January Book Reviews

January Book Reviews

Shiner by Amy Jo Burns (audiobook) ★★★★☆
A gritty, absorbing novel about a single child of a recluse couple in the Appalachian Mountains. Her mother loves her daughter Wren fiercely, while her father is more reserved in his affection. One of the last snake-handling pastors of the Appalachia region, he is strict and restrictive (hiding his family in a mountain cabin far removed from the West Virginia mining town) and holds a mysterious past, which seems to have created a chasm between him and his wife over the years. When tragedy strikes in their community, Wren's life is forever changed. This is a beautifully-written novel of a family that has a lot of skeletons in their closets. There were a few squeamish parts, but overall I enjoyed hearing this story of an entirely different life and experience than my own.
Reminded me of: Educated by Tara Westover. 
Rated: PG-13 (language and sexual content)

Snow & Rose by Emily Winfield Martin 
This is an absolutely darling and enchanting retelling of the fairytale "Snow White and Rose Red", which my grandfather used to recite to me in Romanian as a little girl. That was the reason I picked it up, and I am so glad I did because it was delightful! The story was modernized a bit (though I cannot remember much about the original fairytale and now want to go back and read it too) but it still retained the whimsical and slightly dark theme of Grimm's fairytales. Snow and Rose are sisters who were once wealthy, but lost it all when their father went missing in the nearby woods. They and their grieving mom move into a secluded cabin in the woods since they are now poor. The girls venture out into the woods everyday and soon find an adventure and clues surrounding their father's disappearance. The writing and themes were appropriate for middle-schoolers, but as an adult I absolutely loved it too (it didn't seem childish or simple). The author also included whimsical illustrations to compliment the story and this just made it so much sweeter. She wrote and illustrated  the adorable children's picture book, The Wonderful Things You Will Be, which I had been reading to Elliot at the same time, without knowing at first that they were written by the same author. It finally dawned on me when I realized how similar the illustrations were (her children always have rosy cheeks and she includes a lot of woodland creatures and fauna in her books). 
Rating: G

The Story of the Other Wise Man by Henry Van Dyke 
 The short but powerful tale is about a wise man named Artaban who was supposed to accompany the three wise man to find the one whom the ancient prophesies foretold would be Messiah. He is delayed in meeting up with them because he stops to help a dying man beside the road. Once he realizes they started the long, arduous journey without him, he begins the pilgrimage through the deserts of the Middle East on his own. He encounters suffering and misfortune that further delay his deep longing to offer his precious gifts for Jesus. He appears to have missed his chance once he arrives to Bethlehem, but his life is forever changed as his search continues. This is an absolutely beautiful parable about worshiping God through serving those who suffer. I have been reading this every December for the past four years. I saved it this year for early January since the 6th was Epiphany (celebrating the wise men visiting Jesus).
Rating: G

The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister (audiobook) 
A novel about new friendships that are formed during a cooking class. The story is told by the eight students, with each chapter narrated by a different student. Their lives start to intersect as they help each other work through new recipes but also life challenges that they once battled alone. It is a sweet story that has delicious descriptions of food, so do not read this book when you are hungry. It didn't blow me away, and I considered stopping midway because I wasn't in the mood for it most days, but it grew on me during the second half. 
It reminded me of: The Kitchen Counter Cooking School by Kathleen Flinn (which I LOVED!!)
Rating: PG

Come, Let Us Adore Him: A Daily Advent Devotional by Paul David Tripp 
This devotional was a perfect way to savor the Advent season. The thought-provoking daily devotions were deep and sometimes even challenging (in the sense that it revealed things in me I felt I needed to pray through). I absolutely loved that Tripp included a short section at the end of each daily reading that was for parents and children. It had a simplified explanation of the devotion and a great way of explaining it and discussing it with children through metaphors. I look forward to using that portion with Elliot when he is older because there were really great ways Tripp explained themes such as what it means that Jesus is the Way, how God's peace is different that the world's peace, the promises God has given us in His Word, Songs we sing at Christmas, self-righteousness, and hope (among many others). I definitely recommend it for anyone who wants a daily devotional for the  Christmas season. The devotions are each four to five pages, so it is not very time-consuming, but is succinct, very well-written, and pointed me towards Jesus every day in December (and the first week of January, because I fell behind the week of Christmas, oops!
Rating: G

