May 31, 2016

May Book Reviews




I had a few reading goals for May: I wanted to re-read a favorite book of mine that was currently on my bookshelf (because if they are favorite, they likely deserve to be re-read, and I haven't re-read many books) and second, to read atleast two books about writing.  I accomplished both of these goals as well as read a few others that quickly became favorites!

Let Me Be A Woman: Notes To My Daughter on the Meaning of Womanhood
Elisabeth Elliot

"In order to learn what it means to be a woman, we must start with the One who made her". This book is one of the most important and influential books I have ever read about being a woman. It's my third time reading it and I am still gleaning pearls of wisdom from a woman who writes with so much wisdom and truth. I first read it as a single girl in my late teens, again as a single girl in my mid-twenties while in grad school and living on my own, and now this month as a newlywed. I will try to read it again every few years, especially when life seasons change since so much more will be applicable and seen in a different light.

As mentioned in the subtitle, Elisabeth Elliot wrote this book in 1976 as a collection of letters for her daughter as a wedding gift. She wrote amidst a climate of uprising feminist ideals, many of which Elliot felt were misguided and detrimental for women rather than liberating. Her letters vary in topics, ranging from Biblical womanhood using the Creation story as a basis, sticky issues like submission and pride, the gift of singleness, and then about half the book is focused on marriage-related topics such as who you marry when you marry a man (a sinner, a man, a husband, a person) and complimentarianism. I believe her words are timeless and especially important to be read and wrestled with today.

My rating: ★★★★★
Check out this book on Amazon
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The Wednesday Wars
Gary D. Schmidt

I heard of this delightful and hilarious YA novel through my favorite podcast, What Should I Read Next? I figured it would be fun to treat myself to a easier read since I had a few thicker and more difficult reads in store for the month. Well, I had no idea I would absolutely, positively love this book! Greg would find me snickering to myself on the couch and read over my shoulder, and he's  start laughing as well.

Holling Hoodhood is a seventh-grader in Long Isalnd, NY during 1967-68 school year. By the first page of the novel (the first day of school), he already emphatically declares his new teacher, Mrs. Baker, hates his guts. On Wednesday afternoons, half the class gets picked up to head to the local synagogue for Bar Mitzvah lessons and the other half is taken to their Catholic church for catechism classes. Poor Holling is a Presbeteryian, and seeing as he has no religious classes to take him out of school, he is left behind, stuck with Mrs. Baker, and told to dust off chalkboard erasers and eventually, discuss Shakespeare plays that he has to read on his own. With a backdrop tension of the Vietnam War as well as family pressure for him to grow up to run his dad's increasingly successful business, Holling has a lot to gripe about -- and boy does this kid know how to gripe! The writing is excellently done by Schmidt, who perfected the art of putting on display the pre-teen angst and drama that makes you happy those awkward years are far behind you!

My rating: ★★★★★
Check out this book on Amazon
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The Brontë Plot
Katherine Reay

This is my third Katherine Reay novel in the past three months, and though it was not my favorite (Dear Mr. Knightley holds that rank), it was still a beautifully written story of redemption, forgiveness, and taking ownership for your mistakes. Reay has a great knack for introducing valuable morals and ideas without being preachy or intolerably cliché. The way she weaves both classical literature (especially books written by the Brontë sisters, hence the title) and C.S. Lewis into her own signature brand of novel writing is really a treat.

Lucy Alling sells rare books but has a shady way of getting her merchandise. When she is found out, her life spirals out of her carefully-planned order and she reluctantly starts the process of wading through the murky waters of dealing with deep-rooted issues in her life. Lucky for her, though, this includes a trip to England(!!!) to help her ex-boyfriend's grandmother uncover some of her own secrets.

