A short stack of mini-reviews

Is there anything more inviting than a stack of books waiting TBR (to be read)?

Whether they’re piled on a nightstand, a coffee table or next to a Adirondack chair parked alongside a freshwater lake, the promise of new worlds awaits between the covers of the books in a TBR pile. And there’s something almost as delightful as hitting the “on” switch on a Kindle, and seeing a fresh list of *new* books waiting TBR.

My internal red pen offers a quick reminder that TBR is a passive voice expression. But those initials change to something delightfully more active voice  when you pluck a book from the stack or click a button and begin reading.

In no particular order, here’s a peek at a few books I’ve finished or am currently reading this summer:

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Several of the books in my TBR stack came to me via fellow Redbud Writers Guild members. I actually had the honor of reading an advanced copy of Nicole Unice’s She’s Got Issues: Seriously Good News for Stressed-Out, Secretly Scared Control Freaks Like Us (Tyndale, 2012).

An out-of-the-blue existential crisis led Unice to ask, “If I didn’t have God to transform me in the ordinary stuff of life, if the concept of being made new didn’t apply right there on my front porch, right in my ordinary issues, then what is being a Christian about anyway? Being nicer? Because if Jesus is who he says he is, then my existence as a pretty-nice Christian living like everyone else seemed like a mockery of faith.”

She tackles “ordinary issues” like insecurity, comparison, anger, bitterness and more with a deft touch and a relatable voice. Unice isn’t a spiritual superwoman shilling simple answers, but instead tells the truth about her own messiness in order to show how those broken places can intersect with the grace and mercy of a God who loves each one of us too much to leave us as we are.

This book (or the DVD curriculum) would be a great study tool/discussion-starter for a group of 25-40 year-old women who are interested in removing the mask of Nice and surrendering to God’s transformation.

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Another Redbud-authored book in my stack comes from Tracey Bianchi, Pastor for Women at Christ Church of Oak Brook (IL), and a mom of three. Her book, Mom Connection: Creating Vibrant Relationships In The Midst Of Motherhood (Revell, 2012) bears a M.O.P.S. imprint, but the book’s message has much broader application than the moms of pre-schoolers audience.

When she became a first-time parent, she experienced an overwhelming mix of joy, exhaustion, and profound disorientation. As she sat at the park with her colicky newborn, she watched a clique of women talking together and wondered, “Why was I alone on a park bench? Where were my mommy friends? Could anyone feel my isolation?”

Before the fall, God told Adam he (and we!) were not designed to be alone. Yet social isolation often characterizes our culture in spite of of 24/7 electronic connectivity. We will not thrive on text messages and notes on our facebook walls. We need meaningful real-life relationships.

Bianchi’s practical and rich guide offers ideas gleaned from her experience as well as dozens of other women. Each chapter ends with tips, reflection questions and additional resources, all aimed at helping women build a real social network.

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Jennifer Grant tackles motherhood from an entirely different angle in Momumental: Adventures In The Messy Art of Raising a Family (Worthy, 2012).  She dreamed of being a great parent, but as she found herself elbow-deep in the daily grind, a different and far healthier dream was born:

“We must acknowledge the darker parts of ourselves, confess our mistakes and bad choices, accept forgiveness, and give ourselves the chance to start over again. Over and over again.

“These days, instead of focusing on creating a conflict-free home, raising picture-perfect kids, and being an idea lmother – comprised of equal parts June Cleaver, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Angelina Jolie – I have embraced a more realistic view of what I can and can not do as a parent.”

She presents that more realistic view with wisdom and just the right amount of humor, encouraging readers to relax, enjoy the journey – and their families. In an era of mommy wars and helicopter parenting, Momumental is a breath of fresh air, and will be the book I’ll want to give to the expectant moms I know.

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Before we left for Israel, I snagged some free Christian-published fiction for my Kindle. Though I read mostly non-fiction, there’s nothing like fiction to make a long plane trip fly by (pun intended). Unfortunately, these free books were so dreary that I could not finish them, nor will I discuss them here.

When I arrived home, I read the antidote to those oh-so-predictable books: Digging To America (Knopf, 2006) by Anne Tyler. The book tells the story of two adoptive families who are first linked by their shared “arrival day” experiences when their Korean-born daughters join their families. The Davidsons are Whole Foods organic, gluten-free apple pie Americans; the Yazdans are second-generation Iranian immigrants. Tylers lyric words and deft observations explore questions of culture, identity and family in a story that spans nearly a decade. Who is an American? What is a family? The Davidsons and Yazdans search for answers in the interwoven fabric of their shared lives, as well as within their nuclear and extended families.

