Book Review: The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova

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I probably would never have picked up this novel of my own volition, but it was a selection for a book club I am in. Normally I steer clear of fantasy or anything supernatural; they’re just not my style. But although The Historian explores the idea of Dracula still living (that is, being “undead”) in the modern age, it contains enough realism and history that it didn’t pull me too far out of my comfort zone.

Writing The Historian must have been a massive undertaking, requiring tons of research, for Elizabeth Kostova (I read in an interview that she worked on it for ten years!). The book’s characters travel all over Europe to various libraries and monasteries, trying to uncover the truth about the historical Dracula (a.k.a., Vlad Țepeș, a.k.a., Vlad the Impaler) and why he seems to be affecting certain people in the present.

Because the book constantly transitions between narrators with very few introducing phrases, it can be challenging to keep track of who is speaking. This is not a casual read. I had to give it focused attention and only read it after my kids went to bed, as it doesn’t lend itself to interruptions.

Overall, I think The Historian is exciting and well-written, but I did feel like it got bogged down in details after the halfway point. The action does, however, pick up again about 75-100 pages from the end.

I am marking this book off as “A novel longer than 400 pages” for the #VTReadingChallenge.

Book Review: George Müller, by Janet and Geoff Benge

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I read this book with my kids as part of our Sonlight homeschool curriculum. It is well-done overall, and I am looking forward to reading other books in the Christian Heroes: Then and Now series (our curriculum for next year includes another book from the series about the missionary, Gladys Aylward).

It’s amazing to read how God took a dishonest, selfish rascal like George Müller, changed his heart, and used him so powerfully. Müller is, of course, best known for founding and running the orphanages which were home to more than 10,000 children, but he was also active in supporting education and missions work. He lived by faith, bringing every request to God in prayer, never asking anyone for money, and over and over, God met the needs of George and “his” orphans.

I will note that, when I read this book aloud to my kids, I did have to heavily edit a couple of disturbingly overly-descriptive scenes involving the use of corporal punishment on young George.

As far as interest level goes, my 7-year-old and 9-year-old tracked along well with this book. My 5-year-old needed frequent explanations and summaries of what was going on, but she liked the “answered prayer” stories about how God provided for the orphans.

I am marking this book off as “A biography” for the #VTReadingChallenge.

Book Review: Spiritual Sobriety, by Elizabeth Esther

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I wanted to read this book because I am somewhat familiar with Elizabeth Esther’s story of being raised in a fundamentalist Christian cult. I used to read her blog years ago, and I read her first book, Girl at the End of the World. So I picked this book pretty much based on name recognition alone. However, when Spiritual Sobriety arrived, it was not quite what I was expecting (I guess I thought it would be more of a memoir than the self-help-type book it actually is), and I realized that it is not very applicable to me personally. But it does look like a positive, encouraging, and helpful book for those who need to heal from a dysfunctional relationship with religion.

Elizabeth Esther explains that certain behaviors and thought patterns are so ingrained, when one has lived through an unhealthy church experience, that it can be hard and disorienting and painful–like getting over an addiction–to try to move on and live a normal life. When your identity has been obsessively wrapped up in something that turns out to be false, you have some major soul work to do…and Elizabeth Esther, who has walked through the process, provides guidance and many thought-provoking questions to facilitate healing in all areas of one’s life.

I received a free copy of Spiritual Sobriety courtesy of Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest opinion. I was not required to write a positive review.

Book Review: The Summer Before the War, by Helen Simonson

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When I saw this WWI-era book on the “new books” shelf at my library and realized that it was by the same author as Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, which I read a few years ago and loved, I excitedly snatched it up. And I enjoyed this book, although sadly, I didn’t love it and won’t re-read it. I guess when an author writes an amazing first novel, she has a lot to live up to, and unfortunately, The Summer Before the War, while interesting, is not of the same caliber as Major Pettigrew.

To me, this book was just too “busy.” There was far too much going on, from too many different perspectives. It also seemed like Simonson phoned it in on character development, especially of the male characters.

One of the blurbs on the back of the book says, “Simonson is like a Jane Austen for our day and age,” and I would agree that there are some similarities in style between Austen and Simonson. They both are masters of witty quips and have a way of pointing out the subtle hypocrisy and ridiculousness of “proper” society, while championing justice and integrity.

The Summer Before the War is an entertaining read, but I wouldn’t call it a “must read.”

I am marking this book off as “A book published in 2016” for the #VTReadingChallenge.

Book Review: The Sinner’s Guide to Natural Family Planning, by Simcha Fisher

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This “review” is going to be so brief it can’t even really be considered a review; I’m mostly just recording that I read this book for the  #VTReadingChallenge, marking it off as “A book by a female author.” (I considered using this book for the “book with a great cover” category,” because the cover did make me LOL, but the longer I looked at it, the creepier it became!)

I think to really appreciate this book, you have to be a Catholic woman who is really serious about following Catholic teaching. I’m not Catholic, so while this book was humorous and enjoyable to read, it wasn’t entirely relevant to me. Personally, I am interested in Natural Family Planning/Fertility Awareness because I think learning about my body is fascinating and useful (and that hormonal methods of birth control are unsafe for a woman’s health), but I believe that Catholic doctrine goes beyond what the Bible actually says about married intimacy (yay for the freedom of sola scriptura).

Book Review: Natural Family Planning Blessed Our Marriage, by Fletcher Doyle

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This book is a compilation of stories from 19 NFP-using couples, interspersed amongst information about the detrimental effects of conventional (especially hormonal) methods of birth control, both on women’s bodies and on society as a whole.

Although I am marking this book off as “A book from a theological viewpoint you disagree with” for the #VTReadingChallenge, I did like this book and agree with much of its reasoning. The book highlights several positive aspects of Natural Family Planning, including, but not limited to, the following:

  • It is good for marriages, because it requires trust, respect, and communication.
  • It facilitates knowledge and appreciation of the intricacies of a woman’s body (and allows her to identify and correct health problems if necessary).
  • It preserves and enhances fertility, unlike hormonal birth control, which can permanently alter a woman’s reproductive system, even long after she stops using it (not to mention the increased risk of cancer, stroke, blood clots, and other health problems caused by hormonal birth control methods).

In my opinion, the weakest part of the book is actually the vague and sparse Catholic theology behind Natural Family Planning that is presented. I’m not Catholic, so I don’t feel compelled to follow the teachings of the Catholic church, but still, I feel like the explanation in this book is lacking, and I wouldn’t have minded a little more depth.

Book Review: The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield

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As someone who “grew up” in church and accepted Christ as my Savior at a young age, it is especially interesting and powerful for me to hear the stories of how and why people from non-religious backgrounds decide to completely overhaul their lives in order to follow Christ. In her late 30’s, Rosaria Butterfield (then Champagne) made just such a costly choice. She renounced her life as (in her words) “a radical lesbian feminist professor” to become a Christian, and in so doing, she lost nearly everything that had ever mattered to her.

I was moved by Rosaria’s humility and courage, both in her initial decision for Christ and in the way she shares her story. Her love for and commitment to the Bible is evident. I appreciated her perspective on hospitality (hospitality is a major theme in this book), as that is an area I want to grow in.

Rosaria has also written a follow-up book entitled Openness Unhindered: Further Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert on Sexual Identity and Union with Christ, which I am planning to read soon.

I am marking The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert off as “a book by a Presbyterian” for the #VTReadingChallenge.