Thursday, May 26, 2016

Loving My Actual Life

Loving My Actual Life  *****
by Alexandra Kuykendall

Like the subtitle says, this is a book about "relishing what's right in front of us." The author spends nine months focusing on a different area of her life each month that needs improvement. She covers topics including: quiet, mornings, dates, health, adventure, home organization, creativity, meals, and passions.
Each chapter covers a month and a topic, and Alexandra Kuykendall journals about a paragraph for most days. Then at the end of the chapter, she sums up what she learned that month and has questions to ponder and a Bible verse to memorize. 

This book reminded me of Jen Hatmaker's 7: an Experimental Mutiny Against Excess, except that it wasn't as funny or thought provoking. I guess the book was very basic, everyday. And I think that her point was that our lives are often very basic, but we can still "love our actual life." I guess I just like to read to be inspired to reach beyond the everyday. 

You can't just read a book about a woman's experiences if you want to change; you have to walk your own path to learn these things. And she does encourage women to follow in her footsteps by including lists in the back of the book. She writes tips on how to implement the ideas she talked about. For instance, she has ten ways to find quiet during the day.  

I would probably recommend this to encourage a working mom since she does talk a lot about balancing work and kids and sports.
I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. 

The Blessing of Humility

The Blessing of Humility  *****
by Jerry Bridges

This book goes through the beatitudes in Matthew 5. 

Jerry Bridges first looks at what it means for the Christian to be "poor in spirit." Basically, he says it means that we realize that we are sinners and are utterly dependent on God...we are spiritually destitute outside of Christ. This understanding of our spiritual poverty lays the foundation for the rest of the beatitudes and understanding the full picture of humility.

My favorite chapter was the one on "meekness." He explains that meekness is two fold: how we respond toward God and His word and how we respond to people. He says, "The meek person earnestly desires the Spirit to use His Word to effect a deep change in his or her inner being." And meekness in relation to God "means that we accept the difficult and painful events of life, even those brought about by the actions of other people, as under the controlling hand of our loving and infinitely wise heavenly Father." And thus we are able to give thanks in all circumstances because we know God is with us and at work in us. Oh, how difficult sometimes to humbly submit to God's working in our lives! 

At the end of the book, Bridges concludes that true humility is impossible without Christ. And that is why it is such good news that Jesus has died for our sins...our selfishness, pride, lack of faith, etc. He quotes Romans 4:7-8 "Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man whom the Lord will not count his sin." And so we rejoice in our salvation, continue to seek after Him, and be thankful that He has the power to truly change us into more humble people.

The book is short and easy to read and has study questions for all ten chapters of the book. The book is full of scripture and would make a great group study or individual study. I plan to go back and revisit this book from time to time to be reminded of these truths.
I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Charlotte's Web

Charlotte's Web  *****
by E. B. White

The book takes place in a barn. A girl, Fern, rescues a little runt pig and feeds him a bottle.Wilbur the pig metes Charlotte the spider. Charlotte is kind. Wilbur is some pig. The rat is selfish. Fern is loving, and the sheep are serious and funny. 

One day Wilber  finds out that he is going to be killed. His new friend Charlotte writes in her web and saves him!

The only thing is Charlotte dies in the book, but it has a good ending. I think the whole family will like it.

by Sabrina Staples, 8

Saturday, May 21, 2016

They Were Christians

They Were Christians *****
by Cristobal Krusen

This is a collection of mini biographies of eleven men and a woman who were influential around the world. The stories are very well-written and easy to read in a sitting. I really enjoyed how he prefaced and concluded each person's story with how that man or woman influenced him personally. I also enjoyed the selection of people. Many of them I didn't know about previously, and they were from different time periods and different countries.

I did find the book a bit confusing in a couple of ways. First, I thought the author was going to show how these people influenced his faith journey. He talked about researching and practicing different faiths until he read the Bible and came to know Jesus. However, the book didn't seem to be organized in any particular way. The other thing I found a bit confusing about the book was that one of the men he wrote about wasn't even a Christian. I think the book's title maybe a bit misleading saying "They Were Christians." He should have just stuck with the subtitle, "The Inspiring Faith of Men and Women who Changed the World." And even with that title, he only writes about one woman.

