Archive | book review

In which I share what I’m into :: February 2014 edition



Adventure of Ascent: Field Notes from a Lifelong Journey by Luci Shaw. Far and away, this was my favourite book of the past few months. Luci Shaw is underappreciated in popular Christian writing circles, I know, but this poet writes some of my favourite prose and memoir. I like to think I can write a sentence now and then but then I read Luci Shaw, who effortlessly drops phrases like “the wide straps of dark clouds” or “silky shawl of air” or “rags of snow” and I just want to bow down. This book chronicles a year of her life in her eighties as she contemplates dying, growing older, and her own faith in those days. Rich material for a rich mind. P.S. She was Madeleine L’Engle’s best friend (for my fellow devoteees).

Longbourn by Jo Baker - a mash-up of Upstairs, Downstairs sensibility using Pride & Prejudice? Take my money, madam! Unfortunately, it wasn’t as good as I had hoped. I wouldn’t re-read and regret buying it instead of just grabbing it at the library.

A Prayer Journal by Flannery O’Connor – I go through swings with Flannery O’Connor’s work – I won’t read her for years and then all of a sudden, I can’t stop for a month. That’s how things are right now. This prayer journal is so intimate, so raw. Even seeing her ambitions laid out, right alongside her prayers and her struggles, made me feel less alone. A beautiful book.

Prodigal Christianity: 10 Signposts into the Missional Frontier by David E. Fitch and Geoff Holsclaw. If you’ve grown a bit tired of the rhetoric and unending speculation, if you’re ready to actually begin to live into that new way forward for the community of God, this is a good place to start. It’s practical and accessible. The ten critical signposts in a missional way of life are: post-Christendom, missio Dei, incarnation, witness, scripture, gospel, church, sexuality, justice, pluralism.

When Women Were Birds: Fifty-four Variations on Voice by Terry Tempest Williams. I know this is an unpopular opinion for me to confess, but I didn’t like this book. I found it ponderous and even inauthentic.

The Gravedigger File: Papers on the Subversion of the Modern Church by Os Guinness. This book is my first completion in our You’ve Got To Read This! challenge. I’ll have a separate post about that soon-ish but I’ll just say that I was underwhelmed and right out of the gate, I disagreed with the premise so that makes it hard to enjoy the whole book. But still – intelligent and worth reading, Brian, I’ll agree.

The House Girl by Tara Conklin. A good novel for the airplane which is exactly where I read it. Made the day go quickly, I couldn’t put it down, and it was an interesting story.


and reading

The Complete Stories by Flannery O’Connor. I know everyone knows – and bows down before – A Good Man is Hard to Find. Rightfully so. But I still have a soft spot for The Geranium. This woman’s genius knows no bounds and coming back to her work again and again only enriches it. Earthy, real, substantial, satisfying.

The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert.

The Way of the (Modern) World: Or, Why It’s Tempting to Live As If God Doesn’t Exist by Craig M. Gay. (The next book in our challenge for me. Pray for me.)

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.

Eat with Joy: Redeeming God’s Gift of Food by Rachel Marie Stone.

Pilgrimage of a Soul: Contemplative Spirituality for the Active Life by Phileena Heuertz

New Collected Poems by Wendell Berry

television worth watching

I just finished Series 3 of Sherlock. It wasn’t as good as Series 2 – could anything ever compare to Irene Adler and Moriarity? – but it was still Sherlock, still brilliant, still chilling, still funny, still wonderful. And then the twist in the series finale was just WHOA. Can’t wait to see Series 4. Mary Watson is just my favourite character on television in a while.

Anxiously awaiting Series 3 of Call the Midwife! It debuts on PBS on March 30, so set your VCR. (Wait a minute – what century is this. VCR. Honestly.)

For the first time in our lives, we’re watching The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. We have been over late-night television for years now (even burning out on The Daily Show and Colbert Report, I’m afraid) but Jimmy Fallon’s new gig as host of this programme has us actually watching it again. It’s hilarious, smart, and earnest all at the same.

