Monday, May 2, 2016

April Book Review

We're now one third of the way through the year. To reach my goal of 50 books this year, I need to have read at least 17 books to stay on track. At the end of March I had finished 20 so I could have laid low and read none, but I love to read so that obviously wasn't happening. I ended up reading eight books in April. You can see my selection below. If you want to catch up on my former reads, check out my posts from January, February and March.

1. Beautiful Things Happen When a Woman Trusts God by Sheila Walsh

I am one of Jen Hatmaker's email subscribers. One of her emails last month had a digital download of this book by Sheila Walsh. You may recall, I applied to Sheila's launch team for her new book shortly after starting this one. I recommend both this book and the other one (The Longing in Me). Sheila writes with transparency, vulnerability and authenticity. In this book Sheila weaves her story in with those of various women and men in the Bible who chose to trust God in different aspects of their lives. She talks about Abraham, Anna, Paul, Mary and Martha among others. She reminded me of God's faithfulness toward us and love for us. I especially loved the last chapter, Trusting God With Your Journey, where she talks about Abraham trusting God when he tells him to leave his current place without knowledge of where he was headed. That type of trust - moving forward without knowing how it ends - is particularly scary and difficult for me. I fear that I will either be exposed as foolish or make a mistake and make a decision that wasn't in line with God's plans. I was reminded that God is bigger than our mistakes and we cannot thwart God's plans, especially when our heart's desire is to follow his leading. 

2. Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson

I was recommended this book by an acquaintance and checked it out at the library. It was HILARIOUS! I laughed out loud many a time. Jenny Lawson blogs at The Bloggess and has written for several years about her life, often about her experience with mental illness. She is very open and honest with her feelings and how mental illness affects her life. She has chosen to embrace her life and is determined to live "furiously happy". I appreciated and enjoyed her candidness as well as her unique and hilarious perspective on life. She is quite a character and someone you feel like would make your life better and more fun if she were part of it. If you want a book that will increase your understanding of mental illness as well as cause you to walk around with a smirk on your face from remembering things she wrote, please check out this book. If you are easily offended by crass words and jokes, you may want to skip this one. 

3. Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible's View of Women by Sarah Bessey

I have been having a lot of thoughts/questions lately about women, leadership and the church. I asked what books I should read about this topic and this was overwhelmingly recommended. I had read Sarah's newest book, Out of Sorts, and had found it a deep, thought-provoking read. I thought perhaps this would be similarly interesting and informative. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It mentioned a number of the feelings and thoughts I've been having. Instead of being antagonistic and confrontational, it reminded me that all of us should be seeking God and what he desires of us. Even if we are not able to have a leadership role in our church it doesn't mean we cannot still be effective ministers in our communities. It doesn't say that we aren't to question hindrances to women's ministry opportunities, just that our focus should not necessarily be looking for reasons to be offended. It offered a number of additional resources for more in-depth study on this topic. If you have been feeling tension with the church's view of women and leadership, I suggest reading this book.

4. Undeniably Yours: A Novel by Becky Wade

This book is about a woman, Meg Cole, who returns to her family home to run the Cole Oil business after her father unexpectedly dies. She is not interested in running the business but feels obligated to help sustain her father's legacy. However, he also has a thoroughbred horse farm that she does not want to run and gives the farm manager six months before she will close it down. She ends up feeling a connection with the manager but does not want to mix business and personal affairs. It was an engaging read with an emphasis on faith and its workings in peoples' lives which lent encouragement to my own faith experiences. It was a somewhat predictable/formulaic Christian romance novel but I enjoyed the ride and am considering checking out the next story in this five-book series. 

5. Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church by Rachel Held Evans

I have heard some about Rachel Held Evans and have read a few of her blog posts. She wrote the Forward to Sarah Bessey's Jesus Feminist. This book talks a lot about her wrestling with different aspects of the evangelical church and walks us through her journey of breaking up with the church over a variety of differences and slowly working her way back. Her journey is not finished and it hasn't been neat and orderly, but it is real. She talks about the barriers churches put up against specific demographics and her unease at this segregation and separation. She reminds us that the church is not perfect, just like we are not perfect, but God loves it and us just the same. I really enjoyed hearing about her journey and her experience with different aspects of the church (the sections are divided into seven "sacraments" of the church: baptism, confession, holy orders, communion, confirmation, annointing the sick and marraige). I would recommend this book for someone who has questions and concerns about the church, generally and specifically.

6. Jesus > Religion: Why He Is So Much Better Than Trying Harder, Doing More, and Being Good Enough by Jefferson Bethke

My church community group decided to read through this book this spring and discuss it. Apparently Jeff Bethke has a viral video on Youtube of a spoken word poem he created called Why I Hate Religion But Love Jesus. This book stems from this work as he attempts to flesh out the lines of his poem. It was an interesting read with some good contrasts of how religion differs from Jesus. Religion is an institution, a system of rules and regulations designed to help you be good. Jesus is a loving Savior who extends grace to all and invites each person into a living relationship with himself. I think it would be a good read for people who are new to Christianity. Those who have grown up in church may not take away as much from the book.

7. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

This is the third book I have read by Liane Moriarty. The first was The Husband's Secret and the second was What Alice Forgot. I thoroughly enjoyed those two books. This may be my overall favorite. I enjoyed this book so much! At the beginning of the book you learn that there was a murder at a school trivia night at the local school. The book then jumps back six months and introduces all of the characters and potential murder victims and suspects. It centers around three women who all have children entering the kindergarten class - Jane, Madeleine and Celeste - and who have broken pasts and/or secrets they are keeping from everyone. I was quickly enthralled and devoured the book trying to figure out who was killed and why. I kept changing my guess when new information was introduced and ended up being completely wrong, which was a wonderful happening. Liane spins a wonderful, captivating story with a dark underbelly. I was thorougly entertained and would highly recommend it. It'd make a great vacation read (as long as you don't have to supervise children as you might be too distracted trying to find out what happens next)!

8. Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas D. Kristof and and Sheryl WuDunn

I had heard about this book a few years ago and it was one of the resources sited in Jesus Feminist so I thought it would be a beneficial read. It is the research and personal interviews conducted by the co-authors. They visited a number of countries in Asia and Africa, interviewing mostly women about their experiences. They tell of sex-trafficking, brothels and maltreatment of women. They desired to learn how to best help women in developing countries gain a voice and status as a human being. The stories are heart-wrenching about things women and girls are subjected to simply because they are women and especially because they are poor and/or rural. The book also talks about various measures used to help improve the status of women in developing countries, using anecdotes from women they encountered and information from organizations who have had success in raising women's status. Two of the most effective measures have been educating girls and women and helping them to become contributing members to the local economy (such as with microlending programs). 
I learned a lot about the life of women in other parts of the world and ways I can contribute to improving the status of women worldwide. There is a large list of organizations that are successful in their specific areas of work. If you are looking to become more involved in lowering mother and infant mortality, increasing educational and employment opportunities for women or just want to learn more about life in other parts of the world, I suggest reading this book.

Those are my reads for April. Have you read any of them? If so, what did you think? Have any book recommendations for me? I always welcome them!

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