May 3, 2016

April Book Reviews





Dear Mr. Knightley
Katherine Reay

A dash of Jane Austen, a pinch of Jane Eyre, and a heap of real life circumstances that are brilliantly explored in this sweet novel written in epistolary form (the novel is almost completely written as letters to Mr. Knightley). Samantha Moore is a young adult with painful childhood memories and harsh realities of being moved around within the foster care system from home to home because of lack of connecting to families. She copes and hides through her long-distance running and behind the  characters in her favorite novels. When given an opportunity by a mysterious donor (Mr. Knightley)  for a full-ride scholarship for a grad school's journalism program, she accepts. She meets friends along the way that push her farther than she has ever been willing to go and begins to see that her carefully laid out plans and hiding behind her fictional characters are not going to allow her to truly experience freedom and find her true voice.

This is a great read for people who love novels but do not want fluff or shallow plots. Sam deals with really raw emotions that are very well expressed by Katherine Reay. Her journey is not always a happy one but it is not a negative or depressing book in the least. It's real, raw, honest, and absolutely beautiful. There are several parts that reminded me of God's overflowing grace over my life even though I have done nothing to deserve it. Great novel with a great message, written by a great author! (I read her novel, Lizzy and Jane last month and loved it too! See the review HERE)

My rating: 5/5
Click here to see this book on Amazon


A Thousand Splendid Suns
Khaled Hosseini

From the author of The Kite Runner comes a gripping tale of the friendship of two women with vastly different upbringing who are married to the same abusive man. Spanning thirty years (from the Soviet invasion of the 1970s to the recent Taliban control)  in a small town in Afghanistan, their heartbreaking yet powerfully compelling story is beautifully and hauntingly written by the one of the best storytellers of our time, Khaled Hosseini.

I listened to this book by audiobook and it was superbly narrated. It broke my heart to hear reminders of how women can be treated so cruelly in cultures that place women as fairly more valuable than livestock. This is shown by the two women's husband, Rasheed, as well as the notorious, heartless Taliban. The cruelty of war coupled with the dangers of being a woman caused these women to experience much loss and heartbreak. But against all odds, their friendship brought hope. As a disclaimer, this book does deal with some really tough, heartbreaking issues such as rape within marriage and domestic violence. It's a hard book to get through, but Khaled doesn't share the heart wrenching scenes without reason. He weaves together the heartbreak with the hope of a better future that made it worth it to me.

My rating: 5/5
Click here to see this book on Amazon


The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming
Henri J.M. Nouwen

Henri was forever changed when he saw a reproduction of Rembrandt's painting, Return of the Prodigal Son in 1983. This began a spiritual journey in which he discovered himself as both the younger son and elder son. As he studied the painting, the painter, and the parable, he discovered the Father in a whole new way that helped heal and redeem broken areas of his life. The love of the Father who welcomed his youngest son and invited his elder son to join in the celebration gave him a clearer picture of God's unfailing love for him as a perfect Father. In this beautifully written book, he shares different things he has learned along his journey as well as how he was forever changed by the parable of the lost son.


My rating: 5/5
Click here to see this book on Amazon


Anne of Avonlea (Anne of Green Gables # 2) 
L.M. Montgomery

Anne is a teenager in this second book of the beloved series and she is still managing to get herself in funny scrapes (like getting stuck in a chicken coop because she was trying to peer into someone's kitchen window). She is now a school teacher in Avonlea. There are a pair of young twins now living with her and Marila in Green Gables, one of whom gets into a good share of scrapes himself. And there are lots of new characters, each with their own adventures. This is a fun story and a good pick for anyone who wants to see how Anne's tale continues. It wasn't as laugh-out-loud hilarious or quite as endearing as the first one, but it was still a fun and sweet story. I listened to it through LibriVox, a free audiobook app with classic books read by volunteers. I really, really enjoyed Karen Savage's reading of the book! She brought the tale alive for me and was so easy to listen to.

My rating: 4.5/5
Click here to see this book on Amazon

War of Words: Getting to the Heart of Your Communication Struggles
Paul David Tripp

This is a phenomenal book for anyone who wants to learn to speak in ways that reflect the gospel and God's purpose for our communication. Rather than spouting out how-to's or superficial tips on communicating better, Tripp truly gets to the heart of the matter. He dives into what God intends for our words, then how Satan wants to do the exact opposite, then explores the new agenda for our talk and how to "speak redemptively". He finishes up by explaining how we can truly win the war of words when we humbly seek to seek conflict as opportunities to speak in ways that draws both people to Jesus rather to their own agendas.

