March Book Reviews

As mentioned in a previous post, I have not been on social media and most other "unnecessary" technology (including Goodreads and YouTube) all of March, so (prior to the library temporarily closing due to coronavirus) I checked out books from the library I had saved for at least a year in a wishlist for "one day". Since a lot of my social media and frivolous tech use is while I nurse or while I carry Elliot during a nap, I decided these would be perfect "fringe" moments in the day, lasting anywhere from fifteen minutes to one and a half hour  at a time to read. It was hard to read physical books while learning to nurse Elliot since I had to be more attentive to his latch and it was a two-hand process to cradle his head and fix the latch every once in a while. Now that he is accustomed to nursing, I can use one hand to hold a book while cradling him with the other. It certainly cannot be a large tome, of course, but an average size book is perfect. I still listened to audiobooks this month but tried to set aside time I usually dedicate to audiobooks (getting ready in the morning, late-night feeding sessions, while cleaning the house, running errands, and either walking or jogging on our nearby trail) to instill periods of silence. I have constant input coming into my mind from an adorable (and sometimes tearful) chatty infant on top of all the technology available, so it is nice to structure time of solitude and silence, especially during a walk or during a late night feeding.

All that to say, my reading has been more varied and intentional this month and I read a record-breaking SIXTEEN awesome books!

Gulliver's Travels by Jonathon Swift (audiobook and physical book) 
I have had this classic on my bookshelf for at least a year. I finally reached for it after recently hearing it praised as an entertaining and fun read on a podcast. I assumed it would be hard to read (some of it was) but overall, I agreed with that review and found it surprisingly hilarious. Written as political satire, some of it was over my head since my British government history is rusty (as in, nonexistent), but the stories themselves were full of wit, incredible world-building (long before Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings), sharp dialogue, and ridiculous adventures that are humorously over-the-top. Most people (myself included) have a mental picture (often from cartoon adaptations)  of Gulliver as a giant among tiny people, washed ashore after a shipwreck. This is accurate, but only the first of four equally creative voyages. In contrast to Lilliput's six-inch colony where Gulliver was indeed towering over the villagers, Gulliver's next voyage starts with a treacherous storm that sends him off course and eventually landing on an island where he now is the tiny one amidst a kingdom of sixty-foot inhabitants. The third voyage spits him onto a collection of islands filled with philosophers, mathematicians, and magicians, who all have long monologues that were witty but also not as fun since there was not as much action as the first two voyages (except for the island that floats in the sky, which was fascinating!). Ditto for the fourth voyage, where he encounters a species of talking, highly intelligent horses who look at him with suspicion and curiosity since he resembles the hideous and notorious Yahoos that inhabit the island. Here he stays for three years, learning the language, railing against his homeland as he conversely admires the ideology and sound reason of the horse species called Houyhnhms (even the names are comical!).  He goes into great detail regarding the laws, customs, dress, and language of each island's people group, which was fun because of how crazy creative Swift proved to be in creating so many vastly different societies, but also became a bit tedious towards the ending when I wanted a bit more action and less descriptions, philosophy and political commentary.

Rating: PG (There was some surprisingly detailed parts about both means of .. ahem.. evacuating one's waste (potty humor), but nothing inappropriate, just surprising coming from a Anglican priest!)

(This is book #6 in my Unread Bookshelf Project, in which I try to read books I have owned for a while)

