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March Reads – 2019

I spent the first half of my spring break sick, curled up on the couch with a stack of books while the rain tapped on my windows. Well, to be honest, there was also a lot of binge watching TV shows, but it was still a great month for reading.

Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life

by C. S. Lewis

I have read biographies about C. S. Lewis, but I loved hearing his testimony in his own words. Every time I read something by C. S. Lewis, I’m astounded by his intelligence and the way he crafts words into stories. This book was no exception. In this autobiography, Lewis traces how God was sovereignly orchestrating his search for joy throughout his early years to bring him to Christianity. Lewis includes the everyday details about his school days and home life, including descriptions of the people who influenced his thinking over the years.

Becoming Mrs. Lewis

by Patti Callahan

I’d been excitedly waiting to read this book since before it was even published. It did not disappoint! This book paired so well with “Surprised by Joy” and “A Hobbit, A Wardrobe, and A Great War.” Although this is a fictional telling of the romance between C. S. Lewis and Joy Davidman, it seemed to be built on a lot of history and fact. The story is told from Joy’s perspective and shows the journey she went on from being an admirer of C. S. Lewis’ work to becoming a close friend and confidant to being his devoted wife.

Every Heart a Doorway

by Seanan McGuire

I think the premise for this story is intriguing, but I was left somewhat disappointed by this book. The story takes place at a school for teens who have traveled to other worlds that feel more like home than our world. They are now stuck in our world and dealing with negative repercussions from experiencing the wonder of another world. Horrific deaths begin to take place, and one group of students take it upon themselves to track down the murderer.

I have always loved stories about other worlds and dreamt of finding Narnia, so I was somewhat intrigued by the idea that traveling to another world might not be as wonderful once you return. However, I did not care what happened to any of these characters. They could have all died, and I would have been perfectly fine with that. Granted, I tend to like more character-driven plots, and the length of this book just didn’t lend itself to much of that. I’m still wrestling with whether this book just wasn’t for me or if it was simply poorly executed.

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold

by John le Carre

I decided to read this book so I could listen along to the discussions about it on the Close Reads podcast. I don’t think I’ve really read a true spy novel before this, and I’m worried that now I have very high standards for all spy novels. I loved this book. I never knew who or what to believe and didn’t fully understand what was happening until the very end. This is the first book I’ve ever ready where I’ve finished it and thought “I need to immediately go back to the beginning and read this again!”

I don’t even know how to give a good synopsis of this book without being confusing or giving away too much. The main character, Leamas, has spent his career as a spy during the cold war, and now he has one last assignment to bring down a German leader. Slowly, Leamas begins to realize things are not quite what he expected. Is the mission spinning wildly out of control or are there unknown factors at play?

If you read this book, I highly recommend listening along to the corresponding episodes and discussions on the Close Reads podcast. I wish I could analyze and think about literature the way they do!

A Tale of Two Cities

by Charles Dickens

I loved rereading this classic tale of romance and revolution. I was able to see more foreshadowing the second time through, and I was reminded how much I like the character of Miss Pross. As an added bonus, I got to discuss how this book illustrates the virtue of justice with a great group of ladies at book club. 

How Does Sanctification Work?

by David A. Powlison

This little book gives a brief overview of sanctification and real-life examples of what sanctification looked like for some Christians. The concept that stood out to me the most was Powlison’s statement that “Ministry ‘unbalances’ truth for relevance; theology ‘rebalances’ truth for the sake of comprehension.” I balked at this statement initially. I didn’t like the idea of “unbalancing” truth, but once Powlison unpacked what he meant, it made so much sense! He explains how it is important for us to have a full understanding of theological truth so that we are ready with the one specific “nugget” of truth needed in a given situation. “Unbalancing” truth means that in difficult situations there is typically one especially relevant biblical truth that God will use to speak into our lives to advance our sanctification.

Vinegar Girl

by Anne Tyler

Kate’s father, Dr. Battista, is trying to matchmake her with his research assistant, but not because he has her best interests in mind. His assistant’s visa is about to expire, and Dr. Battista is desperate to keep him in the United States. Kate is busy keeping house for her father while also watching out for her annoying younger sister, and now she has to deal with this awkward stranger who she’s supposed to marry. But maybe this marriage is just the opportunity she needs to break free and start a new chapter in her life.

I’m typically skeptical of retellings, especially modern retellings of classic stories, but I really enjoyed this story! The audiobook was excellent. Anne Tyler did a beautiful job translating Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew” to a modern situation. I found the main character relatable, and I loved the humor woven throughout the book.

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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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