2022 Book Review Haul

Here’s a haul of some brief, spoiler-free book reviews on the rest of my reads from 2022 (see part one here). I hope to —

1) help my own mind process and reflect on what I’ve read 2) perhaps recommend something that would be of interest to you 3) hear your thoughts on these books and 4) practice writing.

The Harvester by Gene-Stratton Porter

The Harvester is written by one of my favorite American authors (she wrote Laddie which I adore). This one was slow and just rather weird to me. Henry talks a lot. He’s also lonely living in Medicine Woods where he harvests plants for medicine, so he sets out to find the woman of his dreams, with a specific face in mind (what could go wrong?) It’s old-fashioned and sweet, just didn’t quite hold my interest.

Side note: I have to tell you a cool story of how I own this! I was at a garage sale in my neighborhood, holding a few old classics from a sale a few houses down. The sweet lady hosting a sale noticed my old books, and then we started talking books. She said, “Have you read Gene-Stratton Porter?” I said yes! She asked in I had read The Harvester, and then proceeded to go inside. Upon her return, she GAVE me one of her hardback copies. They’re not in print any more.  

Everyday Faithfulness by Glenna Marshall

Excellent book for a baby believer OR a long-time Christian who just needs the reminder of the profound power in ordinary, every-day faithfulness! We don’t drift toward being prayerful, Word-filled, obedient women. It’s convicting in its pure simplicity and practicality. “Everyday faithfulness requires patience and fortitude that’s desperately dependent upon God’s own faithfulness.” –Glenna Marshall

“To forego the habits of prayer, Bible reading, and church involvement until life is less chaotic will mean that a large portion of our lives is spent largely without attachment to and dependency upon Christ. And one could argue these are the years we need him the most!”
― Glenna Marshall

Heidi – by Johanna Spyri

It had been many years since I read Heidi, and my nostalgia about cheese and goats returned. I love the feeling of actually frolicking in the Alps. The way the color like fire spills across the peaks! “Then Heidi told him of the mountain with the great snow-field, and how it had been on fire, and had, turned rosy-red and then all of a sudden had grown quite pale again and all the color had disappeared.” –Johanna Spyri

Dear Daddy-Long-Legs – by Jean Webster

I read this rather recently but I like enough to put it in a rotation, I guess. A lonely orphan is chosen to go to a boarding school. She writes frequent letters to her secret sponsor. Her education and creativity unfolds in her letters as she pours out her heart over the course of years, but the secret sponsor never writes back! You’ll have to read it to know what happens. This book was first published in 1912. The author’s sequel “Dear Enemy” was a top-10 bestseller in 1916 in America.

Anne’s House of Dreams – by Montgomery

Isn’t it so satisfying to finally have Anne and Gilbert together, building their home in Four Winds Harbor? It’s too sweet! The parallel tragic love story of the gorgeous Leslie Moore (one of Anne’s first friends) adds mystery. There is a lot of weighty realness to match Anne’s whimsical dreaminess in this story. A paradox.

Anne of Ingleside – by Montgomery

And then, our Anne is a mother of five, and growing more sage all the time. Although, she does fall for a sad little misunderstanding with Gil. This book details many childhood incidents and plenty of gossipy neighbors who stop by to drink tea (and spill the tea).

Rainbow Valley – by Montgomery

This was my first time reading this one. The stories about Anne’s five children gave great background for my favorite, most well-read book in the whole Anne series . . .

Rilla of Ingleside – by Montgomery

Rilla is a bit self-absorbed and much the baby of Anne’s family. This story is how a world war shapes her into a woman with responsibility and character. The love story is pretty cute and humorous. It’s packed with WWI history too, thanks to Susan (the hired help and family friend) who is up to her eyeballs in politics and opinions. But wouldn’t we all be, when the headlines are impacting your own sons and brothers? Another book with layers of great grief but beauty, poetry, humor and courage.

The Last Bookshop in London – by Madeline Martin

This is a simple, sweet, wholesome story. For that, I praise the author. We need more books that are charming and innocent! The main character truly cared about doing what was right.
I give it three out of five stars because of the lack of depth in the characters and plot. I think I was just looking for a book with more layers. It may be that I prefer to read my WWII stories by the people who lived them.

