Review: Sparkle and Change Bible

I still remember my first “real” Bible. It was a Precious Moments illustrated version, either with a white or pink cover. I loved having what felt like a grown-up Bible. The only downside was that the translation was the New King James Version and as a young reader, it was hard to connect with this language.

In this past year, Bea has become an avid and independent reader. Not only can she read the words in her favorite chapter books but she understands the story and themes. I’d been wanting to find a new Bible that would better fit her reading level but was having trouble finding a kid-friendly cover that wasn’t the New King James Version.

Enter: The Sequin Sparkle and Change Bible not only is the cover that fun “mermaid sequin” that is on everything but the translation is the International Children’s Bible – specifically translated with young readers in mind. I love that it isn’t a paraphrase but the actual Bible, just in language that is slightly simpler. In fact, at first glance through some of my favorite verses, I had trouble distinguishing the differences between “adult” translations.

But my 6-year-old notices the difference! She loves reading the verses, especially those highlighted for memorization. We’ve had the Bible just over a week and the pages are already dogeared. She sleeps with it at night at reads it first thing in the morning.

I love that this translation is building her confidence as a reader and in turn, building a love for reading the Bible. If you have a young, independent reader in your life, I’d highly recommend this translation!

Do you have any favorite Bibles for young readers?

I received this book free from the publisher via BookLook Bloggers in exchange for my honest opinion. Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post. If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site. 

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Review: The Ministry of Ordinary Places by Shannan Martin

One of the best things I’ve learned in the past six years of staying home is that glory is found in the ordinary. Maybe it’s that I became a mom at a time when we were busy rediscovering what Madeleine L’Engle and Kathleen Norris had found the generation before: That our deepest connection to spirituality happens in the small, quotidian spaces of our very ordinary lives. We encounter God in the rhythms of folding laundry, planning meals, and leaning into the tiredness of early motherhood.

In The Ministry of Ordinary Places, Shannan Martin adds her own observations to this practice of remembering that loving our neighbor means stepping out onto our front porch. That God’s goodness is found in taco meals and walking to school.

While I was reading The Ministry of Ordinary Places, I found myself nodding along and connecting with Martin’s story. We don’t interact with folks coming out of incarceration and addiction but we do interact with our very ordinary neighbors. Martin does a good job of bringing her reader into the story, regardless of the similarities. I appreciate that I could connect even though the details may look different.

But when I put the book down, I’d easily forget about it. The lessons and takeaways just didn’t stay with me. I have a feeling this is a case of “it’s not you, it’s me.” Some books come to us at exactly the right time and this can make the most ordinary of books life-changing. Because so many of my peers have written about the ordinary spaces of life, I’ve immersed myself in this thinking. This was a good book but Martin didn’t push my thinking or make me respond with any life altering epiphanies.

I think this is fine. Some books are good in-the-moment reads. Not all books should be life-changing. (That would be exhausting!) If you’re looking for a good reminder of living a neighborly life, I’d recommend The Ministry of Ordinary Places. The very ordinariness of this book is what gives it strength.

What books have helped you remember your ordinary place? How do you connect with the everyday moments of life?

I received this book free from the publisher via BookLook Bloggers in exchange for my honest opinion. Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post. If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site. 

Favorite Fiction for Fall

My goal this year was to read more fiction. (I feel like this is a perpetual goal…) I love reading good fiction because it expands my worldview, makes me think about people and places I don’t normally interact with, and can dig into topics and issues in creative ways that is often difficult for an essay or nonfiction format.

FavoriteI just scrolled through my Goodreads shelf and tallied up 17 fiction books so far! I’m impressed with myself and would say I’m doing pretty well with this goal. With the school year underway and autumn just around the corner, I thought I’d share some fiction reads that will get you thinking about deep topics but with a compelling narrative.

(These are just five of my favorites. For a more comprehensive list, check out my Goodreads shelves or let’s connect on Instagram, where I often share my current reads.)

