Jul 26, 2016

July Book Reviews




This month I discovered the awesome library app, Overdrive (how have I not downloaded this sooner?!). I was able to listen to five audiobooks while driving, cleaning, flying to Portland, cooking, and getting ready in the morning. It was a great reading month! I have been trying to diversify my reading and I think I did that overall, though there were a few recurring themes (two WWII novels and four books about women who have been mistreated/abused in some way).

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At Home in Mitford by Jan Karon (audiobook) 
★★★★☆ 
Father Tim is a bachelor rector on the cusp of turning the big 6-0 when we meet him in the idyllic town of Mitford. He is tired and feels his sermons have lost their depth. Pretty soon, a whole slew of events turns his life upside down in the best ways possible. A giant stray dog moves into his home uninvited, an outspoken secretary tries to micromanage his every move, a quirky and beautiful new neighbor who becomes a friend, a rambunctious boy who desperately needs love and stability, a mysterious jewel theft, and a sixty-year-old secret are just the beginning of his things he encounters in this first novel of the Mitford series.

Jan Karon created a charming provincial town with endearing characters.  Father Tim is compassionate towards the people of the small town while also being quite witty. A bit of a slow read with occasional surprises, it was a sweet balance of a comforting read that still kept me engaged. It was recommended to me by several sweet older women so you can maybe see who the target audience is :) Nonetheless, I enjoyed it and loved that I did not have to worry about gory or overly sensual details.


This book reminds me of: Gilead by Marilynne Robinson and Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson



The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh (audiobook)

★★★★ 
A deeply moving debut novel  about an 18-year-old girl named Victoria who has aged out of the foster-care system. Struggling to carve out her own future while chained to past hurt and guilt, she has learned to communicate through the language of flowers. The language of flowers was widely popular during the Victorian age as a way to often convey romantic feelings, though she employs it to communicate mistrust, anger, and solitude. For example, a suitor would give a young lady a bouquet of flowers that could either make her blush (red roses signify love) or frown in disgust (orange lilies convey hatred) without so much as a word spoken (see HERE ). Her floral skills land her a job as a florist assistant and as she navigates her new adult life, she is confronted with a decision she made ten years ago that changed the course of her life as well as others' lives.


This was a profound book that focused on a topic not eagerly discussed in literature: foster kids aging out of the system and being left on their own to figure life out. With plentiful emotional scars from past traumatic experiences, it is understandable why these teens could choose self-sabotage, isolation from a healthy community, and guilt rather than vulnerability and trust (which, ironically, is what they desperately need). I think it is important to read books like this with a lot of grace and compassion. Victoria is rough around the edges and at times, even unlikable as a character. But she is a portrait of girls who desperately need to be told they have worth, beauty, and are loved no matter what has been done to them or what they have done themselves. Her story is important and it is powerful. Warning: There are a few sensual scenes and a bit of cussing.
This book reminds me of: Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline and Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers



The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

★★★☆

This is the story of two estranged sisters and their heartbreaking and courageous experiences in war-torn France during WWII. Older sister,Vianne, is reserved, prone to anxiety, and deeply devoted to her husband and daughter. Isabelle is a rebellious, headstrong eighteen-year-old who wants to fight for France in any ways she can. It is one of the few WWII novels that heavily focuses on non-Jewish women during the war and the devastating decisions and consequences they endured at the hands of the evil Nazi regime.

This book has been highly lauded and was voted the best historical novel for 2015 on Goodreads, so I was eager to see what the hype was about. I had read seven WWII-related fiction and nonfiction books in 2015, so I took a six-month break after reading All The Light We Cannot See in January so that I can come to The Nightingale with fresh eyes rather than comparing it or feeling overwhelmed by the constant reminder of the atrocities of WWII. All that to say, I had very high expectations . . . and I can't say they were entirely met. Yes, this is a gripping novel with an overall strong plot and character development. I rooted for the sisters (though, as an older sister myself, I wanted to strangle Isabelle a time or two for her rash decisions). But -- and I know I am about to sound like a huge snob-- I think the book could have gone through an extra round of editing. I was particularly annoyed with the extreme overuse of parentheses that gave extra, often unneeded, information. I can't think of another novel that used parentheses within a third-person narrative. It threw me off while reading because the narrative seemed choppy when the parentheses were used. There were also plenty of cliché statements such as "she couldn't believe her eyes", "she was scared to death", and "a bed the size of Nebraska" (which is just awkward and confusing for someone unfamiliar with Nebraska, like myself) that made some of the writing appear lazy to me. It could just be me because weird editing things like that bug me while reading. All that said, the plot is still engaging and thrilling, and the depiction of French women during WWII is worth the read, especially if you like historical fiction.

