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Monday, January 2

New Year...New Reads!

I don't know about y'all, but 2016 was just plain nutzo!  Our focus this year is to bring it back to the, family, and fun.  Each of these new books focuses on at least two, or all three, of those....  Today we're starting with adult books, but have a basket full of fantastic kids' books below!!  Grab a new book, curl up, and get reading!  😉

Strengths Based Marriage (Jimmy Evans)
Marriage expert Jimmy Evans and strengths expert Allan Kelsey show readers how to have a happier, stronger marriage by applying the concepts from the popular StrengthsFinder assessment to their relationship. One of the biggest obstacles to a happy, strong marriage is a lack of understanding of yourself and your spouse. With Strengths Based Marriage, MarriageToday cofounder Jimmy Evans and Gallup Certified Strengths Coach Allan Kelsey give readers the tools they need to dismantle that hurdle and develop a deeper and richer relationship. Applying the revelatory concepts from the popular Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment to marriage, Evans and Kelsey break new ground in helping readers understand themselves and others. Utterly practical and deeply insightful, the book covers topics like Stopping the Cycles of Pain, Speaking Love to Your Spouse’s Heart, and Secrets of Successful Marriages. Strengths Based Marriage will forever change the way you see yourself, your spouse, and your marriage.

This book was a huge disappointment, largely because it doesn’t say anywhere that you’re going to need to budget the extra $89 per person to take the test.  And the test is really a required element, if you’re going to get anything out of the book.  The strengths include : Connectedness, Harmony, Self-Assurance, Command, Belief, Individualization, Responsibility, Empathy, Focus, Input, Intellection, Adaptability, and Ideation. But without knowing how you and your partner rank on the test, it’s difficult to apply anything you might read in the book.   The authors stress that communication is a big key in marriage, but it’s also key in publishing.  If something else must be purchased concurrently with a book, then that needs to be relayed to the consumer.  Overall, I cannot recommend it.

Tune In : The Beatles (Mark Lewisohn)
The Beatles have been in our lives for half a century and surely 
always will be. Still, somehow, their music excites, their influence resonates, their fame sustains. New generations find and love them, and while many other great artists come and go, the Beatles are beyond eclipse. So . . . who really were these people, and just how did it all happen? 'The Beatles story' is everywhere. Told wrong from early on, rehashed in every possible way and routinely robbed of its context, this is a phenomenon in urgent need of a bright new approach. In his series All These Years, Mark Lewisohn – the world-recognized Beatles historian – presses the Refresh button to relate the entire story as it’s never been told or known before. Here is a full and accurate biography at last. It is certain to become the lasting word. Tune In is book one of three, exploring and explaining a period that is by very definition lesser-known: the formative pre-fame years, the teenage years, the Liverpool and Hamburg years – in many ways the most absorbing and incredible period of them all. The Beatles come together here in all their originality, attitude, style, speed, charisma, appeal, daring and honesty, the tools with which they’re about to reshape the world. It’s the Beatles in their own time, an amazing story of the ultimate rock band, a focused and colorful telling that builds and builds to leave four sharp lads from Liverpool on the very brink of a whole new kind of fame. Using impeccable research and resources, Tune In is a magisterial work, an independent biography that combines energy, clarity, objectivity, authority and insight. The text is anti-myth, tight and commanding – just like the Beatles themselves. Here is the Beatles story as it really was. Throw away what you think you know and start afresh.

Whoa!  This is only Volume 1, and it’s nearly 1,000 pages long!!  This volume spans from 1945 to 1962, and includes all of the stuff we already know, along with a ton of new information.  Remember (check the dates), this volume spans their early childhoods and up to right before they burst onto the music scene in a big way.  The author has definitely done his research – speaking with anyone and everyone who might have been in the same vicinity as these guys – and digging up as much as possible on each of the Fab Four, Pete Best, and their friends and family members.  If you’re a Beatles fan, strap in for a wild ride!  If you’re a less hard-core Beatles fan, you may not make it through the entire book.  

