December Book Reviews
The 7-Day Allergy Makeover: A Simple Program to Eliminate Allergies and Restore Vibrant Health from the Inside Out by Susanne Bennett ★★★★☆
Ever since moving to Texas over three years ago, my allergies went from occasional annoyance to a daily bane to my existence. I am on conventional meds right now (Zyrtec and an antihistamine nasal spray) but am interested in more natural ways to not only treat my symptoms, but more importantly, figure out what is at the root of my allergic symptoms. This book was a useful guide that looked at common allergens, many of which I am exposed to daily. Each chapter looks at a different area that can wreak havoc on your body, including the quality of your water (many extra things that can be in it that can cause GI and skin issues), food (specifically milk and gluten), air (pollution, dust), your kitchen (pesticides on produce, mold on expired leftovers in the fridge), and the role of stress on our ability to fight infection and allergies. I wish there was more evidence-based research cited rather than mostly anecdotal evidence from her career as a naturopathic allergy specialist. It would have made the book, which had a ton of great information and practical implementation, more credible. Overall, it got me thinking a lot about a holistic approach to battling my allergies.
Mrs. Mike by Benedict and Nancy Freedman (audiobook) ★★★★☆
I don't usually read romance but when I read a description of this book on a blog a few months ago, I knew I'd want to read it. Katherine O'Fallon is barely sixteen when she embarks to visit an uncle in the Canadian wilderness. She soon falls in love with the Sergeant Mike Flannigan, a Canadian Mountie. They eventually marry and move to even more remote area of Canada, where Katherine experiences new friendships and complexities of living amongst native Indians, the joys and trials of motherhood, the highs and lows of marriage, and also heartbreaking loss. I enjoyed Katherine's wit and spunk. The love story was drawn out and realistic, not shying away from the messiness of marriage, especially when clinging to unforgiveness. The stunningly vivid descriptions of the Canadian wilderness make me long to see snow and evergreens again.
Reminded me of: Christy by Catherine Marshall
To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey ★★★★★
I have had this book on my TBR since reading the author's debut novel, The Snow Child, last December. I have been patiently waiting for winter so that I could feel the atmospheric wintery prose come alive. It is an exceptionally creative story; I can't say I ever read anything quite like it (which is what I said about The Snow Child too, but for different reasons!). It is a story comprised of journal entries of newlyweds that they intend to share with one another once their long separation ends. Colonel Allen Forrester is commissioned to explore the mostly unchartered and potentially dangerous Alaska's Wolverine River in the 1885. His wife, Sophie, is discovering a new hobby while awaiting his return to their cabin in the military barracks in Vancouver, Wa. This is fiction but loosely inspired by true accounts. Like The Snow Child, it captures magical realism is a unique and enchanting way. Ivey lives in Alaska, so it makes sense that she could write such intricate descriptions of the unchartered Alaskan wilderness that made me feel like I was there. Sprinkled throughout the book are also newspaper articles, photographs taken by Sophie, and a letters between a descendent of Forrester who wants to bestow these journals and precious artifacts to a museum curator situated in the very area of Alaska where Forrester explored. On a personal note, this book had a strong sense of nostalgia for me. I absolutely adore Fort Vancouver, the national historic site where Sophie is living during the story. Formerly called the Vancouver Barracks, it was the first U.S. Army post in the Pacific NW; a headquarters and supply depot since the mid-1800s. I used to live within fifteen minutes away and loved walking down the path lined with beautiful historic homes of Officer's Row as well as catching live performances of volunteers in character in the reconstructed fur trading post section of the park.
Christmas with Anne and other Holiday Stories by L. M. Montgomery ★★★☆☆ (audiobook)
A sweet collection of Christmas stories for the L.M. Montgomery fan. Starting out with the best story in the bunch, "Matthew Insists on Puffed Sleeves" is pulled straight out of Anne of Green Gables, and reminded me why I like shy, pensive Matthew Cuthbert. The scene in the store where he is trying to stir up courage to ask about dresses and instead asks the cashier to bring all the outdated farming equipment is always hilarious to revisit. Fifteen other short stories round out the collection, each following a similar formula of starting with some kind of problem and ending in a joyful (albeit, predictable and slightly overly saccharine-coated) resolution. They're a bit like Hallmark movies in that respect but they are still enjoyable stories if you aren't coming to the book expecting drawn-out plots and well-developed characters; there simply isn't enough time to always do that in short stories. Once I readjusted my expectations, I found I was enjoying the experience more.
A Midnight Clear: Family Christmas Stories by Katherine Paterson ★★☆☆☆
Two-time Newberry Medalist Katherine Paterson has written some beloved children's tales (including Bridge to Terabithia), so I was excited to pick this one up from a used book store, expecting much from this collection of short stories. But I just was not really interested in any of the stories and hurried through it. Each taught a lesson without being preachy, such as reaching out and volunteering rather than only expecting gifts at Christmas and another about a busy dad skipping out on Christmas Eve church service to put a wooden pony who gets a knock on his door and opportunity to offer kindness to one more unfortunate than himself. I didn't like one in particular about a preacher's daughter who wanted the part of Mary so bad in the church's annual nativity play, that she became a bit of a jerk in the process. These stories seemed like a modern take on Christmas stories with less sugary and predictable nature than Christmas with Anne but just didn't quite hit the mark for me.
