Thursday, December 31, 2009

Books I Read in 2009

In November 2008 I got sucked into reading the Twilight books by Stephenie Meyer. I truly believe that three weeks of my life went into a black hole. I was a zombie and all I wanted to do was to read, read, read. Fortunately, I snapped out of the funk and began realizing I had a family and responsibilities and began functioning somewhat normally again.

People argue whether the Twilight books are good or bad. I took them for what they were worth...young adult fiction that was a breeze and blast to read. What I am gratful for is that reading the Twilight series reawakened a love for reading again. I truly think I was burnt out on reading from college and just couldn't bring myself to read because I equated it with boring subjects. Twilight taught me again that reading can be fun. Thus, I began a new reading journey in 2009.

My goal was to read 25 books and I'm pleased as punch that I accomplished my goal! The books are mainly fiction with a few Christian non-fiction books sprinkled in. (And as I reflect on the list maybe a bit too many Nicholas Sparks' books in hindsight!) I would like to read 75 books in 2010. I'll keep you posted on that challenge as the year progresses.

2009 Books I Read
1. Graceling - Favorite
6. The Hunger Games - Favorite
8. Fireflies in December - Favorite
9. Crazy Love - Favorite (Christian NF)
11. Twilight (reread from 2008...I was bored...couldn't sleep)
12. The Irresistible Revolution - Christian NF - it will leave your head spinning for a few weeks
13. Pemberley - Hated
14. Jane Austen Ruined My Life - Too predictable
15. Dreamhunter - Favorite
16. Dead Until Dark- Hated
17. The Air I Breathe - Book for my Theology of Worship class
20. Fire
24. Forgotten God - Favorite (my review)
26. Secrets of the Secret Place - Christian NF (great devotional)

2010 Books to Read Before I Die Challenge

Diane over at Bibliophile By the Sea is hosting "Books to Read Before I Die" challenge. I thought this would be a good one for me to start branching out into more challenging fiction. I've decided on ten books to go after in 2010.

1. The Thorn Birds
2. The Sound and the Fury
3. The Grapes of Wrath
4. Wuthering Heights
5. Jane Eyre
6. Gone with the Wind
7. Pride & Prejudice
8. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
9. The Count of Monte Cristo
10. The Bible

I'll revisit the post and update the list with my completion dates.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

2010 Support Your Local Library Reading Challenge

One of the things I'm learning with book blogging is that many blogs I read have "challenges."

- Read 6 Classics in 2010
- Read 10 New Authors in 2010
- Etc, etc. etc.

Since I'm a huge fan of the local library, I was excited to come across this reading challenge at J. Kaye's Book Blog. I think this one is going to be cake for me seeing as I check out nearly all the books I read at the library. (Especially if the books I check out and read to my daughters count...well, maybe they'll count for 1/2 a point.)

I am signing up for the Just My Size level - 50 books in 2010. This will be the post where I'll keep track of my list of books.

1. If I Perish - Esther Ahn Kim - 1/13/2010
2. What I Saw and How I Lied - Judy Blundell - 1/17/2010
3. The Last Song - Nicholas Sparks
4. Blackout - Connie Willis
6. The Lighthouse Keeper's Daughter
7. James and the Giant Peach
12. Out Live Your Life - Max Lucado

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Cottonwood Whispers

Earlier this year I stumbled across “Fireflies in December,” the debut novel of Jennifer Erin Valent. I had no idea at the time that Jennifer was working on a sequel until a few weeks ago. I thought Fireflies was a one and done book. Therefore I was delighted that my husband got me “Cottonwood Whispers” as a Christmas gift this year. I devoured it in four days – I could have read it in two days, but paced myself so I could savor the book longer. I have to say it was a delight to be back in Jessilyn Lassiter’s world and the only downside was it ended too soon.

