Books I’m Looking Forward to in 2018

Fiction

A Refuge Assured – Jocelyn Green

Released February 6

Green’s latest releases this winter with great pre-release reviews. I love her attention to detail in her beautiful and sweeping historical fiction novels. This colonial-set work promises to keep rank with her Christy-Award-winning Mark of the King.
Read and excerpt here.

Iron Gold – Pierce Brown

Released January 16

I’ve so enjoyed Brown’s Red Rising trilogy. I honestly don’t know if this novel is part of that series or a new story set in that world, but I don know Darrow’s in it and I’m down. I am so down.

Murder at the Flamingo – Rachel McMillan

Released July 10

Rachel McMillan debuts her new protagonist Hamish DeLuca. That last name might ring a bell—he’s the son of Jem and Ray DeLuca of Herringford and Watts fame. A mystery set in Boston in the thirties—I am all about this book! Also, have you seen that cover?

Noir – Christopher Moore

Released April 17

Moore always makes me laugh and his so clever in all his creative choices. I’ve been drawn into the pulp genre thanks to Lord Huron’s album and can’t wait to get Moore’s satirical take.

The Lost Kingdom of Bamarre – Gail Carson Levine

Released May 2

Ella Enchanted is probably my favorite book of all time. The Two Princess of Bamarre is the first book I hated. Both are by powerhouse YA and middle-grade author Gail Carson Levine—my fairytale retelling hero. So you can see why I’m on pins-and-needles to see which end of my book-spectrum this novel lives up to.
Read an excerpt here.

Non Fiction

Party of One – Joy Beth Smith

Released February 6

Joy Beth Smith is someone you need to follow on Twitter. Like now. Her book—which I’m sitting on an advanced copy of—is fabulous and I can’t wait to dig deeper into it over the break.
Access the first chapter here.

Even In Our Darkness – Jack Deere

Released March 6

Love heartbreakingly true stories? Then this memoir needs to be on your list. I’ve been saving it for the long winter days ahead and have the kleenex stocked to go.

Title yet unreleased – Anne Bogel

Released September ??

It doesn’t even have a title, but I’m so ready for Anne’s essays on the reading life. Her charm and bookish knowledge blow me away weekly on her podcast. And who doesn’t want to read more about reading?!

Books Out and on My TBR List

Recapturing the Wonder – Mike Cosper

This is my book club’s next pick and I’ve already cracked the spine. It’s a call back to the wonder and mystery of our faith in the everyday. I fully stand by the intro, and hope to stand behind the book as a whole soon!

American Wife – Curtis Sittenfeld

I plan on catching up on her fictional take of Laura Bush’s life before she tackles Hilary Clinton’s life if she had declined Bill’s proposal. (That’s what she’s writing next!!!)

My Name is Asher Lev – Chaim Potok

A friend recommended not that I simply read this, but that I go out and buy a good copy because I was going to want it around for a while. I respect this friend’s recommendations and I do what she says, dammit!

Catch Me If You Can – Frank Abagnale, Jr

This one is for new-project research. That’s all I’m gonna say.

Just Write – James Scott Bell

This one’s for new-project motivation.

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Most Read Blog Posts of 2017

This year has probably been the most rewarding when it comes to blogging. I have loved the conversations many of you have started with me based of what I’ve written and I’m so grateful.
Here are 5 of the top posts from this year:

1. The Metaphor and Blood-and-Guts Reality

For the last nine months I’ve been wrestling over the question, “If marriage never happens for me, will I be okay?”

And the answer varies day-to-day, I’ll be honest. But it struck me the other morning in a big way. I was lamenting the fact that I may never experience that kind of intimacy and then a new thought emerged. Maybe I was very wrong.

Continue Reading…

2. Marriage, Idolatry, And The Church

Once upon a time, I was very passionately involved in the purity culture that was so active in the late nineties and early two thousands. I had kissed dating good bye and embraced authentic femininity with Jesus as my prince charming. (And I have lots of thoughts about that time in my life, but that’s a different blog post.) There was so much teaching I subjected myself to that were, frankly, lies verging on spiritual abuse.

