2015 Reading List

3 01 2016


  1. The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances by Matthew Inman
  2. Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith by Jon Krakauer
  3. The Last American Man by Elizabeth Gilbert
  4. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni
  5. Managerial Accounting by Garrison, Noreen & Brewer
  6. Interrupted by Jen Hatmaker
  7. House Rules by Jodi Picoult
  8. Carry On, Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life by Glennon Doyle Melton
  9. Operations Management for MBAs by Meredith & Shafer
  10. A Topography of the Soul by Phil Dillingham
  11. Fundamentals of Corporate Finance by Ross, Westerfield & Jordan
  12. The Giver by Lois Lowry
  13. Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry
  14. Messenger by Lois Lowry
  15. Son by Lois Lowry
  16. Bringing Innovation to School by Suzie Boss
  17. #EdJourney: A Roadmap to the Future of Education by Grant Lichtman
  18. Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead  by Brene Brown
  19. Pure Genius: Building a Culture of Innovation and Taking 20% Time to the Next Level by Don Wettrick
  20. Strategic Management: Competitiveness and Globalization by Michael Hitt, Duane Ireland, and Robert Hoskisson
  21. I Shouldn’t Even Be Doing This! By Bob Newhart
  22. Holding Fast: The Untold Story of the Mount Hood Tragedy by Karen James
  23. Redemption by Bryan Clay
  24. Destiny’s Dwellers by DC Daugherty
  25. HBR’s 10 Must Reads: On Communication
  26. For the Love by Jen Hatmaker
  27. I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai
  28. Life in the Turn Lane by Jim Patton
  29. The Maze Runner by James Dashner
  30. The Scorch Trials by James Dashner
  31. The Death Cure by James Dashner
  32. The Kill Order by James Dashner
  33. Tales From Another Mother Runner by Dimity McDowell and Sarah Bowen Shea
  34. Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzer
  35. Thank You Power by Deborah Norville
  36. Doing Virtuous Business by Theodore Roosevelt Malloch
  37. The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
  38. The Four Agreements by Manuel Ruiz
  39. Trafficked by Sophie Hayes
  40. Bossy Pants by Tina Fey
  41. Holy Bible/The Message by Eugene Peterson

Holy Bible/The Message  by Eugene Peterson
Yes, this book will always be at the top of my reading list.  This marks year five of reading through the entire thing, and I never get tired of it.  In fact, the more I read it, the more I desire to read more.  It’s a wonderful circle.  I continue to be challenged, rebuked, and encouraged, and I hope I always will.

I have been reading a different translation of the Bible the past few years, and this year I read The Message once I got to the New Testament.  It is a contemporary paraphrase, and I really didn’t like it.  I found myself reverting back to the verbiage of the NIV in many places where I found the wording particularly weird.  I know some people really like The Message, but I’m not one of them.

Pure Genius:  Building a Culture of Innovation and Taking 20% Time to the Next Level by Don Wettrick
Innovation, design thinking, and 21st Century skills are the buzz words du jour in academia these days.  And all for a good reason.  As we move toward a flatter world (more global society), our students need to learn skills for jobs that probably don’t even exist today.  In his book, Wettrick offers educators an inside view into designing an Innovations Class along with the pros and cons.

I first met Wettrick at Microsoft’s Innovative Educators Forum in 2011, and we served on the same collaborative team.  Wettrick already was a rock-star teacher and is even more so now.  I recommend this book to any educator or administrator who needs to know how to bring innovation into the classroom in a real-world, authentic, and meaningful way.

Thank You Power by Deborah Norville
Norville cites anecdotal and scientific, peer reviewed research regarding how having a positive attitude can make all facets of life better, easier, etc.  Evidence across the ages points to “an attitude of gratitude” leading to better health, greater optimism, resilience in difficult times, and just living a plain old happier life.

Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzer
The subtitle is “tools for talking when the stake are high,” and that sums it up.  This book is filled with common sense (when we’re not in a crucial conversation) and incredibly simple (in theory) strategies to help us communicate when we’re in a tough situation:  emotions are high, stakes are high, confusion is high, etc.  In these moments when human nature tends to react as poorly as possible, we can retrain ourselves to step back, ask questions, listen better, and create safety and clarity to get meaningful dialogue flowing again.  This book is recommended for anyone who interacts with anyone else on the planet.

For the Love by Jen Hatmaker
Hatmaker is one of my favorite authors.  She is as wise for her years as she is wickedly humorous and witty.  So what is this book about?  The tagline sums it up nicely:  fighting for grade in a world of impossible standards.

Bringing Innovation to School by Suzie Boss
Charged with being more innovative in the classroom this year, this book was the choice as our school-wide summer reading.  It was surprisingly interesting, and it generated several curriculum ideas for the classes I teach as well as an idea for a new class in the 2017 school year.

#EdJourney:  A Roadmap to the Future of Education by Grant Lichtman
Another required summer reading book for my work, this book was similar to the one by Suzie Boss.  In fact, they quoted many of the same authors, interviewed many of the same educators, and visited many of the same schools.  The middle section, chapters 6-10, in particular, offered several useful ideas I hope to adopt in my classroom in the coming years.

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni
Lencioni is quickly becoming my favorite business/leadership author.  I’ve read several of his books for my MBA work, and the ones I haven’t read for that, I’ll soon be reading for my own pleasure.  Lencioni is able to weave a short, apt narrative brimming with important—and usually ridiculously simple—leadership principles.  His storytelling manner is quite effective, not just to hold the reader’s attention, but to get his point across.  This is a short easy read, and a definite recommendation for anyone in a leadership position or who works in a team setting in any profession.

I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai
This autobiography details Malala’s life as a normal Pakistani little girl up to a being an activist teenager speaking against the Taliban and advocating for girls/women’s right to receive an education.  Her boldness, the support of her family—particularly her father—are inspiring.  This was a good reminder of how blessed we are in Western societies with our freedoms and rights, many of which we not just take for granted but complain wildly about when we don’t get our way.

The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances by Matthew Inman
Cartoons illustrate this humorous book based on its title.  I could relate to just about every single item Inman mentioned.  My favorite being how long distance runners begin to invent really creative ways to measure time and distance.  It’s a short, easy read, and I’d definitely recommend this for any runner.

Trafficked by Sophie Hayes
Hayes tells her harrowing story of how she was “groomed” for four years by her “best friend” who overnight turned into her pimp to pay off a drug deal.  Hayes was an educated, middle class young woman with a decent job.  Lured away for a weekend get-away, her world was turned upside down into one of physical and psychological abuse, illness, and prostitution.  I was stunned how quickly and easily her trafficker gained full control of her body and mind.

Tales from Another Mother Runner by Dimity McDowell and Sarah Bowen Shea
This is a collection of short essays submitted by women—specifically mother—runners from around the country.  Each telling her own story, some are serious, some hilarious, all meaningful.  Any mother who is a runner will easily relate to many/most of what these women share.

Daring Greatly:  How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead  by Brene Brown
Brown takes us through her many years of research on Wholehearted Living, as she coins it:  being vulnerable as we live in community with one another.  Her chapter on shame and guilt resonated with me a lot as this is something I struggle with every day.  This is not light reading, and you really need to process what Brown says, but it was enlightening.

Carry On, Warrior:  The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life by Glennon Doyle Melton
Glennon Doyle Mention shares her life’s story in hilarious fashion in this book.  It’s the first thing of hers I’ve read, and I was won over by the end of page one.  Her blog, Momastery, is just as riveting, insightful, and entertaining.  Much like Jen Hatmaker, she is a new favorite contemporary author and blogger.

Life in the Turn Lane by Jim Patton
Patton describes his “rags to riches” story from being a rejected HVAC repairman to becoming a M&A expert handling international billion dollar transactions.  Not only does Patton explain his business dealings a pragmatic sense, he intertwines his faith in Christ throughout his story.  A good book for any business man, especially one who follows Christ.

The Maze Runner Trilogy and Prequel #1 by James Dashner
Another series in the genre of post-apocalyptic dystopian societies trying to figure out how to save the human race after a mind-altering virus has been let loose on the world as a means of population control.  Having read the Giver Quartet, the Divergent trilogy, and the Hunger Games series, this one held my attention, but I quickly tired of reading fight scene after fight scene of something that sounded like it came from World War Z (or any other human-turned-crazy zombie-like creature movie of your choice.)

