book reviews

May 2021: Recent Reads

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Nonfiction | Fiction | Student Spotlight

It’s already time to write about my recent reads again? This past month flew by!

I’m sure, in part, it’s racing along because we are approaching the end of the school year (finally! 5 weeks to go!) and also because I’m selling many belongings, arranging (covid-safe) goodbye get-togethers and apartment hunting for my new place in the States.

Yes, you read that right: I’m getting ready to move as I wrap up the school year. (!) I snuck in an announcement about that when I wrote my review on Looming Transitions in March, but hadn’t yet said anything super explicit here, because I wanted to make sure I told people in my non-virtual life as much as possible first. Saying goodbye and preparing for something new takes a lot of energy – emotionally, physically…all the ways.

Nevertheless, I read an astonishing number of books this month. Books are my way of escaping from stress, and moving is stressful. Put two and two together, and you get a recipe for lots of reading…and some very late nights. (working on that)

Nonfiction

The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell

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I heard about this book in February from the Book Girls’ Guide February (Western Europe) Book Voyage list. But I had to wait awhile for it to come through on a hold, and then I postponed borrowing it for a few more weeks because I had more exciting books to read. You know how it is.

I’m glad I did eventually read it, though. The author, Helen Russell documents the lessons on happiness that she learns each month in her first year of living in Denmark as a foreigner (she’s British). Amazingly all the people she interviews for the book rate their happiness at an 8 or above. Usually a 9, though. While I certainly don’t agree with all of the Danes’ choices on what makes them happy (for instance, their views on sex and marriage), there are definitely fascinating tidbits and ideas about Danish culture that I enjoyed learning about. I also thoroughly enjoyed Ms. Russell’s dry British humor.

Talking as Fast as I Can By Lauren Graham

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This was my favorite read all month! I know I’m a little late to the party with this memoir by Lauren Graham, since it was published just before the Gilmore Girls reboot happened, but I loved her tone and the things she said. I listened to the audiobook (read by her) and it was delightful to hear her words in her voice.

This is, essentially, an autobiography that begins with her childhood and then focuses, mostly, on her acting career. But she throws in some nuggets of wisdom that she has acquired throughout her life. Her thoughts being single for longer than “normal” and how to be a more efficient writer really hit a chord with me and encouraged me. Her slightly rambly, humorous way of talking and viewing the world kept me laughing and nodding my head all the way through.

First They Killed My Father by Loung Ung

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I called the WWII books “heartbreaking” in my post two weeks ago. This was more than heartbreaking. More like it wrecked me. I think part of it is, perhaps, that stories like these happen all over the world, and not during a world war, but people don’t hear about them.

I read this book for the May Southern Asia Book Voyage challenge. I’d honestly never really heard of this regime in Cambodia before (to be fair, it happened before my lifetime).

Loung Ung tells her story from a child’s perspective, since she was only 5 years old when Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia and began a genocide of their people. Seeing the events through the eyes of a child is difficult. She saw more violence, brutality, and inhumanity between the ages of 5 and 9 than most of my readers will ever see in an entire lifetime. I have such respect for her, because going back into such traumatic memories in such detail is extremely emotionally draining.

I had to read this in smaller chunks than I normally read, simply because my heart couldn’t take image after image all at once of the violence and deprivation that Ms. Ung and her family experienced. For those with triggers, there is attempted rape, physical violence/abuse, etc.

Fiction

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

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I read this for April’s Book Voyage region of Northern Asia. This is a book originally written in Japanese about a woman who works at a convenience store for eighteen years straight despite her family and friends’ worries that she’s not “advancing” in life. Because, really, who works at a convenience store when they can get married or find a “better” job?

It’s narrated from the convenience store woman’s perspective, and, while she seems to be on the autism spectrum, she does offer some wry commentary on her culture and the idea of “advancement” that I appreciated. This wasn’t a super exciting book for me, but still worth the read. I’d give it maybe 3 or 3.5 stars.

