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  • Writer's pictureJenna Miller

October 2021 Reads!

Not A Happy Family by Shari Lapena: a wealthy couple is violently murdered in their home, and all three of their adult children are considered prime subjects. Each seems to be hiding something, but which one is the guilty party for this deed? This book was less suspenseful than I imagined it would be, but there was a part toward the end that was throughly creepy. There is some language, but overall I thought it was a pretty good read.

Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner: based on a legend out of the Rocky Mountains. 10 year old Willy needs $500 to pay off the tax collector threatening to take his grandfather's farm. He enters the National Dogsled Race with a handful of other men against the infamous Shonshone named Stone Fox. My boys were enthralled by this short novel. Heads up: if you are reading aloud to kids, look at the ending first before deciding if they can handle it. It was unexpectedly tragic and I did not realize it until it was too late to backtrack! We did ultimately end up having a good discussion!

Fall of Marigolds by Susan Meissner: historical fiction following two women living 100 years apart in NYC. September 1911, nurse Clara exiles herself to Ellis Island to care for those emigrants with the most contagious diseases after having survived the tragic Triangle Shirtwaist Fire. She hides behind her tragedy by refusing to leave the island. September 2011, Taryn is blindsided when a lost photo of her is published on the ten-year anniversary of 9/11, the day she lost her husband. This was beautifully written and will most likely make you cry. I was immediately engrossed. I do wish there had been more of an epilogue! Highly recommend.

The Riven Kingdoms Books 1-4 by Shari Tapscott: fantasy. Dark faerie magic is starting to leak through the chasm that was erected over a hundred years ago between Renove and Draegan. While Renove was blessed, Draegan was cursed, and the people of Draegan are determined to figure out a way around the faeries' magic. In Renove, after tragedy strikes her twin brother, Princess Amalia is tasked to find the next king. She finds herself continually bumping into a possible bandit who aloofly helps her quest. Can they save Renove before the terrors take over her land? And what is the real story behind this rift between the lands? I read this super fast. It was fun and clean, and I recommend it if you like fantasy books!

The Book Charmer by Karen Hawkins: this was a reread for me in preparation for the sequel and a couple short novellas in the Dove Pond series. Sarah Dove speaks to books, and they speak back. Books tell Sarah who needs to read them, and she has no choice but to comply. Grace, her niece, and her former foster mother Mama G arrive in Dove Pond as a last ditch effort to help Mama G's fight with dementia. Grace is struggling with a great deal of anger for the hard things life has thrown at her, and she is determined to spend a year saving money and then leave for Charlotte. But Sarah and a particularly curmudgeonly books know this cannot happen if the town is meant to survive. This book deals with many hard issues while still remaining a charming read. I loved it just as much the second time around. I highly recommend these if you enjoy magical realism!

A Cup of Silver Linings by Karen Hawkins: book two in the Dove Pond series. Ava Dove makes specialty teas specific to a person's needs, not to mention that her landscaping skills are unmatched and she has a literal green thumb. Then her teas start to mysteriously misbehave, and a secret that she has carefully hidden for over a decade is literally thumping to get out. Kristen, Ava's young assistant, has just lost her mom to breast cancer and now finds herself at odds with an estranged grandmother she barely knows. Both women's paths intercross as they struggle to deal with their feelings and past actions. I loved it just as much as the first in the series. These books are clean and fun while also dealing with hard issues. Highly recommend.

Tisha: The Story of A Young Teacher in the Alaskan Wilderness by Anne Hobbs Purdy and Robert Sprecht: memoir; in 1927 Anne Hobbs takes a job as a teacher in Chicken, Alaska. She soon finds herself at odds with the townspeople for treating whites and anyone with Indian blood the same. Tensions only increase when she falls in love with a half-Indian man named Fred. Be forewarned that this book does include some of the derogatory terms hurled at Anne, Fred, and other Indians. I was overcome with emotion while reading this memoir. It was so incredibly interesting to imagine living in Alaska almost a hundred years ago. Recommend!

Hall of Blood and Mercy Books 1-3 by KM Shea: fantasy set in a city called Magiford in Midwest America where magical creatures and beings live openly with humans--faeries, vampires, wizards, and werewolves. Hazel's parents (wizards) are killed in a freak car accident and she inherits the title of Adept Medeis. Before her ascension, a distant cousin stages a coup with the help of the House alliances forcing Hazel to run. She finds protection as a servant of the most powerful vampire family, the Drakes. These three books follow Hazel and Killian Drake as they deal with murder, treachery and Hazel's surprising lack of magic. This was such a good series, not to mention clean, funny, and well-written. There are some offshoot trilogies, but I have been trying to pace myself!

