Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Tuesday's Top Ten [Romance Novels Worth Reading]

I debated for so long on what to do with my blog. I want to keep writing, but my schedule is insanely busy. As I hashed out my schedule I began to realize how much time I wasted doing things that do not matter (i.e. scrolling through Facebook). I knew that I needed to get back to doing something that I enjoy, but is not a brainless activity, (like scrolling through Facebook). I've made reading and writing a priority during those rare down times of my daily life and I have forgotten how much I enjoy it! It's like working out, if I don't simply suck it up and do it I'll never get anywhere and then I forget how good it feels when my body is no longer stagnant. Apply the same concept to my brain. I was fueling it with status updates, which of course sounds absolutely ridiculous, but that's how I spent my time when the girls were in bed and everything I needed done for the day was done. That's just silly! I may not have a top ten every Tuesday, but I'm not going to waste 20 minutes of my time on Facebook. Since putting reading back into my life my brain is suddenly swarming with ideas again. (Amazing isn't it?!)

With that said, a top ten inspired by some recent reading and some old favorites...

Let's be honest, I'm a romantic. Stories about how two people fell in love, and then their decisions as they faced conflict together, get me. I'm a sucker for words: poetry, love letters, secret whispers. I love books, so it should be no surprise to my husband that the best way to woo me is through the beauty of words. They speak to my soul.

I truly believe my love for romancing comes from God Himself because He designed marriage to reveal the type of relationship we have in Christ; and my own is an amazing one. This mystery is one that is not easily understood and so I struggle with the words to explain it myself. But what Scripture states about a husband and a wife in comparison to Jesus and His bride give me goosebumps (Ephesians 5:22-33). So when I read stories about love I am reminded of how incredibly blessed I am to have the husband God has given me with my very own love story, and for God's steadfast, unfailing love despite my daily imperfections.

I do not read romance novels because I need an escape from my life, but because I find them encouraging and fun and thought-provoking. I also want to be careful with what type of love story I read because romance novels can be grotesque and painstakingly similar. In fact, I would argue that romance novels are to women what pornography is to men. So if it involves graphic sex scenes and unrealistic expectations (which can be deadly in any marriage) I will not read finish reading it. So these are recommended because they are unique, thought-provoking, encouraging and fun.

1. Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers is the very first book I would recommend to any woman. I cannot recommend this one enough. She wrote it to go along with the book of Hosea in the Bible, which illustrates God's perfect, steadfast love when Israel (His chosen people) failed Him time and time again. Michael represents Hosea and the main character, Angel, represents Israel. Angel's life is an extremely difficult one, with quite a past (that readers will find shocking, I will warn you that Francine Rivers does not shy away from details). She fails Michael time and time again, but he remains faithful and steady. The ending is not what you'd expect and will blow your socks off. I wish I could talk about it here without giving it away!

2. I also liked her book The Atonement Child which is about a broken relationship that brought about a love story worth reading. It is a heartbreaking book that will challenge your thoughts on abortion, adoption, and so much more. I encourage everyone to read this book and then follow it up with Francine River's testimony - the whole reason she wrote it - which is a HUGE reason why I enjoyed it so much. She wasn't just writing realistic fiction for the sake of writing it, her own experiences inspired this amazing story.

3. The Wedding by Nicholas Sparks is another favorite. Nicholas Spark books were always "meh" or "okay" until I read this one. I cannot say enough about this book and the surprises in it. It's about one of Noah and Allie daughter's from The Notebook who has been married 30 years, but her marriage is failing. It's told from the perspective of her husband who knows that he must win her heart or lose her. How he does it is phenomenal.

4. The Vow by Kim and Krickitt Carpenter is a non-fiction story told mainly from Kim's perspective. It's one of undying devotion in the face of tragedy. It's a bit dry because, well (let's be honest) it was written by a man, so it's unemotional, but the story will inspire you. Krickitt will inspire you. And the book is nothing like the movie. In fact, it's so different that I was disgusted with the movie and couldn't even finish it. I felt like Hollywood took too many liberties (weird, right?) and they kept God out of the story (another complete surprise), which was the central focus of Kim and Krickitt's life. However, Kim and Krickett see it from a different perspective: they took advantage of the opportunities the movie gave them to talk about how God worked in their life. I was, and still am, amazed by them and their devotion.