Fields of Battle: Pearl Harbor, the Rose Bowl, and the Boys That Went to War by Brian Curtis 
I enjoy reading history, but it usually is in the form of fiction with female protagonists, so this biographical documentary-like nonfiction book was a bit of a departure from my usual genre (and somewhat of a "dad book", haha).  I have had this book on my To-Read list for a few years after loving two other similar books that combine sports with WWII history:  Boys in the Boat and Unbroken. The focus is on the 1942 Rose Bowl contenders, Duke University and Oregon State, which was the first and only time the championship game was played elsewhere than the coastal Pasadena, California. But this was weeks after the tragic events of Pearl Harbor and officials were nervous about such a highly-anticipated game that brought thousands of spectators to the stadium, to be held near the coast in case the Japanese were planning additional attacks. The decision to even have a game at all was highly controversial since America joined the war and a football game seemed inconsequential in comparison. But many fought for the game to be continued as a way to show that their spirit would not be destroyed by the attacks. On New Years Day of 1942, the game was full of drama and suspense, with a victory that caught everyone by surprise. Soon after, the majority of the players from both teams made their way to the various theaters of the war, including the Pacific (Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima), Europe (Normandy, Italy, Germany), and North Africa. One of the Oregon State players, however, was a Japanese American and his story is incredibly devastating as it includes years in internment camps on American soil during a time when Americans were incredibly suspicious of even those who were born in America but had Japanese heritage.  Curtis' writing reads like a novel, full of suspense and intrigue within the intricate details and descriptions. Though I am not a football fan and some of the terms were over my head, I still followed it easily, but I was far more interested in his depictions of various Rose Bowl players (and the Duke coach) during war and adjusting to  a new post-war "normal" (which was very sad since there was not a lot of knowledge on PTSD and many suffered long after the war ended). This would make a gripping documentary or motion picture from both the athletic as well as war aspect. I also liked how Curtis linked some of the life lessons learned on the football field as being beneficial (and in at least one case, life-saving) on the battle field. From a personal standpoint, I also enjoyed the book because, as a former Oregonian, I recognized a lot of the towns mentioned.

Rated: PG to PG-13 (due to violence that is hard to read at times; trigger warning: suicide)
Reminded me of: Unbroken, Boys in the Boat (both non-fiction) and Hotel on the Corner of Bitter ad Sweet (fiction), all phenomenal books!

Bibliophile: An Illustrated Miscellany by Jane Mount ★ 
Jane Mount is the illustrator and creator of Ideal Bookshelf, a company that creates art for bibliophiles, often including stacks of books, spines prominent (such as the cover of this book). In her first book, titled after her company, Ideal Bookshelf, she shares specific book stacks carefully curated by authors, librarians, and other book-lovers. I liked that book, but I LOVED this one, which was a lot more fun. If you love combining art and books, this one is for you! The subtitle includes the word "miscellany" and that is incredibly apt for this compilation of illustrations of workspaces of famous authors (including Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters), the world's most beautiful and creative bookstores (including my favorites, the Seattle Public Library and the iconic American-owned bookstore in Paris frequented by the likes of authors such as Hemingway, Shakespeare & Co),  bookstore cats (who, I came to find out, were primarily used for catching mice who threatened to eat pages of books),  favorite books from well-known bibliophiles (Anne Bogel of WSIRN and Modern Mrs Darcy blog was in there!) and of course, vibrantly designed stacks of books from different genres and periods in history (dystopian, Brit Lit, sci-fi, foodie memoirs, etc). There are even fun quizzes that test your bookish knowledge. Amidst some heavier reads this month, Bibliophile was a delight for the eyes as well as for my To-Read list, which definitely grew after all the short, persuasive blurbs of beloved books.

Rated: PG to PG-13 ( a F-bomb, among a few others)

Harvest of Gold by Tessa Afshar ☆ (audiobook)
A continuation of the first book in the series (Harvest of Rubies), Sarah --a Jew and previous leading scribe of the Persian queen--  is married to Darius, a distant cousin of the Persian King. Their marriage is rife with difficulties stemmed from their cultural and social class differences as well as their own hidden wounds from childhood. And yet, love is also budding between the two vastly different characters as they each undergo new challenges and threats to their safety and health as they travel to Jerusalem to accompany Sarah's cousin, Nehemiah, as he begins the seemingly impossible task of rebuilding the walls. When an attempt to assassinate the Persian King is discovered, they need to work together to uncover hidden secrets and plans. Along the way, their marriage hangs on a hinge, they endure suffering, and finally, they witness the faithfulness of God and hope for a new chapter for the remnant of Jews who returned to Jerusalem. I don't read a lot of Christian fiction, but Tessa Afshar's books are masterfully written and a delight to read. Tessa's upbringing and education bring a unique texture to her writing: she was born in Iran to a nominally Muslim family. After living in England and attending boarding school in high school, she was able to move to America and earned her Masters in Divinity from Yale. She became a Christian in her twenties and has been an avid scholar of Scripture ever since, weaving together deep theological themes and doctrine into her Christian historical fiction. This book won one of the most prestigious awards in contemporary Christian fiction, the Christy Award for Christian Romance Fiction in 2014. I tend to cringe when authors attempt to rewrite a Biblical character from their own perspective, often transposing their own modern sensibilities and imagination onto the characters rather than primarily using Scripture and often creating an almost unrecognizable character. However,  Tessa stays true to how Scripture introduces these characters and then uses historical research to help fill in gaps and creatively adds details that are both believable for the cultural context of the story but also relatable with character flaws. I had the privilege of meeting Tessa at our church's women's retreat a few years ago and she was incredibly knowledgeable of Scripture, teaching a soul-stirring series that encouraged us all. She  also has an incredibly kind and fun personality, so this personal experience is an additional layer of appreciation I have for her novels.