The Giver Quartet by Lois Lowry
A mingling of science fiction and fantasy, the Giver quartet was perhaps the first of the new genre of dystopian teen fiction, long before The Hunger Games or Divergent series.  Lowry loosely crafts the four books together, with the first and last most closely tied.  It is a world devoid of emotion in one area, devoid of technology in another, but all have young men and women with special “gifts,” when brought together, can create a better world for everyone.  If you’re a fan of this genre, these four novels are a quick, easy, interesting read.

Holding Fast:  The Untold Story of the Mount Hood Tragedy by Karen James,
Karen James, the widow of climber Kelly James, details the week-long search and rescue efforts to find her husband and two climbing friends trapped on Mount Hood in the storm of the century.  Clear, concise, and well written, Karen also discussed her struggles with being a new widow, and she intertwines her faith and her family’s faith throughout.  It’s simultaneously tragic and inspiring.

Interrupted by Jen Hatmaker
Interrupted details the Hatmaker’s life-changing, God-calling “interruption” on their comfortable lives.  Much like Abraham, the family was called to leave all that they knew for something unseen and unknown.  Placing their trust in Him, they obeyed and followed.

I’m a huge fan of Jen Hatmaker, and I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED Seven, but I could not relate to this book as I can to almost all of the rest of her writing.

A Topography of the Soul by Phil Dillingham
Phil is my pastor so I have the pleasure of learning from him almost every week.  He is a wise man, a godly man, a disciplined man, and he has a tremendous gift of teaching.  Even the most difficult concepts can be conveyed in simple terms.  Philosophy majors and convicts alike enjoy his teachings.

HBR’s 10 Must Reads:  On Communications
Harvard Business Review (HBR) has a series of books on different business topics, each featuring the 10 most popular/important contributions in their fields from the past several decades.  I had to read a few of the articles during my MBA program, but I was so impressed with them, I went back after I had graduated and finished reading the rest.  This series is truly a “must read” for any business professional.

Redemption by Bryan Clay
Clay details the journey of his life beginning as a rebellious young boy constantly in trouble and getting into physical fights at school all the way through winning an Olympic gold in the decathlon in 2008.  Clay illustrates lesson after lesson of what it means to really trust God, persevere through doubt during times of trial.

House Rules by Jodi Picoult
House Rules explores how a family deals with the effects of autism, and how those who communicate differently are challenged by a justice system that will not accommodate them.

This is my first novel by Jodi Picoult, but it was interesting and moved at a good pace despite the 500+ pages.  It was a selection for a book club I’m in, and the lady who chose it is a professional career counselor who deals with adult students with disabilities.  From her perspective, this was an accurate picture of what it’s like for a family dealing with an autistic child (Asperger’s).

Under the Banner of Heaven:  A Story of Violent Faith by Jon Krakauer
Krakauer tells the story of Joseph Smith and the early history of the Mormon church up through present day with a special focus on the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints (FLDS).  Several times while reading through the book, I had to walk away from it due to its disturbing narratives.  I’ve read numerous books on the Jewish and Rwandan holocausts, but there was something markedly different about the atrocities proliferated among the FLDS—the plural marriages, the child brides, marrying off a 12-year-old girl to a man in his 60s, the incest between fathers and daughters, the brainwashing.  This was not an easy book to get through, but if you’re looking for an unadulterated history of the Church of Latter Day Saints, this is it.

The Last American Man by Elizabeth Gilbert
Gilbert tells the true story of Eustace Conway, a rare breed in today’s world—one who lives off the land in every regard, from making his own clothing out of buckskins, to farming with horses and mules, to building and living in his own teepee.  Gilbert does a masterful job of weaving through Conway’s life and how his childhood influenced who he is today.  It’s a fascinating read for anyone who appreciates nature on a deep level—deeper than “it’s pretty outside”—or who fancies himself an outdoorsman.  If you are the latter, you will be put to shame.

Bossy Pants by Tina Fey
This is Fey’s autobiography/memoir of sorts.  It’s funny and a little crude at times, but I appreciated her transparency in writing about how she worked her way to the top with integrity as well as her honesty in talking about the struggles of being a working mom.

Destiny’s Dwellers by DC Daugherty
Full disclosure, I work with the author.  That said, this is the third fantasy/sci-fi/young adult novel he’s written, and I’ve enjoyed them all.  This is volume 1 (of how many, I’m not sure) and tells the story of Destin and his work among the “Dwellers,” a group of dead kids, ages 5-15, who help others move on to their final resting place.  However, evil lurks in the streets of Chicago, and Destin feels called to offer himself as the final sacrifice to end the fear.  The redemption/sacrifice theme at the end of the novel was quite moving.

The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
Mango Street is a series of vignettes about Esperanza Corderos, a young Latina girl, growing up in Chicago.  Incoming freshmen read this as part of their summer reading every year, and I wanted to read it for that reason.  I imagine the boys have a difficult time with the story.

Doing Virtuous Business by Theodore Roosevelt Malloch
Malloch highlights various businesses around the globe which have invested in “spiritual capital” and have reaped success and profits from which.  I didn’t care for Malloch’s clear denigrating of pretty much any primarily Democratic-created social program in America.  He also presented case studies that, while presenting good evidence to support faith-based business acumen, really didn’t have much to do with his chapter or section headings.

I Shouldn’t Even Be Doing This! By Bob Newhart
I have always been a fan of Bob Newhart so I was excited to see this book at Dollar Tree for $1.  However, it was disappointing.  It was not well written, which I fault the editors more than the writer.  The stories were choppy, lacking in important detail, and ended abruptly.  Sadly, I cannot recommend this to anyone, including diehard fans.

The Four Agreements by Manuel Ruiz
This was recommended by several fellow MBA students in my cohort, so I thought, “can’t wait to read it!”  Disappointing is mild.  I struggled to stay awake while reading it, and it is one of the few books, besides MBA textbooks (see below) that I resorted to skimming just to say I read the entire thing.

The overarching advice:  stay true to your word, try your best, forgive, move on, etc. are all well and good and are things I definitely believe in.  However, the manner in which these ideas were presented seemed like they were written by an elementary aged child for other elementary aged children.  Read your Bible if you want the same advice.

Strategic Management:  Competitiveness and Globalization by Michael Hitt, Duane Ireland, and Robert Hoskisson
Textbook for my last MBA class on strategic management and competitiveness and globalization, just as the name implies.  It was a bit redundant from other textbooks I’ve read during this program, and it was incredibly dry.  It would take several hours just to get through one 25-page chapter, and I almost always fell asleep while reading.

Operations Management for MBAs by Meredith & Shafer
It was a text book for Operations Management.  Normally things like process, flow, and efficiency are right up my alley, but this book was a little dry.

Fundamentals of Corporate Finance by Ross, Westerfield, & Jordan
Advance managerial finance text book.  It was a toss-up between this and the accounting text book as to which I disliked more.

Managerial Accounting by Garrison, Noreen, & Brewer
It was an accounting text book.  Nothing more to say.


2013 Reading List

6 01 2014

The first list is the order in which I read, and the second list is the order of importance to me along with a brief synopsis and my thoughts on the book.

