Category: Book Reviews

The Year 2016 in Review: A Year in Reading

A Year in Reading

These were the books that I read (or re-read) in 2016, and how I rated them. I set a GoodReads Reading Challenge goal of 24 books (2 per month) and exceeded that with a total of 27 books. 24 of those books were read between August and December. What I have found is that, since completing my master’s degree and Harper classes, I have a lot more free time for reading—and I am loving it.

  • Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No, to Take Control of Your Life [1992] by Henry Cloud & John Townsend (Religion / Self-Help) – 5/5 stars
  • Essential Car Care for Women [2012] by Jamie Little (Automotive) – 3/5 stars
  • Leave a Cheater, Gain a Life: The Chump Lady’s Survival Guide [2016] by Tracy Schorn (Relationships / Self-Help) – 5/5 stars
  • Shadows of Self [2015] by Brandon Sanderson (Fantasy) – 5/5 stars
  • The Bands of Mourning [2016] by Brandon Sanderson (Fantasy) – 4/5 stars
  • Secret History [2016] by Brandon Sanderson (Fantasy) – 3/5 stars
  • Road Rage: Two Novellas [2009] by Richard Matheson, Stephen King, & Joe Hill (Horror / Suspense) – 3/5 stars
  • After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters [2010] by N. T. Wright (Religion / Theology) – 5/5 stars
  • The Turn of the Screw [1898] by Henry James (Horror / Suspense) – 5/5 stars
  • The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde [1886] by Robert Louis Stevenson (Horror / Mystery) – 4/5 stars
  • Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency [1987] by Douglas Adams (Science Fiction) – 2/5 stars
  • Undaunted [2012] by Christine Caine (Religion / Self-Help) – 4/5 stars
  • Watchmen [1987] by Alan Moore (Comics / Fantasy) – 5/5 stars
  • The Secret History of Wonder Woman [2014] by Jill Lepore (History / Feminism) – 5/5 stars
  • Alcatraz v. the Dark Talent [2016] by Brandon Sanderson (Young Adult / Fantasy) – 5/5 stars
  • House of Leaves [2000] by Mark Z. Danielewski (Horror) – 3/5 stars
  • Healthy Aging [2005] by Andrew Weil (Health / Self-Help) – 3/5 stars
  • Death’s End [2016] by Cixin Liu (Science Fiction) – 3/5 stars
  • The Pearl [1947] by John Steinbeck (Drama / Suspense) – 4/5 stars
  • The Books of the Bible (New Testament) [2011] – 4/5 stars (for the edition, not the actual New Testament)
  • Elantris [2005] by Brandon Sanderson (Fantasy) – 3/5 stars
  • NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity [2015] by Steve Silberman (Health / History) – 5/5 stars
  • The Emperor’s Soul [2012] by Brandon Sanderson (Fantasy) – 3/5 stars
  • Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? [2016] by Kathleen Collins (Short Fiction / Drama / Race / Feminism / Sexuality) – 4/5 stars
  • All About Demisexuality [2015] by Arf (Health / Sexuality) – 2/5 stars
  • Dark Matter [2016] by Blake Crouch (Science Fiction) – 5/5 stars
  • The Christmas Tree that Ate My Mother [1992] by Dean Marney (Young Adult / Fantasy) – 3/5 stars

Some “awards” for these books:

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Review: Undaunted

Author and speaker Christine Caine, founder of the A21 campaign to end human trafficking
Author and speaker Christine Caine, founder of the A21 campaign to end human trafficking

Undaunted: Daring to Do What God Calls You to Do by Christine Caine [Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2012; Zondervan audiobook read by Tess Masters, 2012]

I first heard Christine Caine deliver a sermon at Willow Creek Community Church the weekend of April 17, 2016. Her sermon was so good, I made up my mind on the spot to read every book she has written; sadly, I was rather slow to fulfill that promise until I figured out how to fit audiobooks into my life more regularly. I think I settled in on Undaunted among all of her other books because it was the one my local library had, though I didn’t finish the paper copy in May as planned. Now, armed with the audiobook copy on Hoopla Digital, I was finally able to “read” it.

