May Book Reviews



Jane of Austin: A Novel of Sweet Tea and Sensibility
by Hilary Manton Lodge
This is a delightful modernized retelling of Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility. Sweet without being saccharine, it is especially fun if you are familiar with Austin, the main setting of the book as well as Austen's original classic about polar opposite sisters, Elinor and Marianne. The characters had whispers of their Sense & Sensibility counterparts, but they were realistic as modern versions, with fun quirks as well as emotional depth (an injured Marine vet, for instance). There were a lot of pop culture references, which I typical don't like (what can I say? I like old books and read like I am 80), but they definitely worked for this book. 

Rating: PG (A few make-out scenes, but nothing too steamy)

Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to Our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever by Mem Fox (audiobook) 
I enjoy reading books about reading aloud to children, so I was excited to hear Mem talk about her book on a recent Read-Aloud Revival episode. My toddler and I adore Mem Fox's books (especially Time for Bed and Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes), so it was wonderful to hear the author's heart on  championing childhood literacy within the home. Her Australian accent was fun to hear on the audiobook. Her sassy wit and overall excitement for reading was incredible fun. I especially liked her tips on adding some theatrics to reading aloud as well as her thoughts o phonics programs and how they shouldn't ever take the place of regular read-alouds, which have enormous benefits for teaching children to read. 

Rating: G

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster (audiobook and ebook)  
Everything's a bore for Milo until he receives a mysterious box full of the pieces that make up a tollbooth and car. He drives into another world, filled with nonsense because the two princesses of the land, Rhyme and Reason, have been kidnapped. The result is witty word play, from Milo and his friends literally jumping to an island called Conclusions, to a bee that spells everything he says, and a quartet of men who walk around saying the same things but in slightly different variations. It was funny, especially since I enjoy puns and word play. It was incredibly creative and silly; appropriate with its goofiness for younger readers, but just as enjoyable for adults (who likely will catch more of the jokes). Published in 1961 by an architect who was stuck in writer's block when he received a grant to write a children's book about city planning. Instead, he wrote this fantastical alternative, which is in itself about two cities that Milo visits (Digitopolis is the city of numbers and math, while Dictionopolis is all about words). A fun bit of trivia: it was illustrated by Juster's apartment neighbor. They worked together on the zany plot and corresponding drawings, with Juster including seemingly impossible descriptions of characters as a playful challenge for Jules Feiffer to illustrate. It's a mix of the absurdly illogical world of Alice in Wonderland, the friendships and colorful world building of The Wizard of Oz, and the awakening of a person's mind as he goes on a journey as in The Pilgrim's Progress.

Rating: G
Reading Challenge: Classics Club - 22nd book (out of 75). See my whole list HERE

The Book of Lost Names by Kristin Harmel (audiobook)  
I saw this reviewed on many different book blogs, so I was eager to jump into it. I have read a lot of WWII fiction and typically enjoy it, especially when approached from a different perspective than I've previously read, so this one fit the bill. Told from a dual timeline: Eva as an elderly woman searching for answers and young Jewish Eva as a woman escaping the roundup in Paris. She ends up hiding in a small village where she uses her artistic skills to forge documents to help other Jews escape. I enjoyed hearing about the work of the Resistance, particularly that of forgers and the Catholic Church, to protect and help Jews escape, risking their own safety. 

Rating: PG (one very quick and sparsely-described sex scene)

