May Book Reviews


I dedicated May and June to "comfort reads", which are basically books that I can trust are not going to have violence or other heavy themes. With the current pandemic and uncertain climate plus sleep deprivation from an uncomfortable eight-month infant working on his eighth tooth (!!!), along with reading an exceptionally heavy book last month (Miss Burma), I needed to be intentional about taking a break from anything that would add stress or an emotional toll.

Mister Owita's Guide to Gardening: How I Learned the Unexpected Joy of a Green Thumb and an Open Heart by Carol Wall (audiobook) 
This is somewhat of a "comfort read" because it focuses on gardening, but this is also a story of chronic illness, so it definitely was not a light read in that sense. However, it was brimming with hope and a positive outlook despite grim circumstances, so that kept it from being overly heavy. This is the story of a unique and sweet friendship between the author, an upper-class white woman, and a gentle, brilliant, humble, and compassionate Kenyan man. She hires him to salvage her nearly unredeemable yard. As he cultivates life into the flowers and trees, he simultaneously does deep gardening work in her personal life by encouraging her to let go of hindrances and fears. I appreciated Wall's vulnerability in sharing her many fears and insecurities, rooted in childhood experiences as well as her past cancer diagnosis and crippling fears that it will return. I really enjoyed hearing Mr. Owita's story of his journey from Kenya to America, although it was sad and frustrating to hear about his struggle to get a career in what he was trained for in Kenya and had to work multiple jobs to pay the bills. This is sadly a recurring and common problem for refugees and others who come to America with a hope for a better future.  And yet, he remained positive rather than jaded, working odd jobs though he was highly skilled  and was educated at prestigious schools, earning a doctorate in horticulture.

Rated: G

Here is New York by E.B. White (audiobook) 
E.B. White is most notably remembered for childhood classics like Charlotte's Web and The Trumpet Swan, but this short love letter to New York is just as good. Written in 1948, White returns to New York for a stroll on the bustling streets of the iconic city, remarking on how much it has changed since he lived there years before as a young writer. The essay is witty, perceptive, and nostalgic. A lot has obviously changed in the landscape and culture of NYC since 1948, so this is not a travel guide for the modern NYC, but rather, it is a short essay that looks with fond memories on the City that Never Sleeps. I can almost picture him leisurely walking around and remembering the New York of yesteryear when he was a budding author and how it changed post-WWII. If you've been to New York, it will definitely spark nostalgic charm.

Rated: G

Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good: A Memoir of Food and Love from an American Midwest Family by Kathleen Flinn (audiobook) 
I adored Flinn's two other foodie memoirs, The Sharper the Knife, the Less You Cry (about her experience as a student of the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu cooking school in Paris) and The Kitchen Counter Cooking School (how she taught nine cooking novices the basics of fine cooking), so I was looking forward to this memoir of her childhood. It was charming, humorous, and a little sad. Flinn moved around a bit, but most of her childhood was in Michigan. Her stories of her spontaneous  parents, who made multiple drastic career changes, were fun to hear about, and I enjoyed hearing how her love for cooking started at such a young age. This was an overall positive and lighthearted read, even though there was a sick relative that was sad to read about. Flinn is a talented writer and her books always inspire me to try out a new recipe or take time to enjoy the art of cooking.

Rated: G

Boy: Tales of Childhood by Roald Dahl (audiobook) 
Dahl's vivid imagination and storytelling is beloved by fans of childhood classics like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matlida, James and the Giant Peach, The BFG, Fantastic Mr. Fox, and The Witches. In this short but fascinating autobiography that spans his early childhood to his early adulthood, he shares stories that helped form him into the bestselling author. Hilarious pranks as a student, adventurous holidays in Norway, and taste-testing chocolates for Cadbury's (which would later inspire the idea of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory!) were so delightful. There were some sad stories of incredibly mean-spirited boarding school teachers that made school miserable at times, but overall, this was a lighthearted, entertaining read. If you love Dahl's fantastical stories, I think you'd enjoy this nonfiction selection. I am looking forward to his second autobiography, Going Solo, about his experience as a fighter pilot for the British army during WWII.

