Book Review: Night

Night
by Elie Wiesel

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Memoir

Elie Wiesel’s account of his time in death camps during WWII is told simply, without unnecessary prose. As a teenager in an unthinkable situation, Wiesel clung to his father, while losing all faith in his God. One of the things that strikes me most after reading this book is the constant uncertainty the author and his fellow Jews were faced with—will it really get that bad before the war ends? Are the rumors we’re hearing of camps true? Where are we going? What will happen when we get there? Which is better, left or right? To stay with family or to go where directed? To fight to survive or to let it be over? To join the evacuation march or to be left behind in the hospital? Not that this hasn’t all come up in other Holocaust books I’ve read, but for whatever reason it stuck out more to me in this book. That Wiesel was struggling to come to terms with what happened to him and millions of others even in the writing of this book is evident, and it certainly makes the memoir raw and personal.

Reading this book was one of my earliest exposures to the horrors of the Holocaust, as I’m sure I read it around high school age. I even found a couple of notes that I’d written in the book back then, which I don’t remember doing. While there are a lot more books out there about the Holocaust, both fiction and non-fiction, than there were when this was first published, I think it is a classic in the genre, and a good starting point for anyone newly diving into the genre.

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Book Review: I Can Only Imagine

I Can Only Imagine
by Bart Millard
Read by the author

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Memoir

Singer and songwriter Bart Millard, lead singer of the band MercyMe, shares the full story of the band’s best-known song, “I Can Only Imagine.” Though this story was shared with the world through the movie by the same name, as Millard explains at the beginning of the book, a movie has time constraints that a book does not; thus, the book is able to go into more detail about Millard’s relationship with his abusive dad and his dad’s transformation shortly before his death.

You know how a song can be so popular, played so often, that you almost start to not care about it, even though you thought it was a great song when you first heard it. I won’t pretend I enjoy “I Can Only Imagine” as much now as I did when it was first released in 2001. But reading this book definitely puts the song in a whole new light. Though it sounds like Bart Millard has told the story about his abusive-turned-repentant dad many times over those years, I don’t recall ever hearing it, and I haven’t seen the movie. And wow, it is quite the heartbreaking story. From the physical and mental abuse to the (worse in some ways) checking out of his dad later, Bart Millard has every reason to be traumatized. And to know that it has continued to affect him in more recent years, even while playing music to large crowds, of which, at various times, I’ve been a part, only adds to the sadness.

I am incredibly grateful for so much of the music that Bart Millard has written and that the band has recorded, and I think it’s important for “fans” to keep in mind that these are real people with real problems. They often seem like they have it all together, like they have all the answers, to the degree where even when they’re standing on the stage telling us that they’ve had some rough times, we imagine those rough times to be over, because otherwise, how could they be standing there in front of us leading us in worship? We assume that whatever problems they have can’t be as bad as our own, and maybe by the time they get to writing a book like this, they’ve got it all sorted out. But most likely, Bart Millard will continue to struggle with PTSD and the feelings of inadequacy that his dad instilled in him, while thanking God that he had some good times with him before it was too late.

I listened to the audiobook, because I wanted to hear the words in the author’s own voice. I’m incredibly glad I listened to the book, and though I’ll probably never quite think of MercyMe songs the same way again, I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

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Book Review: Between Heaven and the Real World

Between Heaven and the Real World
by Steven Curtis Chapman with Ken Abraham

My rating: 4.5 / 5
Genre: Memoir

Singer and songwriter Steven Curtis Chapman shares the story of his life so far—childhood, romancing his wife, the road to becoming a household name in Christian music, and the loss of his young daughter. Chapman does not hold back as he tells of doubt, uncertainty, even anger, but also of learning to trust God, to believe He’s working even when we can’t see it, and to let Him lead the way.

