June Book Reviews

The Little Bookshop on the Seine by Rebecca Raisin (audiobook)
Sarah is the owner of an adorable --yet financially struggling-- bookshop in the small town of Ashford, Connecticut. In an uncharacteristicly spontaneous move, she agrees to exchange bookshops with her Parisian friend, Sophie, who desperately needs a change in scenery after her heart is broken. Sarah has a myriad of daydreams of living the Parisian lifestyle, many of which include her long-distance boyfriend who travels the world as a journalist and has been repeatedly canceling his visits due to his demanding job. She envisions herself as the beloved substitute manager of the bustling Parisian bookshop entrusted to her by Sophie, but is rudely awakened to the reality that her new coworkers are not too fond of her. They do things quite differently in their large bookshop and she is struggling to keep up. Through different challenges, she develops a stronger voice and confidence, while also discovering the charms of the City of Light. I enjoyed the references to Parisian tourist spots and culture, but the love story and overall plot wasn't anything remarkable. It was hard to connect with Sarah and I found her a bit annoying at times. The narrator reading the audiobook had a horrendous fake accent; I do not even know what she was aiming for but it was very distracting and very bad.

Rating: PG to PG-13  (language, mild sensual scenes)

The Gift of Forgiveness: Inspiring Stories from Those Who Have Overcome the Unforgivable by Katherine Schwarzenegger Pratt (audiobook) 
An inspiring and uplifting short book that highlights twenty people who chose to forgive seemingly unforgivable offenses. From highly publicized stories, such as Amy Smart (who forgave her abusive captors) and Sue Klebold (mother of one of the Columbine shooters) to lesser known people like a father who forgave the drunk teen who killed his wife and child and a young girl who forgave her family's murderers during the Rwandan genocide. Each person had a myriad of reasons to cling to unforgiveness, resentment, self-pity, and even hate. Most of the stories were heartbreaking, but the book itself was incredibly hopeful. Katherine did a great job compiling and sharing these stories, all of which were diverse enough to be relatable to a wide audience of readers, while also explaining how she worked through her own journey of forgiveness. This was not an overtly Christian book, though Katherine and other people in the book cited their Catholic faith as the catalyst and source of their forgiveness, which I found very interesting and applicable since my Christian faith has been the reasons I have been able to forgive difficult offenses as well.

Rating: PG (not overly descriptive but mentions different types of abuse and violence)

How To Be Fine: What We Learned from Living by the Rules of 50 Self-Help Books by Jolenta Greenberg and Kristen Meinzer (audiobook) 
Kristen and Jolenta host the podcast By The Book, where they follow the lessons and recommendations of a self-help book on each episode. Now in this recently released book, they share their experiences from living by the rules of fifty self-help books, some of which were a lot better than others. In Part One, they shared thirteen things that worked from the various books. These include committing acts of kindness, engaging in positive self-talk, practicing gratitude, treating people as they want to be treated, offering gracious apologies, getting off devices, and decluttering. In Part Two, they shared eight things that didn't work for them, including waking up early, meditating, and going on a diet. In Part Three, they shared eight things they wish more self-help books explored, which includes: stop comparing yourself to others, check-in with your feelings, make friends with your body, have things to look forward to, accept that meds are fine, and see a therapist. I enjoyed the book overall. I do not read a lot of self-help books, but found it interesting and sometimes entertaining to hear their experiences (though some were more serious and somber, such as following a diet book that nearly brought back an eating disorder for one of the authors).

Rating: PG-13 (One of the authors is a comedian and her humor can get pretty squeamish with sexual content and overall cussing, which was a bit cringe-worthy)

Beach Read by Emily Henry (audiobook) 
The cover as well as the title of this book have the feel of a cheery and light summer read, which is misleading. This is not your typical beach read, despite the title, yet it is still charming in its own right. It's about two authors (one a romance novelist and one who writes brooding literary fiction) both stuck with writer's block. After inheriting a beach house from her recently deceased father, the romance novelist (named January) discovers she now lives next door to Augustus Everett, a former college classmate she was constantly competing against in her writing courses. After ridiculing each other's writing styles, they end up betting they could easily write a novel in each other's genre. Augustus will have to write fluffy romance fiction and January will have to ditch the romance for a more melancholy tone. In the meantime, they spend a lot of time together and their flirty banter quickly heads for something more. This was a fun book from the perspective of getting an insider's look to the writing life as well as the charming beach town setting. There were some heavier themes such as grief and infidelity that kept the novel from being too fluffy and added depth to the plot (not a spoiler; this is introduced in the first chapter). I typically try to avoid romances, especially when they include sex scenes, so I didn't enjoy how descriptive some of the scenes were. There was also a lot more cussing and crass jokes than I was expecting, both of which caused me to knock down a few stars from my rating.

