March Book Reviews

Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell (audiobook) 
See HERE for full review on this classic.

Nerves of Steel: How I Follow My Dreams, Earned My Wings, and Faced My Greatest Challenge by Tammie Jo Shults (audiobook) 
An incredible memoir about the self-disciplined, courageous, quick-thinking, and admirable female pilot who safely landed a severely damaged Southwest Airlines plane, saving one-hundred and forty-eight people. She digs into her humble upbringing with farming parents, her long journey of becoming a Navy pilot (and all the challenges she endured because she was a woman), and ultimately, her Christian faith and how it strengthened her through many difficulties. She is an inspiring woman and her story was so well-written and constantly pointed the praise to God instead of herself. 

Rating: G

Pearl in the Sand by Tessa Afshar (audiobook) 
I typically don't enjoy Biblical fiction, but Tessa's novels are the exception. She doesn't overly romanticize or speculate, adding details that don't fall in line with what Scripture says about a certain person (which is my biggest gripe with the genre). Instead, it is obvious she meticulously researches and studies the Bible for her writing to accurately depict Biblical characters while also using her own imagination and creative license to add complexity and reliability to her characters. In this novel focused on Rahab, she paints the often misunderstood woman, who was grafted into the family of God and is in the lineage of both David and Christ, in a fascinating and believable light as a repentant woman whose life is completely transformed by God. Though she marries Salmon, an Israelite, her happily-ever-after includes working through some of the ramifications of her past life, such as her shame and doubt that she is worthy of being loved by a man. It was deep and real, showing God's amazing, powerful redemption over the hardest parts of our story. I also enjoyed the way the wandering Israelites, and specifically their faithful and God-honoring leader, Joshua, are depicted. I am currently reading through Deuteronomy and chose this book specifically for this season so that I can have a little imagination of what it was like to wander through the desert and hear God's instructions as they were nearing the Promised Land. It brought to life a lot of what I was reading and helped me understand their experience a bit more.

Rating: PG (some violence and reference to Rahab's previous career as a prostitute)

The Call of the Wild and Free: Reclaiming Wonder in Your Child's Education by Ainsley Arment (audiobook) 
Ainsely has a wide following of homeschool mamas who are on the same bandwagon: get kids outside in nature, follow their interests/personalities/needs in their home education, and let kids be kids for as long as possible. She has a podcast by the same name, a huge community that includes local nature playdates for homeschooling kids, a resort in the woods of Virginia for families to have quality time together, and educational resources for parents and kids that are nature-focused as well as a book on handcrafts. I enjoyed learning about different homeschooling methods as well as the practical ways she and other like-minded moms are intentional about exposing their children to nature as much as possible. I wasn't a fan of how negatively she painted formal education (specifically public school) as well as how easy she made it sound for parents to be able to homeschool. Although I am very interested in homeschooling, at least for the early years, I still see great value in other educational options, including public school, and for many people, that is their best option, so it was a bit off-putting and elitist at times. I enjoyed the several episodes of her podcast that I listened to, and it helped me hear her heart a little more, especially her passion for homeschooling, so I can understand why she'd be so opinionated, but it was the one thing I wasn't a fan of in the book. 

Rating: G

Eight Cousins by Louisa May Alcott (audiobook) 
Fifteen-year old Rose is an orphan who moves to "Aunt Hill" where her aunts and uncle all share in the responsibilities of taking care of her. There she meets her seven boy cousins and also befriends a slightly older maid. They all have lots of fun, entertaining jaunts and escapades, making the orphaned Rose feel part of a family again. This was a sweet story, though it wasn't anywhere near Little Women for me (one of my favorite books). The friendship between the cousins and the ways they often found themselves in funny predicaments reminded me of Little Men, while Rose's kindness and selflessness reminded me of A Little Princess (Frances Hodgson Burnett). Uncle Alec is a great character with revolutionary thinking about topics like education and seems to be a reflection of Alcott's own father, which was fun to read about. There is a sequel, Rose in Bloom, that I might end up reading in the future.

