This post is going to be loooooooong, friends. Brace yourselves. This is what happens when you read 19 books in a month somehow...
Let's get to it!
Here's what I read this May:
The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt
THE STARS: 3/5
THE PLOT: "Meet Holling Hoodhood, a seventh-grader at Camillo Junior High, who must spend Wednesday afternoons with his teacher, Mrs. Baker, while the rest of the class has religious instruction. Mrs. Baker doesn’t like Holling—he’s sure of it. Why else would she make him read the plays of William Shakespeare outside class? But everyone has bigger things to worry about, like Vietnam. His father wants Holling and his sister to be on their best behavior: the success of his business depends on it. But how can Holling stay out of trouble when he has so much to contend with? A bully demanding cream puffs; angry rats; and a baseball hero signing autographs the very same night Holling has to appear in a play in yellow tights! As fate sneaks up on him again and again, Holling finds Motivation—the Big M—in the most unexpected places and musters up the courage to embrace his destiny, in spite of himself." (from here)
THE THOUGHT: I had heard about this one several times in the book blogging world, and scooped it up at a local used bookstore with some store credit. It was a fun read with deeper themes than I expected (since its during the Vietnam War), and the classic middle-grade kind of voice/humor, which was a nice change of pace from what I usually read.
My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
THE STARS: 2/5
THE PLOT: "Beginning in the 1950s in a poor but vibrant neighborhood on the outskirts of Naples, Ferrante’s four-volume story spans almost sixty years, as its protagonists, the fiery and unforgettable Lila, and the bookish narrator, Elena, become women, wives, mothers, and leaders, all the while maintaining a complex and at times conflictual friendship. Book one in the series follows Lila and Elena from their first fateful meeting as ten-year-olds through their school years and adolescence.
Through the lives of these two women, Ferrante tells the story of a neighborhood, a city, and a country as it is transformed in ways that, in turn, also transform the relationship between her protagonists." (from here)
THE THOUGHT: I could NOT get into this story. I gave it half the book (like, that's a fair shot!) and was just uninterested. It didn't have a driving plot at all, and the characters weren't very easy to connect with. I've heard great things about this one, and love that it was translated from Italian, but maybe that's where it lost some of its oomph? I just didn't see the appeal and could not stick it out to the end.
Finding God in my Loneliness by Lydia Brownback
THE STARS: 2/5
THE PLOT: "Looking at various aspects of loneliness, Lydia Brownback reminds us of God's power to redeem our loneliness and use it in our lives to draw us to himself. Ultimately, she helps us see that even when we feel misunderstood, forsaken, or abandoned, we're never really alone. God is always with us, and only he can meet all of our needs in Christ Jesus." (from here)
THE THOUGHT: This is a pretty small book, and it wasn't very meaty in my opinion. I wanted a lot more personal stories and thoughts shared than there were, and I found that it came across pretty dry and a little preachy, despite being such a potentially intimate and emotional topic. I had higher hopes for this one, but wasn't a fan.
THE DEETS: I read this one for work since we talked about loneliness (and my coworker chatted with Lydia!) on our podcast!
Sabbath: The Ancient Practices by Dan B. Allender
THE STARS: 4/5
THE PLOT: "Dan Allender’s lyrical book about the Sabbath expels the myriad myths about this “day of rest,” starting with the one that paints the Sabbath as a day of forced quiet, spiritual exercises, and religious devotion and attendance. This, he says, is at odds with the ancient tradition of Sabbath as a day of delight for both body and soul. Instead, the only way we can make use of the Sabbath is to see God’s original intent for the day with new eyes." (from here)
THE THOUGHT: I am a HUGE fan of Sabbath (and believe all Christians should be!) and really, really loved this thoughtful, approachable, beautifully written look at what it truly means to delight in the Sabbath. Allender focused on four main components: sensual glory and beauty, ritual, communal feasting, and playfulness -- just love that. This book is really rich, helpful, and absolutely worth reading if you've wrestled with how to do Sabbath well or if you have no clue what it even means to have a Sabbath (and why it matters).