We were taught—and many are still taught—that we need to be sexually pure for the sake of our future spouse—not for the sake of godliness or obedience. But what if there is no spouse ahead? Then what was the point?

Continue Reading…

3.What I Wish the Church Had Taught Me about Singleness By Gina Dalfonzo

When I was in my mid-20s, I started work at a place where one of my colleagues was a 40-year-old single woman. She was a very nice woman—good at her job, easy to talk to, and pleasant to work with. But—true confession time—for a long time I felt a little bit freaked out whenever she was around.

Why? It’s hard and embarrassing to explain. Frankly, I’m ashamed when I look back at my own naïve and immature frame of mind. I felt freaked out simply because she was single and 40—and there were not many voices in my life telling me that this was a good or even an okay thing.

Continue Reading…

4.What’s on Your Summer Reading List?

I could review a book I’ve read…OR I could share with you what some lovely bookish ladies in my life are reading this summer. I am so excited about what is on my reading list for the next couple months and I knew a few people who would be equally excited about their own list.

The following are the five books on the summer reading lists of a series of folks in the writing and publishing world! I have linked to all of them so can check out these titles and add them to your own list.

Continue Reading…

5. I’m Cranky and I Know It

If I were to describe my relationship with faith and the church in this season of my life, I think there is an overarching theme that would emerge: I’m cranky.

There are parts of what I’ve grown up with that feel like a sweater I’ve grown out of—the hem doesn’t meet my jeans any longer and the sleeves are tight around my upper arms and it just feels uncomfortable. I read a book on spiritual formation for women and I wonder why so much of it is based on feelings and why it had to be directed at women instead of all of us. I leave a church service feeling grippy about the amount of first-person-personal-pronouns used in so many Christian songs today. I cross my arms feeling like I will never be respected or taken seriously in an evangelical community unless I am married with children.

Continue Reading…

My Favorite Reads of 2017

I’ve read more this year than I have since high school and I have loved it! This year has introduced me to genres I wouldn’t have otherwise touched and has added many new favorites to my shelves. Here are my top books from the year in no particular order:

Fiction

Red Rising – Pierce Brown

If you asked me in January, I would have said I was the farthest thing from a sci-fi fan. And then I encountered Pierce Brown’s debut, Red Rising. High stakes, highly original world, great themes of loyalty, love, sacrifice, and war. I would recommend this for fans of The Hunger Games and The Warded Man.

What To Say Next – Julie Buxbaum

Buxbaum writes with such strong voices for her two POV protagonists. I loved the unreliability of  both narrators without this being Fight-Club situation. YA in all it’s relatable-yet-dramatic glory. A great, short read for fans of John Green or Jennifer E. Smith’s books.

Landline – Rainbow Rowell

Rainbow Rowell has a collection of work I aspire to—great YA novels on top of funny contemporary novels, one with a dash of magical realism. Landline is packed with great pop-culture references, great character predicaments, and a magical phone. Seriously, could you want anything more? Perfect for fans of Sophie Kinsella or Meg Cabot.

A Trail of Crumbs – Susie Finkbeiner

The sequel to A Cup of Dust, Finkbeiner ups the ante in Pearl Spence’s world in the most heartbreaking and best way. I love the warmth of her historical fiction paired with characters that make me think of home. And one in particular that may literally harken back to yours truly…The second in a great series for fans of To Kill a Mockingbird or Jocelyn Green.

Dark Matter – Blake Crouch

As I said with Red Rising, before this year, I did not have a high view of science fiction, but you’ll notice that 2 are on my list of favorites for the entire year. Dark Matter was a relentless sci-fi thriller that I am still thinking about. Crouch’s concept was so original and mind-bending and his breakneck-pace was perfect. I have had so many great conversations about this novel and would highly recommend it for an unconventional book club pick. Great for fans of  Ernest Cline or Westworld (yes, I’m recommending a book based on TV interests.)