Truths I never Told You by Kelly Rimmer (audiobook) ★★★★☆
A difficult but important read for me, though I am sure it would be uncomfortable for some to read. The novel follows a dual storyline: Grace is a young mom in the 1950s who is experiencing severe postpartum depression and considering extreme measures amidst a dire situation; Beth is her youngest daughter, who is now a young mom herself in 1990s and experiencing similar symptoms. When Beth's father is placed in a hospice nursing home at the end of his life, Beth cleans out their childhood home, only to find shocking letters her mom wrote that unearth hidden pain, loneliness, and despair. As she and her siblings search for answers while saying goodbye to their beloved father, life is tense and hard. This is not a feel-good novel, which is obvious at this point in my review, right? It is a very sad and hard book because of the desperation and severity of Grace's situation. But it was an accurate, vulnerable, and honest portrayal of what postpartum depression can look like, especially for an impoverished woman with multiple young children who is without access to mental health, support system of family and friends, and whose husband just does not understand what she's going through, nor supports her. The postpartum depression symptoms of loneliness, severe exhaustion, emotional fragility, and overall feeling like you are in a fog and a shell of your former self were all poignantly illustrated by Rimmer, who wrote her characters with obvious respect. 
Rating: PG-13 (language, adult themes [I can give more info if desired... I just don't want to give spoilers on here])

Set-Apart Motherhood: Reflecting Joy and Beauty in Family Life by Leslie Ludy 
When I was single, I read everything Leslie and her husband, Eric, wrote. I really liked their perspective and their serious pursuit of God that was always challenging but helpful to read. Her book on motherhood retains that passion and seriousness. It was a great read where I felt validated in the hard and messy aspects of motherhood, yet it was also a challenge in many ways. Leslie was both encouraging young moms as well as challenging them to evaluate their heart, motives, and priorities and how they align to God's Word. I definitely feel like God used this book to reveal some deep-rooted bitterness, self-pity, and anger that has been mainly caused by a very trying season of motherhood right now. Each chapter ended with probing questions and Scripture references to help me work through different areas of motherhood.  I was particularly challenged by a chapter that described how we can be strengthened through the hard parts of motherhood instead of giving into self-pity and wishing those hard seasons away. Leslie's passion for raising children who love God was inspiring and I appreciated how each chapter had a section with practical ideas to help equip moms. There were a few times when I felt like what she was proclaiming (that motherhood can be continually joyful, even on the hardest days, for instance) was hard for me to swallow and I wondered if I agreed fully. Yet, it was still helpful because it made me think through why I questioned these statements. I recommend this for Christian moms who are okay with a little kick in the pants.  It is full of reminders of God's grace for the hard parts of motherhood, it has short chapters and is a relatively short book that are manageable for busy, frazzled moms, and it definitely pointed me to Jesus with every chapter. I will come back to this one often.
Rating: G

Letters from Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien 
Do yourself a favor and read this exceptionally charming collection of letters Tolkien wrote to his children as Father Christmas for over two decades. As the years progressed, the storylines thickened, with a band of characters including his accident-prone, lazy, yet indispensable assistant, North Polar Bear. And in typical Tolkein fashion, this other world includes war between good and evil, namely Father Christmas and his friends vs the despicable goblins who attempt to steal Christmas gifts. It is darling and absolutely hilarious, especially the North Polar Bear's many blunders. This is a must-read on the physical or e-book format since Tolkien's original, intricately hand-drawn artwork accompanies the letters and perfectly adds to the whimsical charm.  What fun to have a father as imaginative as Tolkien!
Rating: G

A Practical Guide for Praying Parents by Erwin W. Lutzer ★★★★☆ 
This is a useful resource for parents who are wanting guidance in more specific prayers for their children. There are a lot of prayers Lutzer includes for you to use in addition to your own prayers, which is helpful sometimes when you feel like you've been praying for the same things. He uses a lot of Scripture in his prayers, which I liked. Lutzer wants parents to know the power of prayer and to  encourage parents to be faithfully consistent in praying for their children even when they don't see obvious answers or results. He starts off the book with a chapter called "Lord Change Me" and it was a great place to start: praying to ask God to reveal any selfishness, wrong priorities, weaknesses, or blatant sin that could be getting in the way of a parent's desire to pray for their children. "Lord Change Their Hearts", "Lord, Let Sin Become Bitter, so Grace May Become Sweet", and "Lord, I Refuse to Let Satan Have My Child" are the four chapters with his commentary, followed by a concluding prayer.  The second half of the book is a collection of prayers for each day of the week, each with a different theme. For example, Monday is "A Prayer of Blessing for Our Children", Tuesday is "A Prayer to Keep Our Children From Evil", and so on. The prayers and the text seemed to be focused on older children, specifically those who have chosen not to follow Christ, so it did not seem super applicable in some ways. But I took the overarching idea of prioritizing specific prayer for my child. I have specific things I pray for my son for each day of the week (Mondays, I pray for him to be drawn to the Lord and accept Him as savior one day, Tuesdays I pray for him to grow in the fruit of the spirit, etc). But this gave me more ideas of ways I can pray for him, so it was useful overall.

Disclaimer: I received this book from Moody Publishers for free in exchange for an honest review, which I have included here.  

The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery 
I wrote a whole post on this new favorite! See it HERE.

Classics Club: 16th book (out of 75). See my whole list HERE
Back to Classics challenge: 1st of 12 books. See my list HERE

My Star Ratings
★ =  I LOVED it! 
☆ = I enjoyed it 
☆ = It was okay overall 
☆ = Wasn't a fan
☆ = Disliked it a lot