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February Reads – 2019

Gone with the Wind

by Margaret Mitchell

This classic American novel made a great audiobook because of its length. I enjoyed how Mitchell combined Scarlet’s story with the history of the Civil War and post-Civil War.

The Great Gatsby

by F. Scott Fitzgerald

This was the February book for my book club. I enjoyed this book in high school, but the high school me had no idea what was really going on in this book. I thought it was just a tragic romance. Rereading this book made me realize that Fitzgerald had a completely different message to share with his readers. This book points out the sin and depravity in our world. The characters show us that we can get everything we want and still be lacking. A godless world is an empty world. 
If you read this in high school, maybe it’s time for a reread. It’s a quick read but also beautifully written and powerful. I would also recommend listening to the podcast episodes on this book from Close Reads podcast. Listening to literary experts discuss this book was so helpful and interesting. 

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

by Gail Honeyman

I devoured this audiobook! This story of Eleanor combines the awkward, humorous, and pain of human life. I thought it was interesting that this book is told from Eleanor’s perspective, yet as the reader there were often times when I had more insight into what was going on than Eleanor. I thought I had the plot of this story figured out, but there was still a surprise twist waiting for me in the end. I found myself thinking “I knew it! Wait, what???” and going back to catch the final piece of the puzzle that surprised me at the end. Also, as a warning to sensitive readers, the trauma, mental illness, and abuse dealt with in this book made me both angry and heartbroken at times.

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Books must look clean

The only criterion I have is that books must look clean, which means that I have to disregard a lot of the potential reading material in the charity shop.  I don’t use the library for the same reason, although obviously, in principle and reality, libraries are life enhancing palaces of wonder.  It’s not you libraries, it’s me, as the popular saying goes.  The thought of books passing through so many unwashed hands – people reading them in the bath, letting their dogs lick them, picking their nose and wiping the results on the pages.  People eating crisps and then reading a few chapters without washing their hands first.  I just can’t.  No, I look for books with one careful owner.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

I love old and used books, but I completely agree with Eleanor Oliphant: they have to be clean. This quote reminded me of a used bookstore I visited in Colorado last summer. The yard of the bookstore was littered with “antiques.” Behind the store, there was a foreboding display of tombstones. Perhaps this was where they buried the unsuspecting customers who got hopelessly lost (or worse) in the endless stacks of dirty books that filled the bookstore. A blue light dimly lit the inside of the bookstore, and I began to wonder if it was possible to contract a foot fungus through my shoes as my feet sunk into the mildewy carpet. When I dared to pick up a book, I found the cover and spine dusty and the pages slightly damp. I didn’t see the owner until I was on my way out. A pair of eyes peered silently through a gap in the ceiling high stacks. If someone wanted to write a bookstore murder mystery, that store would be the perfect setting.

But seriously, Eleanor Oliphant put into words exactly how I feel about library books. Libraries are wonderful places, but I will go out of my way to get a nice, clean copy of a book from a known source rather than check the book out from the library.

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Book Club

I have joined a book club this year, which is a new adventure for me. We are using “On Reading Well” by Karen Swallow Prior as a guide. In her book, Prior discusses virtues using 12 books as a backdrop. I’ve always believed it’s important to read a variety of literature from throughout history, but I’ve never been able to articulate WHY that is so important. Prior answers that question more eloquently than I ever could have. So far, I’ve really been enjoying her book. I’m excited to continue this reading challenge and to discuss some great books with some great friends.

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January Reads – 2019

The Boy Who Loved Too Much

by Jennifer Latson

I loved listening to this book. It was one of those audiobooks that made me want to do the dishes or drive across town just so I’d have an excuse to listen to it. The book follows the journey of a mom and her boy who is diagnosed with Williams Syndrome, a lesser known disability compared to autism or Down Syndrome. The author does a wonderful job of alternating between the scientific research and the mom and boy’s story. This is a book I would recommend to teachers, parents with kids who have disabilities, and anyone else who has every interacted with a person with a disability….So basically, everyone could benefit and learn from this book.

