Book Review

A Habit Called Faith by Jen Pollock Michel

Rating: 5 out of 5.
A Habit Called Faith book cover

When you think about it, there is much irony found in a bookworm who struggles to read the Scriptures. And yet, there have been countless seasons in life where my Bible reading could be described as inconsistent at best. 2020 wasn’t the first time I’d gotten myself into a devotional rut. And it probably won’t be the last.

So, entering into 2021, I knew that I wanted to carve out space for intentional living within the Word. I needed to re-form better habits. Because my desire was to desire more of Him. I’d just fallen into the habit of choosing one more episode first. Of relegating my devotional time to the final few minutes before bed, exhausted and brain-numbed. Of viewing it as a requirement rather than an act of relationship.

I’m the type of person who thrives off routine and structure. I need checklists and plans to hold me accountable. I need the motivation to say, “I’m going to read even when I’m struggling with it. Especially when I’m struggling.” This year I started participating in a one-year reading plan alongside my local church — and it was exactly what I needed. Finding Jen Pollock Michel’s book, “A Habit Called Faith,” only served to reiterate the work which God had been doing in my life these past few months.

Because the thing is, sometimes we need checklists. Sometimes we need that accountability in order to create habits. He invites us to abide in His Word. To cement our faith in His Holy and Living Scriptures. (And what an awe-inspiring invitation that is!) Because we just need to show up. Intentionally. Actively. Pursuing. In the seasons when it feels dry, and in the season when it feels plentiful. And in that day-to-day act of seeking, transformation happens. Growth abounds.

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Book Review

The Moonlight School by Suzanne Woods Fisher

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

About The Moonlight School:

Moonlight School book cover

(From the publisher) Haunted by personal tragedy, Lucy Wilson arrives in Rowan County, Kentucky. It’s the spring of 1911 and she’s there to assist her cousin, Cora Wilson Stewart, superintendent of schools. A fish out of water, Lucy is appalled by the primitive conditions and intellectual poverty she encounters.

Born in those very hills, Cora knows the twin plagues of illiteracy and poverty. So does Brother Wyatt, a singing school master who travels through the hills. Involving Lucy and Wyatt, Cora hatches a plan to open the schoolhouses to adults on moonlit nights. The best way to combat poverty, she believes, is to eliminate illiteracy. But will the people come?

As Lucy emerges from a life in the shadows, she finds purpose, along with something else she hadn’t expected: love.

Inspired by true events, this novel from bestselling author Suzanne Woods Fisher brings to life the story that shocked the nation into taking adult literacy seriously.

The Moonlight School book set on open journal with white background

This post contains affiliate links; as an Amazon associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Reader’s Thoughts

The Moonlight School had me intrigued from the start. Having recently read another book set in Kentucky dealing with the topic of illiteracy, I was excited to see Fisher’s take. Although it took longer than expected to get to the actual “moonlight school” aspect, I loved that this was based on true story. And as an avid bookworm, the topic of literacy is obviously dear to my heart.

The story itself is sweet and full of charm. The book follows Lucy — a young and fairly naïve, city girl. Asked to assist her cousin as a stenographer, Lucy is shocked by the poor conditions she encounters in Rowan County. But as time passes, she discovers the rich and beautiful history and culture within the hills. This personal transformation was well done and I grew to really enjoy her character.

I also adored Finley James and Angie. These teen characters were a really fun way to bring about some of the personality of the mountain people, while weaving in some levity. As for the other characters, I really appreciate when Christian fiction takes the time to set up romantic relationships in an authentic way, and I think the author was able to achieve that here.

While the book touches upon deep poverty, the story is still kept fairly light. For me, this meant missing some of the reality that I was looking for. I do, however, think this would make a great read for teens too. These are the sorts of stories my young heart grew up on. It’s clean, lighthearted and has great historical context.

If you enjoy Christian fiction with lovely characters, a little romance, and a few twists along the way, I think you’ll enjoy The Moonlight School! Want to grab a copy for yourself? You can find The Moonlight School on Amazon here!

**Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group
and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.
 All opinions expressed are my own.

When the wounds of this world sting like countless paper cuts against my heart, it’s easy for me to lean into “unforgiveness.” It’s easier for me to bring bitterness, rather than grace, to the table. It’s easy for me to forget that I have been forgiven all.