This book reminds me of: All The Light We Cannot See  by Anthony Doerr, Avenue of Spies by Alex Kershaw, Bianca's Vineyard and  Domenico's Table by Teresa Neumann, and Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay.


Lila (Gilead # 3) by Marilynne Robinson 
(audiobook)

★★★☆ 

I read Pulitzer Prize winner Gilead several months ago and loved the poetic prose Robinson expertly uses to welcome readers to the town of Gilead and the thoughts and life of the quiet Reverend John Ames. Now, in this third book (which could definitely stand alone without reading the previous two), she continues the journey as it explores the story of the reverend's wife, Lila. 

Lila had a very difficult upbringing and adolescence full of desperation, confusion, and hurt. She's rough-around-the-edges by the time she arrives to Gilead, but that doesn't stop the compassionate reverend from being drawn to her. Their love story, as well as her personal redemption story, make this book hopeful amidst some heavy themes. 

This book reminds me of: Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers, Divine by Karen Kingsbury


None Like Him: 10 Ways God Is Different From Us by Jen Wilkin
★★★
I first heard about Jen Wilkin through her first book, Women of the Word, and was excited to hear she came out with a second. She has deep Biblical wisdom and is able to relate this to her readers in a conversational and practical way that does not seem lofty or straight out of a textbook.

In None Like Him, she explores ten attributes of God that set Him apart from us -- and describes why that is a good thing that He is different than us. The ten attributes she discusses include that God is infinite, sovereign, incomprehensible, omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, immeasurable, eternal, self-existent, and self-sufficient. Although there are attributes of God that we are called to mirror in our own lives (God loves, forgives, is patient, is compassionate . . .), these particular ten attributes are set-apart for God only. Whenever we try to mimic them in our own strength, we fail hard. This book does an excellent job praising the limitless God and pointing out how we can be transformed by who He is. The reflection questions and Bible verses for meditation at the end of each chapter were valuable additions that further helped cement these truths into my heart. I loved this book. I learned a lot and am processing what I am learning through the mini-series on these attributes (see the posts HERE).

This book reminds me of: Women of the Word by Jen Wilkin, Jesus Among Other Gods by Ravi Zacharias


Number the Stars by Lois Lowry (audiobook)
★★★☆ 
It is 1943 and 10-year-old Annemarie lives in Nazi-Occupied Copenhagen, Denmark. Her best friend Ellen is Jewish. During a roundup of Jews for "relocation", Annemarie's parents hide Ellen in their home, calling her their daughter when questioned. Now Annemarie's family are in the middle of a fight to save Ellen and her family and this young girl learns to be brave in the midst of the evil Nazi regime.

This award-winning WWII novel is best for middle-grade readers and uncovers the difficulties and horrors of WWII without being too much for young readers. Lowry (likely best known for The Giver), writes with incredible depth that is still accessible for young minds and explores themes of loyalty, bravery, friendship, and compassion as she tells the story of a courageous Danish girl who made a difference in the lives of Jews.


This book reminds me of: The Children of Willesden Lane by Mona Golabek, The Guernsey Literary and Potatoe Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer, Evidence Not Seen: A Woman's Miraculous Faith in the Jungles of Word War II by Darlene Deibler Rose



Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr & E.B. White. Illustrated by Maira Kalman

★★★

This is an excellent, indispensable resource for anyone who wants to improve their grammar and writing. It is full of great tips and explanations on sentence structure and style -- with a little bit of humor and snarkiness to boot. Even more, this edition is filled with colorful illustrations to add more fun while being schooled in the English language. It's no wonder why this is the only style manual to ever hit bestselling status. It is clear and concise while also making learning enjoyable. This go-to guide can be used for any type of writing. I definitely recommend this book for anyone who wants to improve their writing, no matter if that is personal or professional. 

This book reminds me of: Reading Like A Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them by Francine Prose


Surprised By the Healer: Embracing Hope for Your Broken Story by Linda Dillow and Dr. Juli Slattery
★★★
What an important book. Linda Dillow and clinical psychologist Dr. Juli Slattery share Biblical truths for readers to find healing from deep hurts, betrayal, and hidden sin. Although the wisdom in these pages can be applied to any kind of brokenness, they focus on sexual They share the stories of nine women who each suffered some kind of sexual brokenness. Through each of the women's' testimonies -- and the subsequent 10 week Bible study at the end of the book -- the reader can see how nothing is too broken for God to redeem and restore. This book beautifully points to Jehovah Rapha -- The God Who Heals. I was  heartbroken from all the hurt these women experienced while also awestruck at the power of the Healer God in each of their stories. I highly recommend this for any woman that wants to dig deeper in areas of brokenness in your life or who want to gain knowledge in how to reach out to women who have experienced sexual brokenness.

