Fall Semester Book Reviews

While almost all of these books were for my English classes, there were many wonderful tales present over my semester’s worth of reading. It was a good set of fiction and nonfiction books, with a good variety for people of many tastes. In all honesty, I’ve always been someone who is not fond of nonfiction and I tend to think it’s incredibly dry, but I read some exquisite memoirs that have officially transformed my view of the genre.

Some of these books are easy reads and some require more effort and dedication, so whether you have multiple weeks of break ahead of you or only an hour after work every day, there should be something in the mix for everyone.

  1. Persuasion by: Jane Austen

Austen writes with such lovely language and this was my fourth book I’ve read by her (the others being Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and Emma). After reading four, I can also tell you her books all center on the same ideas: a wealthy family, romance, and endings that usually have everyone coupling off. While I think men could enjoy her books as well, they are usually going to be enjoyed by females mostly.

The story centers upon Anne Elliot, one of three sisters, who’s considered an outcast in her family because she’s not as concerned about wealth or beauty. This ties in closely to Elizabeth Bennett and Emma Woodhouse, protagonists of Austen’s other stories. As one might guess, the novel also centers upon the theme of persuasion and how that has an impact on decision-making and interpersonal relationships in one’s life, whether positively or negatively. People who enjoy romance and the importance of individualism will find this book entertaining. I gave it four stars, as I appreciated the themes and her smart wittiness and sarcasm among dialogue.

  1. The Glass Castle by: Jeannette Walls (reread)

Initially I did not plan on including this book, only because I have read it before in high school. However, since I reread it for class this semester, I decided to review it for those of you unfamiliar with the memoir, because it is a great story (and now a movie!).

This memoir follows former gossip columnist, Jeannette Walls, through her adolescent years, as she grows up within an incredibly unconventional family who lives a rugged, unstable lifestyle always on the move. A beautiful woman with a glamorous professional career, Walls initially generated extreme shock across America with the publication of the book, because the hardships throughout her past were completely unexpected. The book begins with Walls sitting in a taxi on the way to a fancy party, when her ride stops next to a woman rooting through the dumpster: her mother. The story is authentic, unforgettable, and a page-turner for anyone who enjoys an intriguing narrative. It’s definitely a five-star story and I appreciated getting to reread it to find new details I missed the first time.

  1. Jane Eyre by: Charlotte Bronte

Last year, I saw this story come alive through my college’s musical version, but the novel contains far richer detail than the play could ever have conveyed. Jane’s story contains themes of faith, romance, and independence—not too different from Austen’s style, except less sarcastic and more genuine in character interactions. Certain aspects are even reminiscent of Les Misérables, such as Jane’s firsthand experience of different social classes and a Christian friend who permanently influences her outlook on life, similar to Jean Valjean.

Unfortunately, I had to rush through this novel in particular and was not able to give it the full attention it deserved (as anyone familiar with college knows). But anyone who enjoys Austen’s work would appreciate it, as well as anyone appreciative of feminist undertones. I gave Bronte’s book four stars, because while there were many well-written sentences and sentiments, it would not be at the top of my recommendation list for everyone, like my five-stars.

  1. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by: Robert Louis Stevenson

Stevenson’s fictional work is very science-based and reminiscent of the scientific revolution within Britain’s Victorian era. (One of my classes was British literature, as you can probably tell.) It’s a novella and a quicker read if you’re not looking for too big of a time commitment. Some might classify the story as horror or science fiction, but I also think mystery is a large part of the plot. Without sharing too much, the story focuses on good versus evil, as well as individual identity. Anyone intrigued by mystery or science fiction would enjoy this story that I rated four stars.

  1. Holy Ghost Girl: A Memoir by: Donna Johnson

Johnson’s memoir centers upon the Pentecostal tent revivalist culture most prevalent throughout America in the mid-twentieth century. It forces readers to consider the religious practices and form an opinion on them, even though Johnson makes her opinions clear in this recounting of her childhood. Anyone curious to learn more about different denominations of Christianity, religion in general or aspects of culture that are lesser known would find this book a page-turner. Similar to Walls, the stories Johnson tells are extraordinary in good and bad ways. Her accounts will astonish and surprise you, especially her sentiments at the end. I gave it four stars, as it stood out as less of an objective perspective to me and the timeline was confusing—qualities I think are crucial in memoir.

