December Book Reviews
The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God by Timothy and Kathy Keller ★★★★★
An insightful, practical, and engaging marriage book saturated in Scripture as well as relevant research data and personal stories. Chapters looks at the power, essence, mission, and secret of marriage as well as embracing each other and loving one another as we each grow into different versions of ourselves throughout the years. If you are looking for a book that takes a deep dive into what Biblical marriage looks like, as well as application to help your own marriage head towards that direction, this is an indispensable resource that I wholeheartedly recommend. It is my new favorite marriage book.
“When over the years someone has seen you at your worst, and knows you with all your strengths and flaws, yet commits him- or herself to you wholly, it is a consummate experience. To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.”
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (audiobook and paperback) ★★★★★
I have watched several film adaptations of Jane Eyre but had yet to actually read the classic until December and all I can say is ---- WHY HAVE I WAITED THIS LONG?! I lied, I can say A LOT MORE. Jane Eyre is an exquisitely written novel that has earned the right to be called one of the finest novels in English literature. Written 170 years ago, the English is surprisingly readable, much more so than Austen novels, in my opinion. There is excellent character development in both the heroine, Jane Eyre, as well as the brooding Mr. Rochester that was depicted more clearly than in film adaptations because of Brontë's masterful skill. It is both a coming-of-age story as much as it is a love story, and Jane's moral integrity, perseverance, forgiveness, compassion, and intellect all made her stand out as a true heroine. Though a somewhat bleak story, it was riveting to the end, and had me thinking about it for days after.
“Do you think I am an automaton? — a machine without feelings? and can bear to have my morsel of bread snatched from my lips, and my drop of living water dashed from my cup? Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! — I have as much soul as you — and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you."
Anne of Ingleside (Anne of Green Gables #6) by L.M. Montgomery ★★★☆☆
I enjoyed the previous five Anne books and have been eager to read this last one, but was somewhat disappointed. Maybe it just was the wrong time for me to read it and I would have enjoyed it more at another time, but I wasn't captivated by the seemingly endless tales of Anne's children. I wanted more of Anne and less of the kid's stories. Sure they were comical, but I felt like by this sixth novel, Montgomery had fallen into a formulaic style where she is writing mini-stories within the novel, each lasting two to three chapters and tied neatly with a bow. It felt a bit gimmicky and repetitive. Spirited Anne is now middle-aged and mother to six children, so it is understandable that she has lost some of her spunky self, but at times, she didn't seem to resemble younger Anne at all, to the point that she was a bit annoying. Out of the six books, by two least favorite were this one and Windy Poplars, and I think it's interesting that both were written decades later than the other books, so I think the tone and voice is off. Montgomery herself was ready to be done with Anne at this point but fans wanted more Anne, so she delivered, in my onion, halfheartedly. Its worth a read if you want to complete the series (though technically, Rainbow Valley and Rilla of Ingleside are also part of this series, but they focus entirely on the children so I exclude them from my count), but don't expect the same charm as the original Anne of Green Gables, which is still beloved and cherished to me.
The Man Who Invented Christmas: How Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits by Les Stanford ★★★☆☆
Charles Dickens was in a creative and financial slump when an idea came to mind: a story about Christmas. Within six weeks, his “little Carol”, as he referred to it, was written, illustrated, and published, a mere 6 days before Christmas in 1843. Soon, London was enraptured by the tale, which painted Christmas as a holiday full of goodwill, joyful family gatherings, and generosity in a generation when Christmas resembled more its pagan counterpart rather than the Biblical nativity story. It had negative, somewhat lewd connotations because of the rowdy parties at the time that pointed towards the pagan Roman holiday that was celebrated on December 25th long before the Pope decided in the 5th century that the birth of Jesus should be celebrated the same day (in hopes it would bring people to church instead of their crazy partying). So, a story about a man haunted by ghosts due to his own greed, cold heart, and selfishness painted Christmas in a different light. Dickens’ concern for the impoverished working class and disdain for money-hungry top dogs hit the note with readers and left an imprint hard to replicate. One-hundred and seventy-four years later, references to the book have entered our vernacular (“Don’t be such a Scrooge!” “Bah humbug!”) and countless film adaptations have recaptured the Carol for modern audiences all over the world. This book, marketed as explaining how A Christmas Carol “invented Christmas” was interesting because I have been curious about the story behind the classic novella. Dickens' tumultuous upbringing was discussed, including his dad’s stint in a debtor’s prison, which pressured Charles into working at the young age of twelve to pay his father’s debt (and became an inspiration for future novels). His contentious relationship with his long-time publishers was also of some interest to me. But there was a lot less about the effects of A Christmas Carol had on future generations, which is what the book is supposed to be about, and why I picked up the book in the first place.
