Oct 31, 2016

October Book Reviews




The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Steadman (audiobook) ★★★★★
This compelling and beautifully written story tugged at my heartstrings as I kept thinking "what would I have done in their position?" Isabel and Tom are newlyweds living on a small isolated island that houses a lighthouse Tom manages. One day as Isabel grieves recent heartbreak, she hears an infant's cry. They discover a startled baby in a boat with a dead man. They care for the baby as Isabel considers this God's gift to her after years of desiring to be a mother. A few years later, during a trip back to the mainland, they find out a terrifying truth about the child's parents. One of them is still alive and has been deeply grieving the loss of this baby. Circumstances quickly shake Isabel and Tom's relationship as they fight for what they each believe is right.




The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy, and "Women's Work" by Kathleen Norris ★★★

I love the overall message of this book. Norris does a great job of reflecting on the sanctifying possibilities of everyday work and how we are able to worship God in our ordinary life rather than just in a church building. Pretty basic message but always a great reminder, especially when the laundry, grocery list, and cleaning schedule pile up and demand my attention.  But something fell a little flat for me. I just wasn't gripped by this book like I expected to be. Several plausible explanations: (1) I recently read several books with a similar message, (2) this was the first book I read by Norris and she referred to previous books she's written that may have helped to read before this one, (3) I am not particularly keen on contemplative books with ethereal prose because they seem to jump around on tangents and I prefer more structured writing that my brain has a better time following (though I definitely admire these authors, I  get lost and need to re-read a lot), and (4) I kept hearing praise about this book so my expectations were pretty high. 

This book reminds me of: The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence and Holy Is The Day by Carolyn Weber

This Is Where You Belong: The Art and Science of Loving the Place You Live by Melody Warnick ★★★★★

This was the perfect book for my current season. It challenged and inspired me to be more intentional in finding ways to discover my current city and  feel more rooted here. This was my first Texas summer and it was HOT. I got cranky, whiny, and missed the cooler and greener summers of the Pacific NW. But I realized that I was short-changing San Antonio by comparing it to Oregon and that wasn't fair since they are so entirely different. With the help of Warnick's Love Your City experiments/challenges as well as her research on the benefits of placemaking for individuals and communities, I made lists of my own to help me discover my city more and hopefully inspire a heart-change towards it, which I can say has already begun. Warnick focuses on eating and shopping locally when possible, getting involved in the politics and decision-making of your city, getting to know your neighbors, finding volunteer opportunities, exploring nature, and walking more. This book is easy to put into practice and I am excited to further dive into my own Love My City experiments, such as learning more about Texas history as well as wildflowers that grow here, finding new parks to visit, and buying more produce that is local and in season.  

Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity by Nabeel Qureshi  (audiobook) ★★★★★
Chosen as our book club pick, this book was exceptional on many accounts. I listened to the audiobook and it brought the story to life having the author read it. Nabeel grew up a devout Muslim in a loving home. He  was absolutely sure of what he believed and never shied away from religious debates as an opportunity to instruct others about the Islam. During his college years, he befriended a Christian guy and through their mutual trust and respect for one another as friends, they challenged each other's beliefs and worldview through debates, book recommendations, and invitations to meet with apologetic scholars. Nabeel's strong convictions against Christianity began to falter as the evidence for Jesus death, resurrection, and grace began to take hold of his life. What this meant for his self as well as his relationship to his family and Muslim community was at stake, so his questioning and prodding of Christian doctrine soon turned his life upside down as he encountered the truth about Jesus. This is powerful, challenging, and very thought-provoking. Loved it and I am so excited to discuss it with the ladies in our book club!

This book reminds me of: Jesus Among Other Gods by Ravi Zacharias

The Kitchen Counter Cooking School: How A Few Simple Lessons Transformed Nine Culinary Novices Into Fearless Home Cooks by Kathleen Flinn (audiobook) ★★★★★

I heard about this book from a podcast (most likely What Should I Read Next because I am addicted to it!) and knew I needed to read it, so I was thrilled that Overdrive carried the audiobook through my local library. It did not disappoint in the least! A charming memoir about Flinn's life after studying the art of French cousine at Le Cordon Bleu, Flinn invited nine everyday Seattle-based women (all of whom had little to no cooking experience and relied on fast-food and largely  processed foods) to a free cooking classes to discover if simple cooking lessons would transform their eating habits. The results are hilarious, inspiring, and will make you drool over the recipes at the end of each chapter. I wrote a lot of notes from her lessons, including how to make chicken stock, how to properly hold and cut with a knife, making 'flavor splashes' for fruits and how to roast a whole chicken. She was easy to follow, entertaining to read, and there wasn't any bad language or crude material. It a fabulous read! 