The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling

by Henry Fielding

I am ridiculously excited to be a part of a book club this year. We are reading through the books discussed in Karen Swallow Prior’s book, “On Reading Well.” The book for January was “Tom Jones” which, at 800 pages, is not for the faint of heart. I won’t be recommending it to too many people because of the length, but overall I found this book interesting and comical. Set in the 1700s, this book tells the story of Tom Jones, a young man who shows charity and care to others but lacks prudence when it comes to making life choices. Although it was written over 250 years ago, the themes and topics dealt with in this book are surprisingly relevant for modern readers.

Life Together

by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

This book was on my to-be-read list for a while because one of my favorite quotes about serving others comes from this book. There is so much packed into this little book, but I found I didn’t agree with Bonhoeffer on everything. There were still some great truths in this book, but it made me think more critically about what the Bible says is essential in order to have a healthy Christian community and what are traditions or preferences we have developed in the church. 

A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War

by Jospeh Loconte

I started and stopped this book several times before sitting down and reading the last half, but it was not because I didn’t enjoy it. I just kept getting distracted by other books that had due dates. In this book, I loved how the author combined the history of WWI, the themes in literature as a whole in the post-war era, and the friendship of C.S. Lewis & J.R.R. Tolkien. I have a greater understanding and appreciation for the works of Lewis and Tolkien now. Their writings truly went against the grain of their time. In their fantasy stories, they didn’t shy away from the horror of war but embedded a message of hope for those willing to fight for good. 

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Friendship & Forgiveness

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2018 in review

Usually, I barely complete my reading goal for the year and find myself scrambling to finish books in December. This year, audiobooks opened up a whole new world for me, and I was able to surpass my goal. I read a total of 55 books this year. I got out of my reading comfort zone this year by reading more recently published and popular novels. This meant I also abandoned or disliked more books than I typically do, but I enjoyed exploring other authors and figuring out what my reading style really is. As I look back over the books I read this year, here are some of my favorites that stand out to me:

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr

Reading People by Anne Bogel

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer

The Discipline of Grace by Jerry Bridges

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December Reads – 2018

Is it strange that I’ve been reading so many books about art theft lately? It’s just such an interesting area of true crime that you don’t hear about much.

 

1. El Deafo by Cece Bell

My students are obsessed with graphic novels, and I find many of those books annoying (sorry, Dog Man). This book is an exception. One of my students requested a copy of it, and I ended up telling him he would have to wait until I finished reading it first. The author tells the story of her own childhood as a student who was deaf. She highlights the challenges of being a student who is deaf or hard of hearing in a truthful and humorous way that all kids can relate to. This was a quick, delightful read.

 

2. The Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel (audiobook)

This book tells the true story of the men who worked during WWII to protect and rescue artwork. These men risked their lives to save the culture of people and nations. At times I had a difficult time focusing on the information because of the many details and length of this book, but overall I really enjoyed it. Also, I watched the movie based on this book and thought it was excellent!

 

3. Hallelujah: A Journey through Advent with Handel’s Messiah edited by Cindy Rollins

I used this book as a guide through the advent season this year. I loved how the book explained the traditions behind advent. Each day, there were several Bible verses to read which were paired with 3-10 minutes of Handel’s Messiah.

 

4. Mr. Dickens and His Carol by Samantha Silva

The author readily admits that she did not base this story strictly on history. Keeping this in mind, I enjoyed this atmospheric, fictional retelling of how Charles Dickens wrote his beloved “A Christmas Carol.” This was a great light read for the holiday season.

 

5. The Gardner Heist by Ulrich Boser

This book took me a long time to finish because I kept getting distracted by other books. I kept coming back to it though and found it interesting to read about Boser’s experiences investigating the Gardner heist, which is the largest unsolved art theft in the world. It’s amazing to me that after all these years none of the art has been recovered and no one has been arrested for the crime despite the numerous theories and possible suspects. This books pairs well with the new podcast “Last Seen,” which also investigates the Gardner heist.