  1. The Mountain and the Fathers: Growing Up in the Big Dry by: Joe Wilkins

Wilkins wrote this memoir about his life in the Big Dry, a place in Montana. With his father passing away while he is young, he continues to search for a father figure and his values without someone constantly there giving him direction, in this coming-of-age story. Every sentence breathes memoir covered in poetry; it’s an incredibly artistic book. Rather than a chronological story like Walls and Johnson, his is comprised of short chapters, each one a different memory. This book is great to pick up and put down if you have limited time to read, which makes it even more attractive to any kind of reader. Despite the general lack of female figures, I thoroughly enjoyed it as a woman and think it’s also an important dialogue for grasping the pressures and confinement surrounding the concept of masculinity.

This memoir was by far my favorite book I read this semester, considering I already read The Glass Castle. As my one new five-star read, I would recommend it to anyone and everyone.

  1. Uninvited by: Lysa TerKeurst

My friends and I are just finishing this book up as our semester ends, and it’s honestly the perfect book for group discussions. TerKeurst writes vulnerably and beautifully in this Christian book explicitly geared toward women. Concerning rejection, Uninvited speaks directly from TerKeurst’s personal experiences and how she has changed her perspective with God’s help, in order to keep the negative feeling from running her life.

I have only read a few explicitly Christian books, but I would probably give it four stars. That’s not to say it wasn’t great—it was! But certain chapters were not as engaging as others, and compared to other Christian books I’ve read, every sentence didn’t resonate as fully.

~Annah

Advertisements

Summer 2017 Books

Nowadays, reading can be a challenge for many, because we have an internal debate that was nonexistent even a decade ago: to read or to watch Netflix? Seriously, it’s a struggle. For me, they both always sound so inviting, but one has to win out over the other. My reading patterns consist of either seasons of constant reading or seasons without reading. But whenever I begin seasons of reading I always wonder why I ever stopped. It is relaxing, it is engaging, and it is fun. I wholeheartedly believe that if you don’t like reading, you just haven’t found the right book for you yet.

My “to-read” list is probably about a mile long, but this summer I was able to take out a teeny chunk of it. I’ve been tempted to start a new section of my blog where I review all kinds of entertainment, so why not kick it off with my summer booklist? I’ve read a wide range, from self-help, to novels, to religious books this summer. So sit back, grab a refreshing drink, and see what grabs your interest.

  1. Les Misérables by: Victor Hugo (Sort of…)

I actually already read three-quarters of this book two years prior for AP English, but I finally finished that last quarter this summer! (I know, very long overdue.) Although a long time coming, this is actually my favorite novel. I’ve realized what warms my heart the most within books are redeemed characters, which Jean Valjean most certainly is. The theme of redemption provides the hope that no one has to be enslaved to a certain lifestyle or attitude, and our circumstances are always susceptible to change.

This is also one of the longest books I have ever heard of with the most intricate detail and is not for the faint of heart. But if you want to really invest yourself in a story and characters with great depth to them, if you like the musical or movie and want more detail, if you enjoy seeing a cast of characters of all kinds, then this one’s for you.

  1. The Book Thief by: Markus Zusak

Set in Germany during Hitler’s reign and narrated by Death, this book became popular a few years ago. Unfortunately I was not a part of that trend, but after blowing through it in two days and crying my eyes out, I can confidently say this is one of my new favorite books. Voice and language is what Zusak does best and are the tools that will keep this story embedded in your mind. The characters are easy to fall in love with and the narrative is a powerful page-turner. I would recommend this to everyone, regardless of your reading interests.

