About Barbara Harper

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Literary Christmas Challenge Wrap-Up 2020

A Literary Christmas: Reading Challenge // inthebookcase.blogspot.com

Tarissa at In the Bookcase hosts a Literary Christmas Reading Challenge to encourage reading and sharing at Christmas time.

I didn’t get to one book from my original plans, but I did listen to an audiobook I hadn’t planned to—so I guess it all worked out evenly in the end.

Here’s what I finished, linked back to my reviews:

  • Loving My Actual Christmas by Alexandra Kuykendall, nonfiction. Ways to enjoy Christmas as it is rather than an idealized version, with lots of tips.
  • Joy to the World: Daily Readings for Advent by Charles Spurgeon, nonfiction. Short excerpts taken from some of Spurgeon’s Christmas sermons and arranged as a 25-day devotional.
  • A Christmas Longing by Joni Eareckson Tada, nonfiction. A lovely book filled with Joni’s artwork and meditations about Christmas.
  • A Very Bookish Christmas by Sarah Holman, J. Grace Pennington, Kate Willis, and Rebekah Jones, fiction. Four stories each tie in with a classic book.
  • Mistletoe and Murder: A Christmas Suspense Collection of ten novellas by different authors, fiction. Very suspenseful!
  • A Tale of Two Hearts and The Old Lace Shop, two stories in Michelle Griep’s Once Upon a Dicken’s Christmas. I’m not quite done with the last one, but I wanted to get the wrap-up post in before the reading challenge closed completely.

Thanks to Tarissa for hosting once again! I always enjoy it.

What’s Normal, Anyway?

God is faithful though any circumstances

The transition from December 31 to January 1 is just a change from one day to the next. But January 1 is not just a new day or even the start of a new month: it’s a whole new calendar of blank pages, full of hope and possibilities.

The most prevalent hope I hear is that life gets “back to normal,” especially in regard to the coronavirus. We’d love for it go away completely, or at lease recede to rare occurrences, like the swine flu or the bird flu. We want to go about our business without worrying about exposure and masks how many people are gathered in one place.

It’s harder to hope for some of the other issues prevalent during the last year. We still have a long way to go in race relations. And I don’t know if the political landscape will ever improve.

But desiring normalcy for the last several months has led me to wonder—what’s normal, anyway?

America has always had its troubles, but we’ve had it a good deal better than many. We have poverty here, but people who travel to third-world countries are often stunned by the breadth and depth of poverty in other places. Some countries are almost perpetually in a state of war. Some areas are rife with corruption. Armed guards regularly patrol some streets. Some citizens risk their lives to vote.

Through the Bible, Israel was in captivity to Egypt 400 years, Babylon 70 years. Most of their rulers were evil.

Early Christians were persecuted under wicked emperors. More recent believers suffered under Communist oppression. Many are persecuted in several countries even now.

The prophet Habakkuk complained to the Lord:

Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted. (Habakkuk 1:3b-4)

He basically asked God, “What are you going to do about this?

God replied that he was sending the “dreaded and fearsome” Chaldean army (vv. 5-11).

Habakkuk wonders, “What? You can’t let that happen!”

But in their further conversation, God established that He can and He will. But, He says, “but the righteous shall live by his faith” (2:4b).

By the end of chapter 3, Habakkuk concludes that, though his body trembles and lip quivers (3:16):

Though the fig tree should not blossom,
    nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
    and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
    and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
    I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength;
    he makes my feet like the deer’s;
    he makes me tread on my high places. (3:17-19)

I hope with everything in me that life improves on every front this year. But whatever happens, these are some of the truths I carry with me:

  • God is good, even if circumstances aren’t.
  • God is at work, even if it doesn’t look like it.
  • God loves me, even if life is hard.
  • My job is the same: trust in Him, live for Him, rejoice in Him, love Him, grow in Him, fortify and feed myself with His Word.

In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses repeated God’s instruction to Israel before they entered the promised land after 40 years of wilderness wandering. One of the things He promised them was:

But the land that you are going over to possess is a land of hills and valleys, which drinks water by the rain from heaven, a land that the Lord your God cares for. The eyes of the Lord your God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year. (Deuteronomy 11:11-12)

Though our context is different, I think we can take comfort and courage in these same truths. Through the “hills and valleys” of the coming year, God eyes are on us and He cares for us.

The righteous shall live by his faith

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Senior Salon, Hearth and Soul, Selah, Tell His Story, Instaencouragements, Recharge Wednesday, Share a Link Wednesday, Let’s Have Coffee, Heart Encouragement, Grace and Truth, Faith on Fire, Blogger Voices Network)

Laudable Linkage

A collection of good reading online

Here I share the first set of recommended reading for the new year!

2020–What a Beautiful Time to Be Alive. “Don’t let bad thinking take this year from you. Don’t grit your teeth and just try to get through. Life is too precious for that and entirely too short. Live this year as you ought to live every other.”

The Longest Night. Long periods of waiting are not unusual for the children of God. “Years of waiting were not caused by a delay, but were part of God’s design. . .We can also trust He has a purpose in the waiting. Sometimes, while we are concerned with our circumstances, God is more interested in growing our character and our dependence on Him.”

