The Ten Books That Have Changed My Life – Here’s Why (Follow-Up Post)

Follow up Post to the previous entry (with cover pictures) of the 10 books that have changed my life or my thinking. 

Here are the reasons why:


1. The Bible.

Obviously, this is on the list, first and foremost.  The Bible is the only inspired, inerrant Word of God.  I will never be finished reading it, I wish I could memorize it all, and I came to know my Lord Jesus Christ, have an ongoing relationship with God, and live life in a more godly way because of it.


2. Give Them Grace: Dazzling Your Kids With the Love of Jesus by Elyse M. Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson

This book reinvents parenting, by bringing it back to before it was invented.  By taking truths ONLY from the Bible, it’s embarrassing to realize it’s that easy.  In clear ways, Elyse and her daughter Jessica show us how to speak the gospel to our children over and over again from day one, how to live a gospel-centered life where grace covers all, and how to train your children to see their need for a Savior from infancy.  My speech and actions were changed in how I deal with my children, a load was taken off of my back, and Biblical words were put in my mouth.  By the grace of God, my oldest daughter became saved at the age of 3, and I attribute that to God using this book to teach me how to share the good news with her, and how to have all of my parenting point to Jesus.  I can’t recommend this book enough.  Every Christian parent should read it.  I’ve read it through twice, and it’s all underlined and marked up.


3. One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Life Fully Right Where You Are by Ann Voskamp

Again, some times the simplest things are the most profound.  In gushy, artistic language that you get used to and learn to love, Ann writes about the beauty in everything God has given us, and how being thankful can truly change your life.  Take her challenge, learn to make lists of thankfulness, teach your kids to be grateful… It totally changed our family’s life.  Now, whenever my girls whine and cry, I have them list five things they are thankful for.  Their spirits brighten up by the end of it.  When I’m feeling depressed or discouraged, I list things I’m grateful for in the back of her book.  A family member, going through teenage angst, used to not go to bed until she had listed five things she was thankful for every day.  Some days, she said, she was so mad at the world that she could only list things like “silverware,” but there was always something.  Always something to thank God for.  Always something to bring hope.  This idea of gratitude changed my life.


4. The Giver by Lois Lowry

The Giver is also my favorite book, and always will be.  I read it at the age of 14, and there were just so many new concepts in it for me.  Totalitarianism, the struggle between security and freedom, and Jonas’ moral dilemma to save a baby from infanticide, forcing his community to remember reality, were all mind-bending things for me at that age.  Lowry’s trilogy (now a quartet!) brought Jonas’ story full circle until the earth was wicked again and needed someone to die in everyone’s place.  I emailed the author, Lois Lowry, personally, and said, “You seem to understand man’s depravity and need for a savior.  Do you know that Jesus came to die for your sins?  Your books could be more complete if you understood the gospel message here.  I’d love for you to hear that.”  She told me, “YOU write that gospel book.”  Inspired and motivated by her rejection of Christ, yet promotion of my cause, I DID go on to write a few novels, all with the mission of showing sin, justice, and mercy, and with a desire to change hearts. 


5. A Wrinkle in Time and the sequel, A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeleine L’Engle

Be watching for my book review on A Wrinkle in Time!  I’m re-reading and reviewing it right now.

Also, be aware that L’Engle is a Universalist, however (feeling like all roads get to heaven), so there are a few non-Christian concepts in these books.

A Wrinkle in Time and A Swiftly Tilting Planet (the first two in her series about Meg and Charles Wallace) changed my thinking because they were the first sci/fi, scientific, deep books of their kinds that I read. Not only was I impressed with the immense imagination of the author, but A Swiftly Titling Planet, where they go into the human body and heal it, while not really biblical, was amazingly intense, well-thought-out, and deeply artistic, in a sense where I praised God for the details of what He had created. I was also impressed that a woman could write so scientifically and imaginatively in a field that, before her time, had been so dominated by men. I’m not a feminist, but I think that L’Engle was probably INTJ (Myers-Briggs personality that usually belongs to computer-oriented, science-loving men :-P), and that’s a rare type for women. Her brain worked in ways I had only heard men do up to that point, and I was impressed and learned a lot of depth-writing from her.


