Books for the New Year: Non-Fiction

Finally made the time to sit down and finish the other half of my book list! Many of the non-fiction works I read over the past few months were biographies. Their stories of courage, leadership, strength, and humility in times of crisis challenged my complacency and stirred in me a desire to pursue growth in these areas of my own life. It is inspiring to read about the lives of those who have lived in times so different from today, and yet often facing many similar challenges. The last two on the list are books I used to accompany my Bible Study – reading a chapter or portion of a chapter (in the case of Scandalous) each day.

Churchill, by Paul Johnson

churchill

Johnson’s short but thorough biography focuses primarily on Churchill’s varied and dramatic political life from before WWI through the Korean War. I have long been fascinated by the life of Winston Churchill, and this book only deepened my respect and admiration for him. He was a man of discipline, resolve, and gumption, willing to stand and fight in the face of ridicule, abandonment and fierce opposition. Johnson also shares about Winston’s personal life – his faithful marriage to Clementine (they were married 57 years before his death at the age of 90), the 5 children they raised, his hobbies as an artist and writer. If you want to read about a life well lived, I encourage you to read this engaging work.

 

 

 

No Ordinary Men: Resisters against Hitler in Church and State, by Elisabeth Sifton and Fritz Stern

No ordinary men

Much is known, written, and celebrated about the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his work in the resistance against Hitler and the Third Reich, but very little seems to be known about the equally important life of his brother-in-law, Hans von Dohnanyi. In this book the authors reveal the essential collaboration between Hans, who worked in the Abwehr (government agency), and Dietrich, who served in the Church. The success that Dietrich had in his efforts would have been virtually impossible had Hans not had the inside knowledge of what was happening in the government. Well worth your time and attention.

 

 

 

 

Same Kind of Different as Me, by Ron Hall and Denver Moore

same kind

A true story of friendship, faith, and unconditional love, this book will move you from tears, to laughter, and back to tears again. Denver grew up without a name in rural Louisiana, caught in a cycle of modern-day slavery through sharecropping. He escapes and eventually lands in Fort Worth Texas, where he lives on the streets and struggles to survive. Ron is a wealthy international art dealer, separated from Denver by far more than a set of railroad tracks. Ron and his wife Deborah begin volunteering at a homeless shelter, and it is there that they first meet Denver. Written by both Ron and Denver, learn about the way the Lord brought these two unlikely people together, and turned them into brothers. An amazing story that will encourage your faith and challenge your complacency.

 

 

 

The 23rd Psalm for the 21st Century, by Lon Solomon

23rd-psalm-for-21st-century-paperback-cover-art

This is the first book I’ve read written by the Senior Pastor at my church here in northern Virginia, and it in Pastor Lon takes the well known Psalm 23 and exposits the text for our current generation. Pastor Lon has been leading trips to Israel each year for the past 20 years or so, where they still have Shepherds dotting the hillsides. He utilizes the knowledge he has gained over the years of watching the Israelites shepherding to bring this text to life and help us understand why this imagery is so important in the life of a believer.

 

 

 

 

 

Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus, by D. A. Carson

scandalous-carson

Carson is one of the most engaging modern-day theologians I have had the pleasure of listening to or reading. I first heard Dr. Carson speak on this subject back in March 2012 when he came to the THINK conference hosted by my church in Indiana. This book is an in-depth look at five passages of scripture that illustrate the scandal of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and he writes with clarity and conviction. This book will give you a deeper understanding of this Jesus we follow, and of the eternal ramifications of the most beautiful news in the world.

 

 

 

 

 

Have you read any of these? What are the non-fiction books have you been reading and enjoying lately?

Books for the New Year: Fiction

The start of a new year calls for a new list of books! Over the past few months I have managed to fit in some good reading time, filled with a wide variety of both fiction and non-fiction. Since there are so many to share, I am breaking them up into two lists. Here are recommendations and short synopses of some of the fiction books I have read over the past few months.