Reading the Bible Requires Rules We Already Know, HT to Challies. “It’s easy to misinterpret the Bible when you don’t follow basic rules of interpretation. Therefore, I’ve offered the approach of asking three questions when reading any passage.”

The Bible Reading Plan I Recommend for 2021. You can find all kinds of Bible reading plans this time of year. Bible Gateway has several. Our church uses a five-year plan, though it’s laid out a little differently from this one. I’ve found that I like having a five-day-a-week plan. That gives time to catch up if you miss a day, plus time to consult other sources (commentary or Bible reading notes), plus a day or two to do other reading if you’re doing a Bible study or project.

Proactive and Reactive Bible Intake, HT to Challies. I had not heard the term “reactive” Bible reading, although I have done it. “In many ways, proactive Bible intake prepares us to know where to open the Scriptures when we need reactive Bible intake.” Both are needed.

Expecting Less From the Church, HT to Challies. I would not have thought of advising lower expectations from church, but I see the wisdom from this article. Sometimes our expectations are so high that we set ourselves up for disappointment because no church can meet them. “We have expectations of course—baptism, the Lord’s Supper, theological orthodoxy, preaching Christ crucified, prayer—but these do not include at least one new insight per sermon and arena-quality worship. These do not include my passive presence that waits for an experience like I had watching a recent movie.”

A Parable from the Dead, HT to Challies. I’ve been troubled by the news of Ravi Zacharias. This draws out some truths from the situation

Marriage: The Beginning of a Revolution, HT to Challies. What a sweet story, and an illustration of what a testimony a godly wedding and marriage can be. “The road to this joyous occasion was paved with tears, persecutions, and pain. In the Lord’s wisdom, it was this very pain that grew the character of the bride and groom and helped them to understand the value of a husband and the value of a wife.”

Someone Will Catechize Your Kids. Don’t Outsource It. HT to The Story Warren. Some might be turned off by the thought of catechism as rote or ritualistic teaching. But the basic idea in the article is just teaching truth. Kids will be exposed to all kinds of values: we need to be sure to teach them God’s truth o a level they can understand.

And finally, I don’t think we’re so far from Christmas that we can’t enjoy this sweet story (if you see this via email, you might have to click through to see the video):

Happy first Saturday of 2021!

Nonfiction Reader Challenge Wrap-Up

Shelly Rae at Book’d Out hosts the Nonfiction Reading Challenge . The idea is to read nonfiction books in the categories she has chosen and choose a level to aim for.

I do read several nonfiction books a year as it is. But I only aimed for the Nonfiction Nibbler (6 books), since I wasn’t interested in all the categories for the next level.

As it turned out, I read 10 books that fit the categories, and several more besides.Here are my choices for this year’s categories, with links back to my reviews:

  1. Memoir:Panosian: A Story of God’s Gracious Providence by Chris Anderson
  2. Disaster Event: Green Leaf in Drought by Isobel Kuhn
  3. Social Science: Off the Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done by Laura Vanderkam
  4. Related to an Occupation:  True Strength: My Journey from Hercules to Mere Mortal—and How Nearly Dying Saved my Life, by Kevin Sorbo
  5. History:The Last Castle: The Epic Story of Love, Loss, and American Royalty in the Nation’s Largest Home by Denise Kiernan
  6. Feminism:The Wonder Years: 40 Women over 40 on Aging, Faith, Beauty, and Strength, a collection of essays compiled by Leslie Leyland Fields (This is more about femininity that feminism, but I think it fits.)
  7. Psychology: Breaking Anxiety’s Grip: How to Reclaim the Peace God Promises by Dr. Michelle Bengston
  8. Medical Issue:7 Steps to Get Off Sugar and Carbohydrates by Susan Neal
  9. Nature:
  10. True Crime:
  11. Science: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
  12. Published in 2020: The Answer Is…by Alex Trebek

Because I like to have these all listed in one place, other nonfiction I’ve read this year is:

  1. Be Amazed (Minor Prophets): Restoring an Attitude of Wonder and Worship by Warren W. Wiersbe
  2. Be Authentic (Genesis 25-50): Exhibiting Real Faith in the Real World by Warren Wiersbe
  3. Be Basic (Genesis 1-11): Believing the Simple Truth of God’s Word by Warren Wiersbe
  4. Be Concerned (Minor Prophets): Making a Difference in Your Lifetime by Warren Wiersbe
  5. Be Free (Galatians): Exchange Legalism for True Spirituality by Warren Wiersbe
  6. Be Obedient (Genesis 12-25): Learning the Secret of Living by Faith by Warren Wiersbe
  7. Be Resolute( Daniel): Determining to Go God’s Direction by Warren Wiersbe
  8. Be Reverent (Ezekiel): Bowing Before Our Awesome God by Warren Wiersbe
  9. Be Rich (Ephesians): Gaining the Things That Money Can’t Buy by Warren Wiersbe
  10. Be Victorious (Revelation): In Christ You Are an Overcomer by Warren Wiersbe
  11. Bedside Blessings by Charles Swindoll (not reviewed yet)
  12. Christian Study Guide for 7 Steps to Get Off Sugar and Carbohydrates.by Susan Neal
  13. A Christmas Longing by Joni Eareckson Tada
  14. Daily Light on the Daily Path compiled by Samuel Bagster
  15. God’s Very Good Idea by Trillia Newbell (children’s book about diversity)
  16. Good Tidings of Great Joy: A Collection of Christmas Sermons by Charles Spurgeon
  17. In His Image: 10 Ways God Calls Us to Reflect His Character by Jen Wilkin
  18. Joy to the World: Daily Readings for Advent by Charles Spurgeon
  19. Loving My Actual Christmas: An Experiment in Relishing the Season by Alexandra Kuykendall
  20. None Like Him: 10 Ways God Is Different From Us (And Why That’s a Good Thing) by Jen Wilkin
  21. The Women of Easter: Encounter the Savior with Mary of Bethany, Mary of Nazareth, and Mary Magdalene by Liz Curtis Higgs

