Approval Junkie by Faith Salie

As Approval Junkie was written by a comedian, I’d expected it to be funny. It wasn’t for me, though. I suspect Salie was aiming for an older, more experienced audience to better appreciate her tale.

Approval Junkie by Faith Salie review

Approval Junkie:

Faith Salie is a genuine approval junkie. Whether she’s looking for roles on T.V. or getting the best grades possible or even choosing a dress for divorce court, Salie always tries to please others – until she learns that it’s really herself she needs to please.

Some Valuable Information:

Approval Junkie read very much like a self-help novel (not necessarily a bad thing) at parts and I struggled to stay focused throughout most of the book. It wasn’t all slow, however. Salie provided some valuable information in a chapter about listening; “There’s a huge difference between listening to help yourself seem funny or smart or right and listening to help someone express himself.” Pg. 88.

Somewhat Offensive Parts:

There were parts that I found somewhat offensive as a Christian, so be warned if you decide to pick up Approval Junkie that a small portion of the book does consist of references to Jesus in a not-so-reverent way.

Recommendation:

Although I found that the story didn’t draw me in, I would still recommend it to other women, particularly mothers. Salie wrote multiple chapters and sections on motherhood, attempting to become a mother, and related struggles.

 

Disclaimer: I received this book for free from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

The Fifth Petal – Brunonia Barry

Wow. I tore through this book! It’s my favorite book so far this year, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it remained at least in my top five even when the year is over. Although I have not read The Lace Reader (also by Barry), The Fifth Petal easily holds its own, and the series does not need to be read in order. I didn’t even realize this was the second book until after finishing the novel – but now I’m definitely going to be checking out the first one.

Barry weaves fact and fiction, mystery and mythology in a spellbinding work that I couldn't put down. The Fifth Petal is everything a mystery lover could want.

Barry’s writing kept me so involved that I thought about The Fifth Petal even when not reading, and more often than once read long into the night. There were times when I worried about the story being mostly resolved with the usual bookworm problems – “too many pages left”; but The Fifth Petal – though not entirely happy – met the perfect end.

Perfect Blend of Mystery & Thrills:

Despite The Fifth Petal being marketed as a thriller, it wasn’t too spooky for the faint of heart (like me) – even reading with only light enough to see the page wasn’t too anxiety-inducing. Barry found the perfect blend of fantasy, mystery, fact and fiction – and she left just enough questions at the end of the novel to keep readers guessing (in a satisfied way) long after the last page is devoured.

The Fifth Petal is everything I ever wanted in a mystery, and I can’t wait to read Barry’s other novels – they are sure to be just as amazing as this one was.

Disclaimer: I received this book for free in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

Beauty Begins by Chris Shook & Megan Shook Alpha

Beauty Begins focuses on women, with a strong emphasis on inner beauty and the Bible. Each chapter ends with reflection questions and a prayer. Even with two authors, the writing flowed smoothly. I loved that the last chapter was written by Kerry Shook and Jordan Alpha (husbands to Chris and Megan) – it was good to get the men’s perspective as well.

Beauty is about more than what is on the outside, as we see in Beauty Begins.

More Than Looks:

Shook and Alpha didn’t just focus on beauty – since the book was about inner beauty they also talked about relationships, culture, fashion, and more. I particularly loved a section that talked about teaching your children: “Far from being disqualified, you are actually in a great position to talk to your kids if you have made the same mistake in the past” Pg. 66. Although I’m not a parent, I saw in that quote wisdom that can apply to friendships, too.

Since there were many great quotes throughout Beauty Begins, I cannot only use one. Pg. 68 says, “You impress people when you talk about your strengths, but you influence people when you admit your struggles.” That gem reveals so much. We read throughout the book that focusing on outer beauty keeps us focused on things other than God – this shows us that inner beauty allows us to be vulnerable and genuine. We are learning to show our true beauty.

