Category Archives: Book Recommendations

2018 Books In Review

The Big Ol’ Book Roundup, Vol. 2

Last year, I resolved to read a book every two weeks, and as I documented my progress on Instagram under the hashtag #carissareads, I surpassed my goal with 29 books. This year, I did my best to continue the trend of logging my books and I’m ringing in the new year with 39 new books swimming around in my brain.

In taking inventory of the books I read this year, I’m happy to see a few more women and people of color than I read in 2017, as well as more books I would honestly recommend. As you’ll see, I still love memoirs, American literature, and stories of faith communities. But I also branched out a little into sci-fi and fantasy this year.

I wrote in more detail about the books I read in separate posts in January, February, March, April, May, June-July, and August-December.

Once again, I’ve compiled them here for quick ‘n easy recommendations for your new year.

Continue reading 2018 Books In Review

What I Read: August to December 2018

photo of mountain with ice covered with black and gray cloud
Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger on

Well, if you’ve been keeping score at home, my initial goal for this year was to post every month about the books I’d read during that month.

That didn’t happen.

However, I did end up reading and tracking the books I read, and that led me to plenty of reflection and sharing. So I’ll count this as a win for my 2018 resolution.

I read 24 books at the beginning of the year, and I’m wrapping up the year with 38 books, surpassing my goal of 30 that I made at the end of 2017. I’ll do a post a little later compiling all the books I read, but for now, here are the books I’ve read since August:

Continue reading What I Read: August to December 2018

What I Read: June & July 2018

A few years ago, I would have looked at today’s date – August 10 – and decided I was so far behind on my 2018 goal of reading & documenting books that I would just give up and try again next January. But the years have granted me wisdom (ha), and I decided today was a perfectly acceptable day to write about what I read in June and July. Life’s too short to worry about being perfectly consistent. So, here’s what I’ve read this summer:

Am I there Yet? by Mari Andrew

Mari Andrew came through San Francisco on her book tour (and gave this precious and inspiring Q&A session), and after being her Instagram fan for a few years, I had the utter delight of meeting her and buying her book from her. Best known for her daily doodles on Instagram, Mari published many of her drawings along with short chapters with reflections on her 20s–dating, independence, transitions, traveling, heartache, and grief. It’s wild how many times I find myself reading her writing and strongly, specifically identifying with her, even though I know she and I have led entirely different lives. She has a gift for relating and deepening her experiences through art, and this book will make you want to reflect on every leaf you see and find meaning in the life you live right now.

How to Be a Perfect Christian by The Babylon Bee

Yes. Yes, they did. The brains behind the popular Christian satire site The Babylon Bee wrote a book. The publisher, Waterbrook Multnomah, sent me a copy to review, and I read it primarily out of morbid curiosity. It turns out that I, a product of the 90s-early 2000s Christian culture of youth group and Christian media, am the exact audience for this book. Anyone who falls into this category will get every joke. And while I did have a few literal LOLs, I had to read this book over the course of about a month because the jokes are all in the same vein and got a little tedious after a few chapters. My recommendation: take in small doses. Not every joke will hit you just right, but laugh at the parts you relate to. Let the cynicism roll off your back. It’s good to laugh at yourself and at the ways that we’ve co-opted biblical faith.

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson

This book was a loaner from my dear roommate as a lighter read on my family cruise (she physically forced me to not pack Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass as cruise reading) and it was both lighthearted and deeply poignant and smart. It follows a gentleman in the twilight of his life and his dealings of love, social life, and family. I don’t read much fiction with British characters, but this was so charming and delightful. I’m not sure the last time I rooted so hard for a protagonist as I did for Major Pettigrew.

Educated by Tara Westover

Finishing this book literally took my breath away. A sob caught in my chest and I literally stopped breathing when I read the last line. It took me a few breaths to recover. The last book to which I had such a visceral reaction was The Glass Castle, set in the poor Appalachian region, which I could somewhat picture from having lived in central Virginia. But that’s a setting I happened upon and observed as an outsider. In Educated, Tara describes a place in the Mountain West that I have a strange yet inseparable relationship with, the religion of Mormonism and its offshoots that I have engaged both academically and evangelistically. The way Tara engages with her story, and her historiography, is brilliant. This is easily the best memoir I have read, and I’m grateful that Tara wrote her spellbinding story with such elegance and detail.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

This young adult novel, which is being made into a movie in October, gripped me and brought me into a world I’ve only known through secondhand stories and the news. Bahni Turpin narrated the audiobook masterfully, and after visiting the world of Garden Heights, I cannot think about systemic race issues and police violence in the same way.