A Simplified Life: Tactical Tools for Intentional Living by Emily Ley ★★★★★
Emily Ley is known for her creation, the Simplified Planner, and now has come out with this useful resource for simplifying your life to what matters. She shares practical strategies, systems, and tips for clearing clutter, organizing, and prioritizing what matters —mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. The book is divided in ten key areas to implement her tactical tools for simplifying life, including: your home, style, meals, schedule, finances, hospitality, technology, self care, motherhood, and faith. I underlined a lot and added quite a few ideas to my own 2018 goals while reading this books, so it was definitely inspiring and useful to read in the last days of the year. I really appreciated that she wasn't trying to sell anything in her book. She actually encouraged not buying organizational things because we typically can organize without needing to buy extra stuff.
Disclaimer: I received this book for free from Book Look Bloggers in exchange for an honest review, which I have provided here.
Stella by Starlight by Sharon M. Draper (audiobook) ★★★★☆
This midlevel novel is endearing as well as slightly haunting tale of the prejudice in the South during the Depression era. Stella lives in Bumblebee, North Carolina and does her best thinking and writing at nighttime. But when she sees a secret KKK meeting in the nearby woods, she realizes how deep the hatred runs in her small town and also learns what bravery in the face of difficulties looks like. This is a very appropriate book, content-wise, for middle-graders. It is written from Stella's perspective, a girl who lacks confidence in her schoolwork but who displays courage, kindness, resilience, and determination time after time. And it teaches young readers about a dark spot in our history in a way that is not sugar-coated but also is not too graphic for younger readers. It would make for great conversations with younger and older readers alike.
84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff ★★★★★
If you like books about books, this one’s for you. A quirky, slightly high maintenance (in the most hilarious way possible) New Yorker, who writes screenplays as her day job and hunts down hard-to-find antique books at night, starts a twenty-year snail mail correspondence with a bookseller in London, asking him to find books while also learning about his life -- and the lives of the other booksellers and their families -- in post- WWII London. This is a delightful, short read, especially if you like epistolary novels, since it is entirely made up of the actual letters written between Helen and the booksellers at 84, Charing Cross Road. It reminded me of The Guernsey Potato Peel Pie Society.
When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon ★★★☆☆ (audiobook)
Dimple is a determined, independent eighteen-year old on the eve of starting her college career at Stanford and getting away from her traditional Indian parents (who desperately want her to get married already) when she enrolls in a prestigious summer program for computer coding. Rishi is also enrolled in the program, but for an entirely different reason: a possible arranged marriage with Dimple. When they meet, the wrong kind of sparks fly, but soon, things change. I liked reading a book about the Indian culture and how these second generation Indian-American teens, each vastly different in their desire to embrace their heritage, navigate a romantic relationship as well as future dreams that break against the mold of what their parents want for them. I wasn’t keen on a few sensual scenes and references, but this is why I typically stay away from both YA and romance, so I can’t say I was too surprised. I almost stopped but was curious to see how the story would end. A fun read overall but not a favorite.
Unwrapping the Names of Jesus: An Advent Devotional by Asheritah Ciuciu ★★★★★
What a better way to celebrate Advent than to focus on the names of the Jesus. This five-week devotional is a great resource to deepen your knowledge and press you towards worshipping Jesus as you grow in your understanding of what certain names signify, including Son of Man, Lamb of God, Light of the World, Lion of Judah, King of Kings, and the Vine. There were great questions for each daily devotional as well as a prayer. Every Saturday had activities to do rather than a devotional, which I liked because it gave me good ideas to celebrate the coming of Christmas in new ways that pointed me to Jesus and served others around me. The Sunday readings had a more liturgical feel to them, with read-aloud passages that can be read with family or alone. I loved reading the devotions in the morning and thinking about them through the day.