Rating: G
Reminds me of: Francine River's Lineage of Grace series of women from the Bible

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson 
This is another book this month that has been on my radar for at least a year or two. I am so glad I finally checked in out from the library since it was much more entertaining than I expected. It is the late 1930s in London and Miss Pettigrew is down on her luck when she is given an address from her hiring agency to be a governess for a family. Desperate, even though she isn't a fan of being a governess, she shows up at the apartment early one day and her life soon takes a fantastic and entertaining turn. Rather than a brood of children to teach, she meets a beautiful young blonde who looks like she jumped right out of a Hollywood film. A riotous adventure ensues, including almost too many boyfriends to count, a desperate friend who has man troubles of her own, and several parties to be attended during they day. Miss Pettigrew's strict and prim upbringing is challenged in every way as she finds herself in the middle of nonstop drama, and after years without friends or any thrilling events in her own life, she is spellbound by this magical (yet crazy) day. The quick, witty back-and-forth dialogue, filled with slang from the era, is hilarious since it aids in much of the misunderstandings between Miss Pettigrew and the glamorous characters she meets that day. Her own inner thoughts are equally funny as she has internal battles between what she was taught was proper and what is going on around her. A bit of a Cinderella story with a lighthearted, charming, and lovable protagonist, Miss Pettigrew indeed lives for a day and it was incredibly enjoyable to go along for the ride. Delightfully fun with a touch of the scandalous.

Rated: PG (a few "minor" cuss words and insinuations of multiple love affairs without any actual details

Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading by Nina Sankovitch (audiobook)
It has been three years since her sister's death and  Nina is struggling to cope with the loss of the older sister she so admired. With a new year approaching while on vacation, she reads a book in a single day and the idea pops in her mind: what if she read a book a day all year as a way to remember her sister (an avid reader) and process her sister's passing through literature? She decides to limit the length of her books to a manageable page count for her reading pace and decides she could read a book and review it within around six to eight hours while her kids are at school and her husband is at work.  With books as her primary therapy, from classics to contemporary fiction, she dives into the lives and thoughts of both fictional and nonfiction characters and learns lessons about humanity, grief and loss, and healing along the way. Her stories about her sister are sweet since she always looked up to her. Nina also shares stories about her Polish parents who witnessed and endured atrocities during Nazi occupation. I did not connect with any of the books she chose (and did not recognize most of the titles), so that kept me from adoring the book, but it was still an honest telling of a vulnerable time in her life and the powerful and yes, magical, way that reading books helped her through it.

Rated: PG  (some detail of violence during WWII, some references to sex without much detail, possibly a few cuss words but cannot remember for sure)
Reminds me of: Other women who challenged themselves to do something time-consuming yet intentional and ultimately life-changing, such as Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project and Janice Kaplan's The Gratitude Diaries.

