Tuesday, January 5, 2010

2010 Book Reviews

Here's where I'll keep track of all the books I read this year, along with a summary of what I thought about each book. Each title will have a link to the book so you can read more about it, get other reviews, etc. [I make no money off of these links, and only provide them for your reference.] This year I won't be including my biblical reading in this list.

  1. The Ishbane Conspiracy by Angela, Karina, and Randy Alcorn - finished 1/5/10 - This book about spiritual warfare looks at a year in the lives of four high school & college students and their families around them. It hits a wide variety of topics relevant to our culture-- the philosophy of relativism, sex & abortion, eating disorders, suicide, school violence, witchcraft, and more, and definitely is not just a book for teenagers. In fact, though I think the book is extremely valuable, written both as a fictional storyline as well as a glimpse of the "underworld" (a la Screwtape Letters), I probably wouldn't let my kids pick it up until high school at least. Giving us biblical insights about human nature, God's designs, and eternity, this book is not only enjoyable, but instructive. I am happy to recommend it.
  2. God's Gifted People by Gary L. Harbaugh - finished 1/7/10 - Reading this for a second time reminded me why I shelved it the first time. That's not a very kind word, but this book (in my opinion) does not live up to the promises on the cover, and I was quite disappointed. What I would like to read-- in a book that seeks to show how our personalities work hand-in-hand with our spirits to help us serve God-- would be a book that looks at both personality types & spiritual gifts and goes in-depth with each. This book is not that book. If you want to know a lot about a fictional couple with two specific personality types that may or may not match anyone close to you, then read this book, but for me, it was a big let-down. As a personality-type book, as a spiritual encouragement book-- for either purpose, it was a let-down.
  3. Safe People: How to Find Relationships That Are Good for You and Avoid Those That Aren't by Cloud & Townsend- finished 1/26/10 - This book is good for helping sort out what kinds of relationships you are in (particularly among friends, or extended family) and which traits/situations are healthy and helpful and which situations/relationships can be harmful or hurtful. Particularly if you are uncertain about the health of a relationship, how close you should be with someone, or need clear discernment, I think this book can be helpful in evaluating how much time/energy to devote (or if you should devote any at all!) to relationships that are draining, hurtful, abusive, or stunted in their growth. I enjoyed the book. It's not a "must-read" for everyone... but if you are trying to find discernment in this area, I think it is a helpful book.
  4. The Peacemaker by Ken Sande- finished early Feb 2010 - Classic book about pursuing and cultivating peace in relationships... full of Scripture, full of wisdom, full of answers to the "what ifs" and unique difficulties that accompany interpersonal conflict. I am merely in line behind hundreds and thousands of others who highly recommend this book.
  5. There Is No Me Without You by Melissa Fay Greene - finished 02/13/10 - Wow, this is one of the most simultaneously informative and heart-impacting books I've ever encountered. Greene tracks the life of one Ethiopian woman who looked at her country and decided to act in ways that she could-- prayer, opening her home to orphans, seeking medical treatment when possible, and opening up her heart to her countrymen. Full of information about AIDS, orphans, Africa in general, adoption in general, and Ethiopia-specific information, I was completely blown away by this book. It is my privilege to recommend it not only to potential adoptive parents, not only to someone wanting a better grasp on the AIDS tragedy in Africa, but to anyone. To any human being who desires to understand our world better and be moved to compassion and find ways to act and assist in such a monumental global problem, this book is both helpful and instructive. Our family has always prayed for and had a heart for adoption, but reading this book motivated our hearts to take more regular, financial action to help Ethiopian orphans who will stay in Ethiopia. Truly, this book reminded me of the perspective of Christ, as shared by James: "true religion is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress".
  6. The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom - finished 2/18/10 - This classic true story of Corrie ten Boom's experiences as a Dutch Christian woman through World War II is extraordinary, spiritually encouraging, insightful, and narratively rich. Ten Boom shares her personal story, from pre-war Holland through her own family's awareness of needing to aid Jewish people suffering persecution, from the perilous days working in the underground against Nazi German soldiers through internment in a concentration camp, and beyond. It is surely a remarkable and memorable tale, not only for the page-turning story told, but for the spiritual truths taught within. What an encouraging and amazing book; I am so pleased to have finally read it!
  7. Unshaken by Francine Rivers - finished 2/23/10 - this retelling of the life of Ruth is great for gleaning (pardon the unintentional pun) historical information about the time, as well as for linking together elements of biblical history (Rahab being Ruth's eventual mother-in-law, for example). I enjoyed the book. There are details where Rivers takes license (Naomi's past, for example), but not to a point of extravagance. After reading the book of Ruth, it's a great add-in for further contemplation as to motives, customs of the day, possible undercurrents in interactions, etc. It's an enjoyable read, as are all five of the "Lineage of Grace" books about the women in the lineage of Jesus Christ.
  8. For the Children's Sake: Foundations of Education for Home & School by Susan Schaeffer Macauley - finished 4/12/10 - This classic text on homeschooling took me "a shade under a decade" to finish (not really, that's just a movie line-- it took maybe 4 years!) because when I first picked it up, my oldest was still too young for me to really grasp the value and be able to implement what I was learning in the book. When I picked it up a few months ago (perhaps at the beginning of this year), I found that it was absolutely perfect for this stage of homeschooling... a few young interested learners in our home, and with me having a few years of early homeschooling under my belt. I'm happy to recommend this book as inspirational and challenging for the young homeschooling mom.
  9. Reaping the Harvest: The Bounty of Abundant-Life Homeschooling by Diana Waring - finished 4/19/10 - This book is primarily targeted towards parents of older students (around high-school age), and thus, much of what I read was more of a mental preparation for the future than it was for practical information for the present. And while the context is homeschooling, I found that Reaping the Harvest focuses more on approach & attitude & motivation for the mother rather than actual nitty-gritty homeschooling issues. As a mom of younger ones, I found the book a bit scattered and pieced together, with perhaps too many messages trying to be communicated in this one small book. As a homeschool teacher of younger students, I much prefer a book I read last year, Things We Wish We'd Known (collected wisdom from 50 veteran homeschoolers, edited by the same Diana Waring).

