February Book Reviews
Last month, I posted about wanting to primarily read my own bookshelf rather than buying new books or lending from the library (see post HERE). I read Peace Like A River from my bookshelf in January and two more this month, He Gave Us A Valley and The Deep Place Where Nobody Goes. Along with that, I listened to six audiobooks, which is the main way I have been "reading" since its been a busy month!
Endurance: A Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discovery by Scott Kelly (audiobook) ★★★★☆
A fascinating memoir about Kelly's historic and heroic year away from earth's gravity that is coupled with moments from his childhood to adulthood that led him to this dangerous record-breaking mission. Kelly narrates the audiobook so it's a fun listen, but caution: there are A LOT of f-bombs. This is not a good choice for young readers. Instead, his children's book companion, My Journey to the Stars is better suited for younger readers. If you have ever been curious about living on the International Space Station, the journey to becoming an astronaut, or curious about space-y things like drinking your own filtered urine, jogging without gravity, and showering without water, this is the book for you. Intriguing and enlightening, Kelly entertains with his witty humor but also goes deep while talking about being away from his family for so long. Time put together an excellently done documentary about Kelly A Year in Space, which Greg and I are watching on youtube and loving (definitely family-friendly)!
“What is it worth to see two former bitter enemies transform weapons into transport for exploration and the pursuit of scientific knowledge? What is it worth to see former enemy nations turn their warriors into crewmates and lifelong friends? This is impossible to put a dollar figure on, but to me it’s one of the things that makes this project worth the expense, even worth risking our lives.”
“I've learned that an achievement that seems to have been accomplished by one person probably has hundreds, maybe even thousands, of people's minds and work behind it, and I've learned that it's a privilege to be the embodiment of that work . . . I've learned that most problems aren't rocket science, but when they are rocket science, you should ask a rocket scientist. In other words, I don't know everything, so I've learned to seek advice and counsel and to listen to experts.”
The Mountain Between Us by Charles Martin (audiobook) ★★★★☆
I was introduced to Martin last month with the tear-jerker, When Crickets Cry, and wanted more Martin. Low and behold, a Hollywood adaptation had just released for one of his most well-known books, so I decided to listen to the audiobook. Without giving away too many details, here are a few: there is an orthopedic surgeon named Ben Payne who befriends a passenger named Ashley Knox. There's a plane crash and broken bones. And there is a vast, remote wilderness of freezing temperatures and sky-high, snow-covered mountains. Can Ben and Ashley get to safety before they freeze their hineys off? Shifting between the fast-paced adventure of trekking through the snowy mountains and the slower paced memories of Ben falling in love with his wife, the story flows well overall. There were a lot of details that seemed unrealistic (a orthopedic surgeon who just happens to be traveling with all his mountain hiking gear is able to reduce a serious fracture and set up fires from past Eagle Scout experience), but really, if these details weren't in the book, it would be unlikely they'd survive very long and this would have been a very short book otherwise.
“You asked me for some advice. I’m going to tell you the same thing I told my girls before they married. Marry the man who’s going to walk with you through the next fifty or sixty years. Open doors, hold your hand, make your coffee, rub lotion on the cracks of your feet, put you up on a pedestal where you belong. Is he marrying your face and your bottle-blond hair, or will he love you when you look like whoever you’re going to look like in fifty years?”
