February 2022 Reads!
The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins: this was my first reread since I was in college. I remembered inhaling them my first time through, and I did reread them just as quickly. However, there were so many dark, disturbing details that I apparently read right over when I was younger. I was immersed in the story, but after it was over, I felt overwhelming sad and somewhat oppressed. The story ends on a hopeful note, but so many of the characters either did not make it, or were so damaged by their experiences that they were not who they once were. I know that happens in real life, but as a Christian whose hope is found in Christ, I know that people do not have to remain in a state of just surviving. While reading, I kept drawing comparisons to Lord of the Flies and 1984--both disturbing and depressing books. I am positive that the absence of any mention of God exacerbates these impressions. I probably will not reread these again, although I feel a hankering to rewatch the movies with the books so fresh in my head. Some pros--clear battle of good vs. evil, the gray area of ethical dilemmas regarding war, and the acknowledgement of the existence of evil. The trilogy is available for free through Kindle Unlimited right now.
A Change of Affection: A Gay Man's Incredible Story of Redemption by Beckett Cook: Cook was a successful set designer in Hollywood and anti all things Christian when God met him where he was. This is the story of Cook's childhood trauma, struggle and acceptance of 'being gay' as an identity, and the way God radically transformed him. What stood out to me most was his utter devotion to the LORD after his conversion: "no one can be in the presence of the living God and remain the same." Beckett's life and ministry are a reflection of this truth. He also made a great point that homosexuality is harder to break free from than other sins because it is pushed by culture as an identity, not a behavior. This was an inspiring read. I highly recommend it.
Mama Bear Apologetics: Empowering Your Kids to Challenge Cultural Lies edited by Hillary Morgan Ferrer: Lies don't always sound like lies, especially when they sound right and seem harmless. Ferrer and her team lead readers through several chapters discussing 'linguistic theft' and 'isms' like marxism, emotionalism, feminism, progressive Christianity, etc. Each chapter includes definitions (extremely important to ask people what they mean), the good that can be taken from each, and why they are wrong/harmful when placed against the inerrancy of Scripture. I especially loved the prayers at the end of each chapter which focus on thanking God for His providence and praying for opened eyes for those who fall victim to such mistaken worldviews. This was a challenging book. It's made me more aware to what my kids are being subtly, and not so subtly, taught in their TV shows, books, etc. As Hillary likes to say: "These things may not affect your faith, but they will affect your kids." Our kids need to learn how to think critically in order to fight against the powers and principalities of this world. Christian parents have to realize that they must equip their kids to do this, or they will be easily tossed to and fro by every new cultural belief. Highly recommend.
Persuasion by Jane Austen: Anne Elliot broke off her engagement to Captain Wentworth eight years ago due to the persuasion of the mother-figure in her life. She has regretted it ever since. When her elegant, snooty father and sister let their family home, Anne is overcome meeting her spurned love again and watching him search for a wife. This was a wonderful reread for me--I loved it just as much as I hoped I would! The letter writing scene toward the end of the novel is so lovely. One of my favorite quotes is by Captain Wentworth: "I must endeavor to subdue my mind to my fortune. I must learn to brook being happier than I deserve." Jane Austen is always worth a read! Now I need to watch some film adaptations!
Fable by Adrienne Young: The daughter of a pirate king is abandoned by her father on a ruthless island of dredgers after her mother's death in a shipwreck. She works for years to escape, but when she finally does, life does not go as planned. Honestly, I wanted to read this because the cover is gorgeous. The story includes some fantastical elements, a few curse words, and an emphasis on belonging somewhere. A couple of the crew members are in a homosexual relationship which I was not expecting. So beware of that if you allow your teen to read it. In summary, it was not as good as I had built it up to be, but the cliffhanger ending makes me want to read the sequel. We will see.
The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Armin: When Mrs. Wilkins spots an ad to rent a medieval Italian castle in San Salvatore, she does something completely out of character and approaches a woman with whom she is unacquainted to join her on this holiday. They advertise for two more companions. Upon arrival, they each slowly begin to transform into kinder, less harsh versions of themselves. This is a slower paced novel which places the majority of its focus on the beauty of nature and its almost miraculous ability to transform those who encounter it. I loved the theme of pro-second chances in marriage and love. It was just charming. This book was written in 1922, and it was interesting to read about middle-class life from London housewives.
Praying for Boys: Asking God for the Things They Need Most by Brooke McGlothlin: this book has 21 chapters with 10 Bible verses each focusing on different ways for parents to pray for their boys. I slowly went through this book over the last year and a half, praying them over our whole family. McGlothlin includes a helpful guide on ways to use this book. Topics include the Fruit of the Spirit, anger, forgiveness, heart change, integrity, etc. I highly recommend it! I was often convicted of my sinful mindset toward my kiddos and appreciated the refocusing back to Scripture.
The Forest of Vanishing Stars by Kristin Harmel: Yona was stolen from her bed as a toddler by an ancient hermit woman. She then spends the next twenty years in the Polish forests learning to survive on the land and rarely seeing other humans. After the old woman's death, Yona discovers the present horrors of 1943 Poland. For the first time in her life, she finds herself surrounded by and responsible for other people--Jews fleeing the ghettos before the coming massacres. She teaches them to survive in the deep forest. This historical fiction novel is based off a true story of the Bielski Partisans. The correlating information at the end of the book was fascinating! My one con in this story was the mystical way in which God is presented. I do understand and realize that this is characteristic of some Jewish beliefs. I didn't expect it to be biblically accurate (and it's not), but stories like these always sadden me when I imagine people with erroneous beliefs about God having those beliefs reinforced in fictional books. Other than that, I thought it was a great book.