My rating: ★★★★☆
Check out this book on Amazon
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Anne of the Island (Anne of Green Gables #3)
L.M. Montomery

I have loved  all three of the Anne books so far and this one is very likely my favorite so far! Anne is in her late teens and is headed to Redmond College where she makes new friends, is admired by a few gents, and still maintains her endearing charm and spunk. Her beloved Avonlea (and all her cherished friends there) still makes plenty of appearances, but it is fun to see her character develop as she learns the ins and outs of living in a college town and the highs and lows of falling in love. I listened to this lovable tale through LibriVox, a free audiobook domain and podcast that has many classic literature read by volunteers. I especially liked the narrator of THIS version, Karen Savage, who also narrated the version of Anne of Avonlea I listened to last month. She was delightful to listen to and really brought the story to life. 
My rating: ★★★★★
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Reading Like A Writer: A Guide For People Who Love Books and For Those Who Want To Write Them
Francine Prose

The title is self-explanatory and the book does a good job overall of using both classical and modern literature to help develop more observant readers. I have not read anything by Francine Prose, but she seemed very knowledgeable and had great insights on different topics such as choosing words, sentence structure, narration styles, believable dialogue, and importance of gestures. I wish there would have been more practical advice for wannabe-writers rather than the in-depth explanations of excerpts she chose to prove her point. I felt lost in the weeds at times and would have loved some pearls of wisdom at the ends of the chapters. 
My rating: ★★★☆☆
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Letters To A Young Poet
Rainer Maria Rilke, translation & forward by Stephen Mitchell

Rainer Maria Rilke was a budding poet when an young aspiring poet started writing to him for writing advice. This short book (my version was 109 pages) is comprised of the ten letters Rile sent to the young poet. This book was recommended to me when I expressed to a friend my goal to read more books about writing. I thought it was kind of Rilke, as an up-and-coming poet, to spend time writing so many letters to this unknown poet and encouragement towards his writing. However, I wasn't blown away by it and only caught a few good pointers I wrote down about writing. This is likely because his advice was more geared toward poetry and I am not a big poetry reader, so I did not connect very much to it. If you like poetry and snooping on famous people's letters, then it is a quick and easy read.
My rating: ★★★☆☆
Check out this book on Amazon
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These Is My Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901
Nancy E. Turner

This book absolutely gripped my heart, squeezed it in different directions, and then wrung it out to dry. It was heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time. I am sorry for all the cardiac metaphors, but it has stolen my heart and may very well be my favorite novel of the past few years. It's been several months since I was so gripped by a book that I gladly traded precious hours of sleep for even more precious hours of reading (All The Light We Cannot See and A Tree Grows In Brooklyn were the last ones to do this). I think it was even more gripping and emotionally captivating because I really had not heard anything about the book other than a quick introduction by Anne Bogel on What Should I Read Next (which is why I added it to my To-Be-Read list in the first place) and did not know what to expect. It had an emotional pull on me in different ways: laughing out loud, suspenseful romance, and tears of sadness. I was a messy balls of tears and praise of the book once I finished, and my sweet husband let me gush (and cry in his arms) because it just made me feel all the feels.

I'll pause my praise for this book and give a synopsis. Sarah is seventeen years old when she and her family leave the Arizona Territories on wagons towards the rumored  Promise Land called Texas. She has taught herself how to read and write, though her grammar has miles to improve (hence the title).  Texas doesn't end up being what they expected and they head back to the Arizona Territories to restart their broken lives after much pain and tragedy from the previous months of traveling that includes some deaths and major injury. In Arizona, the trials are far from over. Sarah and her family endure through countless struggles that were a reality to early settlers in the wild Arizona Territories, including vengeful Native American tribes, illnesses that today would have been easily preventable and treatable, and train robbers. Through it all, Sarah is a remarkably courageous heroine who writes candidly in her journals, expressing fears, insecurities, confusion, and her developing feelings for a man who absolutely adores her. It is probably one of my favorite love stories ever and I love the way the book deals with various mental health issues such as depression, grief, mental breakdown after excruciatingly painful circumstances, and (what I believe is) PTSD. Turner doesn't shy away from really difficult emotions and through her admirable and lovable protagonist, dives into the both the mountain-top joys and the deep, dark struggles of life. If you read this book and love it, there are two more books in the series.