I’ve watched a fair few documentaries about food over the past months. I’ve been making a few changes in that area of my life lately due to some health stuff and so it’s been helpful.

Is anyone else missing the Olympics?

movies worth seeing

We went to see The Lego Movie on evening last week. It was funny and smart. Just a wonderful movie for the whole family. We’ll be watching it again. Joe and Anne (who are five and seven) were captivated. (“Everything is awesome! everything is cool!”)

Otherwise….yeah. I don’t really watch movies much these days, I’m afraid.

music worth hearing

Relevant is streaming John Mark McMillan’s new album Borderland here.


How They Blog podcast. A quick 20 minute podcast with interviews and tips for bloggers.

David’s Tea – my current favourites are Cream of Earl Grey and Jessie’s Tea (a rooibos with coconut and lavender)

My elliptical machine and my juicer – I know. It’s like I don’t know who I am anymore. Drinking kale and working out. Honestly.

Benjamin Hole on Instagram. Photos of a working English farm just make me so happy.

Village Books in Fairhaven, Washington. I want to live there.


So, friends, what about you?

What’s on your nightstand? What television show or movie or music has captured your imagination? 


Continue Reading · book review, books, movie review, music, What I'm Into · 24

In which my husband and I made a deal – our “You Need To Read This!” Challenge

On New Year’s Eve, we found ourselves sitting in our living room, talking over our goals for 2014. And, of course this happened:

Brian: Let’s see…what else do I want to do this year… I think I need to read more.

Me: You do. You definitely need to read more.

Brian: Okay there, pseudo-hermit bookworm, calm down. Maybe I’ll set a goal like…. I could read one book a month. That’s do-able, right?

Me: Totally! You should TOTALLY do that.  (writes it down) Only….

Brian: What?

Me: I wish I could pick the books!

Brian: (laughing) Okay, right, Styles.

Me: I still can’t believe you managed to graduate high school in the United States without ever reading To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s just so wrong. You really need to read it.

Brian: I’ll only let you pick my books if you let me pick the books YOU have to read every month!

Me:….wait a minute….that’s a BRILLIANT IDEA. Let’s do it! I get to pick a book a month that you read and you do the same thing for me! We can even blog about it! Together!

Brian: I’m game. Okay….first thing you’ll need is this handy-dandy Pocket Guide to Theological Terms….



So here we are, starting off 2014 with our “You Need To Read This” Challenge. We have each carefully selected a stack of 12 books that we think the other one needs to read. Usually when we finish a book we love, we say “You need to read this!” and of course, we never read each other’s books.

My husband and I have pretty different taste when it comes to reading. I adore spiritual memoirs, fiction and literature, poetry, and narrative theology with a bit of old-fashioned fun reading like Harry Pottery or dystopian fantasty or British chick lit novels and my comfort reading of the L.M. Montgomery. Brian doesn’t read for fun (that’s what football is for, apparently) and so his reading tends towards leadership-based non-fiction or theology. In short, we never read or like the same books. Like, ever.

Every month, we’ll read a book from each other’s pre-selected stack and then blog our opposite responses together here about it. Once a month, when we post about a book, we’ll share why we picked it for each other and then what we think about it.

the besseys reading challenge

The books I picked for him to read are:

The books he picked for me to read are:

It’s clear to me that my husband has set me up to fail. I look at his list for me and, with a few exceptions, SNORE. WHERE ARE THE STORIES I NEED STORIES.

Let the game begin…

(I’m doomed.)

If you want to participate in your own, go for it. Just find a friend who has different reading tastes than you and swap a list.

If you could make everyone read just one book (other than the Bible), which one would you choose?

*affiliate links 



Continue Reading · book review, books, brian, You Need To Read This Challenge · 150

In which the world changer needs some balance {guest post by Sarah Cunningham}

 WBWC Covers

Anyone can grab a pot and a wooden spoon and stand out the street clamoring for attention.

Go ahead. Set up a soapbox. Buy a spotlight. Sell tickets. Put on a show.