The Day the World Came to Town: 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland by Jim DeFede ★ (audiobook)
Within hours of the atrocities of 9/11, all airports were ordered to stop admitting incoming flights in America, which left countless people who had been traveling that day towards various American airports stranded around the world. Thirty-eight airplanes landed in the Canadian island of Newfoundland, specifically in a small town that immediately swelled from 10,000 to 17,000 people. From the initial confusion for the pit stop, to the grief-stricken and shocking reactions to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, these passengers, some Americans who had been traveling back home and others from various parts of the world who were looking forward to either starting a new life in America or visiting for a short while, were stuck without any clear answers when they would be allowed to continue their flight to America. The townspeople of Gander and surrounding small villages took it upon themselves to be available around-the-clock for the stranded travelers, preparing hearty meals, opening up community centers, schools, and churches for lodging, donating towels and other essentials since the majority of travelers did not have their luggages available, and even opening up their own homes. In such a difficult time, these stranded travelers were showered with hospitality, shown around town to help distract them for a few hours while they anxiously awaited the cue to get back on their plane to continue their trip. This book helps restore hope that there are kind, compassionate, hospitable people out there who are willing to lend a helping hand even to strangers.  I was in awe and tearful admiration of the tangible ways these townspeople stepped up and provided essentials as well as a comforting  presence, especially since some of the passengers had close ties to people either on the planes that struck the towers, the firefighters working nonstop to rescue people in the towers, and the people in the towers who went to work without possibly knowing the devastation that would occur in their workplace. There was also touching stories, including  an American family who were returning with a young child from Kazakhstan they had just adopted, a Moldovian woman who was seven months pregnant and hardly knew a word of English, an illustrious Hugo Boss chairman who chose to stay with his fellow travelers rather than accept lavish amenities and a jet to return him to Europe, and so many more. The five days that they would remember for the rest of their lives during a horrific time in American history, were aided by the generosity, hospitality, compassion, and goodwill of people in a town hardly any of the passengers had ever heard of. A fun bonus: the audiobook narrator sounds a lot like Tom Hanks and did a great job reading the book.

Rating: PG

A Bookshop in Berlin by Françoise Frenkel (audiobook)
Originally titled No Place to Lay One's Head in 1945, shortly after the end of WWII, Frankel's memoir only sold a handful of copies and went largely unnoticed until a copy was found in an attic in a home in southern France in 2010, twenty-five years after Frenkel's death. It was republished under the new name and translated in a dozen languages to spread the incredible story behind Frenkel's multiple escapes from Nazis. A Polish Jew, she spent time in the literary circles of Paris until she opened her own bookshop in Berlin, Germany specializing in French literature in the early 1930s. With war (and violence against Jews) looming around 1939, she fled to Paris until she faced deportation to concentration camps when Nazis occupied Paris. She escaped to Nice and eventually, after multiple attempts (one landing her in prison with other refugees), she found safety in Switzerland in 1943. Her journey takes multiple twists and turns. Her descriptions of Paris and the south of France were delightful, bringing back fond memories of my visits there, but then she'd return to the harrowing escape attempts she was undergoing, and a different aura hovered over those pages. What was particularly fascinating was that Frenkel had multiple friends, French and Swiss, who helped her in extraordinary ways that made her eventual escape possible. Without their help for forge documents, plan intricate escape routes, and find hiding places for her to occupy, she would surely have had an impossible task before her. Most of the memoirs I have read about WWII have been about either life in concentration camps  (such as The Hiding PlaceNight, Evidence Not Seen, all phenomenal but heart-wrenching books) or about men in war (Unbroken Fields of Battle). This story reminded me of the novel Suite Française, which was written by a Ukrainian Jewish author living in France during the Nazi Occupation, who would later die in concentration camps (and whose story was found decades later as well).

