November Book Reviews
(source)Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan (audiobook) ★★★★★
Four children, separated by thousands of miles and decades apart, are connected through a very special harmonica. Each child face harrowing situations when an old harmonica seems to find them. Three of the four children's stories are centered around WWII, each with unique plots that were full of suspense as well as heartbreak. A novel appropriate for middle-grade readers but captivating for adults as well. The audiobook is phenomenal, likely my favorite ever because the narrators are great, perfecting all the varied accents and the musical pieces mentioned in the book as being played by the harmonica are actually played on a harmonica in the audiobook! It was such a fun reading and listening experience bringing literature and music together in this beautiful novel!
You may enjoy it if you liked: The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
The Austen Escape by Katherine Reay ★★★★☆
The Austen Escape is a fun escape into the Austen-inspired world, filled with references that make the story nostalgic and endearing without being cheesy. I enjoyed the character growth of Mary, the strange memory loss and personality issue with Isabel, and the sweet romances as well. READ MY FULL REVIEW HERE
You may enjoy it if you liked: Any of Katherine Reay's other books or if you love Austen retellings
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book from the publisher for being a part of the book launch team. I HUGE thank you to the author Katherine Reay and her team!
What to Say Next by Julie Buxbaum (audiobook) ★★★★☆
A popular teen girl and a socially awkward teen guy forge a friendship when both need it most. It's a quirky read, but it's definitely not a light read. Written in chapters alternating between the two teens, this is a great look at important issues like grief as well as the inner thoughts of someone who may be on the autism spectrum (that's not a spoiler; he mentions in very early on). The characters are believable and well-constructed without the cheesiness or stereotyping that steers many readers away from the YA genre. My heart hurt for both of them during certain scenes, to the point that I had to hide tears while I was listening during a morning run. Caution: there were a few cuss words during a heated exchange but overall nothing over-the-top.
You may enjoy it if you liked: Be Frank With Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson
God's Smuggler by Brother Andrew (audiobook and paperback)★★★★★
Andrew grew up dreaming of heroic adventures but never could imagine the adventure he'd experience when he surrendered his life to God and listened to the call to bring Bibles to Christians behind closed borders of Communist countries like Russia, Romania, Yugoslavia, China. From seemingly impossible tales of smuggling Bibles right under the eyes of border policemen, to the myriad of stories of God's provision in Andrew's financial and material needs, to the selfless sacrifices made by men and women who gave up their comfort and safety in order to further the gospel and put Bibles in the hands of suffering Christians, this autobiography is brimming with tales of God's faithfulness and gospel work in closed countries in which Communist leaders wanted to erase God's name and presence.
You may enjoy it if you liked: The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom, Tortured for Christ by Richard Wurmbrand, No Comprimise by Melody Green
Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie ★★★★☆
A first (and much-anticipated) Agatha novel (and mystery!) for me. I loved following along detective Hercule Poirot's investigation as he endeavors to track down the murder of a mysterious millionaire that occurred while they, along with several other passengers, were traveling on the Orient Express. "The murderer is with us -- on the train now..." Who could it be? I typically shy away from the mystery genre because its often filled with gruesome details that give me, a HSP (highly sensitive personality), nightmares. But this was more of a mind-game and who-done-it since the reader is only exposed to certain details at a time. I watched the newly released film as well, and though they were both good, I preferred how the novel fleshed out the story. And the audiobook was very well-narrated with accents that seemed to fit perfectly, especially Mrs. Hubbard's whiney persona, which was given a nasal quality to the voice, haha)
The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo (audiobook and hardcover)★★★☆☆
This is definitely not the Disney version I grew up with. It is a grittier but also, surprisingly more amusing tale of the bell ringer of Notre Dame, a beautiful gypsy, and the cold-hearted priest. There were plenty witty dialogues and intriguing suspenseful scenes (many of which did not make it to the animated flick, probably because they were a bit too unsavory for a young audience), but there was also a fair share of utterly dry descriptions, history, and philosophy that dragged on and on. It took about half of this classic tome to actually get some action happening, but once it did, it was great. I bought a hard copy in Paris at the American-owned bookstore, Shakespeare & Co., situated across the Seine River from Notre Dame, so it was special to start the book while in Paris and imagine what it looked like centuries before. I switched to audiobook once back home and enjoyed the narration. I kinda wish I went with an abridged version because of those slow, seemingly meaningless tangents, but it was a great challenge since I typically choose shorter books, and the actual plot made the dull parts worth it.
