Jan, Feb, March Books Reviews


In past years, I was diligently posting monthly reviews, but I dropped the ball this first quarter of 2022. I have been reading a lot less than usual and for a while, didn't feel very motivated to blog at all. I blame first trimester fatigue, nausea, and emotional rollercoasters for the delay, but here are my book reviews for January, February, and March. 

Does Prayer Change Things (Crucial Questions #3) by R.C. Sproul (audiobook) 
A tiny book (around two-hours on audiobook format) that packs a punch since there is no room for frills and filler. R.C. Sproul has an engaging style that is easy to follow even when he unpacks deep doctrinal truths. He explains that prayer cannot change God's mind or will, but it changes things, namely, our hearts.  He teaches that prayer is vital to the Christian life and uses this small but powerful book to dig into the purpose, pattern, practice, prohibitions, and power of prayer. It's a quick read, but I definitely had to stop after each chapter to think about all he explained. I can see myself buying this book to read again and underline half of it because it was so good.

Content rating: G

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alex E. Harrow (audiobook) 
Wow, this was quite the ride! Magical realism with incredible creativity and believable character development, this book stood out as a fun and captivating read. I read it alongside my book club and it made for a great discussion. It's a story about doors that take you places and the people who chase after those doors, both for good and bad reasons. It's a story of love, a story of time travel, and a story of discovering an identity and finally belonging after a childhood of loneliness and never feeling accepted. I'm being quite vague for a reason; the less you know, the more fascinating it will be. 

Content rating: PG to PG-13 (language and several short sensual scenes w/o lots of details)

Phantastes by George MacDonald (audiobook) 
MacDonald has inspired a plethora of fantasy authors, including C.S. Lewis, Madeleine L'Engle, and Tolkien. Phantastes was a pivotal book in Lewis' life and one he unabashedly admits to modeling so many of his plots after. So, after hearing about it for years, I decided to take the plunge. I thought it might be difficult  to understand and dry (I read one previous MacDonald tale and wasn't impressed), but with the help of the hosts from The Literary Life Podcast, I was able to follow along and understand a lot more than I would have on my own. It was strange and outlandish in some spots, but also fascinating since I could see threads of other fantasy literature that was inspired by Phantastes. I don't think I am going to rush to another MacDonald book anytime soon, but I am pleased with pushing myself to read it since it was an overall interesting read.

Content rating: G
'Classics Club' Reading Challenge:  - 35th book (out of 75). See my whole list HERE

Three Blind Mice and Other Stories by Agatha Christie (audiobook) 
I typically avoid short stories because I haven't enjoyed them in the past. I like drawn-out character development and descriptions of scenery that will help me feel I am jumping into the story, but short stories are purposefully sparse in both of these areas since the word count is intentionally limited. Well, I am glad I gave this collection of short stories a try. Agatha Christie, the Queen of Mystery, can definitely pack a punch with both full-length mysteries as well as short ones. Nine stories make up this collection and some were better than others, but they all captured the essence of Christie's suspense and last-minute plot twists for which I enjoy for so much. 

Content rating: PG (murders with some detail but nothing gory)
'Classics Club' Reading Challenge:  - 36th book (out of 75). See my whole list HERE

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro (audiobook) 
In 1956, an aging butler looks back at his long career working for a prestigious family at Darlington Hall, but his memories keep returning to a head housekeeper since she has recently sent him a letter inquiring about possibly returning to the Hall for employment. He embarks on a week-long road-trip through the idyllic British countryside for rest, relaxation, and ultimately a meeting with her. It was a slow book with some dry parts, but I enjoy books about elderly people reminiscing on their lives, so I just rolled with the slow pace. The butler is a complex character that made him both endearing (he truly loved his career) but also seemed uptight and pompous at some parts, so I had mixed feelings about him. I didn't watch way too much Downtown Abbey, but he reminded me of their butler, Mr. Carson.

Content rating: G

A Fall of Marigolds by Susan Meissner (audiobook) 
A beautifully written historical novel set in two time periods, connected by a floral scarf. First, a grieving nurse working on Ellis Island in 1911, examining and treating immigrants hoping to step on American soil, who discovers a devastating secret and has to decide whether to tell the truth or not. Second, a grieving wife of a man who was killed on 9/11. There is a lot of sadness in this book, but also hope and healing without it feeling forced or fake. I loved learning about he immigrant experience on Ellis Island, which was something I had zero knowledge about.

Content rating: PG (graphic, but not gory, details about 9/11 and the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire of 1911 where people were jumping out of buildings).

