1.14.2019

reading rainbow

Becoming Mrs. Lewis by Patti Callahan--5 stars: I've been a C.S. Lewis fan for a long time, but I never knew much about him other than his writings. The only thing I knew about his wife was that he wrote A Grief Observed after her death. The story of how C.S. Lewis and Joy became husband and wife is truly incredible. When their friendship started, Joy was stuck in a marriage to a verbally abusive, philandering, alcoholic husband in upstate NY, and Lewis was teaching at Oxford. Through a series of events, she wound up writing a letter to C.S. Lewis on the off-chance that he could answer some of her many questions about God and faith. Not only did he respond, but they became incredibly close friends through letters, as she was one of the rare people who shared his level of intelligence and wit. The book takes a slow and methodical approach to their relationship, showing the deepening of their friendship and change in life circumstances over the course of a decade. It is absolutely charming and delightful. C.S. Lewis has such a stodgy, unattainably intelligent persona (at least to me) akin to Churchill, and this book humanizes him so much. I loved the peek at his real life, which was spent mostly walking outside, writing letters and books, teaching, and talking books with his friends at the pub. He lived a dream life, truly. I tried to pace myself through this book because it enchanted me from page 1, but I loved it so much I couldn't put it down. One of my favorites of the year.

I will say, I don't agree with all of Joy's choices and ideas about life (though who knows how much is fiction and what was real), so my endorsement of the book is not condoning her behavior. However, I think it's a real look at what it is to be a Christian struggling in this world, and I felt so much compassion for her.

For fans of: C.S. Lewis (duh), England, books and writing, garden descriptions

A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis--4.5 stars: After Becoming Mrs. Lewis, I had to grab this book to read about Joy in Lewis' own words. After reading the forward written by Madeleine l'Engle, I was so annoyed I could barely read the book. She claims to be a Christian and yet ridicules the very ideas in the Bible, claiming they are "not adequate." She also isn't shy about not agreeing with anything Lewis said. It's such a shame they chose her to write this forward! And now I have zero desire to read her books. But I digress. I found this book fascinating. It's more or less a raw diary of emotions after losing Joy to cancer. You can almost follow the stages of grief. He is very honest sharing his doubts and fears and questions. Everyone handles grief in different ways, but I related a lot to the questions and feelings he had. I did take issue with some theological problems--I do not believe in purgatory as he does. There is zero scriptural basis for that. He believes that when a Christian dies, they are still subject to misery. Where is the hope in that? Other than that, I loved this book. I related to it in many ways, and found it fascinating to delve into his mind. It was a little unnerving at times and sad, but I think it could be a great comfort to someone who has been grieving to know they are not alone in their feelings.

For fans of: Lewis, grief?, lots of feelings


The Great Good Thing: A Secular Jew Comes to Faith in Christ by Andrew Klavan--3 stars: I should have written this review right after reading the book, because my memory is already failing me. Klavan is Jewish by heritage and religion, yet grew up more agnostic than anything. As an adult he became a renowned author of novels and eventually found his way to God (or rather, God found him if you take the Calvinist view). The book follows his religious journey and details what it's like growing up in a Jewish family. He does tend to spend an inordinate amount of time complaining about his horrible father, and he WAS awful, but at times it felt as though it bordered on ranting and not always relevant to the story. The book was well-written and I found his depictions of Jewish culture fascinating, but as a book about why he became a Christian, I found it lacking in many ways. He took a very philosophical approach and reasoned his way to why he believes in Jesus as his Savior. And that's fine! To my memory, he spoke of nothing about sin and repentance and the true gospel. If you're going to lay out why you became a Christian, I think it's important to give a detailed explanation of the gospel in addition to your story. He also took some weird turns at times, like describing some out-of-body experience where he suddenly realized "everything is love" and that's all that matters. It was just...weird. Much of it didn't resonate with me and he sounded a little off-base at times. Still a fascinating memoir, and I have a lot of respect for him. I just wish he would have put more of the Bible in and less of his sometimes strange (to me) thinking.

