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Recommended Reading for Hope Bearers | by Katherine Scott Jones

Recommended Reading for Hope Bearers | by Katherine Scott Jones“The great advantage of being a literary woman was that
you could go everywhere and do everything.”
~ Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady

The wondrous power of books is that they have the ability to change us. They may in turn inspire, encourage, and equip us to do good things. The right one may provide its reader with exactly what she needs to take that next step, to walk through that door God has opened for her.

As a reviewer who has the privilege of being among the first to read many new titles, I am often asked by readers to name favorites. So here I’ve compiled a list of several, with an eye toward those which provide the best inspiration or practical help for hope-bearing women. Some of these inspire hope; others help us to bring hope wherever we go.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. It represents only those books I’ve recently found or that have found me. Many I’ve featured on my own blog, in which case you can click the title to read a more thorough review. A few are recent titles that simply must be included. I’ve listed them in alphabetical order by genre {non-fiction, fiction, memoir}.

Happy reading!

NON-FICTION

Alongside: A Practical Guide for Loving Your Neighbor in their Time of Trial by Sarah Beckman addresses an important issue head-on: What holds us back from stepping out to help a friend/neighbor/acquaintance in her time of need? It’s probably not lack of concern but rather fear of doing the wrong thing: of making a bad situation worse. Alongside is all about reducing that uncertainty, perhaps even eliminating it, so that we can joyfully — with compassion and confidence — step through the doors God opens for us, which enables us to care for those around us when they’re facing a trial. It provides a practical guide for bringing hope and help to those who need it most.

BeFriend: create belonging in an age of judgment, isolation, and fear by Scott Sauls. If ever our Christian culture needed this message, it’s now. In a weird season when even Christians seem to have given themselves permission to hate, this book helps those who are determined to love both our neighbors and our enemies—that is, our ideological enemies—with grace and compassion. Insightful and incisive, Scott’s book is neither ponderous nor preachy. Each of its twenty-one, bite-sized chapters (essays, really) is pithy and to the point, easily consumed in one sitting. Perhaps what I appreciated most was Scott’s Christ-like, outside-the-box provision of a way forward through today’s divisive climate. This book more than many provides guidance for Christians desiring to shine love and hope into in a deeply broken culture.

The Best Yes: Making Wise Decisions in the Midst of Endless Demands by Lysa TerKeurst. When this book was given to me by a thoughtful friend, I was excited because I have yet to meet a Lysa TerKeurst book I have not liked. I wasn’t sure, however, whether this particular book would have a whole lot to teach me. After all, I was already a fairly deft hand at saying no, drawing boundaries, and maintaining margin in my life. Ha. Sisters, let me tell you: this is a must-read for every Christian woman. I’ve learned so much–about the power of the small no, God’s boundless provision, and my own limitations — all while figuratively sitting at the feet of one of the warmest, wisest mentors out there.

Bread & Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table with Recipes—as well as any other book by Shauna Niequist. Shauna has a way of reaching down into a contemporary woman’s soul, touching on all its most sensitive parts and applying just the right words to administer a healing balm of faith, wisdom, and hope for us to carry forward into real life. I have loved—LOVED—every book she’s written. My soul breathes differently when I’m reading her work, and my whole self feels lighter. I appreciate her vision, her heart, and sometimes—as in this one—her recipes. Bread & Wine is my go-to book for hospitality how-to and warmhearted wisdom.

The Happiness Dare: Finding the sweet spot of your heart’s deepest, holiest, and most vulnerable desire by Jennifer Dukes Lee has the potential for being a game-changer. It could, if you allow it, revolutionize the way you view God, happiness, and His unique, holy purpose for you. I’ve recently read several books on happiness (Happiness by Randy Alcorn, The Happy Christian: Ten Ways to Be a Joyful Believer in a Gloomy World by David Murray, and Happiness is a Serious Problem by Dennis Prager), but Jennifer’s book took what I’d learned to a new level by coupling God’s truth about happiness (as found in His Word) with practical application. She did this by helping me identify my own happiness style — the result of which was both illuminating and confirming. This book is for any woman who longs to live a happier, holier, more God-centered, purpose-filled life.