Rating: PG-13 (lots of language and lots of sexual content)

The Myth of Equality: Uncovering the Roots of Injustice and Privilege by Ken Wytsma (audiobook) 
I have been wanting to read more books on racial injustice and this one was seemed interesting since it comes from a Christian perspective. Ken was the lead pastor of Antioch Church in Oregon. He seems humble and aware of his lack of understanding exactly what  people of color experience on a daily basis, and yet he wrote a compelling and challenging book from the perspective of a white man. In the first part of the book, he shares a broad history of race in America, from immigration policies favoring white people at the genesis of our nation to the devastating and cruel years of slavery and Jim Crow laws, to the FDR's post-Depression Home Owners' Loan Corporation that included policies excluding African Americans from receiving the same federal assistance as their white counterparts when they wanted to live in the suburbs (leading to being pushed out to rougher parts of town), and eventually to  the War on Drugs of the Reagan administration that arguably targeted African Americans and led to mass incarceration. The second part of the book, Ken argues that most American Christians focus too much on their individual salvation and personal faith, ignoring the Biblical commands to seek justice and defend those who have been wronged or shown injustice. As God's image-bearers, our actions should support and reflect our spiritual convictions as followers of Christ. He defines two types of justice, primary and restorative, and what happens when our own sin gets in the way of pursuing justice. In the third part, Ken offers ways for white Christians to enter into a place of engaging in the lives of brothers and sisters of color. Listening, learning, lamenting, confessing, and laying down privilege were all explored and recommended. I felt this pivotal section was a bit rushed, as I hoped for more actionable steps. Overall, I felt Ken Wytsma wrote from a humble place to fellow Christians. He focused on the injustice of African Americans and only briefly mentioned other minority groups that have also been shown injustice in America's history, specifically Native Americans and Asian Americans (which I wish he explored more), but his compelling arguments were definitely thought-provoking for me. He defined some of the buzz words that can be off-putting for some (namely "white privilege") and shared stories of him witnessing this within the Church. It wasn't a bashing of Christians or white people and I didn't feel like I was being chastised or lectured. Instead, I read it as a letter from a pastor who has a heart for fighting against racial injustice and leading Christians to reflect Christ.  It came from a place of humbly encouraging Christians to examine their own biases and understandings of our nation's history of racial inequality and what a clear understanding of the gospel can do in transforming our hearts and minds to seek justice, love, compassion, and equality since we are all created in the image of God. Readers may not agree with every single part of it, and that is ok, but I think it has the opportunity for great discussion and hopefully heart change.

I'm Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown  ☆ (audiobook)
Austin shares her experience with racial injustice and prejudice as a African American woman. From her childhood to her college years and eventually to working in a Christian non-profit organization. She shares what it meant to learn to love her blackness and how to speak up for herself when she was treated less than those around her, sometimes even in the Church. In between the memoir-style chapters were "interludes" with excellent essays, such as How To Survive Racism in An Organization that Claims to be Anti-Racist and A Letter to My Son. I really liked her chapter on creative anger, on how she learned to channel her hurt and anger into productive and creative ways in speaking for racial justice. I didn't agree with some of her statements regarding her Christian faith (specifically her referring to the Holy Spirit as a "she") but they were not overall distracting from her overall message. It felt a bit uncomfortable at times, but I am glad I read it because I believe it is important to read books by people of different experiences than my own. Austin does not beat around the bush; some of her writing seemed a bit accusatory, especially for those who bristle at terms like "whiteness" and "white supremacy". However, the book was still approachable, compelling, and ultimately hopeful for change. Click HERE for some of the quotes from this book, shared by readers on Goodreads if you'd like to read some of Austin's writing.