Rated: G

War of Words: Getting to the Heart of Your Communication Struggles by Paul David Tripp 
This is a phenomenal book for anyone who wants to learn to speak in ways that reflect the gospel and God's purpose for our communication. Rather than spouting out superficial tips or  a how-to guide on communicating better, Tripp truly gets to the heart of the matter. He dives into what God intends for our words and how Satan wants to do the exact opposite by destroying that mission. He then explores the new agenda for our talk and how to "speak redemptively". He finishes up by explaining how we can truly win the war of words when we humbly seek conflict as opportunities to speak in ways that draws people to Jesus. This was my second time reading this book and I wrote copious notes this time around. I feel like I could read it several more times and still glean even more knowledge. Tripp is incredible knowledgable and wise, combining both counseling and Biblical doctrine to convey Biblical truths for today's issues. If you struggle with impulsively blurting out hurtful or anger-fueled comments, have a need to be right or "win" arguments, feel entitled to have the last word, or sense pride is affecting your ability to communicate compassionately, this is a great tool. 

Rated: G

A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 by W. Phillip Keller 
I grew up in the church, so I heard Psalm 23 countless times. I could recite most of it by memory as a child, but I had no clue the depth beneath its words. Once I read A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, it came alive and became one of my favorite Psalms. Written by a modern shepherd, it explains the sheep-raising background behind the verses that otherwise, for a city girl like myself, I was completely oblivious to. This is the fourth re-read and it is still a thought-provoking, comforting, and incredibly applicable little classic. With each re-read, Keller's insight on herding and caring for his sheep helps me understand the deep beauty of Psalm 23 as it described the Good Shepherd (Jesus). It helps me see Jesus' love in a profound, vigilant, present nearness, and compassionate way as it paralleled a good shepherd's care for his flock with The Good Shepherd's care for us. I am sharing insights from this book on my blog during this pandemic season since I feel like it is such a timely book. You can find those posts HERE.

Rated: G

Village School by Miss Read (Fairacre #1) 
The first novel in the Fairacre series, this slow but charming book is about a schoolmistress named Miss Read who teaches in the school of a small English village in the 1950s. If you have ever seen photos of the Cotswold region of England, that is where I picture the setting of this novel: thatched roofs, cobblestone streets, a village church with hourly bells ringing,  no electricity, and small community who knows each other well.  It was a "comfort read" for this month, full of comical stories of the students of Fairacre school as well as some of the drama surrounding some parents and a sweet little romance as well. It is very clean and easy to read. The first half was a bit hard to get into, since it sets the scene and lacked too much movement, but once you feel familiar with the characters, I feel like Miss Read is a lot more witty and sweetly snarky (is that possible? haha) as the lead character. Nothing big happens, which definitely makes it feel like a slow book, but if you are looking for a break from books about tough themes (or reading the current news, for that matter) and like to step into the shoes of someone else's experience, it is nice to travel back to the simpler times, especially if they are in an idyllic and quaint little English village like Fairacre.

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern (audiobook) 
I have never read anything like this and my mind was a little blown. Picture this: a magical underground labyrinthine maze of hallways and elaborate rooms filled with stories that are written in books but also on rose petals and dresses and pretty much anywhere else the stories land. The only way to enter this secret world of stories is by entering through doors, most of which are painted on hidden cement walls around the world, waiting for the right person to open them. A modern-day grad-school student named Zachary misses his chance as a child to enter this Alice-in-Wonderland-like world, but after finding a mysterious book called Sweet Sorrows that eerily narrates his own life, he seeks to find this world that is called the Starless Sea. There is incredibly intricate, atmospheric world-building, brimming with vivid descriptions to bring this world to the reader's imagination. Morgenstern, known for her previous book, The Night Circus, is a masterful storyteller, blending Zachary's quest with short stories and fables that are reminiscent of folklore and Greek mythology. The story does not follow a logical, linear progression, but rather, skips around between time, place, and a slew of characters. It was a bit hard to follow on audiobook at times, so I had to replay certain parts on the audiobook, but it was worth it because of the creative stories-within-stories format. There are a myriad of symbols (most importantly bees, swords, and keys) along with themes of belonging, identity, fate, the malleability of storytelling (with a bit of time-bending/time travel), romance, and the consequences of silencing a story (which gave the book a bit of a melancholy tone). It is classified as "portal fantasy" since the different world is accessed through a doorway, which also characterizes other beloved books like the  Narnia and Harry Potter series. There are so many layers to this book and I am sure I missed some of the metaphors and meanings, but it is a book to be savored for its storytelling and imagination rather than logically putting all the pieces in place, which can both frustrate and endear readers to this novel. 