The Mysterious Benedict Society – by Trenton Lee Stewart

So strange, but so captivating. I like the Encyclopedia Brown vibes.
I may have to read another one in this series, but for now I need a little break. A voracious reader would eat this up!

Peace Child – by Don Richardson

Prepare to be reminded about the depravity of a godless culture. But then be inspired by the lengths God will take to offer the gospel to every corner of the earth. I was challenged by Don’s faith in the midst of hardship and unfamiliarity. Indonesia is a place I’ve grown to care about, through having friends who are serving there. Don died in 2018, and as of then, there were approximately 275 tribal language groups in Papua and only five have a complete translated Bible.

Prince Caspian – by C.S. Lewis

I believe this is my second favorite one in the series. The plot is just so well done because the stakes are high (the destiny of all lies on the fate of one). BUT the Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe still outshines the whole series in my opinion. However, I love the faith analogies in Caspian.

“You have listened to fears, Child,’ said Aslan. ‘Come, let me breathe on you. Forget them. Are you brave again?”
― C.S. Lewis, Prince Caspian

“Go and wake the others and tell them to follow. If they will not, then you at least must follow me alone.”
― C.S. Lewis, Prince Caspian

All Creatures Great and Small – by James Herriot

This is about a vet in the 1930s serving in the English countryside. I grew interested in these books after watching the new PBS series (beautifully done). Each chapter is a work of art, with writing that paints a clear picture. Just notice his creative and strong verbs. He’s funny, too. I’m not an animal person or a medical person, so I have to squint my eyes (it’s a thing) at the gory animal procedures. But all the people dynamics make up for it. *Note, these books have language.

All Things Bright and Beautiful – by James Herriot

The sequel to All Creatures, I enjoyed listening to this one on Scrid. The actor from the PBS show reads it aloud, so the Scottish accent gives it flavor. Both books are almost like a collection of short stories, each chapter resolves with a punchline.

Jane of Lantern Hill – by Montgomery

Aw, I loved this one! A sad story made happy on the shores of Prince Edward Island. Jane lives in Canada with her manipulative grandma and sweet but easily-influenced mother. She doesn’t realize her father is alive and wants to see her. A transformation takes place when she begins the life-giving endeavor of making a house a home and mending relationships.

Framed! – by James Ponti

Framed! is about 12-year-old Florian Bates who has such a keen eye for detail, that the FBI enlists his help (as long as he is finished with his homework, his mom says.) I think middle graders would enjoy this, and maybe even learn a thing or two about reasoning by paying attention to super small details, like Florian and his pal do.

Suffering Is Never for Nothing – by Elisabeth Elliot

Having Elisabeth Elliot encourage you through trials while you clean up the kitchen? I recommend it. It’s a privilege to hear her wisdom. I’ll leave you with a few quotes from this book (which is actually an audio transcript of some sessions she gave):

“Do the next thing.” I don’t know any simpler formula for peace, for relief from stress and anxiety than that very practical, very down-to-earth word of wisdom. Do the next thing. That has gotten me through more agonies than anything else I could recommend.”
― Elisabeth Elliot

“You either believe God knows what He’s doing or you believe He doesn’t. You either believe He’s worth trusting or you say He’s not. And then, where are you? You’re at the mercy of chaos not cosmos. Chaos is the Greek word for disorder. Cosmos is the word for order. We either live in an ordered universe or we are trying to create our own reality.”
― Elisabeth Elliot

“Faith is not a feeling. Faith is willed obedience in action.”
― Elisabeth Elliot

The Place is a Person

We call it Jump Creek — a thread of water nestling along rocky brush to a pebble-lined pool. At the end of the hike beside the creek, you’ll duck under a boulder and see the source. Stony walls guard a delicate waterfall from all sides. Last autumn, the shielded cove held a hush, a beauty in its hidenness. If you gazed at the unbroken foothilled horizon from afar, you’d never imagine the desert’s secret, cut into the canyon.

Perhaps Jump Creek once shielded someone running from danger. The clear water and rock-chilled shade maybe offered a respite for a moment.