I had hoped to finish Write Better by Andrew T. Le Peau and The Laura Ingalls Wilder Companion by Annette Whipple, but didn’t. Hopefully I will early this year.

Though I gravitate to fiction, I enjoy and benefit from nonfiction. If you’re interested in next year’s challenge, information for it is here.

TBR and Backlist Wrap-Up Posts

Two reading challenges I participated in encouraged us to get to those books we already had but hadn’t read yet. One was the the Mount TBR (To-Be-Read) Challenge hosted by Bev at My Reader’s Block. Every 12 books read is another level or “mountain” climbed. My goal was Mt. Vancouver (36 books). I surpassed that and made it to Mt. Ararat (48 books). Yay! Many of those had accumulated on my Kindle app through various sales.

mount-tbr-2017

The Backlist Reader Challenge hosted by The Bookwyrm’s Hoard had the same goal: reading already-owned books. So my result was the same: 48 books.

The Backlist Reader Challenge sign-up link

Each of these is also hosting the same challenges for 2021 if you are interested: Mount TBR here and the Backlist Challenge here. I’ll be joining in next week!

Here’s what I read, roughly in the order I finished them:

  1. Panosian: A Story of God’s Gracious Providence by Chris Anderson (2018)(Finished 1/11/20)
  2. Promise Me This by Cathy Gohlke (2012)(Finished 1/18/20)
  3. The Shop Keepers by Nancy Moser (2019)(Finished 1/25/20)
  4. The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood by Howard Pyle (1883)(Finished 1/29/20)
  5. Off the Clock by Laura Vanderham (2018)(Finished 2/4/20)
  6. Good Tidings of Great Joy by Charles Spurgeon (2017)(Finished 2/8/20)
  7. Hard Times by Charles Dickens (1854)(Finished 2/11/20)
  8. The Words Between Us by Erin Bartels (2019) (added 2/18/20)
  9. The Last Castle by Denise Kiernan (2017)(Finished 3/14/20)
  10. Be Reverent (Ezekiel): Bowing Before Our Awesome God by Warren Wiersbe. (1975)(Finished 3/25/20)
  11. Be Free (Galatians): Exchange Legalism for True Spirituality by Warren Wiersbe (2010, Finished 4/2/20)
  12. Green Leaf in Drought by Isobel Kuhn (1957) (Finished 4/5/20)
  13. Be Rich (Ephesians): Gaining the Things Money Can’t Buy by Warren Wiersbe (2010, Finished 4/10/20)
  14. The Women of Easter: Encounter the Savior with Mary of Bethany, Mary of Nazareth, and Mary Magdalene by Liz Curtis Higgs (2017) (Finished 4/11/20)
  15. A Portrait of Marguerite by Kate Lloyd (2011) (Finished 4/15/20)
  16. Dying to Read by Lorena McCourtney (2012)(Finished 5/3/20)
  17. Castle on the Rise by Kristy Cambron (2019)(Finished 5/45/20)
  18. A Season to Dance by Patricia Beal. (2017)(Finished 5/12/20)
  19. The Wonder Years: 40 Women Over 40 on Aging, Faith, Beauty, and Strength compiled by Leslie Leyland Fields (2018)(Finished 6/1/20)
  20. Breaking Anxiety’s Grip: How to Reclaim the Peace God Promises. by Dr. Michelle Bengston. (2019, Finished 6/6/20)
  21. The Mother-Daughter Book Club by Heather Vogel Frederick (2008)(Finished 6/16/20)
  22. Eight Cousins by Louisa May Alcott
  23. Monday’s Child by Linda Chaikin(1999)(Finished 6/29/20)
  24. Rain Song by Alice Wisler (2008)(Finished 7/5/20)
  25. Be Concerned by Warren Wiersbe (2010, Finished 7/8/20)
  26. Waves of Mercy by Lynn Austin (2016, Finished 7/20/20)
  27. If We Make It Home by Christina Suzann Nelson (2017, Finished 7/11/20)
  28. Hurricane Season by Laura K. Denton. (2018, Finished 7/20/20)
  29. The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux (1910, Finished 7/27/20)
  30. The Red Door Inn by Liz Johnson (2016, Finished 8/2/20)
  31. Candleford Green by Flora Thompson (1943, Finished 8/4/20)
  32. Be Amazed (Minor Prophets): Restoring an Attitude of Wonder and Worship by Warren W. Wiersbe (2010, Finished 8/6/20)
  33. 7 Steps to Get Off Sugar and Carbohydrates by Susan Neal (2017, Finished 8/9/20)
  34. None Like Him by Jen Wilkin (2016, finished 8/15/20)
  35. Interrupted: A Life Beyond Words by Rachel Coker (2012, finished 8/17/20)
  36. A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (2019, Finished 8/22/20)
  37. Be Victorious (Revelation): In Christ You Are an Overcomer by Warren Wiersbe (2008, Finished 9/7/20)
  38. The Color of Hope by Kim Cash Tate (2013, Finished 9/7/20)
  39. Sandhill Dreams by Cara Putnam (2017, Finished 9/9/20)
  40. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (2011, Finished 9/12/20)
  41. Five Miles South of Peculiar by Angela Hunt (2012, Finished 9/15/20)
  42. The Medallion by Cathy Gohlke (2019, Finished 9/21/20)
  43. Be Basic (Genesis 1-11): Believing the Simple Truth of God’s Word by Warren Wiersbe (2010, Finished 9/22/20)
  44. An Hour Unspent by Roseanna M. White (2018, Finished 10/23/20)
  45. In His Image: 10 Ways God Calls Us to Reflect His Character by Jen Wilkin (2018, Finished 11/7/20)
  46. Under a Cloudless Sky by Chris Fabry (2018, Finished 11/9/20)
  47. Loving My Actual Christmas: An Experiment in Relishing the Season by Alexandra Kuykendall (2017, Finished 12/11/20)
  48. Bedtime Meditations by Charles Swindoll (12/31/20) (not reviewed yet)

