Friday, January 31, 2014

One Thousand Gifts

My mother got this book for Christmas and read it first. I didn't get around to it until nearly a year later, but one day last summer while everyone was out, I was working on my laptop and decided to browse a sample chapter on Amazon.

Probably a moment of procrastination in retrospect. But sometimes procrastination leads to good things. It's the only nonfiction book I remember that had me in tears from the first chapter, and not just a few tears, but a very genuine fit of crying--from release, and wonder, and the deep, healing cleansing of it.

I started this year by reading One Thousand Gifts, by Ann Voskamp. It was wonderful; and it gave me a perspective that I hope will continue with me throughout the year.

I'd like to share a review of it with you today.

The Book
When Ann was just a small girl, her baby sister died in a tragic accident that turned their whole family into hollow shells of emptiness. Just to cope with it, they shut out life, shut out God--her mother ended up in a psychiatric ward, and Ann herself went through some pretty traumatic ups and downs.

She stabilized, but she didn't really heal. Not until six years later, when she had six little ones of her own, and had layered more heartache and loss on top of the early one that began it all. She and God were having 'trust issues' as she put it, and there was so much groaning sorrow in her world that she wondered how a Christian could possibly live a full life of joy and peace.

That's when she discovered the one word that has altered her world, and the world of thousands, perhaps even millions more, when her book hit the New York Times bestseller list.


Eucharisteo--A word in another language, yet a word so vital to our spiritual health and view of God that it's commanded again and again in Scripture, and even saved one man from a terminal illness.

Eucharisteo--give thanks.

A friend dared Ann to count up to 1,000 gifts God had given her. So she took the dare, and started writing them down. Slowly, painfully, the hard layers of scabbed hurt peeled away, and the wounded trust and hope and love of years began to heal. As she became whole, her joy turned into a wild thirst to know God fully, and to count His gifts to her.

She learned to count the good gifts as love from Him. Then she learned to find His grace in the hard gifts as well. Drops of grace turned into a stream. A stream turned into a river. And a river turned into a torrent of seeing God's blessings in the tiny details around her. A torrent of Living Water, that quenched her thirst and healed her pain.

That same torrent is there to heal the pain, as well, of anyone else who is willing to stand still, and open clenched fists. To accept what God places into our hands with loving trust--and to give thanks for what is given.

This is a book about a dare of joy--a dare to hurting people to find God's gifts and receive healing. A book about thanking the Giver of all things. A book about blind eyes made to see--by taking the Joy Dare.

My Thoughts

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
~1 Thessalonians 5:18

Ann Voskamp doesn't offer sugar-coated, plastic 'women's ministry' that so often gets turned out in today's devotionals and self-help books. She's real, and messy and transparent, and goes right to deep-rooted personal issues with the water of God's Word. You come away from anything she writes feeling as if you've been offered a nourishing meal and a warm hug and a re-forged weapon for battle all in one. That is true women's ministry, and though I think her book would appeal more to the feminine audience, I hear that many men endorse and enjoy it as well.  Because, after all, giving thanks should never be strictly a woman's thing.

I cried multiple times reading it, and the tears were good. The same first chapter brought me to tears the second time, and chapter after chapter followed. Even though I haven't lost a little sister in a tragic accident, we all have our own struggles in life to live through, and the thought that God wants to give me grace again and again--that He loves me so deeply He likes to give me gifts--was almost more than I could take in. I've been so focused on working for Him, and giving glory to Him, and giving love to Him, that the simple idea that He loves and wants to give me pleasures was breathtaking. Yet He does, and He delights when I take pleasure in them.

At first when I started my gift list, I wondered if I 'was doing it right'. It seemed too easy, to write things down that I took delight in and recognize them as gifts. But giving thanks is simple. It's like a child delighting in something and running up to give a breathless 'Thank-you!' to their parents before running right back to enjoy it again. Adding in the hard graces was definitely challenging, but that too was a wonder, learning to see them as gifts. I had to remind myself several times that there was no right or wrong way to count gifts. This was my list, not Ann's. Perhaps not every gift would read like a line of poetry, like hers, but that was okay. I was giving thanks to God, as He made me, with the eyes He gave me to see with. They'll be different eyes and a different way of expressing things, and the difference is beautiful.

Before I ever read One Thousand Gifts I read some of the articles on Ann's blog. She posts almost daily, and once a week does a post with 15 links of encouraging news stories, photo links, and videos that are designed to showcase the good in the world. Her words on the blog (some of the posts are excerpts from her book) are just as thirst-quenching as her book, and I highly recommend following it for encouragement. I catch up every couple of weeks or so, but some people like to get it delivered daily to their email inbox.

Due to the sorrow in Ann's own life, I recommend this book for teen on up. The principles of gratefulness are good for all ages, and certainly some children who have gone through deep sorrow may benefit from reading her book; but overall I think it's older in perspective, and I think older people may need it more. Children see gifts instinctively in little things. Adults have to re-learn to see them.

It was the evening I finished the book that I caught another glimpse of the full scope of what I was learning. I was struggling with a particular thought unconnected to her book, and I looked up a passage of Scripture to see how the Bible said to overcome it. I almost laughed when I saw the answer--give thanks. Go figure. And that clinched in my mind that giving thanks is not just connected with joy and gratefulness, but with love, with friendship, with family relationships--in short, Eucharisteo lays the foundation for how we see everything around us.

Or perhaps more truly, Eucharisteo lays the foundation for whether or not we see at all in the first place.

Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts touched my heart in a myriad of ways, and I'm living out one day at a time, slowly wrapping my mind around the gifts that my loving Heavenly Father has given me. As Ann says in her book: "God is always good. And I am always loved."

This book, in the end, is about starting us on a journey so that we can engrave those two sentences on our hearts as we live the gift of life God gives us.

My Joy Dare
Before I even read the book I wanted to take the Joy Dare to reach one thousand gifts. I started it in a little notebook, and then read the book itself. Some days I write down six. Some days I write down two. And I like it that way, but I still make sure that I discipline myself to write things down. I'm almost up to 100, and going strong so far. Little graces, big graces--sometimes the hard graces. They all go in there. I've never been one to journal, but I think this gives me the opportunity to thank God and keep a record of life at the same time. So far, it's been much more fruitful than writing diary entries that begin with "I have decided to keep a journal" and then abandoning the project the next day.

When we count God's graces--the hard graces, as well as the pleasing ones--it helps us to stop. To refine our sorrows into joy. To take our joys and make them holy. To pause and wonder in the moments at God's sustaining goodness to us. It changes our perspective from a hurried, frantic pace that often leads to depression to learning to mark time just slowly enough so that our hearts slow down even when our lives tick fast.

