Tuesday, December 17, 2019

My Favorite Books of 2019

I’ve read a lot this year. As I write this it is mid December and I am up to 104 books.  That puts me a little ahead of last year where I ended with 101. Realistically I’ll read 3-4 more before the end of the month. I try not to add books I’ve read or listened to in December to this list. They are too fresh to know if they are really in the top 10 or if I just enjoyed a good read.
I didn’t put this list in any particular order. I’ll include the Amazon synopsis in Blue and my thoughts in red.

The Guardians - John Grisham
Amazon Synopsis
In the small Florida town of Seabrook, a young lawyer named Keith Russo was shot dead at his desk as he worked late one night. The killer left no clues. There were no witnesses, no one with a motive. But the police soon came to suspect Quincy Miller, a young black man who was once a client of Russo’s. 
Quincy was tried, convicted, and sent to prison for life. For twenty-two years he languished in prison, maintaining his innocence.  But no one was listening.  He had no lawyer, no advocate on the outside. In desperation, he writes a letter to Guardian Ministries, a small nonprofit run by Cullen Post, a lawyer who is also an Episcopal minister.
Guardian accepts only a few innocence cases at a time.  Cullen Post travels the country fighting wrongful convictions and taking on clients forgotten by the system. With Quincy Miller, though, he gets far more than he bargained for. Powerful, ruthless people murdered Keith Russo, and they do not want Quincy Miller exonerated.
They killed one lawyer twenty-two years ago, and they will kill another without a second thought.

In Jr High I read a lot and Grisham was a staple for me. I devoured everything he put out.  At some point my interest in courtroom dramas broke more towards horror and I left Grisham behind.  I hadn’t read one of his books since the brethren.  
Honestly if it hadn’t been for the next book on this list I don’t know if I’d have even picked this book up. 
I’ve got to say it was a great read. So much so that I now have a half dozen Grisham books queued up to rad next.

Just Mercy - Bryan Stevenson
Amazon Synopsis
Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he insisted he didn’t commit. The case drew Bryan into a tangle of conspiracy, political machination, and legal brinksmanship—and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever.
Just Mercy is at once an unforgettable account of an idealistic, gifted young lawyer’s coming of age, a moving window into the lives of those he has defended, and an inspiring argument for compassion in the pursuit of true justice.

This book sat in my collection for a while. I originally purchased it when it came out but it wasn’t until word of the upcoming movie broke that I actually read it.  This is one of those books that you will find yourself telling others about. You can’t help it. The injustice done to Mr McMillian is heart breaking.  You will zip through this book anxiously awaiting what you hope will be a happy ending.  

Doctor Sleep - Steven King
Amazon Synopsis
Years ago, the haunting of the Overlook Hotel nearly broke young Dan Torrance’s sanity, as his paranormal gift known as “the shining” opened a door straight into hell. And even though Dan is all grown up, the ghosts of the Overlook—and his father’s legacy of alcoholism and violence—kept him drifting aimlessly for most of his life. Now, Dan has finally found some order in the chaos by working in a local hospice, earning the nickname “Doctor Sleep” by secretly using his special abilities to comfort the dying and prepare them for the afterlife. But when he unexpectedly meets twelve-year-old Abra Stone—who possesses an even more powerful manifestation of the shining—the two find their lives in sudden jeopardy at the hands of the ageless and murderous nomadic tribe known as the True Knot, reigniting Dan’s own demons and summoning him to battle for this young girl’s soul and survival...

Another one of those books I bought and then shelved until recently.  I watched the movie in October and loved it.  I have a love hate relationship with Mr King and was on the fence with regards to him sexualizing the Shining after so many years.  I was wrong. This book turned out to be a perfect compliment to the original and would have suffered from being written any earlier. 

Help My Unbelief - Barnabas Piper
Amazon Synopsis
God is infinite, beyond our understanding—yet He chooses to reveal Himself in ways that spark questions rather than settling them all.
Instead of making Himself smaller, God invites us into a larger faith. One that has room for questions, victories, failures, and mystery. Because belief in an infinite God by finite humans is an act of exploration ... a process of learning—and then embracing—what we can’t learn but can trust.
Discover the God who not only desires our belief but actually welcomes our curiosity.

A great book I will definitely reread.  Reading about the doubts of Barnabas Piper helped me though a tough time when I was shaken and trying to find my footing again.  The title comes from a story in Mark. Jesus was approached by a man who had a sick child. The boy was afflicted with seizures. Jesus told the man that if he believed then the boy would be healed and the man replied “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” 
If the son of John Piper can be shaken then anyone can and this is a great book about those thoughts.