As school starts back in session and I teach three different courses, I’ll be spending much more time reading the works of a standard high school classroom, but I hope to find the joy of reading in personal reads too!

As always, thanks for reading about my reading. Happy trails!

What I Read: May 2018

Well, friends, this was a fantastic month of books. I read a brilliant range of memoirs and novels, and I’m so excited to share them with you.

Between school winding down and listening to audiobooks while I run or drive, I’ve been carving out time and space for reading lately, and I hope to have even more time over the summer, as my to-read pile is ever-growing.

Let’s jump in to my May reads. As usual, I recommend them all to varying degrees.

The Polygamist’s Daughter

Anna LeBaron

I’ve connected on social media withĀ Anna LeBaron through several book launch teams, and I recognized her last name as polygamist because I’ve lived in Utah, where it’s notorious. So I’m not sure what took me so long to read this amazing woman’s memoir!

I listened to the audiobook, and to hear her story in her own beautiful, genuine voice was an incredible experience. She does such a beautiful job of detailing the redemption in her difficult journey, and I’m grateful I read this book. The insider perspective from someone who grew up in polygamy was eye-opening and challenging.

The Book Thief

Markus Zusak

I read this book alongside my honors freshmen. I had seen the movie many years ago but this was my first encounter with the book–and what an encounter it is.

This Holocaust story is beautiful and devastating. And the narration is magnificent; the style resonated with me and haunted me. This book is a brilliant must-read.

To Kill a Mockingbird

Harper Lee

My freshmen read this book as well, and it was interesting for me to read To Kill a Mockingbird and The Book Thief simultaneously. Both of them depict the underdogs, the solitary ones standing up against an evil ideology, even when no one but their own family stands beside them.

My overall impression of reading To Kill a Mockingbird (technically for the second time, but I hardly remember it from high school) is that this book is an utter masterpiece. Every detail is flawless and powerful and worthy of the classification of “classic.”

Now that Scout’s story is fresh on my mind, Go Set a Watchman is on my summer reading list. I’m looking forward to experiencing that book for myself.

Someday, Someday, Maybe

Lauren Graham

Guys, I love everything Lauren Graham has ever done, and this book is no exception. I love her as Lorelai Gilmore in Gilmore Girls. I love her as Sarah Braverman in Parenthood. I love her memoir, Talking as Fast as I Can. I love the clips of her singing in Guys and Dolls on Broadway that I searched for on Youtube after reading Talking as Fast as I Can. I follow her on Twitter.

I love this woman so much that it only made sense to read her debut novel, too. Hearing her read the audiobook was sweet–I find her voice soothing, and she adds to her characters in a way that enhances the experience. The novel isn’t earth-shattering, capital-L Literature, but it’s believable and structured in an interesting way and it’s a sweet, fun story about an actress trying to make it in New York. It was a perfect light read for my long runs. And did I mention I love Lauren Graham?

(Side note: I’m currently on a mission to read every book-length work by as many authors as I can. I’m starting small with non-vocational writers who’ve written about 2 books apiece, like Bob Goff and Lauren Graham. If you don’t count Andy Weir’s short story collection, then I’ve read all two of his books too. It’s a fun project, and I’d like to expand it eventually to tackle Jhumpa Lahiri’s bibliography, as well as Nathaniel Hawthorne’s and Mark Twain’s.)

What I Talk About when I Talk About Running

Haruki Murakami

I picked this book up at Half Price Books because I liked the cover, and because it’s a book about running and writing, two topics I love. In his memoir, which was originally written in Japanese and translated to English, Murakami rambles in an endearing way about his runs, his writing process, sometimes just his day. Sometimes he has astute observations to share about discipline or the beauty of his passions. I read this book nightly as I fell asleep, and it was a soothing, philosophical gem.