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
THE STARS: 3/5
THE PLOT: "The Handmaid’s Tale is a novel of such power that the reader will be unable to forget its images and its forecast. Set in the near future, it describes life in what was once the United States and is now called the Republic of Gilead, a monotheocracy that has reacted to social unrest and a sharply declining birthrate by reverting to, and going beyond, the repressive intolerance of the original Puritans. The regime takes the Book of Genesis absolutely at its word, with bizarre consequences for the women and men in its population." (from here)
THE THOUGHT: I've been hearing lots about this one since the new Hulu show came out, and I realized I had never read it. I had heard talk of it being a feminist novel and I knew it was dystopian fiction, but I wasn't quite sure what to expect. I wasn't a huge fan, but did think it was super fascinating and a pretty terrifying look at how societies can get SO messed up SO fast. Parts were hard to read due to sexual content that made me uncomfortable, but I can see why this is a classic and why so many people are intrigued by the storyline. I'm curious to see how the show is now!
June by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore
THE STARS: 2/5
THE PLOT: "Cassie Danvers is holed up in her family's crumbling mansion in small-town Ohio, mourning the loss of her grandmother, June. But the noise of the rusted doorbell forces her out of isolation. Cassie has been named the sole heir to legendary movie star Jack Montgomery's fortune.
Soon Jack's famous daughters arrive, entourage in tow, determined to wrestle Cassie away from an inheritance they feel is theirs. Together, they come to discover the true reason for June's silence about the summer she was eighteen, when Hollywood came to town, and June and Jack's lives were forever altered.
Shifting deftly between the past and present, Cassie and her guests will be forced to reexamine their legacies, their definition of family, and what it truly means to love someone, steadfastly, across the ages." (from here)
THE THOUGHT: This one seemed like a fun summer read, but I could NOT get into the story. I think it takes skill to tell a story well when you're flashing back and forth in time between different characters, and I didn't think this one did it very well. I didn't find the main characters likable or very interesting, and I felt like by about 50+ pages in, I knew exactly how the story would play out. I could very well have been wrong... but it seemed predictable and just not super engaging or worth sticking with. This one fell flat for me!
THE DEETS: I received this one from Blogging for Books in exchange for my review!
God Has a Name by John Mark Comer
THE STARS: 5/5
THE PLOT: "
This book is a simple, but profound guide to what God says about himself. In his signature conversational-but-smart style, John Mark Comer takes the reader line by line through Exodus 34v6-8—Yahweh’s self-revelation on Mount Sinai—called by some scholars the one most quoted verse in the Bible, by the Bible. In it, we see who God says he is. It turns out, who God is just might surprise you, and change everything." (from here)
THE THOUGHT: I absolutely loved this one. I'm a big fan of Comer (LOVED Garden City) and love that he's a One on the Enneagram like me (nerd alert) -- his writing style is just exactly what I love. Rich, deep, really honest and real, incredibly thoughtful and beautiful... just stunning and helpful and illuminating. This is one you must read.
This Changes Everything: How the Gospel Transforms the Teen Years by Jaquelle Crowe
THE STARS: 2/5
THE PLOT: "It’s for teenagers eager to reject the status quo and low standards our culture sets for us. It’s for those of us who don’t want to spend the adolescent years slacking off, but rather standing out and digging deep into what Jesus says about following him. This book will help you see how the truth about God changes everything—our relationships, our time, our sin, our habits, and more—freeing us to live joyful, obedient, and Christ-exalting lives, even while we’re young." (from here)
THE THOUGHT: First-- how cool is that cover?! Loved it. I read this one super fast, partly because it's a small book, and partly because it's not super deep (it is geared toward teens, after all). I admit I didn't think it was super well-written or terribly deep/insightful, but I also think back on how I wrote as a 19-year-old, and I give her props! I do think teens would find this helpful, encouraging, and motivating as they navigate some of the hardest years (especially when you're a Christian trying to live by a higher standard) -- I read similar books when I was a teen and found them to be meaningful, and would definitely suggest this for younger teens as opposed to college-aged students! Parts felt cheesy and just young, but again, that's to be expected from such a young author. I'd recommend just reading blog posts from her to get a feel for her thoughts and her style!
THE DEETS: I read this once since we interviewed Jaquelle and talked about this book on the podcast!
The Futures by Anna Pitoniak
THE STARS: 3/5
THE PLOT: "In this dazzling debut novel about love and betrayal, a young couple moves to New York City in search of success-only to learn that the lives they dream of may come with dangerous strings attached." (from here)
THE THOUGHT: This wasn't what I'd call "dazzling" but it was enjoyable -- a pretty predictable tale of college lovers growing up and figuring out who they are and lying about a lot of things along the way. It's not really a feel-good novel by any means, and there's not a lot of loyalty shown in this relationship, but it was a pretty good breezy summer kind of read!
