Book Review: Keep Moving

Keep Moving: And Other Tips and Truths about Aging
by Dick Van Dyke
Read by the author

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Memoir

Part memoir, part book of advice, I chose to listen to the audiobook, which Dick Van Dyke reads himself. Though I’m a few years younger than the book’s primary audience, I still enjoyed the advice, humor, and sections about Van Dyke’s life. As can often happen when you don’t already know much (if anything) about an actor’s real self and tend to conflate his/her on-screen appearances with real life, it was a bit jarring to hear some of the things about his life. However, I’ve read reviews for the full memoir he wrote a few years before this, and it sounds like this is pretty tame in comparison. I had planned to read that too, but I think I’ll leave it at this.

Some of my favorite parts involved Van Dyke’s brother Jerry Van Dyke, who seems to have a considerably different (and quite humorous) outlook on getting older. I was particularly surprised to learn that Van Dyke has never had any formal dance training; I am one, apparently of many, who always assumed he had. I appreciate parts of his outlook on life, while some of his take on politics and religion left me shaking my head. When he basically says that no one can really know the truth about God, I think to myself, “Is that the truth?” It’s an age-old argument that probably never solves anything, though. In the end, I mostly enjoyed this book, and if you plan to read it, I highly recommend the audiobook.

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Book Review: Ready to Return

Ready to Return
by Ken Ham with Jeff Kinley

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Christian living

After exploring the phenomenon whereby a high percentage of 20-somethings who grew up in the church have left by college age in Already Gone, in this follow-up book, Ken Ham delves more deeply into why this happens and what we can do to try and stop it.

Though some of this book seems to be a rehash of the first book, that doesn’t make it any less important as a standalone book. The danger of a child growing up and not finding church relevant (and possibly, by extension, God) is still very real. I still agree that while one’s individual salvation may not be dependent on whether or not they believe in a literal six days of creation, amongst other ways the the world is trying to undermine the Bible, the impact that an individual’s belief can have on young Christians (meaning young in age or simply new to the faith) can be devastating. Put simply: If, in attempting to influence someone toward God, you put across to them that certain parts of the Bible can’t be trusted, why should they think any of it can be trusted? Is it really more believable that a man could be born to a virgin and then rise from the dead than that a supernatural being could create the world in 6 days?

One of the larger ideas this book pushes forward is that there is no such thing as a neutral stance. Not believing in God doesn’t make someone un-religious. It only makes them a believer in a different god, even if they don’t think of it that way. Ham points to Neil deGrasse Tyson and other prominent atheists who go as far as to state (or at least imply) that we should consider stardust our creator and savior, rather than God or Jesus Christ. This is not a neutral stance at all! And this is the kind of thinking that goes into school textbooks, which kids spend more time reading, being taught from, and being tested on than the very Word of God. And here is where the main focus of the book seems to lie—the danger of public education all week counterbalanced against one or two short sessions at church. It’s not enough.

As with the previous book (Already Gone), if you’re thinking about reading this book, understand that it makes the assumption that the reader believes the Bible 100%, including on matters like creation in 6 literal days, a young earth, the global flood, and…well, find out more about what the authors of this book believe at this link. If you do not believe the Bible is true, or to be taken literally, on all of these points, this may not be the book for you. If you do, and you’re concerned about diminishing Christianity in our time, this book is worth a read.

Find out more about Already Gone and Ken Ham’s ministry at Answers in Genesis

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Book Review: Trapped in Hitler’s Hell

Trapped in Hitler’s Hell
by Anita Dittman with Jan Markell

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Memoir

Anita Dittman was a child living with her family in Germany when Hitler and the Nazis started to make life increasingly difficult for Jewish people. Anita, her mother, and her sister were Jewish, while her father was not. He abandoned them to save himself, and though Anita’s sister managed to escape to England, Anita and her mother were moved into a ghetto, and later, work camps. As a Christian Jew, Anita found comfort in her relationship with Jesus, even before she really understood what it meant to have that relationship. Her story is told in Trapped in Hitler’s Hell.

I have read accounts of Jewish people and resistance workers in countries that were occupied by the Nazis, but I believe this is the first I’ve read of a Jewish family living right in Germany. Anita and her mother had some protection because of Anita’s non-Jewish father and because Anita and, eventually, her mother were Christians, but life was still difficult and dangerous, and much worse lay ahead.

While books like this can often make the reader question, “What would I do if this happened to me?” the question this most brought to my mind was, “How can I be as trusting and faithful with my witness in my life right now as she was during such hard times?” Though often told to stop talking about Jesus, Anita just couldn’t help herself, so great was her love for God. And no matter what bad thing happened, she would always be the first to express that God was still in charge. I do wonder about the wisdom of her tendency to always assume that God would keep her and everyone she was with safe and intact, since God does not promise earthly safety, especially during times of persecution. Not that he doesn’t ever keep someone protected, alive, even healthy, against all odds, but if we believe that will always be the case and it’s not, will our faith be shaken? Despite that concern, this book is worth reading for anyone interested in Holocaust accounts, especially those from a Christian worldview.

