Jun 28, 2016

June Book Reviews



The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Olympics

Daniel James Brown

This book was incredible! It was so intriguing, captivating, and filled with inspirational men who didn't allow their circumstances to dictate their future. I've heard about this book for many months from different bloggers and finally checked it out from the library. I wondered if I would be bored or lost in the details since I have no experience with rowing. But the writing was done so well that I was able to jump right into it, and in the process I learned a lot about the sport! Plus, it is set in Seattle at my alma mater, UW, so it was fun to recognize a lot of the geographical references.

The biography centers around nine University of Washington students from humble backgrounds who enter into the competitive and elite world of collegiate rowing. Through seemingly insurmountable odds, they end up at the Berlin Olympics of 1936. While Hitler and his cronies are bewitching tourists and connivingly hiding their evil plans for the soon-to-come Holocaust and WWII, these nine men beat the odds and show what American grit looks like. Check out the official book trailer for more info and photos.


My rating: ★★★★★

Check out this book on Amazon

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The Secret Garden
Frances Hodgson Burnett

Recently orphaned and horridly spoiled Mary Lennox arrives at her estranged uncle's gloomy manor in the moors of England. Here she discovers that there is a locked-up garden that has not been visited for ten years. Adventures await as Mary unlocks mysteries of the garden, meets new friends, and learns to have fun and imagine. 

This was my re-read for June. I read it as a middle-schooler and recently wanted to re-read the classic, so I found it on LibriVox. It is narrated by the same narrator (Karen Savage) as the Anne of Green Gable books I have been listening to. She had the British and Yorkshire accents down pat and made the book come alive. Even as an adult, it was a sweet and engaging story. I can see why it is still a classic so many decades after being published. 

My rating: ★★★★☆
Check out this book on Amazon
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Anne of Windy Poplars (Anne of Green Gables #4)
L.M. Montgomery

The adventures of Anne continue in this fourth book as Anne accepts a job as a principle at Summerside High School. Away from her beloved Avonlea for three years, she makes new friends, writes love letters to Gilbert (who is away at medical school), and continues to be the lovable character she has been thus far. 

This fourth book in the Anne series was actually written two decades after the third book (1915)  and the fifth book (1917)  were written, so it felt a bit off from the previous three books. L.M. Montgomery tired of Anne after the fifth book (Anne's House of Dreams  in 1917) and wanted to stop there. But years later, in 1936, she returned to Anne and wrote this book. Now that I have started Anne's House of Dreams (book 5), I can tell that Windy Poplars was not part of the series until later because nothing from Windy Poplars is mentioned in House of Dreams, which feels disjointed. Basically, this book was a response to the question that plagued some of the early fans of the Anne books: Where was Anne for the three years between Gilbert proposing and their wedding that is chronicled in Anne's House of Dreams? Well, she was in Summerside, apparently, and she had plenty of new friends. I felt like there was just too many characters in this book. There would be a certain person that would be introduced for about three chapters and then vaguely mentioned the rest of the book. This continued with many characters and didn't really flow as well as her other books. Also, the style of the book was different than any of the other Anne books. It was half narration (same as the others) and half written as letters from Anne to Gilbert. I like epistolary novels, but it was a bit odd to switch back and forth between the two writing styles. Still, there were plenty of hilarious lines to keep me entertained.

My rating: ★★★★☆
Check out this book on Amazon
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Anne's House of Dreams
L.M. Montgomery

Anne gets married and is living in her "house of dreams" in an idyllic seaside town of Four Winds on Prince Edward Island, where Gilbert is a new physician. Her first few years of marriage are chronicled, along with new friendships. Heartbreaks, joys, and surprises are in store in this fifth book in the beloved series. 

This book was sadder than the previous books. There was definitely a lot of sweet moments, but there were a few parts that were unexpected and had a darker feel than the other Anne books. It was also a different feel because it was the first book where Anne is neither writing nor teaching. She is a housewife who spends a lot of the book visiting -- and being visited by -- new friends in town. There's definitely nothing wrong with being a housewife (that's my current season right now since I haven't started working since moving to Texas), but these were two important aspects of Anne's life thus far, so I definitely felt their absence throughout this story. Like I mentioned above in Anne of Windy Poplars, this book was written twenty years before Windy Poplars, so none of the characters from Windy Poplars was obviously mentioned in this book since they hadn't been written about yet. This caused a slight lack of continuity for me, but Marilla (and other characters from the early books) made several appearances, so I was still content overall.

My rating: ★★★★☆

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Bird By Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
Anne Lamott

I am aware I am going against the grain with this one because this book has been touted by many people in the writing/publishing world as a must-read for writers. I am also aware that many people love Anne's style of writing. But I will just say it: I am not a fan. Sure, there are some great instructions on writing, aided by creative analogies and quirky anecdotes.  She had some useful pointers, such as carrying index cards with you for writing down ideas, phrases, quotes (or, in this day, type it in your phone or dictate it to Siri)And I love the story behind the title of the book:  "Just take it bird by bird" was her dad's response to her exasperated brother when he started a huge school report on birds the evening before it was due. He felt like he couldn't possibly finish the project in time, and the dad, pointing to the stack of books on birds said, "Just take it bird by bird." I love that. I have been using that term recently when I feel overwhelmed with writing, or life in general. 