It's a journey, learning to rejoice in all things. But it's one I've started, and it's a road worth travelling on. I would encourage all of you to read One Thousand Gifts and see how it shapes your perspective towards gratefulness and Eucharisteo. It's a wonderful book, and I for one hope to read it again and again.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever. ~Psalm 136:1

Lady Bibliophile

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Shield Ring

Best enjoyed with tea and doughnuts. :)

In the very first post I wrote this year, I mentioned that I wanted to read my first Rosemary Sutcliff novel sometime in in 2014. I had heard a lot about this author when I started blogging, and early in 2013 I asked some Sutcliff experts what would be the best book of hers to begin with. Upon their recommendation, I wrote "The Shield Ring" on my to-read list, and early this year (as this is my year for choosing the books I really want to read) I picked it up from the library.

The Story
"That is our Shield Ring, our last stronghold; not the barrier fells and the tottermoss between, but something in the hearts of men." 
~The Shield Ring, by Rosemary Sutcliff

Frytha is five years old when the Normans come to burn her house and kill her family. A faithful sheepherder hides her and brings her safely away, but her parents were not saved, and she is left with only a faint memory of a burning thatch and a command from the man who rescued her that she must never forget that the Normans did her wrong.

Frytha and Grim take refuge miles and miles away in the stronghold of the Jarl, the leader of their people. His Hearth Hall is known as the Shield Ring, a secret stronghold that has held the land free from Norman invasion for twenty years or more. The Normans don't know where the Hearth Hall is, and none of the Northmen are about to give it's location away.

Frytha is a little older when the Jarl tells his people that they do not have enough men to hold the Shield Ring against the coming force of Normans, and it is in their best policy, though against all their hearts, to surrender.  By general consensus the people agree. But when the envoy of peace they send is brutally tortured and mutilated, the Northmen people abandon all thought of making peace.

They will hold their Shield Ring against the bars of Hell itself. And though they are small in number, their love and loyalty bids fair to prevail.

Only betrayal, or the slow decline of men, can break their strong resolve.

My Thoughts
Sutcliff is beautiful. Beautifully unique; I've never read an author like her before, and I think she must be one of a kind. Not complicated; a straightforward painter of words. The characterizations and themes are clear, and you know who you should be rooting for from the beginning. Yet in her simplicity, there's a pure thread of crimson that weaves through strong and bright--for Sutcliff's detail and her very simplicity is that of a true artist.

When I was finished, I was left wondering "Was it written for young readers, or adults"? It seemed that it might be written for young people because of the simplicity of the story and the plotting; yet at the same time, there was a deeper, grander theme to it that seemed more likely to be appreciated by older readers.

The answer, in the end, lies in the beauty of the fact that her works can be enjoyed by a wide range of ages.

For those who are wondering, it's not an intrinsically Christian story. As for the religion of the people, mostly gods such as Thor are mentioned. There's only one time where a man introduces a Christian Latin chant at a grave site, but it means nothing to the people, and they stick with what they're familiar with. However, the book is still very much worth reading, and certainly many of the themes are based from Scripture. I think you'll find it well worthy to be on anyone's bookshelf, for themes of sacrifice and heritage, friendship and bravery, family and defense.

Sutcliff doesn't drag her readers into the whirlpool of drama in a Dickens, or the romantic love triangles of a Jane Porter. She paints a clear picture of simple bravery, and steadfast nobility, and unbroken heritage. Even the romance--what there is of it--is merely the realizing of two good comrades that they want to go on in even closer friendship with one another.

The Shield Ring is not only a story about Frytha's view of her people, but also of her first friend, Bjorn, and his burning desire to prove himself steadfast, mostly to himself, but also to a couple of enemies. Bjorn and Frytha's story is over arched by the story of the Shield Ring itself--the Northmen's secret stronghold, and the battles the men fight to keep it well defended and safe from invaders' eyes. Both plots weave in and out together seamlessly

Strong defenders--Aiken and Gille, and even Aiken's dog Garm--are also worthy of mention as well-beloved and heroic characters. The sword Waveflame, the Road that Leads to Nowhere--a myriad of characters and objects that bring the story to a rich level of detail without overwhelming it's aim of simplicity.

A wonderful story. The first time in a long time I treated myself to reading in the middle of a work morning when I still had other things to do. On the very last day, when I knew I could finish it, I stayed up until midnight so I could mark it down on my list.

I definitely hope to be reading Sutcliff again. If you've never read her, be sure to put her on your list! A must-read for any historical fiction lover, and a writer worthy of study and imitation.

Lady Bibliophile

Friday, January 24, 2014

Discernment or Deception?

via Pinterest

My goal, with every book I read, is to read it with Christian discernment. Back at the age of fourteen when I made the remarkable discovery that I would never read a perfect book written by humans, I determined that since I could not eradicate sin, I would have to be on my guard and take captive every book to the obedience of Jesus Christ.

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
~2 Corinthians 10:5

Since then I've read multiple new authors. Alexandre Dumas. Susan Cain. Anthony Trollope. K.M. Weiland. Victor Hugo. Authors that I could never have read profitably, unless I read with a running mental commentary of weighing their writings against Scripture. Some of these authors were Christian, some were atheist. Some I'll definitely read again, and others I won't. But I couldn't have discerned that unless I learned to think while I was reading.

When I was younger, I only wanted to be carried along in the flow of the story. And don't get me wrong: I still very much get caught up in the action. When the main character's at point of death, I generally don't stop and work out a 15 point treatise on the exact brand of evil they're up against and all the Scriptures that define it. "This antagonist just violated [insert 6 Scripture references], this is how they were punished in Old Testament law, and according to Revelation, they're going to be thrown into the lake of burning sulfur."--thoughts like that don't generally occur to me in the heat of the moment. On the contrary, I generally think something like "Wow, I really want my favorite guy to be okay, and that bad guy is just awful."

However, after the dust settles, and generally when I'm sitting down to write a blog review, then I start going over things in detail. Sometimes in very minute detail. Was the main character honorable? Were any situational ethics involved? If so, were they biblically justifiable, or were they morally compromising? Did this story build me up, teach me something, or did it tear me down in my pursuit of Christ-likeness?

Such then, is what I'm learning to do as I read books with discernment. Progress is slow and halting; I'm certainly not as knowledgeable or in-depth as I would like to be. But for all that, I've grown over the years, and hope to grow still more in the years to come. Discernment helps me to take books captive by sifting through what's in conformance to the Word of God, and what's not. That way I can read a book, and not swallow down the bad with the good.

However, there comes a point when reading a book while trying to take it captive is, quite simply, a waste of time.

