May 23, 2015

May Book Reviews


I Tried Until I Almost Died
Sandra McCollom
Let me start of with the one thing I did not care for, and then I will explore the many things I did like: the title of the book! It seemed pretty dramatic and I expected a climax to her story where she had some near-death experience that would earn such a title, but alas, there was none. BUT, since I try not to judge a book by its cover (it's so hard sometimes!), I read it and was very happy I did.

Although Sandra did not have a near-death experience that explained the title of the book, her exhausting legalistic lifestyle that she carried for years and years did explain why she was so passionate about writing this book. Sandra was filled with anxious rule-keeping and schedule-keeping mantras that dictated not only her life, but also the lives of her daughters and husband. They all lived under the iron first of her legalism. But one day, she became fed up and exhausted with all trying without ever getting anywhere, and she surrendered to God. What she experienced afterward was pure freedom from expectations and burdens she had placed on herself to perform and work for her identity and worth.

Sandra explains how she now understands grace not as an idea or theology, but as a Person, Jesus Christ. She uses a myriad of scripture to show the beauty of living a life filled with God's grace rather than our own works. And she does an excellent job of reminding readers of God's unfailing love for us, which gives us worth and security in His faithful care.

I could relate to a lot of what she was saying, so I enjoyed the book. Some of it seemed repetitive, where it was the same thing said in different ways, but really, is there really such a thing as talking about grace too much? She had great examples from her own life as well as dear friends', so it was still fresh and interesting with every chapter.
**** Disclosure: I received a copy of this book for free through Blogging For Books  in exchange for this review. All opinions expressed are my own.


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Mama Maggie
Marty Makary and Ellen Vaughn 
Maggie Gobran was an afluent businesswoman and college professor Cairo, Egypt in the early 1980s. However, after visiting the garbage slums in the city and meeting the zabaleen, or garbage people, she was forever changed. Maggie's heart was was broken when she saw countless children picking up trash to try to sell for a few meager coins. She saw disease and abuse spread throughout the slums. She saw despair and corruption. And, she saw hope.

As Maggie Gobran spent more time in Cairo's slums, her passions changed from fashion and business to washing dirty feet and telling the zabaleen about God's love for them. Her pearls and expensive outfits were traded for a simple white t-shirt and long white skirt and head covering, making her appear like a nun, which is one of the reasons she began to be called Mama Maggie. Her maternal compassion for the children, however,  earned her the endearing namesake. She and her husband have teamed up with other Egyptians to serve the zabaleen through their ministry, Stephen's Children, which includes kindergartens, church camps for children, and medical care. 

This is an excellent book about an even more excellent woman. Mama Maggie is a beautiful example of a woman after God's heart for the poor and forgotten. I enjoyed reading her story and being challenged to serve others with a heart that is focused on loving those the world deems unlovable. 
**** Disclosure: I received a copy of this book for free through BookLook Bloggers  in exchange for this review. All opinions expressed are my own.


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Savor
Shauna Niequist
Shauna is known for her storytelling narrative writing showcased in Bread & WineCold Tangerines, and Bittersweet. Following suit with a food-related title, Savor is a 365-day devotional with short excerpts that make you feel you're enjoying a warm drink and biting into sweet pastry or pasta at Shauna's dinner table while you chat about life. And with her favorite recipes included in the book,  you can cook and bake some of the delicious foods she mentions in her books that make your mouth water.

I wanted to love Savor. I wanted to read it and, truly savor each devotion. But there was just something missing for me. Rather than a savoring meal, it was more of an appetizer. I recognized many of the 2-3 paragraph devotions from her previous books and they seemed too short and fragmented from the context they had originally been in. This is not to say it was boring or useless; there were a handful of devotions I was challenged by (such as pages 3, 9, 35, 70), and I definitely liked the action step she has at the end of each day (encouraging the reader to prayer, posing a question for reflection, or challenging the reader). I think it was more of the fact that I like her storytelling narrate style, but I don't seek out this writing style per se, so I am not necessarily captivated by it. Others are, and if so, please give this devotional a chance! I don't want to sway anyone away from it, I just want to honestly share that I wasn't as much of a fan as I expected to me. Her short-and-sweet devotions were hard to sink my teeth into (too many food puns, sorry!) since it takes me a while to get into the zone when I am reading, so I felt like as soon as I was like "Yes, this is great!", then it was over and I was wondering where she was going with that thought.

Take my review with a grain of salt (ok, now the puns are done, I promise) because I didn't actually finish it yet. Its a 365-day devotional after all and I have only had it for two months, so I will slowly read more pages in the next year. Experience it for yourself, especially if you love Shauna's other books. It all depends on what you are looking for in a devotional. If you're looking for an in-depth or exegetical devotional, you may want to look for another devotional (such as devotionals by Oswald Chamber or Charles Spurgeon)  to supplement Savor's light-course meal of encouraging and sometimes thought-provoking pages.
**** Disclosure: I received a copy of this book for free through BookLook Bloggers  in exchange for this review. All opinions expressed are my own.