  1. Mary Poppins by: P.L. Travers

I grew up with this movie and absolutely loved it, which may be part of the reason that I personally was a little let down by the book. I have always been a firm believer that a movie can never be as great as a book, but have always loved both equally in their separate entities (I’m a very optimistic entertainment-retainer, you could say). This is a lovely book for children, with its imaginative series of events. However, if you’re anything like me, and love taking deep themes and messages away from stories, this book is not the best for that. Something I really enjoyed from the movie was the character development of Mr. Banks and the contrast between the fun and silliness with Mary and the kids, to the serious troubles of an adult man, which really caters to every audience and hits a deeper chord. Mr. Banks’ development was not present in the book and Mary was also a much more serious and stern character in the book (although that character change had to have been a result of Disney.) Personally, I preferred the more lighthearted version of Mary that Julie Andrews portrayed and thought a stern Mary who created imaginative events wherever she went seemed a bit odd. But if you want a light read with lots of silliness and imagination, or a good book for your children, this is a great one.

  1. The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom by: Don Miguel Ruiz

This was a different kind of book for me, but I wanted to read it because it meant a lot to a friend. I’m really thankful I did, though, because I think it’s crucial to read all kinds of viewpoints and lifestyles, not just those like your own. That’s how we learn from each other and understand each other better.

This book is perfect for those of you looking to better your life and seek personal happiness outside of the major religions. I appreciated the sentiments behind the four agreements, and as a Christian, was able to see some similarities between the two different belief systems, which was super interesting. If finding new ways to personal freedom or seeking to understand other viewpoints interests you, here’s your book.

  1. Mere Christianity by: C.S. Lewis

I’ve always been a Christian who prefers to stick with the Bible and is not interested in other Christian books, but I ended up reading not only this spiritual book, but the next two on this list, which is really different for me. (Not going to lie, during the period of reading The Four Agreements and these three, I basically had separation anxiety from novels.) Lewis is so intellectual that it blows my mind. Everything he writes is so articulate and it makes me think he came out of the womb using words like ‘obsequious’ and ‘taciturn.’ Talk about thorough though, this book is 100% thorough. It’s also dense and not a quick read, so expect to really put your thinking cap on every time you sit down to read. This is not a book to change anyone’s mind about anything, but if you really appreciate sound, structured arguments with solid examples to back them up and/or you want to reaffirm your Christian beliefs, you have exactly that within this book.

  1. Mister God, This is Anna by: Fynn

This is one of my mother’s favorites and so I thought I’d try it out. Sure enough, I opened to the first page and she had ‘Anna’ and ‘Joy’ circled, which are my first and middle names. The author is actually the main character in the book and it appears to be based on a true story, but the difference between the truth and fiction is not certain. The story centers around a wild and confident four-year-old girl named Anna who is taken home to live with a nineteen-year-old man named Fynn and his family. In the time he lives with Anna, Fynn learns about ‘Mister God,’ this important relationship in Anna’s life. This book offers unique perspectives of God that may offer a fresh viewpoint for interested Christians.

  1. Jesus > Religion by: Jefferson Bethke

Like The Book Thief, I made quick work of this one. Not only was the title intriguing, but I’ve been watching Bethke’s YouTube videos for a couple years now and knew I would love his style of writing. Compared to C.S. Lewis, Bethke is almost the opposite writing style—very simplified but straightforward, with many emotional and real-life examples to back up his points. His points don’t require a ton of concentration, but may stir up some disagreement among Christians, as he focuses on how we are living/where we’re failing as a church versus how we should be living.

  1. The Good Earth by: Pearl S. Buck

As I write this, I still have 50 pages left, so this may be “cheating,” but I’m going to give my review from what I know of most of it. This is an incredibly intriguing novel that deals with Chinese culture and Buck received the Pulitzer Prize for it back in 1932. I never read nearly enough ethnic literature, so I’ve enjoyed this excursion (added to the fact that it’s my first novel in two months). It focuses on Wang Lung and his family as they battle through multiple famines and family hardships. This is a great book to help expand your cultural knowledge (within reason, as it is still a novel) and would also be awesome for a book club—my copy even has some great discussion questions in the back!

I hope you enjoyed this review post! There were a lot of ‘firsts’ within this group of books and the eclectic mixture ended up being really cool. So I hope you all could find one you’re interested in taking the time to read and I will try my best to keep reading and reviewing books whenever I can! I definitely have a reading list that will keep me busy.

~Annah