What Grieving People Wish You Knew About What Really Helps by Nancy Guthrie ★★★★★
A useful resource for those who want to come alongside those who are grieving. Nancy has endured different seasons of grief as two of her infants died from a rare genetic disorder. She uses her own experience as well as survey responses from others who have grieved loved ones to offer advice and practical steps in what to say and do (and what NOT to say and do) for those loved ones who are grieving, while also reminding readers that every grieving person is different and there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to grief or loving people who are grieving. Her Biblical perspective and insight was also really insightful.
Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool (audiobook) ★★★★☆
In the historical context of the months following the end of WWII, a boy named Jack gets enrolled in a boarding school in Maine and meets an odd boy named Early, who looks at the world in a wholly different and peculiar way. For one, he is obsessed with pi and reads it as a story, quantifying it less by the numerical value and more as a connection to an unsolved mystery. For another, he collects news clippings of a giant black bear in the nearby Appalachian mountains. These two oddities spring Early and a hesitant Jack on a mission involving borrowing the boarding school's prized boat and rowing to the Appalachian Trail, where they meet enchanting as well as dangerous characters that all seem to tie in to Early's pi story. This is such a fun middle-grade book that is jam-packed with adventure and mystery. It had me guessing until the end and had a fantastical feel to it. It dealt with topics such as survivor guilt, grieving a loved one, and autism-like tendencies in a respectful and insightful way.
It reminded me of: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Alchemist
Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan (audiobook) ★★★★☆
I absolutely loved the aforementioned Echo, so I was curious enough to find another book by the author. In this sweet tale, Esperanza is a girl from a wealthy Mexican family who experiences tragic circumstances leading to a sudden move to California, where the previously pampered thirteen year old is now sharing a shack with her mom and her former servants in a camp for Mexican farm workers. The shock and grief threaten to wreck her, but when her mom get sick, Esperanza must fight to provide for them, finding strength and resilience in herself like never before. This is historical fiction appropriate for middle-grade readers but also fascinating for adults like myself. I learned about the Mexican Repatriation that occurred during the Great Depression, a sad part in American history that I had never heard of until now. I am looking forward to finding more books by this fantastic author!
Come and Eat: A Celebration of Love and Grace Around the Everyday Table by Bri McKoy ★★★★☆
This is a book for anyone who loves the idea of using the everyday experience of sharing a meal to invite vulnerability, intentionality, brokenness, and conversation that points to the good news of Jesus. Bri shares personal stories of meals that shaped her life, from tiny shacks in third-world countries to being served by close friends during a lonely season in her life when she felt lost. She ties in stories of Jesus eating meals with his disciples as well as ones shared with people deemed disreputable by the surrounding Jews and what we can glean from the ways Jesus showed His love in the simple context of a meal. She invites readers to create space at their table, whether it is currently shared with roomies, family, or weekly small groups, and how it can be a ministry tool to show Jesus' love and grace. Thought-stirring discussion questions as well as mouth-watering recipes conclude each chapter. I was inspired and challenged by this book. And I was glad it was a book more about hospitality focused on the gospel rather than having an Instagram-ready tablescape. Don't get me wrong, I love a pretty table, but it was great to focus on more than that. McKoy did an excellent job encouraging authentic, purposeful ways to transform the meals you share with loved ones to better reflect Jesus' love and grace. For more info about Bri and this book, as well as delicious recipes, check out her blog, Our Savory Life.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book for free from BookLook Bloggers in exchange for an honest review, which I have provided here.
She Reads Truth Bible, Christian Standard Bible (CSB translation)
I have been a long-time fan of the online Bible study community of She Reads Truth, so I was excited when they revealed they'd come out with a Study Bible. But, I already had so many Bibles, I reluctantly held off until I saw that B&H/Lifeway Blogger Program had a few for review. I was bummed when the online request response informed me that there weren't anymore available for review, but on a whim, emailed the team. A representative from Lifeway replied that indeed, there were no more review copies BUT he saw one on the bookshelf in the office that he could send me... and it was the beautiful coral color I was secretly hoping for! It seems small and maybe insignificant, but when I received the Bible in the mail, I teared up and felt like it was a little gift from God, reminding me of His love during a rough week.
This beautiful Bible features 189 devotionals from the She Reads Truth writing team, Scripture reading plans for every book as well as a one-year reading plan, sixty-six key verses that are artfully lettered to help with Scripture memorization, 35 colorfully illustrated timelines, 20 helpful maps, 11 charts, detailed book introductions, and wide margins for taking notes. I've used it a handful of times in the past month for my personal Bible study of 2 Corinthians and am looking forward to digging into it more in the future!
Disclaimer: A BIG thank you to Andy for B&H Publishing Group for this copy!! This is my honest review in exchange for this product.
Here are Amazon links if you're interested in more info about specific books. If you decide to purchase one using a link below, I would receive a small compensation at no extra cost to you -- which would go to my book-buying fund, naturally :)