Rating: PG (I think the d*** was used 2-3 times)

The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church's Complicity in Racism by Jemar Tisby ☆ (audiobook)
"The American Church has tended to practice a complicit Christianity rather than a courageous Christianity." Jemar Tisby starts his book with this statement and then exposes four centuries of failure of the predominantly white American Church to fight against racism. Instead, it often became complicit and at times even outrightly aggressive towards Black people. From European colonization  and gruesome conditions of slave ships to the dark centuries of slavery followed by the Civil War, Reconstruction Era, the Jim Crow Laws, opposition to Civil Rights, real estate redlining of FDR's New Deal to keep Black families out of white neighborhoods, and all the way to the Trump administration and the Black Lives Matter movement, Tisby gives concrete evidence through his historical research that Christians have all too often resisted taking action against racism. Instead, they have often defended, justified, and  conserved it ... or were at least passive and silent: “When Christians had the opportunity to decisively oppose the racism in their midst, all too often, they chose silence. The failure of many Christians in the South and across the nation to decisively oppose the racism in their families, communities, and even in their own churches provided fertile soil for the seeds of hatred to grow. The refusal to act in the midst of injustice is itself an act of injustice. Indifference to oppression perpetuates oppression.”  Though many Christians  would deny being racist, if they were honest, many would agree there could have been more done by the Church. They (and I include myself)  were too often complicit in that they did nothing to fight against racism and often downplayed how bad things were for Black Americans. At worst, they grossly distorted the Bible to serve their agenda. Slave owners believed it was God's will for white people to own and be master over Black people, which often included violent beatings, rape, separation of families from each other, inhumane living conditions, and other atrocities. Similarly, it was horrible to read about white supremacists who claimed to be Christians who would support segregation-upholding policies and supported deplorable fear tactics such as lynching,  preached a warped theology to dehumanize Black people, and actively worked to deny equal rights to Black people. There were even "Christians" in the KKK, which seems unthinkable. Yes, there were exceptions to these racist mentalities, but far too few, in Tisby's estimation. Martin Luther King Jr. was often discouraged by white Christian preachers to quit with all the marching and racial injustice talk, to which he urged them to recognize the "urgency of now" rather than settling for the "tranquilizing drug of gradualism" that down-played the injustices occurring in the nation. It was also sad to hear that a certain private Christian college denied admittance to Black men as late as the 1970s because of fear of Black male students marrying the white female students, since interracial marriage seemed unthinkable and even sinful.  Tisby's keen historical knowledge and extensive research is obvious. I am sure this book will ruffle feathers for some white Christian readers because it is not comfortable to read about the Church's failures. But, I did not feel like he was attacking or being hateful towards the Church. He is a Christian leader and loves the Church. He says that “jumping ahead to the victories means skipping the hard but necessary work of examining what went wrong with race and the church.” He wants to spur white Christians today to learn from mistakes and move forward by courageously supporting, listening to, and engaging in conversations with Black people to promote racial reconciliation. In the last chapter, he offers many concrete ways of doing this through three main areas (awareness, relationships, commitment to action) as well as explaining the concept of reparations. I learned a lot, was challenged, and saddened by this book. As a follower of Jesus, I want my actions and words to reflect Him clearly. I want to apply Micah 6:8  by practicing (seeking and promoting) justice, loving mercy (through compassionate, Christ-like serving), and walking humbly with God (repenting for past ways I have not been courageous against racism; being willing to listen and learn from voices different than my own). Reading books like this one helps me be more aware of shortcomings, biases, and dangers of passivity and encourages me to prayerfully find ways to be an ally towards racial reconciliation and justice.

Rated: PG (details about violent acts against Black people)

Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell (audiobook) 
I had a lot of problems with both reading and writing about this book that glorified the antebellum South. I watched the award-winning film as a teenager and focused on the beautiful dresses and lighthearted banter of the first part of the movie.  I don't remember noticing how much racism was in the story; I enjoyed the historical element and considered it a classical work of American literature. The hefty tome, clocking in at over 1,000 pages, was daunting and I wasn't really interested in reading it since I felt I was familiar with the story from watching the film. I read it the last few months alongside a few friends and, especially in light of the current climate of raising awareness of racial injustices still happening today, it was an unsettling read. The plot is sprawling, from the seemingly idyllic Atlanta rural life of antebellum Georgia to the post-Civil War's Reconstruction Age from the perspective of a fiery Irish-American Southern Belle named Scarlett O'Hara. I remember being annoyed with Scarlett while watching the film so many years ago, but that pales in comparison to how much I detested her in the actual book, which fleshes out her character development (or, I'd argue, un-development) more than the film could have possibly done. She is the most dislikable protagonist I have ever encountered. She is selfish, prideful, mean-spirited, impatient, manipulative, arrogant, and even delusional (her adulterous crush on a married man). I'm not one for "mom-shaming" but she is easily the worst mother character I have ever read, repeatedly wishing she didn't have her children since they get in her way and being annoyed by their presence, shirking her maternal duty to those around her. At one point, she says she forgot she even had a son. I guess she was too focused on more important things like disrespecting and embarrassing her husband(s) and severing ties with any respectable person in her community as she climbs (claws?) her way up the financial ladder by running  her sketchy mill business in effort to never be hungry or poor ever again (her ultimate goal in life). There's nothing wrong with her working, but she is shrewd, cheats and condones violent treatment of her ex-inmate employees from her hired foreman and she has no qualms about the dark dealings involved in pushing her business forward.  That's all she is really interested in: money, power, prestige, and of course, her precious (married) Ashley. She has no sense of sympathy and everything she does (even helping out Ashley's wife during a nearly deadly childbirth), was ultimately for her own gain. She has no sense of morality and only gets worse and worse as the book progresses. But worse still is that this book is explicitly and unapologetically racist and also muddles history, namely the Reconstruction Era. Scarlett prides herself on being nice to her slaves, yet she uses the most deplorable language, likening them to animals and using the N word combined with other nasty language when she is frustrated that they aren't quick enough for her impatient commands. Her mother taught her to be kind to their slaves, but Scarlett has moral amnesia as she grows up, demeaning them with cruel language. But, isn't this just expected because of the historical context of the South? Should I just wave this off as being part of history and excuse the racism with a soft pat because we knows much better now? No, I don't believe so. Margaret Mitchell wrote this from the staunch perspective and support of Confederate ideals. She grew up in Atlanta, surrounded by aging Confederate veterans who told of their glory days. She had no idea the Confederates actually lost the war until she was ten because of how they portrayed it. She listened to her older female relatives hype up the antebellum South's plantation life, and she was an avid reader and supporter of books written by Thomas Dixon,  who wrote books glorifying and romanticizing white supremacy and the  KKK, referring to them as heroes. He was a staunch supporter of racial segregation and believed Black people were mostly violent rapists who needed to be kept in their place. In a letter to Dixon dated the same year  Gone With the Wind was published, she actually wrote "I was practically raised on your books, and love them very much." So, no, this is not an innocent depiction of the South surrounding the Civil War. It is a deliberately romanticized novel with inaccurate history skewed by a white supremacist author who reveled in glorifying the racist and hateful Confederate agenda. This was clearly seen in how she depicted Black characters. Either they were violent rapists or they were docile, stupid slaves who enjoyed working for their masters and hated that they were now freed, because, oh! however will they know how to take care of themselves?! The Reconstruction Era was seen as a violent time with notorious carpetbaggers come up from the North to cause trouble, like promoting the right for Black people to vote (the horror!) and have their own land (unthinkable!). Mitchell's omniscient narrator, who has long passages about the the poor, sad Confederate soldiers and wicked Union Army and how wrongly Southerners were treated during this time, is clearly biased and deranged. Mitchell aimed for her readers to sympathize even with KKK members at one point!! The racism is blatant and casts a shadow over any redeemable part of the book for me. So, why did I even finish it? The time it took to listen to the nearly fifty hours of this audiobook could have easily meant listening to at least five other audiobooks! I found humor in the flirty banter between Rhett Butler and Scarlett early in the book (compared to their cringe-worthy relationship later on). Her inner monologue was entertaining early in the book because she was so self-absorbed and childish,  I kept thinking, "Really, Scarlett?" as if admonishing a two-year old with a tantrum. But as she matured, it was painfully clear that she was just plain horrible, and that wasn't amusing at all. Although the history was grossly misconstrued and skewed to pro-Confederate leanings, I could still appreciate the atmospheric writing; all her details of Tara and Atlanta made it easy to imagine the juxtaposing rural and metropolitan settings. The large cast of characters was also something that kept me reading. Ridiculous, yet endearing, Aunt Pitty Pat, for example, was always amusing, albeit ridiculous. I think she had more fainting spells than actual conversations.   I enjoyed Melanie (a quiet strength with moral aptitude who could not be more different than Scarlett), though I couldn't stand how much she revered and defended Scarlett. And I guess I kept reading because wanted to see if there would be any redeemable quality to Scarlett; any remorse over the many people she hurt along the way to her success. Nope. 