Unlike King David, I’ve never needed to hide in a cave in serious fear for my life. There is a different hiding place I’ve craved. One that would cover what you could not see — my soul.

The immaterial in us doesn’t require something tangible like a waterfall’s chamber. Instead, our secret place is a Person. Simply abiding in His presence archives perfect escape. You remember the discomfort of crouching in a hide-and-seek spot, while your heart beat faster and you breathed louder, as the pursuer counted to ten and drew near? It’s not like being an anxious lump in the curtains as you listen to warnings and the discovering of other kids one by one.

Instead, while hiding here in Christ, you will hear sounds of deliverance. A song with a melody of triumph and a harmony of hope. You could search the earth over and never find the stillness and quietness that fills your soul in the presence of the One who can do all things well.

“You are my hiding place;
    you will protect me from trouble
    and surround me with songs of deliverance.

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
    I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.”

Psalm 32:7-8

There is no need to strain for footsteps approaching in pitch darkness. No need to fret over the woes of the wicked and the sounds of deceptive threats from the Accuser. Tucked into this hiding place, you will hear sweet instruction. Direction, counsel, and love.

Trouble and bad news can plague our weary bones. But in the midst of evil, injustice, loss, persecution, temptation — our soul waits and rests in love and feasts on promises.

“The sorrows of the wicked are many,
But the one who trusts in the Lord, goodness will surround him.
Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, you righteous ones;
And shout for joy, all you who are upright in heart.”

Psalm 32:10-11

Yes, our flesh experiences the corruption of this world acutely. But our soul can never suffocate in prison. We will sing and worship in a hiding place. The soul can’t be destroyed by principalities and powers. “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Col. 3:3)

The Psalmist in chapter 11 stated the LORD was his refuge. But others advised, “Flee! Flee like a bird to your mountain.” They seemed to think a location change would be the key to avoid the arrows of the darkness.

Often we wanted to flee the physical pain, and escape our obstacles by spending time, money, and every human effort to cope. We indulge in the flesh to feel something physical, but this isn’t true secret refuge.

The refuge is the Lord. Not the absence or altering of a circumstance. Will we not flee to this permanent safety and forever joy?

“One who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
Will lodge in the shadow of the Almighty.”

Psalm 91:1

When danger threatens, when heartache throbs, see how the shadow of the Almighty brings shade from the heat. How His shelter brings a bedrock dwelling of security and nourishment. When everything in you says FLEE, God says, “Rest here. Know my protection. My loving eye is on you. Hear my instruction and counsel.”

Therein lies the hope.

“You are my hiding place and my shield;
I wait for Your word.”

Psalm 119:114

Will He not always shield us from all sides with His goodness? Hope waits for you to open God’s Word.

There is a place that is a Person — who serves as our covering, our shelter, our secrecy and protection. God’s enemies will not know how we are sustained by songs of deliverance. They can not understand how His words of instruction prompt deep, otherworldly hope. Many are the sorrows of the wicked, but those who are sheltering in the Most High will rejoice. He is the one fighting for us!

Praise and Pondering

When the angel gave Mary her pregnancy announcement, fear and confusion gripped her. But the angel declared “don’t be troubled” and “nothing will be impossible with God” and that this son would be God’s.

“And Mary said, ‘Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.'”

She knew she could be stoned for this — for being entrusted with something that was God’s not hers. She still presented an offering of obedience, for this is what servants do. I would have yearned for more information. As the reality sunk deeper into her heart, she most likely did spin a host of practical questions, but for the next step she clung to faith.

Her understanding of her Savior was affirmed by her cousin Elizabeth, whose baby leapt for joy at the presence of the unborn Deliverer. If they were anything like me, perhaps these women couldn’t sleep for the excitement. Perhaps they eagerly recited the prophesies about Emmanuel whom they would meet in just a matter of months.

We know Mary praised God, recorded for us in Luke 1. She called herself a “humble servant” and acknowledged the worth of a glorious God. His mercy to her nation prompted her to magnify the holy Lord. The “hopes and fears of all the years” met their answer in His display of strength.