Oh Crap! Potty Training: Everything Modern Parents Need to Know to Do It Once and Do It Right by Jame Glowacki (physical copy and audiobook) 
I avoided this book for a long time even though it was recommended by many mom friends because she sounded very judgmental of anyone trying to potty-train in anything less than her guided plan. I don't like people who think their way is the only way to do something. Truth be told, she does that in the book, and it bothered me a bit, but I eventually really needed some guidance in the potty-training department and decided to just read it and ignore her know-it-all attitude. Turns out, she does know her stuff, though I still didn't like the uppity tone. She lays out almost everything you could want to know about potty training (when to start, how to start, what not to do, troubleshooting when there is a power struggle, public restrooms, constipation related to potty training because they're holding it in, etc.) and from a medical perspective (I am a former pediatric nurse practitioner), I didn't have any huge disagreements. 

Content rating: PG-13. Seriously, she has a potty mouth, pun intended. I would have a hard time recommending this to friends who steer away from cussing because there is a lot of F-bombs, which is unnecessary and annoying. 

Every Woman's Marriage: Igniting the Joy and Passion You Both Desire by Shannon Etheridge 
I have owned this marriage book for many years, so I finally got around to it. There wasn't anything groundbreaking and I found it very hard to relate to the author and the many women she interviewed for the book. There are some solid parts, but overall I didn't get a lot out of it. There are a lot of generalizations about both wives and husbands that fell flat in applying to my own marriage, so I just didn't find much that was helpful for the specific things I want to work on in our marriage. 

Content rating: PG (definitely discusses sex in detail)

Once Upon A Wardrobe by Patti Callahan (audiobook) 
I read and enjoyed Patti's previous book, Becoming Mrs. Lewis, (which is about C.S. Lewis' wife, Joy Davidman) and knew I'd need to read this book when I found out it continued the C.S. Lewis theme. This is fictional, though also has a biographical aspect to it that, woven together, created a unique and beautiful novel. The main character is a math student at Oxford who meets with C.S. Lewis to hear about his life because she wants to find the answer to her terminally-ill little brother's question: where did Narnia come from? But rather than a quick answer, C.S. Lewis highlights the pivotal movements of his life, from his mother's death to the arduous years in boarding school to harrowing experiences during WWI, and eventually to his Christian conversion, friendship with Tolkien, and writing the first Narnia books. I read Surprised By Joy, Lewis' memoir, so I definitely was familiar with his story and appreciated that Callahan stuck to real facts of his life. I cried a lot with this book. The sister's love for her brother and his own razed-sharp insight and acceptance of the reality that he was dying, plus the realistic way Callahan painted C.S. Lewis were just so well-crafted. 

Content rating: PG (war scenes)

Lovely War by Julie 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)

Alone Time: Four Seasons, Four Cities, and the Pleasures of Solitude by Stephanie Rosenbloom (audiobook)  
This is a great read for introverts who love to travel. Stephanie explains why alone time is crucial for everyone and then hones in on travel specifically. How can we use alone time to savor a moment, whether it means biting into a croissant in Paris or taking a walk in your neighborhood park. She explores this as she chronicles her adventures in Paris, Istanbul, Florence, and our hometown (NYC). From eating alone to going to a museum alone, to trying new things that are outside of your comfort zone, she shares from her own experiences as well as researches the benefits of adding alone time to your adventures, whether in your backyard or overseas. I enjoyed this book a lot. It brought back many fun memories from my own adventures in Paris, Florence, and NYC, plus it was a great reminder that it's okay for me to value my alone time as a way to benefit me but also refill my cup so I can be more present for my family. 

Content rating: G

The Letter Keeper (Murphy Shepherd, #2) by Charles Martin (audiobook) 
Charles Martin is one of my favorite contemporary authors. I can trust I will read a phenomenally written book with a gripping plot and no cussing or explicit sex scenes that I'd rather avoid. This is the second of a trilogy of books focusing on the Jason Bourne-like hero that is Murphy Shepherd. He has saved dozens of kids and teens from sex trafficking and now the closest people in his life are missing and he is racing against time to find them before it's too late. I don't read action books so this is totally out of my wheelhouse in that respect, but the character development, Biblically-sound Christian themes (specifically that fear is a liar), and great dialogue just pulled me in once again. I can hardly wait for the third installment to come out this summer!

Content rating: PG (huge trigger warning that there are scenes with sex trafficking. There is not gratuitous details, but it is heartbreaking in some parts). 

The Last Bookshop in London by Madeline Martin (audiobook) 
An exceptional book about London in WWII from a brave young woman's perspective as she works in a library while sleeping in bunkers and subway stations, walking in pitch black due to blackout rules, and enduring almost nightly bombings becomes her reality. Her newfound love of books and the community around the bookshop help her carry on through unimaginable perils. 

Content rating: G (clean book!)