“But they were wrong. They should apologize to me!” I try to justify my anger. Stewing and steaming, I toss and turn in my bed. Their slights against me dig deeper.

“My child, how much have I forgiven you?” The whisper calls me out of darkness and into the light.

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Some of the things often said to parents after a loss is, “Well, at least you know you can get pregnant” or “It’s okay, you can always have another baby.”

I’m not even going to BEGIN to go into all the reasons why you should avoid saying the above statements to a bereaved family. But I am going to say something that isn’t always acknowledged — not all families get a rainbow baby.

That’s such a heavy truth.

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Take heart, dear friends because God's not done

Dear friend, I don’t know what you’re struggling with today.

I don’t know what battles you’re fighting or what sort of weight you’re carrying. I don’t know what news you’ve received or what valleys you’re slogging through. This world feels heavy sometimes. You may be battle-weary and bloodied from the fight. But take hope, sweet friend. Because God’s not done.

The pages of our lives don’t always read the way we wanted them to. Our life stories are significantly messier, more scarred, and more tearstained than we’d like. And this year, it may feel like you’re sinking — struggling to keep your head above the waves.

But in this midst of this current season — in the disappointment and the rejection, the searing pain and the devastation, the loneliness and the brokenness — I pray for that flickering ember of hope within.

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Things We Didn't Say Cover and Book Review

Book Review
Things We Didn’t Say

by Amy Lynn Green

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Things We Didn’t Say is an impressive debut novel. (I was completely taken aback to discover that it was Green’s first book! It reads like a well-seasoned author.) Full of heart, passion and a little bit of humour, this book is a thoughtful exploration of patriotism, prejudice, and humanity.

About: It’s 1944. Linguistic student, Johanna Berglund, has reluctantly accepted a translator position at a camp for German POWs. As she interacts with the prisoners, translating conversations and censoring their letters home to Germany, she begins to see these men as more than just enemies. But advocating for the soldiers’ better treatment leaves townspeople wondering whose side she’s on. Most patriot citizens want nothing to do with the Germans labouring in the camp, or with those who work there. As the lines between compassion and treason become blurred, Johanna must decide where her heart truly lies.

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Merry Christmas from the Mannegrens!

The Christmas video is something we look forward to every year. (And honestly, it almost didn’t happen this year.) Fortunately, we managed to scrape a little something together that reflects just how crazy and beautiful life has been for us this year.

2020 was a lot. But it also gave us a lot — a new baby, a new home, extra time together as a family. And we have so much to be thankful for. So as we reflect on and celebrate that tiny baby born in a stable, we want to wish a very “Merry Christmas” from our family to yours. May you feel the comfort of Christ holding you close this holiday season, and may we rest in the confident assurance of the glorious hope found in Him.

Want the full, Mannegren family, Christmas video experience? You can find our past productions here:

Twas The Night Before Christmas – 2014
The Toddler Who Stole Christmas – 2015
In Sweden Christmas is Jul – 2016
Mannegren Family Christmas 2017
A New Tradition – 2018
My Letter To Santa — 2019

The shepherds didn’t bring gold to the manger. They didn’t bring frankincense or myrrh or costly treasures.

They didn’t bring a gift at all.

They knelt before the Savior of the world with empty hands. Their skin still creased with dirt from the nearby fields. Their worn cloaks still smelling of the flock they so dutifully tended.

With nothing to offer but their adoration, they came to the stable.

And there, they met the King.

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Book Review

The Haunting at Bonaventure Circus by Jaime Jo Wright

Rating: 4 out of 5.

This dual-timeline mystery was my third read by Jaime Jo Wright and, can I say, my absolute favourite of hers so far.

The writing in this book is strong and follows two separate characters: Pippa, in the late 1920’s, and Chandler in the present day. Wright has crafted both characters in a way that makes them feel flawed and so very real — women that you can connect with and understand.

The first timeline is set in the late 1920s and follows the story of Pippa — the adopted daughter of the owner of Bonaventure Circus. While the circus is a refuge for many rejected by society, Pippa was cast from its inner circle as a baby. Guarded by a mysterious figure named The Watchman, Pippa can’t help but feel compelled to uncover her roots. Her connection to an injured baby elephant is a touching analogy for her own feelings of neglect and rejection, as she searches for the truth about her birth parents. Along the way, Pippa is thrown into the path of a man seeking justice for his murdered sister and uncovers evidence of a serial killer haunting the circus train. But how far will she have to go to find the truth?