“And Mary said,

‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,  for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
    For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him
    from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
    and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
    in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
    to Abraham and to his offspring forever.’”

Mary knew her weakness and humanity, but the object of her faith was Divine and Marvelous. She sang of humble things and mighty things. Perhaps morning sickness plagued her, but a generations’ hope would be birthed. God’s strength was revealed in the proud being scattered and the hungry being filled. The whole world would be turned upside down. Grace and justice would meet. Lowly shepherds would see angelic messengers. The dead would taste life. Darkness would be snuffed. Proud King Herod would be outmaneuvered. Promises to Anna and Simeon would be fulfilled. Blind would see. Curtains would be torn in two. Mary didn’t see all of this when she sang, at least not at first. But she knew what kind of God she had chosen to obey — One who would help Israel.

We’re told, “And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart.” She firsthand witnessed the Godhead clothed with flesh. Her response? Praise and pondering.

He has done great things for us! Do you know He still remembers His mercy today? The gift of the Savior is every bit as powerful and meaningful as it was for Jesus’ earthly parents.  Have you placed your trust in Him as your deliverer from your sins?

He is the Great I Am. I believe Mary’s advice for us would be to fear Him and taste His mercy — remember what she told the servants at the wedding in Cana?

“His mother said to the servants, ‘”Whatever He says to you, do it.'”
John 2:5

This instruction came from someone who had raised Jesus from infancy, bearing eyewitness to a sinless life. And a woman who was familiar with the cost of faithful obedience; how beautiful it is to hear her call to “do whatever He says.”

He says to come to Him. I hope to have an obedient Christmas. One where I ponder His activity in my past and future, one where I rejoice in His mighty deeds.

Whatever His will for us, let it be according to His Word. His mercy belongs to those who fear Him. Treasure the truth. Rejoice in humble worship.

Illustration from “The First Christmas According to Luke” by Concordia Publishing House 

To-Do: With Love

Do you ever conquer your to-do list, but forget to do the things — like scramble eggs for breakfast or host a small group — with love? For love? In love?

After studying I Corinthians 13 this summer, I’ve been face-to-face with convicting encouragement. It doesn’t matter how impressive the day’s work, if it’s not accomplished with love, God considers it profitless.

If I mop all my floors and bake sourdough – but do it with an irritable heart toward another, it profits me zero. If I give my best efforts only when I feel like it, or when it blesses me, then what will this accomplish? If I share my possessions with the needy, but am impatient about it, this counts for nothing. 

If we can exegete Scripture and discuss heady doctrines around the dinner table, but secretly rejoice when someone is humiliated for their sin, the mysteries I understand have not pierced my heart. 

If I check all the “good Christian” boxes, but boast and insist on my own way, trampling others’ feelings and preferences, then how will unbelievers or believers see Christ?

If I become a clanging cymbal in the 20 minutes before guests arrive . . . then I’ve sent a message that it’s not really about the people in my home, it’s about my put-togetherness. 

Others do not feel loved by noisy gongs. I often forget, as Myquillyn Smith said, “Hosting is never about the host, and hospitality is never about the home.” I have been deeply ministered to by imperfect hosts with Christlike, gracious hearts. 

One of my favorite homes belongs to my sister who demonstrates a special gift in hospitality. If you’ve been in her little house, you know. She creates the perfect personalized coffee, iced or hot, but also asks the deep questions to glimpse how my soul is doing. I enjoy both edifying conversation and a landscape of curated art and timeless style. I know both she and her home are a work in progress. I know she sacrificed to prepare for my company, and the dancing candle is only one sign. But, if I drop by without giving her much notice, I still receive a big welcome, a listening ear, and a love that shares all she has been given. 

Yes,  love pursues excellence with all the energy God’s gifted, but the ministry of presence is effective even if there’s food in my drain, junk mail on the counter, or wilting plants on the shelf. Love is the ingredient needed for lasting meaning in our ministry of hospitality and service, and it starts with a willing, abiding heart. 

So do I have to do something perfectly for it to “count?” No, nothing we can do will ever earn Christ’s love. If I’m not in Christ, I gain nothing, I am nothing. God is love, and if we are not in Him, we are a dead branch, unable to produce. But if we are walking in the Spirit, these fruits of love and patience will blossom in our attitudes and actions. Our entire motivation changes.