Hearing God’s Voice in Conversation: How to Recognize His Voice Everywhere by Samuel Williamson. In his book, Sam approaches a potentially controversial subject with respect, addressing issues piece by piece, layer by layer, methodically but not boringly. He builds upward on the premise that hearing God’s voice regularly, everywhere, is normal for believers who are intent on pursuing meaningful, give-and-take relationship with God. Sam’s style is engaging and authentic in a way that met me right where I was, not where I thought I ought to be. His two appendices — “Answers to Arguments,” and “Questionable and Excessive Practices” — are also very helpful in addressing stray concerns.

Life Creative: Inspiration for Today’s Renaissance Mom by Wendy Speake and Kelli Stuart. When I was a new mom, my deepest challenge was maintaining the precarious balance between my art and my mothering. I wanted them both very much, yet bringing them into coexistence often seemed, in those early days, a feat beyond my reach. How I wish I’d had this lovely book to encourage me then. If I had, I would have more quickly accepted that it was okay to be a creative and a mom, both. That I could lay down my art for a season and not be so afraid I would never pick it up again. I would give myself more grace, having a better understanding that God had made me this way — both ways — and it was all for good. Life Creative gives moms permission to live out their God-given creativity so that they might make a world of difference in their children’s lives—and beyond.

Praying Upside Down: A creative prayer experience to transform your time with God by Kelly O’Dell Stanley. God Himself invites us to talk to Him: an unimaginable gift, and yet, many of us struggle to take full advantage of that privilege. I found Kelly’s book both transformative and imaginative, elevating my prayer life to a new level. Her insights and ideas gave me fresh hope, inspiration, power, and purpose in my communication with God.

Waiting for Wonder: Learning to Live on God’s Timeline by Marlo Schalesky. Hope bearers are dreamers, almost by definition. We love to dream big dreams, to envision how much richer our lives (and others’) will be when our dreams come true. Unfortunately, a-dream-come-true seldom comes delivered on a platter. Usually we must wait for it. And the waiting can be hard — a cold, dark, inhospitable test of endurance. In Waiting for Wonder, Marlo showed me how to turn the wait into an act of worship and a thing of beauty. And she did it by taking a very familiar biblical story and rendering it completely fresh. She gave me new understanding and then upped the ante by offering still more by way of enlightenment, peace, compassion, and hope. If you are in a waiting season, you are sure to find balm here for your weary soul. You will discover — as Marlo writes — that the woman God created you to be is found in the waiting.

Looking for a new book? Consider one of these, hand-picked for #theopendoorsisterhood #powertothesisterhood Click To Tweet

FICTION

The Beautiful Daughters by Nicole Baart {contemporary women’s fiction} opens with this quote from St. Augustine: “Hope has two beautiful daughters; their names are Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are, and Courage to see that they do not remain as they are.” This theme sets the stage for the story that follows. It is, for me, Women’s Fiction at its finest: Honest and true, written with such pathos that even if you can’t relate to a particular situation…you can. Nicole’s writing is exquisite, and her novel is both beautiful and significant. This is the kind of story that matters.

Calling Me Home by Julie Kibler {historical fiction}. Debut novelist Julie Kibler began writing Calling Me Home after learning a bit of family history: as a teen, her grandmother fell in love with a young black man, but their families drove them apart. She also discovered that her father’s hometown had signs at the city limits banishing blacks by sundown. These two facts took root in her imagination, and a compelling work of fiction blossomed. Her debut is marvelously paced, sensitively drawn, and masterfully executed. The double narratives are crafted with equal care and attention to detail. The prose flows effortlessly, unselfconsciously, drawing readers to the hope-filled center of a heartrending story.

