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  • Writer's pictureJenna Miller

May 2021 Book Reviews!

Hey fellow book readers! Here are some of the read-alouds I did with my kiddos recently.

Mountain Born by Elizabeth Yates: this novel follows a young boy named Peter and his pet lamb as he grows up on his family's sheep farm. This was a required read aloud for our homeschool curriculum, and after reading the first chapter I was afraid that it would not hold my boys' attention. I gave them the option of picking something different, but they did not take it. Mountain Born is an admittedly slower read--less action, more descriptive imagery--but we enjoyed it! I thought it did a great job showing a young boy growing into a capable and courageous leader. I hope that reading novels with those sorts of protagonists will inspire my boys to be the same way.

The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary: Ralph is a young mouse looking for adventure when he meets a boy named Keith at his home inside the Mountain View Inn. When Keith lets Ralph ride his toy motorcycle, his life changes for the better. This was my dad's favorite book growing up, so I was excited to read it to the boys. My second son especially loves anything with animals in it, so he was enthralled. Cleary wrote so many well-loved books! This is the first in a trilogy, so we will definitely continue with it.

In Grandma's Attic by Arleta Richardson: this is a nonfiction narrative about all the stories told to young Arleta in the 1930s by her Grandma Mabel. Grandma Mabel grew up on a small Michigan farm in the late 1800s. Many of these stories cracked me up, and they all point back to Christian morals. It was also fun to explain some of the different things and jobs mentioned in the 1800s that we do not use or do now. This was another homeschool curriculum book. I had never heard of it prior, but we enjoyed this book too! There are other books in this series as well.

And now here are my reads for the month :)

Insider Outsider: My Journey As A Stranger in White Evangelicalism and My Hope for Us All by Bryan Loritts: Loritts is a pastor and theologian at The Summit Church in RDU. I've heard and enjoyed his preaching when my husband and I listened to sermons from the Summit during covid. He self-admits that this book is written foremost from his feelings regarding what it is like to be black in the white evangelical movement. He offers definitions distinguishing between white evangelicals and white evangelicalism, the latter of which he is calling out. My eyes were opened in some areas, but I definitely had some disagreements in others. I had a lot of conversations with my husband about things brought up in this book. It was almost like my shoulders were glued to my ears until I finished reading, and then I could take a deep breath and relax.

The Likeness by Tana French: former Murder Squad detective Cassie Maddox is summoned to the scene of a murder where the victim is her doppelgänger and also using one of her old undercover aliases. Despite being in a somewhat fragile state from her last case (you can read about it in French's first book In The Woods), she goes undercover as this dead woman to figure out what happened. Cassie's time undercover had an almost dreamlike quality to it that made it and the people involved seem almost unreal. It was eerie, creepy, and addicting. French's books always have language in them, but they are so well-written that I can often look past it.

The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley: Ada, born with a clubfoot and locked in her apartment by a cruel mother, flees London with her brother on the eve of the Blitz. They are foisted upon a single woman named Susan, and healing ensues for all of them. Will their mother come to take them away? This YA novel was a fast but heartbreaking read. I don't think I'd let my kids read it until they were much older due to some of the content, but I am interested in following up with the sequel.

The Restoration of Celia Fairchild by Marie Bostwick: known as advice columnist Dear Calpurnia, Celia's life is turned upside down when she loses her job, finds out one of her "Dear Birth Mother" letters is being considered, and discovers she has inherited a historic house from her estranged aunt in Charleston, SC. This was a fun chick-lit, southern rom-com read! I enjoyed the characters and the author's emphasis on adoption and how friends can become as close as family.

A Serial Killer's Daughter: My Story of Faith, Love, and Overcoming by Kerri Rawson: Rawson was blindsided in 2005 when an FBI agent showed up at her front door to inform her that her father had been arrested as the infamous serial killer known as BTK. This is her memoir of trying to reconcile the dad she knew with the horrific man he hid so well from his family. She relates her surrender to God, her struggles with anxiety and depression, and how she eventually forgave her dad. I saw this book for free with Amazon Prime reading. I didn't realize how many negative reviews there were about this book. Some people called her out for being too religious, for seeing her family as victims, for not publicly publishing more super angry letters to her dad, for not knowing her dad's true character, etc. People have lots of opinions, some I could agree with, others were rather hateful. I found Rawson's experiences very interesting, because I've also wondered how families could be so oblivious as well. She even corresponds what she remembers from her family history with the timeline of the murders. To Rawson's credit though, how many of us see a family member's eccentricities and immediately wonder if he or she is a dangerous criminal? I'd recommend picking it up if you're interested in true crime (although she does not go into detail regarding her father's crimes here).

Last Train to Key West by Chanel Cleeton: historical fiction novel following three different women, how their paths cross and intertwine while fleeing from the 1935 Labor Day hurricane. Mirta has arrived from Cuba after an arranged marriage to notorious American. Elizabeth, once a member of the wealthy NY set but now a victim of the stock market crash, is searching for her troubled brother. And very pregnant Helen is yearning to escape the heavy hands of her fisherman husband. I've enjoyed all of Cleeton's books, especially how they incorporate the Cuban Revolution and the devastating effects of Fidel Castro's regime. I don't know as much about Cuba's history in general, so I always learn something new. Recommend! (I would rate this PG-13.)

The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi: set in the 1950s, Lakshmi escapes an abusive marriage in a small backwater village and eventually makes her way to become the most in-demand henna artist in Jaipur, India. When her estranged husband shows up at her door with her kid sister in tow, Lakshmi's life changes drastically. *Spoilers* coming as this novel has triggers that the title and summary give no hints to. I love historical fiction and thought this had the makings of a great read (and it does for some), but it unfortunately fell short for me. Unrepentant infidelity and abortion are major themes throughout this book. The author does show some of the negative effects of marital infidelity which I appreciated. Abortion, however, was treated flippantly and without showing any negative psychological or emotional side effects. The women I know who have had abortions regret it and deal with after-effects for years, even decades later. While I understand that the author was relaying what life was probably like in 1950s India, I personally could not move past it to enjoy the story. I want to encourage any women who are entertaining the idea of an abortion to know that there are people and organizations that will gladly help you keep and provide/adopt your baby, And if you have had an abortion, please know that there is a God, the God of the Bible, who offers you forgiveness and a love that never fails. You are not alone. Contact me.

Into Thin Air by Jon Kraukauer: riveting nonfiction account of one of the deadliest climbing seasons of Mount Everest in 1996. I know nothing about mountain climbing and very little about the history of scaling Everest, so I was fascinated by the financial price, the physical pain people willingly endure to each the summit, and the crazy effects high altitude has on the human body. I have absolutely no desire to climb a mountain, but plan to watch the movies instead. Basically the same thing, right?

All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot: first memoir of Alf Wight, a British veterinarian in the 1930s. I loved this book which surprised me because I have never had any interest in the medical or veterinarian fields. This book was funny, engaging, and heartfelt, I surprised myself by laughing out loud a few times. Funnily enough, I think I appreciated this much more and have more sympathy for the animals after having given birth four times. I highly recommend it!

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