A lot of good reading! I’m looking forward to reading more of what’s on my shelves and in my Kindle app this year.

Friday’s Fave Five and Happy New Year!

On Fridays I like to pause for a few moments with Susanne and friends
to reflect on some of the blessings of the week.

What better way to start the new year than with thankfulness? And my heart is full from the last two weeks.

1. Our 41st anniversary. My daughter-in-law made us a wonderful anniversary dinner with chicken cordon bleu and cute cupcakes the night before our anniversary. We usually go out to eat for our anniversary but did not this year due to the pandemic. So Jim grilled pork chops while I made the side items, and I loaded the dishwasher while he hand-washed the big things. A nice evening.

2. All the family together. My oldest son was booked to come by train again, but the pandemic in general and our exposure to COVID in particular had a question mark over our plans. So we were thankful everything worked out for him to come, especially as he lives alone and had been isolated for a long while. I was thankful Jim was safe driving him to and from the train station three hours away in the middle of the night. We enjoyed lots of talking, laughing, games, and eating. Mittu found some cookie-decorating kits at the gluten free bakery their family likes, and we worked on those one night.

3. Snow and sleepovers. We experienced our second-ever white Christmas. It wasn’t a favorite at first, though, as my middle son and daughter-in-law were on icy roads Christmas Eve. They asked if they could sleep over so as not to take a chance on not being able to get here Christmas Day (the temperatures were supposed to get down to 12 overnight). They ended up staying for two nights, and it was fun to have everyone under one roof and to have Timothy pad in to say goodnight and good morning in his jammies. Then the day after Christmas, some of the kids went sledding and had a snowball fight. Timothy proclaimed it the “best day ever.”

4. Christmas, of course, with the celebration of Jesus’ birth, good food, thoughtful presents.

5. A tour of my son and daughter-in-law’s new house while Jeremy was here. They are doing some painting and small jobs before moving in. I am excited for them! And a new neighbor came over to introduce herself while we were there.

Bonus: I don’t think the actual Christmas star the wise men saw was the planets that aligned last week—I think that star was one-of-a-kind. But it was fun to see what they called the Christmas star. My husband has an interest in astronomy and used to buy and sell microscopes and telescopes on eBay, and he kept one big one. So we got to take a look.

I love setting up calendars for the new year and looking forward to a fresh new start. I hope you and yours have a wonderful and happy new year.

End-of-December and 2020 Reflections

Well, it’s been quite the year hasn’t it? Truly we never know what a day—or a year—will bring forth (Proverbs 27:1). Much has been written about the pandemic and other events of the year, so I won’t reiterate them here. Probably the top takeaways for me this year are:

  • Hold plans loosely.
  • God is still in control. Life’s circumstances have not taken him by surprise.
  • We walk the same way we do in any circumstances—by faith.
  • Listen more, assume less.

Thankfully, our family had a couple of excursions right before the lockdowns began. That helped the initial isolation not feel as bad. My husband and I celebrated our 40th anniversary from last December a little late and went to the Gatlinburg/Sevierville/Pigeon Forge area in January to stay in a nice, cabin-like hotel, eat at a nice restaurant, attend a couple of attractions, and reread some love notes from college days. Then in February we visited the Biltmore House and Downton Abbey exhibit with all the family except my oldest, who lives out of state.

A friend and I went out for lunch during the early days of the virus and discussed it and what effects it might have. We had no idea it would be so widespread and last so long. But we were glad that we had that time together right before it.

