End-of-Year Reading Challenge Update

By Megan

2017’s Reading Challenge is in the books (ha – ok, maybe pun intended) – so I wanted to share the last few books I read to finish it up along with a few tips I learned about doing a “reading challenge” as well as share my goal for this new year (actual books on my list coming later).

Tips about Reading Challenges:

  1. DO try utilizing Goodreads – this website/app makes it really easy to keep track of books you’ve read/are reading/want to read. I almost always have my phone with me, so if I hear about a book or read something online, I can quickly add it to my “want to read” list – no more forgetting all those “friend recommendations.” They also set up a Reading Challenge that you can customize to any amount you want. And any book you mark as “Read” will go towards your reading goal for the year.
  2. DON’T try to assign titles to all of your reading goals – for instance, I want to read 40 books this year. But this time, I’m not going to write down 40 titles – only 25-30. I get so many recommendations throughout the year, I want to have room to fill in with new ideas.
  3. DO try to read a wide variety of genres – this is always stretching for me, but I loved the variety I got from last year’s challenge.
  4. DON’T shop for books on Amazon or Thriftbooks.com if you have no money. Enough said.

2017 Books reviewed:

Here are 10 books that I read this year that I haven’t reviewed yet – some might be good ideas for your own reading challenge lists (or your kids’ lists!). A good number were juvenile/Young Adult books because I am now a volunteer school librarian, so … it just kind of happens. 🙂

  • cgCinnamon and Gunpowder, by Eli Brown – A very fun read – great for a vacation or if you want something light with a little bit of pizazz. I’d describe this book as Pirates of the Caribbean meets MasterChef meets … something else. Anyway, I enjoyed it. Plotline on Goodreads. 3.5/5 stars
  • Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library, by Chris Grabenstein – Get this for your kids, Moms (and Dads)! I somehow found this scrolling through Amazon and got it for the library. It was an instant hit with the upper-elementary kids. They fought over who’d get to check it out every week (and after one girl started crying I finally bought another copy). There are 2 sequels now too. Lots of fun, easy read, perfect for kids who love books and/or games. 5/5 stars (because it makes kids read!!)
  • The Reason for God, by Tim Keller – It’s a NYTimes bestseller but also a fantastic apologetic book that is probably the most gracious and humble rendition of an apologetic book I’ve ever read. Keller skillfully connecting points of faith with people from varying worldviews and religions. Never is he condescending or harsh. He is, however, highly intelligent and willing to answer the hard questions. 4/5 stars.
  • Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson – Somehow this English BA has never read this book. Don’t know why because it’s so short. But if you want to put a piece of classic literature on your list, DO THIS. It’s nice and short and also brings up great question about the duality of conscience, separation of good and evil, etc. 5/5 stars (because who am I to criticize R.L.S.?)
  • mbMockingbird, by Kathryn Erskine – This Juvenile/YA novel is a fabulous first-person narrative of a girl with Asperger’s Syndrome working through her grief and trying to find “closure” after a school shooting that kills several including her brother. Thought-provoking and perfect in its symbolism and reference to the classic To Kill a Mockingbird5/5 stars
  • The Making of Pride and Prejudice, by Sue Birtwhistle – Put it this way: if you love the movie (and there is ONLY one movie version of P&P worth its existence), you will LOVE this book (tons of full-color photos, Colin Firth interviews, etc.). If you don’t like the movie, well, there’s not much that can be done for you. 4.5/5 stars
  • If I’m Found, by Terri Blackstock – Sequel to If I Run, this book pretty much followed the same formula and dragged the premise on for another 280 pages. I was mildly intrigued by the first book, but I got worn out with the cliched plotlines early on. Not sure if I’ll even be finishing the trilogy (since I’m fairly certain there will be the predictable-Christian-Fiction pairing up of female protagonist and “damaged but loveable” private detective following her. Meh. 2/5 stars (Note: If I’m wrong about girl-and-boy get-together at the end of the series, I will not only read the book but I’ll mail a free book to anyone calls me on this.)
  • Paper Towns, by John Green – This is one I read that got donated to the library. I wasn’t a huge Fault in our Stars fan, but the premise of this one piqued my interest. Overall, I’d say it really is insightful into the minds of teens (and their normal responses to life) – and the creativity with the whole concept of “paper towns” and the “What happened to Margo” plotline was pretty fascinating. I was not a fan of all the “sex talk” and other language that seems to go on endlessly (at least with a few characters). But by the end, Green made some great points (and finally got rid of all the garbage talk). Might be worth a mature reader’s time. 3/5 stars
  • Echoes of Eden, by Jerram Barrs – Our bookclub all came to the same consensus about this one – Barrs does great in the first half making his point (about finding the “echoes of Eden” in literature and art); but all of his application in the second half is only fascinating if you have read/are familiar with all the books he’s referring to. So I thoroughly enjoyed it (having read ALL of them). But many others did not. Favorite part: He makes a great case for the Harry Potter books. 😉 3.5/5 stars
  • the-flinkwater-factor-9781481432528_hrThe Flinkwater Factor, by Pete Hautman – I found this book by National-Book-Award-winning author Hautman on my birthday in a little basement mystery bookstore – and it was autographed. So it was already a win there! But this is a delightful story perfect for the in-between juvenile/young adult fiction age. It’s set in a fictional town during a fictional futuristic era (where “roombas are out of date”) and uses what the author calls “sciency-fiction” to tell a funny and playful story of a young girl living in a very techy era with very techy parents and friends … and how alllll that technology is either going to ruin their lives or save them. 4/5 stars