Blue Moon - Lee Child
Amazon Synopsis
“This is a random universe,” Reacher says. “Once in a blue moon things turn out just right.”
 This isn’t one of those times.
 Reacher is on a Greyhound bus, minding his own business, with no particular place to go, and all the time in the world to get there. Then he steps off the bus to help an old man who is obviously just a victim waiting to happen. But you know what they say about good deeds. Now Reacher wants to make it right.
An elderly couple have made a few well-meaning mistakes, and now they owe big money to some very bad people. One brazen move leads to another, and suddenly Reacher finds himself a wanted man in the middle of a brutal turf war between rival Ukrainian and Albanian gangs.
Reacher has to stay one step ahead of the loan sharks, the thugs, and the assassins. He teams up with a fed-up waitress who knows a little more than she’s letting on, and sets out to take down the powerful and make the greedy pay. It’s a long shot. The odds are against him. But Reacher believes in a certain kind of justice . . . the kind that comes along once in a blue moon.

Every year that a Jack Reacher book is released a Jack Reacher book will be on this list.  I have read everyone of these book as well as the short stories. It is my favorite series. It never takes more than a day to devour one of tases books because I won’t stop til it’s finished.  If you haven’t read a Jack Reacher novel, get one immediately. 

Unfollow - Megan Phelps-Roper
Amazon Synopsis
At the age of five, Megan Phelps-Roper began protesting homosexuality and other alleged vices alongside fellow members of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas. Founded by her grandfather and consisting almost entirely of her extended family, the tiny group would gain worldwide notoriety for its pickets at military funerals and celebrations of death and tragedy. As Phelps-Roper grew up, she saw that church members were close companions and accomplished debaters, applying the logic of predestination and the language of the King James Bible to everyday life with aplomb—which, as the church’s Twitter spokeswoman, she learned to do with great skill. Soon, however, dialogue on Twitter caused her to begin doubting the church’s leaders and message: If humans were sinful and fallible, how could the church itself be so confident about its beliefs? As she digitally jousted with critics, she started to wonder if sometimes they had a point—and then she began exchanging messages with a man who would help change her life.
A gripping memoir of escaping extremism and falling in love, Unfollow relates Phelps-Roper’s moral awakening, her departure from the church, and how she exchanged the absolutes she grew up with for new forms of warmth and community. Rich with suspense and thoughtful reflection, Phelps-Roper’s life story exposes the dangers of black-and-white thinking and the need for true humility in a time of angry polarization.

I got this book on a whim.  I have always been fascinated by the Westboro people.  I think it's a general fascination with extremes in any religion.  When someone can get that sold out for what they believe. so positive they are right that it alters the very way they exist.  
I started out really enjoying this book.  Megan begins by telling what it was like to be raised in that church.  How the protests were just part of the norm for them.
The description of the months leading up to her leaving and the first few weeks after were absolutely riveting.
However, and I don't think I am spoiling anything here, if you've followed her on social media since she broke from the church you know that she is very liberal agnostic.
It felt like an overcorrection to her upbringing.  I ended up with a kind of heart sick feeling when I finished the book. 

Th1rt3en - Steve Cavanaugh
Amazon Synopsis
It’s the murder trial of the century. And Joshua Kane has killed to get the best seat in the house – and to be sure the wrong man goes down for the crime. Because this time, the killer isn’t on trial. He’s on the jury.
But there’s someone on his tail. Former-conman-turned-criminal-defense-attorney Eddie Flynn doesn’t believe that his movie-star client killed two people. He suspects that the real killer is closer than they think – but who would guess just how close?

Because this time, the killer isn’t on trial. He’s on the jury.” That line from the synopsis sold me on the book and I was not let down. I have more Cavanaugh on my list for 2020