  10. The Testament by John Grisham - finished 4/24/10 - This was my 2nd time to read this enjoyable book. Great character studies, incredibly descriptive journeys to the jungles of Brazil, and an interwoven examination of what wealth, addictions, and knowledge of God can do to people, in addition to the reliably fascinating and page-turning writing of John Grisham, all make this book a great option for the fiction lover.
  11. The Sane Woman's Guide to Raising a Large Family by Mary Ostyn - (second read-through) - finished 4/27/10 - Even though I read the book just 6 months ago, I enjoyed the practical wisdom and light-hearted encouragement in this book again. This book is a great one for getting perspective on doing life as a family.
  12. Sacred Legacy: Ancient Writings from Nine Women of Strength and Honor by Myrna Grant - finished 5/2/10 - The lives of nine Christian women and their writings, dating from roughly 300 - 1500 A.D., are compiled and examined for our encouragement. This book had some challenging writings (which left me stunned and encouraged) and some more mystical writings (which typically left me either skeptical or confused about what they were trying to say) but all the women Grant chose to include were women whose lives were extraordinary in the context of their times-- from the gladiatorial era in North Africa to medieval Europe. I enjoyed the book and found it an easy and inspiring read. And I'm quite glad to be more familiar with the stories of sisters in Christ like Perpetua and St. Teresa of Avila.
  13. Feminine Appeal: Seven Virtues of a Godly Wife & Mother by Carolyn Mahaney - finished 5/17/10 - Last year, I had the privilege of listening to the audio teachings that were the basis for this book (you can download them for free here). While I was already familiar with the content, I found that the reinforcement in the book was absolutely worth my time. In Feminine Appeal, Mahaney examines Titus 2 point-by-point and shares her wisdom, from more than 30 years as a Christian wife and mother. Particularly as a young wife and mom, I found her challenges and reminders to be helpful and encouraging. For specific information, there's no need for me to redo something that's already been done well, so let me direct you to Tim Challies' review of Feminine Appeal. For my part, I highly recommend the book.
  14. The 19th Wife: A Novel by David Ebershoff - finished 5/21/10 - While on vacation, I finished 2 fiction novels that I normally would not have read, simply because I would not have known to purchase them and we have no English libraries here. :) But both books were enjoyable, particularly as beach reading. This book explores historical Mormonism (the roots of Joseph Smith & Brigham Young and some prominent Mormon figures from the times of polygamy), interweaving those true tales with a fictional tale of a murder in a modern-day FLDS sect polygamist community. I learned a lot about the history of Mormonism, definitely had heartstrings pulled by the inside look into plural marriage, and generally enjoyed the book. Warning: this book contains multiple references to sexual acts, both heterosexual and homosexual. While I personally was able to press on for the sake of the story and historical understanding, we are all different in these areas in what our consciences will allow and so, for this reason, I cannot recommend this book though it was, generally speaking, an interesting read.
  15. Skeleton Coast by Clive Cussler - finished 5/25/10 - Definitely a book I'd have never read if not for it sitting on the shelf of the vacation house where we stayed. Nonetheless, it was a very fast-paced adventure story with some fascinating plot twists, a historical view of tribal wars and the diamond trade, African politics, and (some of you may remember my appreciation for "Alias") a little twist of espionage thrown in for fun. As this is likely a book targeted towards and read more by men, there was a heavy dose of action and almost zero sex/romance, which I was glad for. Cussler is an excellent writer (described by Tom Clancy as "the guy I read"), and I'd be happy to read more of his work if given the chance.
  16. The Nursing Mother's Companion by Kathleen Huggins - finished 6/16/2010 - Each time we have a newborn, I pull this book out to have as a ready reference for the first few weeks. Huggins deals in detail with preparing for breastfeeding (i.e., what to look for in a nursing bra, how to share information with the people around you so that they understand your desire to breastfeed), offers encouragement to the mom-to-be about benefits and blessings of nursing, specific instructions on nursing positions and basic how-tos of breastfeeding, and (what I appreciate most, and why I pull it back out with each new baby) has a large section of the book devoted to how to deal with potential challenges and problems that may arise. I highly recommend this book for pregnant or nursing mothers. Read my full review here.