Disclaimer: I received this book for free through Moody Publishers in exchange for an honest review, which I have provided here.
Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand (audiobook) ★★★★★
I watched the film adaptation of this phenomenal book a few years ago so I didn't think too much about reading the actual book until a friend finished it last month and loved it. I opted for the audiobook, which was narrated very well. This true story is nearly unbelievable at times. How could a human being survive so many seemingly unsurmountable odds stacked against him, danger after harrowing danger? And yet, this is the true story of Louis Zamperini. A menacing child whose energy was channeled into running (with a goal of a four-minute mile!), with the help of his big brother. He made it all the way to the 1936 Olympics. Soon after, WWII broke out and he became a bombardier in the Army, who in May 1943, went missing when he and his crew crashed their plane into the Pacific. His survival, and that of his friend and pilot, were in jeopardy due to hungry sharks bumping against their raft, the relentless sun beating down on their burned skin, the lack of potable water and nourishing food, and their raft drifting towards the Japanese-occupated islands. Things just kept getting worse as he became a prisoner of war and was taunted, traumatized, and tortured by a vindictive Japanese officer. Zamperini's resilience, endurance, courage, and ingenuity were all inspirational. There was so much more info in the book that couldn't be fully captured in a film. I especially liked hearing about his later years and how he became a Christian. This is a jaw-dropping, fast-paced, brilliantly written story captivated me from start to finish.
The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey ★★★★★
Jack and Mabel are a married couple in their fifties who have recently moved to Alaska in the 1920s to escape the bustle of city life and enjoy solitude... and that is exactly what they get on their plot of land in the middle of nowhere. Mabel grows unsatisfied and lonely and Jack is struggling to figure out how to farm the desolate Alaskan earth when the season's first snowfall occurs one night. Exhausted and temperamental, they both are enchanted by the snow and throw aside their unhappiness when they build a snow child from the soft snow in their front yard. In the next days, they glimpse a blonde-haired girl running through the trees nearby and slowly realize the uncanny resemblance and coincidence of the snow child that they had built and was now gone. Could this girl be made from the snow coupled with their deep desire for a child? Or are they both experiencing cabin fever, hallucinating from their solitude and crushed dreams of becoming parents? This fairytale-inspired novel is different than anything I have ever read. It kept me guessing between these two possibilities as well as a few others that popped up as the story progressed. Who was this child and where did she come from? Ivey's writing is gorgeous. Her descriptions of the seasons in the Alaskan wilderness are so intricate, it is obvious she has spent time there to be able to capture the beauty in words (she lives in Alaska). The character development, dialogue between different characters, and the mysterious plot were woven together into the perfect cozy read leading up to Christmas. And I also appreciated the depth of emotion and vulnerability of Mabel wrestling with grief of birthing a stillborn baby early in their marriage. It brought a somber note to the story that kept it from being too whimsical and made her relatable.
My Merry Christmas by Sally Lloyd-Jones
I love anything and everything from Sally, author of the beloved Jesus Storybook Bible. This Christmas picture book is a perfect way for parents to discuss how many of the Christmas symbols (such as twinkling lights, angels, Christmas tree) can point us to the story of Jesus' birth. With adorably illustrated woodland creatures in a snowy winter wonderland alternating with illustrations of the nativity story, this book is endearing. Here is one of the Christmas symbols/traditions explained (the star at the top of the tree):
"Above our tree, the twinkling star
Tells us wise men traveled far . . .
To find the king, and so we say,
This Christmastime and every day,
Be our king, dear Lord, we pray"
The sentences are short and simple enough for toddlers to understand but the meaning behind the words are deep enough for older children to enjoy and discuss how certain traditions and symbols can remind us of the real reason behind Christmas.
Disclaimer: I received this book for free from B&H/Lifeway Bloggers in exchange for an honest review, which I have provided here.
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 :)