9 Books Reviewed + a Giveaway

I’m a binge-reader. Once I have a couple of books in hand that I’m excited about, there’s really nothing else I’d rather do than curl up on the couch and get lost in a book. The older I get, the more I choose staying in over going out, saving over splurging, and books over TV —unless it was during each season of Parenthood. (Ya feel me?)

Maybe I’m becoming more boring with age or perhaps I’m getting wiser. Have I mentioned how much I love growing older? For my high school girls reading this: I PROMISE you life gets better. Hang in there, toots! 🙂

In the same way, I believe this also relates to the maturing that’s begun happening in my spiritual life. I’ve been talking to God way more than I talk about Him. (I don’t recall who first said that phrase, but it’s been sketched on my heart ever since.) I don’t think writing and speaking about God is a bad thing (obviously), but lately I’ve been enjoying my time with Him, clinging to those conversations with no interest in divulging.

Back to what I was saying— being a binge-reader. Of all the books I read this year so far (I’ve counted 19, but might be forgetting some…I really need to do a better job tracking that.), the following nine were life-changing for me. Not only are they incredible books, but so are the authors who write them.

To Mike, Melanie, Shannan, Lysa, Susan, Shauna, Gregory, Annie, and Aaron: Thank you for reminding me I’m loved, softening my heart, and giving me a good laugh. 

I’m giving away one copy of #9 so keep reading to find out how it could be on your doorstep in just a few days. 🙂

In no particular order, here are 9 of the best books I read this year:

People of the Second Chance by Mike Foster. {Reminded me I am loved}

Image resultTrue story: when Mike and I met in person the first time we bypassed all surface talk and went straight in for the heart stuff. That’s the thing about Mike. His heart beats for people. As we talked over coffee, I wept in front of Mike (no shame) and he encouraged me to continue sharing how Jesus has transformed my life. One of my favorite pages in his book says, “If you think God feels disappointment when he looks at you, then you don’t know God very well.” (Insert praise hands emoji.) In a world overwhelmed with conflict, confusion, and chaos, I pray you get to know this God. The one who loves you and is never disappointed in you. The one who is not surprised by your mistakes and always gives grace. There’s so much I could tell you about People of the Second Chance, but I don’t want to spoil it for you. So, if you are an imperfect person longing for hope and a second chance, Mike’s words will deliver love, encouragement, and much needed truth to your soul. Also, Mike is doing something outrageously awesome by celebrating people who are desperate for a second chance. You know, the people the world deems unworthy… watch this video to learn more.

The Antelope in the Living Room by Melanie Shankle. {Gave me a good laugh}

Never have I laugh aloud more while reading a book than I did throughout this marriage memoir by Melanie! This book was relatable on so many different levels. My absolute favorite part was how she shared the difference between young love and old love. She left me inspired and humbled all in one. Melanie isn’t just a great story-teller though, she’s a fantastic writer. This book is lighthearted while still manages to dive deep. It’s full of hilarious stories, but also jam-packed with encouragement for marriages of all ages. To be honest, when I finished it, I wanted to immediately put my pen to the paper and begin compiling all of the hilarious stories from my less than 2-year-old marriage with E. Maybe it’s already in the works. 😉

Falling Free by Shannan Martin. {Softened my heart}

Image result for falling freeWhen I was told by a few different people that my writing reminded them of hers, I’m not going to lie- I was perplexed. Who is this blog lady? Is she even any good? I don’t want to be known for being “like” somebody else. But that all changed the minute I went to her blog and got sucked into every post she’d ever written. I was honored to even be mentioned in the same breath. Lucky for me, she agreed to meet up with me when I reached out. She is one of the most sincere women I’ve ever met. Enough about Shannan herself 😉 let me tell you about her book, Falling Free. When I finished it, the first thing I did was text her and say, “I didn’t like your book.” Wanna know why? Because it challenged me, convicted me, and made me all shades restless. I didn’t like this book, I loved it. Honestly (I’m about to make a bold statement here), I wish I could take back all of the 5 star reviews I’ve handed out so easily and give it only to this book. Yup, I said it. The biggest sucker-punch in my gut happened towards the very beginning when she makes a statement regarding Christians. She challenges, are we living for Jesus or are we living the American Dream with a side of Jesus? Gulp. I’m tellin’ ya- if you dare read it, you will not walk away the same person. Her words are strung together in such a beautiful way that makes you want to re-read sentences just to absorb the depth of her writing. Her stories aren’t preachy or self-righteous, but full of hope and power that even the most ordinary people can have a rich life in Christ. And maybe even I need rescued from the life I always wanted…

Uninvited by Lysa TerKeurst. {Reminded me I am loved}

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Lysa is a well-known author and public Christian figure. I was obsessed with her book, “The Best Yes” because it changed my life. “Uninvited” did the same. I read it in two sittings, underlining and snapping photos of sentences I never wanted to forget. I think it speaks volumes to her words that I was doing this on what seemed like every other page. If you want to get inside my head, just read chapter 3 “There’s a Lady at the Gym Who Hates Me” because I was laughing out loud as I read Lysa’s encounter with a lady at her gym who she conjured up this idea that the lady hated her, when in reality it was her own thoughts coming to that conclusion all along. It reminded me SO much of myself. The words in this book were healing for my anxious, rejection-ridden soul. I cannot pick just one quote from the book, but here’s one I’m still steeping: “How dangerous it is when our souls are gasping for God but we’re too distracted flirting with the world to notice.”