Keeper of the Lost City Series by Shannon Messenger (update)

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I finished all the published books in this series after starting it last month: Neverseen, Lodestar, Nightfall, Flashback, Legacy, and Unlocked. I wanted to give a quick update on my thoughts of the rest of the series. While I still gobbled up the books, I have a few things to say. One: I don’t like series that have cliffhanger endings. I mean, seriously. Ending a book in the middle of a conversation? That just doesn’t sit right with me. I much prefer books that have an overarching plot line that keeps me reading the series, but individual ones that are more neatly wrapped up by the end of a given book.

Two: another reviewer on Goodreads (or Amazon?) somewhere said it felt like the author had lost her way with the series. I tend to agree. I mean, we’re on book 8.5, waiting on book 9, and we’re nowhere closer to beating the Neverseen and helping the world get better than we were on book 3 or 4. It feels like books 6-8 don’t really make any progress with any of the big issues in the world of the Lost Cities and that bugs me. However, I like the characters enough that I will be reading book 9 when it comes out this fall, and I’ll hope that the author shows us some progress in starting to resolve some of the bigger plot arcs.

Taken by Dee Henderson

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I loved and have re-read Dee Henderson’s O’Malley series, so I was excited to see another of her books that looked like it was along the same kind of lines. I’m normally not one for the mystery-suspense genre, but Dee Henderson usually adds enough romance and good guys that I can stomach it.

In Taken, Shannon Bliss escapes after 11 years of being kidnapped and forced to help with the family “business” of stealing, kidnapping, and other nefarious things. She enlists the help of a retired cop who has his own private investigative business since searching (and finding) his own kidnapped daughter.

Taken just didn’t have the same zing as Ms. Henderson’s O’Malley books. I kept waiting for the suspense part – I mean, Shannon was in danger of the family who kidnapped her finding her before they found them and took them down. But it never really happened. And then, I kept waiting, along with Matt Dane, for the emotional toll of 11 years of captivity to catch up with her…but it never really seemed to. It just didn’t seem realistic to me. So, again, this book was okay, but only about 3 stars for me.

Bridge to Haven by Francine Rivers

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I’ve read a few of Francine Rivers’ books, especially her famous Redeeming Love. Bridge to Haven was still historical fiction, set in and around the Korean War, and I think it was supposed to mirror the prodigal son parable. Abra runs away with a bad boy (an actual bad boy) and stays away from home for five years, trying to make her way as an actress. But she ends up in all sorts of unhealthy relationships and thinks sometimes of going back, but she feels like she burned bridges. As Abra is away from home, it flips between her life and the life of those praying for her in Haven – waiting for her to come back home.

I did like the overall message of the book, and Joshua (the good guy) is abundantly good. But the book reminded me a lot of Redeeming Love, which felt redundant to me. Plus, she described in too much detail the things men did to Abra while she was away. I think I have learned now that Francine Rivers writes books that are just a little too…edgy/steamy/whatever you want to call it, for me, no matter the redemptive aspects and unfailing love that are present.

Love Everlasting (Brides of Seattle Trilogy) by Tracie Peterson

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The Brides of Seattle trilogy follows the stories of three young women connected to a bridal school in Seattle during the period of westward expansion. Normally in series like these, each book follows one couple as they fall in love, etc etc while the characters that will be in the following books are just on the edges of the action. However, what I found fascinating about this trilogy is that Abrianna and Wade’s story, while definitively the focus of the third book, actually begins and is developed in books one and two.

In fact, I was going to skip book two and just read about their relationship in their third book. But as soon as I read the first page, I realized I couldn’t skip book two because so much happened between them before book three.

I found this trilogy enjoyable and light to read. There is a man in all three books who is very nefarious and give me the creeps, which is not normal for books like this. But don’t worry, the good guys eventually win (of course). I enjoyed the fact that this trilogy included enough out of the ordinary bits, even though to some extent it was also predictable. Though this trilogy isn’t anything spectacular as far as literature goes, if you’re looking for some comfortable, happily-ever-after, chaste stories, I’d recommend these.