1. A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin
2. A Clash of Kings by George R. R. Martin
3. A Storm of Swords by George R. R. Martin
4. A Feast for Crows by George R. R. Martin
5. A Dance with Dragons by George R. R. Martin
6. A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park
7. Parenting: Illustrated with Crappy Pictures by Amber Dusick
8. Little Bee by Chris Cleave
9. Almost Amish by Nancy Sleeth
10. Ah-Choo! The Uncommon Life of You Common Cold By Jennifer Ackerman
11. Brain Surgeon by Dr. Keith Black
12. Death to the Dictator by Afsaneh Moqadam
13. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
14. Spectral Relapse (Walking Ghost Phase book 2) by David Daugherty
15. The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling
16. Ms. Understood by Jen Hatmaker
17. Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers by Anne Lamott
18. The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell by Chris Colfer
19. Fit2Fat2Fit by Drew Manning
20. The Watchmaker’s Daughter by Sonia Taitz
21. Life, In Spite of Me by Kristen Jane Anderson
22. Unbroken: A War World II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand
23. Dwarf: A Memoir by Tiffanie DiDonato
24. Jujitsu Rabbi and the Godless Blonde by Rebecca Davis
25. A Century of Wisdom: Lessons From Alice Herz-Sommer, the World’s Oldest Living Holocaust Survivor by Caroline Stoessinger
26. Honest Advice for Teachers by Susan Eubanks Stepp
27. The Silver Hand (Song of Albion book #2) by Stephen Lawhead
28. The Endless Knot (Song of Albion book #3) by Stephen Lawhead
29. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain
30. Glorious Holy Spirit by Fr. Cedric Pisegna
31. The Best Women’s Travel Writing, Vol. 8 ed. by Lavinia Spaulding
32. Wild (From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail) by Cheryl Strayed
33. The Servant by James Hunter
34. Soul Survivor by Philip Yancey
35. Leading Leaders by Jeswald Salacuse
36. Harvard Business Review’s 10 Must Reads: On Communication
37. Harvard Business Review’s 10 Must Reads: On Teams
38. Many Waters by Madeleine L’Engle
39. Holy Bible

Holy Bible
Yes, this book will always be at the top of my reading list. This marks year five of reading through the entire thing, and I never get tired of it. In fact, the more I read it, the more I desire to read more. It’s a wonderful circle. I continue to be challenged, rebuked, and encouraged, and I hope I always will.

Parenting: Illustrated in Crappy Pictures by Amber Dusick
Dusick is my new favorite blogger, talking about the typical goings-on in a house with a young child and a toddler. Oh, and she draws crappy pictures to illustrate these goings-on. Not only can I relate to EVERYTHING she writes, her illustrations are hilarious.

If you are a parent, grandparent, or hope to be a parent, you need to read this book and check out Dusick’s blog at http://www.crappypictures.com. This is my new go-to gift for baby showers.

Unbroken: A War World II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand
Unbroken details the life of Louis Zampereli, an Olympic runner who enlisted during WWII, became a bombardier, was hot down during combat, survived 40+ days and drifting over 2,000 miles into enemy hands, was beaten and tortured and starved in a Japanese POW camp, and later became a Christian, forgiving his tormentors.

Hillenbrand, author of Seabiscuit, tells a riveting story of Zamperili’s life and trials as a POW during WWII. To read it is to be in awe of how much cruelty humans can endure as well as their compassion and ability to forgive. I cannot wait till this is made into a movie.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain
As the title implies, Cain explores the powers of introverts in a very extroverted culture in America. The research is stunning and often counter-intuitive as to the benefits introverts can bring to the workforce, leadership positions, parenting, and teaching.

Considering almost half of mankind is introverted, whether you are an introvert or extrovert, this book is a must read.

Soul Survivor by Philip Yancey
This is Yancey’s tribute to 13 remarkable men and women from around the world who helped transform his life and his work, rescuing him from “the Church.” Some were Christian, some were not. All lived profound lives that impacted Yancey deeply, demonstrating for him a life-enhancing rather than a life-constricting faith.

While I had heard of several of Yancey’s mentors: Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi, and C. Everett Koop, others were unfamiliar: Dr. Paul Brand, Dr. Robert Coles, and Henri Nouwen, but nonetheless inspiring. Yancey provided such riveting mini-biographies of these individuals, I find myself coming back to his words time and again.

The Servant by James Hunter
Billed as “a simple story about the true essence of leadership,” it is a quick, easy read that will rock your world as a leader—whether you are a leader of multi-national corporation or just the leader of your family.

The most thought-provoking discussion from this novella has to do with love as a verb. Too often, love is equated with an emotion, a feeling, but loving people is so much more than how we “feel” about them. To love another person is to treat them with respect and dignity, that which is due all humankind. I can dislike someone and not trust someone, but I can still love them.

Honest Advice for Teachers by Susan Eubanks Stepp
This is a collection of letters Eubanks Stepp received and answered for her weekly education column in some media outlet that I never got around to checking on. Hilarious and truthful, this should be a must read for all educators, students, administrators, and parents.

Fit2Fat2Fit by Drew Manning
Manning chronicles his one-year journey from being a physically fit personal trainer to gaining 75 pounds after six months of eating the typical American diet and withdrawing from all physical exercise to losing it again over the next six months. He came up with this experiment after realizing he seemed to be missing something with his overweight clients.

Manning’s insights into the struggles the overweight and obese face, physically, emotionally, and psychologically, we’re fascinating. Though I’ve never been overweight, I especially appreciated his chapter on overcoming the “final 15.” Even I can relate to the struggles of wanting to she’d just a few more pounds or break through the “wall” when running or training for a race.

Almost Amish by Nancy Sleeth
Convicted one day that “something is very wrong with the way we spend our time,” Sleeth set out on a course to simplify life and slow down. What she discovered were core tenants of how the Amish live.

Almost Amish is filled with practical, common sense principles, that sadly are overlooked in today’s world of being plugged in 24/7.
1. Homes are simple, uncluttered, and clean; the outside reflects the inside.
2. Technology serves as a tool and does not rule as a master.
3. Saving more and spending less bring financial peace.
4. Spending time in God’s creation reveals the face of God.
5. Small and local leads to saner lives.
6. Service to others reduces loneliness and isolation.
7. The only true security comes from God.
8. Knowing neighbors and supporting local businesses build community.
9. Family ties are lifelong; they change but never cease.
10. Faith life and way of life are inseparable.

Harvard Business Reviews’ 10 Must Reads: On Communication
This is simply a compilation of the 10 most important articles on communication published in the Harvard Business Review in 2013. I had to read for an MBA class on organizational behavior and leadership, but the principles found within will cross over into all areas of my life, personally and professionally.

Leading Leaders by Jeswald Salacuse
Another MBA course text, Salacuse discusses strategies on how to lead “elites”—how to manage smart, talented, rich, and powerful people. The chapters on “The Art of the Strategic Conversation,” “Leading One-on-One,” Integration” were particularly interesting and helpful in my current position.

Harvard Business Reviews’ 10 Must Reads: On Teams
This is simply a compilation of the 10 most important articles on teams published in the Harvard Business Review in 2013. I had to read for an MBA class on organizational behavior and leadership, but the principles found within will cross over into all areas of my life, personally and professionally.

Glorious Holy Spirit by Fr. Cedric Pisegna
Father Cedric’s book on the Holy Spirit is directed mainly toward Catholics, but is certainly applicable to any Christian from any denomination. He presents the Holy Spirit, the third member of the Holy Trinity, as a real person who dwells within each of us, and through his power can we unlock our potential as God’s children.

This was a very quick and easy read, however, the style was a little disjointed. The one phrase I have really latched on to and ponder quite a bit is, “Face it, Embrace it, and God will grace it.”

The Watchmaker’s Daughter by Sonia Taitz
Sonia chronicles her life growing up as a immigrant’s daughter in New York City, post WWII. Her parents both survived German death camps during the war which had a tremendous impact on her life, though she was a generation and thousands of miles removed from those horrors. Humorous, insightful, and very well written, Taitz tells a remarkable story.

A Game of Thrones, books 1-5 by George R. R. Martin
This epic saga tells the story of the fight for the throne of Westeros. Many families claim the kingdom, but who will win the throne?

With each book weighing in at about 1,000 pages, I devoured the entire series in about two months. Intriguing and clever, I recommend this series to anyone with a lot of time to read. I really want to watch the series now.

Wild (From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail) by Cheryl Strayed
Strayed details her months-long hike of 1,100 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). Mostly alone. As a woman. Carrying a pack that weighed over half her body weight. More than what any other hiker who she met carried. Through deserts. And snow.

Hiking the PCT and Appalachian Trail are on my bucket list so this was a fascinating read for me.

Life, In Spite of Me by Kristen Jane Anderson
Anderson tells the story of how at 17, she attempted suicide by laying down on the train tracks near her home as a train approached. Miracle after miracle followed, and she lived, even after losing 8 pints of blood, and both her legs were severed. After the attempt, anderson shares her struggles with learning to live without legs and how it ultimately brought her to follow Christ.

This was a very quick, easy read though the material was at times disturbing. I appreciated Anderson’s honesty which lends itself to a remarkable testimony that is her faith today.

Ah-Choo! The Uncommon Life of Your Common Cold by Jennifer Ackerman
Ackerman takes us through how colds are transmitted from one to another, how our bodies respond to the cold virus, cures, and more.