But I just couldn't get over Lamott's brash writing style. Don't get me wrong: I appreciate writers who are honest and vulnerable and say it like it is, especially in memoirs (which this is, in part). But for me, Anne's writing goes overboard with inappropriateness and it distracted me from the actual writing advice. I could skip over the plentiful F-bombs she threw out there, but there were a few parts that just made me cringe. She can be really witty and humorous, but then it can quickly turn into a long stream of sarcastic, negative, and even insensitive rants  that I just kept getting annoyed with.  

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

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Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear
Elizabeth Gilbert

Elizabeth Gilbert became known worldwide after the release of her best-seller Eat Pray Love. Now, in Big Magic, she explores the idea and practice of creativity. Whether you want to write a book, begin a new hobby, or go on an adventure, Big Magic has the oomph to inspire you to take that first step. She is positive (without being blindly optimistic) and entertaining  throughout the book as she offers thoughts on embracing curiosity and courage, letting go of fear and perfectionism (which, she says is "fear in pretty clothing"), and persisting through setbacks and failure. 

The only thing I was not too crazy about was the way she over-spiritualized/mysticized the concept of creativity where ideas were made to sound like spirits looking for someone to accept them and invite them in. A little too metaphysical/New Age for me, but luckily, if that's not your kind of thing either, it's not overly mentioned and the rest of the book is well worth reading. I ignored those parts and instead, thought how I would explain creativity from my own Christian worldview. Basically, I believe God is the Creator and we are created in His image as it says in Genesis 1 (imago dei). Therefore, a part of us was made to reflect His creativity. When I create things -- whether music, art, written word -- it can be a way for me to reflect and worship the God of Creation. When I look at it in this way, I can better place creativity  in its rightful spot. It's not the most important thing (which Gilbert kinda portrays in some ways), but it is still a beautiful part of the ways we were designed. 

Also, there is some language in the book, so be forewarned (definitely not as much as Bird By Bird, though). In my opinion (take it or leave it), if you are wanting to read a book to be inspired to create (especially writing) and are deciding between Bird By Bird and Big Magic, I would choose the latter. Her overall voice is more optimistic, less brash (though Gilbert definitely has her own spunk!), and overall a better read.

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

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Currently Reading:

At Home in Mitford (The Mitford Years, #1) by Jan Karon
Living By The Book: The Art and Science of Reading the Bible by Howard Hendricks
None Like Him: 10 Ways God Is Different From Us by Jen Wilkin
The Elements of Style (Illustrated) by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White



What did you read in June? Any books you recommend?

 * 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.




33 comments:

  1. Some good reads this monthm. Thanks for an honest review of Bird By Bird and Big Magic. Both are on my TBR list but I feel like one needs to get kicked off and one moved up!

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    1. Hi Kaytee. Thanks for visiting! Yeah, I just wasn't a fan of the crude language at times, though she did have some great pointers at times.

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  2. I'm definitely not a huge fan of Lamott either. I've read three of her books and wasn't impressed by any of them. I like her ideas, but not her writing style.

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    1. Hi Leah! I like how you put it: her ideas are good but her writing style is not my cup o' tea.

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  3. Oh, I haven't read The Secret Garden in years... it was one of my favorite books growing up!

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    1. I really liked listening to it through LibriVox with Karen Savage reading. I hadn't read the book in maybe 15-18 years, so it was fun to "read" it/listen almost like a new book because I only remembered snippets.

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  4. The Secret Garden, can't tell you how many versions I've read over the years of this classic. Thanks for sharing your other great reads at Book Wino. Looking forward to checking them out further.

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    1. Hi Michelle! It was a fun linkup! I loved visiting the other blogs as well! I definitely added some books to my TBR list after that linkup! :)

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  5. I loved Boys on the Boat, The Secret Garden, and all the Anne books. I also enjoyed the Mitford series, so I'll be interested to see what you think. I'm looking forward to reading Jen Wilkin's new book, too (I've read and appreciated several of her articles).

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    1. I am on my second Mitford book and enjoying it. It's sweet and charming! I posted a few posts about Jen Wilkin's book in the past 2 weeks as I read each chapter. There are so many great things in that book! It really helped me understand some of the attributes of God more deeply. I look forward to hearing your thoughts once you read the book!

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  6. I loved Big Magic. But I agree it got a bit far-fetched sometimes with the spirituality. I remember rolling my eyes quite a bit while reading, but it's one of those books that have stayed with me afterwards - Gilberts ideas and advice has made me think about creativity more and in a new way :)

    Great post and reads! :)

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    1. I agree! It was pretty easy to skip over those parts or just to take it with a grain of salt because she had so many great things to say otherwise! Thanks for visiting!

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  7. I've just heard about Boys in the Boat and have it on my list...

    Read The Secret Garden to my girls for the first time this spring and LOVED it!

    I recently brought home the first Mitford book - was going to re-read the series, but then decided there were too many other books on my list. Have you read them before?

    Read Big Magic earlier this year - I agree with your review.