5. A Bride in the Bargain by Deeanne Gist was one I picked up recently because of the story plot. When I was a 10-12 year old girl the idea of being a mail order bride intrigued me. I devoured historical fiction stories revolving around this piece of history (don't ask me why). So when I found this one I picked it up as a chuckle; a reminder of those innocent days of wondering. I was genuinely surprised. It was an okay book until I hit page 231 where the main character is hit in the gut by my favorite passage in Scripture: Job 38. It's when God answers Job and reveals his greatness, His power, His sovereignty. The author beautifully articulates how Scripture changed her thinking from one of pride to one of awe. I was surprised to find deep theology in a romance! And this wasn't the only occasion. For that reason the author went up a few notches in my book. I am now interested in other books written by her.

6. Eve's Daughters by Lynn Austen is not the happily-ever-after love story of the year. In fact, it's heartbreaking. But it is so incredibly eye-opening and well written. It follows the lives of four women and how their choices affect family generations later. It tells the tale of one woman in particular  whose story will break your heart, but who has determined that her 50 year-old secrets should be told to her granddaughter in an effort to save her marriage.

7. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen a classic, must-read. It might be a sin leaving this one out of any romance novel recommendations (for good reason).

8. The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins who also wrote another trilogy I thought was better than The Hunger Games titled Gregor the Overlander. There is a teeny bit of a romance in the story but it's not the central focus, but it is just as dark as The Hunger Games, if not more. I bawled like a baby. Suzanne Collins is an expert on how war affects children. Her study on this particular topic is evident when you read her books and I recommend The Hunger Games not just because it's a story worth your time, but because you can see inside the brain of someone who has seen and done more than we can possibly imagine. It's heartbreakingly eye-opening and depressing, but is also full inspiration to persevere, with a bit of hope sprinkled on top. Plus there is an imperfect romance told throughout.

9. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes is an excellent book that I absolutely hated. Oxymoronic I know, but it made me angry, it made me sob, it addressed issues I never thought twice about until reading it, and it was a heartbreaking love story that did not end like I wanted it to. I was angered by how society treats people in wheelchairs. I was enlightened on the difficulties those individuals face daily. And I could not put it down. All of this was heartbreaking and frustrating. I applaud Jojo for writing about these things! I also applaud her for writing an amazing love story. It was full of hope, dedication, perseverance, and potential that was crushed by one selfish decision. I'll let you read it and make your own judgment call on assisted suicide, but I believe, even after reading about the struggles one faces day in and day out with a handicap, that suicide is the most self-centered decision one could make. Life sucks. It can be a mess. Full of trials and sickness and heartache. But it can also be beautiful and full of hope and learning and growing. I cannot even dare to say I understand the trials of living life as a quadriplegic. The inability to even wipe ones own "arse" would be humiliating. To be stuck. Immobile. With own one's memories about a life once lived, driving one mad. I have only my imagination to dredge up the horrors people face day in and day out. No one would choose to live that life, but it's only one life to live and it's not just about you. So read this book and have a good think on it, but make sure you have a box of tissues. The second book titled, After You is also excellent. I had a hard time deciding which I liked more! You rarely get the story after the story. I was so thankful that the author gave a glimpse into the life after losing Will and how she lived with her grief. I wouldn't recommend one without reading the other.

10. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows This one took me at least 30 pages to get into, but once I was able to differentiate between the characters and get past some of the literary references I knew nothing of, I could not put it down! There was so much depth to the story and the formatting was so different than anything I've ever read that I fell in love with the author's ability to tell a story through letter correspondence. Genius! This is one of those eye-opening, rip-your-heart-out books I'll always treasure, especially after reading the extra insight in the author's note (don't skip it).


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