Strep, Lies, and Audiobooks

41bsZf4KRFL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_By Natalie

I have been to the Walgreens health clinic four times in the past four weeks. Three times for strep and once for an ear infection. I’m sure each one of you can relate to this season of illness. And during this chaotic and mucus-covered (too gross?) time, I’ve been telling lies. Lies to myself. Lies like, “I am going to lose my mind if someone else sneezes on me,” or, “I am going to fall down dead if anyone else asks for a snack.” My inner voice tends to get overly dramatic during stressful times. Recently, I read The Happy Christian by David Murray. Murray’s premise is that our self-talk about circumstances and situations directly affects our physical, emotional, and spiritual health.

Murray lays out a five-step formula, illustrated through Psalm 77, to attack unhappy thoughts. It’s easy to get sucked into a vortex of unhappy thinking, especially when we’re bombarded daily by tragedy or even just daily difficulties, like waking up to a toddler screaming at you. After laying out the formula, Murray explores in detail happiness applied in each area of our lives: media, salvation, the future, giving, etc. I recommend picking up this book for the gloomy winter months.

51aLZoK4f4L._SX338_BO1,204,203,200_In the midst of the illness, I experienced a wonderful bright spot. My oldest has fallen in love with 100 Cupboards, particularly in the audiobook format. He’s listened to it three times through and listened to me read it aloud as well. After he finished listening the first time, he raced to the garage for a cardboard box to create his own 100 cupboards. My son loves when I read, but this is the first book he’s fall in love with.

The premise: Henry York’s parents have been taken hostage in the country of Colombia, so Henry moves to Henry, KS, to live with his aunt and uncle. One night as Henry lies in bed, he hears a bump in the wall and some plaster drops onto him. Peering through the new crack in the wall, he spies a door. Eventually, Henry, aided by his cousin Henrietta, chips away the entire wall of plaster to reveal 99 cupboards. And when they discover the 100th cupboard, they begin a dangerous and exciting adventure to stop a great evil from escaping into the world. With the new year here and reading lists being formed, 100 Cupboards might just spark a love of reading in even the most reluctant of children.

A Short List of Picture Books for Kids

20171121_112431 (2)

Autumn is a season that reignites our family’s love of reading, when we cozy up more often on the sofa with a good book. This past Sunday afternoon, my husband made hot cocoa, and he and our oldest read The Return of the King. For us, that’s a perfect afternoon.

And November was Picture Book Month! To mark this special month, we made an extra trip to the library just for picture books. Margaret Wise Brown is best known for Goodnight Moon and The Runaway Bunny, but in recent years a collection of poems was discovered in a trunk in her sister’s barn. Part of that collection was published as A Celebration of Seasons: Goodnight Songs. Twelve artists lovingly created the illustrations for the book, and the poems celebrate the seasons, animals, and children. The book also comes with a CD collection of the poems set to music that won’t drive you crazy, parents.

Alexander Calder of the series Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Artists tells the story of the great sculptor and creator of the mobile. The book is engaging and interesting for children and adults alike. Other books in the series cover artists like Botticelli, Da Vinci, Monet, and Picasso, giving children a taste for art throughout the ages.

When I was Young in the Mountains is a nostalgic story of simpler times in West Virginia. It covers the activities of a family as they go throughout the day: greeting their grandfather, eating dinner, getting ready for bed, going to church. These ordinary activities take on beauty and meaning in the setting of a loving family.

Goodbye Summer, Hello Autumn shows the changes in nature as the seasons change through the eyes of a young girl as she takes a walk. She observes the cool winds blowing tree branches, the animals searching for food, the late-blooming flowers, the rumbling thunder, and the falling leaves covering puddles. If you live in a place where the changing season doesn’t actually bring much change (Hi, Phoenix!), this is an especially good book for autumn.

In Owl Sees Owl, little owl jumps, flutters, flaps, and flies from his nest, looking for adventure by the light of the moon. This story is told in reverso poem style and will delight your littlest one who won’t sit for a longer story. You could even bring out a mirror when you read so baby sees baby.