    I've tried a different Anne Lamott book and had to put it down. I've heard great things about Bird by Bird, but have never picked up due to my experience with the other book I tried.

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    1. I look forward to hearing what you think about Boys In The Boat! It was definitely not the kind of book I thought I would love since I don't read sports memoirs, but it was exceptional! The author brought the story alive.

      How fun that you read The Secret Garden with your daughters! Such a fun treat to see the story come alive in their eyes! I look forward to that one day!

      Yes, this was my second Lamott book and likely my last. I just cant read a book where I am cringing half the time.

      Thanks for visiting!

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  8. I really want to read The Boys in the Boat and I've been meaning to check out Big Magic for a while now too. Thanks for the reminders!

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    1. Hi Steph! I hope you enjoy both! They are both books I wouldn't tropically pick up, but I am glad to have read both of them! I especially loved Boys in the Boat!

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  9. I can't wait to read The Secret Garden (as well as A Little Princess) with my girl in the next few years :) They were some of my first wonderful memories of books!

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    1. That is so sweet! I look forward to that one day as well!!

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  10. I have read none of these, but I added a few to my goosreads

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    1. HI Sarah, let me know if you read some of them and what you think about them!

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  11. The Secret Garden is on my shelf waiting to be read next! :)

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    1. Great! It is such a fun treat! It made me want to go outside and start a garden, but for now, I just have a tiny indoor herb garden :)

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  12. I LOVED Big Magic. One of my favorite books I've read this year! It was so inspiring! And I was just thinking yesterday that I really need to reread all the Anne books. I haven't since I was ~12!

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    1. Did you read all 8 of the books (the last two are focused on her daughter, Rilla)? I am about to start the 6th and not sure if I want to stop there vs finish the last two.

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  13. I actually loved Bird by Bird and one of Anne LaMott's novels, Crooked Little Heart. Her tweets ruffled my feathers a bit though, and I had to unfollow!

    Big Magic is definitely on my list. I keep hearing great things about The Boys in the Boat. I started it last year, but I think I wasn't in the right frame of mind. I'll circle back to it eventually.

    I love all the Anne of Green Gables books and reread the entire series during feedings when my youngest (a daughter) was a newborn. I was hoping to see how Anne balanced motherhood and her other passions (writing, teaching, etc.), things I never thought about when I read the books as a tween, but I didn't really find what I was looking for. I still enjoyed revisiting the series though!

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    1. Did you read the books about her daughter, Rilla? Not sure if I want to stop after book 6 or if I should keep going with Rilla's books.

      I am glad you mentioned linking Bird by Bird. I definitely liked a lot of what she wrote in there, but my feathers were definitely ruffled a little too much with some of her crude humor, hence the not-so-positive review. I look forward to hearing what you think about Big Magic once you get to it!

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  14. I have The Boys in the Boat on my to-read list but this makes me want to bump it to the top! Also, I've had Big Magic on my list for a while too, and I'm SO curious about it, especially given what you said about the new-age-y stuff.

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    1. Hi Shea! Yes, I'd say BUMP both Boys in the Boat AND Big Magic ! I think they are really worth it! Let me know what you think once you've read them!

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  15. Boys in the Boat is sooo on my list, but I just can't seem to get to it!!! A good month of reading for you!

    Madeline @ Plan to Happy

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    1. Thanks, Madeline! I had Boys in the Boat on my list for months and I finally got to it once I heard it enthusiastically mentioned on a podcast. So glad I bumped it up. I bought the children's version to read with one day with my future children

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  16. Hello Elena! So happy I found your blog. We must have very similar reading tastes. I enjoyed reading The Secret Garden allowed to my children last year and every single time I see a robin I am reminded of this book. I am also quite the Anne fan and read all of her books as a teenager. I just finished reading Emily of New Moon (also by Montgomery) but I don't think I enjoyed it quite as much as the Anne series. I'm just about to begin Jen Wilkin's new book and I can't wait. I am also working through her 1 Peter Bible Study which has been great! Do you have a good book to recommend on writing? I feel like I definitely could use a refresher but not something super intimidating! Thanks!

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    1. Hi Amanda! That is so fun that you think of The Secret Garden when you see a robin! I look forward to reading that book again when I have a child! I am glad you mentioned Emily of New Moon! I think Anne Bogel recently mentioned in her podcast that she liked Emily as much or even more than Anne, so I added that book on my TBR list and look forward to reading it. I hear its a bit darker than Anne's? Oooh! I look forward to hearing what you think about None Like Him! I haven't done her 1 Peter study but I have been interested in it since I LOVED None Like Him as well as Women of the Word (which changed the way I study and pray through the Word. It is SO good!). And yes, I just finished Elements of Style by Strunk and White. It's a great style manual for writing and has a lot of great tips on improving writing overall. And it read really easily because the authors have snarky humor that pops out sometimes. My husband bought me the illustrated edition, which was really fun.

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  17. I'm not a Lamott fan, either. And I've never read any Anne of Green Gables books, so I'm looking foward to finally checking those off the list when my daughter gets a little older. How did you like the Mitford books?

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I love to hear your thoughts!

Elle Alice