Rating: PG (lots of d*** as well as the N word)
(This is book #11 in my Unread Bookshelf Project, in which I try to read books I have owned for a while)

Essential Truths of the Christian Faith: 100 Key Doctrines in Plain Language by R.C. Sproul 
Dr. Sproul uses easy-to-understand language to explain doctrines pivotal to the Christian faith in concise two- to- three page summaries, some of which include diagrams to further explain the concept. The reader is left with basic understanding of each doctrine, though it is clearly evident that there are whole books that have been written about some of the doctrines, so the reader is encouraged to dig deeper using different resources for further evaluation and knowledge.  He uses analogies and illustrations that help to elaborate his explanations as well as clearly defining terms that were once confusing or seemed too heady for me. The book is divided into ten sections, with six to twelve doctrines per sections, organized as short chapters: Revelation (includes doctrines such as: General and Special Revelation, The Canon of Scripture, Interpreting the Bible), Nature & Attributes of God (Trinity, Omnipotence, Holiness, etc), Works & Decrees of God (Creation, Providence, Miracles, Will of God...), Jesus Christ (Diety of, Subordination of, Sinlessness of...), The Holy Spirit (Baptism of, Illumination of, Personality of...), Human Beings & the Fall (Original Sin, Human Depravity, Created in the Image of God, etc), Salvation (Predestination, Free Will, Assurance of Salvation, etc), The Church and Sacraments (Marks of a True Church, Lord's Supper, Baptism, etc), Living in this Age (Legalism vs Antinomianism, Fruit of the Spirit, Prayer, Marriage), and End Times (Heaven, Hell, the Antichrist, etc). This is a great tool in promoting sound theology for Christians. It is not just theologians in seminary who should have familiarity with these key doctrines but rather, all Christians should have at least a basic knowledge of them. This helps us understand why we believe what we believe and how it should impact our daily lives. Sproul calls this "a layperson's introduction to essential doctrines of Christianity" rather than formal theological book, and I believe he has achieved it. This will definitely be a great tool to revisit when I need a refresher. Readers can read it cover to cover, as I did, or jump to a specific doctrine. 

(This is book #12 in my Unread Bookshelf Project, in which I try to read books I have owned for a while
The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher (audiobook) 
Penelope Keeling is an elderly British woman living in the idyllic Cotswolds of Great Britain. She has just suffered a minor heart attack and her three adult children are each worried about her being alone in her cottage now that is seemingly more feeble. Two of the three children are more concerned about what will happen after she dies. Penelope's father was a painter and his artwork has regained notoriety. The painting he gifted to Penelope on her wedding is now worth a fortune and these two want their greedy hands all over it. The third child is nearest to Penelope and actually wants her best, but is often too busy in her high-class London CEO position to do much about it. This is the main gist of the story; it a slow-paced, character-driven, meandering (and rather long) story of this family, often skipping around to different years. Certain people enter their lives and others leave it forever, all of whom mark the lives of Penelope and her children in different ways. It is an atmospheric novel and perfect as a summer comfort read because of the quaint setting (I absolutely adored The Cotswolds when I visited many years ago). I have only read one other Pilcher novel (Winter Solstice), but can tell that she is a masterful author. Her intricately crafted characters have depth and are relatable and believable. Her settings are typically gorgeous rural villages with sprawling fields, hills, described in detail where I could almost hear the distant mooing of cattle and feel the warm sun on my skin during a walk in the country. Her writing is also reflective, especially since Penelope is older in age and can look back at a life fully lived, filled with love as well as pain.

Rating: PG (there were a few love scenes but very discreet without a lot of descriptions) 

