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  • Writer's pictureJenna Miller

January and February 2024 Books

Welcome to the new year of books! Already my initial choices of books for my reading challenges have changed, but I am fairly happy with the start I've gotten on my lists. I have clearly been running behind on posting, but I hope you find something interesting!

Cover Her Face by P.D. James: this was my choice for a locked room mystery and it did not disappoint. Sally Jupp, a young, ambitious maid is found dead in her bedroom, door locked, second-floor window open. A young single mother, she is rather unlikeable, irreverent, and malicious. Those present at the house party the night before are prime suspects, but also universally deceptive in their statements to Inspector Dalgliesh. I would personally group P.D. James with Agatha Christie and Josephine Tey.

The Secret Recipe of Ella Dove by Karen Hawkins: magical realism. Each book in this series follows a different sister and her specific magical gift. Ella is a baker whose creations cause the eater to feel/remember exactly what he or she needs at that time. I love little details like this. However, the main female characters in this novel were extremely unlikeable to me. Certain character flaws are put on display, focused on heavily, and simply made it a less enjoyable read to me. Unfortunate.

The Murder of Mr. Wickham by Claudia Gray: this was my only DNF of the month. I was enamored by the plot--all Jane Austen's main characters from her novels are gathered together for a dinner party when a murder occurs, and one of them has committed the crime. About a third of the way through, the shine started to wear off. I did not care for the breakdown of the happy endings of Austen's books. A subplot of homosexuality also was brought in, totally unnecessary. It was a disappointment to me and I decided to skip to the end and then put the book aside.

The Case of the Left-Handed Lady: An Enola Holmes Mystery by Nancy Springer: second installment of this YA series. Enola, the younger sister of Mycroft and Sherlock, is making her own way in London donning different disguises, trying to find her mother, and solving mysteries along the way. This are quick, fun reads. Definitely for older teens though.

The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkein: I finally finished the trilogy! I listened to Andy Serkis narrate The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings. He did a fantastic job! I also was so surprised to see all that was left out of the last movie. So much happened specifically in the Shire! Anyway, I highly recommend these audio versions. So good.

The Puppets of Spelhorst by Kate diCamillo: this fun read-aloud with my boys follows five puppets (a king, a girl, a boy, an owl, and a wolf) as they are bought and sold and fulfill their dreams. The chapters are told from different puppet's perspectives. We all loved this! It was short, funny, bittersweet. We highly recommend it. Our favorite character was the wolf.

How to Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell: my personal phobia pick. Ugh, I have a thing against worms. I read this silly middle-grade novel in about 30 minutes. It is such a boy book. I will say that the main character's mother cracked me up. Loved her.

What Wondrous Love is This by Joni Eareckson Tada, John MacArthur, and the Wolgemuths: this was a lovely uplifting read. The authors chose hymns that have meant something to them and stood the test of time. Each chapter includes a hymn, background on the author, and a personal reflection. If you purchase the book new, it also comes with a CD of the songs.

Midnight by Amy McCulloch: this thriller was my pick for my 'wild' book. Olivia's boyfriend, a high-powered art dealer, is staging an art auction on board a luxury cruise liner headed for Antarctica. But as the liner embarks, Olivia realizes that her boyfriend is not on board, or answering his phone. Determined to keep the event on track for him, Olivia pushes down her panic...until the first body appears. This was such an interesting novel almost exclusively for its setting. With a plethora of suspects, Olivia doesn't know who to trust. A good, quick read! Her debut novel Breathless also had a very interesting setting the slopes of Manaslu during a mountain climbing expedition.

Hidden Treasures in the Book of Job by Hugh Ross: astrophysicist and Christian apologist Hugh Ross dives into the book of Job, arguably the oldest book in the Bible, to show how Scripture can answer questions of science, cosmology, how to care for creation, and the differences between humans and animals. Ross is an old earth creationist, so he does his best to show how Job points to an old earth. While I realize I am not exceptionally gifted in science as he is and I am a proponent of a young earth, I did not find his old earth arguments as compelling as I assumed they would be. My favorite part of his book was the detailed reasons that certain animals were included in Job 38-39.

Marriage to A Difficult Man; The Uncommon Marriage of Jonathan and Sarah Edwards by Elisabeth Dodds: pastor Jonathan Edwards is most well-known for his sermon "Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God" during the Great Awakening. He has been condemned unfairly by progressive Christians and Beth Moore. His life, marriage, and the enduring legacy of his progeny show how God has blessed this man and his family for generations. I found all the historical tidbits, Jonathan and Sarah's respective backgrounds, and the period customs delightful. Although no man is perfect, I was impressed by his character and achievements. Recommend!

Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi: I have always disliked Disney's version of Pinocchio, but after I read a recommendation for the original book, I decided to try it as a read-aloud. Collodi wrote this as an allegory and I would say he succeeded. We rolled our eyes and laughed at Pinocchio's antics. It did become a bit tiresome in my opinion, and the boys did groan when Pinocchio was about to make another bad choice, but they kept asking for more chapters, so I call that a win. It was surprisingly readable also!