Still, I enjoyed the book and am planning to reread it to my girls a little at a time. I hope the short stories spark some interest for them to learn more about some of these amazing people in our past.

I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The 21 Balloons

The 21 Balloons *****
by William Pene du Bois

Overview: The story is about a man who gets stuck on an island, but it turns out the place has rich people on it. They made funny inventions in the homes of the people. The island is on a volcano, and one day it explodes!   

Positive elements: I like how it is funny.    

Negative elements: none

Conclusion: Anyone would like this story.

by Sabrina Staples, 7 

Murder Comes by Mail

Murder Comes by Mail  *****
By A.H. Gabhart

Overview: A small town police man gets caught up in the middle of a serial killer's rampage. People he knows keep dying. How will he find this killer and protect those he loves?

Positive elements: well-written and unpredictable

Negative elements: murder and some of the details rather graphic

Conclusion: The cover of this book makes it look like a sweet story of a small town. However, the story was intense. I almost didn't finish it because it was not a relaxing read. But the story was well-written and kept me reading. I guess having children of my own, it's hard for me to enjoy reading a story where a girl is killed. The ending did have a nice a little twist, but I felt like there were some holes in the plot as the story wrapped up.

I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, May 16, 2016

The Space Trilogy

The Space Trilogy: Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, That Hideous Strength  *****
by C.S. Lewis

Overview: In the first book of the trilogy, Ransom is kidnapped by two scientists and taken to Mars where he will be offered as a human sacrifice to the gods of that planet. However, he escapes upon arrival and travels all over this strange planet meeting the local and friendly inhabitants. All the while, the scientists are still after him. He will have to somehow escape them and then how will he ever return to Earth?

The second book, Perelandra, takes place on Venus at the birth of the new planet. Just like Eve is tempted to sin in the garden, the mother of this planet is tempted to turn from God by one of the same evil scientists from the first book. Ransom must somehow save the lady from being persuaded to let death into  her new world. He is just a simple, middle-aged scholar. How will he fight this evil?

The third book, That Hideous Strength, takes place on Earth. An evil power is attempting to use science to destroy the human race as we know it. A young university fellow is slowly lured into a plot more sinister that he can imagine. His young wife joins Ransom and a few others to fight against this evil organization that her husband has joined. Merlin is awakened from a long sleep. Who's side will he join? How will Ransom and his small party go up against this huge institution taking over Britain? 

Themes: C.S. Lewis is exploring the fight between good and evil. What is evil and what is good? Who will win and how?

Positive elements: These books are some of the best written books I have ever read. Within the stories are so many truths and things to ponder about life. The stories are so original that you can never guess how they'll turn out. And the vivid descriptions place you right into the middle of a whole new world.

Negative elements: In Perelandra, there are some animals tortured, and Ransom has to fight to the death with his adversary. In the last book, there are evil spirits controlling people, murder, and torture. The book is in not graphic, but you do feel the spiritual darkness of this city. The evil characters are very evil.

Conclusion: There are only a handful of books that I enjoy rereading and these are at the top of my list. I love these books because they are well-written, great stories, and thought provoking. I enjoy books that challenge me to think along with being entertained. These aren't your normal science fiction books. So don't let the outer space setting deter you from giving them a try if this isn't your normal genre. The books in the series can be read independently, too. 

I would recommend these books to anyone, probably junior high or high school and older. Younger kids could read them but wouldn't be able to appreciate the depth of thought in them. My girls are still too young to understand the books, but I look forward to reading them together in years to come.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Just Me and My Mom

Just Me and My Mom  *****
by Mercer Mayer

The book was okay, but the words were hard to read. He did not really help his mom. His mom got mad because he lost the tickets. I liked the pictures.
By Sophie Staples, 6

Thursday, May 5, 2016

A House of Tailors

A House of Tailors *****
By Patricia Reilly Giff

Overview: This was a great book about a girl, Dina, who hates sewing. This book takes place in a Germany. Dina has a mom, older sister Katherina, and two younger brothers Franz and Frederich. 