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward
Jesmyn Ward is a masterful storyteller. I read both Salvage the Bones and Sing, Unburied, Sing this year and they both count as favorite reads. Salvage the Bones is the story of a family in the days before Hurricane Katrina. This intense novel tackles family, poverty, and the systemic structures that impact families who are more at risk when natural disasters strike. I was drawn into Esch’s story and felt that Ward handled teen pregnancy and all its complexities well.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
I found this novel to be an excellent follow-up to discussions around America’s industrial prison complex. Books like Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson have brought a lot of the injustices around incarceration to light and Jones is able to take the reality of those injustices and dive into them through this novel. The story follows Celestial and Roy, newlyweds who are separated within the early years of their marriage by a false conviction. The book dives into the reality of being separated, of how prison changes a person, and the pervasive injustice people of color experience in the court system.

Untitled designEtta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper
I read this book after a string of intense reads (see the novels above!) This magical story of three childhood friends in Saskatchewan was exactly what I needed. The plot toggles between present-day and World War II. I don’t want to give too much away, but keep in mind this genre is magical realism. Hooper uses magical twists in the plot that enrich the entire story but if you’re looking for historical fiction, this will be confusing.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
This book received a lot of buzz last year, and for good reason. Ng weaves a deep story of suburban life, image and identity, foster care and rights, and our own prejudices when viewed through the lens of “doing good.” I think what makes this novel worth reading is that you will find yourself or your views portrayed somehow. Each character is developed in a way that brings to light many common ideas and ideologies of success and the American Dream. The themes in Little Fires Everywhere will make you examine your own good intentions and their roots.

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
I had this book on my shelf for a while and Frank devoured it earlier in the summer. I knew I had to pick it up and I’m so glad I did. Saunders weaves seeds of historical truth with a swirling world of the afterlife. His political commentary is powerful because of the setting and use of character. This is a novel that takes a little getting used to, as the style is written theatrically rather than narratively. If this has been on your to-read list for a while, I’d recommend moving it up. I’m glad I did!

What genre do you have to be intentional about reading? Any other fiction recommendations?

Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post. If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site. 

Review: I’d Rather Be Reading by Anne Bogel

Books and reading have always defined my personality. I was that nerdy kid who would scan my friends’ bookshelves when we were meant to be playing, itching to read new titles and get lost in the story. After grad school, my friends and I started a “Books and Beer” book club, meeting at bars in the hopes of meeting guys who also loved to read. And now, I edit and curate The Red Couch Book Club and am always on the lookout for books that would benefit our community. Yes, books are and always will be part of what makes me happy, what connects me to the world, and what expands my worldview.

IdRatherBeReadingBogel_3Dalt_webI’ve followed Anne Bogel’s blog, Modern Mrs. Darcy for years and love her book recommendations. Honestly, our tastes are quite different and I only read a handful of her picks but I appreciate the way she talks and writes about books.

I’ve been looking forward to her collection of essays, I’d Rather Be Reading since she alluded to it after the publication of her first book about personality types. This collection of anecdotes about the reading life (essays is a bit of a stretch) is cute and relatable. I’ve had stacks of books come in at the library at once; I’ve wondered how I’ll have time in this life to read all the books I want to; On tough days, I’ve often wished for a quiet cabin alone with a stack of books.

Each chapter served as a great introduction to readerly problems but I wish Bogel had continued. Rather than listing all the problems of bookshelf organization or remembering all the books that shaped her life (several times, in several chapters), I wish she had kept the thoughts going and linked those observations to a broader takeaway. It would have taken those anecdotes and turned them into actual, timeless essays.

I finished this book with the realization that I actually wouldn’t rather be reading. Instead of connecting with the plights of loving to read, I was confronted with all the ways one can miss out on life because of reading. It compelled me to step back and recognize that for me in this phase of life, reading is an essential tool but it’s not a way of life. I love reading because it helps me understand and connect with the world around me but unless I’m actively engaging in that world, reading falls a bit flat.

If you’re looking for a sweet gift book, this is a great option. If you’re looking for essays on reading, might I suggest finding a collection by your favorite author?

What about you? Would you rather be reading? How do you balance a love of books with real-life experiences? 

I received this book free from the publisher via Baker Books Bloggers in exchange for my honest opinion. Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post. If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site. 

Review: All the Colors We Will See by Patrice Gopo

One of my favorite genres is essay collections. Whether narrative or expository, a well-written essay is incredibly powerful. It’s also a genre that is overdone and I’ve read my fair share of mediocre collections, making me cynical of the style as a whole.