Digging To America was not the book I imagined it would be when I first cracked the cover. It surprised and delighted me, saddened and challenged me, and was one of the most lovely and quietly provocative works of fiction I’ve read in years. Highly recommended.

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Finally, I got a nice note from Messianic Jewish Bible teacher Louis Lapides after this post got some internet airtime a few weeks ago. He’d mentioned that he had self-published a Kindle short called Jesus Or Yeshua? Exploring the Jewish Roots of Christianity, and wondered if I’d be willing to review it.

The title led me to expect that the short volume would be a primer on the topic of the connection between Judaism and Christianity. That is not really what this book is about. Lapides is primarily addressing issues of misunderstanding that arise between Evangelical Christians and two kinds of Jewish people – those who follow Yeshua and those who don’t. His little booklet is a helpful attempt to bridge the communication gap between these groups.

For instance, in his discussion of Christian holidays, he notes, “The Messianic Jewish perspective does not question the existence of Gentile Christian festivals as ways to express Christian tradition; the only issue is the intentional historical removal of the Jewish underpinning from Christianity in an attempt to strip faith in Jesus from its Jewish origins.” The book actually never goes there, but it does offer some helpful definitions of terms, a bit of context about the cultural and religious lenses through which many Jewish people view church practice, and presnents some  a nod to a few Christian habits that get in the way of clear communication with Jewish people who have questions about Jesus.

Though the booklet might have benefited from an outside editor to give it a bit of polish, the material in the book would be of practical use for someone who is engaged in discussions about faith with a Jewish friend or co-worker.

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I’ve can add a few more titles to this list. I like to think of them as “former TBR’s”: A Cluttered Life: Searching for God, Serenity and My Missing Keys by Pesi Dinnerstein, the Kindle short You Are A Writer, so Start Acting Like One by Jeff Goins, Francis Chan’s Forgotten God and one other book I’ll be talking about later this week.

So, my TBR stack is a little squat these days. What should I add? I’m looking for a memoir or two, a spiritual formation title, and maybe another Anne Tyler book. The suggestion box (also known as the comments section) is open!


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5 thoughts on “A short stack of mini-reviews”

  1. I read Chan’s forgotten God. It’s got some great points on pneumatology and Chan is a good communicator, so the subject is fairly accessible.

    Here are a couple I’ve enjoyed recently, but I’m not sure if they fit the categories in your wish-list:

    Carl Trueman’s “Fools Rush in Where Monkeys Fear to Tread” – It’s a collection of essays strongly recommended by Aimee Byrd over at Housewife Theologian, and I’m really glad I picked it up. He comments on – and occasionally skewers – the church, theology, pop culture, and all the while gives fantastic insights with elegant writing.

    Darrell Johnson’s “Experiencing the Trinity” – This is a short book on a big subject. Johnson brings great scholarship and his wonderful communication skills to bear, and he does not disappoint. I’m in the middle of his much longer expository work on Revelation, and it is outstanding as well. In fact, I can say that I am being thrilled on each page. this may be the most important book I read all year.

    Last year’s most important book is easily Andrew Farley’s “The Naked Gospel” – Farley strips away the baggage people often place on the gospel and gives it to us straight from Scripture. He does a great job navigating from Old Testament to New Testament, showing where Jesus took us in his three year ministry culminating with the inauguration of the New Covenant with his death and resurrection.

    Hope these give you some more reading ideas, Michelle.


  2. Thanks, Tim! Your recommendations are going on my TBR list. Each one sounds like it would be worth my time. I think I skimmed a copy of Farley’s “Naked Gospel” when it first came out, and appreciated his attempt to strip cultural and historical baggage from the Gospel. Might be time to actually read it!

    Thanks, too, for your perspective-setting comment on Monday’s her.mi post. Your support means so much!

  3. Pingback: Some Assembly Required: A Conversation @ Michelle van Loon
  4. I just finished reading back to back books on Christianity gone bad and how it impacted the authors: Holy Ghost Girl and Why Be Happy When you can Be Normal. Helpful to understand why there is so much animosity towards our faith at this time and amazing how differently these women responded to the spiritual/relational abuses they endured. Also enjoyed Still by Lauren Winner.

  5. I read Still earlier this year. What did you like best about it?
    I’ve heard of Holy Ghost Girl, but not Why Be Happy. Which one did you prefer? I love a good memoir!

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