Rating: PG  (I think I remember a tiny bit of cussing; the romance [one of which is male-male] is not overly descriptive or sensuous [no love scenes, in other words]). 

The Office: The Untold Story of the Greatest Sitcom of the 2000s: An Oral History by Andy Greene (audiobook) 
I enjoy reading about the behind-the-scenes of my favorite shows, such as I'll Be There For You: The One About Friends and Seinfeldia, so I was excited when I heard there was one about The Office! It is narrated in oral history, which was the first I have ever read in this format. Basically, the book is comprised of quotes from various writers, producers, and actors from interviews compiled by the author, a Rolling Stones journalist. It flows pretty well, but it took a bit of getting used to at first. I loved the background anecdotes to iconic storylines and how each chapter focused on a key episode, such as "The Dundies", "Threat Level Midnight", "Dinner Party", and "The Injury", which all brought back memories of hilarious scenes. I was impressed with the meticulous details and efforts in making the show seem like a documentary, from hiring a reality TV cameraman to keeping the hair, makeup, and clothing unglamorous so it seems more realistic for an office setting.   This is a great insider's look to the genesis of The Office, the real reason why Steve Carell left the show, and  fun trivia about the actors. If you are a fan of the show, I think you'd enjoy it!

Rating: PG to PG-13 (language)

All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot  ☆ (audiobook)
An endearing and humorous memoir of Herriot's first years as a country vet in England's rural Yorkshire in the early 1940s. This is a great "comfort read", especially for animal lovers. Herriot is an entertaining storyteller, sharing some of his mistakes as well as his quick-thinking medical expertise. He worked with a wide assortment of animals, including dogs, sheep, cows, horses, and even a pampered pig. Some of the stories are sad, such as a lonely old gentleman whose sick dog is his only friend, to the ridiculous, like a Pekinese dog who is so beloved by his owner that he has his own parties and stationary (and lives with the aforementioned pampered pig!). There are also many stories of the frustrating conversations with difficult farmers as well as his well-meaning but aggravating boss who says one thing and then does the opposite. I enjoyed it overall, but it is a pretty long book, and a few times it seemed like there were too many similar stories of horses and cows.


Where Is Wisdom? A Treasure Hunt Through God's Wondrous World, Inspired by Job 28 by Scott James (Illustrated by Hein Zaayman)
A creative visual tour that uses the words from Job 28 to take young readers on a search for wisdom, ultimately leading to the Cross. From the deep caverns where miners dig for gold and jewels (v 1-6, 9-11), to the animals that fly high, swim low, or prowl the land (v 7-8), to the rich, ornate palaces that pale in comparison (v 15-19), wisdom is not found in any of these places. Instead, it "is hidden, but it is not lost. God alone knows the way; He knows exactly where wisdom is found."  And we can grow in wisdom by fearing (respecting, being in awe of) Him (v 28). The book then goes into beautiful explanations of God's greatness, from setting all things in their place as the Ruler of His creation (v 24), like telling the wind how hard to blow and how far the sea should rise (v 25), we have plenty of reasons to fear the Lord, which the author beautifully explains is to "know God truly, to be amazed by His greatness, to want nothing more than to love and live for Him". And in doing this, we find wisdom because it leads us to Jesus. This is a great book for kindergartner and elementary-school children, though younger readers can enjoy it for the colorful illustrations and a shorter narration by the adult reader. The last page of the book has a Parent Connection section with discussion questions and suggestions for reading Job 28 with your child as you go through this book. 

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


Currently Reading:

The Little Bookshop by the Seine by Rebecca Raisin

Bathed in Prayer: Father Tim's Prayers, Sermons, and Reflections by Jan Karon

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

Essential Truths of the Christian Faith by R.C. Sproul

Risen Motherhood: Gospel Hope for Everyday Moments by Emily Jensen and Laura Wifler