It really helped me work through different communication struggles I have, including allowing bitterness to seep into passive-aggressiveness in my conversations, defensiveness and excusing my behavior rather than owning up and validating that I hurt the other person, and seeing that there is hope for my different communication struggles because of what God is able to do amidst my own brokenness when I humbly choose to pursue his agenda for my talk rather than my own. It is not a marriage book per se, but it helped me approach hard conversations with my husband in more healthy, constructive, and loving ways. This book can be useful in any and every relationship you have because the principles are applicable for anyone. The reflective questions at the end of each chapter were really good. They helped me process what I learned with the reality of where my communication struggles are and how I can improve by God's strength and grace. And I really appreciated Tripp's honesty and vulnerability in admitting that he does not have all this stuff down perfectly and shares stories of when he totally blew it. He has a great understanding of Scripture and how it relates to our relationships and our own individual struggles with things like anger, bitterness, self-righteousness, and resentment. It's a book that digs deep and helps excavate sin and negative attitudes that get in the way of our communication being a way to reflect the gospel.  I loved this book and plan on referring to it in the future.

My rating: 5/5
Click here to see this book on Amazon


Forever My Little Girl: Loving Your Daughter for Now and for Always
Karen Kingsbury

This is a sweet book that walks through the joys and challenges of parenting girls from infant to adulthood in a Christian atmosphere. It has a sing-songy rhythm that is accented by a few prayers, Bible verses, and poem throughout the book. The illustrations on each page are beautiful and the language is easy enough for a young daughter to understand but not too childish. It would make a good gift to a daughter of any age, especially a daughter that is stepping into a new stage in life and needs a sweet little reminder of her parents' love and devotion to her.

Disclaimer: I received this book for free from BookLook Bloggers in exchange for an honest review.

My review: 4/5


The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are
Brené Brown

I have been hearing about Brené's newest books a lot in the past few months, so I decided to give one of her older (2010) books a try and was very glad I did! Her vulnerable, honest, and often humorous writing is a breath of fresh air. Even though she is a researcher and professor, she does not pretend to have it all together and that is what makes her so relatable and readable, especially with a book focused on topics like shame and vulnerability. 

Brené explores concepts like shame-resilience, self-compassion, and vulnerability throughout all her books, since these are her main research areas. She shares ten guideposts to Wholehearted Living, her definition of a life lived with those three aforementioned concepts, or, it simply means to live bravely. I journaled my way through each chapter and took a lot out of it. I recommend it for anyone who wants to work through some perfectionism issues and learning to let go of certain unrealistic expectations of yourself so that you can live more joyfully and wholeheartedly. It is not a Christian book, though she adds in some tidbits about how prayer helps her. A lot of her ideas, though, helped me pray through certain things and reminded me of Scripture that correlated with what she found in her research. 

My review: 4.5/5
Click here to see this book on Amazon

Picnic in Provence: A Memoir with Recipes
Elizabeth Bard


Piggybacking off her bestseller, Lunch In Paris, which chronicled her love story with her husband as well as French food, this memoir is just as entertaining and hunger-inducing with all the delicious food talk and recipes. As a small forewarning, she has a bit of a potty-mouth, but I easily overlooked it with all of the rest of the beautiful descriptions of living in a small village in France's Provence region.


Pregnant with her first child about 5 years ago at the same time as Lunch in Paris was published, Bard and her husband needed a vacation. They ventured to Céreste, a tiny southeastern village that is not the usual tourist stop in the region. They fell in love with the small village life and on a whim, decided to buy an old house full of history and charm. What followed was a bit of a mid-life crisis, as they exchanged their Parisian lifestyle for the simplicity of gardening, chatting with retired neighbors, and learning the joys and hardships of parenting. And then, a new business idea is formed and their adventure takes off on a whole new direction as they settle their roots in Céreste.

My review: 5/5
Click here to see this book on Amazon
Click HERE for my review on Lunch In Paris



The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry
Gabrielle Zevin

Fikery is a 40-ish widower who owns a bookshop on an island and basically has nothing to look forward to. His business is tanking, he misses his wife, and by the end of the first chapter, a treasured possession is stolen from his apartment. Soon after, a package arrives that changes everything in his life and the lives of the people who start to enter his once-closed life. 