Around this time of year, I sometimes struggle with blog-hopping and seeing people's upcoming book lists for 2014. I'll be honest and say some of the choices disturb me, for even read with discernment, they really aren't profitable, and they have some dangerous worldviews behind them. But the question remains, how can I really say that? After all, Christians can read books with different worldviews and gain much profit from them, even though we exercise extreme caution in doing so. But we are bought with a price, we are responsible for what we fill our minds with, and the fact is inevitable that not everything the Church reads, not everything our friends read, not every appealing book will be something that we should read, even if we are exercising a discerning mindset while doing so.

So how do we know when it's profitable to take up a book that might have some unsuitable elements, and when it isn't?

The short answer is that there is no answer. Books have to be judged individually. Authors have to be judged by their fruits. Factors of individual conscience, differing spiritual maturity, and varying personal struggles come into play. The only constant in the equation is the fact that God's truth doesn't change, and we constantly hold up the books we read to the mirror of God's truth to see how they compare.

However, I think we can find a couple of principles to give us some guidelines on when a book wouldn't be profitable to take captive to a biblical worldview.

1. We should not force redemption when redemption isn't there.
This is perhaps the biggest error I see (and commit myself) when taking books captive to the obedience of Jesus Christ. We're supposed to give grace, yes. Somehow, though, we've shifted from giving mercy for acknowledged sin to making allowances and pretending the sin didn't exist in the first place. There are some books--Christian as well as non-Christian--that really have nothing valuable to recommend them to our attention. And yet we read them because all our friends are reading them, or it hit the New York Times bestseller list, or we read three reviews by people who liked the book and it piqued our interest. Neither of those are bad reasons in themselves--but they shouldn't be the deciding factor on determining a book's worth. And we shouldn't let popular opinion sway us into believing that a book has merit when the author did not put in anything redeemable at all. Just because the characters have moral values, or a woman kneels down in prayer, or someone entreats God to have mercy on a situation doesn't mean the author intended the story to be Christian or redemptive. And the most dangerous thing we can do, when evaluating a book, is to force a redemption message on it that it doesn't have.

Take The Harvester, by Gene Stratton-Porter. The main character is a chivalrous man. He treats women well. He loves the earth, he's thrifty, he wants to better the world. He preaches truth and labors honestly, and when I read that book I loved him deeply. But in spite of his sacrificing love, in spite of his clean manhood, I couldn't pretend away the fact that The Harvester believed good works led to salvation, and the world was created by some omniscient Being who used evolution. Good morals? Yes. Lovable characters? Oh, yes, yes. But the redemption was not there, and I could not pretend it was. So I let it go.

Taking captive means acknowledging the actual contents of the book, and seeing how they compare to Scripture--not forcing better meanings on it to make it worth our time. So a good question to ask when reading is--am I making up the good that I'm finding, or is it genuinely included in the pages of this story?

Yes, we do give grace. If an author is in error on a theological point it doesn't necessarily mean the book isn't worth our time. And we understand that all authors are human, and therefore all authors include errors. But true grace--the grace that is kindest for us to give--is a grace that sees error with clear eyes, and wants to fix it, not grace that hides the error itself.

2. We should never pretend a worldly author has a Christian worldview.
I know this seems to contradict statements I've made before on the blog. After all, I've said again and again that even non-Christian authors can borrow principles and elements from a Christian worldview. If there is any good in a book, then it must be borrowed from God, for no goodness can be created solely from a man-centered worldview. However, just because an author puts in good (laying down a life for a friend, a man loving a woman, conquering evil forces) doesn't mean that the over-arching theme of the book is good. And when we pick up a book, the over-arching plot must be Truth if it is worth keeping. The sub-plots don't make the book. The main plot does. And the book must live or die by the main plot, because that's what our mind is going to intrinsically accept as the lesson of the story.
But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.
~2 Peter 2:1-3

O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called “knowledge,” for by professing it some have swerved from the faith.
~2 Timothy 6:20-21a

We must be careful. We must be wise. We must be wary. For some authors who write fiction write it to lead us astray. Even Satan masquerades as an angel of light:

And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness.
Their end will correspond to their deeds.
~2 Corinthians 11:14-15

Satan is the original deceiver, and he knows the plot elements we like, the characters we connect to, and the things that draw us in. He won't hesitate to use them to work in deceptive worldviews and philosophies that will influence us while we are unaware.

All this is not to say that we should be afraid of being led astray every time we read a book. The Lord is stronger then Satan, and he's given us transformed minds (Romans 12:2) so we will be able to discern between that which pleases him and that which denies his truth. But at the same time, we must be cautious. It is easy to hide pride under discernment: "I can handle the false philosophies! I'll just take them captive." Pride and leaning on our own wisdom leads to destruction, even when that pride is based on the purest and most laudable intentions.

So don't just pick up anything you see. There are some books that genuinely should be avoided, that will neither build us up, nor offer us a profitable exercise in taking captive false philosophies. We as Christians are called to be holy. To put off the old self, and put on the new.

Pick up a book with confidence. Rigorously think through it's themes and actions and worldviews. Sometimes even authors who don't have good worldviews can be profitable reading. But in your reading, remember this: we are human, and we can fall. So we must be careful, and realize that our wisdom is not of ourselves, for left to ourselves, we would go astray. But our wisdom is from the Lord.

Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.”
~Jeremiah 9:23-24

Lady Bibliophile

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Pursuit of Holiness

There is nothing quite so sweet as getting books in the mail. What's even more special, though, is getting a book in the mail that you didn't even know about--one that a friend picked out with you in mind and sent your way as a special surprise. Kaleigh from Facing the Waves send me The Pursuit of Holiness this fall, and I knew I wanted to read it as soon as possible. Shortly into the new year I picked it up; in probably about two weeks I read it through, and here I am today with a blog review. It was mightily convicting, a well-written call for Christians to seek holy living, and an excellent, manageable read.

The Book

But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy."
 ~1 Peter 1:15-16

Each concept of the Christian life is inextricably linked with all the others. We cannot have grace without faith. We cannot have faith without Christ. And we cannot be like Christ unless we have holiness.

What is holiness? Is it a far-off, unreachable goal that Christians are excused from achieving since we will never be fully free from sin on this earth? Or is it a vital command that the Lord gives us and expects us to obey?

Jerry Bridges, in The Pursuit of Holiness teaches that holiness is vital, and expected of us. Explaining that growing in holiness is a great deal our responsibility, he lays out from Scripture what exactly falls under the Lord's jurisdiction, and what work we must do ourselves to grow more like Christ. A definitive work on the meaning of holiness, this book convicts greatly, and sets the bar high for our understanding of what throwing off sin and conforming to God's image really means.