This was a very easy read for a non-medical person. Ackerman did a thorough job explaining the life cycle of a cold as well supporting and debunking common myths and cures. She included sections specific to asthmatics—what we should/should not do and take—which was particularly interesting and helpful to me, being an asthmatic. I will probably be referencing this book time and again when I or anyone in my family suffers a cold.

A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park
Based on a true story, this dual narrative follows two young Sundanese children: Nya walks eight hours every day to fetch water for her family. Salva is a “lost boy” refugee searching for his family and wondering how he can bring blessings to his war-torn native home.
This was a quick, easy, gripping read.

Ms. Understood by Jen Hatmaker
Hatmaker takes us on a spiritual journey of rediscovering biblical femininity through the stories of the five woman mentioned in Jesus’ lineage outlined in Matthew 1.

Hatmaker, author of one of my favorite pieces of non-fiction, 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess, is spot on and deliciously funny in her writing and presentation of Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary. My husband and I even had a good conversation on whether Bathsheba was merely naive or purposefully manipulative when going to Solomon with Adonijah’s request to marry Abishag.

A Century of Wisdom: Lessons From Alice Herz-Sommer, the World’s Oldest Living Holocaust Survivor by Caroline Stoessinger
Stoessinger shares the stories of Herz-Sommer’s life growing up in Czechoslovakia and then surviving tereseinstadt Camp during WWII. That she was an accomplished concert pianist saved her life. After the war, she emigrated to Israel and then England where she sill lives at — years old.

While some of the stories were interesting, I was expecting more tidbits of wisdom. Instead it was mainly recollections of all the people who knew Alice throughout her life and all the different pieces of music she played.

Spectral Relapse (Walking Ghost Phase book 2) by David Daugherty
Four teens report to Arlington for their compulsory one-month of defense training before heading off to college. Very quickly, things take a turn for the worse, and an event from 25 years ago intersects with the present in a deadly fashion.

Written by a co-worker of mine, I’m really impressed with this series. I enjoyed this book even more than the first, Walking Ghost Phase, and I finished it in less than 48 hours. Great cliff-hanger ending (thanks David!), but now I can’t wait for the next book.

Many Waters by Madeleine L’Engle
Book number four of L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time series, tells the story of Sandy and Dennys, the Murray twins, as they find themselves in a foreign land in a different time—in the middle of the story of Noah and the Ark.

This has always been my favorite of L’Engle’s books. Perhaps because it’s based on a Bible story, with great artistic liberties thrown in, but I think this is her best writing.

Brain Surgeon by Dr. Keith Black
Black, a world-renowned neuro-surgeon, describes his life battling brain tumors from researching the causes as well as new cures and everything in between.

This was a quick, easy, not-too-technical book to read. Not only were Black’s adventures in the operating room interesting to read, the prejudice he encountered growing up as a black teen in the south in the 50s and 60s was inspiring. I was particularly moved reading about how Black’s father, an educator himself, went above and beyond in providing remarkable opportunities for his son as well as the remarkable opportunities Black sought out for himself in his youth.

The Silver Hand and the Endless Knot (Song of Albion books #2 and 3) by Stephen Lawhead
I read the first book, The Paradise War, last year and finally finished the trilogy. In the time-between-times, men from our world end up in an “other world” and must learn to live, fight, and ultimately reign or the both worlds could come to destruction.

The stories were interesting. My only criticism of Lawhead is that his descriptions are quite verbose. I can only read so much description of a forest or ocean before it gets boring. I also skipped most of the songs the bard sang, and it didn’t make a difference to the overall plot not having read them.

The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell by Chris Colfer
Alex and Conner are magically transported into “The Land of Stories” book, and thus begins the adventure of their life. In a land where fairy tales live, the twins must find the eight treasured items to make the Wishing Spell work so they can get home.

Colfer, better known as Kurt Hummel from “Glee” did a fine job on his first young adult novel. It was a fun easy read, and I look forward to reading the others he’s working on.

Dwarf: A Memoir by Tiffanie DiDonato
DiDonato wrote of her experiences growing up as a dwarf and the bone-lengthening surgeries she endured to add some 14 inches to her stature.

Reading about the bone-lengthening procedure was interesting. After her story made national news, she received a bit of flack from the dwarf community, but I appreciate her desire to simply be more independent. I’m not all that tall, but I never realized how many things I can do like reach a faucet and turn door knobs easily that shorter people cannot.

The Best Women’s Travel Writing ed. 8 Lavinia Spaulding
This book consisted of short stories by about two dozen women chronicling their worldly travels. Some were interesting, but more were largely forgettable.

Death to the Dictator by Afsaneh Moqadam
Moqadam, a pseudonym as are the identities of the others in the book, presents the devastating price a young man, Mohsen, paid after casting a vote for Mousavi during the 2009 Iranian presidential elections. Ahmadinejad declared himself winner, and the world protested, often in violence.

I honestly hardly consider what goes on in the Middle East, but this book opened my eyes a little wider to the threat and fear of persecution the common people endure on a daily basis living under such a dictatorship.

Little Bee by Chris Cleave
This is a story of two women whose lives collide in a remarkable and fateful event one afternoon on a beach in Nigeria. Years later, their worlds collide again in England.

I can’t tell much more without giving away a huge chunk of the plot. It was a rather ho-hum book for me, but it was a quick easy read between the heavier and more intense books I’ve been reading.

Jujitsu Rabbi and the Godless Blonde by Rebecca Davis
This is Davis’ memoir of a period of time she lived with a former Hasidic Jew turned jujitsu master, pot-smoking, bacon-eating atheist. Davis had just broken up with boyfriend of four years when she found this apartment via Craigslist.

Her stories of living with Cosmo, the Jew, were mostly interesting and sometimes humorous. However, her recollections of her promiscuity, drug use, partying, and her knocks against God left much to be desired.

Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers by Anne Lamott
Lamott describes how these three simple prayers have changed how she communicates with God. This book, thankfully short, left much to be desired. Lamott basically listed all the ways you can pray–help my friend with cancer, help my son with his financial problems, help the tornado victims, etc. That’s pretty much all it was for the other sections as well.

Besides the simplicity and redundancy, Lamott, in what I assume was an attempt to not offend anyone, kept referring to “your higher power” even though she professes to follow Christ. Call it what is is, and don’t tip toe around the Truth.

Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
The Price family heads to the Congo in the 60s as missionaries. The mother and four daughters just hope to survive the year while the dad is on a crusade to baptize everyone. Things don’t work out well.

Being to a man whose family really were missionaries in the Congo (formerly Zaire) in near the same area Kingsolver put the Price family, I’m not impressed with Kingsolver’s portrayal of missionaries, and her description of the flora and fauna of the area was quite flawed as well. The only thing I really liked about the book was the writing style, but other than that, it was a disappointment.

The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling
Mr. Fairbrother dies suddenly of an aneurysm in the sleepy little English town of Pagford, leaving a vacancy on the town’s council. This highly coveted spot leads to the undoing of many town-folk.

This book was a big disappointment coming from the Harry Potter genius. It was painfully slow in setting the scene and character development, only getting interesting for the last 10% of the novel. I would not recommend this to anyone. Save your money and your time.

2011 Reading List

31 12 2011

I read a record-breaking (for me) 45 books/novels in 2011.  The first, numbered, list is the order in which I read the books.  The second list is in order of my favorites to least favorites.  I’m always on the lookout for a good book–fiction or non-fiction, almost any genre (except hokey Harlequin romance types)–so pass on your favorites to me.