Thankfully, my husband and three sons could all work from home for the most part. Jason, my middle son, had to go in a lot during December, their busiest time of the year. Because we were all isolating, we felt safe getting together (the strictest regulations here so far limited gatherings to ten, and we’re only seven when all together). My oldest son missed his April visit, but came in August and December via train, mostly on a sleeper car. So he hardly saw anyone on the trip, which he felt was safer (though much longer) than flying. Those gatherings and Zoom church sustained us.

We had some health issues: the atrial fibrillation which I had surgery for three years ago started up again and landed me in the ER twice. I have follow-up appointments in the next couple of weeks to see what we should do about that. The last hospital visit exposed us to COVID, as a nurse who talked about isolating from family because she worked with COVID patients kept pulling down her mask as she talked. That was the week before Jeremy’s scheduled train trip here, which made for some uncertainty. But we got a rapid COVID test the day before he was supposed to leave, and new guidelines said no symptoms and a negative test from day 5 or later after exposure only required a week’s quarantine, so we were good to go—and very thankful.

Normally I include “Timothyisms” in my monthly posts—quips from my six-year-old grandson. The only one I noted this time was when we were isolating due to one of Jason’s coworkers testing positive for COVID. They had helped us put up and decorate the Christmas tree earlier, and as we FaceTimed, I showed Timothy some of the presents accumulating under it. He said, “Granddad Claus is coming to town!”

We send store-bought Christmas cards to loved ones, but I make them for the immediate family. I try to incorporate their favorite colors and interests.

This was Jim’s:

The little squares were made with the Cuttlebug embosser.

This was for Jeremy, who likes foxes:

The background was embossed, and the fox and trees came from a scrapbook paper set. The Merry Christmas was a sticker.

This was Jason’s:

He likes blue, and I am often drawn to cheery, whimsical ideas for him. The words at the bottom were on a sticker.

This was for Mittu, my daughter-in-law, who likes purple:

The idea I had seen on Pinterest (where I get most of my inspiration) showed a tree made with heart-shaped cutouts. I decided to add the glitter-frosted edges. I liked it better before I added the Merry Christmas sticker at the bottom, but I couldn’t remove it once I glued it on.

This was Timothy’s:

I saw the idea here (via Pinterest) for using shapes to create the penguin. But mine must have been shaped a little differently—it didn’t look right to try to make it short and squatty like hers. But I thought it turned out cute. I had to get Jesse to help me with the eyes: I just couldn’t get something that tiny cut out and glued on. I wished later I had outlined the little sign so it stood out better.

This was Jesse’s:

And this was for our anniversary:

I usually list what we’ve been watching in these posts, but we haven’t watched much out of the ordinary the last two months (I missed November–there just wasn’t a good time to work an end-of-month post in). I’m still working through the Lark Rise to Candelford series while using the exercise bike. Somehow we didn’t watch any of the usual Christmas movies or specials. We streamed The Croods: A New Age and Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey to watch with the family. They were . . . okay. My husband and I watched Dolly Parton’s Coat of Many Colors when it was on TV one night and were surprised that network TV allowed such upfront messages about faith and eternal destiny. I wouldn’t take all my theology from the movie, but the message of the need to trust in God was clear.

I won’t list the books reads in November and December since I just posted all the books I read this year as well as my top twelve.

And, since this is an end-of-year post, instead of listing posts from the last two months, I thought I’d look back at the posts from the year that seemed to resonate the most with readers. My five most-read posts of the year are:

I’m thankful people found something useful there. I need to go back and remind myself of some of those truths.

It’s hard to end the year with a sense of closure and look to 2021 as bright and shiny and new when so many of this year’s problems remain: the pandemic and its physical, emotional, and economic toll, the civil and racial strife and unrest, a new administration with alarming values. But my Daily Light on the Daily Path entry for this morning was all about God bearing His people as on eagle’s wings. My Bible reading in Exodus 33 told of the time just after Israel made and worshiped the golden calf instead of God. He was going to send them on to the promised land, but not go with them Himself because they were a stiffnecked people. But Moses pleaded, and God promised, “‘My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.’ And he [Moses] said to him [God], ‘If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here'” (verses 14-15). Whatever happens in the coming year, we can rely on God’s presence and depend on Him to bear us up.

(Sharing with Grace and Truth, Senior Salon, InstaEncouragements)

My Top Twelve Books of 2020

I posted all the books I read this year, but I also like to share my top ten or so favorites (forgive me for doubling posts today—I’m trying to fit a few things in before year’s end). But it’s so hard to narrow them down. These were not all published this year: some are classics that I recently discovered. All except the last link to my reviews.

  1. Doctor Thorne by Anthony Trollope. This was a cozy story, similar in ways to Jane Austen and Charles Dickens. A country doctor had taken in his niece, who fell in love with the young man set to become the village squire. But her position in society is lower than his, and his mother objects. Plus his father is in debt, and he’s encouraged to “marry money.” It was a little predictable, but very enjoyable.
Doctor Thorne by Anthony Trollope

2. Amberwell by D. E. Stevenson is about five children in Scotland raised by aloof parents. By the time the children become adults, the estate had fallen into disrepair. But it draws them all back like a beacon. The children each have distinct personalities and heartaches and joys. I loved getting to know them and Stevenson’s work.