The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry: Love, Laughter, and Tears at the World's Most Famous Cooking School by Kathleen Flinn ★★★★★ (audiobook)

I liked The Kitchen Counter Cooking School so much that I wanted to read Flinn's previous memoir about her experiences at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. Grumpy French chefs, inedible leftovers, a whirlwind wedding, horrible houseguests, and the many challenges of French gourmet cuisine all served on a platter (pun intended) of Flinn's great writing and style! It was entertaining and made me miss Paris so much! Lots of great recipes throughout the book, though they seemed too artsy for my taste (compared to Kitchen Counter's more everyday recipes). Caution: There is a mild amount of swearing in this one.

This book reminds me of:  Lunch in Paris by Elizabeth Bard 



Birds In Fall by Brad Kessler ★★★

I found this book at a book sale and it fit the #Collaboreads theme for October: a book with 'fall' in the title (see post HERE). Kessler uses the life of migratory birds in parallel to grief which adds depth and hope to an otherwise depressing  plotA plane crashes off the coast of a small island in Nova Scotia. A week later, the family members of some of those on the plane come to the island to process their grief. The tragedy causes an innkeeper to open his doors during the autumn season (typically the off-season and the time he closes the inn) to help provide a safe place for the mourning families to find comfort. With an inn full of sadness, grief, and unanswered questions, the reader can peer into the ways they all dealt with their grief in the interlinked stories of those affected by the plane crash. Different cultures, religions, and sexual orientations may typically have separated them, but a community was formed that expresses a hauntingly beautiful masterpiece interwoven with Kessler's knowledge of migratory birds, myth, and music.  (Caution: a bit of cuss words). 


The Reading Promise: My Father and the Books We Shared by Alice Ozma ★★★★★ (audiobook)

A sweet, engaging, and hilarious read about a father and daughter who make a pact for him to read aloud to her for 1,000 nights in a row -- and end up reading more than three times their goal. From 4th grade until the day she left for college, they shared atleast ten minutes of reading aloud every night (no excuses!)  everything from classics like Dickens' Great Expectations to Harry Potter. The power of reading aloud is palpable and inspiring, not to mention  backed up by plenty of research, so it was awesome to read such a fun story. Along with obviously focusing on books and reading, the memoir dives into different chapters (pun again) of her childhood and teenage years in which life lessons were learned through the help of her father and their shared love of reading. I thought it was heartwarming and pretty adorable that her dad wrote the forward to the book and in the audiobook, read each of the book quotes that preceded each new chapter. 


Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith & Art by Madeleine L'Engle ★★★★★

What does it mean to be a Christian artist? What do faith and art have in common? These are the questions that L'Engle, best known for her sci-fi novel A Wrinkle In Time, seeks to expound in this classic book that has recently been re-released. Her insightful essays are filled with literary, classical music, and Biblical references that help the reader understand how faith and art can be interwoven to showcase truth through the creativity that the Creator God has instilled in us. She expounds on different Biblical verses and concepts such as having faith like a child (Matthew 18:3) and how fostering creativity in children through imagination and fantasy can also help foster a deeper faith. C.S. Lewis' Narnia books are a perfect example of this. Being a Christian artist doesn't necessarily mean always mentioning Jesus' name, which may be a jarring concept for some to wrestle with. Like the Narnia books, there are plenty of artists (musicians, authors, poets, sculpturists, painters)  who point to Him in profound ways that reach a wider audience than something that is clearly labeled as Christian and may deter those who don't identify themselves as Christian. She shares how her faith affects her art and vice versa, how art (whether poetry, creative writing, playing an instrument, or any other art form) can point others to the Master Artist in ways that theology books and sermons may not always be able. A superb book from an author who is both eloquent and down-to-earth in her writing. This made me want to read A Wrinkle In Time!

Disclaimer: I received this book for free from Blogging For Books in exchange for an honest review, which I have provided here.

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Currently Reading:

Walking on Water by Madeleine L'Engle ( a few pages left)

The Listening Life by Adam McHugh

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Books I Abandoned This Month:

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal

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2016 Reading Goal status:

 87 out of 100 books!

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Elle Alice