Feb 1, 2016

January Book Reviews


January ushered in a whole new year of possibilities . . . and a whole lot of books I wanted to dive into! I read 6 books this month, the most I have ever read in a month. Luckily, they were all fantastic! All six books held a common thread of hope amidst hard circumstances.
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Orphan Train
Christina Baker Kline

A brilliantly written story of two vastly different women who are drawn to friendship because of similar circumstances that brings hope in each of their lives. Molly is an 18 year old foster child who has trouble trusting or opening up to anyone because of her history of neglect and being stuck in the foster care system. Vivian is a 91 year old woman who was a rider on the orphan trains of the early 1900s that travelled from New York to rural Midwest America hoping she'd find someone to call 'family'.

I didn't know that orphan trains existed in our nation's history and this historical novel was captivating as much as it was educational. The fictional story was heartbreaking at times, but there was also plenty of hope that kept it from being surrounded just by doom. There are some heavy subjects in the book (an attempted rape) so it was difficult to read at times, but the overall story is so gripping and tells of a time in America's history that I was unaware of, so I truly enjoyed it and learned so much.

My rating: 5/5
Check out this book on Amazon  
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Joni: An Unforgettable Story
Joni Eareckson Tada, Joe Musser

I had heard of Joni (pronounced 'Johnny' after her dad) for several years and finally decided to check out her autobiography from the library. What I found in the short, but truly unforgettable story left a deep imprint on me. Joni became paralyzed from the upper chest down after a tragic diving accident when she was nearing the end of high school. She had her life planned out --- and then her life changed in an instant. Joni honestly shares struggling with depression on and off the first few years after the accident as she tried to process the reality of being paralyzed for the rest of her life. She even reflects back on several times she wanted to take her own life because she had no hope. She lost her hope in God and tried to find hope in other religions, but nothing gave her any hope. She eventually was drawn back to the Bible and to God Himself, where she found hope, joy, and purpose.

Joni became known for her meticulous drawings that she drew with a pencil in her mouth. Her art brought her fame and she was able to use that fame to proclaim the gospel to hundreds of thousands with her books, radio broadcast, and interviews. She started different organizations and ministries for people with handicaps, including an organization that donated wheelchairs around the world and a camp for families with a person who is handicapped to give respite and rest from the everyday struggles they face. Her humility and palpable joy found in God are inspiring. I look forward to reading more by this remarkable woman who does not let paralysis dim or overshadow her desire to love God and love others.

My rating: 5/5
Check out this book on Amazon
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The Children of Willesden Lane: Beyond the Kindertransport: A Memoir of Music, Love, and Survival
Mona Golabek, Lee Cohen

Don't let the lengthy title sway you from this book; it is an absolute gem, especially for musicians! Mona tells the story of her mother's journey from Austria to England aboard to Kindertransport and her life during WWII. The Kindertransport was a train that took Jewish children in Nazi-occupied areas to England for safety. Lisa Jura, Mona's mom, was  a pre-teen when she was chosen from her two siblings to go to England, with the hope that her sisters and parents would join soon. This true, inspirational story follows her during the years at a home for displaced and orphaned children they called Willesden Lane. Lisa was taught classical piano in Austria, home of musical giants, and when she was in London, she was able to encourage her housemates and neighbors with her music. When war eventually hit England with the infamous London Blitz (hours of Nazi bombing that lasted eight months from September 19040-May 1941), Lisa did her best to serve her adopted country through her work at a factory and her music at home as she anxiously awaited new of her family.

Mona Galbek, a pianist herself, used classical piano pieces to highlight different events in the book and it was a layer atop the memoir that was so meticulously written and intertwined. I found an online teaching resource to better understand the book (targeted towards school children, but hey, it taught me!) that also included recordings of Mona playing musical pieces mentioned in the book that her mom had played during different parts of her story. You can access those resources HERE.

My rating: 5/5
check out this book on Amazon
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A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Betty Davis

This has easily become one of my favorite historical novels ever read. Smith writes exquisitely, diving into a world similar to her own as a girl growing up in the slums of Brooklyn at the turn of the century. There's heartbreak and the realities of poverty in this coming-of-age story, but there's also laugh-out-loud candor of life seen from the eyes of a child who grows up among the almost 500 pages of this lovable, American classic novel. I  loved every page and was captured by Smith's intricate details of everyday, mundane events as well as life-changing moments that formed the character of young heroine, Francie Nolan.

Francie's innocence as she experiences life, death, and everything in between gives a fresh and somewhat idealistic perspective on the human experience. Smith describes Williamsburg, Brooklyn is such colorful ways that the reader can almost imagine what life what have been like in the early 1900s, from the neighborhood bar to the penny candy shop, to the grubby children picking up junk of the streets to sell at the local pawn shop for a few pennies. She paints a brilliant canvas upon which the Nolan family is depicted, filled with bittersweet moments. It's a long read, but it is well worth it!

My rating: 5/5 
check out this book on Amazon
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The Little Paris Bookshop: A Novel
Nina George
Monsieur Jean Perdu sells books he prescribes for customers for life's hardships and heartaches afloat his bookstore, Literary Apothecary, a barge (river boat) docked on the Seine in Paris. He has an uncanny ability to sense what book each customer needs and his love for literature helps him keep his own broken heart at bay. But when circumstances cause him to finally read a letter from his beloved, who had left unexpectantly twenty-one years prior leaving nothing but this letter, he begins on a journey to mend his broken heart and discover if he is ready to start a new chapter in his life. He departs Paris with his barge, floating south towards the Provence along with two companions, a young bestselling author who is stumbling over a serious case of writer's block and an Italian chef searching for his lost love. 

Nina George had me at 'Paris' and 'bookshop'. This charming story is filled with picturesque descriptions of many of France's most exquisite and enchanting landscapes including Paris, Avignon, Merseilles, and Toulon. The characters are honest in the ways they each process their own pain and fears. There is plenty of light-hearted moments as well, so it is well-rounded and not a sad book at all. The only thing I did not appreciate were the sexual references, mostly in memories of Perdu's old love.  They were not overtly graphic, but enough where I was a bit squeamish.

My rating: 4/5


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What Women Fear: Walking in Faith That Transforms
Angie Smith
A great book about the fears that grip our hearts and the God who is bigger than any fear.

I reviewed this book for January's #Collaboreads. See it HERE

My rating: 5/5
Check out this book on Amazon


* Disclosure: Any Amazon purchases made through using the Amazon links  in this post will give Beautiful Hope Blog a small compensation. 
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Currently Reading:

All The Light We Cannot See 
(Anthony Doerr)

The 5 Love Languages
(Gary Chapman)

2 comments:

  1. Orphan Train had me feeling ALL the feels! It was so so good and I agree definitely 5/5. I read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn years ago but now I want to re-read it again!!

    ReplyDelete
  2. I enjoyed Orphan Train and The Five Love Languages. I want to read the Little Paris Bookshop.

    ReplyDelete

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Elle Alice