My Thoughts
I won't deny that many chapters were challenging to read through simply because they hit the mark so well; but Bridges spoke truth, and spoke it in love and humility, something that this subject very much needs. I especially appreciated Bridges' careful handling of the Word of God. Whenever he gave a principle, tip, or directive it was almost always followed by references to several Scripture passages, and I found that most, if not all of them, were used in their correct biblical context. Many passages he includes right in the book text, but this is a book you'll want to read with a Bible handy to get the full teaching Bridges intends. It's a powerful book as it is, but I think it's vital to look up the Scripture an author references in parentheses, to see in the Bible itself that the principle is true, rather than taking their word for it.

I underlined several passages, something uncommon for me, as I don't often make marks in books. One section especially caused me to pause: Our first problem is that our attitude toward sin is more self-centered than God-centered....We cannot tolerate failure in our struggle with sin chiefly because we are success-oriented, not because we know it is offensive to God. Another convicting chapter discussed "The Holiness of God", explaining the difference between our grace and God's grace, and how God does not ever take sin lightly, though he has pardoned Christians from their iniquities. Bridges also talks about holiness and the will--how our desires often overcome our will and reason when we are tempted to sin, and how vital it is that we learn to endure the discomfort of denying our desires so that we can obey the prompting of the Holy Spirit. Personally, I like being comfortable, and I like gratifying my desires, so it was a good reminder that in a moment of temptation, we must shut out the voice of desire clamoring for our attention and cling to the principles of God's Word to act rightly.

Just for comparison's sake, Jerry Bridges was more serious in his touch than Kevin DeYoung in The Hole in Our Holiness. He didn't use as much humor--which was all right; it was interesting to get a different style--and he was very earnest. I think both approaches are very necessary, for some people need a serious approach to wake them up out of their lethargy, and others need a lighter approach to reassure consciences too tender and keep them from legalism. I think both books together make a balanced approach towards the subject, and I'm looking forward to re-reading Kevin's book again sometime to compare his approach to Bridges'.

The Pursuit of Holiness is a Christian classic that everyone would benefit by reading. Concise, convicting, and clearly outlined, it's a short book well worth the time it takes to peruse. If you've never read this work by Jerry Bridges, I would highly recommend it! And thanks to Kaleigh for sending it, and giving me the opportunity to read it. ; )

Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.
~Hebrews 12:14

Lady Bibliophile

Friday, January 17, 2014

A Cast of Stones

In a great land threatened by looming darkness, a king sits upon his throne, dying. He's an old man, and full of years, Rodran, and he would be one of the greatest kings of his people were it not for the fact that he has no heir. Only a blood heir can keep the darkness he's fighting at bay. It is an old statute, wrapped up in the death of one of his ancestors. But it is too late to remedy the inescapable. And he has no one.

So two churchmen, one priest and one reader, take it upon themselves to begin casting lots--region by region, village by village, man by man, to find out who is Deas' chosen to be the next king. They light upon the tiny village of Callowford, containing one young man destined to save the nation from being overrun by dark forces.

My great aunt recommended this book to me at a family gathering this summer, and I downloaded it to my Kindle to save for a rainy day. When the year turned, I started the first scene on a whim, read it, and got busy with other things. A few days later I picked it up again--and until I read the last page, I never let a day go by without reading more.

What an awesome story. And since the third book in the trilogy is one of my Bethany House reviews coming up, I wanted to start reviewing the series in order, with book one. So here we go, folks. It's Christian fantasy worth a second glance.

The Story
18-year-old Errol Stone lives in the small village of Callowford, the lowest of the low. Soused in the ale barrel every night, his only ambition is to keep food in his stomach and a foamy mug in his hands. He's been a hard drinker ever since he's fourteen, and it's getting to the point where he's drunk even early in the morning--just to forget and keep his pain in check.

When a king's messenger rides through with two urgent messages for a priest Errol knows, Errol offers to deliver it in exchange for money that he needs. In spite of his drunkenness, the messenger has no choice; he's pressed for time, and he leaves the message in Errol's unsteady hands so that he can be on his way.

The messages are ruined before Errol can get them to the priest, Martin, and Martin only knows that one was a summons to a council in Erinon to consult over who is to succeed the dying king. But the other message--the secret one--is forever lost. And thus unleashes a whole stream of events that take Errol from his boyhood home to face his demons--both those inside, and those outside.

An archer dressed in black dogs his steps, trying again and again to kill him. Martin's communion wafers are poisoned, almost killing them. Errol is dragged along to go with Martin and his assistant Luis to the king's council, though Errol hasn't the faintest idea why. He can't read, he can't draw a sword--he can't even go 24 hours without getting sick, unless he has enough ale to satisfy him. But go he must.

And it's all because he has the talent to see letters on a bunch of perfectly smooth, white stones Luis has crafted. He doesn't know what they mean. But somehow his talent is remarkable, and though he'd like nothing better than to spend the rest of his days in the local tavern, Luis, against Martin's better judgment, places a compulsion on Errol to come with them to the city of Erinon. He cannot resist; he only knows that his talents are vital, and he is in the hands of powerful men.

The Church wants him to be their pawn. The dark assassins want his blood. Errol only wants to know where his next drink is coming from.

And then he finds out why his talent is so special, and the power that he has to influence the kingdom's destiny.

My Thoughts
Many authors use unlikely heroes in their tales--Errol's almost the unlikeliest one I've ever read. I don't like characters who get drunk; I always was too embarrassed for them to want to read about it.
But he's a hero well worth liking and rooting for, and his rise to maturity was well written.

I knew I would like him, especially as he grew and matured. I never expected, though, to be convicted by him.

When Errol's trying desperately to get a grip on the drinking habit that's overtaken him, he asks one man "Will it work for me to use [sparring with the staff] to replace the ale?" The man replies, "I don't think so, boy. The ale was never your problem. You need something to fill the hole inside you, and you tried to fill it with ale. But the staff isn't enough to fill that hole either. Deas will show you when the time's right." (Forgive me for not quoting exactly, so as not to give away a key part of the story. Errol's specific hole inside him is fully explained in the text.) 

It never occurred to me that one doesn't have to be a drunkard to hide from problems--you can fill it with music, or movies, or laughter, or books--and sometimes even good things, like Errol's sparring with the staff--but sometimes the hardest thing we can do is not hide from problems and dull the memory of them like Errol did, but to face them and draw them out, and heal the gap. Kevin DeYoung addressed in Crazy Busy that sometimes distractions in our life hide spiritual sickness. Errol's struggle brought that concept to life, and it hit home. Sometimes we embrace distractions because we know we are sick, but we cannot bear to face the cure.

