Read Alongs

I was born in a library.  Naw.  Not really.  But I’ve spent enough time in libraries over the years that it feels that way!  Some of my most cherished childhood memories stem from trips to the public library where I brought books home by the truckload.  I’ve always loved being buried between the pages of a good book.   That’s why I decided to add Read Alongs to HEvencense – to share some of my favorites with you, and vice-versa.  Here’s how Read-Alongs work:

Each month I’ll post some titles that I’ve enjoyed and hope you will, too.  Read through one or more of them during the month.  At month’s end, use the comment box to register your opinions on the selected titles – what you liked, didn’t like, and why.  Share some of your own favorites!

October is Kick-Off Month for our new Read Along category.  Look for Ah, October.  See you back here in November!


Ah, October!

photo155.JPG  Don’t you love this time of year?  Crisp weather, mounds of molten leaves, shorter days and roaring fireplaces.  A great time to curl up with a good book!  Let’s take a whirlwind trip around the world this month with some great stories based in Italy, Irian Jaya, Siam (Thailand), Scotland and India (via Ireland). 

Choose one or more titles to read and tell us what you did or didn’t like and why.   Don’t be shy about sharing your own favorites – they may show up here later!  See you back here in November!  (Titles can be found at your public library or at

Now for this month’s Read Alongs – beginning with a “Read Along Rationale” (below):

 11 Ways to Better Yourself Through BooksRead for Your Life: 11 Ways to Transfrom Your Life with Books, by Pat Williams and Peggy Matthews Rose.   In clear, easy-to-read language that’s knowledgeable, warm and passionate, the authors demonstrate the incredible value of reading – at all ages!  Read will help “reignite your love affair with books and show you how to prioritize reading – no matter how busy you are.  It’s not just about filling that hard-to-find `downtime’ (Pat reads in the car, while stopped at red lights!).  Books improve your life in every imaginable way and can give you a mental workout guaranteed to keep your brain fit, alert, and active for a lifetime.”  Engaging, insightful, and tons of fun!

Under the Tuscan SunUnder the Tuscan Sun, by Frances Mayes.  A deliciously literate look at one of the world’s most beautiful regions.  Mouth-watering!

Lords of the EarthLords of the Earth, by Don Richardson.  The compelling story of sacrifice and redemption in the 1960s jungles of Irian Jaya among the ferocious Yali people.  A riveting true story which chronicles pioneering missionary efforts to reach this brutal stone age tribe.

Anna and the King of SiamAnna and the King of Siam, by Margaret Landon.  First published in 1944, this descriptive and engaging narrative is the basis of THE KING AND I.   A classic tale blending fact and fiction, Anna tells the story of Englishwoman Anna Leonowens, who becomes governess to the children of King Mongkut of Siam in the 1860s.  (The book’s historical accuracy is questionable, but the story remains a good read.)

A Faerie RomancePhantastes – A Faerie Romance for Men and Women, by George MacDonald of Scotland.  One of the first great works of 19th century fantasy fiction.  Outstanding for its imaginative characters, vivid action, and subtle yet powerful moral messages.  Of this work, C.S. Lewis writes, “It will baptize your imagination.”

The Life and Legacy of Amy Carmichael   A Chance to Die: The Life and Legacy of Amy Carmichael, by Elisabeth Elliot.  A vibrant portrait of Amy Carmichael-one of India’s most beloved missionaries. Follow the journey of a courageous Irishwoman who spent 53 years in South India without furlough, earning the nickname “Amma” or “Mother” from the underprivileged children she regarded as God’s jewels.


Go ahead.  Open it.  Crack the binding and thumb through the pages.  “Inhale” any book by Max Lucado and discover a wonderful waft of Hevencense.

It’s no secret the Max Lucado has long been one of my favorite authors.  He’s penned an entire galaxy of glittering word images, gleaming glimpses of Grace.  If you haven’t yet had a chance to meet Max, do so with this month’s Read Alongs.  Here are a few Max titles to get you started (there’s more where these came from!):

The Applause of Heaven

The Applause of Heaven: a perennial favorite.