Summary from the back of the book:

The summer of 1936 is one that seventeen-year-old Jessilyn Lassiter will never forget. She had hoped to spend it getting a job and – more importantly – finally catching the attention of Luke Talley, the young man she has loved from afar since she was thirteen. But tragedy strikes when a cherished neighbor girl is hit by a car. Jessilyn is torn to pieces, especially when her gentle, elderly friend is accused of the crime. Swept into a grown-up world she couldn’t wait to be a part of, Jessilyn searches for answers until the actions of one man show her the beauty of sacrifice and the power of faith.

“Cottonwood Whispers” is set four years after “Fireflies in December” takes place and we find Jessilyn celebrating her seventeenth birthday at the beginning of the story. The story that ties all the characters together is the theme of racial prejudice and justice that was explored in Valent’s first novel. We see how Jessilyn and Gemma’s (the black girl that the Lassiter’s adopt when her parents are killed) relationship as sisters is challenged by Gemma’s entry into the workforce and essentially womanhood. The vast amount of growing up a young lady does between seventeen and nineteen (Gemma’s age) is notable. We see how the bold and brave actions of a few to stand up for the weak can make a difference in the world as the Lassiters, Luke, Gemma and Miss Cleta rally to a friend’s aid when he is wrongly accused of a brutal crime. Lastly we get to see the relationship between Jessilyn and Luke goes from playful friends to a budding romance.

While the novel was built on the storyline of justice, it was a treat to read the parts where Jessilyn and Luke start realizing that their feelings for one another have moved beyond friendship. So often I find romantic relationships in Christian books clich├ęd and predictable. What was a delight to see in Cottonwood Whispers is that Valent doesn’t rush the two lovebirds into each other’s arms. Rather, the pacing of the relationship is normal and proper for the time that this book takes place. As I read the book I couldn’t help but smile and reflect back on how LONG young romantic relationships once took to form. The process of courting and getting to know someone took time and could be so much fun. The 4th of July dance scene was awesome to read …can’t tell you more without spoiling it, but you will feel like you are back in high school again and have the same butterflies in your tummy that Jessilyn does.

My only “criticism” (and it was a hard one to come by) was that the relationship between Gemma and Jessilyn wasn’t explored more fully. There’s a lot going on with Gemma and it would have been interesting to find out some of her motivations and feelings in the book. I do acknowledge it might have been hard to do this without slowing down the book.

So that you don’t get alarmed when you finish the book (trust me, you’ll be dying to find out what happens with Jessilyn and Luke when the book ends,) Valent has a third and final book of the series coming out in fall 2010: “Catching Moondrops.” It’s set in summer of 1939 – three years after “Cottonwood Whispers” leaves off. I am going to have so much reading to do in fall 2010 with the arrival of “Catching Moondrops”, the last book of The Hunger Games trilogy and hopefully the sequel to Graceling. Can’t wait!!! I love Valent's books and wish her a long and fulfilling writing career.

To recap:

Worth reading? Absolutely

Worth buying my own copy? Yes

Recommend to friends? Absolutely

Stars: 5 out of 5

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Jennifer Erin Valent

One of the authors I was the most excited to stumble across this year was Jennifer Erin Valent. Jennifer is the winner of the 2007 Operation First Novel contest of the Christian Writer's Guild. Her debut novel is Fireflies in December. It was such a wonderful read - reminded me of To Kill a Mockingbird but in a refresh way. Not only was it interesting to escape to a different time in US history and to the South, but it was a treat to read about the character's young crush and remember how I felt when I was 13 and experiencing first crushes.

I was thrilled to find out that Valent has a new book, Cottonwood Whispers, out this fall that continues the story of Jessalyn and that a third book is on its way next year! Who hoo!

But, here's the best part about Jennifer Valent. She's so down to earth! Her newsletter that came out last week offered to send personally signed book plates. I emailed her and guess what? I got my two yesterday in the mail...she was so fast. (Yes, I asked for for each book I hope I get as Christmas gifts this year. Shameless I know.)

Her first book, Fireflies in December, was selected as a winter read for SheReads. If you're looking for a great read and a chance to jump into a great series and characters, I'd highly recommend Jennifer Valent's books!