When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment by Ryan T. Anderson: the transgender agenda has been painted as a happy, normal reality that should be accepted with no questions asked. However, there is clear scientific evidence to the contrary. Anderson spends one powerful chapter giving a voice to the growing number of people who transitioned, discovered doing so solved none of their problems, and detransitioned. Unfortunately, they have been met with bullying by trans activists. Anderson asks some very important questions in this book. Can a boy be trapped in a girl's body, and vice versa? When is sex assigned? What are the consequences of so highly elevating feelings over facts? What is a loving Christian response to someone suffering from gender dysphoria? What place should laws have in protecting minors? Shouldn't regular counseling be the first step rather than hormone-blockers that increase suicide and suicidal ideation? Anderson also addresses important issues of privacy and security with new laws pushing to include transtioners with members of the opposite sex. This book is not hateful in any way. Anderson has real compassion for those who struggle with gender dysphoria. I learned so much from this book. It is hard to read not only emotionally, but also in regards to all the biology and behavioral psychology included. Recommend for all Christians. Another book to read for those who want a more secular perspective is Irreversible Damage by Abigail Shrier.

Sweep: The Story of A Girl and Her Monster by Jonathan Auxier: the Sweep disappeared five years ago and Nan Sparrow has had no choice but to work for a cruel chimney sweep named Wilkie Crudd. When she gets stuck in a chimney with a fire set underneath her, she wakes up in an abandoned attic with a golem, made of ash and soot, as her unlikely hero. As she struggles to survive, Nan grows to hope that perhaps there could be a life for her on the other side of the dangerous life of a chimney sweep. This novel was so good!! The storytelling was fantastic, and Auxier includes some great historical information regarding chimney sweeps, golems, 1800s England, and more. I'll be reading this aloud to my boys in a few more years when they are a bit older. Highly recommend!

Teaching From Rest: A Homeschooler's Guide to Unshakeable Peace by Sarah MacKenzie: I love homeschooling and have felt called to do so since the middle of college. Getting out of the ingrained public school mindset has been a challenge, as has not making myself a slave to the curriculum. MacKenzie calls homeschooling parents to focus on creating a diligent rather than rigorous education. "A diligent student, then, takes delight, eagerly and with great zeal, in what he loves." She asks an important question: which words/phrases do I want my kids to use when describing their homeschooled childhood? MacKenzie also reminds us that homeschooling is about relationships with our kiddos, and relationships are not efficient things. This is a fantastic book that I did not realize I needed to read. It can be so easy to go through the motions, get caught up in helping four kids with four different things, or being determined to stay on task, rather than enjoying my kids and helping them flourish. Obviously choosing quality curriculum is important, but teaching from rest means to put aside the temptation to multitask and focus on doing one thing at a time to the best of my ability. To be with my kids. Lastly, MacKenzie encourages homeschooling moms to take into consideration their own personalities when teaching. A peaceful, less anxious mom makes a better teacher! Highly recommend!

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie: this was my third time reading through Christie's famous book, and it was just as fantastic as I remembered. I read it with my local book club. Ten people stuck on an island, trapped by a storm. One by one they begin to die in rhythm with the poem Ten Little Indians. This book is a masterpiece. If you have never read it before, please pick it up!

Love in the Afternoon by Karen Hawkins: this short Dove Pond series novella follows Sofia and her son Noah who has Aspergers as they settle in Dove Pond . Sofia begins working with Ava Dove's plants, proving herself quite adept. Meanwhile Noah connects with their very attractive, curmudgeonly neighbor Jake, a very successful game developer. As they bond over her son, they grow in understanding of each other and themselves. Super sweet!

The Spoken Mage Series, Books 1-5: by Melanie Cellier: fantasy; in Elena's world, only mages have the ability to read and write safely. Common born people are forbidden to read or write as their inability to harness said power would inevitably result in widespread death. Elena, a daughter of shopkeepers, discovers magelike abilities that are impossible for a common born to possess. Thrust into the Academy to learn how to harness her rare and unique power, Elena struggles to fit in with all the mage-born including Prince Lucas. Will she master her power and be allowed to live, or be 'removed' for the safety of the country? This was a great series! Cellier crafts a unique story with great characters, and I flew through the series. Book 5 is a spin-off following two of the more minor characters in the first four books. Recommend!

West With Giraffes by Lynda Rutledge: historical fiction; in 1938 two giraffes bought by the famous female San Diego Zoo director Belle Benchley survived the Yankee Clipper or Long Island Express hurricane that pounded New York. 17 year old Woody Nickel survives the hurricane by the skin of his teeth. A Dust Bowl orphan from the Texas panhandle, he sees the giraffes and finagles a way to be the driver for the zoo employee escorting them cross-country. With the help of a pretty red-haired photographer, Woody and the Old Man battle natural disasters and unscrupulous people to get the beloved giraffes to their new home. At the age of 105, Woody decides to write down his coming-of-age story because his world is one where giraffes, elephants, and lions are now extinct. This book was such a pleasant surprise to me. I had never heard about this hurricane before or the famous giraffes, the Dust Bowl references were haunting, and Rutledge was a great storyteller. I enjoyed it! FYI: There is some language scattered throughout the book.

Mr. Gardiner and the Governess by Sally Britton: a sweet regency romance novel. As an orphan, Alice's family no longer wants the burden of caring for her, especially now that she could be considered competition for the other girls in the family with more to offer in a marriage match. Through familial connections she finds a position as governess for the nearby Duke. Still unsure how secure her position is, Alice wavers when she finds friendship with Mr. Gardiner, an entomologist cataloguing the Duke's insects and plants. This was a short, sweet, clean romance. A good palate cleanser.

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