_240_360_Book.2632.coverWhen I heard about Patrice Gopo’s debut collection, All the Colors We Will See, the reviews were high. I knew I had to check out her collection and I certainly wasn’t disappointed. Gopo renewed my love of this genre.

This stunning collection of essays about identity and culture drew me in and has become one of my favorite reads of the year. Gopo grapples with the big ideas of raising multicultural children, finding her own place in American culture, and reflecting on her role as a mathematician-turned-writer. And yet, she invites me into this conversation beautifully. Her own reflections helped me dig into my own labels and identity and how those impact my worldview.

If you’re looking for a collection to make you think about what identity means in today’s culture, I couldn’t recommend All the Colors We Will See more highly. And, if you’re looking for more backstory, check out my interview with Patrice over at SheLoves Magazine!

Do you read essays? What are your thoughts on the genre?

I received this book free from the publisher via BookLook Bloggers in exchange for my honest opinion. Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post. If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site. 

Review: Inspired by Rachel Held Evans

It’s easy to dismiss the Bible and Christianity, isn’t it? I was about to say “these days” at the end of that sentence but I have a feeling that every generation has grappled with interpretation and misinterpretation of this ancient text. Of course, I want the story of God, in whose image I was created, to reflect me and my values. And everyone, from the Attorney General to atheists to theologians interprets this text through their own lens.

_240_360_Book.2605.coverIt’s a fine line between asking questions to dig deeper and questioning with a framework of cynicism. One is productive, the other can be frustrating. In her newest book, Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again Rachel Held Evans does her best to remove the cynicism and ask the questions for what they are: To learn and grapple, often without a specific outcome.

I’ve read every one of Evans’ books and this one is the most inviting in this divided world. She reimagines stories in modern settings, helps us see familiar characters in a new light, and links these ancient narratives to modern lessons.

Evans provides deep research and insight while loving the questions themselves. You won’t find answers in this book but you’ll learn that asking questions is a vital part of engaging with this text and tradition.

If you’re looking for a book that helps you experience the Bible through a fresh and forgiving lens, Inspired will give you hope and encouragement.

What books have helped you see the Bible from a fresh perspective? How do you balance the ancient text with modern interpretation?

I received this book free from the publisher via BookLook Bloggers in exchange for my honest opinion. Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post. If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site. 

Review: NKJV Reader’s Bible

Now that we’re a full week into summer, I’m slowly finding a routine. My favorite part of school being over is a slower start to our mornings. The girls are still up before 7:00 but we don’t have to be anywhere for a while. I’m enjoying a cup of coffee while still in my pajamas, reading a poem or two, and starting to read a chapter from the Bible.

_240_360_Book.2523.coverA couple years ago, I set a goal to complete the Bible in a Year and when I was done, I wasn’t really sure what to do next. My big goal had been achieved and it felt a bit strange to just start right back in Genesis. But I’ve missed the daily rhythm of reading from the Bible and was having a hard time finding a good fit.

I’ve been using the same New Living Translation Study Bible since college and love it. But when I saw Thomas Nelson’s Deluxe Reader’s Bible, my interest was piqued. I haven’t read the New King James Version since my first Precious Moments Bible and I’ve enjoyed rediscovering this poetic translation.

IMG_9363I also enjoy the “reader’s version” formatting. This means it reads like a book: One column formatting without verses. The chapter titles are printed at the top of each page and the chapter number is printed in the margins but otherwise, those key markers are unobtrusive or missing altogether. There is no commentary, concordance, or references.

As the description reads,

The NKJV Deluxe Reader’s Bible is an invitation to get caught up in the story of Scripture, as history, poetry, and prophecy come to life on pages designed for people who love a good book.

This Bible is ideal for someone looking for a clean, simple reading experience. It has helped me remember that the Bible is literature and reading it as such has deepened my experience. I needed a refresh when it came to this familiar text and a different translation combined with a beautiful format was exactly what I needed to reignite my morning routine.

What is your favorite Biblical translation? How do you refresh your morning routine?

I received this book free from the publisher via BookLook Bloggers in exchange for my honest opinion. Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post. If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site. 