I wonder how many Christians go about, not with ale, but something more respectable in the sight of others. A crutch that produces the same effect of dulling pain and memory and hard relationships, instead of allowing us to face problems, and ask God to fill the emptiness. That was a surprising turn of thought that I never expected to embark on when I picked the book up.

Patrick Carr writes Christian fantasy, and though he's made up his own world, he sticks very closely to the traditional biblical Trinity and Christian religion. Deas is the overall name for the God-figure. I didn't appreciate the loose way some of the characters used Deas' name, because I think a God-figure should be treated with as much reverence in fantasy as our biblical God is in real life. If it's meant to be a representation of our God, then the same rules of reverence should apply. But overall the language is pretty clean. The priests minister in a very Catholic kind of way, though without the purgatory or confession. And one of the most interesting parts of the story, which I'll leave for the book itself to explain, is the division of the church that casts lots to make judgments--a division that Errol himself is pretty deeply connected with.

The only other thing that I didn't like, besides the use of Deas's name in various instances, was the romance element. One of the scenes in chapter 12 was rather inappropriate; I'll be skipping it next time I read it, and it wasn't necessary to the plot. A couple of kisses are exchanged; that in itself would be a matter to raise an eyebrow at and move on, but Errol keeps thinking about them, and he savored them more than I was comfortable with. Several women when he gets to Erinon are flirtatious and bold lasses, and should be sat down in their mothers' kitchens and taught a thing or two about how to appropriately interact with members of the opposite gender.

All in all, I would recommend this book (though for more mature readers due to those elements.) I think the overall story is edifying and worth reading. The heroes are hale and hearty; characterizations are well-drawn, virtue and vice are clearly separated on the whole, and only the good people are characters the reader can sympathize with. The action never lets down and the pacing is about as perfect as you can possibly get.

Luis and Martin are rough, jolly priests of the Robin Hood sort, with a surprising bit of compassion in them as well. Their crusty warrior guard, Cruk, is a good old warrior. And Liam, the young man also wanted by the Church, who can do everything perfectly (don't blame it on him; he can't help it) is the perfect counterbalance to Errol's clumsy ignorance.

All the men in the little company travelling from Callowford to Erinon are excellent characters, though Errol by far had my highest sympathies, and that's probably a first with a man of his type. Normally I don't like ale-soused sinners--but his journey to manhood was well-written, and I had pity on his weaknesses, hoped desperately that he would grow out of them, and cheered for every victory and growth of character as he faced and overcame.

Patrick Carr's book is a fantasy worth checking out. Errol's character arc and journey is tight and crisply written, suspenseful, and thoughtful all in one. I enjoyed every moment of it (except for the kissing scenes) and I would highly recommend it for 16 and up. Best of all, book 1 is free on Amazon. As far as I know, it's been free for quite a while. But in case it isn't forever, head on over and grab a copy, so you can stock up to peruse it when you get the chance. A Cast of Stones ends on a cliffhanger; fortunately book 2 is already available, and book 3 releases very soon--Stay tuned, and I'll let you know how this series turns out over the coming weeks!

Lady Bibliophile

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Crazy Busy

Last year had some of the best times I've experienced thus far. Some of the most challenging times as well. I find that God gives great blessings to help balance out great struggles, and that certainly proved true in 2013. We took trips from Washington to Tennessee, I led a girl's Bible study every other week and attended my brother's once a week. I kept up the blog here, and did an extensive rewrite of a rather large novel. And I kept up with various family events, correspondence, and writing activities. Out of five conferences I attended, I helped with the behind-the-scenes work of four of them. It was a constant swing from high to low, with very little middle ground, and though I'm rather like Anne Shirley and think that the flying is worth the fall at the end, I won't deny that these past few weeks I've taken a break on my flying policy. My only wish for the present is to keep my feet firmly planted on the ground.

It was very busy. Just like your year probably was. And the more I talk to people, the more I find that I'm only one in a large crowd of Christians wondering how to have a proper balance between work and rest.

A couple of months ago I wrote my own article on the subject, but that only scratched the surface of the matter. I wanted a book on it desperately. Not a book that taught me how to be more efficient, or to cram more into my schedule--but a book that addressed the theology and mindsets behind being busy, and what proper levels of busyness are.

Rather ironic that what I was looking for should release towards the end of the year, when my busyness was almost over. :)

Kevin DeYoung released Crazy Busy: A (Mercifully) Short Book about a (Really) Big Problem just before his Sola 13 conference, and for once in my life, I bought a brand-new copy shortly after its release. It was the last book I read in 2013.

So far, it's had an impact.

Little changes. Easy to make in post-holiday rest, and maybe they'll last, and maybe they'll not. But if you're feeling crazy busy, like a car without brakes just waiting to crash, maybe this book will be helpful to you. It was helpful to me, and our whole family is reading it aloud together, with only two chapters left to go. Kevin brings refreshing humor and Biblical theology to an issue that very few pastors have addressed--probably because very few have the time.

I can't think of a better author to present on this issue. With very aspect DeYoung brought up, he pinpointed widely relevant problems, and offered not condemnation, but encouragement, and release, and a return to sanity in a discussion of what a fruitful use of our time looks like.

The Book
My life is crazy busy. I don't say that as a boast or a brag. I'm not trying to win any contest. I'm just stating the facts. Or at least describing the way my life feels almost every single day. How did I get this way? How did you get this way? How did we all get this way?...I do not write this book as one who has reached the summit and now bends over to throw the rope down to everyone else. More like the guy with a toehold three feet off the ground, looking for my next grip. I'm writing this book not because I know more than others but because I want to know more than I do. I want to know why life feels the way it does, why our world is the way it is, why I am the way I am. And I want to change.
I hope you'll find a few ways to tackle your schedule, several suggestions for reclaiming your sanity, and a lot of encouragement to remember your soul.
All of which is to say, I hope you find in reading this book exactly what I'm looking for in writing it.
~Crazy Busy, Chapter 1

My Thoughts
One thing I like about Kevin's books (and it may be ego-stroking instead of earth-shatteringly biblical) but he confirms a lot of theories I've developed over the years about holiness, busyness, and relationships that I held to for a long time. He's a kindred spirit in the way he thinks, and our family enjoys his sense of humor and his style of approach.
As soon as we started reading it aloud, the first chapter sparked a long discussion. Several chapters in particular caused us to wax eloquent, not only the first one, but also the chapters on children and on technology, which are common issues for many families. So far it's been a blessing to share as a family, because then we can all hear it and apply it together, instead of one or two people trying desperately to make their life less crazy when the rest of the family has no idea why. I'm glad we read Why Christ Came so that in turn led into the reading of this book.

