After missing the mark in 2016, I pushed myself to achieve my GoodReads.com goal of 30 books in 2017! Setting such an ambitious goal pushed me to read more than I normally would and I’m very pleased with all that I’ve learned during my 2017 challenge.
My full list of all 30 books included a good mix of fiction and non-fiction, averaging about 300 pages per book. I won’t include them all on this blog, but here’s a quick countdown of my Top Ten favorite reads from 2017 and a brief summary of each.
#10 – Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
Unexpectedly enjoyable. This was on my son’s reading list from school and, since I missed the movie in theaters, I wanted to check it out (we still haven’t watched the movie). I’m a huge fan of time travel fiction, so the constant flipping back and forth through time was fun to follow. Also, I loved the old (supposedly authentic) photographs that were sprinkled throughout the book and the way they were uniquely woven into the fabric of the story. I really enjoyed meeting each of the children, but would like to have seen more character development on each one. I wanted to know where / when they were from and how they discovered their unique peculiarity.
My biggest admonishment is the language. There was a lot of vulgarity; much more than I was expecting for a book aimed at Jr High readers. The sheer volume of profanity is the precise reason my son put the book down and refused to finish it. It felt unnecessary and forced. Without the bad language, I might have given this book 5-stars.
#9 – Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand
This is not a faith based book by a Christian author about God’s divine protection of a deeply religious man. In fact, it’s quite the opposite by all accounts. However, as a Christian reader, I can see God’s fingerprints on every page – from Louie’s turbulent childhood to a his brutal internment and especially his life changing encounter at a Billy Graham crusade. God had his hand on Louie and used his story in a powerful way to affect the lives of thousands.
Practically speaking, the book started to drag a bit in the middle. I was enthralled with Louie’s running career and his early military exploits, but I labored to get through the detailed chronicle of his time at sea and in the POW camps. Hillenbrand picked up the pace again toward the end and she wrapped everything up very well. I haven’t read the young adult version of this novel, but I wonder if that wouldn’t be more to my liking at 322 pages instead of 529. This is a wonderful story that everyone should read, but I could have been given less details and still enjoyed the overall experience.
#8 – 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You
by Tony Reinke
As a father and a youth minister, I felt especially compelled to read this book. I had seen several recommendations on our Youth Ministry FB page from fellow leaders and it did not disappoint. Incredibly practical advice that caused me to examine my own habits.
Drawing from the insights of numerous thinkers, published studies, and his own research, writer Tony Reinke identifies twelve ways our smartphones have changed us—for good and bad. Reinke calls us to cultivate wise thinking and healthy habits in the digital age, encouraging us to maximize the many blessings, to avoid the various pitfalls, and to wisely wield the most powerful gadget of human connection ever unleashed.
#7 – Sleeping Giants (Themis Files #1)
by Sylvain Neuvel
Perhaps the most intriguing book I’ve read in a long time. I would definitely recommend listening to this one on Audible though. I can’t imagine trying to read a hard copy of this book simply becuase of the format. It is written as a series of interviews and the audio version capitalizes on this by using different voice actors to read the parts, which works very well. The “interviewer” is a nameless figure that reminds me of “The Smoking Man” in the X-Files television series. He is above the government, has unlimited resources at his disposal, and has a way of reading and manipulating people that is unmatched.
The story takes a few twists and turns that were unexpected, but everything was resolved well in the end and I find myself still thinking about the plot even now, a few months after finishing the book. My only hesitation about recommending this book is the gratuitous language. What’s that old saying? “If you can’t be interesting without using profanity, you’re just not that interesting.”
#6 – Family Worship: In the Bible, in History & in Your Home by Donald S. Whitney
This book is a rare gem. So small (only 64 pages), but so powerful. The book is necessarily brief because Whitney aptly states that family worship is not that complicated. This book may have a greater impact on the life of our family inside the home than anything else I’ve read this year.
Many Christian families have never experienced the joys and benefits of family worship. But the daily worship of God by families at home is a practice rooted in the Bible and common throughout Christian history.