The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner: in 18th century London there is a women's apothecary that offers services (i.e. poisons) specifically to women with oppressive men in their lives. Nella, the owner, is ill and nervous. She reluctantly allows help from a young servant girl. In the present day, Caroline flees to London on what should have been her 10th wedding anniversary trip. While mudlarking on the banks of the Thames, she finds an old glass vial that sends her on a historical chase through the back alleys of London. This was our book club pick this month, and while I had high hopes for it, the modern-day story fell short for me. It had strong themes of 'finding oneself' which tend to irk me.
Engaging Sir Isaac by Sally Britton: Isaac has returned from war on the Continent with one less arm and a case of PTSD. He prefers to remain alone, venturing out for some social engagements with friends. Millie is attempting to gain back a place in society after her sister's elopement with a man beneath her station. She makes a deal with the devil in Lady Olivia to find information to humiliate Sir Isaac. When Millie meets Isaac, however, things become vastly more complicated. This was a great installment in Britton's Inglewood series. They can be read alone, or in order.
Reforming Lord Neil by Sally Britton: arrogant rake Neil is somewhat blindsided when his politically powerful father, the Marquess of Alderton, cuts him off and forces him to leave the family home within fifteen minutes. He finds himself without money, friends, or comfortable options. Widow Teresa Clapham is struggling to make ends meet on her tiny farm when she and Neil meet and strike a deal--he helps out on the land for room and board in the barn. Hard work and true kindness transform Neil from the selfish lord he once was, to an honest, hard-working, kind man. This is the concluding book in the Inglewood series, and probably my favorite one!
Memorable Proposals by Jennie Goutet, Books 1-3: this trilogy follows Stratford and his twin sisters Anna and Phoebe as they grow and fall in love in regency-era England. These are longer than Britton's regency romance novels.
A Regrettable Proposal--Stratford becomes the unlikely heir to his uncle's estate, but the best part of his new estate has been deeded to his uncle's ward Eleanor Daventry. Stratford determines to marry her, but the proposal is disastrous. Much to each person's chagrin, they are continually thrown together during the London Season, and feelings and misundestanding begin to right themselves.
A Faithful Proposal--Anna loves everything about life in London and looks down upon life outside the city. Her life is thrown off course when she visits her friend Emily in the country, tragedy strikes, and she meets the handsome local vicar who makes her question everything she thought she knew. Anna annoyed me a lot in this story, but her growth during the novel was lovely to watch unfold.
A Daring Proposal--Phoebe has been secretly in love with her friend's older brother Frederick for years. Frederick has only ever seen her as a sister, so when he challenges Phoebe to do something daring, she surprises everyone by moving to Brussels. As war looms after Napolean's escape from Elba, and Phoebe becomes the belle of the ball in Brussels, Frederick grapples with his changing affections for the woman he thought he knew. All of these were lovely and fun to read. Recommend!
The Princess Pact: A Twist on Rumplestiltskin by Melanie Cellier: Princess Marie is chafing under her regimented schedule, so when a growing darkness threatens to overturn the country, and she discovers the truth of her past, she jumps at the chance to find adventure. Marie places herself purposely in danger with a young man named Rafe in order to save the kingdom and to secretly find out more about her origins. This is a retelling of Rumplestiltskin that takes place decades after the straw has been spun into gold. Really interesting idea!
A Princess Game: A Reimagining of Sleeping Beauty by Melanie Cellier: when she turned 16, the beautiful and intelligent Princess Celeste was cursed to appear as if her mind was asleep. In other words, her great intelligence was turned to utter foolishness in front of every person around her. To remain sane, she dons the disguise of Aurora, chief spymaster, and discovers a plot within the castle grounds. With the arrival of Prince William, Celeste begins to hope that her curse may one day be broken. But how can a prince fall in love with a woman he cannot truly know? I enjoyed this take on Sleeping Beauty!
The Princess Search: A Retelling of the Ugly Duckling by Melanie Cellier: Frederic, the crown prince of Lanover, is on a tour of his kingdom that is becoming increasingly dangerous. Along for the tour is royal seamstress Evie who has lived in many places throughout the kingdom without belonging in any of them. With each stop on the tour, her old demons resurface as she confronts them and realizes that not everyone will abandon her. This was an interesting take on the Ugly Duckling. There's love, magic, betrayal. I thought Cellier did a great job weaving several character's stories together and tying up the series.
Love and Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch: prior to her mother's death from pancreatic cancer, Lina promised her that she would spend the summer in Tuscany with her mother's 'fun friend'/father Howard. Lina is hesitant and grieving. Why did her mother tell her about Howard? Upon her arrival, she is given her mother's old journal from her time living there and it opens her eyes to the magic of Italy. With her new charming friend Ren, Lina embarks on a journey to visit her mother's favorite haunts and discovers a devastating secret. This was a clean, fun YA novel. I plan to read the other two in the trilogy!
The Persian Gamble by Joel C. Rosenberg: sequel to The Kremlin Conspiracy. After the assassination of the Russian czar (first book), Marcus Ryker and Oleg Kraskin parachute from their plane before exiting Russian airspace. Now the race begins to convince the Americans to rescue them and grant Oleg political asylum and escape the Russian forces slowly losing in on them. While dealing with these fragile negotiations, Marcus learns from Oleg that North Korea is using the chaos to sell nuclear warheads to Iran. They worked together to stop WWIII, can they also stop the transfer of these weapons before it is too late? Rosenberg has such an eye for political and international intrigue. His books are high paced, full of so much information, and surprisingly quick reads for their large page count. He always seems to have his finger on the pulse of current international relations. Years ago, he wrote another book that depicted planes hitting the Twin Towers nine months before it actually occurred, The Last Jihad. Highly recommend all his books.