My rating: ★★★★★
Check out this book on Amazon

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Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture
Adam S. McHugh

For those who loved Susan Cain's amazing book on introversion, Quiet, you may remember Adam being interviewed by Susan on the chapter on introversion and spirituality. That's how I heard about this book, and I am so glad I decided to read it. This is an awesome book for both introverts and extroverts alike because it can help anyone better understand some of the struggles that Christian introverts face as well as how to tackle and triumph over them. McHugh writes that introverts have an important place in the Church. He provides many examples of ways that introverts can feel out of place within contemporary Christian culture, including feeling guilty for not being gregarious leaders who are ready for chatting with big groups, feeling drained after loud worship sessions because they prefer quieter atmospheres, and being regarded as cold or unfeeling if they are not constantly engaged in community where they are sharing their struggles. While not giving introverts  Get-Out-of Evangelism-Free or  Don't-Worry-About-Community passes, he explains how churches can help to involve introverts and regard many of the strengths and assets their introverted personalities can provide to balance out churches that are more extroverted. He is convinced and wants to convince his readers, that introverts can thrive and be a blessing for their church and community and in their own personal spiritual life. Regardless of your personality and temperament, God is able to use you and show His love through you. 

I believe McHugh did a great job sharing his point of view without sounding whiny or woe-is-me-for-I-am-an-introvert. He had great points as well as practical things that introverts can do to help them learn more about their own personalities and how they can worship God in ways that are natural to them, whether that includes adding quiet spiritual practices (like lectio divina)  or  pursuing one-on-one gospel conversations with people who are already in your life/ community rather than feeling guilty about being really uncomfortable with striking up conversations with strangers or big groups. 

My rating: ★★★★★
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The Practice of the Presence of God
Brother Lawrence

This is my second re-read this month (the first was Let Me Be A Woman). I  read it first in my early twenties and was inspired by Brother Lawrence's humble way of desiring to serve others in a way that brings worship to God and how he had a continually felt God's presence no matter what he was doing, whether cooking and cleaning at the monastery, praying and reading the Bible, or talking (and writing letters, some of which are included in the book) to others about God's presence. It was a great reminder this time around that I don't have to only be praying or in a church building to be in God's presence. Those are excellent ways to be in His presence, but as Christians, we have the Holy Spirit in us, so His presence is with us whether we are in school, at work, reading a book in our homes, having coffee with a new friend, etc. I want to be more intentional about making space to pause and reflect (taking selah moments) on God's goodness and faithfulness throughout the day, whether for a few seconds during a busy morning or a longer period of quiet time to study and pray through a Bible passage. Brother Lawerence's timeless book, written 300 years ago, has a lasting message that we, in our busy lives today, can definitely learn from.

My rating: ★★★★☆
Check out this book on Amazon
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When Breath Becomes Air
Paul Kalanithi

I first heard of this profound book on Anne Bogel's podcast, What Should I Read Next? and then started seeing it pop up on friend's IG feeds. I hesitated for a few months because I knew the book would be heartbreaking, but eventually I decided it was worth it and checked it out from my local library. I was so glad I did! Paul writes with eloquence and wisdom as he recounts his upbringing and pivotal moments in medical school and residency to become a neurosurgeon (7 years on top of medical school and undgrad!) before he found out about his inoperable lung cancer. With one full year of residency to go after diagnosis as well as a deep desire to write, Paul fought a brave battle against cancer and eventually started writing this book in a race against time once his cancer spread and worsened. His insights, humility, and the ways he sought make sure his wife and child would be taken care of once he was gone, was inspiring. It is a heartbreaking book because it deals with cancer and death, but it is also a beautiful, celebration of a life lived to the hilt and how one life can make a great difference. 

My rating: ★★★★★

 * Disclosure: Any Amazon purchases made through using the Amazon links  in this post will give Beautiful Hope Blog a tiny compensation with no extra cost to you.
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What did YOU read this month? Any recommendations?