For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all. 

2 Corinthians 5:14

When you’re tucked into gospel-love, success and even completion look different. His imperative and invitation is that we abide in love, so it’s not a doing, it’s a being. It’s not really about a to-do list, but being compelled by our love for God to walk in the homely or beautiful works He prepared for us. 

He always desires a heart posture, not a show. When we have guests for dinner, I sometimes go to the lengths of making a garlicky, basil dressing from scratch. After the prayer for our meal, my sweet husband will get up from the table and begin to offer our company the ketchup, BBQ sauce, and bottled dressings. 

To be honest, I’ve wanted to chide him later: “But honey, I had everything on the table that we needed! And the salad was already dressed.” But even more than striving for the aesthetic image, I appreciate the way my husband displays his deep care for people and desire to serve them. And do you know what? A troupe of condiments always makes guests feel more at home. Chick-fil-a sauce never fails to produce a laugh, a symbol of down-to-earth commonality. And, I must admit, the potato wedges taste a lot better with it. 

Whether you’re called to love others with dressing homemade or bottled, let Love compel you to walk for His glory alone. As we strike items from our to-do list, or share our imperfect homes, let’s aim for eternal profit. The Spirit’s kindness, patience, and joy will shine through as we abide in Him. 

Trust Isn’t Just About Me

Nothing is accomplished when I worry about my life. It never added a cubit to my stature and, as Corrie Ten Boom said, “Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow. It empties today of its strength.” Whenever I begin imagining the worst, I remind myself – grace isn’t going anywhere. The Lord’s character won’t change in time for tomorrow’s storm. He’s steadfast and sufficient for whatever path or valley.

I know worrying about myself is a fruitless pastime. Here’s the problem. Sometimes it feels more helpful to worry on the behalf of others. Perhaps because I feel even more powerless when it comes to my family and friends. Maybe because at times I feel concern for someone younger in the faith, or more vulnerable physically, or a child in my line of responsibility.

Trust isn’t always just about me and the Lord. Souls of others are often involved. But isn’t it inconsistent to trust God for my own future, but stress about someone else’s?

I’m writing this down because the irony of these words makes me thank God for His tremendous landscape of care for each person I care about.

Think of it this way. Someone I love is near the overseas war-zone, but I forget he is tucked in God’s solid sovereign plan? A friend is saved by lavish grace, but I’m anxious about her weighty decisions she must make? My brother-in-Christ is a co-heir with the Prince of Peace, and I wonder if God will provide for his next season? My family member is loved enough that the Lamb died for her, but will the great I Am see her through a new medical diagnosis?

The glorious reality is this: God is completing a good work in each of us and will be faithful to complete it. Will I “believe all things, hope all things, endure all things” as I wait and watch for God’s work in their lives?

There are many ways we can encourage, admonish, teach, and minister to our fellow believers in their sanctification journey, but anxiety isn’t an effective practice. God’s dear children have rich promises to claim whether they fully realize them or not! This old hymn re-sung by Selah draws this out:

“Some through the water, some through the flood

Some through the fire, but all through the blood

And some through great sorrow, but God gives the song

In the night season and all the day long

Sometimes on the mount where the sun shines so bright

Sometimes in the valley, in darkest of night

Though sorrows befall us and Satan oppose

Through grace we can conquer, defeat all our foes

God leads His dear children along.”

Even if He designs a harder season for someone we love, it’s such a comfort to entrust them to the Chief Shepherd. We can count on His faithfulness to His Bride, to each member of His church He is building.

As you pray for and encourage your parent/sibling/friend to listen to the Holy Spirit, you can trust that He will direct them as He is acknowledged (Prov. 3:6).

“You have dealt well with Your servant, O Lord, according to Your word.” 

Psalm 119:65

We need not worry or stress for the future of God’s servants. When the opportunity to trust on others’ behalf arises, remember He deals well with His servants (maybe not always according to us, but always according to His Word!). His grace is sufficient for each, and what a wonderful opportunity to anchor our trust deeper in a worthy God.