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The Pearl
John Steinbeck
I didn't know what to think when I picked up this tiny book at the library other than the fact it was written by the same author that wrote the infamous Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men. And since I have been wanting to add more classics in my literary repertoire, I checked it out and saved it for a rainy day.  It was a quick read during my flight to NYC last weekend and I finished it while relaxing my my aching feet propped up after a few days walking all over the city. 

The Pearl is written as a folk tale that dives deep (pun intended) into the depths of evil, greed, and curroption. Kino is a diver living day to day by gathering pearls to sell in exchange for money to support his wife and baby. One day, he finds the mother of all pearls and his life is forever changed. He grapples with the responsibility of such a precious find and tries to decide what is best to do. He is soon met with opposition from every side as others try to capture the pearl and must journey to save his family and give them hope for a better day. 

The writing style of this little story is very different from Steinbeck's other works, but is rich and memorable in its own right. The story itself is simple and short, but the poetic imagery was beautiful.

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The Chronicles of Narnia
C.S. Lewis
Peter, Edmund, Susan, and Lucy are back in Narnia, but they are surprised to see they have travelled to a time much later than their own adventures in Narnia. In fact, Narnia looks like a totally different land and they find themselves lost within its woods. They are on a mission to help the Telmarine Prince Caspian, who has been denied his rightful throne by his conniving uncle, Miraz. Narnia is doomed if the Miraz gains control since he is on mission to destroy the magic of Narnia, killing talking creatures and anyone who stands in his way to the throne. Soon, civil war erupts and the fate of all Narnians stands with two men. 

I am loving the Narnia series so far! I was somewhat familiar with Prince Caspian because of the Disney version, so I replayed certain scenes in my mind as I was listening to the audiobook. My favorite thing about the series, though, has been the Christian symbolism embedded poetically throughout the pages of Narnia. 

Prince Caspian reintroduces the Stone Table, which was the table on which Aslan was killed in Edmund's place and then came back to life (in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe),  symbolizing Jesus' atoning sacrifice at the cross. 

I love Lucy's journey through this book, which beautifully symbolizes the Christian life journey. She struggled to convince her dwarf friend and siblings about seeing Aslan, and when they didn't believe her, she walked away from where she felt Aslan was leading her. Her faith and obedience in the one she loved most was affected by not wanting to be set apart from her group. A little while later, Aslan returns to her and beckons her to lead the group and follow him. His compassionate mercy is shown when she is sorrowful for not following him earlier and buried her face in his mane and is strengthened by Aslan's nearness. She then, with a lionheartedness about her,  convinces the group to follow her as she follows Aslan. How often do we leave what we know is true in exchange for what is politically correct or the popular vote? What an encouraging thought that we can go to Jesus and be strengthened by our nearness to Him and that He is full of mercy for us. During this conversation, Lucy notices how much bigger Aslan seems:
“Aslan,” said Lucy, “you’re bigger.”  “That is because you are older, little one,” answered he.  “Not because you are?”  “I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”
I teared up during this part. What a beautiful truth that as we grow and walk through both good days and hard days, we learn more about more about Jesus. We see His faithfulness even in the roughest seasons and see that He is so much bigger than we had previously believed. The Christian walk is never boring because there is daily new things to experience and enjoy about God. His mercies are new every morning. His ways are so far more beautiful than anything we can imagine. And his creativity is beyond anything the world can fabricate. So yes, he can be bigger and bigger in our eyes every day.



Next month's reading list:

And the Shofar Blew by Franscine Rivers
Kelly Tough by Erin and Jill Kelly
All the Light We Cannot See by Anothony Doerr

5 comments:

  1. that first one sounds absolutely amazing!

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    1. Oh, it is!!! I resonated with the author a lot in that I used to (and sometimes still fall prey to) work for love, both God's and people's rather than accepting it and being free in that love and grace. It is filled with scripture pointing you back to God's love. A good read!

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  2. I love a good reading month! I've had a few strikeouts with books recently...But I'm moving on and really enjoying what I'm reading now! :)

    I can't wait to hear what you think of Doerr's book!!!!

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    1. I think I'm gonna decrease my reading until after my wedding in October, but hopefully will still be able to get 2 books a month! And yes, I am excited for Doerr's book! I didn't realize it was so thick, but I am up for a challenge, especially since I heard it is soooo good!

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  3. I Tried Until I Almost Died, Mama Maggie, and The Pearl have all been added to my "I want to read list." Chronicles of Narnia is one of my all time favorites and I tear up at that part too. So good.

    Also, I've been hearing good things about All the Light We Cannot See, I can't wait to read it.

    Have you read A Lady in France before? I think you would really enjoy it!

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I love to hear your thoughts!

Elle Alice