And if any of you are curious...yes, I'm still reading The Sound and the Fury. Feeling more fury than joy reading this book because of how difficult it is to follow, but only have 25 more pages before I'm out of the awful first chapter of nonsense. I have 5 more days to get this book read before Christmas and keep my word to my boss (who gave me the book) that I'd read it before Christmas 2009 arrives.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Forgotten God

Earlier this year I devoured a book called "Crazy Love" by Francis Chan. Francis is the senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in Semi Valley, California. I had the pleasure of hearing Francis give the closing keystone at the 2008 Willow Creek Arts Conference. The message God spoke through Francis that day was so powerful (and I find myself listening to it a couple times a year to keep the flame alive in my heart that God can do amazing things through the church. This fall he released "Forgotten God" which covers the sometimes overwhelming topic of the Holy Spirit.

Overview of book:
Has today's church forgotten the Holy Spirit?God put His Spirit in us so we could be known for our power. Sadly, most believers and churches are known for talent and intellect rather than supernatural power. What’s worse is that we’re okay with it. In Forgotten God, breakthrough authorFrancis Chan returns us to the Holy Spirit as the Bible describes Him and invites us to understand, embrace and follow the Holy Spirit’s direction in our lives.

Before picking up this book I found myself kind of stalled out in my relationship with God. I wasn't angry or disappointed with God...the best way I could describe my feeling was bored. I was bored with God. I was bored "doing church." And frankly I was scared to think that this is all that I have to look forward to living as a Christian. Boredom.

This book has helped me realize that we rely entirely too much on our own strength to reach others with the gospel message. One of the most eye-opening parts of this book was when Chan describes how the disciples of Jesus had scattered when He was arrested, "yet when the Holy Spirit descended and indwelt them, a radical change occurred." From that point on these disciples had power. They healed. They became martyrs. They were bold to share the gospel with the world. They weren't cowardly followers any longer. So...what's happened since then? Why has the church become so tame and timid?

Another powerful takeaway for me was his chapter about discerning God's voice. So often we worry and fret about hearing God's voice clearly before making a radical decision or change. "We focus on what God wants us to do and forget the kind of people He wants us to be. Instead of mustering up more willpower, let's focus our energies and time on asking for help from the One who has the power to change us. Let's take the time to ask God to put the fruit of His Spirit into our lives. And let's spend time with the One we want to be more like."

This book has given me a wonderful shot in the arm. As I read scripture during my quiet time I am recognizing when the Holy Spirit is at work in the passage. It's amazing how many of these verses talk about the Holy Spirit yet I've never given consideration to it. I realize now that the key to busting the boredom is living according to the spirit - not by my power.

I was listening to a podcast from Cornerstone tonight and heard Francis mention that he is writing a book on marriage with his wife Lisa. If it is as good as "Crazy Love" and "Forgotten God," I can't wait to check it out.

To recap:

Worth reading? Yes

Worth buying my own copy? Yes (this may be a Christmas gift for my husband)

Recommend to friends? Absolutely (small group bible study book idea???)

Stars: 5 out of 5

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Doing Double Duty

Okay...I usually try not to start reading two books at a time, but I got stuck doing that the next two weeks. I'm an avid fan of utilizing the local library for a number of reasons.
  1. They are great resources. (Obvious) There's a book just about on any topic you need at the library.
  2. They are free (for the most part if you get items returned on time.)
  3. They are awesome places to study or work.
  4. It's more "green" to check out books rather than buying them. (Sorry...I usually don't reread books so I don't see the point in buying them unless its one I absolutely love.)
I had put "Forgotten God" by Francis Chan on my list request for my local library on Friday. I thought it would be a week or two before it was my turn to read it as it is a new book. WRONG. They emailed on Monday saying the book was in. The rotten part is that I only have 14 days to read the book.

A few days prior I started reading "The Sound and the Fury" by William Faulkner. This is a TOUGH read...but I vowed to my boss (who gave me the book as a Christmas gift last year) that I would read it before Christmas this year.

So the task ahead of "Forgotten God" in the next week and a half. Read the impossibly difficult "The Sound and the Fury" before December 25. Wish me luck!