  17. Shepherding a Child's Heart by Ted Tripp - finished 6/24/10- I actually started this book about 5-6 years ago, when I just had a toddler and newborn. When I began it, it seemed geared more towards parenting a child, not so much the preschool and under crowd, and so I put it to the side, knowing I'd want to return to it at a later date. I picked it up again earlier this year. Shepherding A Child's Heart is a convicting, powerful, and biblical examination of how to thoughtfully and engagingly parent our children-- not a run-of-the-mill parenting book. The key thing I took away from this book is not to just look at behavior-- but to properly assess a particular child's heart motivations as well. His focus on the role of the parent, the responsibilities of the parent, and the character of the parent were so convicting and helpful for me, as we've recently moved into having several children in the elementary-range of ages. Parenting a baby is primarily about meeting needs and establishing trust and a joyful relationship... parenting a toddler is primarily about establishing authority and teaching our children the general appropriate behaviors for living peacefully with others... but I believe Tim Tripp has aptly termed the parenting through the childhood years as "shepherding". It is about knowing and leading and guiding our children as they grow in stature and maturity, and Tripp's book is a very helpful tool for this season. Tim Challies' review is worth reading for a more detailed appraisal. I recommend Shepherding a Child's Heart to every Christian parent as a way to grow into a wiser, more gracious, more discerning parent.
  18. Unafraid by Francine Rivers - finished 6/30/2010 - This retelling of the story of Mary, mother of Jesus, is helpful for gaining a perspective on how Mary may have felt and what she may have thought as she experienced life from being a small-town virgin all the way through her son's crucifixion, resurrection, and her life's end in Ephesus. I thought Rivers missed two significant biblical details and a prime character development opportunities by opting to leave out Mary's trip to visit her cousin Elizabeth, and not even mentioning Mary's "Magnificat" prayer of awe and praise to God, but perhaps including those portions of the story would have made the book exceed the target length, as this series ("Lineage of Grace"-- the stories of the 5 women in the lineage of Christ) are smaller fictional works. All in all, the book was not only enjoyable but caused me to examine my own walk with Jesus more deeply, which is always a valuable outcome from any book.
  19. The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger - finished 7/2/2010, or thereabouts - I have to preface this by saying that sometimes, when you live overseas and have limited options when you walk into a foreign-language bookstore (as in, one column worth of choices for your entire English-language options, including travel books), you take what you can get. I went into a shop looking for some mindless reading to pass the time in my last few exhausted, humid weeks of pregnancy, and came home with this book and "Julie and Julia" (both of which, oddly enough, feature Meryl Streep in their movie versions). So, let's all be clear that I likely would never have read this book if not for living abroad. That said, this book is from the very first pages, quite clearly a modern novel. Bitter women working jobs they hate and loathing all the people around them, with fashion and money and career as their gods, pervade every page. Included also is the slightly effeminate, affable-but-boring boyfriend, thrown in for another reason for cynical eye-rolling. As I read, and once I finished, I really have a hard time believing that people actually live like this. Not only that, but I can't help but feel that people in one future day will look back on this mentally-vacant, cynical, decorated-with-profanity sort of storytelling of our generation and wonder where our classics are, and perhaps conclude that ours was the most navel-gazing, least educated generation to have yet lived in the post-Guttenberg age. (And that's not even considering the vampire stories being passed off as "literature" these days!) The whole story just made me feel sad for the state of our society, that this is a possible life in our culture. I don't have much more to say, but this is a flat (no real character 'arc', just a person who changes because it's basically forced on her), bitter story. Entertaining enough, I suppose, but nothing inspiring, insightful, or inherently rich about this book.
  20. On Becoming Babywise by Gary Ezzo - finished 7/6/2010 - This was at least my sixth or seventh read-through of this book. I always refresh my memory before each baby comes along so I can focus in on the essentials in the early days: full feedings, and generally following the eat-wake-sleep cycle. This book teaches parents to use a basic routine to help their children sleep well, sleep through the night early, and have pleasant "wake times" (because their wake time follows their feeding time, when they are full and content). Knowing and being reminded of general guidelines for helping infants to sleep on their own has been a priceless gift of contentment (on the part of the infants) and sanity (on the part of the parents) in our home, and I recommend the book with this caveat: if you are a person who feels that you have to have RULES and then have to FOLLOW those "rules" without fail, then you may not want to read this book. Again and again, Ezzo stresses that these are guidelines and routines, not hard and fast regulations, but whenever I see criticism of this book, it is because someone has apparently overlooked the dozens of times when Ezzo advocates evaluating your child and using your parental awareness to make feeding and sleep decisions. But the Babywise experience in our family has been entirely positive. This book has been nothing but a blessing in our home, bringing peaceful full-night's sleep early and naturally in all four of our children's lives (so far, and soon we'll know the "results" with #5, but it's looking good already), and giving us peace and confidence in those early days with a newborn.