For fans of: conversion stories, reading about growing up as a Jew in 1960s Long Island, philosophy


A Holiday by Gaslight by Mimi Matthews--2.5 stars: I read this little Christmas novella on Christmas Eve. It was...ok. It takes place in London, maybe around the turn of the century? Earlier? I can't remember. Anyway, there's a whole Pride & Prejudice vibe with a girl wanting to marry for love instead of money, but she neeeeeeds money, and then there's the dude who actually likes her but acts like he doesn't because he's a gentleman. The girl's family needs money and everyone is husband hunting and the two main characters go from seemingly not liking each other to liking each other, and I know these types of books aren't very realistic, but it felt like a really big stretch to me. I didn't hate it, though I didn't like the many many references to Darwin. I'll probably read it again at Christmas time one year when I'm in the mood for something lighthearted. It's a cute little book when you're feeling festive, but there are probably better ones out there.

For fans of: Pride and Prejudice but Christmas, Hallmark Christmas movies but in London a long time ago


The Tattooist of Auschwitz--5 stars: This book claimed a lot of sleep from me because I could not put it down. By chance, Lale got the job of tattooist when he was sent to Auschwitz. This gave him relative safety and extensive freedoms the other prisoners did not have. He eventually tattoos a women who immediately captivates him. He manages to help protect her from the guards and starts a whole black market in the camp. He is determined to do what he has to do to protect himself and Gita so they can leave the camp and marry one day, despite everything working against them. This book is a true story and INCREDIBLE. There is so much hope despite the indescribable cruelty and evil. I could say a lot more, but I won't. Just read it.

For fans of: I Will Plant You a Lilac Tree by Laura Hillman, All But My Life by Gerda Weissmann Klein, We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter, Holocaust novels





The Bride of Ivy Green by Julie Klassen--4 stars: This is the third book in the Ivy Hill trilogy. I'll admit, they're pretty cheesy, but they're so cozy and heartwarming to read. This was a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy, but there was a new character that I didn't love, nor did I think she really added anything to the story. The trilogy as a whole deals with the plight of women in England during the early 1800s. This book follows in that vein, and by the title I'm assuming you can figure out how it winds up. I can't really say anything else without ruining the other two books. They're the perfect books to curl up with at the end of a long day, though I will confess something. Some of the characters are so overly good and virtuous that it becomes mildly annoying at times.

For fans of: PBS Masterpiece Theater, cozy English villages where everyone is friends with everyone, Cranford


How to Find Love in a Bookshop by Veronica Henry--3.75 stars: I really enjoyed this book. Emilia's father has owned Nightingale Books her whole life. When he passes away, she takes it over. Discovering it's in terrible debt, she fights to keep it open. The book follows Emilia's battle to keep her father's beloved bookstore open, as well as the lives of local customers who grieve with her. The store inadvertently helps them all find love. The descriptions of the old bookshop and the cozy little English village are so charming. The customers' stories are cute and heartwarming. Mostly. I would have rated the book higher, but there's an adulterous relationship that is consistently validated and justified. Maybe I sound like a cranky old lady, but it really bothered me. It was NOT ok, but it's constantly described as just "one of those things" that happen in life and you can't help who you love. UGH. No. There's also a whole story line about how being a SAHM is the easiest/most boring thing ever and it means you're wasting your life. I rolled my eyes a lot as it was totally unrealistic. Other than those things, the book is a little sad as it deals with the death of Emilia's dad, but it's all about how the community rallies behind her and supports her, and it's just sweet and heartwarming. Also---I loved the main character Emilia. She devours books and plays an instrument and is always described as wearing jeans, converse, and sweaters. So basically, ME.