It's really hard to chose a favorite topic out of several that were covered in Crazy Busy. But, though every chapter was relevant and extremely helpful, I suppose I could narrow it down to two that I particularly needed:

-You are Trying to Do What God Does Not Intend You to Do
If you've ever felt guilt for not praying daily over everybody's needs, taking on every deserving cause, and attending every Christian activity you possibly could, then this is the perfect chapter. Kevin points out that God doesn't call us to give our whole hearts and schedules to every needy cause. God calls us to specific things, not to everything. And not every request for ministry needs to be accepted.

-You'd Better Rest Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself
I already knew this concept before Kevin brought it up. Quite well. Intellectual assent doesn't always mean it's easy to carry something out, though, and it's easy to say to someone "You work too hard," but it's less common to hear "you should take a break". Giving permission to rest is almost as essential, if not more so, than pointing out a problem, and that's what Kevin does. He explains rest to be not only vital for our minds and bodies, but a spiritual duty, in many cases more spiritually beneficial than staying up all night to pray. In other words: rest is a good thing. And it's important that we take it. The Lord will take care of the needs of the world even when we're not there to attend to them personally.

Other topics Kevin addressed were technology (don't get scared; he has a profile on almost every social media outlet) busyness from pride, how to be less busy with your children, and surprisingly, why Christians should be busy after all.

It was an excellent read. Short just like he promised, but every sentence counted, and it didn't need to be long. Kevin combines grace and teaching, humor and help, in a happy balance. It's not a list of how to more efficiently manage our schedules, but a call to go about busyness with the right heart attitude. And if we have the right heart attitude, then some of the busyness will dissipate, and we'll be left with only the good and the best.

Since reading this book, I still have many of the same events that I had before reading it, though the events aren't quite as crazy due to a January lull. But I'm reading more books again, for one thing, and though the changes aren't startling, I know they're there. And it's hard. It's hard not to run at 110%, because I've taught myself that that's the only legitimate productivity. It takes time to shift and heal when you've been running too hard, but it's worth it and very important.

Perhaps that will be another theme for 2014. I don't know what the year holds: it may be even crazier and busier than last year was. But the Lord has that all in His hands, and I only pray that the busyness will be fruitful service, and building His house (Psalm 127:1).

Do you feel too busy, like your life is out of control? Then I highly recommend Crazy Busy, by Kevin DeYoung. It's not long, it's powerful, and it holds many of the key concepts we need to get a grip on our schedules in a God-honoring and biblical way.

Lady Bibliophile

Friday, January 10, 2014

Cloak of the Light, by Chuck Black

Some posts on this blog really, really excite me.

Today's is one of them. On a level with the day I first posted about Lord or the Rings, or the day when I could spout off about the Silmarillion, or the day when I answered my first blog tag. Because today I get to review Cloak of the Light, by Chuck Black.

One frosty night the Friday after Christmas, it arrived on our doorstep: my very first book with "Advance Reader Copy" stamped all over it. I was geeked. That's the only word to perfectly express my feelings. Chuck Black, the author of the Kingdom series and Knights of Arrethtrae,  has returned to the literary world with his first installment in a new series, Wars of the Realm. This book is like nothing he's ever written before. It's grittier. The action's even better. The themes are deeper. And I think it has even more practical application in the life of a Christian. It caused me to view spiritual warfare in a whole new way.

It releases on March 18th, just a few weeks away, and I highly recommend purchasing it.

The Story
Drew Carter hasn't had it easy. His father, a military man, died when he was only twelve, and he and his mom have moved about ever since while she tries to keep work that will support them. The only good things Drew has going for him is his talent for football and his dad's Special Forces friend Jake. But Jake can't be around all the time, and Drew had to stop playing for his favorite football team when his mom transferred to a new job. The tough crowd of boys at the new school he's attending really don't want anything to do with him.

Drew manages to carve out a life for himself in spite of his difficulties. He gets a good place on the football team, which erupts the school food chain, and sticks up for a geeky nerd named Benjamin Berg, who turns into a pretty good friend--even if he does believe in aliens. Everything's poised for success until a tragic accident occurs, and Drew's life falls apart yet again.

But he keeps going and keeps pushing, partly through Benjamin's help and partly from 30 second dates with a nice girl named Sidney Carlyle. Drew makes it all the way to college, in fact, and is just pulling himself out of his difficulties again when Ben asks for his help with a strange experiment his professor's conducting that supposedly broke through to a new dimension.

Ben pulls the levers and Drew looks through the lens. But just as he sees what he's supposed to see, the machine explodes, and he gets a face-full of burning hot plasma that turns him blind.

And then Benjamin Berg disappears.

Fortunately for Drew, his sight gradually comes back. Gradually, he finds that he has the power to see not only the regular world, but also the shadowy images that he saw through the light-accelerator machine. What he sees puts him in danger. And not only him--but also the entire, unsuspecting world.

My Thoughts
I had a bunch of conflicting emotions when I picked up this book. Excitement that it was in my queue of books to select at Waterbrook Multnomah was a very strong one. :) Chuck Black is a dad who likes to write good, biblical stories without some of the more questionable elements often included in fiction, so I was sure I could trust him. But 'other dimensions' sounded a little weird, and an atheist main character and the ever-present beer party gone wrong almost turned me off before I began. I'd read enough of that in pop Christian teen fiction, and I really didn't want Black to follow in those footsteps. First impressions and I have never been reliable friends, however, so I gave it a good chance, and gradually my misgivings melted away to great excitement at the spiritual teaching Black achieved, simply by telling a good story. This book--this is Christian storytelling as it should be.

When the light-accelerated dimension showed up, I was impressed. This is no pop culture teen story. It's relevant to modern teens, yes, and includes many of the elements that would attract them. But it's a grand allegory of spiritual warfare, set in our times, and it brings 'we war not against flesh and blood' to a whole new level of understanding.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. ~Ephesians 6:12. 

Drew Carter can see the world of angel and demon warfare, and Chuck captures the imagery of angels and demons fighting in a crisp, clean, modern way. The fighting isn't just there for pop and flash effects--it drives home to the reader that we are in a spiritual war, and our war expands beyond the dimension we can see to a dimension we cannot see. Intellectually, I've always known this, but Chuck's book put flesh to the theory, and now, through his story, spiritual warfare came alive to me.

Sometimes it came alive a little too well, in fact. This is a mature story that I would recommend for ages 15 up. There aren't inappropriate details, but the spiritual warfare is quite heavy, and during a school shooting, I was so absorbed, and even afraid, that I wish Black had toned it down a bit. I'm used to exciting things and tense scenes--he just hit his theme of angels and demons warring against each other so well, that I almost wasn't sure if I could handle the rest of the book.