God Came Near:  so near, in fact, that you can feel His fingers and  

God Came Near (Lucado, Max)

breathe in His fragrance across nearly every page of this remarkable, insightful and uplifting tome.

Come Thirsty: No Heart Too Dry for His Touch.  The subtitle says it all.No Heart Too Dry for His Touch (Lucado, Max)A soul-quenching fountain of freshness for parched souls and weary hearts.  Vintage Max.

Experiencing the Truth of the Cross (Lucado, Max)No Wonder They Call Him Savior: need I say more?

You Are Special   You Are Special: Don’t miss this because it’s a “children’s book.”  I love this one.

Just the Way You Are: A good one to read that will engage grown-ups and children alike.   A winner for those “terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad days.”  



December Decisions

“Sleigh bells ring, are you listening?

In the lane, snow is glistening…”

Whether you’re snowed in or working on your tan, December’s here and that means CHRISTMAS!  YESSSS!!!  Here are the recommended titles for this month’s read along.  (I probably missed a bunch.  Chime in if you don’t see your favorites here.) 

I may include a follow-up post on my best picks for Christmas movies.  Stay tuned and happy reading.  See you in January!

Christmas BoxThe Christmas Box by Richard Paul Evans.  I’ve read and re-read this book every year since it first came out in 1993.  A modern day classic.  (Check out my Side Bar under Richard Paul Evans for more.)

The Littlest Angel

The Littlest Angel by Charles Tazewell.  A delightful short story about heaven’s littlest angel who’s not quite “angelic,” but close to the heart of God.

Front Cover  The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry.  

 Another favorite seasonal read.  Jim and Della, one dollar and eighty-seven cents and it’s Christmas Eve.  Told in O. Henry’s matchless short-story style, a heart-warming tale of giving, receiving, and sacrifice.

A Novel About Spencer's Mountain

The Homecoming by Earl Hamner.  A warm, richly worded story about a Depression-era family in the Blue Ridge Mtns. of Virginia awaiting their Daddy’s arrival home on Christmas Eve.  The seed that grew into TV’s “The Waltons.”  Check this title out under  Book Reviews for a closer look,or click here:

A Christmas Carol
A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens.

The author began writing his “little carol” in October, 1843 and finished it by the end of November in time to be published for Christmas. Feuding with his publishers, Dickens financed the publishing of the book himself, ordering lavish binding, gilt edging, and hand-colored illustrations and then setting the price at 5 shillings so that everyone could afford it. This combination resulted in disappointingly low profits despite high sales. In the first few days of its release the book sold six thousand copies and its popularity continued to grow. The first and best of his Christmas Books, A Christmas Carol has become a Christmas tradition and easily Dickens’ best known book.

book cover of   The Greatest Gift   A Christmas Tale   by  Philip van Doren Stern  “The Greatest Gift” is a 1943 short story written by Philip Van Doren Stern which became the basis for the film It’s a Wonderful Life.  Need I say more?


The Little Drummer Boy, By Henry Onorati, Kristina Rodanas, Harry Simeone, Katherine Davis.  A  classic story of the encounter between a poor boy and the baby Jesus embodies the true spirit of Christmas.

Book Jacket  Silent Night: A Christmas Carol is Born, by Maureen Breet Hooper.  The story of how the Christmas carol “Silent Night” was created.  Beautifully illustrated.  A great book for read-alouds with the kids – don’t forget to break out your singing voices and some hot chocolate, too!

Front Cover   ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas by Clement Moore.  It just wouldn’t be Christmas without this seasonal standard.

  Christmas Every Day by William Dean Howell.  The title says it all.  Another classic.

The Gospel According to Saint Luke.  The four Gospels can be divided into various categories.  These are Matthew, Mark, and Luke, which are known collectively as the Snyoptics.  Of the three Synoptic gospels, only Matthew and Luke include the Nativity stories.  Of these two, Doctor Luke’s account is perhaps the most beloved and best-known, with its focus on the King of Heaven being born in a humble manger.


Gems for January

Happy New Year!   January’s a great time for clean slates and fresh starts.  Here are some outstanding titles to help you do both.  Don’t forget to comment.  See you at month’s end!

