An Unexpected Christmas: Stories of Holidays Wrapped in Miracles, Mishaps, and Mischief by Daphne Tarango

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me.

An Unexpected Christmas: Stories of Holidays Wrapped in Miracles, Mishaps, and Mischief by Daphne Tarango

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

(Click the title to find the book description/blurb.)

The circumstances don’t have to be perfect in order for Christmas to be just right. Daphne Tarango and a bundle of co-authors share stories of Christmases that came together in ways they didn’t anticipate in An Unexpected Christmas: Stories of Holidays Wrapped in Miracles, Mishaps, and Mischief.

I found this book listed as fiction, but I wouldn’t call it that. Instead of fictional short stories, this is actually a collection of true, inspirational memoirs with some of the people’s real identities disguised. While that isn’t exactly what I was looking for, I enjoyed this fairly quick read anyway.

Some of these accounts delightfully surprised me, particularly a few of the deft, poignant moments and excellent endings, and “A Christmas Racket” is one of my favorites of the bunch. I also got a kick out of the flair of Latin American heritage included. The book does have some punctuation and letter case errors, but they’re not excessive.

Here’s a good read for anyone who’d like a collection of short holiday accounts with faith woven in.

 

I’ve Seen the End of You: A Neurosurgeon’s Look at Faith, Doubt, and the Things We Think We Know by W. Lee Warren, MD

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me. I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher for an honest review.

I’ve Seen the End of You: A Neurosurgeon’s Look at Faith, Doubt, and the Things We Think We Know by W. Lee Warren

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

(Click the title to find the book description/blurb.)

Dr. W. Lee Warren, an Iraq War veteran and practicing brain surgeon, has struggled with how to give hope to his brain cancer and head injury patients after looking at their grave test results and thinking, “I’ve seen the end of you.” Dr. Warren combines several of his patients’ medical stories with a stretch of his own tough journey of faith in his memoir, I’ve Seen the End of You: A Neurosurgeon’s Look at Faith, Doubt, and the Things We Think We Know.

When approaching a hard, tragic read like this, rather than waiting for the author to give me a bunch of perfect, definitive answers to life’s difficult questions, I come looking to see how another human being processes something that everyone faces in some form at one time or another. Seeing how someone else finds light through their dark experiences can give us a little more light for our own.

Fair warning to the squeamish that the medical content in the book can get pretty graphic, and to anyone who may be expecting only literal accounts, the author does use fictitious representatives and composites of several individuals to protect the identities of real people.

But the stories are true, as is the author’s journey. Now, he rehashes some of the same basic statements and questions a number of times, and there are places where he seems to wander while figuring out what to say next or where to stop. I feel that certain points he makes get a little lost; they would have been stronger and easier to remember if the book had been condensed, more concise.

Nevertheless, several of the author’s thoughts echo my own, such as his views on handing Christian platitudes to grieving people, and the danger of building one’s faith on the erroneous assumption that belief in God is supposed to exempt believers from tragedy. No, this isn’t a pleasant read that offers easy fixes, but ultimately, it’s still a message of hope, shining light through darkness.

 

White Picket Fences: Turning toward Love in a World Divided by Privilege by Amy Julia Becker

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me. Tyndale House provided me with a complimentary copy of this book from NavPress for an honest review.

White Picket Fences: Turning toward Love in a World Divided by Privilege by Amy Julia Becker

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

(Click the title to find the book description/blurb.)

And now, as I confront the harm to me, to my friends and family, and to countless others by a social structure that has been built on exclusion, do I want to get well?

It’s a loaded question author Amy Julia Becker asks in White Picket Fences: Turning toward Love in a World Divided by Privilege. I didn’t choose to read this book because I think I’m the target audience for it. I’m not. But I was interested in hearing this author’s perspective.

Yet, when it comes to those who are the closer targets for this book, it will likely require some “pushing past” to even pick it up and open it.

Pushing past the indifference or skepticism that says privilege isn’t a big deal, or that it might not be a real thing, or that it’s merely a divisive or hot button term attached to a political agenda. Pushing past the fear-based discomfort that says to avoid the topic, or the fear-based hopelessness that says privilege is so longstanding, so ingrained, and so prevalent that there’s no point in trying to change things now.

If you are indeed someone who flinches at the mention of privilege, know that this isn’t a book meant to demonize you. To make you feel guilty about your skin color or for being born to a particular social status. And be advised that the author doesn’t limit her discourse here to the subject of race.

It feels a little severe to call it a “discourse,” though, and it almost seems out of place to say I enjoyed it. But for someone who mostly reads fiction, this book often made me feel like I could have been reading an understated but affecting contemporary novel. Becker has a lovely writing style, and she addresses tough, complex issues with grace and nuance.

A book well worth pushing past discomfort to read.

 

The End of Youngblood Johnson by Aaron Johnson

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me.

The End of Youngblood Johnson by Aaron Johnson with Jamie Buckingham

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

(Click the title to find the book description/blurb.)

Immediately I felt the rush in my stomach. I knew I had killed myself. I tried to get up but could not move. Youngblood Johnson was dying.

For someone who doesn’t read a ton of memoirs, it’s almost strange how engrossed I get whenever I read this one from the 1970s, The End of Youngblood Johnson by Aaron Johnson (as told to Jamie Buckingham.) I’ve read the book three times now.

I mean, if it were a movie, it might be one I’d personally pass on watching. Heroin addiction is absolutely no joke, and Johnson’s earlier life as a junkie wasn’t any joke either. Add in some broken families, poverty, violence, pimps and prostitutes, crooked preachers, crooked cops, jail time–and you’ve got anything but a pleasant, feel-good story on your hands.

Yet, this is a real story. A story of faith that someone actually lived. And, no, the memoir isn’t exactly a pretty one, but life isn’t always pretty.

I don’t read books that seem messy for the sake of mess, books that go into salacious or gory details apparently just to shock my senses. But there are a lot of people who won’t know or imagine just how far redemption can reach if redeemed folks gloss over or remain silent about the dark places they’ve been redeemed from.

So, no, this isn’t a book for the faint of heart. It’s a tragic but ultimately touching and memorable account of one man’s passage from darkness into light.