Katherina received a letter in the mail that her Uncle Lucas can take Katherina to live with him in America. Dina is very unhappy that she doesn't get to go to America. While this is getting figured out, she goes to exchange a pattern with her friend. On her way back, her own country's soldiers capture her because they think she is stealing their country's plans. When a solider turns around to see a bomb go off, Dina runs back to the house. Her mom figures out she will go in Katherina's place. Dina's very happy to not have to sew anymore, so Dina sails to America. 

She gets to her Uncle's house and thinks that's all his house, but it turns out only the top layer is his house. And then when she gets to his house, she sees that he's a tailor! It starts out hard because her Uncle and her get in lots of fights about things. The Uncle's job is to sew, so Dina has to sew to help make money. At least she makes friends with her cousin, Maria, and her Aunt Barbara. She also makes friends with a boy named Johann. He makes her a key necklace to wear. 

Awhile later, the smallpox comes along. Barbara and Maria get it when the Uncle's off on a vacation. It's all up to Dina to save them. She was completely afraid of the health department wagon because the people they took to the hospital died. Barbara was saying, "Hide the baby, Dina!" So Dina hid little Maria. Will they survive?

Dina was longing for home, and she was saving money in her trunk.Will she ever make it home?

Positive Elements: friendship, undeserved love, and family
Negative Elements: Smallpox deaths
Conclusion: This was a great book that ages 8 and up would like. 
By: Summer Staples, 9 

Monday, May 2, 2016

The Watsons Go to Birmingham- 1963

The Watsons Go to Birmingham-1963  *****
by Christopher Paul Curtis

Overview: The Watson family has a terrible juvenile delinquent on their hands...their eldest son. The plan is to drive to Birmingham and leave him with his no-nonsense grandma for the summer to straighten him up. While in Birmingham, they witness an African-American church being bombed. What effect will this violent act of racism have upon the family?

Positive elements: The story is very well-written and creative.The author has a very unique voice.  He does an excellent job of portraying how the middle son walks through grief and deals with different emotions.

Negative elements: Mature themes including murder, racism, bullying, lying, a scary almost drowning, disrespectful behavior

Conclusion: I could hardly stand how awful the older brother treated his younger brother. The story plodded from one awful event to the next. (Honestly, it kind of ruined the book for me.) Once the family began their car trip to Birmingham, the story picked up pace and was enjoyable. Parts of the end of the story I loved. But in other parts, the older brother has such a quick change of heart that I couldn't believe it.

I know this story has won awards and is well-liked by many. Unfortunately, I can't say it is one of my favorites. Maybe fifth grade and above boys would enjoy it?


Sunday, May 1, 2016

The 9 Arts of Spiritual Conversations

The 9 Arts of Spiritual Conversations: Walking Along Side People Who Believe Differently
by Mary Schaller and John Crilly  *****

Jesus truly loved all people, and we can learn from how he interacted with them. This book looks at nine ways that Jesus interacted with people and encourages us to follow His model. The first part of the book is about "Getting Ready" to interact with people and talks about truly noticing people, praying, and listening. The second section is titled, "Getting Started," and speaks about asking good questions, loving well, and welcoming people into your home and life. The third part, "Keeping it Going," talks about how to facilitate group discussions with people who think differently than you, lead a group of people in service projects, and share within a group. The book ends with details about how you can start your own "Q Place" or basically a group of people who discuss spiritual topics.

The end of each chapter has questions to discuss or think about and a few "action" steps.

I found this book so encouraging because it reminded me that the Great Commission is all about loving other people well. I realized that asking good questions is something I can work on as I'm getting to know new people. However, I don't have to stress about sharing Jesus. God will make Himself known; I just get to be a part of it and watch God move.

This is a long book with a lot to think about. I would recommend this to adults but would caution that it is a slow read to absorb all the information.

I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review.