 

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Guernsey

This was my favorite read from 2013, and I plan on reading it again soon. The characters in this story are fun, genuine, and quirky, and from the first page they became like dear friends. It is written as a series of letters from Julia, the main character, to her publisher, his sister, and a group of men and women on the island of Guernsey off the coast of Britain. She is in London working on a story based on the Literary Society this group started during World War II, and in the process she grows to love them as her family. If you read only one work of fiction this year, I encourage you to choose this one.

 

The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak

Set in Germany in the throes of World War II, this is a deeply moving story narrated by Death, who tells of a young girl named Liesel who gets into the habit of stealing books. A foster family in Munich takes her in after losing her mother and brother, and it is her foster father who teaches Liesel to read. Her foster parents find a young Jewish man on their doorstep in the middle of one night, and over the months that they shelter him, Max and Liesel form a deep friendship.

 

Wildflowers of Terezin, by Robert Elmer

A moving and thought-provoking novel based on the true story of the courage and determination of the Danish people to save their Jewish countrymen from annihilation by the Nazis. Steffen, a quiet and gentle Lutheran pastor in Copenhagen, reluctantly agrees to help the tenacious and vibrant Hanne Abrahamsen smuggle a group of Jews out of Denmark by boat. As the resistance grows, Steffen’s faith deepens and so does his relationship with Hanne. When she is captured and taken to Terezin, a work camp located in Czechoslovakia, Steffen’s participation in the Resistance grows stronger. With themes of faith, sacrifice, love, perseverance, and brotherhood, this book is well worth your time.

 

Now, in case you are under the impression that I only read books set in World War II, here are a few more from a wider range of genres.

 

The Forgotten Garden, by Kate Morton

This is the first of Kate Morton’s writing that I’ve read, and I was captivated by the story of a young girl who appears on a wharf in Australia by herself with no idea where she came from, and fleeting memories of a woman known only as “The Authoress”. She ends up being raised by the Wharf Master and his wife, and at the age of 18 her father tells her the truth about how he found her, embarking her on a quest to find out who she is and where she came from. She assembles a few of the pieces, but is unable to put together the whole story, so after her death her granddaughter continues the journey and discovers the whole truth. Well written and easy to read, this book keeps you engaged from beginning to end. Morton does an excellent job of weaving together the mystery, giving you just the right clues along the way.

 

The House at Riverton, by Kate Morton

Like The Forgotten Garden, this book is also a mystery that weaves its way back and forth from the early 1900’s to the present. It follows the life of Grace, who as a young girl worked as a housemaid at Riverton, and tells of the unique and tragic relationship she has with the mysterious sisters of the manor, Hannah and Emmeline. The story centers on the death of a young poet at the house in 1924, and Grace is the only living witness to the event. Now that she is old, Grace decides it is time to tell the whole story of what happened, choosing to share it through recorded tapes to her Grandson. At points this book seemed a little tedious in the details, but overall it was engaging and worth the read.

 

Divergent, by Veronica Roth

This dystopian novel is similar in tone and themes to The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins (although from what I have read, Roth began her story long before THG was in print), with a strong female lead character who rises up to help lead a rebellion against the autocratic and oppressive government. Books such as these remind me of the saying “the best way for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing” (Edmund Burke). As a student of history, these stories remind me of the resilience of people and the unwillingness to submit to tyranny indefinitely. At some point, truth wins over lies. Every time. I found the storyline of this particular novel a bit lacking in depth and character development, and it was easy to guess where she was going with the story. If you enjoy this genre though, the story is clean and a quick read.

 

Orphan Train, by Christina Baker Kline

Another novel based on true events, Orphan Train is the ficticious story of two women separated by about 80 years, who meet and find out that they share a very similar life story. Molly is a young woman about to be aged out of the foster care system in 2011, angry at the world and at her life. She steals a book from the library, and has to do 50 hours of community service. She ends up helping 90 year old Vivian clean out her attic, and discovers that she was one of the 249,000 orphaned children sent west from the east coast between 1850-1930 to live and work with families who were willing to take them.  This is a quick read, and one that is full of humor, poignancy, and the realities of love and loss. It is also a fascinating historical lesson on what happened to many of the children who rode the trains, and will make you want to learn more about this time in our history.