6. A Gown of Spanish Lace by Janette Oke

On first glance, this book just looks like a Stockholm-syndrome romance.  But there’s much more to it than that.  I read it when I was 12 or 13, and the other concepts were new.  The main character is kidnapped and imprisoned in a small, dark place.  She spends her time reciting Scripture that she memorized over the years, and it keeps her sane.  I was struck by how powerful the Word of God is, and how important memorization is.  If I were alone in silence and darkness, my mind would turn to the Scripture as well.  Also, her kidnapper is tenderhearted to her and the gospel, and is unaware why he has always had a softer conscience than his criminal peers.  Come to find out, his mother prayed over him and sang hymns and read Scripture to him his entire time in the womb.  Of course I’m not superstitious that this actually softens a person’s heart in adulthood, but we also know that the Word does not go out void, and that God answers prayers.  This settled in my mind so firmly that, over a decade later, when I was twice as old, I still remembered this book, and my husband and I read our devotions out loud to our unborn daughters every day of their pregnancies, both of us praying over them out loud.  The novel also has an interesting twist, in my opinion.  I realized that I didn’t actually own this book, recently, when I was making up this list, and so I just purchased it for my home.  Can’t wait to read it again!  I’ll try to review it for my book review website, as well.


7. 31 Days of Praise by Warren and Ruth Myers

Just like “One Thousand Gifts,” I am convinced that no one can not love God or walk around with a bad attitude while reading this book.  Broken down into short two-page days, 31 Days of Praise takes Scripture and teaches you how to praise God with it.  First, they point out all of the amazing attributes of who God is, and secondly, talk about all of the many things God has done for us, all worded in a personal prayer straight from your heart to God’s.  The Bible verses are always listed for reference and further study.  I am on my second copy of this.  I mark it up as I go, with things that move me or things I find hard to believe that God would actually do for me (awe-inspiring).  Everything about it is immensely worshipful.  I am glad to see how my faith has been stretched since starting my second book and comparing my notes with the first one. 


8. The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom

I was given this book when I wasn’t even double digits yet.  I tended to be a fearful child who liked to stay sheltered, but, for some reason, this story didn’t scare me.  Corrie ten Boom’s experience with the Nazis was a complete testimony to God’s faithfulness, and her life was fascinating.  I have a leather-bound copy and, as a child, I used to read over it often.  The difficult topics were delivered with a gentle realism that points the reader to God’s Sovereignty, without leaving me with a fear of people.  Corrie’s sister, Betsie, is one of my favorite people to ever walk this earth.  For years, I had a hand-drawn (one of the best art pieces I’ve done!) picture of her hanging in my room.  Her sweet spirit and devotion to God shone out of my rendition of her, and her face kept me on the straight and narrow.  I can’t wait to meet her in heaven.  She is my number one hero.


9. Elsie Dinsmore (and the Elsie series) by Martha Finley

It amused me that all of my friends, except my husband, hated Elsie Dinsmore.  They probably read the theologically shaky second volume and stopped there, but the Elsie series was a lot more than that.  Even book 2 led me to good theological debates with my parents.  (What if my conscience is stricter than theirs?  What if they ask me to do something against my conscience that doesn’t actually exist in Scripture?  etc.)  Elsie, instead of annoying me with her perfection, motivated me to do right.  I don’t know if it’s a personality difference, but, in my case, I liked having a godly role model to read about.  I always felt more inspired to walk closer with the Lord and fight the good fight after reading an Elsie book.  Later volumes focus on Elsie’s granddaughter Lulu, and those were amazing.  Lulu is a very realistic, strong-willed child, and the lessons I took from her struggle with her sin, on some days, felt written just for me.  As the books got more and more into just history textbooks with little character development, I began to lose interest, but I can boast owning the entire collection.  I plan to read them through to my children some day.


10. Missionary Patriarch: The True Story of John G. Paton

I was a voracious fiction reader as a child, and really cared little for non-fiction unless it was a missionary story written in an exciting way. (This has since changed since marriage and becoming a parent!  Now I need those godly nonfiction books more than ever!)  Therefore, Mom had to assign me John G. Paton for school (I was homeschooled) to get me to read it.  I was very disconcerted by the thickness of the book, and went into it assuming it to be very dry.  I was taken aback by Paton’s voice, which was straightforward and relevant.  His time with the South Sea Cannibals was interesting, of course, but it was actually his mission work before that that moved me the most.  Paton was a tee-totaler (meaning, no alcohol ever) due to the sordid lifestyles he witnessed on the Scotland streets where he lived.  His work to get the people sober and give them occupations, as well as extended family struggles we were going through with relatives at the time, convinced me to make a promise to God and myself to never touch a drop of alcohol.  This definitely made a big mark on my life.


Leave me a comment on your thoughts or books that have changed your life.  If I get enough comments, I’ll leave a bonus: the one book that had such a negative impact on my life that I made it into a positive thing to learn and grow from.


“I’m talking about you being damaged. I’m talking about the kind of damage that causes you to do the things you do. That’s the only reason I’m here. I think you’re mentally ill. You must be. I think you need help.” – Unthinkable, by Nancy Werlin


Please read the list on my website, Captive Thoughts, for all of the gory details in this novel, to decide if this is a clean enough book for you and yours.