#5 – Killing Kennedy: The End of Camelot
by Bill O’Reilly, Martin Dugard
After reading this book it was immediately apparent to me that many of the facts surrounding the death of President Kennedy went right over my head in high school. I know that history class tends to give us a cursory view from 30,000 feet, but I’m glad to have read a book like this and landed the plane in Camelot for a few days.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would rate it just as high as the previous two book in O’Reilly’s “Killing” series. (Killing Lincoln and Killing Jesus) I especially like the way the author covers every angle chronologically then brings them together at the fateful moment, but he doesn’t stop there. He concludes by tying up all the loose ends and explaining how the main players in the Kennedy White House carried on in the aftermath of his assassination.
#4 – Doxology and Theology: How the Gospel Forms the Worship Leader by Matt Boswell
Recommended reading for every worship leader. Each chapter is written by a different worship pastor, giving the reader a variety of perspectives on our calling. Very well done. Especially chapters 5 and 10. Some of my favorite quotes include:
“Worship leaders ought to come to lead the people of God with a guitar in one hand, a Bible in the other, and know how to use each weapon well.”
“Throughout the Scriptures, when ordinary people see the majesty of God, or the mercy of God, they are forever changed by it, and they go tell everyone about it. That’s just what happens.”
“We’ve got to do more than lead songs; we’ve got to lead people. If nobody’s following us Monday through Saturday, we’re not leading worship; we’re just leading songs.”
#3 – The Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold
Okay, okay… I’m well aware that there are 5 books in the photo, but that’s how many of these books I read this year! And I can’t pick just one for my Top 10 list!! A friend recommended “The Warrior’s Apprentice” and I was hooked.
The Vorkosigan Saga is a series of 29 science fiction novels set in a common fictional universe by American author Lois McMaster Bujold. The first of these was published in 1986 and the most recent in 2016. Think about that… 30 years of writing and crafting this wonderful universe beyond our own solar system. Fans of Star Wars or Star Trek will love this collection. The unique thing about The Vorkosigan Saga is the unorthodox reading order. I’ve seen so many different suggestions! Similar to Star Wars, there are prequels and in-between-quels galore, but honestly, you could start just about anywhere and enjoy the epic adventures of Miles Vorkosigan and his crew. My personal recommendation… The Warriors Apprentice. Let me know if you’re interested, I’ve got an extra copy to pass around.
#2 – Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity by Nabeel Qureshi
I began reading this biography with very little knowledge about Muslim customs and beliefs, but Nabeel Qureshi offers us a unique windows into his early life, being raised in a devout Muslim home. He gives us definitions and explanations along the way as he describes, in detail, the symbolism behind the expressions of their faith. Qureshi points out the similarities between Islam and Christianity, but more importantly he expounds on the differences – how the western world thinks differently from middle-easterners in the very core of their beliefs.
Qureshi shares his deeply rooted passion for Islam and his discovery of evidence that Jesus rose from the dead and claimed to be God – evidence that directly contradicts what he had been taught. Unable to deny the arguments but not wanting to deny his family, Qureshi’s inner battle will challenge Christians and Muslims alike. “Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus” tells of the clash between Islam and Christianity in one man’s heart and of the peace he eventually found in Jesus. This is a must read book, especially for the Christian who wants to know more Islam and how to tell your Muslim friends about Isa (Jesus).
#1 – Look and Live: Behold the Soul-Thrilling, Sin-Destroying Glory of Christ by Matt Papa
Easily the best book I’ve read all year. No question. As soon as I closed the cover for the last time I knew this would be at the top of my list. Matt Papa was a “professional Christian” in full-time ministry, ready and determined to change the world. All the while he was depressed, addicted to the approval of others, and enslaved to sin. But then everything changed. He encountered the glory of God.
All of us live in the tension between where we are and where we ought to be. We try our best to bully our desires into submission. And we all know, this is exhausting. Matt doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to dealing with our sin problem. Look at the cross, and LIVE. One of the many, many things I underlined is this:
“The reason God commands us to love Him with all our heart is not because He is an egomaniac! It is because He knows that anything we love more than Him will betray us. Eventually, we lose it by its death . . . or ours.”
That’s it! What do you think? Any you’ve already read? Anything you want to read?
As we begin 2018 I’ve already signed up for the GoodReads.com reading challenge and this year, I’m moving that mark up to 36. Set a goal for yourself. And happy reading!