Books, Books, and more Books!

One of the benefits of not working for four months earlier this year shows up in the abundance of time I had to read. Although I still have not made it through my entire bookshelf as I had hoped when I moved back to DC last fall, I have plenty of time to continue working through all of the books now that I am staying here for a while longer.

It’s been a while since my last book list, so there are a bunch of them on here. I’ve split them up into categories, and I hope you find something worth reading! These books have encouraged, exhorted, challenged, and delighted me, and I hope they do the same for you as well.

Christian Life and Godliness:

The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness, by Timothy Keller.

Only 44 pages long, this is a short read that has a big impact! It is based on 1 Corinthians 3:21-4:7, and in it Keller shares how true Christian joy is found in living out of who we are in Christ, practicing gospel-humility. He says “the essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself, it is thinking of myself less” (p.32). Worth your time, and one that I will read again.

In the Name of Jesus, by Henri J. M. Nouwen.

The tagline for this book is “Reflections on Christian Leadership”, and it is a must read for anyone in vocational ministry or Christian Leadership of any kind, in my opinion. Based on a collection of talks that Nouwen gave at the fifteenth anniversary of the Center for Human Development here in DC, and written with authenticity and wisdom. He shares about his transition from prominence in the academic world at Harvard University as a theologian and teacher, to serving among the mentally handicapped in the L’Arche Community near Toronto, Canada. Rich in reflections on servant leadership, humility, community, and sacrificial love. Well worth your time and attention.

Morning and Evening, by Charles H. Spurgeon

This daily devotional was given to me as a gift by a dear friend last year for my birthday, and each entry is gospel-centered and rich in theological truths. Spurgeon is one of the most prolific Christian writers of the last few centuries, and his sermons, books, and devotionals stand as a testament to Christ and His church. It has been encouraging to begin and end my days with a short reading, and each one draws me continually closer to Christ.

In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day, by Mark Batterson.

I add this one to the list with some hesitation. The book centers on one sentence from one verse in 2 Samuel 23, that says “He [Benaiah] also went down and killed a lion in the middle of a pit on a snowy day.” It is non-fiction, and the premise is that we are called to be lion-chasers like Benaiah; that God desires for us to dream big, and to take huge steps of faith. While the book makes some good points and challenges complacency, I am a bit wary of entire books that center on one short verse like this (think Prayer of Jabez). Batterson uses very little other scripture to support his points, and makes absolute statements about Benaiah that are nowhere in the text. So, I offer it on this list with caution. If you read it, make sure you have a bible nearby, and dig into the text for yourself. Find out who Benaiah was (his story extends into 1 Kings, something not mentioned in the book), and find other examples of heoric faith and boldness to compare and contrast with this story.

 

Non-fiction:

The Introvert Advantage, by Marti Olsen Laney Psy.D.

As an introvert, I am fascinated by books that discuss the differences between the two personality types, and this is by far one of the best I have read. Laney delves into the science behind introversion and extroversion, explaining the differences in brain function and how we process information in a way that is easy to understand. She then spends several chapters on strategies for introverts to thrive in a culture driven by extroverts, and shares wisdom from her own journey to help introverts use their strengths to their best advantage.

Money, Purpose, Joy, by Matt Bell

Written from a Christian perspective, this book takes a look at how believers can discover a life of purpose and joy as they manage their finances well. Bell spends the first few chapters discussing how we are stewards of the money we have been given, and the freedom found in viewing our money as belonging to God and not to us. Both inspiring and practical, Bell focuses the last several chapters on budgets, retirement planning, home ownership, and more, and in each case gives helpful tips and ideas from his years as a financial planner.