Embracing the Comfort of Three-Star Reviews

On Amazon, a 3-star review means the book or product is “ok” and is filed under critical reviews. I have trouble with this. In my mind, 3 out of 5 stars means I liked something but it wasn’t life-changing. I read enough good-but-not-great books to be comfortable giving a lot of reads 3 stars.

IMG_8735I know people who abandon books if they don’t predict a 4 or 5-star rating. I get that. Life’s to short for books you don’t connect with. But when I look at my Goodreads profile and all the 3-star books I’ve read, I’m glad I didn’t abandon them. Some books are good books and aren’t meant to be life-changing. Some are great vacation reads and earn a solid 3-stars. That doesn’t mean they’re bad or I wish I hadn’t read them. They just aren’t 5-stars. And that’s fine.

We just got back from five days in the mountains, reconnecting after tax season. This getaway has become essential for our family. We need to get out of town, breathe, and re-bond after an intense three months. I get that going to a mountain cabin is an incredible privilege – that so many don’t get to experience these escapes – and I’m deeply grateful for this tradition.

It’s not that getting away equates stellar, 5-star moments all the time. We’re still a human family made up of expectations and friction. The girls still were sisters – playing sweetly one moment and grappling over toys the next. But overall, this experience was what we needed.

Now, we’re back into our home routine of school and work and dinner. The difference is that Frank can walk Bea to school while I have a moment of quiet. Or he’s home at dinnertime. It takes some time to reestablish these normal routines but we’re doing it. Our days are made up of good, 3-star moments. They are sweet and good but not the stuff of profile pictures and photo albums.

Life is often 3-stars, isn’t it? It’s good, we’re rolling along, but we’re not experiencing life-changing decisions and events all the time. I think it would be exhausting to always be at a 4 or 5-star rating. There’s something so comforting about mostly rolling along, settling into a routine, knowing what to expect.

Because our life is mostly quiet and normal, those big decisions and getaways seem all the more special and needed. I love that we can drive an hour and a half to breathe and reconnect. We don’t need to travel far or go somewhere exotic to have a wonderful experience.

I’m not saying that we need to numb ourselves or keep life mediocre to enjoy those experiences. I’m remembering to appreciate our daily rhythms and routines. Living in a 3-star mindset isn’t critical or uneventful. It’s comforting and it’s where our roots dig deeper, where we build our small practices that flourish when we’re outside of our norms.

I’m going to keep giving 3-star reviews on Amazon. Not because I don’t love the books I’m reading but because we need 3-star books in our lives. We need books that are comfortable, that are quick reads, and that draws us into a sweet story. Books that may not be life-changing but that make me glad I read them, nonetheless. A lot like life.

How do you rate your books? Do you abandon them if they aren’t potential 4 or 5-star reads? 

The Compost HeapHeads-up! My monthly newsletter, The Compost Heap is coming out on Thursday! It’s filled with life-changing books, photos, best reads around the internet, and other news. Don’t miss it! Sign up by clicking this link.

We Are Free to Love

My friend dropped her daughter off for a day of playing with Bea. Her daycare was on a holiday so I had agreed to host another 2-year-old for the day. After organizing snacks and lunches, my friend was about to leave when I blurted out, We just found out we’re miscarrying.

29595147_10160186172275453_3799920368185849580_nTiming is everything, isn’t it? We had just returned from a lovely weekend in Yellowstone, introducing Bea to one of our favorite places. On the way home, I knew something wasn’t right and, after inexplicably crying on the phone to my doctor, was seen right away for an early ultrasound. I learned a lot during that miscarriage, the biggest of which is that it is a process. It took weeks for my body to finally let the baby go.

Those weeks were held with a lot of waiting, a lot of Daniel Tiger episodes, and a lot of unknown. Those weeks also held so much hope and love from our community. My friend’s husband returned that afternoon to pick up their daughter, a bottle of Veuve Clicquot in hand. Another friend who had gone through her own miscarriage and the subsequent discovery of infertility brought over a meal and a listening ear. I learned that life isn’t meant to be lived alone.