The Crucible

Arthur Miller

This four-act play was written in the 1950s about the Salem Witch Trials with the intention of drawing parallels between witch hunts and the Red Scare. Isn’t that SO FUN?! I think this was the majority of my juniors’ favorite literature from American Literature. It’s wild, dramatic, frustrating, and intense. It was another book I hadn’t read since I skimmed it in high school, so I enjoyed delving deeper.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime

Mark Haddon

This book was a recommendation from an English department meeting. It’s a first-person narration by a young boy in England who has autism. I loved the way the author captured his voice so uniquely and offered entirely reasonable explanations for the sometimes-confusing actions of a child with autism. It’s endearing and charming and gripping and a little heart-wrenching.

Jesus, Bread, and Chocolate

John J. Thompson

After I bought Murakami’s running book, I actually drove back to Half-Price Books because I saw this book on a display and couldn’t stop thinking about the subtitle: “Crafting a Handmade Faith in a Mass-Market World.” I love the concept of returning from industrialism to smaller, more human, more personal business interactions, like buying real food from farmer’s markets where your money changes hands with the person who grew it instead of self-checking out of a grocery store with a cart full of anonymous, identical products. I know that not everyone has the access or the means to buy artisan-made food or beverages, but I think that everyone should (and so do many wonderful organizations that are supplying good, whole food to food deserts).

What I liked about this book is that it details brewers, bakers, chocolatiers, coffee roasters, gardeners, and musicians who are connected to their work intricately and without mass production, and he compares these people to Christians and the church. It’s thought-provoking, and it’s one of those books that makes me think, “Why didn’t I write this?”

I think this month touched on some of my favorite topics: Holocaust writings, memoirs, sustainable food practices, running, and the classics. I’m not sure how June will top it, but I’ll sure try!

Thanks for reading. If you have any recommendations for books to add to my ever-growing summer list, please send ’em my way! Some books that I know are coming up are The Outsiders, Mountains Beyond Mountains, and How to Be a Perfect Christian (the new book by the Babylon Bee). It should be a good time. šŸ™‚

Until next month!

What I Read: April 2018

Great news, dear reader: This month was full of fun, good reads! You’ll only find one school-related read on this list, which means I am enjoying some lovely leisure reading.

The Martian

Andy Weir

In anticipation of attending Silicon Valley Comic Con this month, I decided to read a popular book-turned-film from one of this year’s panelists, Andy Weir. Science fiction isn’t normally my go-to genre, especially highly technical writing like Weir’s. I didn’t take chemistry in school, so I was lost for almost all the science-y parts. But he incorporates intelligent and often biting humor and wit, and it was a delight to read. The movie is amazing as well, and I’ve seen NASA scientists call it incredibly accurate. So, that’s saying something, I guess.

Andy Weir as an author is also phenomenal to hear in person: at the panel, he was kind and funny (much like his main character in The Martian), and it’s obvious he loves this genre dearly. He’s almost a pioneer of “hard” science fiction writing, and it’s neat to see him taking the front lines.


Andy Weir

After hearing about Weir’s second novel at his panel, I knew I needed to read it. Just like his first book, his protagonist is witty and clever. I didn’t feel as much noble purpose driving this novel–or perhaps I didn’t feel quite as much empathy for the narrator. Nonetheless, it was exhilarating, science-y, and enjoyable from beginning to end.

Everybody Always

Bob Goff

When my friend Michelle gave me Bob’s first book back in college, I soaked it up and let it fuel me to love people fully in a very full season in my life. Around that time, I got to meet Bob at Liberty, and he was an icon in my faith. When Bob’s wife Sweet Maria published a book, it was perfectly timed to my stage in life on the topic of hospitality and small acts of love.

This book was perfectly timed again. It’s a great sequel to Love Does because it takes the ideas he begins with and digs in. Yes, we should love people, but what happens when it’s hard? What happens when it’s inconvenient or uncomfortable? What does it look like to follow in Jesus’ footsteps and love even then? Bob allows for more nuanced, emotional, and intense ideas in this book, and I deeply appreciate it.

This book recently hit the New York Times Bestseller List, and I may have had something to do with it because of how many copies I bought for everyone I know! It’sĀ that good.