  21. Is There Life After Housework? A Revolutionary Approach to Cutting Your Cleaning Time by 75% by Don Aslett - finished 8/5/2010 - I'd read great things about this book, and it lived up to the reviews. This is a practical, helpful book that both teaches the best approaches to cleaning AND motivates the reader to declutter, dejunk, and properly clean. After reading it, I think cleaning will take less time, and I definitely have a greater desire to get rid of clutter (and have been doing it!). Also, the fact that he goes step-by-step on all common household tasks and offers reviews of cleaning supplies and methods makes this a book worth keeping as a reference, so (for me) it was a good buy as well as a good read.
  22. You Can Farm: The Entrepreneur's Guide to Start & Succeed in a Farming Enterprise by Joel Salatin - finished 8/15/2010 - After reading this book, I do believe anyone with the desire to farm would have both the belief that it is possible to start & succeed in farming, and also be duly warned of the potential risks and downsides in such an endeavor. Both my husband and I read this book in less than a month's time, and it definitely sparked a lot of conversation- we've long had a far-off notion that we might like to farm, one day. What this book does is to give practical ideas of how to carry out various portions of organic farming (poultry and beef in particular), a realistic perspective on the length of time and intensity of work and commitment necessary, and the confidence that if desired, as the title says-- "you can farm"-- certainly for your family, and perhaps as an enterprise. The tips Salatin offers (i.e., rent farm land to try your hand at it and learn and get to where you can turn a profit BEFORE running out and buying a farm) are both wise and level-headed. For the person considering, "is farming the life for me?", I can't imagine many better ways to spend $20, as reading this book will either confirm your leanings and give you confidence and good ideas, or will talk you out of it. Either outcome would be worth the money. Not only did I simply enjoy reading the book, but I learned quite a bit about farming, was encouraged about this as a possible endeavor (at least for our family's poultry/egg needs one day). Great read!
  23. Life-Giving Love: Embracing God's Beautiful Design for Marriage by Kimberly Hahn - finished 8/17/2010 - If you are, like I am, a Protestant Christian who is interested in the issue of how Christians have historically viewed contraception, and why the Catholic church still views contraception (even in marriage) as a sin, you may find this book worth your time. I had only read bits and pieces-- a blog article here, a footnote there-- and had a small grasp on the Catholic Church position, but after reading this book, I feel quite well-informed as to the biblical basis as well as the ethical and naturalistic reasons for why the Catholic church has continued to see contraception as outside of the realm of choices for a Christian. (Hahn shares a good deal of history in the first chapter, of how Protestants saw the issue similarly until 1930.)