I went into this book knowing that there would be tears involved, considering the circumstances around his loss (I don’t know if spoilers are an issue for an autobiography, but I’ll still avoid it, just in case), and I’d imagine it would be even more difficult for those who have experienced a similar loss. The emotion is raw, unfiltered, and there’s no attempt to cover it up and say “God’s got this,” since that would be disingenuous to how they were feeling at the time. One thing Chapman points out in this book is that you can know and fully believe that God is good all the time, and that His plan and timing are perfect, but that won’t necessarily keep you from feeling completely devastated by a loss, especially when in the immediate moments, days, months, when you’re still in shock, reeling, trying to process and figure out how you even take another step forward. This book is certainly not a how-to on picking yourself back up after a devastating loss, trusting in God, and moving forward firmly in His plan, but more a picture of one family’s muddled, messy attempts at finding daylight in the utter darkness.

And of course, this was just one chapter of Chapman’s and his family’s lives (several chapters in the book, though). I appreciated reading about how his earlier life led him to be the man he is and write some of the songs he’s written. I was fascinated by some of the stories behind songs that are well known to me. I do wish some of the theology had been delved into a little more deeply, for example the foundational reason that a loving God allows bad things to happen, but in the end, he was sharing his life, not trying to preach a sermon. I was also often disappointed with the picture placement, because pictures would come too early and sort of “give away” something that was coming. It might have just been an issue with the Kindle version, but then some pictures came on time or a little later than the event was discussed, so who knows. (I fully enjoyed the pictures themselves, though.) Overall, it was a deep, at times dark, fascinating read, and think that fans of Steven Curtis Chapman’s music will enjoy it, as well as people interested in the behind the scenes of the Christian music industry.

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Book Review: Behind the Lights

Behind the Lights
by Helen Smallbone

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Memoir

Helen Smallbone is the mother of seven children who are all adults now, three of which are well-known in Christian music—Rebecca St. James and brothers Joel and Luke of for KING & COUNTRY. In this book, she shares the story of her family, from moving from Australia to the US where everyone pitched in to keep them all afloat, to working together to put on Rebecca St. James’s shows once she got into the music industry, and to how for KING & COUNTRY got started.

One of the things I liked about this book was that way it was so conversational, like she’s telling her story in person. And she’s not afraid to talk about the mistakes made by her or anyone else in her family. I appreciate the way she ties every lesson learned into God and the Bible. Though very little of her incredible life is very relatable to me, I was still quite immersed in the book and was carried along with the ups and downs.

I’ve seen hints of at least Joel & Luke’s involvement in Rebecca St. James’s concerts, but the overall story of the entire family working at their oldest sister’s concerts and growing into their roles was the most interesting to me. It gives a lot of insight into what I’ve said since pretty much the first time I saw fK&C in concert—they put on some of the best live shows I’ve ever been to. And now I can see how their talent as performers had early roots. I’m really glad I read this book, and think that fans of Rebecca St. James and/or for KING & COUNTRY will enjoy it, as well as people interested in the behind the scenes of the Christian music industry (though I was fairly disappointed by some of what I read about that).

Thank you to Netgalley and K-LOVE Books for providing me a copy of this book to review.

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Publication date: April 12, 2022

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Book Review: Things We Couldn’t Say

Things We Couldn’t Say
by Diet Eman with James Schaap

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Memoir

Diet Eman, along with her fiance Hein Siestma, watched as the Nazi’s occupied their country, started imposing rules and restrictions, and then began to persecute the Jewish people living there. What started as quiet, minor resistance turned into a movement, with Hein and his brother leading their own group. Both Diet and Hein were arrested and spent time in prison, and then concentration camps. Fifty years later, Diet tells her story in Things We Couldn’t Say.

This is the third book I’ve read now that centers on Dutch resisters during WWII and the Holocaust. I was fascinated to hear about the citizens’ reactions to the occupation and the royal family fleeing in advance of the invasion, followed eventually by the realization that the royal family’s decision hadn’t necessarily been as cowardly as first thought. Diet also talks about why it was so natural for people in her country to resist, as she explains how stubborn the Dutch tend to be, easily forming splinter churches if there’s a difference of opinion.

