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my big 2017 book review

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You will be the same person in five years as you are today except for the people you meet and the books you read.
— Charlie "Tremendous" Jones

Last year on January 16, I posted this image:


Books I'd completed were on the left, and books to finish were on the right. I was pretty disappointed that in an entire year I'd only managed to finish 4 books (albeit great ones). 

Here are my stacks from this year:


The BAD news is, several of the books I *meant* to read just sat on the shelf. (Sorry Brené, I know you are so amazing and I watch all your Ted Talks!) Annnnnnd, I've already read both Ordering Your Private World and The Connected Child- so I was just hoping for refreshers on those. 

The GOOD news is, I mixed up the sides in my newer image and my completed books are actually on the RIGHT this time! 

I thought I would do a quick review/recommendation on all of the books I was able to finish in 2017. So, if you are so enticed, READ on!



Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother, Xinran

This book is complied of interviews of real Chinese birth mothers- meaning, they either chose to give up their babies shortly after birth or were forced to give them up because of China's one-child policy that was in place from 1979 to 2015. The author is a Chinese radio journalist who asks the mothers to not only tell their stories but also asks them what message they wish to tell their daughters. 

Of course, I cried during the majority of the time I read this book. All of the stories are different circumstantially, but the vast majority of the mothers Xinran speaks with are wrecked with heartbreak and guilt. I felt that the book helped me understand some Chinese cultural perspectives better, especially those regarding birthing/pregnancy and attitudes toward family and legacy. It's an emotional read for sure. 

Quotable: "She's so small, poor little thing, and sending her to an orphanage would upset even the spirits of her dead parents!"


Uninvited, Lysa TerKeurst

I read Uninvited as part of a women's bible study and loved it. It was perfect for discussion amongst a group of women because though we can seem very "together", we still ALL deal with feelings of not belonging and not being enough. This book centers a lot on the mind-wars we have waging as women and our tendencies to fall into comparison traps, idolatry and critical spirits. I LOVE Lysa's honest and vulnerable position she takes as the author- using scenarios from her life that make the reader realize that "yes, other women actually DO deal with that type of thinking". She offers a lot of truth and hope, and there were many "ouch" moments for me, like the quotable I'm selecting:

Quotable: "If we become enamored with something in this world we think offers better fullness than God, we will make room for it."


The 5 Second Rule, Mel Robbins

I think I stumbled upon this book via a viral Ted Talk of Mel's. In it, she was describing her very simple method of getting anything done- the 5 Second Rule. This book came at the perfect time for me because I had just started working out on the regular and was really committed to finally losing the baby weight I'd been having on to for a couple of years. I realized I was already using a version of her 5 second rule in my workouts to get through the really un-fun parts, and after reading the book, it was amazing to be educated on exactly why it works. 

I enjoyed reading this book (there are a TON of great quotables) as a business owner and mom who always has a full plate, but I kept wishing there were a little more Jesus in it. Meaning, there is a big opportunity here make "I can do all things" the mantra and forget the "through Christ" part. However, it is definitely worth a read and completely applicable to many areas of everyday life. 

I also decided to download this one on Audible so I could listen during a plane ride and it was almost better than the book because Mel reads it so you are able to hear the emotion in her voice, as well as some off-script commentary. 

Quotable: "Forget motivation; it's a myth. I don't know when we all bought into the idea that in order to change you must 'feel' eager or 'feel' motivated to act. It's complete garbage. The moment it's time to assert yourself, you will not feel motivated. In fact, you won't feel like doing anything at all."


China's Hidden Children, Kay Ann Johnson

So this book is not for the leisure reader. It is literally a 200 page research paper on China's one-child policy. About the time l realized that it wasn't going to be an easy read, I was too far in- and just HAD to finish it, just so I could say I did. So this is sort of my "extra credit" book that I'm just glad I was able to finish, haha.

I DID gain some very insightful knowledge into the effects that the one-child policy had on real people, as the author did very thorough real-life investigation into what actually happened vs. what the government may have been saying about their policies. It WILL be very helpful for us in the future, I think, though...because we are adopting a girl and the one-child policy is bound to be brought up, even though she would be born years after the policy was removed.

Quotable: "Thus in a little more than a decade the ground had shifted from an abundance of 'unwanted' healthy baby girls flowing into government institutions in central south China, an area that had pioneered international adoption in the 1990s, to a dearth of healthy babies available for any kid of adoption both inside and outside the orphanages."


Still Waiting, Ann Swindell

This book, during this year of my life, was salve on my heart. It was not what I expected- in the best way possible. Ann vulnerably shares the story of her personal wait in correlation with the story of the bleeding woman in the Bible recorded in the book of Mark. I (wrongly) assumed that this book would deal heavily with infertility and the struggles related to wanting children, and though that is mentioned, it is not the sold focus of the book- which I love for the fact that it conveys the significance of any type of "waiting"- for healing, for provision, for anything, really. It did appeal to my adoptive momma heart as this year has been tougher than others for me emotionally. I have already recommended this book to about a dozen friends.

