Welcome to my book update post where I share what books I finished recently + my honest thoughts and star ratings of them.
My Reading Goals for 2021
For 2021, I set a goal of reading 3 books per week — 1 fiction book, 1 non-fiction book, and 1 audiobook each week. I know this is an audacious goal, but reading is something I love and it’s a way I learn, challenge my mind, improve as a writer and communicator, and am refreshed and encouraged through inspiring stories.
I have a few shelves full of books (mostly that I’ve gotten free), so I decided to choose 52 books from off my shelf to read this year (see my list of 52 books I plan to read in 2021 here). I’ll also read other books that I find/am sent that pique my interest. Plus, I plan to go through a lot of audiobooks (I get mine free from the Libby app).
Each week, I plan to give an update on what I read/listened to + my honest reviews. We’ll see how I do with my reading goals. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to hit them, but it will be fun to try!
A Word on My Star Ratings
The star ratings I give the books I read are based on a 5-star rating system. I rarely will ever give a book a 1-star rating (maybe never?), because my philosophy is that if a book is only worthy of one star, I’m more than likely going to quit reading it. In the same vein, you’ll also notice that I’ll rarely give a 5-star rating as I reserve those for only my very, very favorite books.
Want to see all of the books I’ve read so far this year? Check out my Good Reads page.
In the last few weeks, I finished three books and here are my reviews…
This is the story of ABC New reporter and The View co-host’s journey to finding her calling. She shares her personal struggles with finding her worth in her work and her affirmation through accolades… and how neither of those really satisfied.
As a fellow Type A personality who has battled workaholism during more than a few seasons of my life, I related to her tendency to push harder, sleep less, and try to white knuckle her way to success. I appreciated her candor in recounting how holding some of the most-coveted journalism positions don’t bring happiness and joy.
I only gave this book three stars because I felt like the writing/story-telling could have improved a lot. While some of the content and examples were inspiring, it felt like the book, in general, jumped around in many places and left me kind of confused because of things being so out of order chronologically. If she had been writing a non-fiction book that was topically based, it would have been okay to have stories from many different times in her life throughout the book. But because the book was supposed to be more memior-esque (did I just make up a word?), it felt disjointed for it to jump around in the storyline so much!
Verdict: 3 stars
Jesse and I started listening to this book on our trip to Kansas for Christmas. We didn’t finish it on that trip, but we each individually listened to it because we wanted to know how the story ended!
Code Name: Lise is the true story of a fairly ordinary mom of three young girls who ended up landing herself a job (very unexpectedly!) as a spy. While I thought the book was a little dry and detail-heavy at times, parts of the story were very interesting.
I gave it a 3-star verdict because I didn’t love the narrator of the audiobook and thought that the emphasis on details (many that I found unnecessary and boring) would make the book more of a slog to read. In fact, I’m guessing I wouldn’t have finished it had I read a physical copy — so I’m glad that I listened to the audiobook.
I also was surprised that a lot of story was all the details of her life in captivity. I expected a lot more details on her time as a spy. That said, I found her resilient spirit, creativity, and care for others while she was imprisoned and interrogated to be quite inspirational.
Verdict: 3 stars
Ruth Schwenk sent me a copy of their book soon after we said goodbye to Champ. It meant the world to me that she would send it with a personal note to let me know she was praying and thinking of us — and the book really blessed me!
This is the story of Patrick’s cancer diagnosis and what it was like to walk through that as a family. While Patrick is a pastor, I appreciated how honest he was with his doubts and wrestling with the goodness of God in the middle of a really difficult season. I also found their insights into standing firm in faith in the midst of heartache and hurt and unknown to be so encouraging and a blessing to me as I grieved the loss of Champ.
My one complaint with this book is that I would have loved more details on what they experienced and walked through in their cancer journey. That said, it’s their story and I completely understand if they just didn’t feel comfortable sharing more details.