Lovely War by Julia Berry (audiobook) 
An incredibly creative way to narrate a story, the most adorable love story I have read in a long time, and a lot learned about WWI; these are three reasons I absolutely loved this novel! The uniquely formatted novel mainly focuses on the budding romance between two British young adults, Hazel and James, before and during the Great War. It also dives into the lives of two other characters: a Jazz-loving African American soldier named Aubrey and a beautiful Belgian singer who has lost everything because of of the Nazi regime. Ok, here is where it gets particularly unique: the narrators of this historical novel are Greek gods and they each recount parts of the story that pertain to their domain. It sounds crazy, but it worked very well! Aphrodite focused on the love stories, of course, while Eres divulged all the details about WWI. Berry crafted a stunning novel that is not in the least fluffy with the love story, nor too gory with the war scenes. Aubrey's involvement in the Great War as part of an infantry comprised of all African American soldiers was an incredibly interesting  subplot. There was still so much racism from American soldiers (particularly from the South) who bullied and threatened African American soldiers as well as military-issued mandates that kept them segregated. It was so sad to hear that these men who were risking their lives to fight were treated so unjustly. The audiobook was exceptionally orchestrated, with short musical interludes between a few of the chapters as well as multiple voice actors, which further brought this enchanting story to life. I adored it!

Rating: PG (some war violence)

The Book of Lost Friends by Lisa Wingate (audiobook) 
I enjoyed Wingate's previous novel, Before We Were Yours, so I was curious about her latest. This historical novel is set in Louisiana and  switches between 1875 and 1987. In the post-Civil War time period, the plot follows Hannie, a former slave who was torn away from her mother and eight siblings years prior when they were illegally sold. She is accompanying two rich teen girls on a dangerous journey to Texas, each in search of answers pertaining to their families. In the more contemporary setting, there is a new teacher in the same Louisiana town working in a poor rural school who is struggling to connect with her ninth graders until she assigns them a family history project. With themes of searching for identity and family, unearthing long-buried secrets, and building new friendships, this was an engaging  read. One piece of history I learned about was that African American churches during post-Civil War era had newsletters with portions dedicated to letters from former slaves who were looking for family members sold off and separated for decades. The letters were read aloud at many Black churches with the hope that these family members would somehow be reunited. Some where able to find their families after decades of separation, while others unsuccessful. In between each chapter of this novel were real letters from real newsletters, which was fascinating and a unique addition to a novel. It was devastating to hear of Black children ripped apart from their mothers and sold separately, many of whom never saw each other again. This is a dark part of our American history, but important to learn about without an airbrushed positive spin to it (ahem, here's looking at you, Gone With the Wind); there was nothing positive about the cruelty of slavery. This was un unfiltered and realistic look at the families broken apart because of plantation owners believed they had a right to own Black men, women, and children as human chattel. But it is also filled with hope and self-discovery, which helps with some of the heavier scenes.

Rating: PG (some violence happens "off-screen")

The Morning Gift by Eva Ibbotson 
Historical fiction set right before WWII that focuses on a Jewish-Austrian twenty-year old named Ruth. After her parents safely escape Vienna, Ruth ends up stuck in the city when her own escape plans fall through. With the imminent Nazi invasion of Austria, Ruth is desperate to escape. When a British family friend, Quin Sommerville, (who just happens to be visiting the city) tries to help her, the only viable plan is to marry her so she gains British citizenship and can leave Vienna safely as his wife. What was supposed to be a quick marriage of convenience that would be annulled as soon as they landed in London (where she'd reunite with her family) becomes more convoluted, especially when they end up spending a lot of unplanned time together. This book had so much going for it and I enjoyed it immensely. This is the first novel I have read by Ibbotson, who was a rather prolific Austrian-born British novelist. Her writing style was unique and very intellectual. Quin is a paleontologist and professor, so there is a plethora of terms and historical references to this area of science. Ruth is from The City of Music, home of the musical genius of Mozart and Beethoven as well as Sigmund Freud and the birth of psychoanalysis (which is why Vienna also has the nickname, The City of Dreams).  So, music had a huge role in the plot and so did a bit of Freudian terminology. Some of this went over my head, but I enjoy learning new things, especially about science and music, so I was fascinated by all the research and depth of knowledge expressed through the book and felt like it added to the plot rather than just showed off how smart the author was.  I also loved learning more about the experience of refugees in Great Britain. It was heartbreaking to hear that many notable musicians, professors, and physicians from Europe ended up in the poorest parts of London, working the equivalent of minimum wage jobs to start a new life. This is incredibly timely since we have had a refugee crisis in recent years and understanding more about their experience can help us learn from and support refugees. Lastly, I adored the atmospheric setting of the windy northeastern coastal region of Northumberland and specifically, Bowmont, the seaside home Quin inherited and visits when not in London or traveling on paleontology excursions. The scenes here are brooding as well as dreamy, with the waves crashing against vacant beaches below high cliffs, rugged, hilly moors that are reminiscent of Brontë novels, and his cantankerous (yet increasingly lovable) aunt running Bowmont (which I envision as a a small castle) to meticulous precision, including a secret garden. Come on! Moors, cliffs, waves, and secret gardens?! I am all in! Overall, I loved this novel. The love story had a few parts that I felt were rushed and Ruth was a tiny bit annoying with her impulsivity and naivety getting her in several avoidable gaffes (but, they helped progress the plot, so I guess they had a purpose). But the rest of the book more than made up for the few qualms I had. I  love the cover of my copy; I searched high and low in the internet world of books to find this specific gorgeously-illustrated edition since the other editions looked cheesy and very 90s.