This book reminds me of: Calm My Anxious Heart by Linda Dillow, Intimate Issues: 21 Questions Christian Women Ask About Sex by Linda Dillow and Lorraine Pintus, Mended: Pieces of a Life Made Whole by Angie Smith, Redemption by Mike Wilkerson, Breaking Free by Beth Moore, Rid of My Disgrace: Hope and Healing for Victims of Sexual Assault by Justin Holcomb

(Disclaimer: I received this book for free from Moody Publishers in exchange for an honest review.)

My Year of Running Dangerously: A Dad, a Daughter, and a Ridiculous Plan 

by Tom Foreman (audiobook)
★★★

CNN correspondent Tom Foreman had no idea what he was getting himself into when his eldest daughter asked him to run a marathon with her. He was known for his running speed in his teen years, winning race after race on his track team. He even ran a marathon in his early twenties. But now he was a fifty-year-old man; overworked, stressed, and not at all physically active. With just four months until the marathon, he and his daughter start training.

Foreman is hilarious. With three decades of experience reporting for CNN from war zones, riots, natural disasters, and interviewing serial killers, the guy has quite the way to express himself in a way that brings a story to life. He is honest with his struggles, fears of failure, and flirts with the idea of giving up. His running takes him on a new journey to rekindle his love of running and living a more active life. What starts as a marathon ends up with much, much more (including an ultra-marathon; that's 50 freaking miles!). This is a great read for any runner, anyone considering running, or even anyone who doesn't want to run but wants to hear a hilarious guy share his stories of this journey. I listened to the audiobook, which was read by the author, and I highly recommend it! Warning: a few cuss words.


Simply Calligraphy: A Beginner's Guide to Elegant Lettering by Judy Detrick


A beautiful, easy-to-follow guide to hand lettering that will help beginners develop the art of italic calligraphy. Detrick explains everything clearly, from what pens and paper are best to how to creatively flourish your letters once you know the basics she teaches. She also mentions project ideas to show off your newly acquired calligraphy skills such as personalized thank-you cards and place cards. I am looking forward to buying a calligraphy pen and putting this book to good use in the very near future!

Detrick has taught calligraphy and graphic design for more than twenty-five years and has developed the Graphic Arts Certificate Program at the College of the Redwoods on the Mendocino coast of Northern California. Her exemplary skills and experience are clearly seen in the ways she teaches readers this beautiful art. 


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



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Currently Reading:

The Anxious Christian: Can God Use Your Anxiety For Good? by Rhett Smith

A Field Guide for Everyday Mission: 30 Days and 101 Ways to Demonstrate the Gospel by Ben Connelly and Bob Roberts

A Light In The Window by Jan Karon

Living By the Book by Howard Hendricks

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What are you reading? Any books you recommend?


  



31 comments:

  1. Hi Elena ... I'm a long time fan of that gentle, comforting Mitford gang. Karon's books are sweet reads.

    And The Language of Flowers? Probably one of the most powerful novels I've read. I'd say it's up there in the top 5 ... and worth another read. A super book club discussion starter, for sure!

    And I just about wore out my copy of Elements of Style in graduate school. I was glad to toss it when I was done writing my fingers to the bone.

    ;-}

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    1. "Comforting" is a good term! I am reading the second book and it is just as enjoyable!
      Yes, I agree. Language of Flowers was very powerful!
      haha, I am glad to hear you are well-versed in Strunk and EB White! :)

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  2. I had exactly the same thoughts regarding "The Nightengale!" I might have built it up too much in my mind, but I was very diaspointed. Number the Stars is one of my absolute favorites!

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    1. Hi Julianne! Yes, that is very possible with me too! I had high hopes for it and it fell kinda flat in some areas. And yes, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Number the Stars!

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  3. "None like Him" & "Surprised by the Healer" both sound amazing and will be going on my list!

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  4. Just started None Like Him! I have a digital copy. I appreciate the reflection questions in the end to help me process each chapter. Jen Wilkin is probably one of my favorite female Bible teachers.

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    1. I agree. Jen is SUCH a grew Bible teacher! Her book Women of the Word rocked me to the core and changed the way I approach the Bible

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  5. I share your thoughts on The Nightingale: good, but not deserving of the hype. I enjoy Kristen Hannah's present-day books much more, and All the Light was a superior wartime novel by far. I actually downloaded Lila (on Overdrive—a game-changer for sure!) this morning and am looking forward to reading it!

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    1. I hope you like Lila! Yes, agreed. Maybe I will try her present-day books but I wasn't impressed wither her writing in The Nightingale.