He Gave Us A Valley by Helen Roseveare ★★★★☆
Helen Roseveare served as the missionary doctor in a remote village in Congo from the 1953 until 1963 when a horrific civil war broke out in the country. After experiencing traumatizing brutality and abuse, Roseveare was rescued and returned home to Great Britain, unsure if she'd ever return. This is all retold in the first book of the two-part memoir, Give Me This Mountain (my review HERE). But, spoiler alert: she returns two years later, and her mission changes from focusing on providing medical services for the remote villages of war-torn Congo to starting a new school to train native medical staff to fill the voids of desperately low medical availability in the country. Her resilience, stubbornness, risk-taking, and passion are stretched beyond their limits as she deals with unhappy, demanding students who see her as a white foreigner. She struggles through this whole season and some of it is exasperating to read about. I feel like I would have just shut down the school and returned to where I knew people appreciated my work rather than continually be chewed out by angry students, but she stuck with it, though she admits to having these thoughts many times. In fact, the last chapter of the book is titled Was it Worthwhile? This is an honest look into a missionary's experience that lacks any romantic, exciting drama that some may look for in reading about missionaries traveling to remote countries. The book made me uneasy at times and Roseveare herself was a bit annoying because of her stubbornness and sometimes bossy attitude. I wish she would have shared more about her spiritual journey, especially healing from the traumatic experiences being a hostage by the rebels during the war. Instead, there is a bit too much reminiscing on the bickering of the students and the building of the school than I would have liked. But it was still a very worthwhile read, if only for her humility and honesty in her failures. She is a great example that God can use any personality type for His purposes. He used her amidst her pride and hard-headedness and was able to do great things through her brokenness. I am glad she didn't gloss over this fact. She never made it sound like she had it all together; she clearly didn't. But this made it relatable and realistic and very thought-provoking.
"'No,' [The Lord] quietly rebuked me. 'No. You no longer want Jesus only, but Jesus plus . . . plus respect, popularity, public opinion, success and pride . . . You wanted to feel needed and respected . . . You'd like letters when you got home to tell you how much they realize they owe to you, how much they miss you. All this and more. Jesus plus . . . No, you can't have it. Either it must be Jesus only or you'll find you've no Jesus. You'll substitute Helen Roseveare.'
A great long silence followed--several days of total inner silence. At last I managed to tell Him that with all my heart I wanted Jesus only."
And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer by Fredrik Backman ★★★★★ (audiobook)
I enjoyed A Man Called Ove last year and wanted to read another Backman eventually. This itty bitty novella (the audiobook is roughly an hour!) packs a punch, but be sure to grab the tissue box. An exquisitely penned story of conversations between an aging grandfather who is losing his memory and his beloved grandson who is trying to make sense of it. There is a tiny sense of magical realism that I won't spoil because it is just really creatively composed to help the reader understand the inner thoughts and memories of one who is losing grasp of all he knows. This little gem of a book can easily be read in one sitting, but do not rush through it. Savor the descriptions, especially the heartwarming dialogue between him and his wife.
“You were never easy, darling difficult sulky you, never diplomatic. You might even have been easy to dislike at times. But no one, absolutely no one, would dare tell me you were hard to love.”
Reminds me of: The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa
Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry (audiobook) ★★★★☆
After reading, and utterly falling in love with the novel Hannah Coulter last year, I knew I would need to read more Berry. Jayber Crow is the life story of another of rural Port William's longtime residents. He is the barber who welcomed the boys and men for a trim and a safe place to relax and chat at his Main Street barbershop. A pensive man who loves to read, Jayber's thoughts about war (he lives through WWI, WWII, and Vietnam War), the economy, the industrialization and slow eradication of the old ways of farming don't seem preachy but definitely point to the author's own ideals, as he is an outspoken conservationist, farmer, pacifist. The descriptions of the picturesque countryside of rural Kentucky have me itching to own my own plot of land or at least find an Airbnb to stay for a long weekend of sweeping hillside views while I sip some tea and read books (no grueling farm work for me, thank you very much). Berry's writing is silk smooth and rich. His dialogues between the folk of Port William, descriptions of the scenery, and internal dialogue on topics such as love, aging and death, and faith in God were all stitched together exquisitely with sentences that made me swoon. I am learning that you can't speed through a Berry book-- or at least you shouldn't want to. His books are meant to be chewed and savored, a perfect example of the literary fiction genre that I am finding myself leaning towards more and more.
“...I was a young man. I hardly knew what I knew, let alone what I was going to know.”
“They learned to have a very high opinion of God and a very low opinion of His works—although they could tell you that this world had been made by God Himself. What they didn’t see was that it is beautiful, and that some of the greatest beauties are the briefest.”