Half the Sky, by Nicholas D. Kristoff and Sheryl Wudunn

“Turning oppression into opportunity for women worldwide”, the tagline heralds. The title of the book comes from an old Chinese proverb, that says “Women hold up half the sky”. Kristoff and Wudunn have spent years traveling around the world championing women’s rights and helping women transition out of poverty and oppression. Although not always an easy read, this book is full of encouraging stories of women who have succeeded in creating a new life for themselves or others around the world. The authors cover a wide range of topics from education, to health, to trafficking, to drugs, to marriages and babies. The book also sheds light on how much work still needs to be done in this area, and the realities women face on a daily basis around the world.

How to be a Hepburn in a Hilton World, by Jordan Christy

Written with wit, honesty, and clarity, this book discusses the “Art of living with style, class, and grace”. Christy tackles the changes that happened in culture over the past few decades, exhorting women to buck the cultural norms and live differently in the areas of clothing, words, choosing friends, dating and more. She uses personal stories, as well as classic examples of “Hepburn-esque” modesty and class that we should strive for as ladies. Share this with the young women in your life, and read it for yourself too!

Mao’s Last Dancer, by Li Cunxin

They made this book into a movie, but I wanted to read the book first before seeing the film. Li shares his story of how he grew up in rural China to become one of the premiere dancer’s in Mao’s final troupe. As I dancer I was intrigued by the descriptions of the studios and training practices in China during that time, and the intense national pride these men and women felt at being hand selected by the Chairman to dance for their country. Li eventually came to the US, and he shares the struggles and triumphs of adjusting to a new culture.

 

Fiction:

Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen

True confession: this was my first time making it all the way through this book. I have started it many times before, only to be distracted from finishing it by something else. This time, though, I made it, and I am so glad I did! Although written several hundred years ago, Austen’s words are timeless and relevant to this generation. She hearkens us back to a time when relationships meant something, when lives were led with decorum and propriety, and marriage was taken seriously. The best part is that she does it with humor and grace, creating imperfect characters who fail miserably at times, but who are lovable and relatable.

Slaughterhouse Five, by Kurt Vonnegut

An American classic novel, centered on events in WWII. Vonnegut details the journey of Billy Pilgrim through the war, culminating in the firebombing of Dresden. Written in a memoir style, there are also elements of time-travel, aliens, and spaceships. Difficult to follow, but it paints a picture of the realities of death and war, and shares the perspective of those who die without Christ as futile, meaningless, and mundane.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky

Written in 1999, and touted as a “bittersweet coming of age story”, Chbosky chronicles the life of Charlie, a young man struggling to find his way as he begins his first year of high school. The book recently gained recognition when the movie of the same title was released, and so I decided to see what all the hype was about. The story is told through a series of letters written by Charlie to an unknown recipient, and through them we are painted a picture of depression, drugs, alcohol, sexual identity questions, family discord, and the personal identity & acceptance struggles that Charlie and his friends are dealing with.

 

Have you read any of these? I would love to hear your thoughts and opinions! What should I put on my list to read next?

 

Books for Fall

Looking for something good to read? I’ve been doing quite a bit of reading as of late, and thought I would share a few good ones that would make for excellent fall reading. Everyone makes summer reading lists, but fall is a glorious time to read as well, sitting outside on a crisp day with a cup of hot tea and the sun shining….smelling the leaves changing and enjoying all the delights of the best season of the year!

So, without further ado, here are the books, separated by genre:

Biography: Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret. Written by Taylor’s grandson and grand-daughter-in-law, it is a sweet look at the life of an amazing man of faith. Taylor was the founder of China Inland Mission during the 1800’s when China was still a much unexplored area, and he and his team laid the foundation for much of mission work that is still going on in Asia today. He lived in the same time as George Müller – another hero of the faith I mention often – and had a similar life of trust in our great God and sacrificial love and dedication to the mission God gave him. This book will challenge complacency in your life, and help you to see that we have the same Spirit and ability to trust God just like Hudson Taylor.