Amberwell

3. None Like Him: 10 Ways God is Different From Us (and Why That’s a Good Thing by Jen Wilkin. There are some attributes of God we can’t emulate, but they inspire our worship. This is a book I feel sure I’ll read again.

4. In His Image: 10 Ways God Calls Us to Reflect His Character by Jen Wilkin. There are some attributes of God we are supposed to reflect as we draw closer to and rely on Him. And I am likely to read this multiple times, too.

5. The Last Castle: The Epic Story of Love, Loss, and American Royalty in the Nation’s Largest Home by Denise Kiernan. This is about the history of the Biltmore House in Asheville, NC, and the family who built it. The Biltmore is a favorite place to visit and a lovely work of art. 

The Last Castle: The Epic Story of Love, Loss, and American Royalty in the Nation’s Largest Home by Denise Kiernan

6. A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles tells the fictional story of a man in 1922 Russia placed under house arrest for the rest of his life in an upper room in a hotel. It’s a secular book and had a couple of objectionable elements. But I loved the Count, the way the story unfolded, the wry sense of humor, and the peek into this era of history. I love how Towles had the Count maintain his gentlemanliness despite all circumstances and made the best of them, yet showed in subtle ways how the situation affected him.

7. If We Make It Home: A Novel of Faith and Survival in the Oregon Wilderness by Christina Suzann Nelson tells of a reunion of college friends who close in school but hadn’t spoken in 25 years. They take a survival trip in the Cascades which brings out the best and worst of each. I loved the author’s phrasing and the spiritual and mental journey each women went through.

If We Make It Home

8. Interrupted: A Life Beyond Words by Rachel Coker. A teenager is the main caregiver for her mother, who suffers from a brain tumor. When her mother dies, she’s uprooted and sent miles away to live with a single woman. She closes herself off from faith, friendship, and romance. I loved her stepmother’s persistent but not pushy love and the daughter’s slow unfolding.

9. A Very Bookish Thanksgiving by Kelsey Bryant, Rebekah Jones, Sarah Holman, J. Grace Pennington, and Amanda Tero is a collection of five stories which take place around Thanksgiving and tie in with a classic novel. I loved Thanksgiving as a setting. And I also loved the book references and parallels.

10. The Words Between Us by Erin Bartels has a lot going on: a loner who takes on an assumed name to hide the fact that her senator father is on trial for murder and her opening a bookstore and suddenly receiving anonymous packages. It’s a story of how people survive excruciating pain, judgments and misconceptions that are sometimes wrong, and words and their effect.

11. A Song Unheard by Roseanna M. White. I could have named several of White’s books—and nearly did. But I decided to choose just one as a representative. This story involves a thief recruited into espionage during WWI. She’s a self-taught violinist sent to retrieve a cypher from a world-renowned violinist whose father worked with cryptography. At points, I wanted to set everything aside and just read this book. I love that Roseanna writes true Christian fiction. Some in this genre feel they can only hint at or suggest spiritual answers to issues, but Roseanna isn’t afraid to get into the meat of wrestling with faith and life. Her writing always gets me in the heart. Plus the story introduced a favorite character, Margo, who appears in further books in the series and whose own story is told in The Number of Love.

12. Stranger Planet by Nathan Pyle. I didn’t review this book, but it’s based on an online comic strip (on Facebook here and Instagram here) about aliens and their observations of life on earth. They’re funny, sometimes sweet and sometimes poignant. They’re perfect for a little relaxation.

I’ve enjoyed reminiscing about these books and sharing them with you. What were some of your favorite books read this year?

(Sharing with Let’s Have Coffee, Carole’s Books You Loved,
Booknificent Thursday, Grace and Truth, Hearth and Soul)

Books Read in 2020

I had a good reading year. 84 books—I think that’s a record for me. I had quite a variety. Old and new: the oldest was published in 1854. A few were hot off the press this year (one I got to read before it was published). Fiction and nonfiction. Paper, Kindle, and audio. I discovered a few new-to-me authors, both classic (Cather, Trollope, and Stevenson) and contemporary (Roseanna M. White, Christina Suzann Nelson, Rachel Coker), whose other works I want to explore. I enjoyed the great majority of them.

I’ll publish my top ten or so of the year shortly, and I have a couple of reading challenge wrap-ups to post which will overlap with this. But I wanted to have a record of everything read this year. The titles link back to my reviews.

Classics:

  1. 1984 by George Orwell
  2. Amberwell by D. E. Stevenson
  3. Billy Budd by Herman Melville
  4. Candleford Green by Flora Thompson
  5. Doctor Thorne by Anthony Trollope
  6. Eight Cousins by Louisa May Alcott
  7. Hard Times by Charles Dickens
  8. Lark Rise by Flora Thompson
  9. The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood by Howard Pyle
  10. My Antonia by Willa Cather
  11. Over to Candleford by Flora Thompson
  12. The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux
  13. Rose in Bloom by Louisa May Alcott
  14. Summerhills by D. E. Stevenson
  15. Wynema: A Child of the Forest by S. Alice Callahan

Nonfiction:

  1. 7 Steps to Get Off Sugar and Carbohydrates by Susan Neal
  2. The Answer Is…by Alex Trebek
  3. Be Amazed (Minor Prophets): Restoring an Attitude of Wonder and Worship by Warren W. Wiersbe
  4. Be Authentic (Genesis 25-50): Exhibiting Real Faith in the Real World by Warren Wiersbe
  5. Be Basic (Genesis 1-11): Believing the Simple Truth of God’s Word by Warren Wiersbe (2010, Finished 9/22/20)
  6. Be Concerned (Minor Prophets): Making a Difference in Your Lifetime by Warren Wiersbe
  7. Be Free (Galatians): Exchange Legalism for True Spirituality by Warren Wiersbe
  8. Be Obedient (Genesis 12-25): Learning the Secret of Living by Faith by Warren Wiersbe
  9. Be Resolute( Daniel): Determining to Go God’s Direction by Warren Wiersbe
  10. Be Reverent (Ezekiel): Bowing Before Our Awesome God by Warren Wiersbe
  11. Be Rich (Ephesians): Gaining the Things That Money Can’t Buy by Warren Wiersbe
  12. Be Victorious (Revelation): In Christ You Are an Overcomer by Warren Wiersbe (2008, Finished 9/7/20)
  13. Bedside Blessings by Charles R. Swindoll (not reviewed yet)
  14. Breaking Anxiety’s Grip: How to Reclaim the Peace God Promises by Dr. Michelle Bengston
  15. Christian Study Guide for 7 Steps to Get Off Sugar and Carbohydrates.by Susan Neal
  16. A Christmas Longing by Joni Eareckson Tada
  17. Daily Light on the Daily Path compiled by Samuel Bagster
  18. God’s Very Good Idea by Trillia Newbell (children’s)
  19. Good Tidings of Great Joy: A Collection of Christmas Sermons by Charles Spurgeon
  20. Green Leaf in Drought by Isobel Kuhn
  21. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
  22. In His Image: 10 Ways God Calls Us to Reflect His Character by Jen Wilkin
  23. Joy to the World: Daily Readings for Advent by C. H. Spurgeon
  24. The Last Castle: The Epic Story of Love, Loss, and American Royalty in the Nation’s Largest Home by Denise Kiernan
  25. Loving My Actual Christmas: An Experiment in Relishing the Season by Alexandra Kuykendall
  26. None Like Him by Jen Wilkin
  27. Off the Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done by Laura Vanderkam
  28. Panosian: A Story of God’s Gracious Providence by Chris Anderson
  29. True Strength: My Journey from Hercules to Mere Mortal—and How Nearly Dying Saved my Life, by Kevin Sorbo
  30. When God Made You by Matthew Paul Turner (children’s)
  31. The Women of Easter: Encounter the Savior with Mary of Bethany, Mary of Nazareth, and Mary Magdalene by Liz Curtis Higgs
  32. The Wonder Years: 40 Women over 40 on Aging, Faith, Beauty, and Strength, a collection of essays compiled by Leslie Leyland Fields

Christian fiction:

  1. Castle on the Rise by Kristy Cambron
  2. Chasing Jupiter by Rachel Coker
  3. The Color of Hope by Kim Cash Tate
  4. Colorfull: Celebrating the Colors God Gave Us by Dorena Williamson (children’s)
  5. Discovering Jesus and His Love by Scott Leone
  6. Dying to Read by Lorena McCourtney
  7. Five Miles South of Peculiar by Angela Hunt
  8. An Hour Unspent by Roseanna M. White
  9. If We Make It Home by Christina Suzann Nelson
  10. Interrupted: A Life Beyond Words by Rachel Coker
  11. The Medallion by Cathy Gohlke
  12. Monday’s Child by Linda Chaikin
  13. A Name Unknown by Roseanna M. White
  14. The Number of Love by Roseanna M. White
  15. On the Wings of Devotion by Roseanna M. White
  16. A Portrait of Loyalty by Roseanna M. White
  17. A Portrait of Marguerite by Kate Lloyd
  18. Promise Me This by Cathy Gohlke
  19. Rain Song by Alice Wisler
  20. The Red Door Inn by Liz Johnson
  21. Sandhill Dreams by Cara Putnam
  22. A Season to Dance by Patrica Beal
  23. The Shop Keepers by Nancy Moser
  24. A Song Unheard by Roseanna M. White
  25. Termination Zone by Adam Blumer
  26. Under a Cloudless Sky by Chris Fabry
  27. A Very Bookish Christmas by Rebekah Jones, Sarah Holman, J. Grace Pennington, and Kate Willis
  28. A Very Bookish Thanksgiving by Kelsey Bryant, Rebekah Jones, Sarah Holman, J. Grace Pennington, and Amanda Tero
  29. Waves of Mercy by Lynn Austin
  30. The Words Between Us by Erin Bartels

Other Fiction:

  1. Hurricane Season by Laura K. Denton
  2. The Mother-Daughter Book Club by Heather Vogel Frederick
  3. Old Town in the Green Groves by Cynthia Rylant
  4. Stranger Planet by Nathan Pyle (a lot of fun but not reviewed)
  5. A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

I read two that I chose not to review or name for various reasons. One dealt with an issue I just don’t want to get into on the blog. The other I didn’t really care for, but I sort-of know the author online and didn’t want to be negative about her book publicly.