    Whether or not you are Catholic, and whether or not you agree with every one of Hahn's points, she has presented a very cohesive framework for understanding the ethical questions surrounding the contraception issue. At nearly 350 pages, this is a full-scope view on the issues of marriage, fertility, contraception, abortion, infertility, sex in and out of marriage, and related issues. It is perhaps worthwhile to note that Hahn draws heavily on Catholic church teachings and doctrine, but for me this was not prohibitive, as she references Scripture throughout the book as well. Even though I'd read widely about contraception in recent years, I found that Hahn presents many new points to consider on this issue. Having begun this book just after welcoming our fifth child into our family, I greatly enjoyed and was encouraged by reading Life-Giving Love.
  24. Raise the Titanic by Clive Cussler - finished 9/7/2010 - Another Cussler novel... this one, as the title suggests, involves the ill-fated ship, Titanic, and a plot that spans a century about miners, nuclear capabilities, and takes place primarily in the Cold War era. This book had a bit more cheesy romance (I recall one moment in particular: "Dirk, Dirk! Nothing makes any sense any more. I want you. I want you now, and I don't even know why!" Does it get cheesier than that?!) than the last Cussler book I read, but the political and historical information was intriguing and certainly added up to a mystery adventure that keeps the reader on the edge of his seat.

  25. Preparing Sons to Provide for a Single-Income Family by Steve Maxwell - finished July/August 2010 - This book is pretty much exactly what the title suggests. Maxwell sets out to encourage parents to think intentionally and carefully about how to prepare sons to provide for their future families. He does this primarily by laying out various options for sons and charging parents to help their sons carefully examine their talents and skills to choose a future career path that will provide for a family (as opposed to just running after a passion without any thought as to future potential income). Maxwell also encourages parents to help sons acquire skills that will help them earn addition income, and/or stretch their income farther (i.e., basic carpentry/plumbing/home & car repair skills, accounting/tax prep, that kind of thing).

    While this may be off-putting to parents of modern sensibilities, who might ask, "why not prepare a daughter in these same ways?", the truth is that if a son is prepared to provide well, it will be a blessing to his future wife & family regardless, as it gives his future bride more flexibility. Studies consistently show that a majority of working women would choose to be home with their children if they felt they could. And any parent who reads Maxwell's book will (in my view) automatically also begin thinking of ways that they can prepare daughters to be a blessing to their future family in similar ways (learning useful skills so they don't have to be outsourced, whether by fixing pipes, cooking skills, tailoring clothes, cake decorating, tax prep, etc.). This book was great for helping my husband and I think through ways to make our sons more capable and competent in their skills and abilities as they approach adulthood, and we both enjoyed it a great deal for those reasons.
  26. Living With Less So Your Family Has More by Jill Savage (and Mark Savage) - finished Oct. 2010 - I like to read books on being frugal and living below one's means often, to keep myself motivated in this area, to be a good steward of our finances. This book offers examination and encouragement about the "whys" of being frugal, and is a good resource for overall stewardship as a family. I like that she's not a frugality-Nazi but instead encourages readers to find balance and find ways to save money in ways that make sense. To be frugal, but not to the detriment of a meaningful and joyful family life.
  27. Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell - finished Oct. 2010 - Like every other Gladwell book I've read in the past, this was an enjoyable book that was easy to read and easily held my attention. Filled with interesting details, unique stories, and statistics that illuminate the points he makes, this book's problem is not the facts or details. The problem I felt as I read is that throughout the book, the reader is left to wonder what the overarching point is. I found it easy to nod in agreement and scratch my head in wonderment at many of the points Gladwell makes, but even by the end of the book, it seemed that the major weakness of the book is the lack of practical application. What is one to DO with the points he makes?, I kept wondering. And at the end of the book, I was still asking this same question. All that to say, if you're looking for a book with interesting anecdotes and insights into how we make split-second judgments and decisions, and how the brains of experts react differently to the brains of laypeople in a given area, you'll find the book interesting, as I did. But if you're one who wants practical application of principles that you read and learn about, you'll want to look elsewhere.
  28. Escaping the Devil's Bedroom: Sex Trafficking, Global Prostitution, and the Gospel's Transforming Power by Dawn Herzog Jewell - finished Dec. 2010 - Every time I stand in the airport here, I'm struck by how many young women that I see seem to be entrenched in the sex trade. We live overseas and I know I've only seen the teeny-tiniest-tip of the iceberg. I have friends in other countries who try to show women in the sex industry the love of Christ, and wanted to know more about human trafficking & the women and men caught in that trap. This book was an excellent (and fairly up-to-date) primer for understanding the whys and hows of life as a trafficked woman, and how we as Christians can love and serve and reach out to women caught in the sex industry. Though it's by no means an *easy* or pleasant subject to read about, I highly recommend this book for those seeking to educate themselves about reaching out in love to women in difficult circumstances.


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