This is my own personal review of this novel.

WARNING: Descriptions of rape, sexuality, and abuse – Not an article for children

WARNING: Spoilers

Nancy Werlin. She was one of those teen fiction writers who, as a young adult, fascinated me.

I wouldn’t have called any of her novels my favorites. There was always something too cruel, too raw, and too blunt about her writing. There were things that caused me to squirm – realistic, dirty, gritty things in the hearts of human beings that she was able to point out and write boldly about. I valued her novels in the same way one would peruse a psychiatric journal for fun. It was like a train wreck you couldn’t look away from. One that left you a little more educated on the dark side of life.

Her book, The Killer’s Cousin, received an Edgar Award (named for Edgar Allen Poe, it is awarded to the best fictional mysteries). I was awed by the depths she went to to understand a human heart. Awed, but saddened, as none of her characters ever realized their own truly sinful nature and sought help from Jesus Christ, the healer of hearts.

Nancy Werlin’s books were part of my inspiration for my novel, Angel-Lover. Let’s take a troubled teen and bring him to his lowest, darkest, and most depressed moments.  Except, in my book, I then have him logically look upward. I let him see that Jesus Christ is his only answer, otherwise life was meaningless.

When I found that Nancy Werlin had tried her hand at a fantasy series, I was excited. I was prepared for brutality and wicked villains as well as humanly evil protagonists.

No one is a “good guy” in a Nancy Werlin novel, and isn’t that realistic? For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  (Romans 3:23)

The library only carried Unthinkable, the companion book to Werlin’s original, Impossible. It was able to stand alone, even if the reader had not read Impossible, so I checked it out.

And it disappointed on quite a few levels.

Nancy has given her main character a strange situation, but it’s a case that seems familiar to any of us who have turned on the news lately. Thinking about the Ariel Castro case, as well as the fact that Elizabeth Smart just released a book, Werlin’s character, named Fenella Scarborough, is a face and story we’ve seen on the news. Her situation is only exaggerated.

At barely seventeen years of age, enticed by her hearty laugh and physical beauty, (which seems to resemble his mother’s appearance? This is, sadly, never explained) a love-starved, wicked, abandoned “mud creature,” – a creature born of a human and a fairy – falls for her. Out of his lust for someone to care about him, and because his red-headed fairy mother abandoned him at birth and ignored him ever after, this man creature chose red-headed, happy-go-lucky Fenella to be his. After killing her fiancé, he whisks her away and curses her and all of her female descendants to serve as his slaves.

Before their eighteenth birthday, each girl, in the Scarborough line, falls pregnant, usually due to rape, and then, if they are not able to solve three riddles, they are brought to him to serve him until their own daughter turns eighteen. Then they are killed. Fenella, however, is cursed with longevity, so she gets to watch this horror over and over again for twenty generations, and it is implied that she herself is also the subject of sexual and emotional abuse during this entire period of four hundred years.

It’s a dire plight. Painful to think about. Yet I was prepared for the emotional aspect to be broken down competently and with insight into what a human being would actually do in this impossible scenario.

But, as Unthinkable begins, the curse has already been broken and Fenella has been freed from her fairy abuser. Now she just wants to die in peace and escape the cruel world she has been a part of for far too long. She says that “Life is death. Life is destruction. Life is meaningless.”

The queen of the fairies tells her that her only hope to break her longevity curse is to commit three acts of destruction on her surviving family. And, if she embarks on this quest and fails, they will end up back with the evil fairy captor, cursed once again. Fenella’s lust for death is so strong that she willingly takes this upon herself, instead of living out her days in peace and safety. She visits the last of her descendants and begins to destroy their lives.

Her list of destruction includes burning houses down, running over people with a car, attempting to kill pets, trying to seduce male members of the family, and kidnapping babies. Fenella is, at first glance, a pretty despicable character, yet she is one we see come out of abusive homes and into the foster care system far too often.

I think that Nancy Werlin has given us a scarred and broken character, something she is good at doing. However, she failed us by refusing to flesh Fenella out, to stop and tackle the heart issues, and to accurately point out the intensive help someone needs when they have been victims of abuse.

Fenella meets a man during her time of deceitful destruction with her family. He is a random veterinarian. And I emphasize random. The man has so little purpose in the story besides to be someone that gets Fenella’s sexual desires racing. It’s shocking.

I was convinced that the vet was really the evil fairy kidnapper. I was so sure that I had stumbled upon a seriously beguiling plot twist, that I kept reading when I probably should have closed the book.