 

Lifestyle: The Colors of Hope, by Richard Dahlstrom. This book examines how we live out our relationship with Jesus. Dahlstrom argues that as believers we are created to be artists of hope, called to color our world and the people in it using the gifts and abilities the Lord has given us. He shares stories from his life, and gives a lot of practical application to help us learn ways in which we too can be artists of hope in bringing the gospel to a dark and troubled world. I highly recommend this to anyone who is living to make an impact for Christ in their life!

Classics: Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott AND Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson. I read Little Women earlier this year, and am currently enjoying Treasure Island. Although very, very different genres, both are classic works of literature that explore the themes of family, friendship, and trust. Little Women is more of a drama, and Treasure Island more of an adventure tale, although they do have elements of both found within their pages. And if you’ve seen the movie Muppet Treasure Island, reading the book will help make sense of the movie. 🙂 At least it did for me.

 

 

Challenge: If you are up for a challenge and are looking for something a little more lengthy and in-depth, I recommend reading Victor Hugo’s masterpiece Les Miserables. I have been reading it pretty consistently for a couple months now, and am still only 20% of the way through the book, to give you some idea of its length and depth. Hugo masterfully weaves the stories together of a the various lives of a group of people who suffer misfortune upon misfortune, yet with such beauty and authenticity that it leaves you wanting more. You get to know and love (or hate) the characters extremely well as Hugo spends much time sharing intricate and personal details that many books today leave out for sake of space.

 

Books for Summer

Looking for a good book to read this summer? Over the past few months I have read a variety of great works and now pass them on to you for your pleasure and profit.

George Müller: Delighted in God, by Roger Steer

I recently wrote a post about this book, but wanted to add it on here again, because it is that much worth reading. Müller lived a life of continual and courageous faith that God would fulfill His promises to provide, even on days when he did not know what the children at his orphan home were going to eat. God honored His faith and provided abundantly, often at the very last second. He was faithful to the Lord and to his ministry until the very end, leaving a legacy that spread around the world. He is the kind of man I desire to be like at the end of my days.

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, by Eric Metaxas

Another biography well worth your time and attention. This one is significantly longer than Steer’s bio of Müller, but don’t let mere size deter you from experiencing this excellently written story. Bonhoeffer reminds me a lot of Esther – someone who was born “for such a time as this”. When much of the world around him was caving to the power and threat of Hitler and his Nazi regime before and during WWII, Bonhoeffer refused, standing firm on a foundation of right theology and faithfulness to God. Metaxas was thorough in his research, painting for us a well-rounded picture of Bonhoeffer from his birth in 1906 until his death in 1945 at the young age of 39. Just as I desire to emulate Müller’s faith, I hope also to develop the same depth of conviction and unwavering stand that Bonhoeffer had, no matter what our future years bring.

The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life, by Os Guinness

With short chapters and deep content, this book is great to read one chapter per day. Guinness spends 24 chapters working out with us what it means to be “called” by Christ, and how to live out the purpose He created you for. There is very little in this book about “full time ministry”, and applies to people in any and every field of work. Each chapter opens with a story of a man or woman in history who either failed or fulfilled one aspect of calling (and yes, there are many different aspects to calling). Whether you are firmly ensconced in a career, or looking for something new, or wondering what in the world you are on earth for, I encourage you to read this book!

Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott

“Jo’s eyes sparkled, for it is always pleasant to be believed in, and a friend’s praise is always sweeter than a dozen newspaper puffs.” I have long loved the move Little Women, but until now have never undertaken the task to read the entire book. Written with sincerity and wit, Alcott weaves a story with characters so delightful you feel as if they are your dear friends. One thing that surprised me about the book though, was the frequency of times in the novel Alcott also weaves in thoughts on theology, marriage, society and culture, most of which we would do well to heed today. This is definitely one I want to read again, for, as Jo says “some books are so familiar, that reading them again is like coming home.”

Till We Reach Home, by Lynn Austin

Another novel, this is a sweet story about three sisters who immigrate from Sweden to America in the late 1800’s after a tragedy strikes that threatens to ruin them forever. They learn to rely on the Lord and on one another as their hopes and plans are continually changing, and begin to see that God has a plan in everything, even when we don’t understand.