The Perfect Stranger by Megan Miranda
THE STARS: 2/5
THE PLOT: "Confronted by a restraining order and the threat of a lawsuit, failed journalist Leah Stevens needs to get out of Boston when she runs into an old friend, Emmy Grey, who has just left a troubled relationship. Emmy proposes they move to rural Pennsylvania, where Leah can get a teaching position and both women can start again. But their new start is threatened when a woman with an eerie resemblance to Leah is assaulted by the lake, and Emmy disappears days later.
Determined to find Emmy, Leah cooperates with Kyle Donovan, a handsome young police officer on the case. As they investigate her friend’s life for clues, Leah begins to wonder: did she ever really know Emmy at all? With no friends, family, or a digital footprint, the police begin to suspect that there is no Emmy Grey. Soon Leah’s credibility is at stake, and she is forced to revisit her past: the article that ruined her career. To save herself, Leah must uncover the truth about Emmy Grey—and along the way, confront her old demons, find out who she can really trust, and clear her own name.
Everyone in this rural Pennsylvanian town has something to hide—including Leah herself. How do you uncover the truth when you are busy hiding your own?" (from here)
THE THOUGHT: This book felt like it was trying WAY too hard to be a thriller. There were too many characters with too many twisted backstories and storylines, nobody was relatable, it wasn't nearly as dramatic as I felt like it was TRYING to be... it really just felt forced and it fell flat for me. I kept saying I was bored while reading it... but I will admit, I did read through it just to see how it ended. Not the best thriller ever, and not one I'd recommend.
This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel
THE STARS: 5/5
THE PLOT: "This is how a family keeps a secret…and how that secret ends up keeping them.
This is how a family lives happily ever after…until happily ever after becomes complicated.
This is how children change…and then change the world." (from here)
THE THOUGHT: I don't even want to tell you more about the plot of this one-- I just want to tell you to read it RIGHT NOW. This book broke my heart and opened my eyes and brought me to tears and changed my perspective on such important things forever. Cannot recommend this one highly enough -- please give it a read and let this story change you.
Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
THE STARS: 2/5
THE PLOT: "Samantha Kingston has it all: looks, popularity, the perfect boyfriend. Friday, February 12, should be just another day in her charmed life. Instead, it turns out to be her last. The catch: Samantha still wakes up the next morning. Living the last day of her life seven times during one miraculous week, she will untangle the mystery surrounding her death—and discover the true value of everything she is in danger of losing." (from here)
THE THOUGHT: This one wasn't anything special, in my opinion. It felt like a cliche storyline and it didn't really hook me until way after halfway through (I'm surprised I made it that far...) when it finally felt like the plot picked up and had some interest. It's a YA novel, for sure, so it's not terribly deep or particularly thought-provoking, but it did take a few turns I didn't see coming and turn out differently than I expected, so I give it some credit there. I think this might be better as movie, since more than anything, it just felt way too long for what actually happened in this story in the end.
Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
THE STARS: 4/5
THE PLOT: "When red-headed orphan Anne arrives at the Cuthberts' home, Green Gables, she feels sure she's found the home she has longed for. They, however, are less certain; their request to the orphanage had been for a boy. But before long Anne's irrepressibly optimistic, loving nature has charmed them. While her temper is unpredictable and her extravagant imagination makes her dreamily whimsical and prone to comic mishap, the Cuthberts come to love Anne as if she were their own child. Montgomery's classic tale is a celebration of the transformative power of love and the unique qualities of a girl who has a second chance at childhood." (from here)
THE THOUGHT: This classic (my copy was a gift from my great-grandparents to my mom when she was a kid!) was due for a re-read, especially with all the recent buzz about the new Netflix series. It was as fun as I remembered, and a quick trip back down memory lane with this sassy heroine I just love!
Made Well: Finding Wholeness in the Everyday Sacred Moments by Jenny Simmons
THE STARS: 4/5
THE PLOT: "For anyone struggling on the journey toward wholeness, singer/songwriter Jenny Simmons offers a resting place and a friend along the way. With personal insight into emotional pain, she invites readers to encounter a God who is working out their restoration--often in surprising "half-baked" ways. Her humorous and inspirational prose lights a path toward wholeness. Anyone trying to find their way to spiritual, mental, and emotional healing will benefit from Jenny's vulnerable and compassionate stories of being made well in the midst of a messy life." (from here)
THE THOUGHT: I really enjoyed this one -- it wasn't the cliche, platitude-laden kind of Christian novel that's so prevalent for women right now, at all. It was really beautifully written, heartfelt, moving, and exactly what I needed to read in this harder season of life. I highly recommend this one if you feel broken or like you're wrestling through a hard or dark season -- it feels like a breath of fresh air and a warm hug from a friend.
