Book Reviews of 2017

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  • What books are you reading or have read since January 1st, and what can you say about them?

    Currently I am working my way through the FableHaven series by Brandon Mull, about pre-teen and early teen brother and sister who discover that their grandparents are caretakers of a magical preserves, a haven for things like fairies giant cows, (the light creatures) witches and demons (dark creatures) to name only a mite.

    On a more intellectual note I am also reading A Noble Treason by Richard Hansen about a group of students who used their words to revolt against Adolf Hitler.

    So since I have more recently finished the third book in the FableHaven series, I’ll start with the fantastical (I believe a phrase coined by N.D.Wilson?).

    Saturday night at about 11:50pm(ish), I finished the third book in the Fablehaven series (written by Brandon Mull) Grip of the Shadow Plague, and was compelled to then secure an envelop in the book with a note with my first impression of the book at 11:55pm.

    Below is what I would have written if I wasn’t trying to be quick.

    Grip of the Shadow Plague (GotSP), was the turning point for me in the FableHaven series.

    The first two books were, in my opion, more on the “childish” side, I thought, as Kendra & Seth (K&S) were just starting to learning the truth of grandparents and their home, the truth of Fableheaven with its faires, giant cow with magical milk, witches, and demons to only name a few.  K&S had not known about the magical preserves or what was holding them, and I think the first two focused more on them learning the rules, the whys and the hows, along with the consequences that went along with them.

    Yet then GotSP came along and I realized what was happening in the first two. It was showing the kids growing up. and this was the first one where the stakes where higher, the consequences more severe, thus their heightened abilities and maturity that was a build up from the first two. This book was exciting. I felt like I could come into the story even more than I did with the first too, which is why it has been compared with Harry Potter in the since that it is a fantasy tale for all ages.

    The prospect of more much more growth in the next 2 are what really excite me about this series, and I cannot wait to see what kind of young adults Kendra&Seth grow up to be!




    2 users thanked author for this post.

    @wonderseeker thank you for starting this thread. I am always eager to hear what other people have read. I track my reading through the Goodreads app.  If any of you use Goodreads, I would love to know so I can follow you there. Here is my 2017 so far:

    1) The Attentive Life by Leighton Ford. I began the year with this book because my word of the year is “presence.” I want to be present to the movement of God in my everyday life, present to the people in my life, present to beauty, etc. Ford writes about how to stay attentive through the rhythms of life.

    2) Amazing Grace by Kathleen Norris. Norris is a captivating writer and communicator. I don’t agree with all of her viewpoints, but she communicates with clarity and beauty.

    3) Knowing Christ Today by Dallas Willard. In 2016, I was on a bit of a Dallas Willard kick. Knowing Christ Today deals with moral knowledge and was a good book, though not my favorite from Willard.

    4) Molehill, Volume 1. What can I say? I loved this anthology. I read volume 4 late last year and quickly purchased the other three. @andrew included a poem entitled “Paying Attention” that spoke directly to my word of the year, “presence.”

    5) The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse by Johnson and Vanvonderen. I was asked to read this by a friend.

    6) Distracted by Maggie Jackson. Again, in my quest to become more present in 2017, I read Jackson’s book, which explores what happens to our capacity for attention and sustained attention in a world in which we are bombarded by so much media. She is a very good communicator, yet interestingly, I reflected on my own distraction as I read it.

    7) God in the Dock by CS Lewis. This was the first time I had read God in the Dock and I loved it. Lewis’s friend Walter Hooper assembled a series of his essays and letters that dealt broadly with morality and ethics. His essay, meditation in a toolshed, finds a home here. If you haven’t read it, you should.

    8) The ESV Reader’s Bible–Pentateuch. Last year for my birthday, I bought the 6 volume, ESV Reader’s Bible from Crossway. Crossway’s goal was, in part, to restore the pleasure of reading to Scripture. It contains no chapter or verse numbers, a large pleasant font, and thick paper. It is indeed a pleasure.