I was not a fan of this book. There were too many F-bombs and other cussing for my taste. There also seems to be large gaps in the timeline of events that, in my opinion, subtracted from the overall narrative because these crucial lapsed events were important to understanding the character development of A.J. Fikery. He's a cantankerous man at the start of the book and softens up by the second half, but I would have loved to read more about the feelings he develops for certain people in the story that would have better explained the change in his overall mood. It just seemed sudden. I know that is vague, but I don't want to ruin anything. Lastly, there were a few chapters where the point of view changed between a few characters within the same chapter, and it was hard to follow who's viewpoint I was currently reading. I usually love books about books (The Guernsey Literary and  Potato Peel Pie Society, The Little Paris Bookshop, and The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap were all amazing!), but this one fell flat for me. 

My review: 2.5 / 5
Click here to see this book on Amazon


Hairstyled: 75 Ways to Braid, Pin, and Accessorize Your Hair
Annie Thoumieux

This fun hairstyling guide is a great go-to for the days that you need a little pick-me-up for your tresses. There are some great hairstyles for various hair lengths and texture, each with easy-to-follow instructions with plenty of photos. I tried a double-braid style that wrapped around my head like a headband and it turned out pretty good! I look forward to trying some of the more formal hairstyles for the summer weddings I am going to!

Disclaimer: I received this book for free from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

My review: 4.5 / 5 



Under The Red Sky: A Memoir Of A Childhood in Communist Romania
Haya Leah Molnar

This is a beautifully written memoir that dives into the hardships of living in Romania during Communist rule of the late 1950s as Jews, from the persepctive a young girl. Haya, who's parents call Eva when she was a child, shared a little apartment with her parents, and maternal aunt, uncles, and grandparents in the city capital. Her observations and memories are entertaining at times, and heartbreaking at other times. Her parents hid the fact that she is Jewish until she was around eight or nine, so the memoir is a very interesting look at her life during a critical time in her life that she understood more about her family, her Jewish culture, and the turbulent antisemitic atmosphere in Europe at the time.  As a Romanian-American, I learned a lot about the history of Romania during a sad time in her history that I had not known prior. 

My review: 4.5/5 
Click here to see this book on Amazon

____________________________________________

What books did you read in April? Do you recommend any of them? If you are a blogger, comment with your link so I can check out your April reads too!

29 comments:

  1. There are some great picks here. I'm from Tuesday Talk (co-host) and I'll be featuring this post on next week's Tuesday Talk. Thanks for sharing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks so much for including this post last Tuesday, Michelle!

      Delete
  2. Lots of good ones here. I totally agree about AJ Fikry! It was poorly done, especially the ending, and made huge jumps around. I have been surprised by all the glowing reviews.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, it was not my taste, but I am sure there are books that I had glowing reviews of that other people hated. That's one of the great things about books: we all read them from different perspectives and circumstances and some speak out to us while others probably could have been skipped over

      Delete
  3. I loved A Thousand Splendid Suns even though it definitely was a emotionally difficult read. I'm a Jane Austen fan and really want to read Dear Mr. Knightly and Lizzie and Jane!

    Great list -- I'm a nurse and a reader too -- glad to find your blog :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You'll have to let me know what you think about those two books once you read them! I just read Katherine Reay's third book, The Bronte Plot and it was great too, though I preferred the first two.
      And yes! I am a nurse! Its great to hear from a fellow nurse blogger bibliophile :)

      Delete
  4. I just finished The Storied Life of AJ Fickry this morning and I actually loved it; in fact I texted a friend telling her she had to read it because it was the best book I had read all year. Funny how opinions can differ! (I didn't like the cussing but sadly, compared to many other books I've read lately it seemed pretty mild). The book about the prodigal son sound great. I have seen the actual painting and it is very moving.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I am so glad you said that, because you are right: opinions differ and that is the cool thing about reading and sharing reviews is because we all approach books differently and some speak out to us and others don't. Maybe it was also because I read a lot of other books last month and kinda rushed through it/didnt give it time to really capture me? Not sure. And that is so awesome that you have seen the Prodigal Son painting!