THE DEETS: My sweet, sweet friend Erin sent this as an unexpected gift -- thank you, thank you!
Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation by Parker J. Palmer
THE STARS: 5/5
THE PLOT: "With wisdom, compassion, and gentle humor, Parker J. Palmer invites us to listen to the inner teacher and follow its leadings toward a sense of meaning and purpose. Telling stories from his own life and the lives of others who have made a difference, he shares insights gained from darkness and depression as well as fulfillment and joy, illuminating a pathway toward vocation for all who seek the true calling of their lives." (from here)
THE THOUGHT: I first heard Parker J. Palmer on the On Being podcast and fell in love with his thoughtfulness, intentionality, authentic
A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
THE STARS: 1/5
THE PLOT: "Bennie is an aging former punk rocker and record executive. Sasha is the passionate, troubled young woman he employs. Here Jennifer Egan brilliantly reveals their pasts, along with the inner lives of a host of other characters whose paths intersect with theirs. With music pulsing on every page, A Visit from the Goon Squad is a startling, exhilarating novel of self-destruction and redemption." (from here)
THE THOUGHT: I couldn't get into this one. I gave it a solid 100 pages... and just wasn't interested in the slightest by any of it. I've heard good things about it, though, (and it's won quite a few awards!) so maybe read some other reviews if you're thinking about reading this one!
The Truth of the Cross by R.C. Sproul
THE STARS: 4/5
THE PLOT: "Dr. R.C. Sproul surveys the great work accomplished by Jesus Christ through His crucifixion the redemption of God's people. Dr. Sproul considers the atonement from numerous angles and shows conclusively that the cross was absolutely necessary if anyone was to be saved. Opening the Scriptures, Dr. Sproul shows that God Himself provided salvation by sending Jesus Christ to die on the cross, and the cross was always God's intended method by which to bring salvation. The Truth of the Cross is an uncompromising reminder that the atonement of Christ is an absolutely essential doctrine of the Christian faith, one that should be studied and understood by all believers." (from here)
I See You by Clare Mackintosh
THE STARS: 4/5
THE PLOT: "Every morning and evening, Zoe Walker takes the same route to the train station, waits at a certain place on the platform, finds her favorite spot in the car, never suspecting that someone is watching her...
It all starts with a classified ad. During her commute home one night, while glancing through her local paper, Zoe sees her own face staring back at her; a grainy photo along with a phone number and a listing for a website called FindTheOne.com.
Other women begin appearing in the same ad, a different one every day, and Zoe realizes they’ve become the victims of increasingly violent crimes—including murder. With the help of a determined cop, she uncovers the ad’s twisted purpose...A discovery that turns her paranoia into full-blown panic. Zoe is sure that someone close to her has set her up as the next target.
And now that man on the train—the one smiling at Zoe from across the car—could be more than just a friendly stranger. He could be someone who has deliberately chosen her and is ready to make his next move…" (from here)
THE THOUGHT: This one started super slow, and was pretty uneventful for about half the book... but then it got SO GOOD. Stick with this, thriller lovers, and you'll be shocked at the twists and turns that you will NOT see coming (even when you think you have it figured out). So, so good.
Song of Myself by Walt Whitman
THE STARS: 2/5
THE PLOT: "Considered by many to be the quintessential American poet, Walt Whitman (1819-92) exerted a profound influence on all the American poets who came after him. And it was with this inspired, oceanic medley, "Song of Myself" (which in the first editions of Leaves of Grass was still nameless), that this great poet first made himself known to the world. Readers familiar with the later, more widely published versions of Leaves of Grass will find this first version of "Song of Myself" new, surprising, and often superior to the later versions — and exhilarating in the freshness of its vision." (from here)
THE THOUGHT: I found this one on my shelf on Walt Whitman's birthday, and sat down to read it over a glass of red wine after work, because it just seemed appropriate. There were many beautiful lines in this one, but overall, it wasn't something I resonated with super deeply. Glad I read it though, as I don't think I'd ever really seriously read any Whitman!