Falls from the Sky.

What is your relationship with the internet? Do you need to take intentional fasts from social media or have you found a natural balance?

GIVEAWAY! I am giving away my copy of What Falls from the Sky. Leave a comment about giving up the internet and I’ll randomly select a winner on Friday, February 10, 2017. (United States addresses only.)

I review for BookLook Bloggers
I received this book free from the publisher in exchange for my honest opinion.

Review: Reclaiming Hope by Michael Wear + Giveaway

As a child of the eighties, I have never known a time without the Religious Right. Politics and religion have always been intertwined. If you believe certain things then people assume you most likely vote a certain way. This is starting to change, as people in my generation are redefining faith and redefining political allegiance. And, like many in my demographic, I find myself wondering more and more often, How did we get here? What made this divide between ideologies so wide?

fb4In Reclaiming Hope: Lessons Learned in the Obama White House About the Future of Faith in America, Michael Wear sets out to provide insights to those questions. A self-described conservative Democrat, Wear worked on President Obama’s initial campaign in 2008 before working within the Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships. His inside view into our most recent President’s faith, values, and attempts at partnering faith and politics is eye-opening.

Not only are there plenty of stories about working in the White House and the challenges of defining the nearly-impossible topic of an individual’s faith to a public policy, but Wear gives insights into the millennial view of faith and politics. We live in an era where politics is part of our everyday life. There is no separation of church and state; there is no way of separating our political values from our spiritual life.

Wear accepts this new way of interacting with politics and offers guidance and optimism to a weary population. People are tired of the divide, no matter which side of the aisle they fall on, and Wear gives hope. Not to battle each other but to recognize the significant importance of our differences and how they can honor God and offer hope to our nation.

Wear doesn’t provide the magical answer to solve all of our political problems, but he does shed light on ways we can shift our own perspectives. He introduces a new way of doing politics – not one of either/or, church/government but of a both/and approach of partnerships with the church and government. This new way forward is a big shift in thinking but one that, if we’re willing to take the journey, may be more world changing than we realize.

How does your faith reflect your politics? Are you able to separate to two? How do you support your values and your voting habits?

GIVEAWAY! I am giving away a copy of Reclaiming Hope. Leave a comment about your journey in faith and politics and I’ll randomly select a winner on Friday, January 20, 2017. (United States addresses only.)

As part of the Reclaiming Hope launch team, I received a complimentary copy of the book. All opinions are my own.

Favorite Books of 2016

My original reading goal for 2016 was to read only 2 books: The Bible and War and Peace. I’m in “October” of my Bible in a Year plan (which I actually started in 2015…) and have made some progress in War and Peace but still have a ways to go. It’s just too hard to say no to so many other books! So, I’ll keep going with those two, but this year was filled with others.

screen-shot-2016-12-29-at-12-35-24-pmI didn’t meet my goal of 52 (just 4 shy!) but looking at our very active phase with the girls, I can see why it didn’t happen. Maybe next year.

Another goal was to read more fiction, and I did accomplish this, especially when I look at my list of 5-star books. Five out of the twelve books were fiction, so I’m pleased with that. It’s hard to narrow the 12 books down to just 5, but some I’ve already mentioned on the blog so I may repeat here. You can check out all of my books over at Goodreads.

Assimilate or Go Home by D.L. Mayfield
While D.L. Mayfield’s experience as a missionary is far from my own “calling,” I appreciated her vulnerability and honesty as she shared her journey. I had read Shane Claiborne’s Irresistible Revolution when it came out and this book is a wonderful real-life follow up to what living in an Upside Down Kingdom really looks like.

Stardust by Neil Gaiman
I think Neil Gaiman may be my new favorite author. His writing draws me in and his use of magical realism is superb. I read Stardust while on my retreat and I’m glad I had two whole days to do nothing else – it drew me in, sparked my imagination, and was hard to put down.

Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer
While we are still eating animals, this is one of the best books I’ve read on factory farming, its environmental impact, and our duty as global citizens to reflect on how much meat we are consuming. Foer is brutally honest and writes this book as a longtime vegetarian. He doesn’t seem to be trying to convert carnivores, but is writing to those on the fence, who need a nudge to get started on the vegetarian path.

Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed
This collection of letters to Dear Sugar is one of the most empathetic books I’ve ever read. Not only are Sugar’s answers beautiful, but she reminded me how to connect my own story to others; that even the most unlikely experiences can be seen as a connection.

Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende
This fictional tale of slavery and plantation owners in the Saint-Domingue and New Orleans was eye-opening for me. I haven’t read many books about slavery in the Caribbean and this was certainly thought-provoking. I’m on the (very long) holds list for Homegoing and The Underground Railroad at the library and I’m glad I read this one to get me thinking about other aspects of the slave trade.

What were your favorite books this year? Do you wait in long hold lines at the library or do you buy your books?

Review: Eggs With Ham by Corbin Hillam + Giveaway

Bea has a tenuous relationship (at best!) with our dog, Daisy. She “plays” chase with Daisy and antagonizes her in various ways throughout the day. Elle, on the other hand, adores Daisy and is always demanding pets and sweet snuggles. At seven years old and barring any unexpected crisis, Daisy will be the dog the girls grow up with – the companion they always remember and who will see them through the tween and early teen years.

unnamedEggs With Ham, Corbin Hillam’s newest children’s book, is the story of a boy and his dog. Hamlet and Eggs are inseparable – from summertime adventures and snuggled sick days to sneaking into school and daily breakfast, this book follows the two friends through the seasons in a sweet and relatable story.

Brightly illustrated in vivid watercolors, it’s filled with small vignettes about making new friends, going to school, and daily activities of a young child. While the book isn’t short, the pacing kept our daughter’s attention easily.

When we first received our copy, we read and reread it nonstop. Within a matter of days, our four-year-old had whole pages memorized. Even now, a couple months later, it’s still in our regular rotation of favorite books.

If you’re looking for a fresh author, along the same vein as the Berenstains or Mercer Mayer, I’d recommend Eggs With Ham!

Did you grow up with a dog? What’s your favorite childhood dog story?

GIVEAWAY! I am giving away a signed copy of Ham With Eggs. Leave a comment about your favorite dog and I’ll randomly select a winner on Friday, December 23, 2016. (United States addresses only.)

Note: I received a copy of this book from the author but all opinions are my own.

Review: Raising an Original by Julie Lyles Carr + Giveaway

Anyone who knows our girls knows they are two completely different humans. Their personalities, senses of humor, curiosity, and social skills aren’t exactly opposite, but they certainly are unique. Anyone who has interacted with children knows that they are each their own person. The other day, I was chatting with a dad about nature vs. nurture. Yes, we try to nurture our kids well, but a lot of my parenting is adjusted to their specific natures.

_140_245_book-2059-coverJulie Lyles Carr certainly has first-hand experience seeing the individual natures of kids. She and her husband have eight of their own and her book, Raising an Original is filled with anecdotes and advice about listening to the unique spirit of each child and parenting accordingly.

The strengths of Raising an Original come from Carr’s stories. She writes in an inviting and engaging way, affirming my own questions and struggles as a mom. Her encouraging words and big-picture reminders are what moms of any stage need.

Where the book lost some of its power for me was in the middle. Carr includes an “assessment” to help categorize children. She breaks each personality into four types: The Director, The Inspirer, The Steadfast, and The Curator. I thought the book would build off of this assessment, but it doesn’t. It feels like it is just put in the middle without much reference leading up or following. Carr also uses a lot of caveats when describing each type, reminding the reader again and again that we all have parts of each. It seemed to weaken the typing.

Carr also paraphrases the Bible a bit too loosely for my taste. She often refers to ancient characters in modern references – calling systemic injustices “extramarital affairs” and “professions.” It felt like she was watering down stories to fit into her own mixed-metaphor telling.

Overall, I think I would have liked this book a lot more if Carr had stuck with her strength: Encouraging moms along their journey. As it was, this book felt a bit muddled.

How do you feel about personality tests for kids? What are your best resources for recognizing the individuality of kids?

GIVEAWAY! I am giving away my copy of Raising an Original. Leave a comment about raising your own original and I’ll randomly select a winner on Friday, December 16, 2016. (United States addresses only.)

I review for BookLook Bloggers
I received this book free from the publisher in exchange for my honest opinion.

Read Your Strengths: Books that Reflect Context

Whenever I am frustrated by politics or policies or when I feel like the general population’s opinion about something is a bit off, I turn to books. I love finding the answers and delving a bit deeper. Of course, the books I choose reflect my own political leanings and ideas because, unless it’s a heavy scholarly tome, most books written for the masses have some sort of bias.

People who have the strength of Context also tend to lean toward biography. I’d love to have more time to read biographies, and even set a goal of reading one per year. I like the idea of reading a book about someone written by someone else. Memoir is insightful but biography really helps me understand certain people in history.