Rating: PG (references to sex but not too descriptive)

Stitches by David Small 

This melancholy yet sometimes humorous graphic memoir was sad and fascinating at the same time. David was raised  in Detroit by a physician dad (who regularly let out his anger on a punching bag  and worked very long hours, probably to avoid being home) and a passive-aggressive mother who would give the family the silent treatment after they upset her for the tiniest of infractions, and was perpetually in a rotten mood, scolding and stingy. David had respiratory issues as a toddler that his father treated with frequent doses of radiation, believed to be the miracle cure  in the 1950s. When a family friend notices a lump on eleven-year old David's neck, it takes three years for his parents to finally get it removed, thinking it's a simple cyst. Two mysterious surgeries later, David wakes up with a huge scar on his neck and the inability to speak. He later finds out (not from his parents, who decided to hide it from him) that the lump was actually cancerous. This coming-of-age story was creatively told through comic-like illustrations, many of which were wordless yet conveyed plenty of emotions and atmosphere. David's dysfunctional family and traumatic surgery carried heavy themes, but, obviously, it turns well in the end since David Small is now an award-winning illustrator and author. 

Rating: PG (some mild sexual references and language). This is not a children's book.

The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy 
I am not sure how this book is classified. I would call it an adult picture book, but that sounds dirty (it's not!) and sounds like it wouldn't be appropriate for children (it is!). The simple, creative illustrations and wise, timeless adages make it suitable for young and old readers alike. It follows, as the title denotes, a boy (who is shy, inquisitive, and sometimes melancholy), a cake-loving mole (who is wise, thoughtful, and compassionate), a fox (who is anxious and tentative to trust others), and a horse (who is also incredibly wise). Each page follows this crew as they ask each other deep, philosophical questions and answer them in simple, insightful, and beautifully-crafted proverbs. A few of my favorites include: "Don't measure your value by the way you are treated. Always remember you matter, you're important and you are loved, and you bring to this world things no one else can", Boy: "What do we do when our hearts hurt?" Horse: "We wrap them with friendship, shared tears and time, till they wake hopeful and happy again"; Boy: "What's your best discovery?" Mole:" That I am enough as I am"; Boy: "Sometimes I think you believe in me more than I do" Horse: "You'll catch up". I adored this book, which can easily be read to a grade-schooler or middle-schooler and discussed together, or just enjoyed as an adult, especially during a hard season when some words of encouragement are needed.

Rating: G

The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner (audiobook) 
A novel set in Chawton, Hampshire post-WWII, about the beginning of a society with the aim to preserve Jane Austen's home and legacy. A band of townspeople who have all been deeply marked by Austen's novels come together, some of whom have feelings for one another,  to somehow highlight their favorite novelist, but there are a few roadblocks in the way. A little romance, a little history, plot twists, and a whole lot of Austen. This novel had a lot going for it, but I just wasn't hooked. There were a ton of characters, and with all the sub-plots and multiple viewpoints from different characters, it was hard to feel connected to any of them since they didn't seem very fleshed out. A few characters seemed very flat, which was unfortunate. I had been anticipating this book for many months, especially when I read that it was similar to The Guernsey Literary Potato Peel Pie Society, which I adored. But it was hard to really stay engaged for most of this story.  

Rating: G

 Reading Stats for June:
Total Books Read: 16
Fiction: 9 (Historical Fiction: 5; Contemporary: 4)
Nonfiction: 7 (Memoir: 3; Essays: 2; Theology: 2; History: 1)

Audiobook: 12
Ebook: 1
Physical Book: 3

Books off my bookshelf (Goal= 2/mo): 2 in June; 12 total for 2020
Total books read in 2020 so far: 74