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Book Review: The Story of the Trapp Family Singers

The Story of the Trapp Family Singers
by Maria Augusta von Trapp

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Memoir

Though many know the story told in the popular musical & movie The Sound of Music, most probably don’t know the true story behind it. This is the book that inspired Rodgers and Hammerstein to write the musical, and there are some similarities, but also some large differences. The book also goes on to cover the Trapp Family’s lives in America after they fled Europe, an event which takes place within the first 40% of the book.

Overall, I found it fascinating to read about the true story behind a movie I watched so very many times all through my childhood, and plenty since then, too, even leading my own daughter to fall in love with it. It is very easy to read and follow what is going on. I enjoyed the times the author tells about her halting English in a way that seems very real, even while the entire book is in English. I love the way the family works together in all things, not just their singing career, each one using their talents where they can be most useful. I also appreciate the author’s instinct to attribute everything to the will of God, doing quite a few things she didn’t really want to do, because she had good reason to believe God wanted her to. I should add that I don’t agree with, and at times even understand the need for, some of the theology the author believes in, but the foundational beliefs of trusting in God for every aspect of one’s life is important.

We can find a word of caution for our own lives in these pages, as the family watched Hitler come to power and take over their country years before WWII started. The children were told at school that their parents were “nice, old-fashioned people who don’t understand the new Party,” and that they shouldn’t tell their parents what they learned at school. This is beginning to happen to some degree today as well, with some areas wanting to cut parents completely out of the decision-making for what goes on at schools. Once they start trying to keep what the kids are learning at school secret from the parents, it should be a huge red flag!

The book did feel like it dragged a bit in the 2nd half, though I can’t quite put my finger on why. It may have simply been that the story of how the family’s concert career grew and they bought their farm wasn’t as interesting to me as the rest. Overall, though, I’m glad I read this book and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys the movie and wants to know the true story or anyone interested in memoirs about life during and after WWII (especially from those who are from countries directly affected by the war).

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Book Review: The Men We Need

The Men We Need
by Brant Hansen

read by the author

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Christian living

At a time where men and masculinity are practically being vilified, radio show host Brant Hansen shares some insight on what it really means to be a man, at least from a biblical point of view. But that doesn’t mean this book holds nothing of import for women. More than simply what to look for in a man, or what to help our significant others or sons strive to be, some of what Brant discusses in this book can easily be applied to women, too.

I think that what sticks out to me the most is the idea that passivity isn’t as victimless as we might think. By living a life of lethargy, with no ambition, we can fail to be who God wants us to be for others out there. As Brant says, no one is exactly like me, with my life, my experiences, and my placement in the world; if I don’t do what I was meant to do, who will? It does make me re-think how I spend my time.

While, overall, I didn’t necessarily connect with this book as much as I did Brant’s previous books, that’s not surprising, given the topic. Still, I’m really glad I read it, and especially that I listened to the audiobook, as Brant’s humor comes out all the more when he’s speaking the words. I’ve long enjoyed Brant’s humor and greatly appreciate his wisdom and insight as well. I recommend this book for men and women alike, though I’d imagine it makes a lot more sense for Christ-followers. Not that it’s a requirement, by any means, and is especially not for Brant’s podcast, in his podcast, The Brant & Sherri Oddcast, which I also recommend.

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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: Gospel Reset

Gospel Reset
by Ken Ham

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Christian living

Ken Ham explains in this book that, “The gospel message hasn’t changed, but the way in which it needs to be presented in a secularized culture does need to change.” Since reading Already Gone a few months ago, I’ve started to wonder how our church can better present the truth of the Bible to the youth that attend. Last month, my husband and I went to the Ark Encounter and Creation Museum and came back with some books that my husband wanted to read, including this one, and after reading Gospel Reset, he’s started to have similar thoughts to those I’ve been having.

The book rehashes some of the information presented in Already Gone, but obviously not everyone who reads it will have read the other book (my own husband, for example). To me, the value of the book lies in the comparison of Peter and Paul preaching to Jews and Greeks (respectively) in different chapters of Acts to the culture of America past to America present. Though many of us today already recognize that the culture is a lot less open to hearing about the Gospel than it has been in the past, it’s helpful to have this comparison to the Bible and the early church.

I found most of the illustrations unnecessary (and sometimes confusing), but overall, the viewpoint presented and resources at the end can provide some helpful insight into a big problem facing Christians today.

Find out more about Gospel Reset and Ken Ham’s ministry at Answers in Genesis

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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.

Find out more about Behind the Lights and for KING & COUNTRY
Publication date: April 12, 2022

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