1.  Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert
2.  Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali
3.  What Difference do it Make? by Ron Hall and Denver Moore
4.  For One More Day by Mitch Albom
5.  Her Daughter’s Dream by Francine Rivers
6.  Fasting by Jetezen Franklin
7.  Machete Season by Jean Hatzfeld
8.  We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families by Philip Gourevitch
9.  This I Believe:  The Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women ed. Jay Allison and Dan Gediman
10.   Mission-Based Advisory:  A Professional Development Manual by ISM (Independent School Management)
11.   An Ordinary Man by Paul Rusesabagina
12.   Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay
13.   Unplanned by Abby Johnson
14.   Heaven is for Real by Todd Burpo
15.   Switched (Trylle Trilogy #1) by Amanda Hawking
Torn (Trylle Trilogy #2) by Amanda Hawking
17.   Ascend (Trylle Trilogy #3) by Amanda Hawking
18.   Heat Wave by “Richard Castle”
19.   Led by Faith by Imaculee Ilibagiza
20.   Lovely by Allison Liddelle (short story)
21.   Cain’s Apple by Bryan Lee (short story)
22.   A Very Special Delivery by Linda Goodnight
23.   The Princess and the Penis by RJ Silver (short story)
24.   Serial by Jack Kilborn (short story)
25.   The Labyrinth by Kenneth McDonald
26.   Reality is Broken:  Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World by Jane McGonigal
27.   Misconception by Paul and Shannon Morell
28.   Married to Africa by G. Pascal Zachary
29.   Craving God by Lysa TerKeurst
30.   Now the Hell Will Start by Brendan I. Koerner
31.   A Thousand Sisters:  My Journey into the Worse Place on Earth to be a Woman by Lisa Shannon
32.   In the Presence of My Enemies by Gracia Burnham
33.   The Help by Kathryn Stockett
34.   50/50:  Secrets I Learned Running 50 Marathons in 50 Days by Dean Karnazes
35.   Teach Like a Champion by Doug Lemov
36.   A Long Way Gone:  Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah
37.   Teammates Matter:  Fighting for Something Greater Than Self by Alan Williams
38.   Prisoners of Hope by Dayna Curry and Heather Mercer
39.   Kisses from Katie by Katie Davis
40.   Rachel’s Tears by Beth Nimmo and Darrell Scott
41.   The Bible
42.   Letters to God by Patrick Doughtie and John Perry
43.   The Monster in the Hollows by Andrew Peterson
44.   The Almost True Story of Ryan Fisher by Rob Stennett
45.   The Guinea Pig Diaries by A.J. Jacobs

The Bible
This is my third full read-through in as many years, and I never cease to be amazed by what I learn and am reminded of.  There is not enough space to write how this one book has changed my life and how it will continue to change my life as long as I am alive.

Fasting by Jetezen Franklin
Synopsis:  “When you fast, your spirit becomes uncluttered by the things of this world and amazingly sensitive to the things of God.  Once you’ve experienced a glimpse of this and the countless rewards and blessings that follow, it changes your entire perspective.”  In this short, but life-changing book, Franklin talks about the different types of Biblical fasts, the connection between fasting and prayer, as well as what to expect physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

Evaluation:  Once I began reading this book, I felt God was deeply convicting me that I have been missing out on some huge blessings by not having made fasting a part of my regular walk with Christ.  Both my husband and I got on board and began a 24-hour fast once a week.  Life changing is all I can say. 

Led by Faith by Imaculee Ilibagiza
Synopsis:  This is a sequel to Ilibagiza’s first book, Left to Tell, which chronicles her life hiding in a 4’x3’ bathroom with 6 other women during the 1994 Rwandan genocide of Tutsis.  Left to Tell is on this list as I read it in 2010, but it was one of the most powerful stories I’ve ever read.  In Led by Faith, Ilibagiza picks up where her first story left off and chronicles her challenges living in the aftermath of the genocide.  She shares her struggles and her heartaches as she fights to survive.  Most importantly, she shares her journey of faith, healing, and forgiveness that only come through a relationship with God.

Evaluation:  If you have ever struggled with forgiveness, and I daresay we all have, you must read this book.  I am reminded of the trivial things I complain about and the petty grudges I hold on to, and how they can eat at my soul.  Forgiveness is often the only road to healing and peace.

What Difference Do it Make?  By Ron Hall and Denver Moore
Synopsis:  This book continues the incredible story of how Moore, a homeless man, and Hall, a millionaire art dealer, came to be friends through the unwavering faith and vision of Hall’s late wife, Deborah.  What Difference Do it Make? includes untold anecdotes from the time in which their first book, Same Kind of Different as Me was written as well as the story of how the first book even came to be and snippets of how the first book has changed lives.

Evaluation:  Before reading the first book, everyone I knew who read it told me to have my Kleenex nearby, and their advice was spot on.  I recommend the same for the second book.  My perspective on homelessness and especially how to help the homeless has changed dramatically after reading these two books.  We’ve all been taught not to give the homeless money because they may buy drugs or alcohol.  As Denver wrote, “When you give a homeless man a dollar, what you really sayin is ‘I see you.  You ain’t invisible.  You is a person.’  I tells folks to look at what’s written on all the money they be givin away:  it says ‘In God We Trust.’  You just be the blessin.  Let God worry about the rest.”

Rachel’s Tears by Beth Nimmo and Darrell Scott
Synopsis:  Rachel Scott was an ordinary girl with an extraordinary faith as well as premonitions of her tragic death in the Columbine massacre in 1999.  Written by her mother and father, this book details Rachel’s faith and how she decided to “walk the talk” as well as excerpts from her private journals.

Evaluation:  I read 2/3 of this book in the first sitting, and I cried for much of it.  Throughout, my main thought was, “I want a faith like hers.”  This has become one of my main prayers for myself since reading her story—that my relationship with Christ would be so intimate, so deep, so real, that I feel His presence in every breath, every word, and every action.

Kisses from Katie by Katie Davis
Synopsis:  Davis was 18 when she made the decision to move to Uganda for just one year to serve the poorest of the poor.  Years later, she is still there, now the “mother” of 14 orphaned or abandoned girls.  This is the story of her struggles and desires to live the life God wanted for her.

Evaluation:  I had the good fortune to hear Katie share her story at my high school in the spring of 2011.  I wish I had Davis’ courage.  Her perspective on what it means to serve, to really serve, others has changed my own.  If you are struggling with living God’s desire for your life, this is a must-read.

Teach Like a Champion by Doug Lemov
Synopsis:  The subtitle explains this book best—49 techniques that put students on the path to college. 

Evaluation:  If you are a teacher of any level, any subject, this is a must-read.  The techniques Lemov offers are common-sense, practical, and easy/quick to put into practice.  While I won’t be using many of them in my own teaching (e.g. I don’t need to worry about the most efficient way to line up students to walk to the bathroom), there are enough that have changed the dynamic in my classroom and student performance for the better.

Unplanned by Abby Johnson
Synopsis:  Unplanned tells the remarkable true story of Abby Johnson, once a Planned Parenthood clinic director, leader and pro-choice champion who, after eight years in the industry had a life-changing moment as she assisted with an ultrasound-assisted abortion.  Through that experience, God opened her eyes to the truth of the matter and brought her around to the “other side of the fence” where she began working with Coalition for Life.

Evaluation:  This was such a gripping tale, I finished the 216 pages within 30 hours of staring it.  I found myself intrigued, repulsed, grief-stricken, and completely amazed as I read Abby’s story of complete transformation from pro-choice to pro-life.  Her description of witnessing the abortion still haunts me, but has served only to strengthen my resolve that life begins at conception, and that abortion ends a human life.

Craving God by Lysa TerKeurst
Synopsis:   This is a 21-day devotional encouraging us to crave God rather than crave food.  She relates how our struggles with or victories over food often reflect our relationship with God.  This devotional is really just snippets from her more comprehensive book on the same topic, Made to Crave

Evaluation:  TerKeust had some wonderful gems throughout the book such as, “No food will ever taste as sweet as lasting victory.”  Even though I don’t struggle with my weight, I struggle with eating as healthy as I should.  I definitely plan to read Made to Crave.

Reality is Broken:  Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World by Jane McGonigal
Synopsis:  McGonigal, who I had the privilege of hearing speak at the Microsoft Innovative Education Forum in July, outlines 14 reasons why games are “better” than reality including:

  1. Games help to increase motivation, provoke interest and creativity and help us work at the edge of our abilities.
  2. Gameplay is the direct opposite of depression:  it’s an invigorating rush of activity, combined with an optimistic sense of our own capability.
  3. Games can help us achieve a state of blissful productivity with clear, actionable goals and vivid results.
  4. Games make failure fun and non-threatening and train us to focus our time and energy on attainable goals.
  5. Games help build up our social stamina and provoke us to act in ways that make us more likeable.
  6. Games make our hardest efforts feel truly meaningful by putting them in a much bigger context.
  7. Games can help us enjoy our real lives more, instead of feeling like we want to escape from them.
  8. Using points, rewards, levels, and achievements can motivate us to press through difficult situations and inspire us to work harder to excel at things we already love.
  9. Games can be a springboard for community and can help build our own capacity for social participation.
  10. Large crowd games can help us adopt scientific advice for living a good life; for example, thinking about death in non-threatening ways or dancing more.
  11. Crowdsourcing games can engage thousands of players around the globe to tackle real-world problems.
  12. Social participation games can help save real lives and grant real wishes by creating real-world tasks that can help volunteers feel heroic and satisfied.
  13. Expert gamers, those who have spent around 10,000 hours gaming by the age of 21, are extraordinary at cooperating, coordinating, and creating something new together.  (Experts in most any arena—arts, music, athletics, etc.—spend 10,000 hours actively engaged in their activity.)
  14. Forecasting games can train us to think globally and outside the box in tackling real-world, large scale global problems.