The Deep Place Where Nobody Goes: Conversations with God on the Steps of My Soul by Jill Briscoe ★★★☆☆
I absolutely loved hearing Jill Briscoe speak at the If:Gathering in 2017 and wanted to read something written by this woman who has spent half a century following Jesus and telling others about Him. Her memoir of her childhood and early adulthood was a great read (There's A Snake In My Garden). This collection of reflections, poems, and short stories from her life focus on her relationship with God in different life seasons. The Deep Place Where Nobody Goes is her name for her soul conversations and prayers to God. She is deeply imaginative and uses metaphors a lot so she writes of it as if it is a true place and that God is responding to her as He sits on the steps of her soul in that deep place and gently reminds her of His truth, corrects her, and encourages her. She wrote about topics such as humility, difficult days, the passing years, Christmas and Easter. Her writing is beautiful and she pens simple yet profound poetry, but it wasn't a book that I fell in love with. I think it may be because I get uneasy with authors who write from God's perspective (what He said to them) because the logical side of me is thinking, "How do you know He said that and it wasn't just your imagination?" I don't want to doubt she had conversations with God as she said, and there was not anything that she wrote that was contradictory to the Bible or how it depicts God and His truths. I just don't usually like this genre/type of Christian writing, so it wasn't a favorite.
Born To Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall ★★★★☆ (audiobook)
I love to read about running. It pumps me up while I listen during my trail jogging and gym sessions and gives me things to think about afterwards to improve. This book was fascinating and hard to believe at times. It follows the epic adventure of the author, which began with the seemingly innocent question posed to a sports medicine doctor, why did his feet hurt after jogging only a few miles? Others ran marathons; why couldn't his body allow it? His questions propelled him to researching elite ultra-marathoners and eventually, he set out to find the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico's treacherous Copper Canyons. This people group are called the Running People and are known to run for hundreds of miles without rest and actually enjoy it. At the climax of this adventure, McDougall, along with a strange, mysterious man named Caballo Blanco who is an American who lives among the tribe, bring some of the fastest American ultra-marathoners and a few of the superathletes of this Indian tribe in an epic fifty-mile race across the dry, sizzling Copper Canyons. An engaging book with commendable research and writing. I could have done without the language (a few cuss words) and the chapter on evolutionary changes from our "earlier" running bodies. Otherwise, a solid read that was easy to follow on audiobook.
It reminded me of: What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami and My Year of Running Dangerously by Tom Foreman
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston ★★★★☆ (audiobook)
A deeply atmospheric, richly worded life story of an African-American woman named Janie in the 1930s. Her search for love, joy, and identity leads her through three marriages as well as sorrow. I have been curious about this classic for a long time and am so glad I finally read it -- or rather, listened to it. I chose to read it via audiobook after several bloggers mentioned the strong Southern dialect was hard to decipher in the book. The narration of the audiobook was performed by Ruby Dee (actress, poet, playwright, screenwriter, journalist and civil rights activist) and was absolutely fantastic! Her voice captured the essence of Janie and all of the other characters and she made the story jump off the pages (or headphones?). The writing itself deserve massive praise as well. Hurston's imagination and ability to capture the essence of her characters and even personifying nature in a unique, creative way as if a character itself, was a fun experience.
“It is so easy to be hopeful in the daytime when you can see the things you wish on. But it was night, it stayed night. Night was striding across nothingness with the whole round world in his hands . . . They sat in company with the others in other shanties, their eyes straining against cruel walls and their souls asking if He meant to measure their puny might against His. They seemed to be staring at the dark, but their eyes were watching God.”
“Janie looked down on him and felt a self-crushing love. So her soul crawled out from its hiding place.”
“...she starched and ironed her face, forming it into just what people wanted to see...”
“She stood there until something fell off the shelf inside her. Then she went inside there to see what it was. It was her image of Jody tumbled down and shattered. But looking at it she saw that it never was the flesh and blood figure of her dreams. Just something she had grabbed up to drape her dreams over.”
Hinds Feet in High Places by Hannah Hurnard
12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You by Tony Reinke
The Lifegiving Home by Sally and Sarah Clarkson
Calm My Anxious Heart by Linda Dillow
Streams in the Dessert: 366 Daily Devotional Readings by Lettie B. Cowman