The Old Man and the Sea

Ernest Hemingway

I don’t say this lightly: this book made me believe in literature. It’s often disparaged as a boring, plotless, or dry tale of a man and a fish, but when I read it the summer of 10th grade, I felt that I was transported to Havana and sailed out too deep into the water with Santiago. It was the first book I ever threw across the room from frustration.

When I assigned it to my juniors this year, I was worried that it wouldn’t live up to memories from my youth upon a second reading. On the contrary, looking for the themes of hope and resilience showed me even more beauty in this short masterpiece.

A quote I’ll leave you with:

“But man is not made for defeat,” he said. “A man can be destroyed but not defeated.”

And finally, a taste of the books I’m reading in May: topics including the Holocaust, polygamy, and witches. (All in separate works, thank God.) It should be a fun month!

What I Read: March 2018

It’s time for my monthly roundup of the books I’ve read! You’ll likely notice a theme in this list: books I’ve assigned to my students! I’m reading for work a lot lately. (Best job ever?) Here’s what I finished in March:

The Great Gatsby

I read this book for the first time last summer, and I read it again with my junior class this semester. In the course of prepping, teaching, and reviewing the book, I’ve probably read it three times in a month, but it has something new and fresh for me every time, often because of my students’ questions and observations.

Some literary theorists believe that each time we approach a book, the text appears differently to us. This book is a stunning example of that to me. I’m so lucky to be in a profession where I get to reread and discuss a masterpiece like Gatsby over and over.

The Namesake

I read this book alongside my honors freshmen. It was my second reading of this book as well–I wrote a paper on it in grad school, and now I want to go back and rewrite the whole thing because this book is just as rich, if not more, on the second reading.

The depths of emotion, the beautiful descriptions, and the ideas of family and identity and cultural expectations are powerful. When I first read this book, I was a bit dissatisfied by its lack of a “happy” ending, but I discovered upon my second reading that everything resolves beautifully, and it is one of my favorite books.

Romeo and Juliet

I read this Shakespearean classic with my freshmen for the first time since high school (at which point I don’t think IĀ really read it). Watching them act it out and seeing which parts they liked most was so much fun.

One of the most worthwhile endeavors of my college career was taking a Shakespeare class and truly learning to understand his prose; not only do I appreciate the rampant dirty jokes, but the metaphors and themes are clear to me as well. Shakespeare is a master, and his writing is always rich.

Ready Player One

This was my “fun” read this month. When my boyfriendĀ insistedĀ that we buy tickets weeks in advance for this new Spielberg movie, I decided I should read the book and figure out what this crazy sci-fi movie was going to be about.

The book was so, so fun. The narration by Wil Wheaton was flawless, and Ernest Cline writes a movie that plays out in your head. The movie doesn’t follow the book too closely, but I so enjoyed the adventure of the book that I almost didn’t care. Though I’m not a huge sci-fi/adventure reader, this book was a quirky, nerdy, fun little adventure and I am glad I read it!

What was on your list this month?

What I Read: February 2018

Wow! This month was another whirlwind, and I’m in shock that it’s already March. I’m the head coach of the softball team at Fremont Christian School, in addition to all my first-year teacher duties, so this month I only accomplished reading one book. But it was a fun one!

As You Wish: InconceivableĀ Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride

I first watched The Princess Bride when I was in middle school. I was home with an injury and waiting to go to the doctor, and my mom, not sure what else to do with me, sat me down in front of the TV. I was enthralled, and I’ve been a member of the cult following of the movie for years.

So, the “tell-all” style of Cary Elwes’ book intrigued me, and I picked it up as a “fun read” from the bookstore. It immediately struck me with how detailed it is; it’s filled with inside-baseball references to the film industry in England and the US, and I don’t know enough about film to appreciate every reference.

But fun stories about Andre the Giant? Picture-perfect moments from filming with Robin Wright? The revelation that the actor who played Vizzini was nervous he’d get fired every day of the job? I’m in for all of it!

This book was a fun and “easy” read. Several people (including the man sitting next to me on a recent flight) told me the audiobook is amazing, with many of the cast and crew voicing their “blurbs” that appear throughout the book.

Looking forward to many more books in March!