Just Let Go:

On pages 79 & 80, Chris wrote a story about her son on the monkey bars talking about how he was scared to let go for fear she would not catch him. She caught him, but he only let go when he could not hang on any longer. Her story is reminiscent of us with God. He is always there to catch us, but we resist letting go, preferring to hold on until we cannot hold on any longer. Beauty Begins has a major focus on trusting God.

Recommendation:

Since I cannot spend this whole review quoting Shook and Alpha, let me leave you with this recommendation and a final quote. I loved reading how Megan talks with God, and so will include it as the final quote: “Sometimes I even buckle the passenger seat belt to acknowledge His [God’s] presence, and then I just talk” Pg. 91. If you want to trust God with your inner beauty and rely on Him, this is a good book to read. It’s not a “how-to” book, but rather a kind of guide to point you in the right direction.

Good luck on your journey!

 

Disclaimer: I received this book for free in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

Enjoy – Trillia J. Newbell

Enjoy: Finding the Freedom to Delight Daily in God’s Good Gifts by Trillia J. Newbell

Throughout Enjoy, Newbell incorporated references to Bible verses and also “The Enjoy Project” at the end of chapters – making this read not only perfect for a discussion setting but great for including in personal devotion time. Enjoy can be savored as a light read, but also used as an in-depth tool for spiritual growth. Having those options was one of the best parts of reading this book.

Newbell's novel to encourage and show us that God's creation is a gift to us - not meant to cause us guilt, but to be savored as pointing to our Creator.

Not Only For Women:

Although primarily geared towards women, Enjoy is applicable towards men as well, and can be a useful tool for either sex. As evidenced by the title, Newbell crafted a novel to show us that we can enjoy (no pun intended) God’s creation without feeling guilty. Creation is one of God’s many gifts to us! Without shirking from touchier subjects (like sex), Newbell gently helps us discern whether we are enjoying something, or idolizing it.

Newbell helpfully added some perspective to several verses, including Genesis 1:28 within the pages of Enjoy; on pg. 15 she reminded us that “we must steward his [God’s] world to the best of our ability”. We have dominion over the world, but also a responsibility to it because of the privilege we have been given.

An immensely thought-provoking read, Enjoy helped me to notice aspects of everyday life that I never thought significant before. It also helped me realize where I have some correction to apply in my own life. For instance, on pg 7 Newbell brings our attention to the fact that God knew man would turn from Him even as He created us, and yet He still declared all that He had made, including man, very good! (Genesis 1:31)

Included Recommendations:

Several times while reading Enjoy, I noticed that Newbell included recommendations for works by other authors. It is wonderful to see not only that she supports other writers, but that additional support is given on various topics that aren’t addressed as thoroughly in this novel.

Reading Enjoy inspired me to start a project of my own to savor God’s creation and gifts to us more thoroughly. I recommend this book to any reader who wants to be challenged and grow spiritually.

 

Disclaimer: I received this book for free from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason – Helen Fielding

Strangely enough, this book was not one I picked for myself. A book I ordered online did not come; this book by Fielding came in its place. With a little bit of back and forth with the seller, we were given a refund and told we could decide what happened to this book – no need to ship it back. If we didn’t want the book, it could be donated.

Fielding's book The Edge of Reason definitely got a reaction from me as a reader - and not necessarily a positive one. This book makes an impression.

You know me, I couldn’t resist reading an (unexpected) free book! (Even if it was the second in an unfamiliar series.) The book definitely garnered a reaction from me (oftentimes an angry reaction), so I decided to share my opinions on it.

Entering the World of Bridget Jones:

For the first half of this book I only had complaints – the book reads as thoughts from Bridget’s head, which means unless it is a direct conversation, the “sentences” are almost always incomplete. That drove me absolutely bonkers throughout this novel and I almost stopped reading due to it.