    9) The Poetry Home Repair Manual by Ted Kooser. I like to read poetry and I love to write poetry, but I have a desire to become better at it. Last year, I read Mary Oliver’s excellent Poetry Handbook, but I liked Kooser’s down to earth style and advice presented here even better. If I were to recommend a book on the how to’s of poetry, this would be it.

    10) Shalom in Psalms by Seif, Blank, and Wilbur. I review books for Baker on occasion and this was the latest. This was an interesting book that presented each of the Psalms in the Tree of Life Version of the Bible, which is associated with the messianic Jewish movement. What I particularly liked about this book was the conversational style and commentary by the three authors, one a D.Min, one a literary editor, and one a musical worship leader.

    11) Bringing it to the Table by Wendell Berry. I like Wendell Berry. A lot. However, this book left me wanting. I didn’t really get into it until the final section when he was talking about food rather than farming.

    12) New and Selected Poems by Mary Oliver. Oliver is an amazing poet. She has a well-attuned capacity for attentiveness to the world around her that shines through in her poems. She had one poem, Farm Country, that was simple and shocking.

    13) Earth & Altar: The Community of Prayer in a Self-Bound Society by Eugene Peterson. Peterson is one of my favorite authors. Every time I read one of his books, I think to myself, that might be my favorite and Earth and Altar was no exception. Written in 1985, Peterson explored modern society, and especially America, and our tendency toward self. He presented 11 different psalms that teach us how to pray for our “unselfing.” If you haven’t read the other Peterson, Eugene, please start. I implore you. He writes with a theologian’s mind, a pastor’s heart, a grandfather’s wisdom, and a poet’s pen. I can nearly guarantee this book will find its way onto my 2017 top 10 list.

    Looking over 2017 so far, I see an unfortunate lack of fiction. I guess that’s something we’ll have to remedy then, isn’t it?

    Love Up
    Love Down
    Love In
    Love Out

    My favorite book that I’ve read this year has been Liturgy of the Ordinary. As someone who grew up outside the liturgical church, I’ve tried so soak up every bit of it that I can in my adulthood. This book was particularly helpful as it poetically laid out practical ways to see liturgy in my daily life.

    I am also reading (but not quite done with) Through His Eyes by Jerram Barrs. It’s a look at the women in the Bible. It is one of the most empowering books on womanhood I have ever read.

    The only fiction book I’ve read this year in Silence. I will need to remedy that soon! I will have to look at the FableHaven series!


    You people read so fast! I can’t do that.

    @dockanz, did you really read all of those so far in 2017? That’s crazy! I can’t even read that much in a year. Granted I read really slow

    I am currently reading through Union with Christ by Rankin Wilbourne. It has been really good so far! Got the recommendation from Sally Lloyd-Jones, she posted the introduction on facebook and it looked amazing and it has been everything I thought it would be. He incorporates the Christians use of imagination to understand the reality of our place in Christ and what that means through metaphor and literary device.

    Also reading through Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard, that one is taking a little longer than I would like. Harder to read at times, it’s something you have to read while sitting down for a while and have time to walk through the woods with her and pay attention. I don’t always have that attention.

    Finally started Wingfeather Tales but only a few pages into it so far.

    Almost finished with Poets and Saints which was a collaborative book that pastor Jamie George wrote to go along with the album that All Sons and Daughters came out with last year. Walks through some of the life of fathers of the Church and Christian thought/poetry/hymns and gaining spiritual insight from their lives.

    @baileyeliza, I started the audiobook for Liturgy of the Ordinary and loved it so I have bought it twice but have given the books away to friends both times so I havn’t had a time to read it! I wanted to read it rather than listen to it so it has my focus more. It was great from what I heard the first few chapters

    You people read so fast! I can’t do that. @dockanz, did you really read all of those so far in 2017? That’s crazy! I can’t even read that much in a year.