(I’m cracking up that I said the book before was detail-heavy and I’m saying I wanted more details with this one! I think it’s that I felt like they gave little snippets in each chapter, but didn’t dive into the story at the depth I would have loved. What was it really like? What was it like for your marriage? What was it like for your kids? I wanted to sit with them and hear the details of the treatments and recovery so I can understand more what it was like to walk in their shoes… so that I can have more empathy and understanding for others who are on a similar journey.)
Verdict: 4 stars
Yes, folks, we have our first 5-star read of the season! Actually, it wasn’t completely a “read” for me because I started reading it and then discovered that the audiobook was available for free on Libby so I ended up listening to a lot of it.
This is based on the true story of a Jewish family during World War II who were separated all over the world and how they ended up surviving and eventually being reunited. It is deeply moving, gripping, and heartbreaking. But at the same time, it is the story of love, family, and perseverance against all odds.
One thing I noticed was how creative and determined each of the family members was to beating the odds, coming up with outside the box ideas, and not giving up. When all around it felt like everything was crumbling and hopeless, they chose to keep pressing on and keep holding on to the will to live.
Of all the parts of the book, I think the sections that most impacted me were thinking of what it would be like to have young children during the Holocaust and how deeply difficult it would be to try to care for and protect a baby or child in the midst of so fear, uncertainty, and straight up disregard for human life. I can’t even begin to imagine and this book helped me to have a glimpse into just how horrific that would have been.
Note: There is a little bit of language and, as you can imagine, some intense and graphic topics are touched on. However, I felt like the book did a good job of not going into unnecessarily graphic details and stayed true to the story and experiences.
Verdict: 5 stars
And we have another 5-star review!! I just couldn’t give this book any less than five stars! It chronicles in beautiful and brutal detail David Platt’s week-long trek in the Himalayas. He takes you on the journey with him to experience the sights, smells, sounds, tastes, and bone-chilling cold he witnessed. But the cold wasn’t the most chilling part of his week, not by any stretch of the imagination. He pens so vulnerably his encounters with great poverty, trafficking of little girls, and human suffering, the likes of which he didn’t even believe existed.
This book is his honest account of questioning his long-held beliefs about God, suffering, and what it truly means to give your life to follow in Jesus’ steps. He doesn’t give a lot of answers in the book; he mostly just shares stories, asks questions, and challenges you to stop living a life of complacency.
It’s a well-written book that draws you in with the engaging story line and leaves you taking a really deep look at your heart, your choices, and your perspective. I highly recommend it — and can’t stop talking about how it has made me examine life with fresh eyes and ears to the need around me — and around the world.
Verdict: 5 stars
When I asked on Instagram for clean fiction author recommendations, a number of you strongly encouraged me to check out Charles Martin. I had never even heard of him before, but I looked on Libby and found that this book was available.
It’s hard to really describe the storyline and I’ll admit it was a little far-fetched in places. However, it drew me in, it moved me, and it made me want to keep listening even when I needed to turn it off and move onto something else in my day. To me, those are all marks of a good book and I will definitely plan to listen to more of Charles’ books in the not-too-distant future. In fact, I already have a few added to my holds list on Libby.
Note: This book deals with trafficking and some abuse and does have a few graphic details in it. I felt like it was tastefully done and clean overall. However, the subject manner could be triggering for some.
Verdict: 4 stars
I finished reading this book to Kierstyn last week. It’s been a long time since I’ve read Charlotte’s web and we really enjoyed reading it together (or at least I enjoyed the story and she seemed to at least grasp a tiny little bit of it from the pictures in the book!).
The one thing I had forgotten was that the book could be very sad (Charlotte dies) and possibly scary to sensitive kids (Before Charlotte saves his life, Wilbur is going to be butchered and the book alludes to this multiple times). I also felt like there was definitely some bullying from the animals and some shaming. I know, I know, I probably am over-analyzing these things, but I think it’s important that we call these things out to our kids and have conversations about it.
That said, I’m giving it four stars because I really enjoy the story overall and think it’s a worthwhile classic book to read aloud as a family — especially if your kids aren’t highly sensitive, enjoy animals, and are between the ages of (maybe) 6-10?
Verdict: 4 stars
What books have you read or listened to recently? I’d love to hear your thoughts on them — and if you have any recommendations for me!