Time is marked by dates, and under each date is a short note from Bridget about her weight and caloric intake along with other information about the day. Although I couldn’t find a mention of Bridget’s actual height, it was distressing to read her constantly fretting about weighing 130 lb (give or take). Seeing as The Edge of Reason reads as if primarily geared towards young adult readers, it seems that it would be detrimental to those same readers to have yet another character thrusting numbers at them about how much is okay to weigh and how many calories are *too* many. Not to mention, Bridget and her friends are heavy drinkers, and at one point experiment with *natural* (still illegal) drugs.

The obsession Bridget, Jude, and Shaz have with dating/self-help genre novels is frankly rather distressing, but I’m happy to report that was one of the things that improved towards the second half of the novel.

(Offensive) Shock Value Techniques:

In the first half, Fielding randomly incorporated a boy with supposed schizophrenia for no visible purpose other than shock value, which I was angry about. The addition of the boy was unnecessary – he only appeared in the story for a short time and quickly disappeared again – and was also very unhelpful for the general fear about mental illnesses. Another anger-inducing slight to people with mental illnesses in their loved ones was found on pg. 152, when a homosexual character claimed he didn’t want to talk (due to sad feelings about an ex-boyfriend) “Because I have lost my former personality and become a manic-depressive.” Fielding does realize that mental illness does not work that way, right?

There were other, slightly less offensive things included for shock value, but the book did get better sometime after the halfway mark. There were a few things funny enough that I laughed out loud, and at the end it seemed that Bridget had grown since the beginning of the novel.

Final Thoughts:

All in all, I would not want to read this book again – or anything else by this author – but I am glad to have stuck with it until the end. The story ends well, but it is still not recommended reading material for those who have less self-confidence or sense of self.

After You – Jojo Moyes

Recently, I picked up ‘Me Before You’ (also by Jojo Moyes – here’s my review) at the recommendation of my sister-in-law. It was extremely sad (I cried afterwards) but a very well written piece of work. After experiencing ‘Me Before You’, I was hesitant to read ‘After You’ (it’s the 2nd book to ‘Me Before You’) – I didn’t want my heart broken by a book again! However, Moyes talent drew me in again, and I read ‘After You’.

In a beautifully written piece of work, Moyes draws us into Lou's world yet again. Although 'After You' is at times heartbreaking, it was definitely worth the read.

‘After You’, a Review:

‘After You’ did not break my heart in the same intense way as ‘Me Before You’. That’s not to say that this was not a sad book in any way – it was sad at times – but the overall tone of the book was not particularly sad.

An extremely unexpected character shows up in Louisa’s (Lou’s) life (with disastrous results) and Lou experiences life in a whole new way. Through plenty of time and the help of friends and family, Lou learns how to move on – and that it’s okay to live life to it’s fullest.

The characters in ‘After You’ are at times raw and painful, but real and relatable as well. Moyes crafts a story where all of the characters come to life. There were times when I was unable to put the book down because I had to know what happened next – there were also times when I was too horrified to continue reading.

‘After You’ didn’t leave me in a puddle of tears like the previous novel did, but the ending was so bittersweet and tender that I promptly described the entire storyline to my husband. It’s the kind of story that leaves you with the barest ache when it’s over, in part wishing it had continued (because it was real, and you were there) – but also in part glad it is over (because the intensity can get to you).

Please read ‘Me Before You’ before delving into ‘After You’, but I think you will thoroughly enjoy them both (and maybe not cry quite as much with the second novel). I will eagerly await any future writings from Jojo Moyes.

 

 

Reset – Nick Hall

Reset: Jesus Changes Everything – Nick Hall

Something I quickly noticed while reading Reset is that it is written primarily for youth. That isn’t a bad thing, and there is still plenty of valuable insight to be had from reading this book. What that does mean, though, is that stories from the Bible are told in a “creative” way (pg. 99). Although people could be upset by this, it makes sense for Hall to speak in a way his readers will understand. Hall tells the stories as if from modern times, so a younger reader can more easily relate. Reset would actually be a really good choice to include in a youth Bible study.