Rating: G

The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry by John Mark Comer

In a culture of hurry, multi-tasking, busyness, and stress, Comer offers a different path; one he discovered after years of exhausted hustle as a young pastor of a thriving and quickly multiplying church where he was preaching five services on Sundays. Something had to change. This is his manifesto for a alternative to the hurried and harried life. The book is split into three parts: Part One: The Problem (in which he dives into the dangers and detrimental effects of the "epidemic" hurry, specifically on our relationships with God, people, and our own souls), Part Two: The Solution (in which he explains the way of Jesus and how we can learn to slow down from Him, and Part Three: Four Practices for Unhurrying Your Life (in which he gets very practical with a variety of ways to fight against hurry, namely silence and solitude, Sabbath, simplicity, and slowing). He heavily quotes John Ortberg (who wrote the Forward) and Dallas Willard, so if you are familiar with any of their work, there may be some familiarity with his writing. This book was a great follow-up to last month's Digital Minimalism since I am currently taking this month to stay off social media and bring more silence and solitude to my life. Whereas Digital Minimalism looks at the topic of technology from a secular perspective, Comer combines the spiritual as well. Similar to Newport, his argument is very persuasive and I wrote copious notes and have a lot to think about in regards to slowing down my own life and managing my phone use. The content of the book was excellent; my only complaint (and it's minor) was the delivery and format, which were a bit distracting for me. The paragraph structure was similar to what is used for blogging, without indentation at the start of a paragraph and many single-sentence "paragraphs" and frequent incomplete sentences. This is Comer's style, which he uses in his other books as well, but I am just not used to it and it seems too informal and casual for a book. He's from trendy, hipster Portland, so I guess he saw fit to make his own grammar rules :) He is all about being culturally relevant, co-hosting a podcast on this exact topic, so I wasn't surprised by the myriad of pop culture references, but that doesn't mean they didn't become a tad overdone (although I will give him a pass on all the Star Wars references since he is a die-hard fan, haha). I think I read like an 80 year-old, so I am not hip enough for his style, I suppose! But I love his teachings (I used to visit his church when I lived in Portland) and know his heart is definitely in the right place; I am just old school when it comes to my reading.

This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger★ 
Rich with atmospheric language of time and place, including vivid metaphors and adjectives and a fast-paced, gripping plot, this is a perfect blend of literary fiction (for the beautiful prose) and genre/trade fiction (usually focused on plot). It evokes a plethora of other novels, most notably (since there are actual references to) Huckleberry Finn and The Odyssey. The tale is told from twelve-year old Odie's perspective in the Depression of the 1930s. He is a rambunctious kid who always seems to be followed by trouble (like Huck Finn). He and his older brother are the only Caucasian  inmates, ahem, I mean students, of The Lincoln Indian Training School, where the motto is "kill the Indian, save the man" (sadly, based on the true boarding schools that housed and often were the home for abuse for many Native American children removed from their reservations, stripped of their culture). After unforeseeable tragedy, they run away with two other friends in search of a better life, rowing in a canoe down the Gilead River of Minnesota. Their journey is rife with challenges. They encounter a family escaping a failed farming life (à la Grapes of Wrath), a tent revival healer who offers hope  and a one-eyed depressed alcoholic (the siren and cyclops from The Odyssey?), a Native American who teaches them about the tenderness of the land (ahem, the title) among others. Each of the four friends are in search of something during this voyage, and it will either bring them closer or pull them apart. There were parts, such as the gorgeous writing and the post-tragedy adventure through the Midwest) that reminded me of Peace Like A River.  The horrendous and heartbreaking treatment of the children in the boarding school reminded me of the Tennessee Childrens Home Society, fictionalized in Before We Were Yours.  There is a tad bit of magical realism mixed in, which worked very well for the story and reminded me a bit of The Bright Edge of the World because it kept me guessing what was real and what was not. These were all books I loved, so it was like revisiting old friends. This is quite a lengthy book, clocking in at four-hundred-fifty pages, but it is so intriguing and suspenseful at parts, I didn't mind the length (and wanted more in the end!). I certainly will not forget this book. It's an adventure story, a coming-of-age story, and historical story of Midwest America.

Rating: PG to PG-13 (two cuss words, subtle reference to prostitution; trigger warning: child abuse in several forms). There is also a negative view of God in the book because of Odie's difficult circumstances and sadly, misrepresented gospel by horrible adults early in the book. It was not offensive as a Christian, but made me sad that the character did not grasp the love of God. But the way he wrestles with his understanding of God is respectfully and realistically done in a way that I found to be well executed.

The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White House by Kate Anderson Bower (audiobook) 
From the author  of First Women: The Grace and Power of America's Modern First Ladies comes an inside look at the people who keep the wheels spinning at the most famous residence in the United States. Many of the butlers, chefs, maids, florists, painters, doormen, and engineers have worked at the White House for decades, outlasting the presidents. They've seen American history firsthand from the Kennedy to the Obama administrations, their stories fascinating, sometimes humorous, and ultimately respectful regardless of their political views or whether a certain president or First Lady were difficult to work for. From Jackie O returning to the White House after JFK's assassination to Nixon's last days in office after Watergate, to the the response of the workers evacuating the White House during 9/11 because of fear that a plane was going to hit the White House next, these were more than just employees serving the First Family. They became close with many of the families and witnessed tender moments that are often unseen by the public. 