What I read: January 2018

Welcome to the first of my monthly installments of the books I’m reading! Per my 2018 goal, I’ll be keeping track of all the books I’ve read this year here, in pursuit of reading over 30 books.

This month, I’ve started and finished a lot of things. I finished rewatching Gilmore Girls, started and finished One Day at a Time season 1, and obviously am caught up on The Bachelor.

I also started so many books–there are 5 books with varying pages bookmarked on my bedside table as I write–but I only crossed the finish line with two. I’m still reading plenty, especially as I’m teaching The Odyssey in my freshman class and The Namesake in honors, but I got fewer chances to read “me” books.

So, January was good, and February should be a good month of finishing what I started!

Here’s my two January reads:

1. Paper Towns, John Green

I’ve lost count of how often my students mention their love for John Green’s books. I had a student last semester who went to the book tour for the release of Turtles All the Way Down and gave me a John Green canvas bag, and I couldn’t in good conscience use this bag without reading a John Green book. That’s the true story of why I bought Paper Towns.

My reaction to my first John Green book: I think 2008 Carissa would have absolutely loved it, and I’m disappointed I didn’t read his fiction earlier. He writes about distinctly high school emotions, and his style is engaging and moves quickly. Reading his fiction as an English teacher provides me with a different perspective: throughout the book, I felt like he was winking at me–helping me do my job better, for example, by placing the notoriously challenging Whitman poem “Leaves of Grass” at the center and making it seem accessible and even cool.

So, even though I’m no longer a huge YA fiction reader, I can appreciate John Green on multiple levels. The best part is that I think reading this book will make students good readers, so I’m glad to have this book under my belt to discuss it with them.

Now the real question, friends: has anyone seen the movie, and is it worth watching?

2. The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness, Timothy Keller

This short treatise was the foundation of a book I read last year, Free of Me. The back cover describes it as “punchy,” which is accurate. Keller gets right to the point and makes it clearly and effectively. I’ll be rolling around a few sentences in my mind for weeks.

Here’s his main idea: “True gospel-humility means I stop connecting every experience, every conversation, with myself. In fact, I stop thinking about myself. The freedom of self-forgetfulness. The blessed rest that only self-forgetfulness brings.”

This is a book you could feasibly read in an hour or two, and it’s worth it. It’s shifted how I view the “self-esteem” vibes that we give to our teenagers and how I view my own faith.

Well, that’s my January reads! I have some fun books on deck: some fiction, nonfiction, and just-for-fun books that I’ll report back on in February!

2017 Books in Review.

Alternate Title: The Big Ol’ Book Roundup

A year ago on January 1, I resolved to read more books in 2017. A book every two weeks, to be specific.

Two years of reading like it was my job in grad school burned me out, and I needed a grace period to enjoy reading again. But largely due to many of these books, I’m refreshed and reminded why I’m a lifelong student of literature.

For accountability and my own record-keeping, I posted a picture of each book on Instagram under the hashtag #carissareads. I’m so glad I (finally) followed through on a resolution because it’s been endlessly fun to look back and reflect on what I’ve read.

Without further ado, here they are: my 2017 book collection. I recommend them all on varying levels (from “this will flip you inside out” to “I don’t hate it”).


If you want to read the book before you see the movie…

Wonder – RJ Palacio

Heartbreaking, heartwarming, will make you a kinder human being. (And make you want the same for your kids or students or neighbors or siblings.)

The Glass Castle – Jeannette Walls

Both the book and the movie will draw you in and rip out your heart. (So you should experience them.)

Life of Pi – Yann Martel

I still remember how I felt coming out of the movie theater several years ago after this film, and the book gave me that same feeling. It’s surreal and deeply human.

If you want to see a fresh vision for church, prayer and community…

Oikonomics – Mike Breen

I read this book right before meeting and hosting Mike Breen for a conference. This guy gets it and is moving the church in a good direction, and he’s got a great accent.

Falling Free – Shannan Martin

Another author who gets itĀ and is passionate about being the person who sees the marginalized and going straight to them with courage and Christlike love.

Love Lives Here – Maria Goff

Sweet Maria is one of those women that you want to sip coffee with for hours and just listen. I loved her perspective on hospitality and faithfulness in small details, which beautifully complements the wildness of her husband Bob.