For the Record (Regina Jennings)
Betsy Huckabee might be a small-town girl, but she has big-city dreams. Writing for her uncle's newspaper will never lead to independence, and the bigger newspapers don't seem interested in the Hart County news. Trying a new approach, Betsy pens a romanticized serial for the ladies' pages, and the new deputy provides the perfect inspiration for her submissions. She'd be horrified if he read her breathless descriptions of him, but these articles are for a newspaper far away. No one in Pine Gap will ever know. Deputy Joel Puckett didn't want to leave Texas, but this job in tiny Pine Gap is his only shot at keeping his badge. With masked marauders riding every night, his skills and patience are tested, but even more challenging is the sassy journalist lady chasing him.

I didn't know that this was the third in a series until about halfway through, when it seemed like some of the other characters had stories of their own that the reader was expected to know.  It didn't detract my understanding and liking the story, but probably would have been good to read those first.  That said, I liked this one enough that I'll be going back to check out the first two in the series.  It's a nice little mystery, nothing dark or sinister, that's set in the Ozarks.    Since it's set so close to home, it was easy to picture the setting and feel like I was there.  There's romance, drama, mystery...all of the elements of a good book to curl up with and get lost in!

The Women of Easter (Liz Curtis Higgs)

You’re about to meet three women named Mary, each of
whom has a life-changing encounter with Jesus. Mary of Bethany prepares the way for the Lord’s burial when she anoints His feet and fills the air with her perfume. His mother, Mary of Nazareth, remains by His side from His first breath to His last, her loyalty unwavering. Mary Magdalene, delivered of seven demons, bravely supports her Teacher through His darkest hours and then proclaims the glorious news of His resurrection. What a trio. What a Savior!  Your mind and emotions will be engaged and your faith strengthened as each scene unfolds, preparing your heart for a richer, deeper Easter experience. Liz Curtis Higgs, a seasoned Bible teacher and award-winning novelist, combines her storytelling skills with a thorough verse-by-verse study of Scripture as together you explore the remarkable lives of the women of Easter.  “Liz Curtis Higgs is one of the most amazing teachers of God’s Word that I have ever experienced. Her in-depth knowledge of the Scriptures, gifting as a communicator, and personal relationship with the Lord make her unmatched in the ability to take biblical truth and make it applicable to anybody.”

Using the stories of Mary of Bethany, Mary of Nazareth, and Mary Magdalene, Higgs once again brings the Bible to life.  While not as intriguing as the Bad Girls of the Bible series, this one still lives up to her standards.  Each of the women encounter Jesus, and these are their stories.  There is a study guide at the back of the book, too, if you'd like to use it as part of a book group.  If you're looking for a new Easter book, to help re-center you on the meaning of the season, this is a good one to pick up.

Grace for the Moment (Max Lucado)

Grace for the Moment offers inspiring devotions to grow in your faith as you embrace the hope of the Lord every day. Each daily reading features devotional writings from Max’s numerous bestsellers as well as a Scripture verse selected especially for each day's reading.  This deluxe, large edition of the classic devotional makes a handsome gift to commemorate a special occasion. It offers a leather-flex cover, beautifully designed pages with large type, and a ribbon marker.  Whether you already know and love Grace for the Moment or you’re looking for a new way to draw near to the Lord, this gorgeous, deluxe version will inspire your heart.
These devotions are quick reads and easy to digest.  It's a perfect way to start the day!  The imitation leather makes for a very beautiful outside presentation, so it would also make a good coffee table book.  Each month starts with a simple photograph to help you reflect upon the season.  It would make a good gift for someone wanting to start the new year with a new devotional.

The Fix (Jonathan Tepperman)
We all know the bad news. The heady promise of the Arab Spring has given way to repression, civil war, and an epic refugee crisis. Economic growth is sputtering. Income inequality is rising around the world. And the threat of ISIS and other extremist groups keeps spreading. We are living in an age of unprecedented, irreversible decline—or so we’re constantly being told.  Jonathan Tepperman’s The Fix presents a very different picture. The book reveals the often-overlooked success stories, offering a provocative, unconventional take on the answers hiding in plain sight. It identifies ten pervasive and seemingly impossible challenges—including immigration reform, economic stagnation, political gridlock, corruption, and Islamist extremism—and shows that, contrary to the general consensus, each has a solution, and not merely a hypothetical one. In his close analysis of government initiatives as diverse as Brazil’s Bolsa Família program, Indonesia’s campaign against radicalism, Canada’s early embrace of multiculturalism, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s efforts to prevent another 9/11, Tepperman captures the moments in time which reveal the broadly applicable measures which can boost and buttress equality, incomes, cooperation, and cohesion in wildly diverse societies. He flips conventional political wisdom on its head, showing, for example, how much the U.S. Congress could learn about compromise and conciliation from its counterpart in Mexico.  Tepperman has traveled the world to write this book, conducting more than a hundred interviews with the people behind the policies. Meticulously researched and deeply reported, The Fix presents practical advice for problem-solvers of all stripes, and stands as a necessary corrective to the hand-wringing and grim prognostication that dominates the news, making a data-driven case for optimism in a time of crushing pessimism.