The Dream Giver by Bruce Wilkinson.

 Meet Ordinary, a Nobody who leaves the Land of Familiar to pursue his Big Dream. Once the Dream Giver convinces him to escape his Comfort Zone, Ordinary begins the journey of his life — overcoming Border Bullies, navigating the Wasteland, and battling the fierce Giants in the Land. This modern-day parable will get you started on your own daring adventure with God.

Secrets of the Vine by Bruce Wilkinson.

Explore John 15 and learn how Jesus is the Vine of life as well as four levels of “fruit bearing” (doing the good work of God).  Opens readers’ eyes to the Lord’s hand in their lives and uncovers surprising insights that will point them to a new path of consequence for God’s glory.

When the Game is Over, It All Goes Back in the Box by John Ortberg.

 The material rewards of “winning” at life’s game can be thrilling, but do they last?  Eventually everything goes back into the box, and what ultimately matters is whether we’ve played according to God’s rules.  In his witty, winsome tome, John Ortberg shows us how.

Captivating: Unveiling the Mysteries of a Woman’s Soul by John and Stasi Eldredge. 

For anyone who’s tired of the worn-out, anemic approach to femininity and what it means to be a Christian woman, Captivating: Unveiling the Mysteries of a Woman’s Soul (Nelson Books, 2005) is a breath of fresh air.  Captivating is NOT a “Bible study,” Christian apologetic, or a theological treatise, nor does it pretend to be.  Instead, it is an intelligent, eloquent and well-illustrated articulation of what many Christian women have felt for a long time: a yearning to be understood, nurtured, and valued  beyond ”the Proverbs 31 woman.” 

See Book Reviews on my Side Bar for more.


Next up:

Born to Follow? – exposing some churchy stereotypes, Titus 2 and You, or Do Years Alone Make a Teacher/Leader?, and Nuggets and Nudges – Ideas for Women’s Ministry.

Also in the pipeline: Is it Dead (lack of punctuation intentional).  A novella in serial form exploring what happened to a friendship between women, why it withered and what we can learn from it.




Remember Richard Paul Evans?  He’s the best-selling author of The Christmas Box.    IMHO, no modern writer does love stories better than Richard.  Since February means Valentine’s Day and Love, here are some of Richard’s trademark gentle tales to warm your winter:

The Last Promise

The Last PromiseThis book is beautiful.  Set in one of the world’s most breath-taking and romantic regions, The Last Promise (2002) is one of my “Richard favorites.”  A fast, engaging read that’s as warm as a Chiantishire summer.
When Eliana, aka: Ellen to her friends back in America, moves to Italy the future was bright with promise. Tuscany holds magic in its sprawling vineyards, great food, and centuries of art. It’s a life of the senses, perfect for a blossoming, talented young artist such as Eliana.
Her family and friends back home think she has made the right choice in following her heart, and the man she fell in love with and married, back to his native country.
In America, Eliana’s story was that of a fairy tale.  But in Italy, in the small, rustic village nestled in the Chianti countryside, Eliana finds her husband to be a very different man. A busy businessman, he distances himself from her, leaving Eliana to care for their young son whose asthma threatens to take his life.
Although she longs for the romance she’d known in America, Eliana is happy as a mother and with the time she spends with her child; yet when fellow American, Ross Story, a deeply thoughtful man with a mysterious passion for art, arrives at the same villa, a chance encounter causes Eliana and Ross to look at their lives anew. And with their discovery that individuals may change and grow, they can never forget that the bonds of family last forever.

In The Last Promise Richard Paul Evans spins a passionate, bittersweet tale about the glorious joy and suffocating sorrow life can throw our way.  As rich and complex as a vintage Chianti wine, The Last Promise is gentle, uplifting tale about the magnificent power of true love.

   I gotta love a book in which the main character and I share the same first name :), as in this beautiful, poignant story of tragedy, hope, selflessness and healing.

Just a week before their marriage, Christine’s fiance calls off the wedding, leaving her heartbroken. With hopes of helping her through a difficult time, Christine’s best friend, Jessica, enrolls them both on a humanitarian mission in Peru, to work at an orphanage called El Girasol — The Sunflower.