The Earl Next Door by Ashtyn Newbold: after an unfortunate incident where Miss Henrietta Dixon tried to do a good turn and accidentally became a scandal, she and her sister leave London for Bath. Henrietta hopes to reunite her widowed sister with her childhood love, but her efforts are ruined when a young earl takes the other half of their townhouse instead. In a series of humorous encounters, Henrietta and the Earl become friends, enemies, and then intriguing plotters in each other's schemes. This was a fun, easy, clean read!

Black and Tan: A Collection of Essays and Excursions on Slavery, Culture War, and Scripture in America by Douglas Wilson: a series of essays about racial issues. Wilson's writings were very thought-provoking, but I am not sure I agree with him on all his theses. His main point is that people who owned slaves in the South could still be true Christians. This work led to some thoughtful conversations, but I find that conclusions about the morality and theology of those who call themselves Christians in the south during the Civil War is hard to establish. And I just have a hard time reconciling the innate evilness of slavery with Christianity, especially knowing that some Southern Bibles removed all references to God's condemnation of slavery and other verses that assume all men/women are made in God's image. At the same time, I do realize that it is erroneous of me to judge people from who lived over a century ago by today's standards. I am still on the fence about this read.

Love and Other Great Expectations by Becky Dean: Britt, an American teen, is chosen with three other seniors, for a literary scavenger hunt in the UK. The winner receives a large amount of prize money. Her assigned chaperone introduces her to her cousin Luke, and Britt invited him along to join the adventure. This YA book was just such fun. It was clean, had Christian themes, and dealt with some harder subjects along the way. Recommend!

Falling for You, A Bradford Sisters Romance #2 by Becky Wade: Christian fiction. The second book in this series follows oldest sister Willow, a famous model, who has become disillusioned and burned out by her life. She agrees to come home to sub as the innkeeper at her family's B&B. While there, she is forced to reckon with familial and he own past hurts and sins that she has allowed to effectively sideline her spiritually and emotionally. I have impressed thus far with Wade's novels. They have done a good job of showing the Christian life without being cheesy or progressive. I recommend her books. The first two in this series are available on Kindle Unlimited.

Father Brown (Complete Collection), 53 Murder Mysteries by G.K. Chesterton: what a labor of love! This took me several months to read. I downloaded this for free on Kindle Unlimited and it was such a pleasure! Humorous, twisty, and reminders of Agatha Christie's Miss Marple series. Now, there was some outdated/potentially offensive language in a couple of the short stories, so please be aware of that. But in its entirety, I thoroughly enjoyed the unassuming Father Brown as he navigates criminal minds and solves murders with his friend Flambeau. A good cozy read! I plan to try the TV series and will update on my opinion of those!

Howard's End by E.M. Forster: considered his best work, this book follows the Schlegel sisters' interactions with the wealthy Wilcox family and a poor, struggling clerk named Leonard Bast. That summary is so plain and does not so justice to the novel at all. I found the first few chapters to be a drag, but after that I was gripped by the story and thoroughly enjoyed it. The book is set right before WWI, right on the cusp of great societal change. Place plays a huge part in this novel, and the interplay between progress and tradition, capitalism vs. socialism, the arts vs. practicality was very well done. I've also been enjoying the Literary Life Podcast episodes on this book. Recommend!

The New Trail of Tears: How Washington is Destroying American Indians by Naomi Schaefer Riley: as of this publishing in 2021, American Indians have the highest rates of poverty of any racial group in America. Suicide is the leading cause of death among American Indian young men. American Indian women are raped at 2.5 times the national average. Why? Riley has compiled research from visiting and speaking with American Indian and Canadian Indian tribes regarding the mental, economic, emotional, etc. states of their people. This book is depressing. There are horrendous stories of mistreatment of children, government corruption, entitled attitudes, and jaw-dropping statistics. Some success stories bring glimpses of hope. Riley posits that the American (and Canadian) government has done more harm than good with their outdated and often downright unethical policies. I highly recommend this book, but know that it will be hard and heartbreaking read.

One LORD, One Faith, One Baptism: Spirit Baptism and Christian Unity by J.R. Miller: this is a very in-depth theological book on the baptism of the Holy Spirit. It specifically focuses on the historical influences of the charismatic/Pentecostal view of a two step salvation process and its lack of contextual, Biblical evidence to support their beliefs. I learned a great deal about a subject I did not have much background on prior to reading this. If you are Charismatic/Pentecostal or grew up in that tradition, I'd highly recommend reading this book and be willing to be challenged on beliefs you were taught as truth. And even if you are largely illiterate to the differing controversial beliefs of Holy Spirit baptism, this is a great place to start.

Black Ships Before Troy: The Story of the Iliad by Rosemary Sutcliff: this is a young adult retelling of The Iliad. I am not sure that I have ever read The Iliad, but I hope to try this year. This was a very readable illustrated version that helped me follow along the story easily. I also listened to a couple podcast episodes on Classical Stuff You Should Know that were very helpful and interesting.

Why Are You Afraid? by Darrell Harrison and Virgil Walker: this short devotional book by two of my favorite podcasters (check out Just Thinking!) is a perfect bite-sized encouragement for those who struggle with fear or anxiety. I felt convicted and uplifted while reading it. Each section includes discussion questions at the end. Highly recommend!

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