Undaunted is a thoroughly enjoyable, at times painful, almost semi-autobiographical book that details how Caine founded the A21 Campaign to abolish human trafficking. The book begins with a very daunting bit of theodicy wherein a group of recently freed sex trafficking victims question how God could be real after everything they had been through and why someone like Christine Caine hadn’t shown up to help them sooner (her answer, a very honest, “I don’t know, but I’m here now”). The narrative then segues into different events in Caine’s life and the lessons about God that Caine drew from each, with the overarching message being that we should not be daunted in doing what God calls us to do.

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Review: After You Believe

After You Believe -- N. T. WrightAfter You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters by N. T. Wright [New York, N. Y.: HarperOne, 2010; HarperAudio audiobook read by Anthony Ferguson, 2010]

If C. S. Lewis had been in favor of women’s ordination and a Bible scholar (two things which naturally belong together ;-)), he would have been N. T. Wright. They were/are both Anglican, English, taught at Oxford, and have/had a preponderance of fondness for being known by their initials. Wright also, like Lewis, possesses a keen ability to reason from the Scriptures in a simple yet logical manner and a creative command of useful metaphors and analogies to bring his points to life. His Simply Christian (which I haven’t read) has been compared to Lewis’s Mere Christianity, with obvious similarities in the titles. No word on whether or not Wright shares in Lewis’s fondness for cigars, but I digress.

After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters is a sequel to Simply Christian, but I can attest that you don’t have to read the first to understand and be edified by the second. As the subtitle suggests, After You Believe is about the development of character and what that means, a call for Christians to return to the pursuit of virtue. Central to Wright’s message is a breakdown of what the “Royal Priesthood” is: that Christians are meant to be both rulers and priests, and that this life is but the small opening part of a much longer existence (there are echoes of deification in this theology, although Wright does not use that term). The pursuit of virtue is not a matter of salvation, Wright is clear, but something we should seek earnestly in anticipation of and preparation for what God means for us to be. Wright makes the case that virtue is not something we are automatically given by the indwelling of the Spirit, but something that we must make a conscious effort to build up and pursue—with the Spirit’s help, of course.

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Review: Leave a Cheater, Gain a Life

Leave_a_Cheater_Gain_a_LifeLeave a Cheater, Gain a Life: The Chump Lady’s Survival Guide by Tracy Schorn [Philadelphia, Penn.: Running Press, May 2016]

These days, self-help books are a dime a dozen and so often seem to be filled with myopic, impractical “advice” rife with wishful thinking on the part of their authors, it’s become both shocking and refreshing to run into a self-help book that actually helps.

It has been a little shy of two years since I read the original self-published version of this book. I read it in the wake of having discovered that my husband had secretly gotten back together with his mistress. He had responded to my discovery of his affair by treating the Other Woman to adultery prom night and posting pictures of their fabulous night out together all over Facebook (where our daughter had access to them). I was in shambles and my emotions were raw. To cap it off, my husband was engaging in some classic abuser behavior, acting like he hadn’t done anything wrong and we could still be friends. I didn’t know how to handle the faux-amiable attempts to chat me up about the latest season of Arrow or his mistress’ fabulous hair; after all, wasn’t he being nice? Shouldn’t I be nice back? I felt like I was going insane. This crazy-making behavior is called “gaslighting” and it’s what abusers do.

The beauty of Leave a Cheater, Gain a Life is that it calls infidelity what it is: abuse. Truth-telling has become a dying art in our society and cheaters (and those who sympathize with them) despise being told this, but Schorn pulls no punches. (more…)

Review: Boundaries

Boundaries_CoverBoundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life by Henry Cloud and John Townsend [1992; OverDrive MP3 Audiobook, 2001]

“A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian.” — Pope Francis, February 18, 2016

A friend mentioned that this book had been very helpful and eye-opening in the wake of his divorce and what had gone wrong in his marriage, so I decided to check it out. I’m glad that I did.