In 2015, upon receiving the Faith and Freedom Award from the Acton Institute, Diet Eman said, “…you think it’s something special. But when your country is taken—and Hitler had said he would respect our neutrality, and then he marches in and he starts killing all of the Jews—and we had so very many Jewish people in our country. So, you would have done the same there, when you had friends who were Jewish and they were in danger.” However, from this book, it’s clear that not everyone would do the same thing. Even as Diet tried to find people who would help her early in her work, she was disappointed in her Christian friends who valued their own safety over that of others.

Diet was in the same prison, and then later, the same concentration camp, as Corrie & Betsie ten Boom, and though she didn’t meet them at the time, her observances of these fellow Dutchwomen of faith only strengthen my admiration of the ten Boom family (their story can be found in The Hiding Place). It’s inspiring to read how Diet’s faith grew during the toughest times and how she continued with her resistance work even after suffering very difficult things. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in true WWII resistance or Holocaust accounts, especially those from a Christian worldview.

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Book Review: Lead Me

Lead Me
by Matt Hammitt

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Christian living, memoir

Former Sanctus Real lead singer Matt Hammitt talks about the difficulties he faced for many years trying to balance life on the road with life at home. With a wife and eventually 4 kids, he wanted to be the husband and father they needed while also following God’s calling on his life and providing for his family. In this book, he lays bare the doubts, anxieties, even depression he went through while his wife was at home simply wanting him to lead the family the way he was meant to.

This book really hit home to me in so many ways. My husband and I are at a good point in our 21-year marriage right now, but it hasn’t always been so, and I know it won’t always be so. When Sanctus Real’s song “Lead Me” came out, it spoke to me every time I heard it, and I used the lyrics to explain to my husband where I felt our relationship was lacking at the time. I’m sure the song spoke to countless others as well, just as I’m sure this book will speak to many hearts. Hammitt’s insights into what it means to be present in a marriage, even if you can’t be physically present (though that certainly helps) come from a place of experience, all of which he shares in this book. That his marriage survived some of what he describes is a testament to what can happen if two people refuse to take the easy way out and instead determine to do life together, even when it gets rough (really rough, from the sound of it).

I also found some insight into an issue my extended family is dealing with right now, and highlighted some quotes that apply to that situation. Though we all have our own stories that we’re writing as we go through life, we can certainly learn from each other along the way, even if circumstances don’t match up perfectly. And though I can’t fully connect with what Hammitt and his wife went through during and after the birth of their first son, my heart broke to read about the pain and uncertainty they went through.

My favorite thing about the book is that he points back to the Bible with every uncertainty he has, with every lesson he learns. It’s all right there for us to discover, and Hammitt lays some of it out in a way that could be beneficial to so many people who are struggling with their own families, marriages, or other relationships, whether their issue is trying to balance work and home or a plethora of other possible things that can cause a divide. Also, fans of Matt Hammitt and/or Sanctus Real might appreciate this peek into his life and why he left the band in 2015. I highly recommend this book to anyone who has interest for any reason. (Plus, any book that mentions Psalty the Singing Songbook, not once but twice, is a winner in my book!)

Thank you to Netgalley and WaterBrook & Multnomah for providing me a copy of this book to review.

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Book Review: Return to the Hiding Place

Return to the Hiding Place
by Hans Poley

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Memoir

During the time of Nazi persecution, a Christian Dutch family called the ten Booms welcome into their home various people who were hiding from the Nazis, both Jewish and not. 18-year-old Hans Poley was the first guest, hiding to avoid being sent to Germany to do hard labor in replacement of Germans who’d been sent to fight. Here he tells the story of his time at the ten Booms’ house and his own arrest that took him to a prison, then a concentration camp.