The very best thing about this book is the various ways Ann injects importance into the waiting process. She communicates all the ways God loves us in and through a wait. She gives hope as to why we may be waiting, and all the while she is forgiving, human, and understanding of the unique struggles a "waiter" experiences. 

Quotable: "That was how I started to understand how people become bitter, how the seeds of anger turn into deep roots of dismissal when it comes to trusting God."


At Home in the World, Tsh Oxenreider

You guys, if you read ONE book on this list, read this one. Immediately after finishing I felt the need to recommend it to several specific people I thought would enjoy it and proceeded to over-emotionally explain to them all the reasons I thought that they, specifically, would love it too. Not creepy or weird at all.

This book chronicles the real-life around-the-world trip author Tsh and her family (husband and 3 small children) take on a year long journey. Shawn and I have always discussed how important it is for us to give our children a great worldview- that is, we want them to understand who they are in regard to the rest of the world, and at the same time be able to appreciate the different. I love the bravery and the honesty in this book, along with the way Tsh appeals to your every sense as they experience a new culture. It's a lesson in minimalism, living with intention, making room for the spontaneous, and in the end- a true appreciation of home.

I also listened to this on Audible as it is read by Tsh, and it was wonderful there too!

Quotable: "Travel has taught me the blessing of ordinariness, of rootedness and stability. It can be found anywhere on the globe. It's courageous to walk out the front door and embrace earth's great adventures, but the real act of courage is to return to that door, turn the knob, walk through, unpack the bags, and start the kettle for a cup of tea."


Of Mess And Moxie, Jen Hatmaker

Of course, Jen is a fave. This was the new book she came out with this year and it did not disappoint. Jen makes lots of great arguments about what it really looks like to be a decent mom and wife (the chapter on exercise is hilarious)- but mostly she makes you feel better about all of your life efforts, be they Pinterest-fail-y, or not.

My mom and I listened to this book on our way to Round Top (via Audible) and it was fun to not only laugh together but also get some great conversation out of the deeper messages in the book (like dealing when you feel rejection from the church). The chapter on Bonus Moms has given me a new adjective to add to the names of my closest girlfriends.

Quotable: "How To Find A Missing Child: 1) Prepare to take a shower or go to the bathroom. 2) Shut door.  Programming Note: The missing child should barge in immediately, but should this method fail, silently open a candy bar or start a very important phone call. Look down: there is your kid."



Sisters First: Stories from Our Wild and Wonderful Life, Jenna Bush Hager and Barbara Pierce Bush

This was a great memoir by the Bush twins if you followed their "growing up" years, have Texas roots, or want to hear some fun behind-the-scenes accounts of what life is like when your Dad is the President. Read by the authors.

Capital Gaines: The Smart Things I Learned Doing Stupid Stuff, Chip Gaines

This one was a little meh- possibly because I'm more Joanna that Chip, but I did recommend it to Shawn. Easy listen.

The Whole Brain Child: Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child's Developing Mind, Daniel J. Siegel

Listening to this on Audible was difficult because it is very clinical. This is literally a book on how your child's brain works, and how you can use that information to help nurture your child. There are some great techniques and information here, but I kept wishing I had the physical copy so I could refer back to it in the future.

The Magnolia Story, Chip and Joanna Gaines

Not a new book anymore, but I did enjoy hearing their story from the very beginning. The entrepreneurial spirit runs deep and so that part of me was revved up once I'd finished.

Talking as Fast As I Can, Lauren Graham

Probably only for Gilmore/Parenthood/Lauren Graham fans. Her insights and memoirs are fun and wonderful. Easy, enjoyable listen- especially because Lauren reads. 



There is No Good Card For This: What to Say and Do When Life is Scary, Awful, and Unfair to People You Love, Kelsey Crowe and Emily McDowell

I love Emily's illustration and that was the primary reason I was drawn to this book- but empathy and showing up when others are hurting is something I'd like to be better at.

A Million Little Ways, Emily P. Freeman

I was given this book by Alexandra, and I'm about 3/4 through. Emily Freeman is another favorite author of mine and there are so many gems of truth in this book. Amazing read if you are a creative who is also a believer in Jesus.

Wild and Free, Jess Connolly and Hayley Morgon

Why haven't I finished this yet? Maybe I just want to be boring and shut in? I don't know. Completion will happen.

Gracelaced, Ruth Simons

This is the most gorgeous devotional, you guys! It features the artwork of Ruth Simons as well as some perfectly-timed words of wisdom and scripture references to dwell on. I am excited to pick this up from time to time throughout the year.


And that's it! My hope is that some of you might pick up one of these and read them yourself. If you do, please let me know- I always love impromptu book club discussions. 

I also didn't expect to be talking about Audible so much, but if you are teetering on getting a membership, you can get 2 free audiobooks and 30 days free with this link!