In Reset, Hall writes a refreshing book that is focused on spiritually encouraging Millennials instead of bashing them for their shortcomings. A book review.

Even as someone that no longer fits that age group, Reset has already impacted my life. Upon reading the section on “The Modesto Manifesto” and Billy Graham, I actually read the whole section aloud to my husband (pgs. 125-128). I love that Hall frequently incorporates scripture as well as stories he has been told or read about throughout Reset. 

Layout:

Reset has two parts, “The Setup” and “Hitting Reset”. The first part helps you realize if you need a reset in your life by telling you stories of people who decided they needed a reset (and why). In this section, Hall also refreshingly tells us something good about our generation. As Millennials we don’t hear good about our generation often, but Hall refuses to only see the negative here. He states, “This is a generation – often referred to as Millennials – that is filled to overflowing with energy and passion and compassion” (pg. 25). There’s a little more to read there, but you’ll just have to pick up Reset. In the second portion of the book, Hall teaches us how to actually reset our lives. Each chapter focuses on different portions of said lives.

For someone in need of encouragement, Reset is a good place to start. Hall points towards The One who has all of the answers, and is honest about his own struggles (even embarrassing ones). Notably, that makes him easier to relate to as a person. He doesn’t hide the fact that even while leading a powerful ministry (Pulse) he still has shortcomings.

I enjoyed Reset, and I think if you want to see change in your own life, then you will too.

 

Disclaimer: I received this book for free from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

Me Before You – Jojo Moyes

Moyes is a talented author whose skill is easily seen in the novel Me Before You.

A book review of Me Before You. Moyes writes a heartbreaking love story that will make you crave a second novel, and stat! (Fortunately, yes, there is a second novel. And a movie.)

A review:

Me Before You was crafted very well – unfortunately, it was the kind of book that rips your heart out and stomps on it. The kind of book that makes The Fault in Our Stars look happy. Me Before You follows a C5-6 quadriplegic (William Traynor a.k.a Will) and his caregiver (Louisa Clark a.k.a Lou).

Lou is a carefree, unique personality who brightens the lives of those around her. Will is glum and depressed, trapped in his wheelchair after an accident that reduced his “big” life into something much smaller. I can’t tell you too much more about the story without revealing too much, but I will say that it is a romance novel.

Moyes has crafted a novel that is hard to put down, one that sticks with you even when you aren’t reading it. A novel that blurs the lines of novel versus reality, because the novel is just so real to the reader.

Oh, and a brief warning, this novel can be triggering. There is a short flashback scene that is fairly intense, and the content of the novel is on a very serious matter. Read with caution, but enjoy the story.

Culture of the Few – Brad McKoy

Culture of the Few: Following Jesus. Transforming Culture – Brad McKoy

Culture of the Few - Brad McKoy - book review. This book is a soft, encouraging voice that instills quiet confidence. It isn't in your face, but it still makes you want to change your life and maybe your world.

First thoughts:

The majority of the beginning of Culture of the Few is an explanation of different people who fit into this category and how they fit. McKoy talks about how a woman he knew changed lives with her life and death, and how Jesus Himself, a lowly carpenter, was a world changer. McKoy aims to encourage us to be world changers ourselves, and not to worry so much about being ‘out there’ – just be us and change the world with how we already are as Christians. While the aim was expected for a book of this type, the way it is presented was unexpected. It reads as a storybook, not as a motivational book. That’s not a bad thing, but it does make the content less motivating.

Allow me to expand upon what I mean by “less motivating”. I simply mean that this is not one of those books that makes you want to leap into action. Instead, Culture of the Few is that soft, quiet voice that encourages from the background. It doesn’t demand immediate action, but instead prompts you to make small, lasting changes. Whether or not this is good probably depends on the reader. Some readers need a much stronger impact to act, while other readers just need that seed planted. With the tone and message of Culture of the Few, being soft is definitely fitting – McKoy is challenging us to change our lives, not to jump into action and then allow things to go back to how they were before.