Having read The Hiding Place earlier this year, it was really interesting to see the Beje and the ten Boom family from the perspective of one of their “guests.” Not only does Hans Poley echo Corrie ten Boom’s assertions about the incredible faith of her father and sister, he shows Corrie herself as more open and giving than she portrayed herself in some areas. For example, when her room was chosen as the location for the secret room in her book, she tried to protest it. According to Poley, however, she “readily agreed.” I think we’d all be surprised to find out how others view us, compared to how we view ourselves, and in this case, Corrie ten Boom may have been a little hard on herself. Another small thing I noticed that didn’t match up between the books is that both authors claim to be the one who gave Eusi, one of the most prominent long-term Jewish guests, his fake name, and I wonder if this, and any other possible discrepancy, is simply due to faulty memories.

Yet again I was struck by how incredibly selfless this family was, giving up their own comfort and safety to help so many others. And Casper ten Boom, Corrie’s father, is even more inspirational to me after reading this. He repeatedly expressed a desire to help the Jewish people as if it weren’t even a choice to make. If you’ve read The Hiding Place, you should consider reading this too. Overall, though, I recommend it to anyone interested in true Holocaust accounts, especially those from a Christian worldview.

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Book Review: As You Wish

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride
by Cary Elwes & Joe Layden
Read by the author

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Memoir

Twenty-five years after the release of The Princess Bride, a movie that was not much of a success in its time but later became a cult classic, Cary Elwes, who played the iconic Westley in the movie, writes about his time working on the set. With additions by many of Elwes’s co-stars, along with the director, the producer, and the screenplay writer (who also wrote the book the movie is based on), Elwes gives us a peek at the making of a movie in general, and this family favorite in particular.

As soon as I knew this book existed, I knew I’d be reading it, and I knew I’d enjoy it. I’ve seen the movie several times, but even more importantly, it is my husband’s all-time favorite movie. So I suggested we both listen to the audiobook, which is narrated by Elwes himself, an actor we have both really liked for a long time, which is exactly what we did. And we both loved it! We also loved that the bits added by other people who worked on the movie were mostly read by those people as well. I think the fact that they were willing to take the time to first write, and then narrate their own thoughts on the making of this movie illustrates exactly what Elwes says throughout the book, that this cast and crew became a lot like a family. Others who read this book seem to be looking for the seedy underbelly, assuming that Elwes left out anything negative in his rush to extol the virtues of his co-workers. And I can’t say that’s not the case, of course, but perhaps the reason this memoir is so friendly and upbeat is because that’s how it really was. It’s not like poor Wallace Shawn was brow-beaten into saying his time working on the movie was all sunshine and rainbows (he had some issues, but I won’t say more than that).

I loved hearing some of the accounts of things that happened throughout the months working on this film, and even in the time after. Some of them were described by multiple people, which added a nice depth to them. I had re-watched the movie in anticipation of reading this book, but still felt compelled to look up certain scenes to see something Elwes described, whether a specific way he moved during the scene due to an injury or a line that was improvised. For fans of The Princess Bride, this book may make you see the movie in a whole new light and, hopefully, a good one. If you’ve never seen the movie, I recommend it.

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Book Review: The Hiding Place

The Hiding Place
by Corrie ten Boom with John & Elizabeth Sherrill

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Memoir

At 50 years old, Corrie ten Boom lived a simple life with her older sister, both of them unmarried, and their elderly father in a small house in Holland. When the Nazis invaded and occupied their country, Corrie quickly saw the need around her as Jews began to be shipped out. The ten Boom house and watchmaker shop became part of the Dutch Underground, helping those who were persecuted find a safe place, even to the point of building a small hiding place in their own house. In this book, Corrie shares much of her life before the occupation, including the faith that led her and her family to help those in needs, culminating in the arrest and imprisonment of many members of her family, and later to her time in a concentration camp alongside her sister Betsie.

This book is incredible in so many ways. It’s inspirational, and not only because of what the ten Booms did to help others. It’s the reason behind their desire to help, the way that it really wasn’t even a question about whether or not they would help, and the way that they affected everyone around them, even in the darkest of places. The strong faith in God that Corrie’s parents had, exhibited, and passed on to their children shows through every page of this book. Corrie herself struggled the most in this area, constantly learning from her other family members and being surprised by their heart for the oppressors. Yet she never questioned whether or not she should help the Jews around her at the risk of her own well-being.

