Books I Read in January

Most of my January reading I did in the first half of the month, when I finished up Christmas break at my in-laws and traveled back home, and then when Ben worked a week of serious overtime and I read in the evenings while I waited for him to finish up in the office.

This is the box of books we took with us to my in-laws.  Think I should try the Kindle again?!

The last half of January I’ve been slowly working through For the Love by Jen Hatmaker and Simply Tuesday by Emily Freeman—one book by the rocking chair and the other by the couch, and which I read depends on where I’m parked!  Though I really like both books so far (and they’re incredibly different in style and personality, but both spot on), I’m going to have to wait to review them until February because my progress has been incredibly slow and I’m not done with either yet.

I haven’t been reading as much these last couple weeks because ironically, injuring my foot has meant less time to read and more time hobbling slowly around the house and then sitting down to try to give the kids instruction and entertainment.  And after bedtime when I would usually read, Ben and I have been watching Season 1 of Arrow together (which so far, I would recommend).

So … a little less reading done this month.  But that’s okay because I don’t do reading goals and challenges.  That is too stressful for an over-achiever like me who is all too ready to latch onto lists and check boxes.  I read whimsically and eclectically, for personal enrichment and relaxation and fun.  This month I finished two fiction and two nonfiction books, all very different:

This is the fourth novel I’ve read by JoJo Moyes, and they are basically the chick flicks of my reading—fun and light, great for a vacation or when life is stressful and you just need to kick back and do less deep thinking.

With this book I thought, “Okay, I am onto you and your formula …”  It works and JoJo Moyes has mastered it, and so far each of the books I’ve read by her is a variation on its basic themes.  A wealthy businessman finds himself in a moral dilemma, so you immediately have a sympathetic male protagonist in a gray area.  Meanwhile, he finds himself falling in love with the female protagonist, who is struggling both emotionally and financially because of difficult situations in her past, but who brings to the story a resilience and a fresh perspective that the male protagonist finds unusual and attractive.

Okay, those of you who have read JoJo Moyes, would you agree this is her basic storyline, albeit with many variations and nuances?  Me Before You?  The Girl You Left Behind?  One Plus One?  And now Silver Bay?

What I like about her stories is that even though they are romance novels, they are not sappy or erotic.  They are character driven, and there is always more to the story than the romance itself.  The male and female protagonists always end up in a place where they have grown and made significant decisions.

I almost gave up on Kristin Hannah’s books because I wasn’t impressed with Firefly Lane, but I’m really glad I read this one.  It’s a historical novel shedding light on the French resistance and home front during WWII.  I still feel that Kristin Hannah isn’t the best author I’ve ever read—sometimes her form is pretty obvious, almost like: “The purpose of this paragraph is to describe the idyllic pre-war setting, so here goes.”  (Okay, look at me, such a critic, I can sit on the sidelines and throw tomatoes and know that if I ever wrote a novel myself, it would probably be pathetic.)

I loved how this book focused on women’s experience of the war and the unique challenges and dilemmas they faced.  And speaking of formulas, I’m seeing one in Kristin Hannah’s books, too—her two main characters are both women, either sisters or close friends, who are committed to each other, yet experience conflict because of their different personalities and circumstances.  The story shifts from one viewpoint to the other, contrasting their different experiences and responses, and ultimately the tension in the relationship resolves, often with a bittersweet ending.

This was my favorite novel by Kristin Hannah—very nuanced and enlightening.  I would recommend.

Now for the nonfiction books I read:

My sister saw this on my coffee table and asked, “Planning ahead for David?”  It is true that dating/courtship has absolutely no place in my life right now—praise the Lord that I am past that season and my kids aren’t there yet!  I did want to read this book, though, because of how courtship philosophy impacted my growing up and because I’m not exactly sure how I want to advise my kids in this area.

What I liked about this book—Umstattd did not need to persuade me that courtship (at least understood in its strict definitions) is a failed experiment, because I’ve already seen that as true.  I thought he made a powerful argument for traditional dating.  I appreciated his Christian perspective and his value of marriage.  So there were a lot of great things about the book, and it’s one I would want my kids to read in their teens.  (And it means I wouldn’t flip out if they wanted to go on a date as a teen.  At least I don’t think I would.  I may need to read this again in ten years when I’m hyperventilating about them growing up.)

What I didn’t like—I sometimes found his tone kind of snarky.  He’s a typical recovering home school debater, you might say (not to offend anyone, just saying!).  I also found myself a little skeptical of all his how-to-get-married relationship advice since he’s not married himself.  And though I agreed with a lot of his thesis that traditional dating (as he defines it) makes a lot of sense, I wonder how practical it is.  You can’t change the entire culture around you, and for a single woman to say for instance, “Okay, I’m now totally fine with going on casual dates with good men” does not necessarily mean that a lot of good men are going to start asking her.

For traditional dating to work means that you need to have a community of quality men and women who all embrace it together.  I would like my kids to grow up in a community like that.

I think Umstattd’s best point was this, in a nutshell: don’t let a relationship get too serious too quickly.  Become friends with a lot of people of the opposite gender so that you figure out in a casual setting which type works best for you.

I loved this book and would recommend it to all Christians, and especially to all Christian counselors.  It is written by a pastor and a counselor, and together they tackle the topic of spiritual abuse with a lot of clarity, courage, and grace.  Their definitions and examples are helpful and enlightening as they answer questions like: What is spiritual abuse?  How does it affect people?  Why do people become spiritually abusive?  How do both the abuser and the abused heal?

I felt like this book was so helpful—I felt so understood reading it, like the authors totally got me and completely sympathized with how the Bible can be used to wound and enslave instead of to heal and free as it is intended.  This is definitely a book I am keeping on my shelf as a reference and will return to.

I guess I’ll add one more book while I’m at it:

This is a children’s book I read aloud primarily to David, but Elanor listened in to almost all of it, and we all loved it.  The author gives a strong Christian message of the need for salvation and forgiveness, without being preachy and moralistic.  The setting is beautiful—a Swiss village in the Alps, the characters are realistic, and there is plenty of humor and action.  This is also an excellent story for teaching empathy, as it tracks sympathetically with two major characters both angry at each other.  David and Elanor both stayed engaged, and the story prompted some great discussion.  Our next up read-aloud is Pippi Longstocking, which to say is different would be an understatement!

So that is my very weird combination of books read in January.  How about you?  Pass along any recommendations!


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