I’m looking forward to starting a fresh new list next year!

(Sharing with Booknificent Thursday)

Two Christmas Devotionals

I love to read a Christmas or Advent devotional in December as a way to focus on the spiritual aspect of the season. This year I couldn’t decide between two, so I read them both.

Last year I had a book of C. H. Spurgeon’s Christmas sermons and thought to read them a bit at a time, like a devotional. But it didn’t work. I felt like I wasn’t getting the full impact and flow of thought without reading the whole sermon in context. So I ended up reading one each weekend

This year, however, I found a devotional book made up of short (2-3 pages on an iPad mini Kindle app) excerpts from some of his sermons: Joy to the World: Daily Readings for Advent. I was looking for something with short readings since my regular reading routine is pretty full, and this fit the bill.

Sometimes books made of excerpts from other books or sermons don’t always come across well: it’s obvious that some context is missing. But that wasn’t the case with this book. Each reading seemed like a complete thought. The English has been modernized a bit, but it didn’t seem to take away from the readings to me.

One of the themes is how a humble manger birth made Christ approachable: “We might tremble to approach a throne, but we cannot fear to approach a manger. Never could there be a being more approachable than Christ” (p. 20).

A couple of other quotes:

“Religion never was designed To make our pleasures less” (from “We’re Marching to Zion”). It is designed to do away with some of our pleasures, but it gives us many more, to make up for what it takes away; so it does not make them less (p. 32).

Now, Christ’s human flesh was God’s tabernacle, and it is in Christ that God meets with man, and in Christ that man has dealings with God. The Jew of old went to God’s tent, in the center of the camp, if he would worship: we come to Christ if we would pay our homage. If the Jew would be released from ceremonial uncleanness, after he had performed the rites, he went up to the sanctuary of his God, that he might feel again that there was peace between God and his soul. We, having been washed in the precious blood of Christ, have access with boldness unto God, even the Father through Christ, who is our tabernacle and the tabernacle of God among men (p. 51).

The tabernacle of old was not full of truth, but full of image, and shadow, and symbol, and picture; but Christ is full of substance. He is not the picture, but the reality; he is not the shadow, but the substance. O believer, rejoice with joy unspeakable for you come to Christ, the real tabernacle of God. You come to him who is full of the glory of the Father; and you come to one in whom you have not the representation of a grace which you needest, but the grace itself-not the shadow of a truth ultimately to be revealed, but that very truth by which your soul is accepted in the sight of God (p. 52).

The thought of Christ’s human flesh being our tabernacle was new to me, but poignant as our church is reading through Exodus and spent several days this month on the instructions for the tabernacle.

I also liked very much the thought in Day 6’s reading that God was pulling invisible strings to orchestrate the details of Christ’s birth, even to the point of the census being decreed to get Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, where the Scriptures prophesied Christ would be born. That’s a comfort in these times.

A Christmas Longing by Joni Eareckson Tada is a gorgeous book filled with her art work, drawn by mouth due to her paralysis. It would make a lovely coffee table book if we had a coffee table.

It’s made up of 31 readings for each day in December (the above book had 25) centered on the theme of joy.

A few quotes:

Maybe we simply need to realize that our most unpleasant circumstances, much like Mary and Joseph’s, often have a way of becoming a beautiful portion of God’s magnificent design. God’s sovereign timetable is working in the life of your family, too, hard as that may be to accept at times. Despite the hardship, despite the inconvenience, despite our lack of understanding, God has something in mind. He is in control, and He has a design for your life this Christmas season… and through all the seasons of your life. (The book has no page numbers, but this is in “A Plan Behind the Pain.”)

Lives hinge and eternal destinies hang in the balance when men and women come face to face with Jesus the Christ. It isn’t always peaceful. It isn’t always painless. It isn’t always easy. But bowing the knee to Jesus Christ is always right. No matter what. (From “Simeon’s Message.”)

Maybe that’s why God puts those wistful longings in our hearts this time of year. He wants us to find the answers to those longings in the celebration of Jesus. He wants us to define that nostalgia as nothing more than a deep human desire to come home and adore His Son. (From “Create Your Christmas Spirit.”)

You see, when Christ entered history, He didn’t come waving a white flag. His coming was not simply a lull in the battle. It was more than a momentary cease-fire. When the angels sang, “Peace on earth, good will toward men,” they were announcing an armistice. It was V-Day—an end, not just to the battle between God and humans, but to the war.

The phrase “peace on earth” carries with it so much more meaning than simply a warm, fuzzy feeling between the Lord and us. Christ, our Prince of Peace, was God’s way of announcing the close to an awful war. The Lord Jesus invaded enemy territory to lay claim on what was rightfully His. He confronted sin, and His battle cry told men that He had come to set them free.Through His death and resurrection, He signed the peace treaty in His own blood. (From “Peace on Earth.”)

I read this in bunches, both because I received it late plus I wanted to finish it in time for this review. But I think next year I’ll read just one entry a day and go more slowly and thoughtfully through it.

Though different in style, both of these books were meaty, inspirational, edifying, and enjoyable.

(Sharing with InstaEncouragement, Carole’s Books You Loved, Booknificent Thursday)