Not many Holocaust-related accounts that I have read are from a Christian perspective, and I really appreciated seeing the little and big ways that Corrie and Betsie could see God involved in their plight. Though they never demanded that He help them, they trusted Him (again, Betsie more than Corrie) and gave Him credit when they saw Him work. I can only hope that in my everyday life, and even moreso when times of difficulty come, I can have the wisdom of Mr. ten Boom, the love of Mrs. ten Boom, the hope of Betsie ten Boom, the courage of Corrie ten Boom, and the faith exhibited by all of them.

Below are some quotes from the book that I marked to remember.

Casper ten Boom (Corrie’s father) upon the realization that Holland would soon be invaded:

“…I am sorry for all Dutchmen now who do not know the power of God. For we will be beaten. But He will not.”

Corrie discovered that a large piece of sharp debris had landed on her pillow while she was out of bed:

“Betsie, if I hadn’t heard you in the kitchen–“

But Betsie put her finger on my mouth. “Don’t say it, Corrie! There are no ‘if’s’ in God’s world. And no places that are safer than other places. The center of His will is our only safety…”

And the one that stuck out to me the most, from an elderly member of Corrie’s family who spent much of her life running clubs, writing tracts, always trying to further God’s kingdom. When she learned she didn’t have long to live, her family members told her she was going to the Father with hands full, due to all of her work. She replied:

“Empty, empty! How can we bring anything to God? What does He care for our little tricks and trinkets?”

And then as we listened in disbelief she lowered her hands and with tears still coursing down her face whispered, “Dear Jesus, I thank You that You have done all–all–on the cross, and that all we need in life or death is to be sure of this.”

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Book Review: There I Go Again

There I Go Again: How I Came to Be Mr. Feeny, John Adams, Dr. Craig, KITT, and Many Others
by William Daniels

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Autobiography

I don’t normally put GIFs in my reviews, but it had to be done.

The long sub-title sums up what this book is about quite nicely. The way Mr. Daniels describes it, he sort of “fell” into show business, starting with the insistence of his mother, and just never could find his way out of it, not that he tried very hard. Eventually he came to realize that it was what he wanted to be doing. In this book, he tells the story of his most iconic roles, and everything in between–how he came to have them, and even what it was like to play them.

My interest in this book initially came from my love for Boy Meets World. I was 11 when that show first aired, which pretty much made me the same age as the main characters. My husband and I have quoted certain lines from the show to each other for so many years that our kids do it now too (and have both watched at least some of the show themselves, and my daughter loves Girl Meets World). Anyway, all that to say, Mr. Feeny is near and dear to my heart. Now I know that the man who plays Mr. Feeny (yes, present tense, because he’ll always be Mr. Feeny to me) is a real person and has faced some real struggles in his life, which has only deepened my appreciation of William Daniels.

Truth be told, I don’t know much about the rest of the roles he has played. I’ve never seen Knight Rider, 1776, or St. Elsewhere. And I did wonder if I would be lost or uninterested while reading most of this book. I wasn’t. Maybe a little, when he talked about other actors and actresses he worked with at different times, producers, directors, etc. But not enough to cause a lack of enjoyment in or understanding of the book.

My only difficulty in reading the book was due to the writing itself; a couple of times the stories left me confused because it seemed like it was missing just another line or two of explanation before moving on. The book wasn’t published by a big-name company (which surprises me, but kind of goes right along with how Daniels describes himself as never being a “big star,” while being recognizable as the characters he’s played), and I wonder if most of the people who edited or proofread it were close to Daniels, knew his stories or life well enough to not be confused by a slight lack of explanation. Or maybe it’s just me.

I am so glad that I read this book. And the chapter about Boy Meets World was pretty much what I would have wanted it to be and made me tear up just a little. I would suggest that if you know William Daniels from any of his roles, or are simply interested in memoirs of celebrities, you check out this autobiography.

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