    @andytate Yes, I have read those all in 2017. I typically read between 100 and 150 books per year. I will say, however, that one of my personal flaws is that of gluttony, whether food or reading. I consume, and consume, and consume. Too often, I don’t savor. I must constantly remind myself to slow down. I have a post-it note above my reading desk that reads “Stop. Look. Listen.”

    I have found a few things that help me to slow down. First, reading fiction forces me to be more attentive, though I suspect for some, it is the opposite. Second, I love poetry and it invites a meandering approach. This year on Monday through Friday, I am reading a single psalm and writing a poem or prayer about it. It forces me to slow down and reflect. Finally, books like World Enough and Time by Christian McEwan, first brought to my attention by @chrisyokel, remind me to take notice.

    Love Up
    Love Down
    Love In
    Love Out

    I’m on a mystery kick this year–for good reason, it’s research!–and I’ve re-read a lot of Dorothy Sayers and Agatha Christie. I’m digging into the “Golden Age” of mystery fiction and exploring the ways these authors made sense of their worlds through detective stories. I loved hitting Busman’s Honeymoon again (and Gaudy Night, which was the tail end of 2016). I’m about to dive into Murder Must Advertise, as there’s a Close Reads podcast that just went through it which my sister has been recommending. It’s been so long since I read it that I want to re-read to recall the story before I listen to the podcast.

    Outside of mysteries, I started the year with Diana Glyer’s Bandersnatch and loved it. It’s set up my focus for collaborative art-making for the foreseeable future. I want to do it as a book study/book group with an artists community here in Charlotte.


    I typically read between 100 and 150 books per year.

    @dockanz, that is incredible. Are any of them audiobooks? Just curious.

    So far this year I have read:

    Molehill Vol 1 & 2 cover to cover (with lots of savoring)

    Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnets of the Portuguese

    Different, by Sally and Nathan Clarkson  (I cannot express what a gift this book has been to me. Apart from my own mother, Sally is the one woman who has most influenced me as a wife and mother. To know that her story parallels mine even more than I had imagined is absolutely amazing to me and gives me great hope for our family’s future.)

    Should finish North! Or Be Eaten with my husband and our 9-year-old this Sunday afternoon. (This is my second time through the Wingfeather Saga, their first.)

    Jonny Jimison’s Martin and Marco and The River Fox

    The Miracle Man, by John Hendrix  (Sat down to read it with my 3-year-old and ended up staying to look at the pictures long after he’d run away to play. Lovely book.)

    Currently working through Watership Down. I’d heard so much of it around here, figured I should read it. Took me about 100 pages to really get into the story, but I’m hooked now. Feels kinda silly now to admit that I used to think it was about a submarine…

    Listened with my hubby to a few chapters of People of the Second Chance by Mike Foster. It surprised me. I think we may own a hard copy soon so we can go back and highlight a bunch of stuff. 🙂

    Reading through the Jesus Storybook Bible for the zillionth time with our kids in the mornings before school. It never gets old.

    Wow, now that I write it all out, I’m surprised at how much I’ve read this year.

    "I really wasn't a reader, until I started reading." -Mick Donahue

    @dockanz, that is incredible. Are any of them audiobooks? Just curious.  

    No, none of them are audiobooks, though I do tend to listen to a fair number of audiobooks. Currently, I am listening to Eugene Peterson’s The Pastor, which is one of my favorite memoirs, and What to Remember When Waking by poet David Whyte.

    Love Up
    Love Down
    Love In
    Love Out

    @wonderseeker , I have not read A Noble Treason but I’d like too. I’m kind of a geek about WWII resistance groups. I got interested in the White Rose in middle school and found Sophie Scholl’s life and words fascinating. Since they were a nonviolent group of college students (some of them Christians) that resisted fascism through writing, their work really speaks to me as a young Christian writer. Sophie Scholl and the White Rose by Jud Newborn and Annette Dumbach is another good read about them which focuses more on Sophie and her life. It seems well-researched but never dry. There is also a fantastic German film (subtitled in English) called Sophie Scholl: The Final Days, which is a riveting and intense portrayal of her arrest, interrogation, and “trial.” The lead actress, Julia Jentsch, gives a great portrayal. The interrogation scene is my favorite: she’s this young girl sitting across a desk from a high-ranking SS official with a bright light shining in her eyes, and she’s lecturing him about how wrong his worldview is and defending the sanctity of life. She certainly had guts.