Evaluation:  This was a very thought-provoking book for me as an educator who teaches technology skills to high school students.  Of course, McGonigal really only highlights the advantages of gaming, but now I feel like I need to read a book on the disadvantages—just for balance’ sake.   I do agree with many of her overall assessments, though, and I am highly intrigued to participate in several of the games she detailed, especially the Tombstone Hold’ Em—a take on Texas Hold’ Em played in a graveyard with a group of people.

The Guinea Pig Diaries by A.J. Jacobs
Synopsis:  Jacobs, author of The Year of Living Biblically, puts his life to the test by submitting himself as a “guinea pig” for a month for different experiments:  being a celebrity, being a beautiful woman entering the world of online dating, doing everything his wife asks of him, and much more.

Evaluation:  Jacobs’ memoir, of sorts, was as hilarious as it was enlightening, and I am definitely hooked.  Amidst the humor, Jacob’s reflections on his self-inflicted experiments into the human psyche were incredibly thoughtful and thought-provoking.   I am pretty sure one of my next books will be either The Year of Living of Biblically or The Know-it-All, both by Jacobs.

50/50:  Secrets I Learned Running 50 Marathons in 50 Days by Dean Karnazes
Synopsis:  As the title implies, Karnazes chronicles his life on the road during the Endurance 50—a first ever test of human endurance in which he ran 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 days.  Karnazes shares his running wisdom, for both the mental and physical aspects of the sport:  learning to recover quicker, adapting to extreme conditions, preventing muscle cramps and overheating, pacing yourself when you “hit the wall” and staying motivated.

Evaluation:  Much like Karnazes’ first book, Ultramarathon Man, this was an enjoyable, quick read.  Especially if you are a runner of any level, this book offers a treasure trove of information, methods and techniques all geared toward making you “achieve your own amazing feats of endurance, however you define them.”  Both of Karnazes’ books are must-reads for runners and endurance athletes.

In the Presence of My Enemies by Gracia Burnham
Synopsis:  This is a true story detailing the year that Gracia and her husband, Martin, spent trekking through the jungles of the Philippine islands after having been kidnapped while on vacation.  While others who were kidnapped with the Burnhams made ransom quickly, Gracia and Martin had no such luck.

Evaluation:  This was a very gripping story of survival amidst terror and uncertainty.  The Burnham’s struggles—physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual—were vivid.  Their faith journey through it all was inspiring, though

A Thousand Sisters:  My Journey into the Worse Place on Earth to be a Woman by Lisa Shannon
Synopsis:  Lisa Shannon chronicles her journey into Democratic Republic of Congo (Zaire) in the years following the Rwandan genocide.  Shannon began a non-profit, Run for Congo Women, and visited the country to meet the women her group sponsored.  Shannon tells the stories of women who survived rape, kidnapping, the murder of their husbands and children, and other atrocities most Western women cannot fathom.

Evaluation:  After having read so many stories of the Rwandan genocide, I was still amazed how the events of that country affected so many, women in particular, in neighboring countries, namely Zaire.  While many non-profits are attempting to help women become independent and make honest livings, there is only so much money can do.  True healing will not come from money.  I admire Shannon for her desire and drive to make a difference in the lives of these women.

A Long Way Gone:  Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah
Synopsis:  At age 12, Beah was forced from his home and family in Sierra Leone after rebels attacked his village.  He and other boys wandered the forests, stealing food, for months.  At 13, he was chosen by the government army to become a soldier.  Quickly advancing in the ranks to junior sergeant and nicknamed “Green Snake” for his deception, Beah lost sight of who he was as a gentle, intelligent young boy and became a cold-hearted killing machine, always high on cocaine or marijuana.  At 16, he was picked up by UNICEF and rehabilitated.

Evaluation:  Like many of the other non-fiction books on my list, this one was a fascinating window into a world I will never experience.  War.  My entire family killed.  Killing in return.  Drug addiction.  Beah’s stories made me shake my head and wonder how evil can so completely transform a young child—and an entire country.  His accounts of the loving and always-smiling-no-matter staff at his rehabilitation center in Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, also reinforced the fact that good can triumph over evil.

This I Believe:  The Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women ed. Jay Allison and Dan Gediman
Synopsis:  Based o n the NPR series by the same name, this book features 80 essayists—some famous, some previously unknown—completing the thought that begins the book’s title.

Evaluation:  I enjoyed this book tremendously and received some amazing bits of wisdom that I am not likely to forget.  One of my favorites was an essay titled “Always Go to the Funeral” and was written by Deirdre Sullivan, a freelance attorney in Brooklyn, who wrote about the values her father instilled in her by making her always attend funerals of people she knew.  Sullivan writes, “In my humdrum life, the battle hasn’t been good versus evil.  It’s hardly so epic.  Most days, my real battle is doing good versus doing nothing.”  I certainly took to heart the purpose of the book as I pondered what I believe in many aspects of life—spiritually, academically, socially, politically, humorously, seriously.

Teammates Matter:  Fighting for Something Greater Than Self by Alan Williams
Synopsis:  Alan Williams was a walk-on player for Wake Forest during his college career.  He played on 59 minutes in 120 games, scoring 28 points.  A reporter once asked him, “Why was it worth it?  What kept you coming back?”  This book is William’s attempt at answering those questions.

Evaluation:  I had the privilege of hearing Williams speak at a school conference prior to reading the book.  His presentation was superb—uplifting, enlightening, and encouraging.  Williams’ view of NCAA basketball from the end of the bench offers a unique perspective on what it really means to be on a team, to be a teammate.  His message is one that any coach of any sport, especially coaches of youth leagues, needs to hear:  there are more important things than winning.  If that is your focus, something is missing.  Not everyone on the team is or can be a star.  If that is your focus, something is missing.  Being a teammate transcends wins and losses and someone’s 15 minutes of fame.  Those worldly accomplishments will fade, but being a real teammate will stand firm through the ages.  View more information at www.teammatesmatter.com

An Ordinary Man by Paul Rusesabagina
Synopsis:  This is the story of Paul Rusesabagina and his courageous efforts to save over 1,200 Rwandans during 1994 genocide.  The movie Hotel Rwanda was based on this story of Rusesbagina’s refusal to succumb to the horrors overtaking his country.  He risked his and his family’s lives daily to confront the killers and appease them through flattery, deception, and diplomacy in order to save the thousands of lives he felt responsibility for in the Hotel Milles Collines in Rwanda’s capital city of Kigali.

Evaluation:  I am fascinated by any survivor’s account of living through the hell on earth of the Rwandan genocide in 1994.  If you are intrigued by stories/movies such as Schindler’s List, you will find this story no less mesmerizing and inspiring. 

Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Synopsis:  Ayaan Hirsi Ali was born in 1969 in Somalia, was raised Muslim, and spent her childhood and young adulthood in Saudi Arabia, Kenya, and Ethiopia.  She was excised (female genital mutilation) at the age of five.  She survived brutal beatings by her mother.  After being forced into an arranged marriage by her father to a distant cousin, she fled to the Netherlands where she sought asylum.  Ali went on to earn a college degree in political science, and eventually won a seat in the Dutch Parliament.  After producing a short 10-minute film, Submission:  Part 1, Hirsi Ali lived a life under constant threat of death.  She was demonized by the Islamic community world-wide, disowned by her father, and shunned by the rest of her family and clan.  Yet she refused to remain silent.

Evaluation:  This is one of the most remarkable stories of triumph over adversity I have yet to read.  This was also my first glimpse into the reality of what Muslim life is like for women in this day and age.  What I learned about Islam from Hirsi Ali’s account of her life is disturbing, to say the least.  With Islam as the world’s fastest growing religion, I applaud Hirsi Ali for her honest testimony and sincere attempt to bring to light the alarming condition in which millions of Muslim women live today.