Non Fiction

You Are What You Love – James K.A. Smith

This book has changed my life and I’m not just saying that. Smith calls for a contemplative and intentional approach to faith that touches every aspect of life. This book has been a call back to quiet, daily faithfulness. I have been challenged and convicted by this book so many times since reading and am loving his backlist. Must read for readers of Alvin Plantinga or Augustine

Beyond Colorblind – Sarah Shin

Another convicting read, Shin’s debut book brings our culture’s racial tensions to the forefront of the church with such grace and wisdom. I think every believer needs to read what she has to say. This book is a worthy discussion about our full identities—ethnicity included—being valued in the diverse body of Christ. Great follow up read for those who enjoyed The Myth of Equality or The New Jim Crow.

Reading People – Anne Bogel

I’m a total personality nerd and have loved Anne’s podcast. Reading People was the best of both worlds—Anne’s wonderful insights and so much personality discussion. Because of this book, I’m now aware I am a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)—which those closest to me have apparently known and assumed I knew as well. A great book for those obsessed with Myers-Briggs or the Enneagram.

The Imperfect Disciple – Jared C. Wilson

Wilson’s humor and insight into the gospel have made this book one of my most recommended of the year. With snark and wisdom, he sets forth a call back to simple, gospel living. I’ve found his work so refreshing in a publishing landscape so saturated with a feelings-based theology. I would recommend this one for readers of Mike Cosper or Jen Wilkin.

At Home in the World – Tsh Oxenrieder

I love a good travel story and Tsh Oxenrieder has a few. Her memoir documenting her family’s around-the-world adventure was the perfect vacation read, especially as I got to walk in their footsteps through Italy. Her insights on home and place have stuck with me. This is a great memoir for those who enjoyed Chasing Slow or Bread and Wine.

What were your favorite reads of 2017? Share in the comments below.

Book Review: Beyond Colorblind

I don’t often review the books that I work with in my professional sphere on my blog, but this fall I worked on a contract for a book that was so timely and important, I knew I would need to share it here.

Sarah Shin’s Beyond Colorblind released earlier this month. It is a smart, gracious exploration of the importance of ethnic diversity in the church and working past the tendency to ignore it.

In portions of my circles, I have heard grumbling–people wondering why race and civil-rights issues are even being discussed in the church. The assumption from many white evangelicals is that ignoring race makes the church post-racial. In such settings, many have found it more comfortable to ignore the injustices and wounds that have been inflicted on so many of our brothers and sisters–often by those within the body of Christ.

Beyond Colorblind is a beautifully written call to reconciliation and healing delivered with grace, humility, and authority. I was so touched by Shin’s words and vulnerability in this book. She tackles a topic that becomes more heated and relevant by the day with the love of Christ.

If you are looking for a way to enter into dialogue surrounding ethnicity and the church, THIS IS IT! I highly recommend this for anyone burdened for how long our society has been silent as well as for those who are baffled as to why some feel we need to have these conversations to begin with.

Shin’s prophetic call has been eye-opening and healing to me. I know it will be for you too.

Book Review & Giveaway: The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck

Readers bring so much to the table when they pick up a book, whether we realize it or not. Our expectations, experiences, and tastes determine so much what we receive when we’re reading.

I was reminded of this when discussing recent release The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck.

When the opportunity to review Bethany Turner’s debut novel came up, I jumped at the chance. I had been told that this was an edgy approach to Christian fiction, that Turner’s voice was fresh and funny. It had been pitched to me as a perfect read for the fans of Sophie Kinsella and Helen Fielding (of Confessions of a Shopaholic and Bridget Jones’s Diary fame respectively)—two of my favorites, so I figured this book was pretty much my guilty pleasure cup of tea.