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  6. I love Father Tim and his dog who only obeys when commanded by scripture :) I've only read the first book, but I keep meaning to go back to read more. I like how you list the books that each one reminds you of (most awkwardly phrased sentence ever, but you know what I mean) ...

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    1. Haha, I love Barnabas, the Scripture-obeying canine as well! :) I enjoyed the second book and will review it at the end of this month, but felt it dragged on a bit (or rather, it may be the narrator on the audiobook I listened to. He had a slooow voice)

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  7. Thanks for the review on None Like Him. I've had it on my TBR for a while.

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    1. You're welcome! I hope you enjoy it!

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  8. I have the opposite opinion of All the Light We Cannot See and The Nightingale. Loved The Nightingale, kept waiting for things to happen / ATLWCS to live up to the hype!
    Number the Stars has always been a favorite- I remember reading it in school and making it into a board game for a project!

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    1. That's so cool that you read Number the Stars in school and made a board game for a school project! Yeah, there was definitely a lot more action/fast-paced reading in The Nightingale compared to ATLWCS. I think the characters were more likable for me in ATLWCS and maybe it was also because I read that one first so I kept comparing The Nightingale to it, which isn't fair

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  9. I liked Lila, but I loved Gilead. I think it is one of the most beautiful books I have ever read. I also love The Language of Flowers and Number the Stars, and I go back to the Mitford series periodically when I need to read something comforting. None Like Him was already on my TBR list, but now I want to read it even more.

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    1. Agreed! Gilead had superb writing. Hope you get to read None Like Him soon! it is definitely a favorite of mine now!

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  10. I enjoyed (maybe the wrong word?) The Nightingale but agree, it was very long and wasn't amazing like I was expecting after all the hype. Should I read All the Light You Cannot See? I think the page count scares me...
    I added The Year of Running Dangerously to my TBR after seeing it on Goodreads! And I just added The Potato Pie Peel Society to my list...all of a sudden it seems like everyone has read it! I like how you give similar books! Thanks!

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    1. I think it's worth the page count, which yes was daunting for me too. It's not quite as fast-paced as The Nightingale (which was actually a good thing because I felt like The Nightingale was too fast-paced) but the writing is absolutely beautiful and the main characters are just so different than any of the WWII books I have read. And yesss, read The Potato Peel Pie Society! I loved that one!

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  11. I loved The Nightingale and The Language of Flowers has been on my list since I heard about it on the What Should I Read Next? podcast. I've never read Number the Stars, but since I love Lois Lowry AND WWII fiction, I should probably pick it up soon.

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    1. I added The language of Flowers to my TBR after WSIRN as well! It was well worth it! And yes, Number the Stars was a book I wish I would have read when I was younger but still a gem now as I read it as an adult

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  12. I'm putting The Year of Running Dangerously on my TBR list right now! I really enjoyed what you wrote about The Nightingale. I think I might agree with you once I'm finished with the book, I'm also a big sister, and Isabelle has already made some decisions I wouldn't make ^^

    (sorry if this got posted twice, I think I did something wrong with the commentform :P)

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    1. Yes! The big sister in me was annoyed with her impulsivity! Hope you enjoy The Year of Running Dangerously! It was a fun read!!

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  13. I actually didn't finish the Nightingale. I got about half way through and just wasn't all that impressed with it. Glad to see others feeling the same way. Sometimes books are so hyped and then I am so incredibly bummed with how they actually are.

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    1. I am glad I was not the only one! I kept reading because I thought it would redeem itself but to no avail. I agree; I get bummed when I don't end up liking a book that everyone is raving about but such is the life of a reader, I guess!

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  14. I always zone out during books on tape unless I am driving or something. Sometimes I listen to them while I am mowing the lawn though. I discovered Overdrive a few months ago as well and it has been LIVE CHANGING. I went through Goodreads and added all of the books I wanted to read on to my wishlist so I can download anything that is available as well as have my hold list pop up for me. Love it!

    I want to read Number the Stars as well and I would love to learn how to do calligraphy.

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  15. The Mitford Series is one of my all time favorites! So glad you're reading it! Robinson is an amazing author and I just finished The Nightingale last week!!! Some of Jen Wilkin's works are on my TBR list as well. It appears we have similar reading interests! - Rebecca McCoy

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  16. Running books fascinate me. I'll have to give Foreman's book a try.

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  17. Great list! Thanks for commenting on my blog- it's great to meet bloggers! I loved Number the Stars and just finished reading Gilead a month or so ago and didn't know about Lila. I'm definitely going to have to check it out

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  18. I love all your book picks! The Language of Flowers has been one of my recent favorite novels - so heartbreaking but what a way to tell Victoria's story. And yes Overdrive is a life saver! Use it all the time!

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I love to hear your thoughts!

Elle Alice