Prisoners of Hope by Dayna Curry and Heather Mercer
Synopsis:  Curry and Mercer were missionaries in Afghanistan.  After having been in the country, living with the poorest of the poor, they were arrested by the Taliban for telling people about Jesus, a “crime” punishable by death.  In the middle of their trial, 9/11 occurred, and the US declared war on Afghanistan shortly after.  This is the story of the Curry’s and Mercer’s work with the poor, their captivity, and their eventual rescue.

Evaluation:  Another very engaging story, both Curry and Mercer share their personal experiences.  Their world rocked by the events of international terrorism, they manage to not just endure their imprisonment, but to maintain their faith, write songs praising God, and always reached out to the women confined with them.  While reading this book, I often wondered how I would fair in such a situation.  Would I be selfless as these women were, or selfish wondering, “why me?”

The Help by Kathryn Stockett
Synopsis:  This work of fiction follows three ordinary woman in the 1960s, one white society and two black maids.  Their lives become entwined when “Skeeter,” the white woman, decides to write a story of black women’s experiences being domestic help for the white society woman in Jackson, Mississippi.  Racial tensions are brewing across America as these women and others work under the cover of night and secrecy to tell their stories that they hope will lead to change.

Evaluation:  Intriguing and interesting, The Help, was a nice break from the string of non-fiction stories I had been reading.  I would definitely recommend it, and I can’t wait to see the movie.  But like any other novel-turned-Hollywood, read the book first.

Now the Hell Will Start by Brendan I. Koerner
Synopsis:  Part history lesson, part biography, Koerner narrates the true events of the life of Herman Perry.  As an African American draftee in WWII, Herman Perry wanted to see combat.  The Army felt colored men were considerably inferior in every way—they were bigger cowards, less intelligent, and only good for manual labor.  And so Perry found himself in the jungles of Burma working on the colossal failure known as the Ledo Road.  Under constant mental and borderline physical abuse by his white commanding officers, Perry became a drug addict and in one fateful moment, shot and killed a white officer.  Minutes later, he disappeared into the Burmese jungle which teemed with tigers and foot-long leeches.  Able to “secure” military food and weapons, Perry became a bigwig with a Naga tribe (headhunters and cannibals) and married the leader’s 14-year-old daughter by whom he fathered a son he never met.  He eluded the MPs on more than one occasion, was finally caught, but then escaped from the Army stockade once again—this time after being court-marshaled and sentenced to death by hanging.  Eventually caught a second time, Perry, who was near death, readily surrendered.

Evaluation:  Perry’s story of mental anguish, drug addiction, escape and survival among a tribe of primitive Naga headhunters is engrossing to say the least.  However, the history of the US Armed Forces treatment of African Americans, even during WWII, is also eye-opening, in an appalling way.  Koerner expertly weaves together history and a meticulous narrative to produce an amazing read.

Heaven is for Real by Todd Burpo
Synopsis:  This book tells the true story of young Colton Burpo’s close brush with death after his appendix ruptured and his extraordinary visit to heaven while in surgery.  In the months following Colton’s hospital visit, he casually recounts his memories of meeting his miscarried sister, whom no one ever told him about, meeting his grandfather who died decades before Colton was born, as well as his discussions with Jesus.

Evaluation:  Colton’s experience, as retold by his father Todd, definitely makes you consider what heaven is like.  For those who believe in heaven and hell, this is an incredible story that will only strengthen our faith.  For those who don’t share a Christian faith, I imagine many will simply hold Colton’s story as the result of a great imagination.

Letters to God by Patrick Doughtie and John Perry
Synopsis:  Maddy loses her husband to a drunk driver.  A few years later, her youngest son, Tyler, is diagnosed with a rare brain cancer.  Through it all, Tyler writes letters to God, just as his father had.  The letters end up in the hands of a down-and-out postman, Brady, whose life is forever changed by the simple words to God from a seven-year-old boy dying from cancer.

Evaluation:  Though this novel was a quick, easy read, I was on the brink of tears quite a few times.  To have the faith of a child—pure, innocent, uncomplicated, always accepting—is something I strive for.

Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay
Synopsis:  One apartment, two lives, 60 years apart.  Sarah’s Key tells the story of Sarah, a 10-year-old Jewish girl whose family, living in Paris, was arrested and eventually herded off to Auschwitz in July 1942.  Before leaving their apartment, Sarah hides her younger brother and vows to return.  She manages to escape a French containment camp and makes it back to her apartment to find another family has already moved in.  Jump ahead 60 years, and that same apartment is now being renovated by a family whose lives crossed with Sarah’s decades ago.  This fictional story reveals the long-held secrets that have bound the two families together for six decades.

Evaluation:  This was a haunting fictional story that I could not put down.  I knew the outcome long before I read the words, but I was still stunned nonetheless when I got there in the story.  While the characters are fictional, the major events of the French roundup of Parisian Jews and their demise are true and heartbreaking.

The Monster in the Hollows by Andrew Peterson
Synopsis:  This is book 3 of 4 in the Wingfeather Saga, a young-adult series written by award-winning Christian singer/songwriter Andrew Peterson.  The Wingfeathers reach their mother’s ancestral home of the Green Hollows where they hope to begin a new life—free of fear from Gnag the Nameless and his army of Grey Fangs.  But things don’t always happen as hoped for.

Evaluation:  If you haven’t read books 1 and 2, On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness and  North! Or Be Eaten, there is no point in reading this book.  This book, however, has been my favorite so far, and I can’t wait to learn how it will end in book 4, not set for publication until the spring of 2013.  My recommendation:  if you haven’t read any of the books, wait till the fourth one comes out and then you can go through them all in a week.  These are great books to read to school-age kids; they are action-packed, appropriate, not too scary, and best of all—the chapters are short enough for a bedtime reading that won’t take an obnoxiously long time.

Her Daughter’s Dream by Francine Rivers
Synopsis:  This is the sequel to “Her Mother’s Hope.”  The story relates the mother-daughter relationships through four generations.

Evaluation:  I automatically love anything by Francine Rivers, and this two-part series was no exception.  In print, it’s so easy to see how generational curses are passed down through the decades.  You want to shout at these women who are so blind to the damage they are doing to their daughters.  In the end, however, we are reminded that God can redeem any situation through any circumstances and bring healing, peace, and joy.

The Almost True Story of Ryan Fisher, a novel by Rob Stennett
Synopsis:  Ryan Fisher, a confident real-estate agent not satisfied with his lot in life, takes out an ad in a Christian Business directory and is flooded with new business.  After visiting a real church, Ryan changes course, moves to Oklahoma with his wife, and decides to start a church of his own—not just any church, but an empire.  And he does.

Evaluation:  Stennett’s style is a witty, hilarious to the point of absurdity, and maddening satire—half Kurt Vonnegut, half Douglas Adams.  The principle thought going through my head while reading this was, how could people be so blind to the egotistical, maniacal, fantasizes of Ryan and his delusion that he is a Christian, much less a pastor, who wants to change the world with his brand of “new Christianity?”  The sad realization was, we have been here before:  David Koresh, Jim Jones—it doesn’t take much to sway some people, all in the name of Christianity.

Machete Season by Jean Hatzfeld
Synopsis:  Hatzfeld interviews a gang of about a dozen friends who participated at various levels with the killings during the 1994 Rwandan genocide.  This book alternates between Hatzfeld’s observations and the direct words of the men on such topics as their first kill, life in prison, forgiveness, remorse, regrets, and where is God in all of this?

Evaluation:  This was one of the most difficult books I’ve read in the past many years; not because it was grammatically challenging like Shakespeare of Austen, but because of the candid, honest replies of the killers.  Their descriptions were vivid and brutal, but their detachment from the massacres they participated in was especially chilling.  I could only read a few pages at a time, and then I’d have to take a break for a few days.  For anyone interested in learning about the Rwandan genocide, this is a must read, albeit a very challenging one.

We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families by Philip Gourevitch
Synopsis:  Gourevitch provides a haunting anatomy of 1994 Rwandan genocide.  He provides a detailed account of the psychological, political, and socio-economic history of the country that led to the deaths of almost 1,000,000 Tutsis in a three month period.  Gourevitch had enviable access to the major political powers at the time (Kagame and Mobutu) which provided incredible personal insight into the inner-workings of the genocide, how the international community responded, and the aftermath of the survivors.