Here is what I loved about The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck:

  • Turner is a just-plain-talented writer. Her voice is strong, especially for a debut novelist.
  • I laughed out loud a lot—something I’ve never done with a Christian fiction novel (at least not when I was supposed too…)
  • The fact that it’s was a light, slightly-edgy, fast-passed, romantic comedy in Christian fiction! The publisher taking a risk in this direction was encouraging.

This said, I was a little thrown that the plot was perfectly set up to subvert the usual Christian romance formula, but then ran into it’s arms…quite literally.

There is nothing wrong with that at all. It’s just not my preference as a reader.

So fast forward a week and I’m discussing my disappointment with a friend who works in the industry who I knew had also read the book. She is much more critical of what she reads than I am, so expected her to be “on my side” in this.

My friend very much enjoyed the book. She also found it fresh and funny. She was pleasantly surprised to see the boundaries the book pushed in Christian fiction.

See, my friend did not have the same pitch I had before the book came out. She instead had it come across her desk while she was working. No expectations—just the book itself. In the midst of Amish and prairie romances she often works with came a smart, modern book with an honest, funny, and relatable protagonist.

And it was true! The book may have been what I thought was formulaic, but it challenged a lot of the genres “rules.” The protagonist was actually broken and relatably flawed. She and her love interest felt sexual desire, but were convicted to actually be aware of it and deal with it—something authors just pretend isn’t a factor in a Christian relationship. The protagonist was divorced and unsaved at the beginning of the novel and her conversion was not an overnight now-she’s-perfect kind of thing. I saw myself and my friends in Sarah’s character and so did my friend.

I had put expectations on this book to be something I don’t think the Christian fiction genre is ready for. But after talking with my friend, I see great value in the strides this book has taken to bring the genre forward, and that I can respect.

Perhaps my expectations were not met, but I honestly look forward to Turner’s next book. Her wit and voice are a great contribution to Christian fiction and I can’t wait to see how she will continue to push boundaries.

I would recommend The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck for readers of Christian fiction looking for a good laugh and a great character. This is a quick read, perfect for upcoming holiday travels.

How have your expectations or preconceived ideas effected how you’ve approached a book? Tell me on the comments below!

Giveaway

Enter to win a copy of The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck by giving Bethany or I some love on social! There are multiple ways to enter. The winner will be randomly selected on Saturday, November 18, 2018 and contacted via email. Must be within the U.S. to be eligible to win.

Book Review: Fiercehearted

I work in publishing and I love it. But if someone was to ask me what I disliked about the industry I’m in, I would complain about the quality of content being produced for women.

It’s a trend within Christian literature—particularly that targeted at a female audience—that’s pushed more of a feelings-bases theology than I’m comfortable with. I’m not going to name authors or dig into that frustration here.

Instead, I want to talk about a different voice in the conversation for women that has brought me a little hope this month.

Holley Gerth’s latest, Fiercehearted explores the wonder, pain, beauty, and brokenness that makes up the Christian walk of a woman. In short, personal—sometimes deeply so—essays, Gerth explores what it means to lean fully into the call to be a woman of God.

I’ll be honest, I was a little hesitant to pick up another book on faith targeted solely to women, but when I read the back cover copy, I had to be in.

In a season in my life where I feel tired, cranky, and like I just don’t fit it, it takes a little more courage to step beyond the pages of my Bible to live out what the words say.

For example, the author describes her struggle to have children and her journey to surrender that longing. I resonated deeply with her struggle to feel like her life needed to fit a certain mold. As I struggle to surrender my own longings, it was a comfort to hear of God’s faithfulness in her story, seeing how he met her in such an unconventional and beautiful way.

I would recommend Fiercehearted for those feeling worn by the season they currently find themselves in, those struggling with significance, and those looking for short bits of encouragement in a dark season. I think Gerth’s readers will find her relatable, honest, and wise.

Book Review: Warcross

It has been my goal this fall to get more in touch with Young Adult literature since that is the sphere in which I would ultimately like to write.

I recently subscribed to Uppercast Box (which is AWESOME, by they way) and the first book to come my way was Warcross by Maria Lu.