These are books that have helped me recently. They may or may not reflect my own views. Some I picked because I wanted to know more about a different point of view.

Reagan: The Life by H.W. Brands
Nostalgia for Ronald Reagan began about an hour after his death. He seems to have become the battle cry for better times and the good old days. Reagan was already president when I was born so I have no memory of his time in office. This 800 page book delves deeply into Reagan’s presidency and foreign policy. I wish more had been said about his domestic policies, but by the end, I felt I had a better understanding to the man behind the myth.

The Second Amendment: A Biography by Michael Waldman
The older I get the more anti-gun I am. But a lot of people feel vehemently opposed to my views. I wanted to know how we shifted from needing guns for hunting and protection to collecting them, needing assault rifles, and living in an age where it’s easier to own a gun than a car. This book focused on the shift in language and meaning when the National Rifle Association moved from being a hunting club to being one of the most powerful lobbies in Washington, DC.

We the Living by Ayn Rand
This is my one fiction book on this list. Ayn Rand is a polarizing figure – people love or loathe her. I’ve also read Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead so am familiar with her better known pieces. What I most liked about We the Living is its autobiographical nature. Based on Rand’s own experience in the Soviet Union, it gives a glimpse into how her beliefs became so extreme.

Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth
I fell in love with the BBC series based on this memoir but the books are incredible. Jennifer Worth’s experience as a midwife in postwar London is powerful – things we take for granted in today’s modern medical world were new and scary just sixty years ago. The book in this three part series that most impacted me was Shadows of the Workhouse, about the poor, the mentally ill, and single mothers. It’s hard to believe we treated people in such an abominable way just a short time ago, and is a reminder that we need to be vigilant against repeating these errors.

A History of the World in Six Glasses by Tom Standage
I love “history” books like this – ones where a fun theme is picked and we learn little snippets about our world. This one takes us through the history of modern culture following popular drinks – beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea, and Coke. It’s a book that has stood out as fun, easy, and taught me a lot about how we view certain beverages as a society and why they’re of greater importance than simply party drinks.

What about you? What are your favorite history books or biographies? Where do you turn when you want to learn about a new perspective?

livin

This post is Day 27 of the Write 31 Day Challenge. I’m spending the month of October writing about the StrengthsFinder test. You can find the entire series over at Live Your Strengths page.

Review: Assimilate or Go Home by D.L. Mayfield

Unlike D.L. Mayfield, I always knew I wouldn’t make a good missionary. I never felt “called” to participate in a short-term trip in high school or college and I was often uncomfortable with certain practices of experience trips. Friends who are lifelong missionaries reminded me that not all are asked to live their lives on a mission field – many are needed to have regular jobs, to write checks of support for missionaries, to pray for them and have guest rooms for respite. Missions doesn’t look the same for everyone.

_200_360_book-2009-coverIn her debut book, Assimilate or Go Home, D.L. Mayfield chronicles her journey of young zealous missionary to a life of gracious missional living. This is a memoir done well. Mayfield’s essays are cohesive and a good balance of personal insights, observations from the field, and constructive critique of the church’s view of missions.

Mayfield always knew she wanted to be a missionary and assumed that some foreign, impoverished country is where she would end up living. Surprisingly, she ended up ministering to her neighbors in low income apartments on the outskirts of Portland, Oregon. Her idealism fades as the reality of poverty hits: Most refugees have made somewhat of a lateral move when coming to the United States, just barely surviving. The systemic cycle of poverty is much more complex than any overarching government program can fix. Even foster care, when you know the families of the children being removed, becomes a deeper question than simply giving kids a “better” home.

Mayfield grapples with hard questions – ones she lives with on a daily basis. Her honesty is refreshing. She is living out idealism that most of us can’t fathom and she doesn’t sugar-coat the experience. But she doesn’t quit, either. She and her family are committed to living this life among the poor, of being good neighbors, of practicing the ministries of cake and video games and showing up.

I appreciated her thoughtful, gracious examination of life as a missionary. Her essays told an overarching story and I felt like I learned a lot about the lives of people right here in my own country that I never really thought much about. I would recommend this book to anyone who has worked as a missionary – at home or abroad – and anyone working with those who live on the margins.

What’s your view of missions and missional living? Have you ever been a missionary – either short or longterm?

(I decided to include this review as part of my Write 31 Days challenge of Live Your Strengths, as it seemed to fit so well into this past week of Connectedness.)

I review for BookLook Bloggers
I received this book free from the publisher in exchange for my honest opinion.