Category Archives: 2016 #VTReadingChallenge

Book Review: Housekeeping, by Marilynne Robinson


I love Marilynne Robinson and count her among my favorite authors, but this book did not do much for me. I feel like I would probably get more out of it if I were to read it a second time, now that I understand where Robinson was going over the course of 300+ meandering, metaphorical pages, but to be honest, I’m not in a hurry to re-read Housekeeping. It didn’t hold my interest, and in fact, because I kept putting it down out of boredom, it took me over seven months to finish (hence, for the #VTReadingChallenge, I am using it for “A book you have started but never finished.”)

Housekeeping is beautifully descriptive, but it would be more palatable if it had more dialogue, more plot, and more interesting characters. I never really got into it; I never identified strongly with any of the characters.

If you are already a Marilynne Robinson fan, you might enjoy reading this book, originally published in 1980, to see how she has developed as an author. But be prepared to be a bit disappointed.



Book Review: The Edge of Sadness, by Edwin O’Connor


The Edge of Sadness is the most stunningly well-written book I have read in a long time. I needed to read “a novel that won the Pulitzer prize” for the #VTReadingChallenge, and the title of this one intrigued me. I briefly glanced at a synopsis and discovered that The Edge of Sadness is about an alcoholic priest. I was a little concerned that the book might be too depressing  or creepy (for what it’s worth, it is not), but I decided to give it a try anyway, and I’m glad I did.

It is easy to see why The Edge of Sadness received a Pulitzer. It has much to say about the human condition: the search for purpose, the yearning to be known, the constant temptation to retreat into one’s self and become isolated….

(Those ellipsis points are a jesting tribute to Edwin O’Connor’s annoyingly excessive use of ellipses throughout this book. Sometimes I just wanted him to finish a thought, darn it, instead of trailing off. But that’s a minor gripe about an otherwise fantastic book).

Book Review: The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova


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


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: The Summer Before the War, by Helen Simonson


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


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


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.