February Books

Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri★★
If you have read any novel by Lahiri before, the plots of these eight stories won't surprise you a bit. Lahiri follows the literary adage "write what you know" to the hilt. But that does not have to be a bad thing if that's what you're prepared for and wanting to experience. The challenges and unique experience of growing up as an American-Bengali, with one foot in the contemporary Westernized culture and another foot steeped in the colorful traditions of parents who miss their country, make up her writing through various characters of various ages and temperaments. In this way, the eight stories are unique, yet weaved together as well. One story focuses on a widowed father who is hiding a new romance from his daughter. Another focuses on sibling relationships and how alcoholism can tear apart the closest of ties. Three of the stories are linked together, telling a story of a grieving boy, an awkward girl, and how they go from childhood acquaintances to much more later on. They were good stories and I truly do enjoy learning more about the Bengali culture (even though I wish there was a bit more variety in her stories), but almost all of them had sex scenes or language that bugged me. And I am starting to realize I am not a short story fan. I feel like the story ends too abruptly, typically during the climax of the story. I am the sort of reader that enjoys some resolution at the end and deep character development throughout the story, which often is not the focus of short stories.

Rating: PG-13 (sex and language)

I recommend: Lahiri's longer novel, Namesake, if you like character development and are interested in reading more about the Bengali culture.

** This is the 8th book I read in 2019 from my Unread Bookshelf (Goal = Read 40 books I already own in 2019)

Book Girl: A Journey Through the Treasures and Transforming Power of a Reading Life by Sarah Clarkson 
Sarah has been reading since she was in the womb (with Sally Clarkson as her mom, this should come as no surprise) and has been an avid, if not voracious, reader ever since. In this book, which is part memoir, part essays on different aspects and advantages of reading, and part book recommendations, Sarah dives into the literary life in full book nerd status. It is a fun read overall, and I definitely appreciated certain essays and the book recommendations. It got a little tiresome how many times she mentioned living in Oxford, but I guess if I lived in the land of C.S. Lewis, Tolkein, and the buildings that inspired Harry Potter, I suppose I would be gushing about it whenever I had a chance too. I definitely added a few of her book recommendations to my already too long to-be-read-list and enjoyed hearing her thoughts on topics such as fostering imagination and a deeper understanding of faith through reading.

Rating: G

I recommend if: you enjoyed Anne Bogel's I'd Rather Be Reading (or any other book about the reading life)

** This is the 9th book I read in 2019 from my Unread Bookshelf (Goal = Read 40 books I already own in 2019)

Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper 
This is a middle grade novel that anyone and everyone can read and enjoy. It will give you a new perspective of the difficulties and challenges of individuals with cerebral palsy (or any other disability that causes an inability to easily communicate). Draper created a sweet, spunky, intelligent, and courageous heroine in Melody, a fifth grader with CP who is much smarter than anyone gives her credit for since she is in a wheelchair and cannot talk like the "normal kids". When a new integration program allows Melody and other Special Ed children to spend part of their day in the conventional classroom, which is tough since the classmates and teachers assume she is mentally disabled. But she surprises (and aggravates) them soon enough when they realize she may be the answer to helping their school finally win a competition for the brightest kids. This would be an excellent book to read to children and discuss how to be compassionate towards classmates who look different than them. And it is a great reminder for us adults as well!

Rating: G

Recommend if you liked: Petey by Ben Mikaelson (about a boy with CP) and Wonder by R. J. Palacio (both great books!!)

** This is the 10th book I read in 2019 from my Unread Bookshelf (Goal = Read 40 books I already own in 2019)

Kisses from Katie: A Story of Relentless Love and Redemption by Katie Davis 
This is one of my favorites books ever (that is high praise) and I was ecstatic when it finally got voted for our next book club read (I had been pitching it for the past two years! haha). I thought I would just skim it this second time around, but as soon as I read the first page, I knew I'd read every word because it is just that good! Katie was only eighteen when a two-week mission trip to Uganda rocked her world forever. It led her to spending more than a decade in the small village that captivated her heart. Within a few years, she adopted thirteen girls and started a thriving ministry called Amazima serving families and enabling children to go to school and have nutritious meals. In this memoir, she honestly and humbly tells her story, continually pointing to God as her source of strength. Yes, this story is about her, but it reaches far beyond her and she is intent on pointing the focus on God rather than herself. Also, if you end up reading and enjoying this book, her follow-up memoir, Daring to Hope (written only a few years ago), is absolutely phenomenal as well!

Rating: G

Recommend if you like: reading about brave, humble Christian women in the mission field (such as Amy Carmichael, Elisabeth Elliot, Mother Teresa). 

Nathan Coulter by Wendell Berry (audiobook) 
Oh, Wendell. Here you go again with your signature slow, thoughtful prose that makes me take a deep breath and wish I was living in Port William, Kentucky yet again. I adored the first Wendell Berry novel I read, Hannah Coulter, and really enjoyed Jayber Crow, so I was looking forward to hearing Nathan's story since he was a friend of Jayber and the second husband of Hannah. But I didn't realize that this book only focuses on his childhood, which was a slight bummer since I wanted to have a cameo appearance of Hannah and hear his side of their sweet love story. But it definitely had its own charm, filled with coming-of-age as well as aching grief, sibling relationship, and (of course, in Wendell fashion), the beauty and importance of the farm land that sustained them.

Rating: G

Recommend if you like: Any Wendell, of course. But it also reminded me of other child-narrated stories such as Cold Sassy Tree and Where the Red Fern Grows.

Rilla of Ingleside by L.M. Montgomery (audiobook) 
I have no read seven of the eight Anne of Green Gable books (Rainbow Valley is the one I have yet to read) and this last novel of the series had a strikingly different tone than preceding books, where I wouldn't even guess they were related if not for housemaid Susan's lovable cantankerous monologues (she had plenty of them in several of the later books). Even Anne seemed far off from her younger self. Rilla is Anne's youngest daughter, fourteen when the book starts and just dying to be treated like a grown up despite her immaturity and somewhat self-indulgent nature. But she definitely grows up in the months and years ahead as her the men of her dear little Prince Edward Island go off to fight in WWI and life changes forever. She develops compassion, wisdom, and gumption as she tackles different trials, and to bring some humor in an otherwise serious narrative, gets herself in a few scrapes that resemble her mama in her younger days. I have not read very much fiction about WWI so I learned a lot. Overall I liked it, but nothing beats the first three Anne books for me.

Rating: G

Recommended if you like the Anne books, obviously :)

The Library Book by Susan Orlean 
In 1986, a fire broke out in the historic Los Angeles Public Library, destroying 400,000 books and damaging 700,000 more. Thirty years later, the answers are still unclear about what (or who) started the fire. This mystery is slowly unpacked as the main investigative journalistic plot Orlean uses in this book. But she also weaves in the history of the Los Angeles Public Library from its modest beginnings in 1870s to the innovative and creative ways librarians have accommodated to the internet age of today. As a lover of books and libraries, I found it fascinating and it gave me a deeper appreciation for public libraries. 

Kid Lit

Don't Close Your Eyes: A Silly Bedtime Story  by Bob Hostetler (illustrated by Mark Chambers) 
The adorably illustrated woodland creatures of this story are trying their hardest not to shut those increasingly heavy eyelids as the lullaby rhymes of each page reminds them of the warmth and comfort of being tucked away. A fun way to be silly at bedtimes with the toddlers who keep saying "But I'm not tired!" while still helping them prepare for catching some Zzzz's.

Disclaimer: A big thanks to BookLook Bloggers for a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review, which I have provided here. 


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