I did, though, and I'm very glad I didn't stop.

Black's writing has improved greatly since his first books. His characterizations are life-like, the little details he adds in enhance the story greatly, and he's incorporating a variety of characters--those who make good choices, and those who make bad ones, and where that takes them. Black is honest with the religious beliefs of different characters, which I also liked. The goal of Christian fiction should be to preach a Christian message, but in an engaging way, and he does so. In fact, one sign he did well was that I liked a story when the main character was so unrelatable to me--there's not much more of a polar opposite than a public school football player and a homeschool bibliophile. But I was riveted to Drew's perspective, his problems, and his adventures, hoping that he would come to see the truth, and genuinely concerned for his spiritual well-being.

For those who have already read Chuck Black, Cloak of the Light is not set in Arrethtrae or connected with his other books in any way. It's a completely new story, set in modern times and the real world. Black's gritty action, faithful storytelling, and sound biblical parallels were very enjoyable, and I give Cloak of the Light five stars.

I hope Book 2 releases very soon. :)

Check it out, folks! March 18th is the release date. If you've heard of Chuck Black before this, you can count on another good story, and if you haven't, this is a good book to try out for a first acquaintance with his teen fiction.

I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this  review. All opinions are my own, and are honestly given.

Lady Bibliophile

P.S. Check out Chuck Black's website, more about Cloak of the Light, and his author bio with the handy links Waterbrook Multnomah provided!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Why Christ Came

Christmas, for a lot of people, is far from a season of peace on earth, goodwill towards men. Trying to find the perfect gift for each person, stay reasonably healthy through all the parties, and get through with a semblance of jollity is the main goal for the majority of people celebrating. And certainly all those things are part of the season, and they always will be. But a lot of people wonder what the point of Christmas is anymore, and overall, the general impression of this holiday is a rather jaded one.

Part of this is because we're focused on the wrong thing--Christmas rather than Christ. But this too brings up a sore spot in the Church population at large. How are we to focus on Christ when we have so many distractions? After all, who's kidding who? We read the Christmas story a few times and try to pay attention, but it's not easy keeping Christ at the center of the Christmas season when there's good food and exciting gifts and tons of activities to prepare for. In all the years I've been celebrating (and I'm not all that old) it's always a busy time, and I generally end the holidays with a feeling of guilt for not being more Christ-focused.

But this year was different. This year Christ was the center focus of our Christmas season, and though we had just as many parties and events to prepare for, (which are fun too, I might add) every day from the beginning of December to the end we took a few minutes to focus on why Christ came to earth. And I ended the Christmas season, for one of the first times I can remember, feeling fully spiritually nourished, as well as surfeited with all the normal joys of the season.

My mother found the book that we all read together to put this special focus in our holidays. It's a new release, just in 2013, and it's entitled Why Christ Came, by Joel Beeke and William Boekestein. Though Christmas is over, I want to review it while it is fresh in my memory. It's worth getting any time of year, but it added the perfect touch to the Christmas holidays.

And this is speaking from our family, who hasn't sat down to read a book all together in the evenings for years.

The Book (synopsis from back cover copy)
When thinking about Christ’s birth, we often focus our attention on Luke’s detailed gospel account. But to appreciate the main point of the story—that the eternal Son of God assumed our flesh-and-blood human nature—we need to learn from the rest of the Bible why Christ came to earth. Why did Christ come? In this book, thirty-one thoughtful meditations answer this vital question, and the answers encourage us to celebrate Christ’s birth more deeply, see more clearly how it is connected with the rest of His ministry, and recognize its importance for our lives.

My Thoughts
Every devotion was rich with Scripture references, quotes from the psalter, and quotes from church fathers. W purposed from the beginning to look up the suggested Scripture references in parentheses, and I highly recommend doing so, because there's nothing like seeing a principle clearly set forth in the Bible. Plus, it's a good way to involve the whole family in the learning process, and it keeps everyone paying attention for when their verse is called.

Most times.

There were so many good reasons why Christ came. I think the main reason I took away from this book is that Christ came to glorify God, and to receive worship. He didn't just become a man to "hang out" with us while he was on earth. 'Sympathizing with our weaknesses' doesn't diminish the fact that he is the Son of God. He came to reconcile our sin with God's holiness, not just to offer a quick patch to hide it from God's sight. It was a deep and anguished sacrifice to reconcile us with our righteous Heavenly Father, and what a joy that it broke the chains that bound us, and we take this time of year to celebrate that freedom.

Other favorite devotions were 'To Bind up Broken Hearts' and 'To Satisfy Our Deepest Thirst.' No matter what I was going through on each particular day, the devotions always ministered, and always seemed to hit exactly what I needed to hear. They were meaty, yet not long, and even young children could probably sit through them.

As the December days slipped by, my anticipation built up for what could possibly be the topic on Christmas day. I made sure not to look ahead, and when it came to December 25th, as soon as my dad read the title, it took my breath away. 'To Reign as King'--what a beautiful, absolutely fitting focus for Christmas day, and what a triumphant and joyful way to start out Christmas morning. We started the day with our reading, and the rest of the day felt like a special holiday of worship and rest, almost like Sunday--with Christ at the focus of it all.

But the book doesn't end at Christmas day, unlike most Advent programs. Why Christ Came goes for 31 days. On New Year's Eve, after having a wonderful time with guests, we had twenty-five minutes left in 2013 to finish our book. We finished it with two minutes to spare. And what a very fitting way to end a year. It was a perfect finish to a beautiful new journey.

Just because we read this book doesn't make us some perfect family who can somehow pull off Christmas Like Jesus Would Celebrate It. Quite the contrary, it simply helped one very imperfect family set aside our busy distractions for twenty minutes each day and focus on Christ. Not a long time, but it was enough. And after it was over, we still had gifts to wrap and movies to watch, and too much chocolate to eat. But those twenty minutes a day shed grace on the season, and put the center on Christ so that we could reflect on Him as we went about our other activities. It was the first year I felt connected to Christ in the season that should be all about him. And that's why I'm passing it on now through today's review, because it was such a blessing, and so needed, in our family.

Why Christ Came can be used for more than Christmas. It would be very fitting for Easter, or if you don't celebrate traditional church holidays, it doesn't really mention any holidays in the devotions themselves, and would be perfect at any time of year. You could read it in January or July just as well as December.

This book had other beneficial side effects for us after the Christmas season ended. It was so universally enjoyed that we're now reading another book as a family--Crazy Busy, by Kevin DeYoung, which will be an upcoming review sometime next week. While we've done family devotions together before, reading a book aloud in the evenings is new, and it's been a blessing to read all together. So one good habit led into another, and I give Why Christ Came, by Joel Beeke, five stars, and highly encourage you to pick up a copy. It's only $5 on Kindle, $10 in print. Or if you act now, you can get the print copy for $5 through Reformation Heritage bookstore.

