Apr 28, 2017

April Book Reviews

These High, Green Hills by Jan Karon (audiobook) ★★★★
This is the third Mitford book of the series and  my favorite. It may be that I listened to this on Overdrive and was able to turn up the speed of the narrator (whose voice is very slow) but I think it is more due to the wonderful continuing story of Father Tim and his beloved new wife Cynthia. Their newlywed life, filled with sweet experiences as well as true-to-life challenges is the central plot. Like Karon's other books, there are rich subplots that make the townspeople of Mitford come alive and tear at your heartstrings. With each book, I am curious about how each of their own stories will turn out. There are some heavier themes in this one than the last two books, namely abuse of an impoverished girl. I enjoy Karon's writing in that it draws me to Biblical truths without being stuffy or preachy.

Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More - Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist by Karen Swallow Prior ★★★★
 Last year, I read about Hannah More in Eric Metaxas' mini-biography of her in his book, 7 Women, and was curious about learning more about her life. I finally picked up the book at our church library. She is truly an intriguing, bold, and praiseworthy woman. In a time when women were devalued and their education consisted only of what would make them "good wives and mothers", Hannah and her sisters (all single) started schools for girls in their early adulthood. Later, Hannah would open Sunday schools for children who worked all week to get a chance to learn to read on their one day off from work. She used her literary talents and fame to become a loud voice against slavery, animal cruelty, and reformation of morals and manners for the upper class. She ruffled many feathers, as would be expected, but she persevered throughout her life for the many causes she believed in. Although I enjoyed diving deeper into her life, I think I preferred the snapshot Metaxas provides in his book and found myself skimming some passages because there were more details than I was fully engaged in reading at times. Overall, a good book about a remarkable woman!

Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim (audiobook) ★★★★
Four women, each vastly different from one another, agree to share costs to rent a medieval Italian castle on the shores of the Mediterranean. Each has her own struggles, annoyances, and heartache they are hoping to flee as they bask under the Italian sun. The calming and rejuvenating effect of this mesmerizing escape leaves them each enchanted in their own way. A delightful tale written so well that I could almost smell the spring blossoms and feel the salty sea air against my cheek. It was especially fun because Greg and I are planning a trip to Italy in October so I caught myself daydreaming about our future adventures! Furthermore, the narrator of the audiobook had a British accent and voice that resembled Judi Dench. I could have had a dictionary read to me and still been "enchanted"  because of her voice, but luckily there was a fabulous plot alongside the exquisite narrative's accent :). The only thing I wasn't crazy about (and knocked a star off the rating) were the men in the book. I won't spoil anything; I will just say I wasn't impressed with them.

The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor's Journey Into Christian Faith by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield (audiobook) ★★★★
Rosaria was living a successful life as a tenured professor and advisor in a field she was deeply passionate about. She was a well-known activist for the LGBTQ community, rescued abused animals, and provided hospitality for students and activists.  She owned two houses with her partner and was a sought-after speaker. She often ridiculed Christians and was working on a manuscript against Christianity when her world started unraveling and she started questioning her identity and truths. Through an unlikely friendship with an aging pastor and his wife, she began to see Christianity in a new light. In the years that followed, her rocky, R-rated (in her words) conversion challenged her to the core, creating what she called a "train wreck... a comprehensive and complicated chaos". She shares her reflections on that season as well as lessons she learned along the way. I was captivated by her story, her boldness, and her willingness to give up everything in exchange to know who Jesus really is. Her writing is witty and gritty as well as thought-provoking. Bonus: the audiobook is read by her! I love when authors read their own books.

The Wind in the Willow by Kenneth Grahame ★★★★
Whether reading aloud to a child or just reading this classic as an adult, Wind in the Willows is a breath of fresh air and a delight. I'd seen this title referenced in many other books, blogs, and podcasts over the years so I finally decided to pick up an unabridged illustrated version I found for a dollar. Mole, Rat, Badger, and Toad were all endearing characters (though I wanted to wring Toad's neck many times) with entertaining adventures that can easily provide conversation with children about themes such as friendship, folly, loyalty, and courage. Nature is the fifth main "character" of the novel since it is interwoven throughout the chapters and described so vividly by Grahame, specifically the  River and the Wild Wood. What began as a series of letters from Grahame to his son, The Wind in the Willows is a timeless treasure and I hope to read it to my future kids one day.

When People Are Big and God is Small: Overcoming Peer Pressure, Codependency, and the Fear of Man by Edward Welch★★★★
Fear of man can take different faces. It can look like peer pressure, perfectionism, people pleasing, or actual fear of threat from another person. As Christians, fear of man is to be replaced with a healthy fear of the Lord (a deep awe-inspiring respect and knowledge of how big and great and good our God is). The natural inverse correlation between allowing people to be big (fear of man) is that we make God small in our eyes. Similarly, Welch digs into why popular needs-based psychology is not the answer to overcoming fear of man. He argues that we can overcome our fear of man issues only when we have a clearer view of God and when our focus is on making him (rather than our perceived needs or even desires) our number one priority. This book is packed full of practical truth in battling fear of man issues and helped me work through my own people-pleasing and other forms of fear of man that often grip me and threaten to step my peace and joy. There were a few areas towards the end I felt were dragging on, but overall a great resource.

The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley★★★★
Ada is a 9-year old living in a dingy apartment in London with her neglectful/abusive mother and younger brother in 1939. When children are evacuated to the countryside to protect them from rumored Nazi bombing in London, Ada and her brother join the train full of children. They soon are placed with a lonely woman named Susan who helps Ada health from the emotional repercussions of  years of abuse and ridicule from her mom. Ada's strength, courage, self-esteem, and resilience develop as she encounters new challenges as well as passions. This is a wonderful middle-grade book (probably best for ages 10 and up) with the caveat that it does deal with serious themes (an abusive parent, depression and anxiety, and war). Bradley brings Ada to life and you root for this sweet girl from start to finish. For those who feel they've already read one too many WWII novels recently, this is still worth picking up since it comes from a child's perspective and deals with a lot more than the war. I listened to the audiobook, which was narrated by a young-sounding voice so it made it very realistic for Ada's story.

The Berenstain Bears: The Friendship Blessings Collection by Jan and Mike Berenstain
This collection includes five of the Living Lights stories, which are the Berenstain Bears that focus on the Christian faith. They include: Perfect Fishing Spot, Reap the Harvest, Faithful Friends, Kindness Counts, and God Made You Special. With the same lovable characters of Mama, Papa, Brother, Sister, Honey Bear, and the rest of the Bear Country gang, these stories instill lessons of faith, kindness, being good stewards of money, and appreciating/respecting the differences between us (specifically with people with special needs). I grew up reading the Berentain Bears and found this collection nostalgic and endearing as well as encouraging to see how such lovable characters can also share lessons about God's love.

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


Currently reading:

Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian in Community by Deithrich Bonehoffer

A Long Way Gone: Memoir of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah

At Home in the World by Tsh Oxenreider

The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis

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Elle Alice