Whisper – Mark Batterson

All I knew about Mark Batterson before I joined his book launch team was that I’d visited his coffee shop in DC. This book was an interesting read to see his perspective on the important topic of hearing God’s voice.

If you want a casual, feel-good read…

Scrappy Little Nobody – Anna Kendrick

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: IĀ love celebrity memoirs. As a student of literature, I don’t think they belong in the same 50-mile radius as most serious books, but they’re super fun behind-the-scenes glimpses into celebrity lives, and I’m all the way in.

Girl, Wash Your Face – Rachel Hollis

Rachel Hollis is a lifestyle blogger and party planner in LA, so this book was a different kind of celebrity memoir. Again, I’m not inducting it into the hall of literary classics anytime soon, but it was fun to read anyway. (And I got it for free by being on her launch team, so no complaints. PS – It releases Feb. 6 and there’s preorder goodies.)

Of Mess and Moxie – Jen Hatmaker

Jen Hatmaker is the fun aunt that everyone needs. I’ll keep reading every word she writes, whether it has profound ramifications for social justice and the Gospel or she’s telling a crazy story about her life. She also makes me laugh out loud in public.

If you want engaging, good fiction…

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore – Robin Sloan

After that post-grad school slump, this was the book that reminded me why I love to read.

Housekeeping – Marilynne Robinson

I could read Robinson’s books over and over for the rest of my years and never soak up all the beautiful insights on faith that she weaves into her stories.

The Girl who Played with Fire – Stieg Larsson

Once I start his fiction, I cannot put it down. This is engaging, well-woven storytelling.

If you want to be inspired to live differently…

Let’s All Be Brave – Annie Downs

I love when I hear the right thing the right time. I read this book on my flight to California to interview for teaching jobs, and there’s no time when you need to be brave more than planning a cross-country move.

Through Painted Deserts – Donald Miller

This book was perfectly timed too–while Don documented his cross-country road trip, I was on my own. The rest of the book is neat, but the Author’s Note of this book is the theme song to my Virginia-to-California transition.

(That 2-page section is in the Amazon book preview,Ā so if you’re in a season of transition, go click on the book cover & scroll down to the section titled “Author’s Note.”)

Scary Close – Donald Miller

Okay, I went through a bit of a Don Miller phase this summer. And for good reason: his books challenge me and make me feel seen. Sometimes like an X-ray. Sometimes that’s uncomfortable. It’s fine, I’m fine.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle – Barbara Kingsolver

In the last few years, I’ve learned so much about sustainability in our food systems and the value of eating whole, clean, and responsibly. (Shoutout to Lynchburg Grows & Imperfect Produce.) So to read about how a family grew all their own food for a year and studied the state of food in America? A little piece of heaven.

If you want to learn from someone who leads by example…

Free of Me – Sharon Hodde Miller

This year, I learned about book launch teams and subsequently joined a million. (Okay, like 5 or 6.) This book was so easy to promote because the message is true and important for every person’s faith. I gifted it for Christmas, read a passage for a staff devotion, and reread several chapters. The book is awesome, Sharon is a fantastic leader, and I am a total fangirl.

Tramp for the Lord – Corrie Ten Boom

What a fierce little lady. This book is no-nonsense conviction from a woman who was tested and proved to be faithful.

The Sacrament of Happy – Lisa Harper

This author is the most joyful woman you could ever follow on Instagram, and her book sings the same tune.

Blue Like Jazz – Donald Miller

Okay, one more book from my new best friend, Don. Everyone and their pastor’s mom read this book in like 2006, but when I read it in 2017 the timing was perfect, and it hit me square between the eyes.

Daring to Hope – Katie Davis Majors

Katie has lived about 100 lifetimes in her adult years in Uganda as a wife and mom of 14, and this book shows it.

If you want a well-loved classic…

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain

The last time I read this book, I was a junior in high school, so I loved rereading it with my junior class. Even though my students struggled with the dialect, they also had some good, important conversations.

The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald

I skipped this book in high school, so when I was assigned to teach American Literature this year, I figured I couldn’t take the job in good conscience until I’d read it. I’m excited to read it again with my juniors this year.