If you're looking for a pick-me-up, put down this book and walk away.  It's not that, for sure and for certain!  However, if you're interested in public administration, world government, or simply trying to make a change, this could be a good (albeit hefty) read for you.  The author covers : inequality, immigration, extremism, civil war, corruption, resources, energy, income, and gridlock.  Each topic gets an international case study with real-world applications of his 'fix' suggestions, showing how that country overcame that particular problem.  I like that the author is actually trying to do something about issues, rather than wallowing in the world's decline, but I think there is an element of luck and timing that needs to be accepted, too.  Also, if the US has learned anything from the last election, a complete restart may be needed in some places, too...with new ideas and thinkers who are freed from the indoctrination of a long-standing government.

Gerad Kite - founder of the renowned Kite Clinic in London - believes that the way we are living today is making us ill. For all the choices we have, for all the improvements in our material lifestyle, people are more unhappy than ever - because we have lost the ability to tap into our inner selves.  In this inspiring, revelatory book, Kite shows us how to look at things from a different perspective, and to uncover the truth: that everything we need to be happy and well, we already have inside.  Drawing on the principles of ancient Chinese philosophy and his extensive experience of helping people of all ages and from all walks of life, Kite offers a life-changing promise - a route to a state of being that is more authentic, expansive and liberating than anything most people can currently find either in their thoughts or the world around them.
While this wasn't exactly what I thought it would be, it was a nice breather from some of the more serious books I've been reading lately.  Taoism and ancient Chinese concepts (such as the five elements) are used as the base of the book, and are well explained, in spite of being a bit complicated.  There are case studies for each of the elements.  If you're looking for a book to help you re-center your life and your priorities for the new year, this could be a fresh take on the standard "get right with your life" read.
Kids & Teens
NIV Bible for Teen Guys (Zondervan)

The NIV Bible for Teen Guys, designed specifically for guys ages 13 to 18, is for real teenage guys with real lives. Packed with daily readings, highlighted promises of God, challenging insights, smart advice, and open discussion about the realities of life, this Bible is designed to help teen guys grow in their faith. The NIV Bible for Teen Guys is as serious about your walk with God as you are, helping you discover his will for all areas of your life, including relating to your family, dealing with friends, work, sports, girls, and so much more.

Features include:

  • Daily readings for teen guys by popular Christian male authors (Mark Batterson, Kyle Idleman, Mark Hall, Max Lucado, and more)
  • Character profiles of men in the Bible
  • Book introductions for each book of the Bible
  • Highlighted promises of God: verses worth remembering
  • A concordance for help in finding verses
  • The complete text of the bestselling New International Version (NIV) of the Bible

This Bible is packed with over three hundred devotions, each of them one-page long, so perfect for short attention spans.  Each focuses on a specific verse, and the topics covered are indexed at the back of the book for easy access.  I like the pages that highlight Men of the Bible, because our young men today need some good, strong male role models.  It's not a study Bible, but purely a devotional, but I think that it's well designed and appropriate for pre-teen and teenage boys.

I’m Going to Give You a Bear Hug!, written by bestselling author Caroline B. Cooney, is a playful and comforting bedtime book that imagines all the wonderful ways a child might give and receive a hug. Whether it’s a big bear, gasp for air, knock over a chair hug or a wet and drippy, slimy, slippy fish hug, children will giggle their way through all the imaginative examples. Cooney’s sweet and simple rhymes encourage playful interaction between parent and child and ultimately help them wind down before they snuggle into bed and drift off to sleep.

Brought to you by Caroline Cooney, author of many a fantastic young adult read, this book is geared toward little ones. We can only imagine that she is writing for grandchildren these days, and continuing to do a wonderful job! This book has really colorful and engaging pictures. The rhymes bring a nice rhythm to it, and also help your beginning reader to do some pre-reading practice (that's when the memorize it before they can truly 'read' it...but an important step). The girls really love animals, and since this book features all sorts of animals and their hugs, they loved this book a lot!