Johnny Cash: The Redemption of an American Icon - Greg Laurie
Amazon Synopsis
Join Greg Laurie, pastor and bestselling author of Steve McQueen: The Salvation of an American Icon, as he takes you on a personal journey into the life and legend of Johnny Cash.
At the peak of his career, Cash had done it all—living the ultimate rags-to-riches story of growing up on a cotton farm in the Deep South to becoming a Nashville and Hollywood sensation, singing alongside heroes like Elvis Presley and performing for several American presidents.
But through all of this, Cash was troubled. By the time he released the iconic Man in Black album in 1971, the middle-aged icon was broken down, hollow-eyed, and wrung out.
In his search for peace, Cash became embroiled in controversy. He was arrested five times in seven years. His drug- and alcohol-induced escapades led to car accidents and a forest fire that devastated 508 acres. His time was divided between Jesus and jail, gospel tunes and the “Cocaine Blues.”
But by the end of his life, Cash was speaking openly about his “unshakeable faith.” What caused the superstar to turn from his conflicting passions to embrace a life in Christ?
Johnny Cash: The Redemption of an American Icon dives deep into the singer’s inner demons, triumphs, and gradual return to faith. Laurie interviews Cash’s family, friends, and business associates to reveal how the singer’s true success came through finding the only Person whose star was bigger than his own

I read Greg Laurie’s book Steve McQueen: The Salvation of an American Icon back in 2017 and loved it.  This biography of Johnny Cash was just as good and I hope Pastor Laurie continues this series.  Fun fact I learned reading this book: Johnny Cash wrote a fiction book about the Apostle Paul called the Man in White.  

Feast of Fire - John Kilpatrick
In 1993, two years before the revival began, Brownsville's pastor, John Kilpatrick, began directing his congregation to pray for revival.[4] Over the next two years, he talked constantly about bringing revival to the church, even going as far as to threaten to leave the church if it didn't accept the revival.[1] Supporters of the revival would also cite prophecies by Dr. David Yonggi Cho, pastor of Yoido Full Gospel Church, as evidence that the revival was inspired by God. According to Cho, God told him he was "going to send revival to the seaside city of Pensacola, and it will spread like a fire until all of America has been consumed by it."[4]
On Father's Day June 18, 1995, a Sunday, the revival began, evangelist Steve Hill was the guest speaker, having been invited by Kilpatrick. Later, Hill and Kilpatrick, told of "a mighty wind" that blew through the church, an account that quickly spread across the Pentecostal community. Kilpatrick had been talking "revival" for several months and had gotten word that Hill wanted to lead a big revival. As the nightly revival meetings continued, and preached several revival services each week for the next five years.
During the revival, nearly 200,000 people gave their lives to Jesus, and by fall 2000 more than 1,000 people who experienced the revival were taking classes at the Brownsville Revival School of Ministry. Thousands of pastors visited Brownsville and returned to their home congregations, leading to an outbreak of mini-revivals that helped the Assemblies of God recover from what some saw as a denominational decline.

As a man that is just now learning about the power of the Holy Spirit and trying to wrap my mind around Him this book is incredible.  I can’t even fathom the feeling of being there in that church for those meetings.   I find myself thinking about this book a lot.  Some of the stories in it I would have rolled my eyes at as recently as just a couple years ago. Now I can think of nothing I want more than one of those experiences myself.

The God I Never Knew - Robert Morris
Amazon Synopsis
Many people find the Holy Spirit mysterious, confounding—even controversial. Why is the third person in the Godhead—the one Jesus said would be the believer’s ultimate source of truth and comfort—the source of such confusion?
In The God I Never Knew, Robert Morris clearly explains that the Holy Spirit’s chief desire is for relationship--to offer us the encouragement and guidance of a trusted friend. This insightful and biblically-based book moves beyond theological jargon, religious tradition, and cultural misconceptions to clarify what the Holy Spirit promises to do in your life:  
· Dwell within you 
· Be your helper 
· Guide you into all truth
· Comfort you
· Pray for you
· Show you things to come
· Never leave you
It’s time to experience the Holy Spirit in a fresh, new way—to meet the God you may have never known. 

Probably my book of the year.  The church we started attending in January was having a series on Wednesday night based on this book.  Because I wanted to participate I picked up a copy on Amazon and my obsession with trying to understand more about the Holy Spirit began.
I have read the book 3 times this year and lost track of how many times I have listened to the sermon series of the same name.
I was raised in a denomination where the Holy Spirit was referenced but they didn't talk much about Him as a person.  That was fine with me because for a larked portion of my life I was happy just believing in Jesus.
When I truly got on the right track in 2013 I was attending a church that downplayed him in a big way.  So much in fact that they removed certain gifts of the Holy Spirit from the spiritual gifts inventory. So my education on that subject was lacking to say the least until just this year.
I have just devoured book after book on the subject but I keep coming back to this.
More than once when I asked someone for recommendations of books about the subject I get told to read this book.
I have grown by leaps and bounds over the last year.  I could not have possible gotten here without the things I have learned from thes book.  I wouldn't have even known where to start or what was possible.

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