Rating: G
Classics Club: 20th book (out of 75). See my whole list HERE 
Back to Classics challenge: 4th of 12 books. See my list HERE

Grimm's Fairy Tales by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm (audiobook) 
Twenty-one stories from the expansive collection of the complete Grimm's Fairy Tales are narrated by a cast of talented voice actors who bring these stories to life, including well-known tales like Cinderella, Rapunzel, Rumpelstiltskin, Little Red-Cap (aka Little Red Riding Hood), Little Briar-Rose (aka Sleeping Beauty), Hansel and Gretal, and  Little Snow White. There were plenty of fairy tales in this collection that I was unfamiliar with, such as The Shoes That Were Danced to Pieces,  The Twelve Brothers, The Goose-Girl, The Six Swans, and The Elves. These were the Grimm versions rather than rosy Disney adaptations,  which was interesting to compare and contrast. For example, Cinderella never had a fairy godmother in Grimm's tale; white doves helped her when she prayed to God for help. And the ending is a lot more grim (pun intended) for her step-sisters: their mom convinces them to chop off parts of their feet to fit in the Cinderella's slipper, but the blood seeping out of the shoe gave them away. Also, birds pecked their eyes out at Cinderella's wedding. Not so sure I want to tell Elliot this version for awhile, but it was interesting for sure! I recently listened to some podcasts on the importance of fairy tales in a child's education and how they can point us to the gospel, which I find intriguing, so it was a fun challenge to think about the fairy tales a bit more deeply. 

Rating: G 

Creative God, Colorful Us by Trillia Newbell 
This is a great resource for grade-school and middle-schoolers to better understand the gospel as well as the beauty in the diversity of God's family. Just as a body has different organs with different functions, God's family, filled with Christians from different parts of the world, all have an important role in the Body of Christ. Our different abilities, color of our skin, personalities, and other distinctions are all valuable, so we are called to love one another's differences and rejoice in our similarities (that we are all created in God's image, that we are all forgiven and saved by Jesus, that we all have worth and dignity as His children). Trillia explains the gospel in a fantastic way through the first half of the book, with applicable examples an images for young readers, but still deep enough for adults to mull over as well. And then she focuses on how to love one another and celebrate our differences as a reflection of our Creative God. For each chapter, she had a Big Idea, a summarizing statement that she encouraged readers to memorize by creating a song, rap, or chant. She also has a discussion section and a corresponding  activity at the end of each chapter. There are illustrations that help convey the messages of each chapter without distracting the reader or appearing to childish for and older child or pre-teen. I really enjoyed reading through this small but impactful book, and plan on reading it to Elliot when he is older. 

Rating: G
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from Moody Publishers in exchange for an honest review, which I have provided here.

For the Children's Sake by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay (audiobook) 
Recently, as I have been reading books and listening to podcasts on homeschooling, this book has repeatedly been recommended for those interested in the Charlotte Mason method of education. It wasn't until I started listening to it that I realized another thing it its favor: Susan is Edith and Francis Shaeffer's daughter! (I really enjoyed Edith's The Hidden Art of Homemaking and am looking forward to reading L'Abri, which is about her and her husband, Francis' ministry). It soon became apparent why so many homeschooling moms have been inspired by the words of this book, first published in 1984. It is an encouragement for parents to see the vital role they play in their child's life, specifically through education. Susan doesn't just focus on homeschooling, she also looks at how a parent can partner with schools to help promote a gentle, well-rounded, meaningful education. She looks at the role of education from a Christian worldview, but makes it very accessible and practical rather than merely philosophical. She explains how Charlotte Mason's educational principles (developed in the late 19th century) can be employed in any setting, from home to school, from the wealthy to the impoverished, from those living in farms to those living in the inner city. She brings it home by sharing examples she and her husband have adopted many of these principles in raising and educating their own children. From the importance of allowing children ample time to explore nature, to the tool of narration instead of stressful quizzing, to following a child's tempo rather than rushing them to learn new skills before they are ready, to including children in daily activities and conversations (thereby treating them as persons rather than helpless babies), she explores what Mason's methodology looks like for a modern family, without giving a specific, rigid how-to manual. I enjoyed it on audio, but will be adding a physical copy to my own personal library so I can re-read it and mark my favorite parts. 