Lots of Love (Kim Washburn)
Lots of Love celebrates all the ways we show love—from hugs and kisses to sharing and helping others. The sweet rhymes and whimsical artwork in this board book illustrate the special bonds of love between families and friends. Perfect for young children, this book will make you want to snuggle with your little one as you two explore the greatest blessing of all—love!

This board book was the perfect size, and durable enough, for my eighteen month old.  She is currently in love with all things puppy, and the main character in the book has a puppy, so it was a hit!  The book is about a girl who spends time loving her puppy, and mommy and daddy, and giving hugs to classroom friends.  It has good messages of kindness and how to show that you care.

Read and Play Baby Bible (Gustavo Mazali)
The Read and Play Baby Bible offers parents priceless opportunities to cuddle up with their child and enjoy time together learning about God’s Word. With 22 fun stories written just for little ones and activities like tickling bellies and singing along with David and his harp, children will learn that God loves and cares about them. The Read and Play Baby Bible fill story time with lots of love, hugs, and kisses.

This was my daughter's favorite the point that she sleeps with it under her pillow every night!!  It is very colorful and tells all of the Bible stories in baby terms.  It has wonderful rhymes, which are engaging, but in very simplistic terms.  After each story, there is an age-appropriate activity to do with your little one.  Even my beginning reader enjoyed this one, since she was able to learn and 'read' the book herself.

Berenstain Bears Hugs & Kisses Sticker Book (Jan & Mike Berenstain)
Celebrate Valentine’s Day with the Berenstain Bears with puzzles, activity pages, and more than 50 reusable stickers in The Berenstain Bears Hugs and Kisses Sticker and Activity Book.  Featuring Papa, Mama, Brother, Sister, and Honey and the rest of the Bear Country gang, kids are sure to have loads of fun as they help Sister Bear through a maze to find her Valentine, solve word puzzles with Brother, color with Honey Bear, and a whole lot more!

This is a book for older kids - it's an activity book, with stickers, adding and matching activities, coloring pages, and morals strung throughout it (like all Berenstain books).  The stickers are reusable, which is nice.  It is designed as a Valentines' Day book, with the theme of family and love.  I would say this is a good book for five to eight year olds, or any kid that likes the Berenstain Bears series.

God Made You Nose to Toes (Leslie Parrott)
Help little ones understand that God created each part of their bodies so they can enjoy life and everything in it. In this delightful book by well-known author and family therapist Leslie Parrott, little ones ages 5 and under can follow along with Toucan--with a great big nose--as he helps them learn God loves each one of them completely.]

This board book is perfect for little hands to hold and turn the pages.  It has lots of rhymes and engaging, colorful illustrations.  The book we received has a different cover and illustrations, but the same text.  That is because this is an older book that is being re-released this year.  It teaches about body parts and the reason why God made each of them.

Falling Free (Shannan Martin)
Shannan Martin had the perfect life: a cute farmhouse on six rambling acres, a loving husband, three adorable kids, money, friends, a close-knit church—a safe, happy existence.  But when the bottom dropped out through a series of shocking changes and ordinary inconveniences, the Martins followed God’s call to something radically different: a small house on the other side of the urban tracks, a shoestring income, a challenged public school, and the harshness of a county jail (where her husband is now chaplain). And yet the family’s plunge from “safety” was the best thing that could have happened to them.  Falling Free charts their pilgrimage from the self-focused wisdom of the world to the topsy-turvy life of God’s more being found in less. Martin’s practical, sweetly subversive book invites us to rethink assumptions about faith and the good life, push past insecurity and fear, and look beyond comfortable, middle-class Christianity toward a deeper, richer, and ultimately more fulfilling life.

I wasn't sure what to expect from this book, but it was like talking to a girlfriend over coffee.  She lays it all out there...her worries and fears about her family's transition, the details of their new lives, and her struggles with obeying Jesus' call.  She calls it like she sees it and invites you to join her in self-examination.  My favorite part about this book is how friendly is feels.  It really does feel like a conversation with your best girlfriend, someone who may not always agree with you but is never going to be judgmental or act like her actions make her better than you.  She simply invites you down the path to betterment.

I received some, but not all, of these books in exchange for an honest review.  All opinions are my own.
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