Classic Christmas Stories: A Holiday Collection of Timeless Holiday Tales ★★★★☆(audiobook)
This short story collection from beloved authors such as Mark Twain, Hans Christian Anderson, Willa Cather, L.M. Montgomery, Harriet Beecher Stowe (and others) was my favorite of the Christmas short story collections I read this month. I particularly enjoyed Mark Twain's absolutely adorable "Susie's Letter from Santa", which was a creative and hilarious letter he wrote to his daughter, Arthur Con Doyle's Sherlock tale, "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle", O. Henry's "The Gift of the Magi", and the longest (and not very Christmas-y) yet so hilarious at the cringe-worthy plot, "Christmas at Thomson Hall".
The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White ★★★★★ (audiobook)
Not quite as popular as White's classic, Charlotte's Web, this was not on my radar at all until a few months ago when I saw it at a few bookstores and then kept hearing about it on random blogs and podcasts ever since. It is hilarious, adventurous, and endearing... and definitely deserves to stand alongside Charlotte's Web as a classic. Told from the perspective of a trumpeter swan who was born without a voice named Louis who embarks on a journey to find a way to create a voice so he can call out to the love of his life, Serena. His travels take him to school, where he learns to read and write, and accrues work experience in a wilderness camp for young boys, a tour guide musician, and even jazz club trumpeter. I was rooting for Louis all the way, laughing when his dad had any scenes at all, because he was a hoot (or a quack!). This is a great story to read aloud to kids but as an adult, I absolutely loved it too. Bonus: the audiobook was actually read by E.B. White!!!
Letters from Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkein ★★★★★
I have yet to read Tolkein's brilliant (but super lengthy) LOTR series, but it is definitely on my radar now that I finished this absolutely charming collection of letters he wrote to his four children over the span of two decades in which he pretended to be Father Christmas. As the years progressed, the storylines thickened, with a band of characters including his accident-prone, lazy, yet indespensable assistant, North Polar Bear. And in typical Tolkein fashion, this other world includes war between good and evil, namely Father Christmas and his friends vs the despicable goblins who attempt to steal Christmas gifts. Intricately created illustrations accompany the letters, adding a whimsical touch to the already adorable letters. What fun to have a father as imaginative as Tolkein!
Streams in the Desert: 365 Daily Devotional Readings by Lettie B. Cowman ★★★★★
I first read this devotional in 2012, when I was transitioning from grad school to a new job miles away. There were a lot of changes and stress, so it was a balm to my soul to read each truth-filled, encouraging devotion. Back in January 2018, I decided to re-read it. I am in a different season of life and yet it was still powerful to spend a few minutes each day meditating on a verse and devotional reading on various topics that pointed towards suffering, enduring hardships, and trusting God through it all. A beloved devotional for decades, this version is edited and updated to today's language by Jim Reimann. L. B. Cowman includes quotes from a variety of notable theologians including a large amount from Charles Spurgeon. It is a great devotional for whatever season you're in, but especially refreshing and encouraging when going through a time that seems heavy and hard when God's Word is truly like streams in the desert.
I'd Rather Be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life by Anne Bogel ★★★★★
It is no secret I absolutely love Anne's literary matchmaking podcast, What Should I Read Next, as well as her lifestyle blog that leans heavily on all things books and reading, Modern Mrs Darcy. It was only natural that she'd eventually branch out and write a book about books, right? Well, this little collection of essays is utterly delightful for any bibliophile. Each chapter focuses on either a delight or a dilemma of the reading life, including different ways to organize a bookshelf, finding her book twin (a friend with similar tastes in reading), the joys of living next door to a library, the danger of becoming "book bossy", how reading helps us grow and gives us different perspectives, her experience being a bookseller for a day, to re-read or not to re-read, and so much more. Anne Bogel has a way of putting into words what so many readers feel about their favorite hobby and she does it with her signature wit and charm.
Becoming by Michelle Obama ★★★★★
The former FLOTUS shares her story of becoming who she is today. Her candor, humor, wisdom, and compassion resound through the pages. From her upbringing in the South Side of Chicago to Harvard and Princeton, to her first job as a lawyer in a high-rise office of downtown Chicago to letting go of that prestigious career and choosing humanitarian work, to becoming a wife, mom, and eventually the First Lady of the United States. I loved how she was honest and vulnerable about her career struggles, as an unhappy lawyer trying to figure out what she truly wanted to do, to a new mom juggling work and motherhood, to her busy life as First Lady supporting initiatives such as Let's Move! (promoting healthy habits for kids) and Let Girls Learn (she teamed with husband Obama to promote education for girls around the world). She used her influence, past experiences, and driven personality to pursue many causes while juggling being a wife to the President for eight years, and raising girls under the glare of media. I learned a lot about her and have deep respect for this amazing woman and all she has accomplished. She is a superb storyteller, weaving the different seasons of her life with thought-provoking reflections.
Silent Noisy Night by Jill Roman Lord
We sing Silent Night at Christmas, but the very first Christmas could very well have been a very noisy night, as this adorable and creative Christmas board book conjectures. If Jesus was born in a stable or cave in the little town of Bethlehem, out in the countryside of Judea, there could have been some cows moo-ing, goats bleating, horses neigh-ing, chickens clucking, donkeys braying, mice squeaking, and crickets chirping, right? With colorful illustrations and short sentences for even the youngest of toddlers to track along, this is an adorable way for kids to imagine what it was like on the night that our Savior was born. And at the end, they are encouraged to make a joyful noise themselves, celebrating the good news of Jesus with delight.
Disclaimer: I received this book for free from B&H/Lifeway Blogger in exchange for an honest review, which I have provided here.
Disclaimer: I received this book for free from B&H/Lifeway Blogger in exchange for an honest review, which I have provided here.
P.S. HERE are my favorite books of 2018!