In The Good Little Bad Little Pig (another fun book from Margaret Wise Brown), Peter would like a pet, and much to the surprise of his mother, he wants a pet pig. Not just any pig though. This pig must be a “good little bad little pig.” And his pig is sometimes good and sometimes bad, sometimes clean and sometimes dirty, but Peter always loves his pig.

Pass it On: A Proverbs Journal for the Next Generation, by Champ Thornton

Reviewed by AB

In the publishing world, producing a bestseller is difficult enough, and producing two bestsellers proves even more challenging. With the publication of Pass It On, Champ Thornton follows up his successful The Radical Book for Kids with what I believe is an equally impressive, though much different, work bound for the devotional bestseller list.



Pass It On is an in-depth, journal-style study of the book of Proverbs that excels in its ability to clearly define the structure and purposes of this much-beloved portion of Scripture. What makes this study of Proverbs different is its unique keepsake format. Thornton’s passion for sharing the truths of God’s Word with the next generation is clearly evident in this book, as well as his The Radical Book for Kids; and the deeper the reader gets into this study of Proverbs, the more that passion becomes contagious. With plenty of space for recording thoughts on what you’ve gleaned from God’s words of wisdom, you’ll be encouraged to share wisdom from your own life with a child, grandchild, or other young family member.


pass it onThornton begins with an overview of Proverbs that is deep but attainable. Each of the 31 passages is presented and then followed by a section for reflection, which includes the following divisions: Identifying a Verse (a meaningful verse with explanation for why it impacted the reader), Going Deeper (questions for in-depth analysis), Connecting the Gospel (matching a passage in Proverbs with a passage from the New Testament that shows how both point to Jesus), Personalizing a Prayer (prayer for the reader himself and the one he hopes will inherit this keepsake), and Sharing Your Story (personal examples of how the reader has seen the words of this particular proverb acted out in his own life).

Personally, I’m excited about this study for my own understanding of the book of Proverbs, and I love that I can gift it to my children with words of wisdom from my own life experiences. I give this keepsake 5 stars.

To find out more about Pass it On, visit the Litfuse Blog Tour here.
For a great deal on  Pass it On, click here.

Disclaimer: I received an early copy of this book as part of the Litfuse blog tour. 


Screen Shot 2017-11-17 at 2.41.01 PM

Serafina and the Splintered Heart, by Robert Beatty

3 reviewers reflecting on the 3 Serafina books – and how book #3 compared to the others. 


(Serafina and the Black Cloak [1] & Serafina and the Twisted Staff [2]): 

Serafina 3AB: I thought Beatty continued to do an excellent job of hooking the reader. Within the first few pages, I found myself asking, “What in the world is going on here?” In that respect, Beatty does not disappoint.”

Natalie: This one didn’t land for me quite like the other two. But I have been reading a lot of fantasy lit lately, and I think maybe I overdid it in the supernatural. It was fun to read it so close to Halloween.

Meg: Once again, I read this in a sitting. It’s gripping and a little darker than the other two, but in a similar fashion still gives you something good to fight for. I did think this one was a little more “mystical”/New-Age-y than the previous two.


Continue reading

Peace Like a River, by Leif Enger

by Natalie


Eleven-year-old Reuben Land shouldn’t be alive. He failed to breathe after he was born, and it was only when his father commanded him to breathe that he did. His father, Jeremiah Land, is a peculiar man, seemingly with the ability to perform miracles. The Lands live a quiet life – until Reuben’s older brother Davy kills two local villains who attempt to harm the family. Davy is arrested and tried but escapes before his sentencing. As the Lands set off in search of Davy, they’re followed by a fed who’s convinced they’ll lead him to Davy’s hideout. Providence brings them to Roxanna, whose stories and home give the family warmth through winter in the Badlands.

Leif Enger’s novel, a beautiful story of a family in 1960s Minnesota, is woven throughout with cowboy and outlaw tales as well as references to biblical stories and other works of literature. This is at the same time an adventure story, love story, and a somewhat supernatural story. I hesitate to compare anything to To Kill a Mockingbird because reading that was a formative experience for me. But as I read Peace Like a River, I kept thinking that this could be Leif Enger’s TKAM. He didn’t need to write another book (although he has). This is a perfect book to cozy up with this fall and winter. Savor a cup of tea or coffee while you drink in the beautiful, poetic sentences and endearing (but not sappy or sentimental) story.

Purchase Peace Like a River here.

Outlaws of Time: The Legend of Sam Miracle, by N.D. Wilson

outlaws of timeUpon first glance, Sam Miracle’s name appears to be a misnomer. After all, he is stuck in an orphanage in the middle of the desert, and his arms don’t work. Miracles aren’t exactly likely for this teenager. All he has going for him are his incredibly vivid dreams in which he time-travels to fight the evil El Buitre . . . and in which his arms function properly. Continue reading