But just know, make sure you know down deep in the places where you hold all things important, that begging for attention is no virtue. Not on its own.

Your nonprofit got noticed. So what?

You’re a regionally influential church now? Who cares? You’ve become a sought-after speaker with a national tour? Big deal.

You’re the “go-to” in your community, the one with all

the programs, with the great music, with the people wearing jeans who welcome you as you are.

All of this is well and good, but by itself? Not all that impressive.

But we’ve got people on the edge of their seats, you protest. The world’s eyes are locked on us. We’re turning the heads of thousands…

We’re the up-and-coming new guys. We’re taking the stage in force, we’re filling the speaker slots, grabbing the retweets. We’ve got fresh faces. Fresh ideas. Fresh movements. We’ve got a new model, an innovative startup, a crisp conference idea right out of the oven. Our arsenal is packed with hot concerts, powerful CDs, popular books, flash-in-the-pan festivals. We’re sweeping the hipsters en masse.

We’re coming into our own. We’re the talk of the spiritual town!

Applause. Autographs. Introductions. Fans and Fol- lowers . . . and bam. Celebrities are born! Brands are forged! Masses are gathered!

The world is standing at attention.

Yes, yes. And all of this can and very well may be used for great good. And you sincerely deserve some admiration for working so hard to get there.

But turning heads?

Please don’t tell me that’s how you measure success. You’re turning heads? So is the accident on the side of the road.

All kinds of things turn heads. A heap of mangled metal, blood-splattered windshields, engines caught on fire, over- turned semis.

People slow down. They gawk. They tweet about it and even take photos.

Crowds gather at a corner to watch an apartment building burn. They’ll huddle on their porches as a neighbor is visited by the police.

Do the people being observed—the offending drivers, the owners of the burning house, the resident being interrogated—think their observers are looking on in admiration? Do they suspect the crowds gathering up are their new fan clubs coming together?

Do the people in the accidents deserve medals? Should we give them some sort of prize? Is this something to be celebrated?

Of course not.

Getting someone’s attention is not the same thing as creating a disciple. Turning heads isn’t the same thing as gaining the allegiance of a long-term donor or board member. Screaming in the street isn’t the same thing as being a loyal mentor or friend for the long run.

Fame! Notice! Recognition! Bah, humbug. What does the crowd know? The crowd gets fixated on anything shiny, turning their heads like a bird flocking to a piece of tinfoil.

The crowd looked at Jesus, the man who accepted the marginalized and spoke hope over the world, and picked Barabbas.


— excerpted from Sarah’s new book, The Well-Balanced World Changer: A Field Guide for Staying Sane While Doing Good. It is a book for visionaries who are sinking their lives into various faith-based and humanitarian causes, and are then likely encountering the endless to-do lists that come with big-picture, systemic societal problems. It offers a collection of 2-5 page essays, each of which presents a sticky idea or piece of wisdom that helps reframe expectations, inspire perseverance, set healthy pace and so on.

Sarah’s book is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever books are sold. You can also find great shareable content like the graphic below at her book’s Pinterest page. And you can contribute your own life lessons to an online collection of wisdom using the hashtag #worldchangerbook.

IMG_8925Sarah Cunningham is the author of five books, a freelance event producer, and the Chief Servant to the Emperor (her four year old) and his Chief of Staff (the one year old little brother). She proudly claims to be smitten with “the Mitten” (Michigan) where she blogs about finding extraordinary friendship in a sometimes too ordinary world at

Continue Reading · book review, books, Guest Post · 9

In which I share what I’m into for September 2013

What I'm Into Sept 2013 :: Sarah Bessey

books i read

Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint by Nadia Bolz-Weber. Like most alumni from the emergent movement of a decade ago, I’ve loved Nadia’s voice and prophetic life for years now. I was so looking forward to her book that I worried I’d make her a victim of impossibly high expectations. But Nadia’s book is even better than I could have imagined. Pastrix is profane, gritty, honest, real, and sacred. It makes me fall in love with both Jesus and the Church all over again. She’s a good cure for a cynic. A bad-ass and a regular pastor and mother all at once, she’s a much-needed voice for us today. I loved this book and underlined it mercilessly.