    Right now, I just finished Lilith (by G. MacDonald) and don’t really have a clue what to think. I’d appreciate the thoughts of y’all rabbits. (The only definite inference I’ve come up with is that Mara embodies suffering, which is often what God uses to drive us to him. It’s not really good or evil in itself, but he uses it that way. The whole death thing is a little mystifying.)

    I’m enjoying Les Miserables and I’m very near the end. I’ve gotten so invested in the characters that I often put it aside for days when I fear something bad is about to happen to them! The barricade scenes are oddly inspirational; what is it about a bunch of revolutionaries fighting in the streets that seems so…noble? Perhaps it’s the old loyalty to the persecuted and the underdog that I find is pretty much natural to us humans.

    For nonfiction, I’m skipping around in a book of essays called Liberal Arts for the Christian Life, which was sent to me by Wheaton College. (They’re trying to convince me to go to school there. I love the school, but I’m a Florida girl. Will I survive the winters?) Here’s a Milton quote that was at the beginning of the book:

    The end then of learning is to repair the ruins of our first parents by regaining to know God aright, and out of that knowledge to love him, to imitate him, to be like him.

    That really spoke to me. We learn to know him. We know him to love him. We love him to imitate him and be like him.

    That was a long winded reply. But it always is with me. 🙂

    Wow, @wonderseeker. That’s impressive. I have a smaller and less highfalutin’ list, I’m afraid, but here goes (not in any order):

    The Mothers, by Brit Bennet. A book about the consequences that come from the choices you make, and how they echo in not only your life, but in the lives of others. Really appreciated this book because the choice in the book that throws everything up in the air is the choice to have an abortion, and being a pro-life advocate I really liked the way the author handled this. Surprisingly, it is not shown as the positive choice that our culture likes to portray it as, and we see the MC struggling with the ramifications of that choice throughout the book. And I really loved that the author also showed us the struggles the father went through as he mourns the fatherhood and the child he never got to have. Which is certainly NOT something our culture likes to talk about. I also liked that this was portrayed in the midst of a church community, and that the congregation is showed as real people, not cardboard cut-out “good” or “bad” people. This is not a preachy book for either side of the debate, and I really appreciated it. Strong language and some sensuality may turn some off, though, so be warned.

    2) Illusion, by Frank Peretti. I thought this fantasy about a magician who suffers the loss of his wife and by miraculous (or not-so miraculous, as it turns out) means he gets her back. It’s a love story, which I liked, and I liked the concept. But it just got a little creepy at times when the older man (in his 60s) is falling in love with the younger version of his wife (late teens – yeah, too complicated to explain here) and that yuck factor kept me from completely buying in.

    3) Mary Green, by Melanie Kerr. This is a book by a local author (so for me that means a Canadian) and I got it as swag from a writer’s workshop I went to. It’s actually pretty good, a Jane Austen-esque tale set in that same time period and with a heroine who starts off as a orphaned spinster living off the not-too-charitable graces of her relations and who discovers she is heir to a sizeable fortune. It’s well done for the most part, and I enjoyed it.

    4). The Gift: Awakening, by J.P. MacLean. Another Canadian writer, but this one wasn’t very good, I’m afraid. I’m in the midst of editing my own first book and I really wish I had editorial powers over this one. Too much blah blah and not enough action. It’s a fantasy tale about people who have the Gift of flying, which could be fun, but it’s just not executed well. And there are steamy sex scenes which I skipped over. On my blog I’m trying to do a Book Bingo of Canadian sci-fi/fantasy books so I thought this could be one that I review but it’s just not good enough, unfortunately. But it was a good exercise to me as to why editing is so very necessary and it gave me motivation to keep going on my own edits.