Sense and Sensibility: A Guide to Reading and Reflecting by Jane Austen, Karen Swallow Prior ★ 
I have been wanting to read this Jane Austen classic for a long time, especially since I enjoyed the 1995 Hollywood adaptation with Kate Winslet and Emma Thompson (and have been wanting to watch the more recent TV series). When I saw this book available for review, I ordered it right way. Basically Karen Swallow Prior, who I regard as an incredibly intellectual woman, started writing guides to classic novels. The book includes the original novel but it starts with information about Jane Austen, cultural context, and even spiritual implications of the balance of both sense (the mind) and sensibility (the heart). She breaks the novel into three "volumes", each with comprehension and reflection questions. She also adds helpful (though often short) footnotes where needed to define a word not commonly used anymore or cultural context that could be easily missed. My reading of this classic was greatly assisted by Karen's navigation, exploration, and unearthing of valuable themes. I also would likely not have picked up on the hilarious satire and wit Jane Austen employed had it not been for Karen explaining this writing style. I love Jane Austen's novel of two sisters who are polar opposites -- one guided mainly by her heart and the other by her mind-- and the romances and heartbreaks they both experience. But I loved it even more with the help of Karen Swallow Prior. I hope she continues to write these guides to classic novels!

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this beautiful clothbound book from B&H/Lifeway in exchange for an honest review, which I have provided here. 

Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear 
★  (audiobook)
When I first placed a hold on Overdrive for the audiobook, I was somewhere in the ballpark of 200th in line! I had no idea it was such a sought-after book. I waited patiently for a few months and it finally became available. Now I know exactly why so many people wanted to read it: it is an exceptionally practical and easy-to-follow guide that breaks down the psychology being forming habits but focuses most on  how to apply the material to your own situation. If you are interested in breaking bad habits but not sure how, this is a book for you. If you feel overwhelmed with the idea of a big goal and need help breaking it down to achievable, small steps, this is a book for you. If you've been successful in both breaking bad habits and making new ones in the past but are at a standstill now, this book is for you. If you loved books like The Power of Habit but wanted more of the how-to guide for your own real life, this book is for you. The book focuses on his four laws of forming habits, with breaking a habit being the inverse. Law 1: Make it obvious (write down existing habits, then find ways to "stack" new desired habits atop existing ones, be concise about when and where you'll be practicing the new habit, and change your environment to make cues clearly visible. The inverse of this would be to remove the cues of the bad habit you want to break from the environment so it is not as obvious or visible). Law 2: Make it attractive (pair your new habit to something that you enjoy, find people who also want to grow in that habit. Inverse: make a bad habit unattractive by reframing your mindset to why avoiding the habit is a good idea). Law 3: Make it Easy (decrease number of steps needed, prime your environment, automate your habits. Inverse: Make a bad habit difficult by increasing number of steps to complete it). Law 4: Make it satisfying (immediate rewards,  design a way to see benefits right away, use habit tracker, never miss twice. Inverse: make a habit contract and have consequences for not following through on breaking the bad habit, have an accountability partner). I am currently journaling through these four laws for a few habits I want to make as well as some I want to break.

I'll Be There For You: The One About Friends by Kelsey Miller (audiobook)
No one could have anticipated that a sitcom about six single friends living in NYC in 1994 would be such a hit, with syndicated episodes currently garnering a new generation of viewers  who weren't even alive when the show was at its peak. But Friends has become a show that resonates with a wide audience with its perfect blend of drama (Ross Rachel romance, for example) and witty and slapstick comedy (like Monica with the turkey on her head). This book goes into all the details about the writers who thought of the concept behind the hit show, the little-known stars who would soon become incredibly popular Hollywood stars, and the iconic pop culture references that have made their way into the vernacular of millions of fans around the world ("How YOU doin'?"). People started flocking to coffee shops that resembled Central Perk's casual vibe (this was before the age of Starbucks, if you can imagine such a time!) and women were walking into hair salons asking for The Rachel. If you watched even a few seasons, you're sure to recognize references to Phoebe's Smelly Cat song, Chandler's ex-girlfriend Janet's hilariously obnoxious laugh, the mopey "Hey" of Ross, and Monica's OCD tendencies. With a fun behind-the-scenes look at the cast and writers that made Friends the hit with staying power, Miller has created a great book that is sure to be a delight for any fan.