Student Spotlight: Middle Grade Reviews by Middle Grade Kids

My Hero Academia Vol. 1 by Kohei Horikoshi

This book was created first than the series like all but something interesting about the book is that it has more information than the movies .

Izuku Midoriya lives in a dimension, place or something like that were superheroes exist or are real. 80% of the humanity is superheroes and the rest are not and and this is the main character named Izuku.

Izuku he didn’t have superpowers but he wished he had. The came this mysterious man that was the 1 hero and made a treatment that he will give his powers because he showed the courage to put himself in danger for those he loved and that’s another story.

My first reason that you should read this book is because it has a series but the book gives more information about the story and the characters life. My second reason is that the book has pictures and words equally like in a kid book the only thing that it will have is little sentences and a lot of pictures. A more adult book has no pictures or maybe a couple but this book has the both.

My personal experience is my favorite book because it is funny and it has actions and surprising things that you didn’t think would happen in the plot. And I recommend this book because it can be found on many different applications you just need to put the name of the book and there it is that why I recommend it.

Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume

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“Fudge, Fudge, Fudge, Fudge, I hate you.” Peter had a problem was his little brother.

I recommend this book because it’s funny and has a lot of creativity. I also recommend this book because it has a lot of details. I felt this book because it’s a really funny book and fun for kids. *spoiler alert* In the end Fudge is better and Peter gets a new dog.


Overall thoughts on my reading month:

I’m really loving the Book Voyage challenge, because it’s pushing me out of my reading comfort zone! And there are so many great books on each list, that I feel like I’ll have reading suggestions for a few years to come.

The books I’ve been finding on my own have been mostly okay but a little blah. I think I need to work on finding good books instead of settling for meh ones. And also work on going to bed earlier and finding some comfort and relief from sleep and time with Jesus instead of always trying to find it in books.


What have you been reading lately? Drop a line in the comments below, because sharing [great reads] is caring! 🙂

P.S. Linking up, per usual, with Modern Mrs. Darcy’s Quick Lit.

7 thoughts on “May 2021: Recent Reads

  1. I enjoyed Convenience Store Woman – it was one of my rare audio books, so perhaps narration helped. Good luck with the move – we sold most of our stuff and moved to Europe from the US three years ago, so I know how it feels.

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    1. Hmm I wonder if narration would have made Convenience Store Woman better for me. Good to know.
      And thanks for the well wishes on my move! Moving overseas is not for the faint of heart! 🙂

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  2. Some great choices here, and what a variety! I just got sent a review book called Magpie by Elizabeth Day. It’ll be published in September, but it’s amazing so far!

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  3. Thanks for the info on Bridge to Haven. I feel the same about Francine Rivers. I like the receptive themes of her books, but Redeeming Love was a bit steamy for my taste. I think I remember the Mark of the Lion books being tamer in that respect. I really enjoy Tessa Afshar’s Biblical fiction. She stays away from the steam and has very well-researched writing. I wrote about one of them in my latest book review post, if interested: https://elle-alice.blogspot.com/2021/04/april-book-reviews.html

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    1. Yes, absolutely! I agree that the Mark of the Lion books are tamer, but Redeeming Love and Bridge to Haven, no. I always like to THINK that I can “handle” books that are steamier, but God has been showing me very clearly lately how that’s not helpful for my mind or heart. (And honestly, I don’t like reading books while feeling the need to brace myself for the parts I’ll need to skip. I shouldn’t have to feel the need to “handle” anything. I’d rather read a book confidently knowing it’s okay to visualize whatever is in there. It can feel tough to find those sometimes, but I’m working on trying.

      Thanks for the recommendation on Tessa Afshar! I’ll take a look at your review. 🙂

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