    5) Hot Lead, Cold Iron, by Ari Marmell. The other series I am doing on my blog is following Modern Mrs. Darcy’s 2017 Reading Challenge (if you guys don’t follow her What Should I Read Next podcast, you should!), and this was the first book in that list: a book I read because I liked the cover. It’s a Dresden-type book about a Fae living as a private detective in 1930s Chicago, gangsters and all. I adore Harry Dresden, and this one is definitely in that vein, but not quite as good. Mainly because I didn’t really like the magic system – why does a Fae need a magic wand to use his powers, for example? Anyhow if you want to see a more detailed review, see my blog. 😉

    6) Queen of the Tearling, by Erika Johansen. This is the second book I read for the Reading Challenge: a book I was excited to read. I’ve had this on my Kindle for awhile and have heard so many great things about it so I was definitely excited to dive in. Unfortunately, this one was a bust for me. Seems like people either love this one or not, and I’m in the “not”, there’s too many plot holes. The main one being that in the future, after some unnamed catastrophe the surviving humans set sail in a boat and discovered a whole new, heretofore undiscovered continent. Yeah, right. Detailed review of this one is up on my blog, as well. If any of you have read this one and loved it, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

    7) 419, by Will Ferguson. Another Canadian author (got a bit of a theme going here), but this one is a winner. I’m sure you have all received the email from the Nigerian who wants to give you lots of money if you would just pay the small fee attached to the money transfer (or whatever, you know what I’m talking about). This fiction book is about the other side of the equation – those who are running the “419” schemes as they are called there. It takes you into the gritty world of poverty-stricken Nigeria and shows you why people get desperate enough to get roped into doing these frauds, often at the behest of some very nasty people indeed. And it gives the story of one woman whose father commits suicide as a result of falling for one of the schemes and losing all his money, and what she does to try to get the money back, which brings the two sides of the scheme together in an intense climax. It opens your eyes to the desperation people feel who live in places very different than our own. Disturbing content at times, but worth reading, I think. Lots of shades of grey here, and plenty of food for thought. You won’t see those emails in the same light again, guaranteed.

    8) Dark Matter, by Blake Crouch. This is the upcoming book for my 2017 Reading Challenge: an unputdownable book. And yup, this is definitely one of those. A sci-fi thriller. although not too sci-fi, if you know what I mean. It takes place in present day, but the plot is driven by a scientific discovery that throws the main character’s world upside down. The book explores the question of the choices not taken and what differences the little choices we make every day might have on our life. This is twisty and pulse-pounding and full of interesting conjectures and theories about quantum physics that I’m not sure I completely understand but who cares? It also has a great love story at the heart of it. Gives you lots to think about.

    And lest you think I only read fiction, here’s my two non-fiction books I am almost finished reading so I figured I could include them as I only have a chapter or two to go in each:

    9) Raw Spirituality: The Rhythms of the Jesus Life, by Tom Smith. This book is about balancing inward and outward spirituality, encouraging us to develop our inner walk with Jesus through the spiritual disciplines as well as practicing our faith in outward, practical ways. I’m appreciating the call to take my faith out into the world in practical ways, as I am definitely happier in my contemplative practices as opposed to, you know, actually engaging with people. Ack.

    10). Exploring Prayer, by Sue Mayfield. This is a little book, but I really like it. The first half of the book looks at the many aspects of prayer, such as celebration, encounter, penitence, and listening, and the second half explores different ways of praying, such as praying with the imagination, with music, our senses, etc. The chapters are all short, followed by suggested exercises. Many of these are quite outside of the box from what my Baptist church would even consider, but that’s ok. I like the opportunity to explore new ways of praying, and I don’t find anything in the book that makes me uncomfortable, theologically speaking. There’s plenty of full colour pictures and quotes sprinkled throughout. A valuable little resource that has helped me explore prayer in new ways.


    I love you people. Do you use GoodReads? I’m tracking my yearly reads there – so far I’m at 19.