Villette by Charlotte Brontë (audiobook) ☆ 
This was a book I wanted to read because I love Jane Eyre and wanted to read more of Charlotte's books. Well, my first mistake was to expect something similar to Jane Eyre. Lucy Snow, the  frosty (pun intended) protagonist of Villete is definitely not Jane Eyre, so it was an unfair expectation. I was actually contemplating quitting it around halfway, but this is a ginormous book (nearly twenty-three hours on audiobook), so I felt like I was in too deep by that point. Thankfully, it became more interesting in the last quarter of the book. I was confused about certain aspects of the book, which I understood after listening to some reviews that this was actually pretty expected, because this is supposed to be a book full of ambiguity and even unreliability. I have not  read a novel with an unreliable narrator, and after reading Villette, I don't think this is a literary device I particularly enjoy, but it definitely worked for this novel. Alrighty, I totally got ahead of myself. What is this even about?? It follows orphaned, lonely, seemingly emotionless Lucy Snow as she moves from England to Villette, Belgium, which is a made-up name for been Brussels, where Charlotte studied and worked prior to beginning her writing career. This novel is highly biographical, particularly the part about an unrequited love. Anyway, back to Lucy:  She is hired as an English teacher at an all-girls school and meets a slew of supporting characters, some endearing and others repulsive. It has a very vague narration style, with chunks of her history left out, seemingly to make her seem distant and possibly even guarded towards the reader. It's hard to understand Lucy Snow, and therefore, hard to root for her or even care what happens to her. I gravitate towards novels where I can understand a protagonist and feel like I know what's going on in her head, which was impossible with Lucy, who keeps important details hidden until a convenient time to divulge (or other times, she doesn't share at all, such as what happened to her family that left her an orphan and forced her to fend for herself as a young woman). Lucy also suffers from depression with several serious episodes that result in some very hazy narration (which was probably due to the opium-laced sleeping pills she was taking!). It was interesting to read about a depressed protagonist in Victorian literature, which is usually more rosy, but this is a Brontë novel after all. The three sisters didn't fit in the mold of romantic novelists of Victorian literature. Their novels are all pretty dark, which is understandable as they endured a lot of hardship in their lives. This story has an extremely melancholy tone and felt bland, unappealing, and dragged on.  This seemed to be purposeful because of Lucy's lonely, emotionless existence slowly changes as she befriends two different men, and the book picks up the pace and feels more hopeful towards the end. It shows the transformation that is possible through friendship, especially for someone so accustomed to loneliness. There was one very sweet part towards the ending that nearly redeemed the story for me, but the actual ending was ambiguous, which is something I don't enjoy. I am a happily-ever-after girl, or at least, give me a good redemption story with some hope, even if the ending isn't tied up neatly in a bow. There was a lot of French in the book, which was hard to interpret on audiobook, but it was fairly easy to guess what was said by Lucy's English response. Overall, I wasn't a fan of this novel. The literary devices and multiple themes and tone were interesting to learn about after finishing the book, because it helped me put words to what made it difficult to enjoy the novel. But, ultimately, it was hard to connect with the protagonist and her aloofness and unreliability as a narrator made it hard to follow along and be invested in her story. I kinda felt like, if you don't care about your life, Lucy Snow, why should I? 

Rating: G 
Classics Club: 21st book (out of 75). See my whole list HERE

Behold the King of Glory: A Narrative of the life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ by Russ Ramsey 
Forty short chapters recount Jesus' three-year ministry, concluding with his death and resurrection. This is a perfect Lent devotional as the readings are only a few pages long, yet are engaging, insightful, and creatively interwoven to show the tapestry of Jesus' earthly ministry and how it all culminated to His work at the cross.  It is a very easy read, in a story format that pulls from the four gospels to deliver a succinct and well-flowing timeline. Russ stayed true to the Scripture accounts, while adding just enough creative license to add depth to the characters and feel like you understand them better (like Peter's shame after denying Jesus three times, the wealthy father who was desperate to have his child healed, Mary and Martha's grief after their brother died, etc). These stories come to life in a powerful way with an obvious crescendo in the last  half of the book as the crucifixion draws near. There was also great historical information seamlessly woven in that helped me understand certain Jewish customs and context that I had not heard before, such as the significance of Jesus riding a donkey into Jerusalem and how it was connected to the newly anointed King Solomon entering Jerusalem in the same way.  FYI this older edition (2015) was published by Crossway by this title. There was a recent re-published edition by IVP, which was renamed The Passion of the King of Glory. The books are identical, so if you plan on reading it, either will work!
Rating: G

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