While working at the orphanage that Christine meets Paul Cook, a successful and charismatic American doctor who has fled the States after one fatal day took away his career, his faith, and the woman he loved. Unplanned events lead Paul and Christine into the jungle of the Amazon, where Christine must confront her deepest fears, and she, and Paul, must both learn to trust and love again.

The Gift, by Richard Paul Evans.  Released October 2007 by Simon & Schuster.

The Gift opens with a soliloquoy dated “Christmas night 2006,” but best-selling author Richard Paul Evans carefully maintains from page one on that “this is not a Christmas story.”   Maybe.  Maybe not.

Protagonist Nathan Hurst is an in-house detective for Salt Lake City-based MusicWorld (p. 11).  He was also born with Tourette’s syndrome and about “twenty different manifestations from vocal tics to head jerking and grimacing” (p. 3) and “the need to touch sharp objects” (pp. 5,6).  That’s not all.  Among the other heavy personal baggage Hurst carries is an intense aversion to Christmas due to the tragic loss of his brother on that day and his father’s subsequent suicide a year later, also on December 25.  Hurst’s childhood destroyed, his family all but gone, Nathan’s mother “was never well after that” (p. 7).  He leaves home at age 16 and rarely – if ever – looks back:  

“Christmas was just another day on the calendar.  I never believed it could be otherwise until I met Addison, Elizabeth, and Collin. 

The Bible says that God has chosen the weak things of this world to confound the things which are mighty.  My story is about one of God’s weak things.  His name is Collin, a frail, beautiful little boy with a very special gift.”

Special, indeed.  Like another Child of long ago.

Stranded in a Denver airport by a Thanksgiving snowstorm, Hurst has a raging fever, a bad case of bronchitis and an even more severe case of unresolved guilt.  His dynamo office assistant who never misses a beat, Miche, has booked him two appointments: one with the presidential suite in the airport hotel and another with the doctor. 

Standing in a “long line outside the Delta help counter,” Nathan meets Addison Park and her two young children, Elizabeth (age 5), and Collin (age 9).  The boy has leukemia.  And something else.  A gift.  A remarkable, incredible gift that the cynical, jaded Hurst experiences first-hand.  Collin is a generous, affectionate young boy.  He wants to help others, but exercising the gift comes at a terrible price to Collin and those who love him, especially his mother. 

As the story develops we meet an avaricious ex-husband with the ethics of an Anaconda, Hurst’s rarely lucid mother, now in a nursing home, a teenage boy whose brain cancer has him teetering on the rim edge of imminent death, hordes of hucksters looking for a quick buck and skeptics looking for a quick headline, a boss who makes Simon Lagree look like the tooth fairy, a doctor who repays a great kindness with his own unexpected generosity, and a certain in-house detective who hasn’t been able to maintain a relationship beyond the expiration date on a carton of milk but finally finds love, forgiveness, and peace. 

Peppered with excerpts from Nathan Hurst’s journal, a trademark Evans technique, The Gift is a story of healing in all its various phases and forms.  The book, which can be easily read in an uninterrupted afternoon, quickly engages the reader who learns along with Hurst that “no hurt is so great that love cannot heal it” – and that Christmas “is indeed the season of miracles.”

In The Gift Evans returns to what he does best: skillful, heartfelt, first-person storytelling.  Evans has an unusual talent for crafting a tale in such a way that you feel as if he’s seated across from you at your kitchen table, sipping a cup of coffee and telling you his own story.  The Gift includes some unusual plot twists and turns, but focuses on themes of love, loss, tragedy, hurt and healing.  Skillfully woven throughout the entire story is a gentle message of hope.   As Elizabeth opines in the Epilogue:

“In the end, love wins” says Hurst – or is it Evans? – “There could be no greater message of Christmas than that.” 

In other words, as Richard himself says: “In the end, Love wins.”


Visit my sidebar under “Richard Paul Evans” for more recommendations, or click on:


Read-Alongs is on hiatus through summer.  Hope to pick up again in the fall!


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