    Goodness’ sake, i am behind! Although since you mention Goodreads, i just went to remind myself what i’ve finished already and my 2017 Reading Challenge tells me i’m ahead of schedule with five whole books finished. Ridiculous, since i’ve barely read at all since the semester started. Currently i’m reading Winter’s Tale (i’m completely loving it, but haven’t made forward progress in a couple of weeks) and a middle grade novella by a lady from our church. Oh, and Wingfeather Tales—i’m reading that for the fourth time, for the Ban Rona Book Club (this week we’re on Pete’s story, if anyone wants to read along).

    Before school started, though, i read The Forgotten Beasts of Eld (holy cow, i bawled on every page), The Bronze Bow (highly recommended by the Rogers sisters), and Watership Down (which i also loved, and which, like Eld, was recommended by Jeffrey Overstreet, my new favorite book-recommender. The first half was a bit slow, but i stayed up late on a school night to finish it). Since school started i have managed two books, one of which was actually for school and thus only sort of counts (Proper Confidence by Lesslie Newbigen). The other one was Henry and the Chalk Dragon, which is my new favorite book ever.

    i love seeing people here reading the first Molehill. It is hands down my favorite.

    @dockanz, thanks for the Mary Oliver recommendation. My amanuensis and i have regularish poetry dates and we’re always looking for new poets. And @andytate, Annie Dillard! i loved Teaching a Stone to Talk and am so looking forward to Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.

    Amy Baik Lee

    Since January 1st I’ve read All the Light We Cannot See (by Anthony Doerr), and I found the writing so unforced and poignant and gorgeous that it made me welcome similes again in my own writing. Afterwards I wanted more of the same style of prose, so I read Four Seasons in Rome by the same author as well. It was different, but immensely encouraging to see how the beginnings of All the Light grew up during a year in Rome, alongside the care and feeding (and not sleeping) of newborn twins.

    Those are the two books I’ve completed so far, if you don’t count the picture books and Farmer Boy and The Secret Garden that I’ve had the pleasure of reading aloud to my children. I’ve currently got The Christian Imagination (ed. Leland Ryken), Buechner’s The Longing for Home, and Elizabeth Goudge’s The Bird in the Tree in my queue, as well as the fruits of one near-miraculous trip to the used bookstore when I found Gilead, The Book of the Dun Cow, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Freckles, and Gift from the Sea waiting to be purchased for a song.

    @mrs-hittle – The first Molehill is on my nightstand, and I love it too. I’ve read many pieces in it, and can’t wait to get all the way through (I keep getting diverted to books that the library needs back!).

    @racheldonahue, your post made me smile, because the titles you mentioned seemed to indicate you’re a kindred spirit. And I agree… reading the Jesus Storybook Bible in the mornings with the little never gets old.

    @carriegBandersnatch was one of the best books I read in 2016. Every time I go back to it (Michael Ward’s audiobook reading is excellent), or hear an excerpt from it, I walk away with something I’d like to put into practice or see played out in current groups, including our own artists’ guild… wish I could be a fly on the wall at your book study gathering. 🙂

    Rachel Donahue

    @sunsteepeddays, I found you on facebook and I’m following you now. Kindred spirits, indeed! Nice to “meet” you. 🙂

    "I really wasn't a reader, until I started reading." -Mick Donahue

    Amy Baik Lee

    @racheldonahue How kind of you to follow that rabbit trail! I’m delighted to see from your comments that we have more in common… 🙂

    @sunsteepeddays, I loved All the Light we Cannot See. Read it last fall 🙂

    Since January 1st, I’ve finished The Twelve and The City of Mirrors (books 2 and 3 in The Passage series), and I gobbled them up. I had to take a break from pleasure reading while mounting a play of my own, but  now I’m making my way through John Grisham’s The Whistler – which so far reads like a novelization of the possibly forthcoming film, which isn’t a critique really… it’s a pretty snappy political page-turner if you’re into that sort of thing.

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