Quiet by Susan Cain. {Softened my heart}

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One of my husband’s best friends, whose become the brother I never had, Jason Miller, told me this book changed his life. That was all I needed to hear before running off to pick it up from the library. If you know J or his story at all, you know he’s a pretty incredible human. It may shock some people to hear that J is an introvert. He gets recharged by spending time alone, typically with his golden retriever (who was also the ring bearer in our wedding!), Jack. All of that to say, J deserves all of the credit for me choosing to read a book outside of my normal genre. I picked it up in hopes of gaining insight on the differences between introverts and extroverts, but finished it with a greater understanding of who I am as well as permission to be myself, free of guilt or shame. I strongly recommend this one for people who a.) consider themselves to be an introvert b.) are struggling with identity c.) are a teacher d.) are a parent e.) have friends who are quiet in ways they cannot understand …OK OK, everybody! The extensive time and research that Susan put into this book is undeniable. My biggest takeaway was a fascination, better understanding, and compassion for just how unique we all are.

Present over Perfect by Shauna Niequist. {Reminded me I am loved}

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Honestly, I didn’t want to read this book at first. There was so much hype around it and I thought it would be just another thing to remind me that I suck at being present. (I couldn’t have been more wrong.) I’ve said it before, but I’m a recovering perfectionist, busy-bee, stressed-out control freak. Shauna didn’t add to the guilt and shame I feel for being wired the way that I am, rather she made me feel so much less alone in my struggles. As I read her words I kept thinking, Oh my gosh, could she be my long lost big sister? This book has served as the reality check I needed before it’s too late. So much of what Shauna shared accurately described me and some of it made me realize that if I didn’t change, things were only going to get worse. Somehow she left me feeling more loved than ashamed, and I will most likely read this one again very soon. It was just that good.

Ps. I don’t read books twice hardly ever, so that’s sayin’ something.

Tattoos on the Heart by Gregory Boyle. {Softened my heart}

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This book is filled with real life stories that will make you question just how deep your compassion for people, who are hardest to love, runs. Gregory shares his experiences in the ghetto with people who, I don’t know about you, but I’m too scared to make eye contact with, let alone develop a relationship with. It wasn’t the easiest read because there’s a lot of slang and spanglish, but it was definitely thought provoking. Rather than the typical stereotype, I see gang members in a new light. Gregory’s stories soften your heart towards the scary looking gang member with the teardrop tattoo by his eye. He pushes the reader outside of their comfort zone to see that at our very core, we all have the image of God inside of us. Maybe because of upbringings, poverty, or unfortunate choices, people sometimes go down the wrong path, even some winding up a gang member, BUT we can all do our part to infuse hope into the life of a kid who’s stuck in despair. I strongly suggest this one for inner-city teachers, counselors, and social workers.

Let’s All Be Brave by Annie F. Downs. {Reminded me I am loved}

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The truth is, the title didn’t strike me as something I needed. Without tooting my own horn, I must admit that I feel like I’m a pretty brave person already. However, I kept hearing how this was such a great read for many people I follow on social media, so I decided to purchase it. From the very beginning, I realized that Annie and I are two very different people. I’m more like her friend mentioned in the very beginning, Lyndsay, the natural-born risk taker. As I kept on reading though, I learned that as a writer, I could deeply relate to Annie. I keep this one quote tucked away in my pocket and reread it each time I start to feel discouraged: “God knows we need to dream in pieces because we would be too scared of the whole puzzle.” Annie encourages us all to just start somewhere. To believe you aren’t the runt of the litter.  To find your talent. To speak up. To say your yes’s and your no’s wisely. That courage is for every age. To change the world by being yourself. To march to the beat of your own drum. To remember the courage of Jesus. You should read this if you’re a dreamer, and especially if you’re single. Annie is a great encouragement for singles!

Outrageous by Aaron Tredway. {Gave me a good laugh}

Outrageous: Awake to the Unexpected Adventures of Everyday FaithAaron and his wife, Ginny, walked E and I through premarital counseling over two years ago. Aaron then married us on our big day! When I first heard that Aaron wrote a book I was so happy for him. I didn’t know if it was a dream of his coming true or something he’d worked his toosh off for years on, but what I did know was that because he lives what one might call an “unconventional” lifestyle, his stories would be outrageous. Outrageous they were! This book was my easiest read of 2016 and I mean that as a sincere compliment to Aaron. The stories are lighthearted and will make you laugh out loud. The language he used isn’t complicated or over anyone’s head. He won’t bore you with theology or Christianese. He doesn’t spend time trying to convince you to believe God is with you in the midst of your everyday. Instead, Aaron writes from a place of confidence that he already knows God is with you in the midst of your everyday, while encouraging you to wake up to see it for yourself. My favorite chapter: #8 “Shag the balls.” I’m laughing even as I type those words right now. Just take my word for it and read this one!

*Want to win a free signed copy of Outrageous? Enter by commenting directly on this post something outrageous that has happened in your life which you attribute to God. The winner will be chosen on Tuesday, Nov. 22 and contacted via email.

What are some of your favorite reads of 2016? I plan to make the most of traveling by plane and car this holiday season by reading a few more before the year is up! Name drop your favorites in the comments below.

XO, Manda

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