For fans of: books about books and reading about reading, The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald, The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenna Colgan, You've Got Mail, Love Actually but with books (I hate that movie, but there are a lot of similarities), adultery I guess, Hallmark movies but with more grit


Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens--4.5 stars: Hot dang, this book was a SAGA. It didn't look like they type of novel I'd be particularly drawn to, but I couldn't put it down. Kya grew up in the North Carolina marsh during the 50s and 60s. Abandoned by her parents and siblings and refusing to go to school since she was looked down upon as the "Marsh Girl," she spent all her time studying nature and wildlife. She meets a boy who teaches her how to read, further propelling her research and study of birds and feathers and all that stuff. The entire town steers clear of her and looks down upon her as trash because she lives in the marsh. She learns to survive on her own from a young age and isolates herself from society, until one day she becomes the main suspect in a murder case. This book is part coming of age/love story/murder mystery. It bounces around to different years in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, and is clearly inspired by the life cycles and such in the marsh. Super interesting. Slightly too poetic for me at times. A few minor sexual scenes. I truly had no idea how things were going to turn out or what the truth was until the last page. I was completely absorbed in this story. The author is a wildlife scientist, and you can reeeeaaalllly tell. Honestly, marsh life is not of much interest to me, so it's saying something that I enjoyed this book so much.

For fans of: The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah, The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls, frequent swampy descriptions, anything by Kate Morton, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, poetry, feathers

7 comments:

  1. Oh my goodness - I gotta get my hands on Becoming Mrs. Lewis!!!!

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  2. So is Becoming Mrs. Lewis not fiction? I was under the impression that it was based loosely on the real people but the story itself was mainly fictional? Maybe I completely misunderstood but I’ve been avoiding this book because the fictional aspect sounded annoying!

    I’ve got the Tatooist of Auschwitz book on my list and I can’t wait for it. Trying to force myself to finish two other books first, haha.

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  3. I love your book review posts, always adding your recommendations to my "to read" list!

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  4. The Becoming Mrs. Lewis book sounds like a fascinating read! I have read A Grief Observed...I liked your "for fans of: grief?" comment...it's kind of perfect because I doubt anyone would call themselves a "fan" of grief but when we find ourselves walking through it--I look back on the writings of other people of faith who have wrestled with grief while clinging to faith. "Lament for a Son" by Nicholas Wolterstorff is my "favorite" book I've read in the area of grief...I've probably read it five times or more. It's almost agonizing to read but also, reassuring in it's expression that yes, death is most emphatically wrong, and I don't have to be "okay" or "content" with it.

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  5. My mom just finished The Tattooist of Auschwitz and LOVED it.

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  6. Michelle, I already have SO MANY books from the library to read (and I keep renewing them, since I've been slow to pick up some of them) but everytime you post about books, my library "to read" list expands. It's such a problem! but a good problem ;) I am totally going to read that Tattoist of Auschwitz book, it sounds amazing and my eyes almost popped out when I saw that it's a true story. Wow! Also I'm definitely going to pick up that Becoming Mrs. Lewis book and A Grief Observed. I'm pretty sure A Grief Observed is on my parents' bookshelf, but I have never picked it up! I think it's interesting you mentioned that he believes in Purgatory-I never knew that (I do find the belief in Purgatory very hopeful, but I've grown up hearing and learning about it, so I have a different perspective on it). I am really going to have to pick up these books-I have been in such a mood for C.S. Lewis lately; I just read a non-fiction book where the author referenced C.S. Lewis' works many times, and I just started reading "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" to my toddler. I cannot remember-have you read "A Severe Mercy"? It's an autobiography about a man who is friends with C.S. Lewis and winds up converting to Christianity, and it's about his relationship with his wife. It's really good. And have you read C.S. Lewis' space trilogy? I read it years ago, and I've been thinking that I really need to re-read it, since it has been such a long time that I can't remember it very well.

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  7. Your book review posts always inspire me to get to reading! I wish I were blowing through books like you can. Anyway, all of these sound great, specifically the last one and the tattoo one!

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