What a novel that would have been, in my opinion! Fenella is held captive by a “man” whose parents abandoned him, who deemed him unworthy to survive due to his mixed “race,” and who is starved for love and affection. After years of rape and abuse, and seeing all of her descendants abused, Fenella longs for death to escape her shame and horror, even though she is freed from her captor. Yet, while pursuing death, she meets him in disguised form. He is tender, vulnerable, and kind. He woos her and she falls for him legitimately, only to find out she has an aggravated form of Stockholm Syndrome and the man has a real, albeit twisted, and heavily tainted love for her underneath his abusive behavior. And that, as she hurts and controls others, she is really no better than he at heart.  She could then learn to forgive, learn to walk away, and truly free herself from the emotional captivity where she’s still a prisoner.

But NO. None of this is the case.

Walker, the vet, is just an ordinary man. Fenella and Walker barely even know each other’s first names before they’re kissing each other, feeling each other up, and leaping onto each other, discussing sex.

We see classic signs of the sexual victim here.

Fenella, for the first time in four hundred years, has found a man who SHE can control sexually. And she does so. Without even knowing him, learning to love him, or being honest with him, she pays attention only to his looks, uses him and throws herself on him, controlling every aspect of the relationship, forcing herself physically over and over again. Many times Walker is completely trapped by his own male lusts, angry and hateful that Fenella is so blatantly seducing him, yet powerless to turn away. Fenella has become the sexual abuser with a captive of her own. Thus the cycle continues.

Instead of this being a novel where Fenella discovers that about herself, mourns the sexual abusive circle of life that has continued, and comes to understand and forgive her captor, this instead reads like a borderline erotic novel. There are pages of selfish cruelty, where Fenella steals, lies, and destroys all to fulfill her own purposes, not repenting of her selfishness until the very end. Then, completely unrealistically, she is only spared from committing suicide due to a fairy prince feeling badly for her and giving her a simple chiding.

Fenella never sees the true error of her ways, never receives counseling over the abuse she has suffered, and instead rationalizes the cruelty she bestows upon her own family. In the end, instead of true repentance, we see her admit herself worthy of death, and then suddenly change her mind after the fairy prince’s small correction. She then chooses to return to her family and apologize, assuming she will continue to pursue and control the relationships around her, including that of the vet, Walker. Walker, himself, seems captivated by her for no reason at all, and is unable to pull himself away from being victimized by a very disturbed woman. We see no heartfelt soul-searching and no forgiveness come from the very bitter Fenella. No forgiveness of herself or her captor. The ending is very rushed.

The fairy queen, who has been helping and observing Fenella all of this time, has something wise to say to her at one point. When Fenella excuses her choices, saying her selfish destruction of those dearest her is for a good cause, the queen remarks, “Do you think that good intentions excuse bad action? Going into destruction, honorable or not – is it allowable to destroy one person to save many?” However, instead of convicting Fenella, who feels the rebuke keenly, she then goes on to nullify her words by saying that she is happy Fenella has taken control of her life, even if it means doing people evil. “Life changes people anyway. People are already damaged. And people get over it” the queen basically adds, her worldview completely devoid of hope. She condones Fenella’s selfishness with a shrug about humans always being able to recover. She feeds into Fenella’s self-centered resolve.

At the very end, Fenella throws a random reproof at the fairy kingdom for not caring for or helping her captor back when he was a child. This is an afterthought. Never is she truly sorry inside of herself for not pursuing her captor’s broken heart or his mother to repair the damage done to him. The evil fairy’s motives are never discussed. He dies instantly when she breaks the longevity curse, while calling out to her, “I always loved you!  I would’ve loved you forever,” and she thinks, “Good riddance.” He is a horrible, terrible, creature, but any human being has the capacity to become a bully or be abusive.  Fenella herself has already embraced the path of a bully and abuser.

What would have been more interesting is if she had pursued the abandonment angle, choosing to show her captor Christ’s forgiveness and to try to get him help. (It is implied that he was seriously alone and friendless.) His death seems futile, as Fenella learns not a single lesson from all of her ordeal, but turns into an abuser herself. Instead we see her living out her days in hatred and loathing of herself, him, and everyone around them. She is even jealous of the descendant who breaks the curse, instead of being relieved that she and hers are now freed. She thinks back to her original first daughter who hated her and wished her dead. It is the motivation for the entire book. In shame and loathing of herself, Fenella wishes herself dead to fulfill her daughter’s bitterness. Fenella’s sudden change of mind to live, at the end of the novel, seems completely out of place in an effort to throw up a sloppy happy ending.

A Christian influence, a look at heart attitudes, and a proper discussion of victim behavior could have saved this book. It would have been great for the characters to acknowledge their faults, see their sin, and change. Even just a realization that sins can be cyclical would have been profitable.

Instead, Unthinkable is a cruel, dark, erotic look at a victim-turned-abuser with no plans to truly change her heart. The fairy tale happy ending is a joke.