The Railway Children by E. Nesbit (audiobook) 
Written in 1906, it is a wholesome and endearing classic about three siblings who relocate from London to a small countryside village with their mom when their father is mysteriously taken away by two gentleman one evening. The siblings become enamored with the trains and railway station, befriending many adults along the way, most notably Perks (the station porter who switches between  being cranky to endearingly friendly) and the Old Gentleman (the director of the railway). I love how helpful and kind these kids are; there are many scenes of them coming to the rescue of strangers, from an injured teen in a dark tunnel to warning a fast-approaching train before it crashes into an upcoming roadblock. Though they have minor squabbles amongst themselves as all siblings do, they obviously love each other and spend all their time together. Their conversations are hilarious at times and they were just so much fun to follow around on their daily adventures. I enjoyed watching the 2000 British film adaptation as I read the book, especially since it followed the book very closely. I cried both at the end of the movie and the book; it was just such a beautiful ending. This would make a great read-aloud for grade-schoolers and middler-schoolers. Written by E (Edith) Nesbit (1858-1924), an author and poet, who is known by many as "the first modern writer for children", who went against the grain of other popular  and beloved children's authors like George MacDonald, Lewis Carrol, and Kenneth Graham by writing adventure stories based on reality rather than fairytale or imaginary settings (though she later delved in fantastical worlds as well). She is also noted for inventing the children's adventure story trope. Famous authors who were later influenced by her include two literary giants: C.S. Lewis and J.K Rowling. (2)

Rating: G
Reading Challenge: Classics Club - 23rd book (out of 75). See my whole list HERE

A Door in the Wall by Marguerite de Angeli (audiobook)  
A wholesome middle-grade novel set in medieval times about a courageous boy who saves a village, despite being recently crippled from an illness. His friendship with a gentle friar named Brother Luke bolsters him and helps Robin see that he can make a difference despite his disability. Well-written and filled with positive characters, this would be a great read-aloud with conversations about courage, compassion, and friendship. Marguerite de Angeli (1889-1987) was an American author and illustrator of children's books, with this being her most well-known of three dozen. Her stories were all had positive and wholesome characters and included Christian themes.

Rating: G
Reading Challenge: Classics Club - 24th book (out of 75). See my whole list HERE

Raising Passionate Jesus Followers: The Power of Intentional Parenting by Phil and Diane Comer 
Some may recognize this couple's last name: their eldest son is pastor and author John Mark Comer (who most recently published The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry). They share Biblically-based tools for parenting children of all ages to point them to a personal relationship with God. The goal they present  is to "train up children who love God with passion and love people on purpose".  Their book uses the imagery of building a house and is structured in six parts: Part 1: Formulating the Plan (their story, your story, the Great Shema from Deuteronomy,  goals vs values, and the importance of mother and father working together towards the goal), Part 2: Laying the foundation (0-5 years old), Part 3: Doing the Framing (6-12 years old), Part 4: Installing the Functional Systems (13-17 years old), Part 5: Completing the Finish Work (18-22 years old), and Part 6: Opening the Front Door (adult children). I loved this book. The Comers are humble in their own mistakes, yet full of wisdom and obvious passion for God and for encouraging parents in raising passionate Jesus followers. There were lots of practical tips and it gave me a lot to think about. A wonderful resource for Christian parents and one I will definitely return to as our son grows. 

Rating: G

Under the Greenwood Tree by Thomas Hardy (audiobook) 
I read two other Hardy books, and they both had intriguing but rather depressing themes.  I was looking forward to reading this novel, which is one of his earliest novels and touted as a lot more lighthearted and positive. Hardy is gifted in painting the English countryside villages of old (pre-Industrialization Era) times. He is also great at characterization and plot twists. But this novel just fell a little flat for me. I wasn't very interested in Fancy Day and the three men who wanted her hand in marriage. None of them seemed very interesting and they were definitely flawed. Dick Dewey, for example, is supposed to be the heartthrob of the novel, but I find him too jealous and childish in how he gets mad that Fancy dresses up and curls her hair for an event where he wouldn't be present. What, like a girl cannot look cute if her boyfriend isn't going to be there?  Fancy lived up to her name: she was a bit vain and manipulative in some scenes. The side plot with the church choir and their humorous quarrel with the new vicar is pretty amusing, but this just wasn't very remarkable or memorable to me. 

Rating: G
Reading Challenge: Classics Club - 25th book (out of 75). See my whole list HERE


Did you enjoy any specific books this month? Have you read any of these books? I would love to hear about it below!