Warcross takes place in a very near future where we have discarded social media and video games for the brilliant and revolutionary replacement of virtual reality—namely, the game Warcross. It’s in this sphere that we meet Emika Chin—a talented hacker and gamer who has been dealt a bad hand and a criminal record. The annual Warcross games (think the Olympics mixed with the Quidditch World Cup) are coming up and Emika plans to watch, despite the eviction notices showing up on her door and her meager income from bounty hunting not taking care of her debts. She performs a hack during the opening games that launches her into the limelight and catching the attention of her hero and Warcross creator Hideo Tanaka.

Sound like fun?

Here’s why I enjoyed it:

  • Diverse cast: the characters of the book span numerous cultures and ethnicities—something that you didn’t see very often ten years ago. I loved learning about Japanese cultures and relating with characters that didn’t look like me. I was also touched thinking of the young women who did connect with these characters because they looked like them. I love that!
  • Smart, savvy female protagonist: Emika is resourceful, flawed, vulnerable, and strong. I loved how Lu pulled back the layers of her main character in a way that was intriguing and relatable. Our culture demands strong female leads, but we are often given women who do not feel or are just fighting machines. Emika can handle her own battles, but isn’t afraid to lean into a potential romance, or feel loss. She was so different from me, but I connected with her immediately.
  • Dilemma not one of love, but morality: I won’t spoil the big conflict of the novel, but I will say that I really respected that it did not center around the romance of the story, but instead the integrity of the characters. This was fresh and very discussable.

I would recommend Warcross to those who enjoyed the Hunger Games or Divergent series—a tough female lead who actually has a heart and discernible skills. I also would recommend this to gamers who love to read. I have it on good authority that Lu threw in all kinds of great gaming easter eggs that were completely lost on me just because that’s not part of my world.

I cannot wait to see where the sequel leads and which path Emika chooses to take.

Book Review: Reading People

“I think I might be a highly sensitive person,” I told a close friend as we were prepping to co-work for the day.

She looked at me confused. “Uh, yeah. You didn’t know?”

I didn’t! I honestly didn’t until reading Anne Bogel’s new book Reading People. We’ll get to me in a moment. (Because I know that’s what you’re all dying to read about…) First, the book:

The subtitle, How Seeing the World Through the Lens of Personality Changes Everything, pretty much give you the rundown. As a longtime personality-nerd, I was fascinated to dig in and read what Anne, one of my favorite podcasters and bloggers had to say.

Each chapter captures the purpose and basics of the most popular personality frameworks out there including the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, the Enneagram, Strengthsfinder, the 5 love languages, and more. Her goal is to help unpack why we behave the way we do and how to better understand the behavior and preferences of those around us. She often discusses understanding how these frameworks work together—a concept I never thought of. Once these lenses are no longer compartmentalized, you find a better vantage point from which to view the complexity of ourselves and those around us.

After reading her book, I understand why the Passion Conference was a miserable experience for me despite being a great time to learn. I know I’m not crazy for feeling anxious in a room filled with lots of people. I have better terms to describe why my first response to insecurity is to overcompensate. I also have a much better understanding of my friends and family members and feel better equipped to walk into moments of conflict.

Reading People is a great book for anyone trying to gain a deeper understanding of what makes them and those around them tick. Anne gives great tools and personal examples for digging deeper into these frameworks to engage in relationships better, be that marriage, friendships, parent-child dynamics, and even work place atmospheres.

You can pick up your copy here.

Book Review: Dark Matter

Total honesty: I’m reviewing this book because someone needs to read it so I can talk about it with them.

It’s that good.

I have been trying to broaden my reading horizons by reading genres I’ve shied away from in the past: sci-fi, memoir, philosophy—namely things I found intimidating as a young reader.

Pulling up my big girl pants at last, I have certainly found some of my new favorite books as a result. Case in point:

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch.