Lord of the Flies – William Golding

Another classic that I skipped in school. What crazy person hired me as a high school English teacher, anyway? I somehow made it through life without hearing spoilers, so I was shocked, disturbed, and intrigued right alongside my 9th graders.

If you want a new perspective on a tough issue…

The Poisonwood Bible – Barbara Kingsolver

This novel drew me into a world I’d never been to before. It stares into the face of colonialism and family dynamics through a million poignant moments.

The House on Mango Street – Sandra Cisneros

Rereading this book was moving, and watching my 9th grade students study the topic of identity through these vignettes was an amazing experience.

Convicted – Jameel McGee & Andrew Collins

This is another tale of a white cop and a black man who’s wrongfully convicted, but instead of the anger and heartbreak and injustice we see too often on the news, they experience reconciliation. It’s a special story that gave me a sliver of hope.

Party of One – Joy Beth Smith

I loved that this book debunked so much of my weird upbringing in purity culture surrounded by messages on marriage but unsure what to do with myself in the meantime (or my whole life) besides “wait.” I’m glad JB had the courage to write it all down, and when the book comes out in February, I know it will help a lot of people.

Wow! What a random, fun collection of my 29 books from this year. I’m hopeful, expectant, and ready for more great works in 2018.

My new reading goal is to meet or beat 2017’s tally. What’s yours?

Book Review: Daring to Hope by Katie Davis Majors

Remember the book Kisses fromĀ Katie? It flew off Christian booksellers’ shelves a few years ago, when we discovered the story of this young world-changer who dropped everything in Tennessee to move to Uganda in pursuit of Jesus’ calling.

The bookĀ Daring to Hope: Finding God’s Goodness in the Broken and the BeautifulĀ is a continuation of that story of redemption. I am so, so,Ā so thankful to be part of the team that’s had early access to this book to share it with others. Katie’s book has a beautiful message that I think will touch so many people–especially those who have experienced loss and struggle.

This book covers a lot of ground: Katie shares many stories from her time in Uganda, and she shares what God has been doing through her and her ministry, Amazima.

But Daring to HopeĀ is mainly about a few specific themes:

This book is about hospitality.

And I don’t mean fancy dinner parties. In my exploration of what the church is (and isn’t) in the last several years, I’ve read and experienced hospitality so beautifully, and I love to see how well Katie exemplifies this beautiful gift. She welcomes people into her home so, so well: those who need long-term care or support, and those who just need a warm, soft place to be heard.

What I love about this book, though, is that she’s honest: “Loving people is hard. It brings us to the very end of ourselves. And as much as we are trained to avoid it, the end of ourselves is such a very sweet place to be” (49). With this beautiful dependence on Jesus, she walks with people through awful, difficult times in their lives, finding healing and hope simply in the presence of community.

This book is about loss.

It’s so hard to imagine everything that Katie has seen in her time in Uganda–she details some of the hardships in this book, but I won’t spoil them here.

But through it all, she writes with a deep understanding of who God is through her loss: “He wasn’t promising me a world without trouble, without heartbreak along the way. He was promising meĀ Himself” (23). She’s developed the wisdom to see that in so many situations, He was present in the depths of her pain, and that is enough.

I think this book is important, then, for those who have experienced loss. Katie is so honest about it. There’s no doubt it’s been hard. But she also has learned who God is through the losses, and it’s these beautiful lessons that I’ve stored away in my heart to recall when (not if) life brings pain.

This book is about hope.

I resonated so deeply with Katie when she explained that she had arrived in Uganda with a reckless optimism, with no concept of the pain and loss she’d soon endure.

She writes, “Reality would shatter my optimism, but I would realize that it was only a cheap substitute for true hope anyway” (5).

As an optimist and a lover of beginnings and fresh starts, I too can lose myself in reckless optimism. But this book serves as a reminder that God is still on the throne, even during our struggles. In fact, He’s making our stories even more beautiful through pain:

“God kept reminding me that I wasn’t the writer of this story, and that when I tried to write all the endings, wrapping them up in a neat little package, I was diminishing who He was and all He could do” (24).

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This book is a sweet taste of God’s goodness and faithfulness in one corner of the world. It will refresh you and perhaps cause you to shift your perspective. I’m thankful I’ve read it, and it contains truths I will return to again and again.