The second timeline follows Chandler Faulk — a project manager for the crumbling, old circus train depot. Chandler dives into the depot’s history in hopes of revitalizing the area and proving to her uncle that she is capable of handling the job. As she balances being a single, working parent with a newly diagnosed autoimmune disease, Chandler is pulled deeper into the circus’ dark past — uncovering some very real, present-day implications.

This post contains affiliate links; as an Amazon associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Reader’s Thoughts

Both timelines were beautifully written with intriguing plots and page-turner chapters. Unlike a lot of traditional Christian fiction, the author isn’t afraid to explore some darker and edgier emotions and elements. Wright was able to weave together conversations about ghosts and the spiritual side of faith in a way that didn’t pretend to have all the answers but simply felt honest and true to character.

I also love how the dialogue and character interactions in Wright’s books feel so believable. One of my critiques with the Christian suspense genre, in general, is that it’s often heavy on the romance elements and light on the suspense. But this book blended the two aspects so well! Both timelines had romantic secondary-plots but it didn’t distract from the mystery or the tension that was building — instead, it added to the character motivation and created a well-rounded story. The character development felt entirely realistic (not cheesy!) and the relationships were ones I wanted to root for.

The only downside to a dual-timeline mystery is that the motivation of the present-day antagonist can occasionally feel a little weak. While I felt that again with this novel, it’s more of a nitpicky reader thing and didn’t ultimately take away from the surprise ending. (And it was a surprise!) While I’m usually able to figure out at least part of how a novel is going to unwind, this deliciously creepy read kept me wondering until the very end. 

A solid four stars for this one!

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Want to grab a copy for yourself? You can find The Haunting of Bonaventure Circus on Amazon, here!

Growing up, I thought there was only one kind of Advent calendar — the chocolate kind. But with my own little ones, we’ve added on a few extra traditions for the days leading up to Christmas. (You can check out the Christmas tree ornaments we made here!) One of which is our Book Advent Calendar — a family favourite!

Every year, I individually wrap our collection of children’s Christmas books. Then, every day from December 1st until December 24, the kids open one.

Not only does this help get them excited about reading, but it’s also a great countdown tool for Christmas day. (And allows them to open a few presents in advance — meaning less temptation to peek at the actual gifts!)

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Book Review

The Powerful Purpose of Introverts: Why the World Needs You to Be You
by Holley Gerth

As a school-aged child, there was always one note guaranteed to show up on my school report card“Liz needs to speak up more in class.”

The fact that I’d lose participation points for being quiet used to drive me nuts. I didn’t see the outspoken kids being docked grades for being too loud. Couldn’t they see that I was participating in class in my own way? I was helping other students one on one during lunch. I was listening attentively and getting straight A’s in all my written assignments. If you asked me to do something, I would do it. And if you gave me advance notice, I’d be fully prepared to present in front of the class.

It was just the spur of the moment, classroom discussion that felt overwhelming to me.

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Hey bookworms, this one’s for you!

If you’ve been following along with MommyMannegren for a while now, you may be familiar with my annual reading challenge — 52 books in 52 weeks. For the past three years, I’ve hosted this challenge here on my website. Each year, the list has fifty-two unique prompts. Match one book to one prompt and work your way through the challenge. Sounds fun, right?

I started this challenge in 2018 and was blown away by the response. Each year’s challenge has been a huge success but in early 2020, we started growing exponentially. (I guess we all had a bit more free time for reading?) So much so, that this summer, we launched a website specifically for the challenge.

So, if you’re looking for this year’s challenge, you can find it over at www.the52book.club.

The 52 Book Club website is the place to go for all challenge-related book stuff (like reviews, giveaways, updates about the reading challenges, etc.) Whether you’re an avid reader, or just wanting to get back into some good books, I highly encourage checking it out! (Not everyone reads all 52 books, and that’s okay too!) You can also sign up for e-mails to stay in the loop!

Ready for a 2021 challenge? I’ll meet you over at The 52 Book Club!

Happy reading!
Liz