I also learned that, even though we had a strong community who came alongside us, this is not the case for everyone. Miscarriage is still not shared, even though it’s a fairly common occurrence. I knew that I wanted to be open about our experience. In the following years, I’ve been able to come beside friends who experienced their own losses but we’ve had other friends who held it dear, not wanting to share.

Of course, we all process grief in our own unique ways and for some, that process is quieter. But that feeling of loneliness is one that breaks my heart. It’s for this reason, I’m so thankful for Adriel Booker’s memoir, Grace Like Scarlett. Adriel walks us through her own journey of three miscarriages between healthy pregnancies. She is honest and vulnerable in her feelings and hopelessness but also encouraging as she grounds her experiences in God and her community. She says,

“When we humble ourselves enough to let down our guard and be known for who we really are, grace is released. We are free to love and be loved.”

Even though this is a book specifically about miscarriage, its scope is much broader. It’s about grief and expectations; about community and faith. Booker reminds us that when we open ourselves up to others, we are seen. God meets us in those places.

Grace Like Scarlett is a book I wish I had had during the months following our miscarriage, as we became pregnant with a healthy baby, as I still processed the loss in the midst of joy and anticipation. It’s a book that is important in helping us open up to our friends and community. It gives hope and help on a journey that’s not often discussed.

How have you found help in your community after experiencing loss? What resources do you wish had been available?

Booker_GraceLikeScarlett_3D_webGrace Like Scarlett releases on May 1 but if you preorder now, you get tons of bonus gifts, like coloring pages, an audio series, and journaling prompts to help you process your own grief journey. Visit gracelikescarlett.com for all the details!

As a member of the Grace Like Scarlett launch team, I received an advanced copy for review. All opinions are my own.

Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post.  If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site.

Review + Giveaway: Hello Mornings by Kat Lee

I love the idea of a good morning routine. In my perfect world, I’d wake up around 6:00, have a cup of coffee, read some poetry, maybe write out a few thoughts longhand. If we’re really dreaming, I’d have time for a quick devotional or reading. Maybe a chapter in a book? This sounds like the perfect way to enter the day. I won’t go into the details of my reality but I will say, my reality is pretty far from my ideal scenario.

_240_360_Book.2456.coverIn her book, Hello Mornings, Kat Lee recognizes that a good morning routine starts the day out right. She also recognizes the difficulty in setting a good morning routine. It’s the rare person who has the time and space to get up, mentally prepare for the day, get in a solid workout routine, and make it into the office at a decent time. So, she suggests starting with three minutes. Even the parents of the fussiest newborn can squeeze in three minutes, right? Lee suggests creating three categories: God Time, Plan Time, and Move Time. In the beginning, each part should take one minute: Read one verse, quickly look at your calendar, drink a glass of water.

This seems simple. I mean, I start my mornings with a glass of water. Surely I could add a verse and a look at the calendar. In the weeks since I’ve started reading this book, all I’ve added is an alarm set to (hopefully) wake me up before Elle. This is fairly hit-or-miss. It’s not Kat; it’s me.

I do appreciate her guidance to starting a routine with baby steps. If I can’t carve out three minutes, why would I be able to carve out a half hour? My problem is that three minutes is such a small goal that it seems too insignificant. And so I don’t do anything. What she’s challenged me to do is reshift my thinking. Maybe I need to diligently start a three-minute morning routine. If it’s so easy, why not? Admittedly, any new routine takes willpower and discipline and I just haven’t taken the steps to do this.

The strength of Hello Mornings is that it is a very clear and easy-to-follow guide to establishing a good morning routine. Lee takes research from other well-known habit books and incorporates the methodology into her own brand. I think it works, as she’s built an incredible community through her website, hellomornings.org. My criticism is that the website is so well run and successful, the book seemed a bit superfluous.

If you’re struggling to establish the first steps in a morning routine, Hello Mornings may be the exact formula you need to get going.

Are you a morning person? What helped you establish your routine?

The Compost HeapGIVEAWAY! I’m giving away my copy of Hello Mornings through my newsletter, The Compost Heap. This goes out on the last Thursday of the month so if you’re interested in winning a copy, sign up for the newsletter before February 21!

I received this book free from the publisher in exchange for my honest opinion. 

Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post.  If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site.