Eye Openers:

There were many eye-openers throughout this book – in one such section, it was really interesting how McKoy brings out Jesus’ choice to be identified as Son. He suggests that Jesus made that choice because God is our Heavenly Father, and Jesus was essentially highlighting that fact. That clarification came at a good time, because I have been struggling with how God and Jesus can be co-equal when one is Father and one is Son … but it makes much more sense now. Culture of the Few is full of revelations such as this one, and simple clarifications that can change an outlook completely.

Caution Advised:

The previous aside, I would advise caution while reading Culture of the Few. McKoy makes regular references to special revelations received from God, and to physical healings. Depending on your beliefs, this could be a major deal-breaker. Even having grown up in a Pentecostal church, I’m leery of such claims.

That isn’t to say they didn’t happen – of course there is no way I could know – but it does raise warning flags in my mind. I decided that it’s not going to negatively affect my impression of this book, but you can decide on where you stand on that for yourself. One way to look at the revelations is simply that McKoy and the people he writes about are communicating with God. Not just praying, but actually communicating. They are having a conversation with our Father. I still don’t know what to think about the healings, though. They are only indirectly addressed. Enjoy.

Disclaimer: I received this book for free in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

Messy Grace – Caleb Kaltenbach

Messy Grace: How a Pastor with Gay Parents Learned to Love Others Without Sacrificing Conviction – Caleb Kaltenbach

Messy Grace book review - Kaltenbach, the author, has an interesting dilemma. His parents are both gay, and he has a newfound faith in Jesus Christ. I found it a really informative glimpse into his life and struggles with loving his parents/friends despite their lifestyles now that he had chosen a separate path.

First let me say that this was an informative, enjoyable read. It had Bible verses throughout, and used those verses to support thoughts and opinions stated in the book. However, Kaltenbach has a phrase he uses constantly – “the tension of grace and truth”. The first few times he used the phrase it was okay, but the repetition quickly got irritating. He also used the word “messy” frequently, but it wasn’t as annoying as the “tension” phrase.

Kaltenbach brought to the table some thoughts on how to react to people from the LGBT community as a Christian, and for the most part they seemed like good, informed ideas – especially since he was raised in the LGBT community, and thus has personal experience to speak from. For instance, Kaltenbach tells us that the best reaction to someone ‘coming out’ as lesbian or gay is to thank the person. He goes on to tell us that this is a very personal confession, and that the person coming out to us is revealing an important part of themselves to us – a part that they would not reveal to just anyone. He tells us how not to react as well; such as, “don’t look disappointed” (pg. 109). By telling us the best way to react, we have a better idea of how to reach out to the people in our lives that identify with the LGBT community.

Messy Grace is also filled with personal stories, both from Kaltenbach’s own experience and his retelling of stories from people he knows. This book will be helpful in reaching out to those that are LGBT, and will allow us to be more informed.

One of my few complaints with this book is that the first five or so chapters are somewhat misleading. Since they refer solely to Christians that mistreat, treat differently, or otherwise insult those in the LGBT lifestyle, Messy Grace would lead us to believe that all Christians act that way toward people inclined towards LGBT – which is not the case at all. Rather, from personal experience, I would say that the Christians discussed within those chapters do not represent the majority of us. Yes, they may be the more outspoken Christians, but that does not mean they are the only Christians. In fact, I would hesitate to refer to people who would treat other people in such a way as Christians, but that is a whole other topic.

If you are curious about Christianity as it relates to the LGBT community and how to act around those in such a lifestyle, read this book. It is filled with informative stories and information, and comes from a Biblical standpoint.

Note:

Before picking up Messy Grace, I was concerned that Kaltenbach might be a Christian who tries to teach ‘Biblical’ acceptance of the LGBT lifestyle, but he does not. My fears were misplaced. He only teaches the hard Biblical reality – otherwise known as living in the “tension of grace and truth” – so don’t let that concern keep you from reading this book.

 

Disclaimer: I received this book for free from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.