August 2021 Reviews!
The Paris Orphan by Natasha Lester: historical fiction set during WWII. When model Jessica May has her career derailed by her long-term boyfriend, she jumps headfirst into photojournalism. She navigates the war, sexism, malicious rumors, and more. In 2004, art curator D'Arcy arrives in France to pack for a show for the elusive and reclusive Photographer. She begins to make discoveries that directly affect everything she believed to be true about her life. So, this book was rather heartbreaking--I was so mad at the ending! The story was very interesting, but not my favorite book set during this time period. God's name was used in vain superfluously, and the adult content would probably be PG-13. Personally, I would recommend instead The Book of Lost Names by Kristin Harmel.
Dune by Frank Herbert: I have no idea how to summarize this massive book, but I will give it a shot. It's set on the desert planet of Arrakis where the 'spice' melange is grown and in high demand, giant worms ravage the land, and flowing water is unheard of. House Atreides is sent to 'rule', is betrayed, and the son, Paul, steps into a destiny he never could have imagined. Now, I remember watching a cheesy SciFi channel movie loosely based off of this book with my brother when we were growing up, so that's partly why I was interested in reading it. This is a big book filled with political intrigue, a weird combo of all religions, and mysticism. I was drawn in to the story quickly, but there were scenes that were too weird and dark for my taste---the scenes with the Harkonnens, the religion of the people, the drug like trances from the melange 'spice'. Apparently there are many books in this series, but I think I will stop with this one. I was impressed with the relevance of the book considering it was written in the 1960s, but I think I will stick with the Wheel of Time series instead.
The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny: Inspector Gamache and his right-hand man Beauvoir head to a remote monastery hidden in the Canadian wilderness and well-known for their haunting Gregorian chants. Their famous choir director has been found murdered and despite their antipathy toward outsiders, the abbot calls for help. In the stillness of the abbey, Gamache and Beauvoir find they must confront their demons from Bury Your Dead (a previous installment in the series). I found the history of Gregorian chants fascinating. Beauvoir's inner struggles were particularly sad to witness. I always recommend these books!
Heaven by Randy Alcorn: Do you know what the Bible says about heaven? Do you know how to get there? Have you ever wondered if the preconceived beliefs you have about heaven are actually biblical or something made up by those who either do not believe the Bible or are ignorant as to its contents? This book will answer those questions and so many more you probably have never even thought to ask. And, spoiler alert, heaven will be so much better than we could ever imagine. Alcorn supports everything with Scriptural references and uses logical thinking to flesh out possibilities for those things not specifically mentioned in the Bible. I learned an incredible amount, and I encourage every follower of Christ to pick up a copy. It is a large book, but it is quite readable, and every chapter is split into multiple subsections making it easy to pick up and read a short section. Highly recommend!
"Following Christ is not a call to abstain from gratification but to delay gratification. It's finding our joy in Christ rather than seeking joy in the things of this world...When we realize the pleasures that await us in God's presence, we can forgo lesser pleasures now. When we realize the possessions that await us in Heaven, we will gladly give away possessions on Earth to store up treasures in Heaven. When we realize the power offered to us as rulers in God's kingdom, a power we could not handle now but will handle with humility and benevolence then, we can forgo the pursuit of power here. To be Heaven-oriented is to be goal-oriented in the best sense. Paul says, 'But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.' (Philippians 3:13-14)"
Stepping Heavenward by Elizabeth Prentiss: this novel was written in 1869 by a pastor's wife in journal format. I actually thought it was a memoir until a third of the way through! It follows a young woman's journey from adolescence into womanhood as she makes belief in Christ her own and matures in her relationship with Him. Despite being written so long ago, I found her struggles with sin and desires to live for Christ highly relatable. I drew great encouragement from Prentiss's wisdom and how much I related to her character Katie. I thoroughly enjoyed it and highly recommend this book!
"There is no wilderness so dreary but that His love can illuminate it, no desolation so desolate but that He can sweeten it. I know what I am saying. It is no delusion. I believe that the highest, purest happiness is known only to those who have learned Christ in sick-rooms, in poverty, in racking suspense and anxiety, amid hardships, and at the open grave.”
I Will Always Write Back: How One Letter Changed Two Lives by Martin Ganda and Caitlyn Alifirenka: this YA book is a memoir of two people from completely different worlds who became pen pals in middle school in the late 1990s and how that completely changed their lives. Caitlyn grew up in an upper middle class family in Pennsylvania, while Martin grew up in one of the largest slums in Zimbabwe. Each chapter goes back and forth between Caitlyn and Martin. I assume this was intentional, but Caitlyn's beginning chapters were harder to get through mainly due to her self-centeredness and lack of awareness regarding the poverty in Africa. Granted she was a teenager before the popularity of the internet and social media. I really enjoyed seeing her growth as a person throughout the memoir. Martin's sections were much more interesting and heartbreaking to read. Our book club read this in August, and we were really impressed by how Caitlyn's parents went above and beyond to help Martin with his education in Zimbabwe, applying for colleges, and so much more. I think it would be a great book for middler schoolers and high schoolers to pick up.
The Last of the Doughboys: The Forgotten Generation and Their Forgotten World War by Richard Rubin: nonfiction; in 2003, Rubin set out to see if there were any surviving WWI veterans. To his surprise and delight, he found several centenarians and supercentenarian to interview. Their stories are fascinating and I learned so much! It is stunning to realize just how long ago WWI was. In fact, Rubin's introduction blew my mind when he made a list of all the things that had not yet been invented and all the events that had not yet occurred at the start of the War. Really. That intro sticks with me. It was such a different world. Ever heard of the Bonus Army? Look it up. This is a long book, but I highly recommend it to any history-lover out there regardless of whether or not you are familiarized with WWI. The last interview in Rubin's book was with the last survivor of WWI named Frank Buckles. Rubin asked Buckles if the world seemed bigger or smaller now than it did in 1918. Buckles replied that the world seemed smaller then. Most people never left their state, let alone their country. Rubin's next sentences: "They set off for a world war, and came back with a world. A much larger world. And left it to us." Those lines give me goosebumps. Pick up this book.
Does Prayer Change Things? by R.C. Sproul: this short little book published by Ligonier addresses important questions like: How should we pray? Does prayer make a difference? Does God change His mind? Sproul shares practical wisdom and impresses the importance of having a healthy prayer life to believers. I gleaned wisdom when he went step-by-step through the Lord's Prayer from the Sermon on the Mount. Sproul also lists reasons why Christians tend to become frustrated with prayer: we pray generally rather than specifically, we are at war with God, we are impatient, and we have short memories regarding all He has done for us. Recommend!
"Prayer is to the Christian what breath is to life, yet no duty of the Christian is so neglected."
(Does Prayer Change Things?)