The Feathered Bone by Julie Cantrell {Christian contemporary women’s fiction}. I wept when I finished this book—tears of joy, relief, and wonder at the stunning, beautiful truth captured in this extraordinary story. The Feathered Bone held me captive, hitting all my marks dead-on. I was dazzled by the unusual energy bound up in its prose, a restlessness that reminded me of the jazz made famous by the city in which much of this novel takes place. Julie takes the reader deep into the brokenness of the world, but does not leave her there. Masterfully written, profoundly powerful, The Feathered Bone dared me to hope for what seemed hopeless and believe in the impossible.

The Fire by Night by Teresa Messineo {historical fiction}. Unexpected. That’s the word that comes to mind to describe this debut. From its gripping first pages, to the incredible depth and breadth of research, to the glimmering hope that emerged from the ashes… Unexpected. And all so incredibly finessed, it’s hard to believe it’s Teresa’s first novel. The Fire by Night offers not only a powerful tribute to the female nurses who sacrificed during WWII, but also gives readers an incredibly compelling story that promises to linger long in heart and mind. I particularly resonated the author’s nuanced depictions of steadfast faith in the face of evil. She pays subtle attention to the reality of God’s goodness and presence, so often easily overlooked amidst the ravages of war.

A Long Time Gone by Karen White {contemporary women’s fiction}. Another example of the kind of women’s fiction I can’t get enough of: wise and beautifully told, with a lyrical narrative threaded with mystery, suspense, and more than a dash of winsome romance. Though not what I would call a feel-good novel, it still left me feeling good, full of hope for the promise of goodness, health and happiness. {Also recommended: The Memory of Water}

The Outcast by Jolina Petersheim {Christian contemporary fiction}. From its opening lines, The Outcast wowed me in every way. Jolina has a rare gift for storytelling, stringing along conflict and surprise revelations from first page to last. Billed as a modern retelling of The Scarlet Letter, I found The Outcast riveting, its themes universal…transcendent. It’s about the value of purity, the consequences of pride, and the power of forgiveness.  Its spiritual elements are so intrinsically woven into the story that they become absolutely organic. Perfectly paced, beautifully written, flawlessly executed, I could not put this book down.

The Prayer Box by Lisa Wingate {Christian contemporary women’s fiction}. Every page of this novel amazed and moved me. I loved the sweetly developing relationship between two of the main characters as well as the heroine’s love-hate relationship with a cat. I also appreciated the subtle faith message and how deftly Wingate wove it into the story. The final twist brought the heroine’s journey to a full, satisfying conclusion. The Prayer Box is Lisa Wingate at her finest.

Still Life by Christa Parrish {Christian contemporary women’s fiction}. This is what I like: Christian fiction that reads like mainstream, with all the gravitas, grit, and nuance that that entails, but without the profanity, without the sex-without-consequences, and with a healthy shot of hope for second chances. This author writes real and she writes redeemed—always a win-win in my book.

The Thief by Stephanie Landsem {Christian historical fiction}. I love it when a novel pleasantly surprises me, and that’s what happened here. Personally, I found Stephanie’s style and story more engaging than the writings of other giants of 1st-century histfic. In a book this intricately plotted and packed with tension, it was nearly impossible to resist turning to end to see how it all ended. But I did resist. And was not disappointed.

MEMOIR

Called: My Journey to C.S. Lewis’s House and Back by Ryan Pemberton. I was easily persuaded to love this book. It is, after all, a story with one of my favorite writers at its heart. It is also a story about story. And about calling, faith, doubt, fear, heartache, and — ultimately — understanding and triumph. Ryan Pemberton’s voice is authentic and deeply personal, and his insights provided me with innumerable aha moments. I felt a rare kind of connection to the author: even as his storytelling invited me to understand him, I felt similarly understood. Called is a book I look forward to returning to, and it earns a spot on my forever-shelf.