 

6. The Wisdom of God: Seeing Jesus in the Psalms and Wisdom Books by Nancy Guthrie

I started this study in the summer but didn’t finish up the last couple chapters until this month. I really enjoyed this study and how it connected the wisdom books with the gospel and New Testament.

 

Book I abandoned:

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

The mystery of this story intrigued me, but I found the romance too annoying. I just couldn’t do it.Share on Facebook

November Reads – 2018

I feel like my reading life is typically put on hold this time of year as things get busy with work and the holidays. But don’t worry, things always pick up over Christmas break! One of my favorite things about winter is curling up by a blazing fire with a warm blanket, steaming mug of tea, and a thick book.

 

1. The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore (audiobook)

This is the fascinating, true story of the women who worked painting dials with radium paint during the early 20th century. They would leave work literally glowing from the radium powder. They loved their work and were admired by their peers. It wasn’t until years later that many of them began to suffer aches and painful deaths. Doctors could not give them an accurate diagnosis or find a way to ease their symptoms. If you feel squeamish with oral surgery or bone decay, this books is not for you! I found myself wincing many times as I listened to what these women suffered, but I believe their story of pain and perseverance deserves to be told.

Although I would recommend this book, I would not necessarily recommend the audiobook. The narrator’s voice was annoying at times, especially when I could hear her audibly swallowing between sentences!

 

2. The Discipline of Grace: God’s Role and Our Role in the Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges

I highly recommend this book! Bridges does a wonderful job of explaining through scripture the intertwining of God’s work of grace in our lives along with our own responsibility to live holy lives.

 

3. The Bible (ESV)

My pastor recently challenged our church family to read the Bible in 90 days. I thought this sounded impossible, especially since I’ve struggled to complete reading the Bible in 1 year before. I used the YouVersion Bible app plan for reading the Bible in 90 days and really enjoyed listening to the passages while getting ready in the morning. Reading the whole Bible in such a short time span helped me see some of the themes and big picture. It was a nice change of pace from studying one book in depth.Share on Facebook

October Reads – 2018

1. The Last Battle by C. S. Lewis (audiobook)

I finished my sojourn through Narnia. C. S. Lewis never disappoints.

 

 

2. A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

If you like character-driven stories, this book is for you. I loved it. In the 1920s, Count Rostov is sentenced to house arrest in a Moscow hotel where he will spend the next several decades. The privileged aristocrat watches as world events reel outside his attic bedroom. Instead of retreating in hopelessness, Rostov resolves to pursue a purposeful life…with the help from a young girl who knows the hotel like the back of her hand.

 

3. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith (audiobook)

This coming-of-age novel is beautifully written. I enjoyed immersing myself in the moments of joy, fear, sorrow, and determination that shape Francis Nolan’s childhood and her whole family.

 

4. Hallowe’en Party by Agatha Christie

This was the perfect, atmospheric mystery to curl up with on Halloween night. Poirot is called in to help solve the mysterious murder of a girl at a children’s Halloween party. As he learns about other mysterious deaths in the community’s past, he begins to connect the pieces and enters a race against time to prevent another murder from occurring.

 

I abandoned…

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

I just couldn’t get on board with the obvious romance and dramatic character development that I could predict coming in this book. A nice young women goes to sell books to a small bookstore owned by a grumpy, unlikable middle-aged man with a tragic past. Need I say more?Share on Facebook

September Reads – 2018

I was very thankful for audiobooks during this busy and hectic month.

1. Prince Caspian by C. S. Lewis (audiobook)

I continued my journey through Narnia this month. I may be enjoying the series more now than I did when I was younger. Each story is so unique and powerful.

2. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C. S. Lewis (audiobook)

 

 

3. Priceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World’s Stolen Treasures by Robert K. Wittman & John Shiffman (audiobook)

In this memoir, Robert Wittman recalls his experiences as an undercover FBI agent tracking down stolen art. This is an area of true crime that I hadn’t considered before, and I now have a greater appreciation for art and those who protect it. Understandably, Wittman paints himself in a very positive light in this book, but it was interesting to hear his perspective on art and art crime.

4. The Silver Chair by C. S. Lewis (audiobook)Share on Facebook