what I’ve been reading

What I’ve Been Reading — Summer 2013 Edition

Things have been so quiet here and over at Mrs. Smith Cooks, that one can actually hear the crickets chirping.  Here I am to help correct that! I hope that now that my manuscript has been turned in to the publisher, I can spend some of my writing time here and at MSC!

Though I was disappointed with the volume of books I was able to read this summer (re: above writing project and some other projects this summer) I wanted my first post back to be about what I *did* read because there are a couple of gems in there.  As I did in the Spring Edition, I’ll give my brief review and my “stars” out of five.

The Still Point of the Turning World Emily Rapp – Best book I read this summer by a landslide. This is a mother’s story of the very short life of her son Ronan who was born with Tay-Sachs disease. The book is agonizingly beautiful in its prose and its descriptions of her beautiful boy. The depth of pain in this story is overwhelming at times, as one can only imagine. I recommend this book to anyone, but particularly highlight it for anyone who is a minister, counselor, or just wanting to be a better friend to someone who is losing (or has lost) a child. Ms. Rapp does a fantastic job of explaining what she needed from friends or helping professionals as well as some of the things that were said or done that deeply wounded her. Love this book and give it six stars out of five.

Son of a Preacher Man: My Search for Grace in the Shadows Jay Bakker Somehow, even though the book was written in 2001, I had never heard of it. Furthermore, I never made the connection that Jay Bakker, cool progressive pastor of Revolution Church was the son of Tammy Faye and Jim Bakker. (Guess that he succeeded in making his own path apart from mom and dad, eh?). When I made the connection and learned of the book, I had to read it. I was fascinated by Jay’s story growing up with Tammy Faye and Jim Bakker, and to hear some of the details of his experience. Particularly moving for me (in a sad way) was hearing his sense of isolation and abandonment from Christians who cut him off or otherwise abandoned him throughout the scandal that rocked his family. It’s a wonder he returned to faith at all. A wakeup call for Christians to act like it. I give it 3 stars out of 5. The reason for the ho-hum rating despite the great content is that the writing is, well, ho hum. I recommend it for the content but you won’t find yourself glued to the seat.

Between Parent and Child: The Bestselling Classic That Revolutionized Parent-Child Communication by H Wallace Goddard – Clayton is getting to an age where he is learning how to say “no!” assert his opinion, express his wants and desires. In short, he’s learning to communicate. I was looking for some solid advice about parent/child communication that I could use in the long haul. This book is a classic and recommended by sources I generally trust for parenting advice. Perhaps it’s because I had overly inflated hopes for this book, but I was disappointed in it. (The same thing happens when someone describes a movie as an *amazing* movie. I see it, often and think “eh, it’s fine”). I found it to be mostly common sense (“listen to your child, don’t order her around.”) followed by examples that were painfully redundant. “This is what it means to listen to your child…”) It’s not that the content was bad. (In fact, it was quite good) it was that I was hoping for more. There were select passages where I found myself nodding along or reflecting on what I hope my approach will be in the future, and the book was good reinforcement for some things that I already hope I will put into practice, but it was not life changing. (Perhaps this is because the ideas have spilled over into common theories on parenting? Not sure of the reason, but this was my experience. I give it 3  stars out of 5.

Brim: Creative Overflow in Worship Design by Suzanne Castle and Andra Moran. Awhile ago Chalice Press (the publisher of my upcoming book…. yay!) had a free digital download sale. Did someone say free book? Yes please. I had this book on my list of books to check out and I’m so glad I read it. It’s full of imaginative ideas for worship. The context of your church will determine when these ideas would best be implimented. For my church, I’m planning on rolling some of the ideas out during our quarterly contemplative services. The services have creative prayer stations along with some really fantastic communal liturgies. There is a ton of brilliance in this book. I spent my time thinking “I would go to this service and feel completely at peace and at home.” and then I would turn the page to the next idea and think the same thing. I oohed and ahhed over this book. I give it five stars out of five.

Sustainable Youth Ministry: Why Most Youth Ministry Doesn’t Last and What Your Church Can Do About It by Mark Devries I had this book sitting on my desk for months and picked it up one day when I was needing to clear my head for a few minutes. It was engaging and I felt like it spoke to some of the specific problems our church (and so many churches) face. The problems, Devries suggests, have a lot to do with structural componets (job descriptions, planning calendars, databases, etc) and less to do with well designed programs. Without the structure, the program fails. The book is full of very practical ideas and plans. The book also references a study where youth were asked to list the things they think makes a youth group successful. “Having a Sr. Pastor that likes and understands youth” was ranked at #2, higher than almost anything else on the list. I recommend this one to my youth ministry and ministerial colleagues, highly. Five stars out of Five.

Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture by Ellen Ruppell Shell – Have you ever bought a cheap version of something only to have it break and have to replace it, only to have the replacement break and have to replace that, and then realizing “If I would have bought a quality one of these in the first place…” This is where the book Cheap begins. The book explores the US fascination with cheap goods and the industry created to deliver them. I though the book was interesting and worth reading, but I was bored at times. There is excellent information, however. For me, it led to some thoughtful reflection that will result in action. Three and 1/2 stars out of five.

Children’s Books I’ll end with a couple of children’s books my boys adore, as I did in the last review. We’re still in board book land around here. I’m going to highlight two bilingual editions, because there’s a few important things to highlight about bilingual editions.

 Where Is the Green Sheep? / Donde esta la oveja verde? by Mem Fox and Judy Horacek, translated by Carlos E. Calvo  – The Illustrations on this book are adorable. Brilliant, in fact. It’s a simple, sing songy story about finding the green sheep at the end. Part of the charm of the story, though, is that it rhymes in English. Obviously, when translated, it doesn’t rhyme. It’s not a bad book experience when it doesn’t rhyme (you’re still looking for the green sheep) but it makes less sense as a bilingual book. I think it would have been smarter to publish an English version and a Spanish version, because the resulting bilingual rhymes in one but not another mish mash is less successful, in my opinion. For the book itself 5 stars, for the bilingual edition 3 stars.

Mi Amor Por Ti/My Love for You (Spanish Edition) By contrast, My Love For You is a perfect candidate as a bilingual book. Great illustrations, great simple counting and repetition. I have a lot of love for this book and love to snuggle up with my boys and read it to them. Five stars.

What I’ve Been Reading — Spring 2013 Edition

Between work and home and other endeavors, I don’t read as much as I would like to, but I’m always looking for interesting things to engage my brain and imagination. I’d like to post on what I’ve been reading from time to time. This first edition covers Spring 2013. Hope you enjoy these short reviews complete with my “star rating.”

Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg

I found a lot of useful information about women leaders from this book. It’s well written, backed up by personal anecdotes as well as research, and it’s an easy read.  I was familiar with the author, Sheryl Sandberg, because of her wonderful TED talk. I was not disappointed. I recommend this to everyone, not just professional women. Women who work at home will benefit from this book as well as men who work in and outside the home. I give it four and a half stars.


Proof of Heaven by Eben Alexander

Proof of Heaven by Dr. Eben Alexander – This is the story of a Neurosurgeon who had a near death experience while he was in a coma. I expected to like this book much more than I actually did. I enjoyed hearing about the details of his illness and peering in to what happened for him while he was in the coma, but I was much more interested in hearing how this newfound belief in heaven or an afterlife changed his life, and he talks very little about this in the book. There was also a few details that come up in the end that feel forced to me and more than a little unbelievable. (I’m being deliberately vague because, although it wasn’t my favorite book of the spring, others might still want to read it, and I don’t want to give anything away.)  I give it two and a half stars.


Two Old Women by Velma Wallis

Awhile ago in an online discussion group I am a part of, someone mentioned this book. I was intrigued because the person recommending it mentioned that it was filled with sermon illustration type material and that it was a very quick read. I’m needing books that are quick reads these days. This book could easily be read in an afternoon. It’s the story of, well, two old women, who are left behind by their nomadic tribe in their old age. Will they give up and die alone, or will they fight to survive? It’s a tale of friendship and survival, and it takes the reader to far away places. I give it four and a half stars.


The Racketeer by John Grisham

This is the first John Grisham novel I’ve ever read! I’ve seen a lot of the movies, however, and when I saw this at the library, I checked it out on a whim. I was hooked at the beginning and really curious to find out what happened at the end when it started to take some detours from where I thought it was going. It was tough for me to plod through the middle of the book, however. I started to feel sort of ambivalent toward the main character. I didn’t dislike him, but I wasn’t really rooting for him either. I would recommend this book for beach reading, but I hesitate to be much more enthusiastic than “Eh, it was ok.” I give it three stars.


The Immigrant Advantage by Claudia Kolker

This book takes the reader through various customs immigrants from other countries bring to the US. It shows how these customs lead to greater health and happiness for the groups that practice them. It does not discuss immigration policy or politics. I loved reading about these different customs and cultures and found the book very worthwhile. I give it four stars.


What is God’s Name? by Sandy Eisenberg Sasso

Three things I love about this book

1. The illustrations are amazing

2. The story and theology are profound, yet very simple for even a small child to grasp.

3. The author reminds parents in the front cover: “… each child develops an image of God by age five with or without religious instruction.”

I highly recommend  this one. Five stars.


Llama Llama Nighty-Night  by Anna Dewdney

 This book is amazingly charming. It has a special place in my heart because Clayton is learning to talk and repeat things and he says “wwaaaaaama waaaama niiiight niiiiiight” which is heart-meltingly adorable, but I love the simple rhyme and the illustration. I will be looking for Llama Llama Misses Mama next time I’m at the library!

That’s it for now… what did you read this Spring?

Disclosure: Links on this page are affiliate links through the Amazon Associates program.