Worth the price, and a wonderful and worshipful way to put Jesus Christ as the center of your day and expand your knowledge of why he came to earth. It blessed our family's holiday season, and I hope it can be a blessing to some of you as well. :)

Lady Bibliophile

Friday, January 3, 2014

2 Years of My Lady Bibliophile

Two years ago yesterday I launched this blog My Lady Bibliophile. What an adventure it has been--lively discussions, loving books together, making new friends, meeting people from different countries, and having a place to think through what I'm reading. This blog has forced me to evaluate, kept me accountable, and given me much delight, as well as a good place to exercise my writing skills.

You all are so fun to share books with, and I've been greatly encouraged by our interactions together. Thank-you very much, and I hope you'll stick around this coming year for more book reviews and further articles. I'm greatly looking forward to this next year and what it will hold.

While I was on a blogging break I had the opportunity to read a few books, and I have three new books, all published in 2013, that I'm looking forward to reviewing in the coming days. It was good time to refresh and recharge, and I'm ready to get back at it and keep posting the reviews! I hope you all had as blessed a holiday season as I did. It was a good time of celebration with family and friends, and we had lots of laughs, moments of reflection, and time to read.

Here now is my 2013 book list! For your convenience, you can find my reviews of many of the titles on my 'Book Reviews' tab. They're indexed alphabetically by the author's last name.

2013 Book List

1. The Rose Rent, by Ellis Peters
2. The Hermit of Eyton Forest, by Ellis Peters
3. Damsels in Distress, by Martha Peace
4. The Daughter of Time, by Josephine Tey
5. The Hole in Our Holiness, by Kevin DeYoung
6. Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen
7. Not Recommended
8. Twice Freed, by Patricia M. St. John
9. Chasing Jupiter, by Rachel Coker
10. Christ Above All, by Daniel Shayesteh
11. Reasons for Belief, by Norm Geisler
12. Humble Orthodoxy, by Joshua Harris
13. A Lost Pearle, by Mrs. Georgie Sheldon
14. The Silmarillion, by J.R.R. Tolkien
15. Dreamlander, by K.M. Weiland
16. The Shadow Things, by Abigail Hartman
17. The Holy Thief, by Ellis Peters
18. A Morbid Taste for Bones, by Ellis Peters
19. One Corpse Too Many, by Ellis Peters
20. Monk's Hood, by Ellis Peters
21. The Man in the Queue, by Josephine Tey
22. Stopping Words that Hurt, by Michael Sedler
23. Tales of the Long Bow, by G.K. Chesterton
24. What Every Christian Needs to Know About the Qur'an, by James R. White
25. Fellowship of the Ring, by J.R.R. Tolkien
26. 7 Men and the Secret of Their Greatness, by Eric Metaxas
27. Strait of Hormuz, by Davis Bunn
28. A Clearing in the Wild, by Jane Kirkpatrick
29. A Tendering in the Storm, by Jane Kirkpatrick
30. A Mending at the Edge, by Jane Kirkpatrick
31. Brothers At Arms, by John J. Horn
32. Cloak of the Light, by Chuck Black
33. Crazy Busy, by Kevin DeYoung

-completed half of The Complete Sherlock Holmes
-completed Book 1 of The Fairie Queene, by Edmund Spenser

Yesterday I was discussing my list with a friend, and I was shocked to realize that only two books-- Fellowship of the Ring and Pride and Prejudice--were re-reads. 31 new books. That has to be a record, and what a blessing to discover several new friends. Aside from the Jane Kirkpatricks, every book was worth running through, and though some I might not read again, I was quite shocked and pleased by the number of new ones.

I did learn one thing that I'd like to apply next year, though. I put off a lot of books I especially wanted to read because I was reading many of the titles for official reviews. While many of the books were profitable, reading time is limited, and by the end of the year I decided that next year I want to prioritize a little better between good and best--in other words, leave some of the nominally enjoyable ones so I can read books I absolutely love. When you're reading something you have been greatly excited about and can't wait to run through, it feeds deeper and encourages more than something you picked up out of passing interest. Therefore, I'm hoping to read Unfinished Tales by Tolkien, I have a Rosemary Sutcliff on hold at the library right now, and Oliver Twist and Our Mutual Friend are definitely on the priority list, as well as a re-read of Joyfully at Home.

My theme for 2014, Lord-willing, will be choosing the very best. New classics and favorite re-reads, but ones that really matter, and ones I've been wanting to read for a very long time.

And now, I've looked over my list and selected my favorites in three categories: Top Fiction, Top Nonfiction, and Author of the Year. :)

Top Fiction of 2013

The Silmarillion, by J.R.R. Tolkien. That was easy. Tolkien crafted his world so carefully, and deeply, and it's almost grander than Lord of the Rings, though not quite so happy.

Top Nonfiction of 2013

Humble Orthodoxy, by Joshua Harris

Nonfiction was a little harder to choose, and Eric Metaxas almost edged out for first place, but in the end I chose this one, because it's applicable to a lot of people I know right now. Though a little book, it packs a powerful punch, and Harris's explanation of how to be on fire with your beliefs while humble in your approach is definitely a book worth reading.

Author of the Year

Kevin DeYoung. With his stellar books The Hole in Our Holiness, and Crazy Busy (upcoming review on the latter in the near future!) I was spiritually fed and greatly impressed with my first introduction to this author. They've changed me the most out of the nonfiction books I've read, and Crazy Busy especially will have an impact on the way I work next year, Lord-willing. DeYoung is biblically sound, refreshingly real, and quite funny, and he was my favorite author this year.

So that's a re-cap of 2013! As I said earlier, I have a few exciting book reviews coming up, and I'm greatly looking forward to them. :) Next year I'd like to do a series analyzing the different types of heroes in stories. I have a few tags lined up to space out throughout the year, and then of course I hope to be reviewing The Fairie Queene as soon as I finish it.

But I would love to hear your feedback. Are there any book reviews you'd like to see on the blog this year? If you have title suggestions I will definitely take them into consideration, though I can't make firm promises. And if you have article topics you'd like to see here in the coming year, I would love to hear those ideas as well!

Thank-you so much for the investment you all put into reading my little corner of the web. It's encouraging to fellowship with all of you, and I pray for this next year that we would have good discussion, that the books we read will build us up in our knowledge of Christ, and that we may take every page we read captive to His glory.

It's exciting to think about a brand new year. And I can't wait to see what the Lord has planned for it.

Lady Bibliophile
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