23 comments:

  1. That's a lot of books! And a good month of classics and new, fiction and non. I have at least 3 of these on my TBR list!

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    1. Thanks, Kaytee! Yes, it was a good mix of different books! Which books did you add onto your TBR list? happy reading!

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  2. Great list! I think I might read The Wednesday Wars with my oldest son; we often look for books we can read together and both enjoy. This sounds perfect.

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    1. I think you would both enjoy it! It is hilarious and easy engages both young and older readers! I think it will be a fun choice!

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  3. How I love Ms. Elliott and her books. Haven't read one in a while so this will be added to my summer reading list. Thanks for the reviews. Great job!

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    1. Hi Michelle! DITTO! I love anything by Elisabeth Elliot! I would love to hear what you think once you read it! What are some of your favorites of hers?

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  4. Just wanted to let you know you were MOST VIEWED on last week's Party at My Place link up. Congratulations. Hope to see you back this week.

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  5. Hey Elena ... I just love that you and I both are applauding Adam McHugh's work this month! Introverts in the Church remains one of my favorites of all time ... and you already know how I feel about The Listening Life!

    ;-}

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    1. Hi Linda! I didn't even realize The Listening Life was by McHugh until I read your comment! That makes me want to read it even more!!!

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  6. Great list! I loved These is my Words. I plan on getting The Bronte Plot soon. I loved Dear Mr. Knightley but didn't care for Lizzy and Jane. I'm interested to see if I'll like her newest.

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    1. Thanks, Jill! Did you read the sequels to These Is My Words? I am a little nervous to start because I heard that more and more tragedies happen (didn't enough happen to Sarah already?!). I would love to hear what you think of The Bronte Plot once you read it!

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  7. The Introverts in the Church book looks amazing...I need to read that one!

    And The Practice of the Presence of God - quite possibly the most powerful book I've ever read.

    I'll have to add Dear Mr. Knightley to my list of books to read.

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    1. Hi Jill! I think you'll enjoy Introverts in the Church! It's definitely one I will want to buy and read again! Thanks for stopping by!

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  8. The Practice of the Presence of God had an impact on me when I read it many years ago and I might need to pick it up again. I've also added Let Me Be a Woman, These is My Words, and Dear Mr. Knightly (thanks for the recommendation within a recommendation) to my TBR list. My daughter is reading all of the Anne books right now and it is so much fun to share them with her.

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    1. Hi Erika! I hope you like all of those! They were definitely fun to read!
      How fun that you're reading the Anne books with your daughter! I hope to do that one day too!

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  9. I've debated about reading When Breath Becomes Air, especially after reading Being Mortal, which was excellent, and I believe along the same lines as Breath, but I may just add it to my list.

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    1. Hi Jess! You know, I am glad you mentioned Being Mortal because I saw it reviewed on a few blogs recently and I kept thinking, wow, this really sounds like When Breath Becomes Air! I cannot compare the two since I didn't read Being Mortal, but I am really curious what you think if you end up reading Breath!

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  10. I love Katherine Reay's novels and the Introverts in the Church sounds fascinating.

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    1. Hi Steph! I am excited for Reay's upcoming book, A Portrait of Emily Price!

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  11. I think I need to bump The Wednesday Wars up on my list. I added it when I heard about it on WSIRN too. :)

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  12. I picked The Wednesday Wars as a reading challenge book for "A book with a day of the week in the title." Glad to hear it's good!

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  13. I loved These is My Words!
    I completely agree with you about Katherine Reay's books.
    Introverts in the Church looks good. I need to add that to my list!
    Thanks for your reviews. Great taste in books.

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  14. I loved both These is My Words and Anne of the Island. They are among my all-time favorites. And I've heard about When Breath Becomes Air several times recently, but you inspired me to finally put in on hold at the library. (And I'm going to have to wait in line a while...darn it!)

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I love to hear your thoughts!

Elle Alice