Rating: PG-13 (lots of cussing and in one chapter, some very crass language reportedly used by the writers of the show while in their writer's room that became controversial and is just very uncomfortable).
Reminds me of: Seinfeldia: How A Show About Nothing Changed Everything by Jennifer Armstrong

Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith by Timothy Keller ★ 
Timothy Keller, a gifted author and pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, visits one of the most known of Jesus' parables, The Prodigal Son,  from a different perspective than it is typically taught. He believes the parable is just as much about the elder brother as the younger brother, renaming it for this purpose as the Parable of the Lost Sons. Most Bible teachers focus on the younger son, who disrespectfully demanded his share of his father's inheritance and then squandered it on foolish living. He returned repentant to his father but before he could finish his sentence, his father accepted him back into his family, and even threw a huge, lavish feast to celebrate the return of his young son who "was lost but now is found". But the elder son, who stayed home and dutifully (albeit begrudgingly) obeyed and served his father, was just as lost because everything he did was not from a loving heart towards his father, but one of "slavish, joyless drudgery." Keller equates the elder brother with Christians who grew up in the church and either consciously or unconsciously are following all the rules so that they can somehow earn or be entitled to something from God. The elder brother was invited by his father to join the feast but he angrily replied that he'd been slaving away for his father and never got anything in return. His self-righteousness, judgmental attitude towards his younger brother, and disrespect of his father all qualify him as being just as lost as his brother. Keller digs into what it looks like in today's world to be either of these brothers and how God, our good and loving Father, calls us away from both of these attitudes and lifestyles. He instead wants our obedience to come from awe, reverence, and gratitude to our true Elder Brother, Jesus, who paid the price for our sin and lostness so that we can be reunited with the Father and one day join in the Feast He has prepared for His children. This is a relatively short book, packed with easy-to-understand and yet simultaneously profound Biblical truths. It shares the gospel message through a well-known parable from a fresh and powerful perspective that was likely shocking and aggravating  to the original audience of elder-brotherish Pharisees, but just as both encouraging and convicting to modern readers. To dig even deeper, I recommend The Prodigal God Discussion Guide.

Reminded me of: The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri Nouwen

(This is book #7 in my Unread Bookshelf Project, in which I try to read books I have owned for a while)

The Stationary Shop by Marjan Kamali (audiobook) ★ 
This exquisite, atmospheric novel begins with an aging Iranian woman named Roya, who lives in America in 2013. She has recently become aware that the man who was her first love is living in the same city as her. Jilted on the day she thought she'd wed him, she carried hurt and unanswered questions for six decades. Now she has one question to ask him:  Why? The story then jumps back to 1953 when Roya and this man, Bahman, begin their whirlwind romance amidst political upheaval in Tehran, Iran. They meet in a stationary shop, owned by Mr. Fakhri, and as the weeks and months pass, their love grows amidst the dusty covers of old books filled with poetry. What happens that year changes the course of both of their lives, ushering in adventure, love, but also suffering, loss, and family tension. Kamali flows from three different time periods fluidly with expert skill. Her descriptions of the bustling bazaars and fragrant Iranian cuisine bring the Middle Eastern setting to life. Her creative plot, dialogue, and historical references of the coup d'état that overthrew the democratically elected Prime Minister in favor of returning to a monarchical government with the Shah (Persian term for King) all were interwoven so well. I knew there would be heartbreak as soon as the first chapter ended but even so, the rich writing pulled me along until the last page.

Reminds me of: Khaled Hosseini's novels set in war-torn Afghanistan, including The Kite Runner, And the Mountains Echoed, and A Thousand Splendid Suns 
Rating: PG (subtle references to a few sex scenes without many details)