Good God, Lousy World, and Me: The Improbably Journey of  Human Rights Activist from Unbelief to Faith by Holly Burkhalter. This memoir is a gut-honest, intelligent response to the question any thinking Christian must eventually ask: Given the wretched state of our world, how can a good God exist? I like how the author structures her story, coming right out with the salient question at the beginning and then looking back over the years, through a new lens of faith, to see what she missed the first time: the presence of God in some very terrible situations. I found her full-circle examination of her grandmother’s mental breakdown especially moving. Good God is a mildly gritty, always compelling read, and Burkhalter positions herself as an author who is not afraid to be deeply real.

Mr. Owita’s Guide to Gardening: How I Learned the Unexpected Joy of a Green Thumb and an Open Hearby Carol Wall. This impressive memoir debuted a few years ago spring, but never has its message of acceptance and compassion been  more needed than it is today. Its themes are at once deeply personal yet extravagantly universal, with a twist of an ending I didn’t see coming. A grace-filled story of friendship and forgiveness — and eternal truths found where we least expect them.

Rare Bird: a memoir of loss and love by Anna Whiston-Davidson. Fair warning: this is not an easy memoir to read. It’s about love and loss: the love of a mother for her son, and the horrific loss she endures when he dies suddenly on her watch. So yes, a tough read — but so, so worth it. The author uses her gift for writing to usher in not only her own healing, but others’ as well. Beautifully written, poignantly told, this is one mother’s story you won’t want to miss. Just bring tissues.

Sober Mercies: How Love Caught Up With a Christian Drunk by Heather Kopp. Heather’s brave, honest, wise memoir offers hope to Christians who discover that faith alone isn’t always enough to save them from unhealthy habits. “Where do you turn for hope,” she writes, “when you already have the answer, but it isn’t working?” With startling vulnerability, she dives courageously into this highly charged question and delivers the answers she’s discovered.

The Waiting: The True Story of a Lost Child, a Lifetime of Longing, and a Miracle for a Mother Who Never Gave Up by Cathy LaGrow and Cindy Martinusen Coloma. Don’t let its lengthy title put you off—this lovingly told memoir is a page-turner. It provides not only a nostalgic look back at our country’s last century but also an intimate look inside the heart of a mother. I immensely enjoyed this wonderfully hopeful, heartwarming story of love and faith.

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Recommended Reading for Hope Bearers | by Katherine Scott JonesKatherine Scott Jones grew up in cities on every U.S. coast and overseas as her family moved with her father’s Navy career. Seattle became home when she married her husband twenty-seven years ago. After graduating from Whitworth University with a degree in communications, she established herself as a freelance writer before turning her hand to fiction. She blogs about the broken and the beautiful at www.katherinescottjones.com. Katherine and her husband have two teenage children. Her first novel, Her Memory of Music, releases September 2017.

{ 7 comments… add one }
  • Maggie March 22, 2017, 4:22 pm

    What an excellent list! I trust your judgment more than almost any other reviewer, Katherine, and have added books to my own stack based on your recommendation. I too appreciate Christian fiction that reads like mainstream with gravitas, grit, and nuance but without the dark/ugly “ick” factor (Gone Girl, for instance, left me feeling sorry for having invested several hours in it.) Thanks for these recs!

    • Katherine Jones March 30, 2017, 3:46 pm

      You are such an encouragement to me, Maggie! Thank you for those kind words and the joy of relating to a fellow book-lover of the same stripe.

  • Jolina Petersheim March 22, 2017, 6:50 pm

    Thank you for including The Outcast, Katherine! I agree with so many titles on this list, such as The Feathered Bone, and look forward to reading the rest! 🙂

    • Katherine Jones March 30, 2017, 3:50 pm

      How many years later…3? 4?…The Outcast remains one of my very top picks among contemporary fiction. It wowed me then and continues to do so.

  • Katie Blackburn March 29, 2017, 1:05 pm

    So many on here I need to read now! Thanks, Katherine, you’re so good at what you do!

    • Katherine Jones March 30, 2017, 3:51 pm

      Ah, nice! Thank you, sister. xo

  • Stacy April 2, 2017, 2:20 am

    This is such a great list, and I’m amazed at how many books we’ve read in common!

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