      Delete
  5. I hadn't found another person who had read The Return of the Prodigal Son! It's such a thought-provoking book.

    Yours is the first negative review of The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry I've seen. I haven't read it yet, so I'm interested to see if I like it.

    I haven't read The Gifts of Imperfection, but I read Daring Greatly and loved it.

    Thanks for stopping by my blog!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Jessica! I am curious what you think if you end up reading The Storied Life of AJ Fikry! I thought I'd like it but maybe I expected too much out of it. I read a few other books about booksellers recently and maybe was just not feeling it because I was burnt out on that genre? Not sure, but I just wasn't crazy about it

      Delete
  6. Thanks so much for the reviews- I added a few to my "to read" list! I popped over from your comment on my blog (Ellis & Page)- thanks so much! And you should definitely read The Nightingale- hands down the best thing I've read in a few years!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Madeline! Yes, I will definitely read it soon! Thanks!! I have heard so many great things about it! And WWII historical fiction is so fascinating (and heartbreaking) for me. I love learning through reading fiction!

      Delete
  7. I actually enjoyed The Storied Life Of AJ Fikry- there were elements in Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap that reminded me of it. More the humanity of us all and how books can bring that out was my takeaway. =)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Breanne! Lots of people did like it and I did like the similarity to Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap. I agree and like your takeaway. I definitely enjoyed that about the book too!

      Delete
  8. Picnic in Provence sounds right up my alley. Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes! it is such a treat! And if you haven't read Lunch In Paris (by the same author), read that one first! it will make a ton more sense about her journey!

      Delete
  9. I'm going to have to read Under the Red Sky and Picnic in Provence (although maybe not at the same time!)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Jessica! I'd love to hear your thoughts once you read both those books! They're super different from one another, but both SO good!

      Delete
  10. I loved seeing your review of Brené Brown's The Gifts of Imperfection. I LOVED Daring Greatly and recently picked up the audiobook of The Gift's of Imperfection.

    Khaled Hosseini is also a favourite author of mine. If you haven't already read The Kiterunner I highly recommend it, and also his latest book And The Mountains Echoed.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I would love to hear your thoughts once you finish The Gifts of Imperfection! Does Brene narrate the audiobook? Ahh, uses, Khaled is a great storyteller! I have read both of the books you mentioned. I cannot pick a favorite; they are all so so good!!

      Delete
  11. I think we like many of the same type of book. I loved A Thousand Splendid Suns (and Kite Runner) but have not read his newest one yet. And Brene Brown is wonderful. I just read Rising Strong a few months ago and loved it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Jeannie! yes, it looks like we have similar tastes in books! I really liked the latest Khaled novel. They are all so sad but also hopeful too. And I have learned a lot about Afghanistan's history that I otherwise would likely never have known.

      Delete
  12. Great list. I loved Dear Mr. Knightley also. I have seen the A.J. Fickory book around for a while. Thank you for the warning about language.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Jill! Have you read any of Katherine Reay's other books (Lizzy and Jane, The Bronte Plot)? I am excited for her next book to come out soon!

      Delete
  13. I might have to check out A Thousand Splendid Suns. I read And The Mountains Echoed a few years ago.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Kim! Yes, I think its a worthy pick, especial if you have read a book by Khaled before and like his writing. Thanks for stopping by!

      Delete
  14. Thanks for visiting my blog, Elena!
    Looks like you and I have very similar taste. :-) I actually just did an interview with Katherine Reay of Dear Mr. Knightly and Lizzy and Jane (https://notesonbookmarks.wordpress.com/2016/05/11/author-interview-katherine-reay/). Also loved A Thousand Splendid Suns and Brene Brown's Gifts of Imperfection.
    Thanks again for the visit. Happily following you as well now!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. ooh! I will have to check out that interview!! I love her books!

      Delete
  15. Dear Mr. Knightley sounds like a great book. I’m currently reading Jane Austen’s Persuasion (finally!) and so enjoying it. I’ll keep Dear Mr. Knightley on my list.

    War of Words is one of my favorite books. I read it years ago, but return to it every few years because it’s always worthy of a re-read. It's good to be reminded of it here.

    I’m going through The Gifts of Imperfection one chapter at a time this year for my One Word: Welcome. Glad you enjoyed it too.

    Thanks for sharing your list!

    ReplyDelete

I love to hear your thoughts!

Elle Alice