Notes from a Blue Bike: The Art of Living Intentionally in a Chaotic World by Tsh Oxenreider. This was an advanced reader copy and I loved it. I am drawn towards the practices of simple living while being equally intimidated by the adherents and my own love for coffeeshop Americanos and use of disposable diapers for our babies. But Tsh blends storytelling with ideas and inspiration, without devolving into “tips and tricks” or lists. She shares her own journey – filled with wisdom, I might add – and opens the door for the rest of us to set out on our lives.

The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty. I didn’t love it as much as What Alice Forgot, but it’s still a plain old good novel. And I love good page-turning novel.

Lost in a Good Book (Thursday Next #2) and The Well of Lost Plots (#3) by Jasper Fforde. I love this weird and hilarious series. I haven’t loved a postmodern novel since Douglas Coupland but these are up there, let me tell you. Fantastical, witty, hilarious, complex, and weird.

The Prodigal God by Tim Keller. Absolutely loved this book. This is one of my favourite stories in Scripture because I’ve always thought of it in terms of the Father, not the younger son. I have the utmost respect for Dr. Keller, and this slim book deserves status as a classic. Beautiful, moving, grace-filled, accessible, and so true.

When Mockingbirds Sing by Billy Coffey. I finally gave up on this one. I wanted to like it so much but I just couldn’t seem to get into the story, I’m afraid.

Dragonfly in Amber (Outlander) by Diane Gabaldon. I started this series with a lot of hope but I’m afraid I’m crapping out on this one. Just not into it.

books on my nightstand right now

When Women Were Birds: Fifty-four Variations on Voice by Terry Tempest Williams

Prodigal Christianity: 10 Signposts into the Missional Frontier (Jossey-Bass Leadership Network Series) by David E. Fitch and Geoff Holsclaw

Things Your Mother Never Told You: A Woman’s Guide to Sexuality by Dr. Kim Gaines Eckert (this is an advanced review copy)

Eat with Joy: Redeeming God’s Gift of Food by Rachel Marie Stone

The Ocean at the End of the Lane: A Novel by Neil Gaiman

television worth watching


Downton Abbey series 4 has started in the UK!

It’s been a good start to the series. Don’t worry – no spoilers here. But I think the ground-work has been laid for a good series and, let’s face it, no one ended up laying on the road bleeding from the ear so I’ll call that a win.

As discussed on my Facebook page, North American audiences CAN in fact watch Downton Abbey now. Here’s what you do: download the app TunnelBear to your computer. Turn it on and set it to the UK setting. Go to ITV Player and start streaming Downton. (Or, in my case on Sunday afternoons, every single episode of Relocation, Relocation ever made.) It may ask you for a post code, you can put in whatever UK post code you like.

I am probably the only person in the world who has never watched Breaking Bad and has zero interest in it. I am notoriously sensitive to violence on screen, I’m afraid. I know, it’s very uncool of me, but that’s the truth.

movies i’ve watched – in or out of the theatre

We received an advanced copy of Disney’s The Little Mermaid new-to-Blu-Ray Diamond edition this month. I loved that movie as a teenager, and it was fun to finally introduce it to Anne. Going back to my sensitivity to violence and fear, I tend to make her wait longer than most of her friends for certain movies and so, at seven, this was her first time watching it. It was such a fun afternoon together. Sometimes anticipation makes things even better.

in my ears

There is a new Gungor album out. And so I Am Mountain is pretty much it for a few weeks now.

best stuff i pinned

Grammar Grumble Mugs at The Literary Gift Company. I mean, seriously. “I am figuratively dying for a cuppa.” Best ever.

Jane Austen boxed postcards – yes, please.

So, friends, what about you?

What’s on your nightstand? What television show or movie or music has captured your imagination? 

linked up with Leigh for What I’m Into this month.

Continue Reading · book review, books, What I'm Into · 29