After I finished this relentless sci-fi thriller, I flipped back to the copyright page to see if it was a first edition. I was and I honestly contemplated asking the library if I could buy their copy because it’s good enough to be worth something some day. (Jury is still out on if I’ll buy it from the library. It smelled like cologne which was weird…)

The book centers around Jason Dessen, a college physics professor and family man who once had the potential to be a great scientist, but gave it up to raise his son alongside his beautiful wife who gave up a promising art career to do the same.

After celebrating the scientific achievement of an old college roommate who has eclipsed him professionally, Jason is on his way back home and is kidnapped. His abductor drugs him and keeps asking him if he is happy with his life or if he has any regrets. Jason is drugged and falls unconscious.

Once he wakes, he finds he has never been married to his wife, his son was never born, and he’s made scientific strides far beyond what he thought was possible. I don’t want to spoil anything more, but I promise that the stakes only get higher and the plot even more engaging.

Crouch moves fast, spinning a truly original plot with healthy doses of suspense and humanity. He delves into physics in a way that is graspable, interesting, and tightly intertwined in the plot. (He had me interested in physics—a near miracle!)

Dark Matter takes you in and doesn’t let you go, so don’t start this unless you’re ready to devote pretty much every free moment to it.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the sci-fi genre and Dark Matter has certainly helped with that. If you read it, let me know! I’m dying to discuss with someone!

Book Review: The Imperfect Disciple

If you haven’t realized that the unifying theme of all of my blog posts is that I do not have my act together, well…then you probably haven’t been poking around here for very long.

When I ran across Jared C. Wilson’s latest release, The Imperfect Disciple, I knew immediately that this was a book I needed to read. “Grace for People Who Can’t Get Their Act Together,” the subtitle boasts. Yeah…might as well have titled it, “The Stuff that Jesus Has Been Trying to Tell Lex for A Long While Now.”

Wilson writes with a straight-to-the-point style that is at turns both humorous and heart-wrenchingly honest. Reading this book was like having a late-night talk over beers with a friend who pulls no punches.

I do things that I know are bad and I avoid doing things that I know are good. This makes me imminently unqualified to write one of those awe- some, take-the-next-hill, “be the change you want to see in the world” books on discipleship churned out ever-presently by the evangelical leadership-industrial complex.

But on the other hand, it makes me uniquely and distinctly qualified for the hope Paul offers in response to the crushing predicament bemoaned by Romans 7.

His premise of the book comes out of Romans 7 and 8—namely Romans 7:15, “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” Wilson digs into this tension and does not let it go, bringing to light the full hope of Romans 8.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking so far about discipleship and worship and how I do—or don’t do—both. The Imperfect Disciple hits on the honesty we need as we figure out how to live out our faith!

Living in light of the gospel is often messy because we are broken people trying to work out the reconciliation we’ve been given with God—the holy creator of the universe! As Wilson describes it, our relationship with Jesus is like bringing home a fiancé who is “a much better catch than anybody, including yourself, ever thought you’d end up with.” (Seriously, this is his writing style. I laughed often while reading—couldn’t hold it in!)

We are broken and so in need of saving—saving that has only be done! Now we partner with the spirit in the work of sanctification. We surrender to what God is working out in us so that we may look more like Jesus. This is a daily putting on of the gospel. This is a daily reminder of the story that I have been grafted into. It is getting down on my knees, getting in the word, and accepting the great, expensive grace lavished upon me like it’s cheap.

How often I forget. How often we let ourselves become desensitized to what Jesus has done and the spirit is doing. Wilson’s book was a refreshing, honest reminder. I loved this book!

Here’s the heart of it: “Jesus is looking specifically for the people who can’t get their act together.” That you and me. And that is why so many of us need Wilson’s message.

I’ll leave you with one last nugget from the book to think on:

You and I come to Jesus looking for some kind of pick- me-up, and Jesus offers his flesh. We come looking for Jesus the life coach when what we really need is his glory. We need to behold him.

This is really the point of following Jesus—to become like him. And in order to become like him, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3:18, we must behold his glory.

Purchase your copy here