I think the idea of boundaries is a nebulous one for most people. Consider the following scenarios:

  • A friend at church without a car asks you to drive him on an extended trip to pick up something he needs in another city
  • Your child is angry at you because you missed an arts & crafts event at her school
  • Your spouse frequently stays late at work, forcing you to wait until dinner is cold in order to include her at the table
  • Your ex regularly tries to cancel visitation at the last minute, even when he knows you’ve made other plans that depend on him taking the kids

Do we normally look at situations like those and think, “this person is encroaching on my boundaries”? Probably not. Yet Cloud and Townsend would contend that these are all boundary issues, places where Christians need to learn when it’s appropriate to say “no.” This can be difficult for us because we Christians are socialized to be self-sacrificing and agreeable. There’s a strong sense that being kind means never saying “no” to others when we can say “yes,” and when we do say “no,” we run the risk of being accused of not being Christian. I’ve had men accuse me of being un-Christian because I didn’t respond favorably to their advances on dating sites. That’s how far off the reservation the “Christians must always say YES” mentality goes.

Cloud and Townsend make the point that Christians are not supposed to be exhausted, reluctant, resentful givers; we’re supposed to be cheerful, deliberate givers. We can’t do that when we’re wearing ourselves out saying “yes” to everyone. We have to possess a sense of ourselves, our responsibilities, and our capacity to help others, then we have to know when someone is trying to shuffle their responsibilities onto us, or when our capacity for helping others has been tapped out. In doing so, we assert ourselves and can make focused, deliberate choices on whom we help.

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Review: The Five Love Languages

The Five Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts by Gary Chapman [1995; Audiobook, July 2006]

(Warning: Book Review + Relationship Autopsy ahead)

A friend of mine recommended that I read this book shortly after my husband got together with the mistress that would end our marriage. She described Chapman’s theory to me in detail and said that she felt my husband and I had experienced so many disconnects because we speak different “love languages.” The theory sounded solid, so I asked my husband to read it with me, but to no avail. While I liked the idea of the book, I didn’t actually get around to audiobooking it until now, well over a year later.

The basic premise of The Five Love Languages is a simple one: people give and perceive love in different ways (“languages”) and couples often experience disconnects because one person’s way of showing love falls flat with another person. The five languages Chapman lays out for us are Quality Time, Physical Touch, Acts of Service, Words of Affirmation, and Receiving Gifts. For example, a woman who experiences love primarily through Receiving Gifts may not feel loved when her husband regularly compliments her and says how much he appreciates her (Words of Affirmation). That same husband may feel baffled that his wife feels so unappreciated when he tells her how wonderful she is all the time. He is giving love in his primary love language, but she feels love in a different way, therefore they disconnect and both feel frustrated.

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Review: The Chump Lady Survival Guide to Infidelity

© Tracy Schorn, used with permission

The Chump Lady Survival Guide to Infidelity: How to Regain Your Sanity Once You’ve Been Cheated On by Tracy Schorn [June 2014]

It’s been ages since I picked up a book where, upon turning the last page, I found myself asking, “That’s it?!” Not because the book was bad, not because the conclusion was ill-suited for the pages that preceded, but because the experience of reading it was so good, it couldn’t be time for it to end. There had to be more. Please, could there be more?

Such was my experience reading Tracy Schorn’s The Chump Lady Survival Guide to Infidelity.

If you’ve recently discovered that your spouse or partner was cheating on you, or even if D-Day is some number of months/years behind you and you’re still struggling to heal, this book is a must-read, for three main reasons:

(1) It will help you understand your adulterous spouse’s behavior. Schorn holds that cheating is an inherently narcissistic act and that cheaters cheat because they feel entitled to. Why do they keep their “chump” (that’s the gullible, faithful spouse, hence the book’s title) on the line instead of filing for divorce and/or getting out of the chump’s life completely? It all goes back to their ego, what Schorn calls “kibble supply.” The cheater loves having the attention of both the affair partner and the chump, so the cheater will keep trying to draw the chump into triangulation with the affair partner. While my own faithless spouse did want a divorce, I found his “let’s still be buddies” routine absolutely bizarre–until I read this book. Then it all made sense.

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