Evaluation:  Like Machete Season, this was another very difficult book to read—not so much because the personal stories were so chilling, but because the subject matter was just more difficult.  This is an incredible book to read if you want a complete history of the events that led to the genocide from the late 1800’s to its aftermath in 1997.  The most disturbing and eye-opening element to me was learning about the pitiful response of the international community.  Our initial denial of what was going on, our lack of humanitarian aid to the refugees who really needed it, and our (perhaps unintentional) support of the Hutu Power camps in Zaire were extraordinarily shameful on the part of those countries who were in a position to provide aid.

Misconception by Paul and Shannon Morell
Synopsis:  This book tells the story of the Morell’s journey from infertility to in-vitro resulting in twin daughters.  Several years later they were ready to thaw their remaining embryos to try for another child (or two) only to learn right before their scheduled appointment that their eggs had been thawed and implanted in another woman resulting in a single pregnancy. 

Evaluation:  This is a very interesting story of the Morell’s struggles knowing their last hope for a biological child in completely out of their control and completely in the hands of a woman they’ve never met.  While their story is one of hope and ultimate joy, there was one thing that troubled me throughout.  Shannon and Paul kept their first in-vitro and subsequent problems a complete secret from most family and friends.  They profess to be followers of Christ, and they share of their faith journey throughout the ordeal, but their lack of trusting in a community of believers, family and friends to help them through this difficult time saddened me.  Christ did not live in isolation, nor should we.

Married to Africa by G. Pascal Zachary
Synopsis:  The author describes how he came to marry a Ghanaian woman, Chizo, as well as the struggles and victories that ensued from their cross-racial, cross-cultural marriage.

Evaluation:  I’m not one for romance books in general, but thankfully this book wasn’t heavy on the romance.  I did find entertaining and intriguing Zachary’s accounts of his travels in Africa as well as life with his African bride after they moved to America and settled in California.  Chizo professes a Christian faith, while Zachary is a non-practicing, borderline Atheist Jew.  Chizo’s display of her faith in her marriage is destructive at times, followed by incredibly insightful words and behaviors. 

Switched, Torn, Ascend (Trylle Trilogy) by Amanda Hawking
Synopsis:  Throughout the trilogy, Wendy learns her life is not what she thought it was, nor is she who she thought she was.  She becomes the subject of a major battle between two warring factions, and to the victor goes one of the most powerful queens their kingdoms have seen.

Evaluation:  This was a quick, easy, engaging, young adult trilogy.  I think I finished all three books within one week.  If you enjoyed the Twilight series, you will probably enjoy this series.

For One More Day by Mitch Albom
Synopsis:  Charles “Chick” Benetto flings himself off a water tower in his hometown attempting to commit suicide.  He hits the ground, alive, and sees his dead mother.  He goes on to spend a very other-worldly day with her.  Somewhere between this life and the next, Charley learns the things he never knew about his mother and her sacrifices throughout his life.  Through her unconditional love and tender guidance, he tries to put the pieces of his broken life back together.

Evaluation:  This was a short, easy read with a somewhat interesting story line.  I had quite a few flashbacks of The Shack as I was reading.  If you liked The Shack, you will enjoy this book.

Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert
Synopsis:  At the end of Eat, Pray, Love, Gilbert and her Brazilian lover, Felipe, promise to never wed, both having experienced brutal divorces.  They settle in America, however Felipe does not have a green card, and the Department of Homeland Security decides one day that Felipe has worn out his welcome.  He is arrested and deported, and the couple are essentially “sentenced to wed” if they want to ever live together in the U.S. again.  This is Gilbert’s true story of her and Felipe’s journey across Southeast Asia as they juggle the bureaucratic jungle of obtaining a green card for Felipe and as Gilbert attempts to make peace with marriage.

Evaluation:  You need to read Eat, Pray, Love before attempting this book or a lot of the context will be lost.  Overall her personal story is interesting—her travels throughout Southeast Asia, her experiences with Felipe, her attempts at learning about marriage in different cultures.  However, my one hang-up is her treatment of the Christian ideal of marriage.  In Chapter 3, “Marriage and History,” Gilbert’s assessment of what the Bible has to say on marriage is sadly misconstrued.  Of course that’s easy to do when you only take a few scriptures without reading the whole in context.  She also quotes several early Christian leaders from centuries ago, leaders whose own views on marriage were disturbing and very ungodly.  Combine her extremely limited knowledge of scripture and misguided quotes from misguided leaders from 1,000 years ago, and you have the makings of a ruinous ideology, one she portrays as what the masses believed.  Gilbert does a great injustice to the biblical, Christian idea of marriage.

A Very Special Delivery by Linda  Goodnight
Synopsis:  In the midst of a blizzard, a strange man, Ethan, carrying an infant shows up at her farm house door and asks her to care for his daughter while he attempts to make a life-and-death delivery to a neighbor living up the mountain.  She tentatively agrees, despite her irrational fear of caring for children (her 6-month old nephew died of SIDS while in her care, and her sister has never forgiven her).  As Molly and Ethan share their stories, their fears, their shame and guilt, they learn the power of forgiveness and how God can redeem any situation.

Evaluation:  Though not my usual reading fair, this Love Inspired story, a Christian Harlequin romance series, was a sweet story.  I actually found myself a little teary-eyed at times, especially when the discussions centered on forgiveness–God’s forgiveness, forgiving ourselves, forgiving others—and the peace and healing it can bring.

The Princess and the Penis by RJ Silver
Synopsis:  This is a modern, adult version (rated R, but not X) of The Princess and the Pea

Evaluation:  This was a fun, humorous take on the classic children’s fairy tale, but it is not meant for children.  The dialog among the queen and the princess’s two aunts are particularly entertaining.

The Labyrinth by Kenneth McDonald
Synopsis:  Keric, a wizarding student known as a mage, is asked to fill in for another student in the upcoming Labyrinth contest which pits mage against mage to see who has mastered their wizarding skills the best.  Upon entering the Labyrinth with three other students, Keric quickly realizes something is dangerously amiss.  The usually benign contest becomes a struggle between life and death for the mages, and not all make it out alive.

Evaluation:  If you like Harry Potter, especially book four detailing the Triwizard Tournament, you would enjoy this book.

Heat Wave by “Richard Castle”
Synopsis:  Detective Nikki Heat investigates the murder of one of New York’s top real estate moguls as reporter Jameson Rooks rides along under the guise of research for his next book.

Evaluation:  This was another quick, fun book that reads just like an episode of ABC’s hit series, Castle.  If you are a fan of the show, you will enjoy the book.  My only criticism is that it could have been proofed and edited more carefully as there were lots of minor grammar typos.  It is not a literary masterpiece by any means, but it has an interesting twist at the end.

Lovely by Allison Liddelle
Synopsis:  Alice is a severely depressed teenager living with abusive parents who relives the night of death/suicide 10 different times.

Evaluation:  This was a quick, slightly confusing read until you figure out what is going on.  I only read it because it was a free Nook book, otherwise, I doubt I’d ever read a book like this.

Cain’s Apple by Bryan Lee (short story)
Synopsis:   Thinking of his overbearing boss on the drive home, Joe Johnson stops at a road-side stand to by some apples, aptly named after his boss who dies that night.  The next night, the same fate awaits his un-neighborly neighbor.  The third stop to this mysterious apple seller does not yield the apples Joe was hoping for.

 Evaluation:  This short story was rather predictable from the beginning, but a fun quick read nonetheless.

Serial by Jack Kilborn (short story)
Synopsis:  Psycho, serial killer driver picks up psycho, serial killer rider.

Evaluation:  You need a strong stomach to read this short story.  I enjoy blood and guts, but this was almost too disturbing for me.

Mission-Based Advisory:  A Professional Development Manual by ISM (Independent School Management)
Synopsis:  Written for administrators and educators in K-12 American private school, this manual details how to begin an advisory program for students or how to strengthen a program already in place.

Evaluation:  Never would I read this book if I didn’t have to for work.  While the school I teach at has had an advisory program for years, I received very little useful information on how to improve our program.  I would love to see some real empirical research to prove that advisory programs actually benefit students.  Instead, this manual impresses upon its reader that advisory programs are necessary because we say they are and because everyone is doing it.