What I Read: January 2018

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January 2018 Book Reviews

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See – I’ve read and loved all of Lisa See’s novels except for her last, China Dolls, which just didn’t grab me. (I think I put it down halfway through.) So I was a little worried that Tea Girl, her new release, might disappoint. I needn’t have worried, though – The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane is the best of See: eye-opening about Chinese culture, fresh, original, vivid, stunning.

In it, we’re introduced to the ethnic minority Akha people and their rituals of life as well as harvesting tea. Some of these rituals, which we’re introduced to quickly, seem shocking for taking place in the 1980s and 90s. I was honestly not sure I was going to make it through the book after the heart-wrenching events of the first two chapters, but I was urged by some fellow readers to keep going, and I am very glad I did.

Li-Yan feels herself slipping away from her culture as she witnesses this tragic event and then does something unpermissable to her family. Choosing a different path, we follow both Li-Yan through her life, tracing her path through that of the tea of her country gaining fame.

I know this seems vague, but I would always say not to read even the back of the book blurbs when it comes to plot; I almost always think they give away what should be surprises. Suffice to say, Li-Yan’s break from her people and finding her way back is intriguing and beautiful.

Harvest of Gold by Tessa Afshar – Yes, this was on my Read-the-Shelves challenge for 2017 for those of you keeping track. So I didn’t quite make it. (I still have three other books from that I haven’t read. Head palm.) It’s short and light and there’s no reason I shouldn’t have read it before now, but oh well.

This is the follow-up to Afshar’s Harvest of Rubies, about the (fictional) scribe Sarah, in biblical times during the exile in Persia, who is given in marriage to a court aristocrat. (Tiny review at #63 here.) In this one, we see a lot more of Sarah’s cousin, the cupbearer Nehemiah. We follow Nehemiah, Sarah, and her husband Darius as they trek to Jerusalem to uncover a plot and rebuild the walls of the temple.

I adore how Afshar makes the biblical events come alive. She has a real talent for writing vivid characters who are realistic. Sarah and Darius and even Nehemiah are far, far from perfect, but they work it out between themselves and God as the novel progresses. Afshar continues to be one of my very favorite Christian fiction writers out there.

The Bitter Side of Sweet by Tara Sullivan – I like the roam the YA section of our local library and grab what looks good; this book came from one such trip. It’s a unique story about brothers in the Ivory Coast, made slaves to the cacao fields there. When a girl is brought to the plantation for the first time, life as they know it is shaken up, and older brother Amadou finds that being complacent with his life is no longer an option.

It’s a sad, hard story to read, but one that brings light to slavery in the chocolate industry. Sullivan obviously feels passionate about this cause and urges her reader to feel the same. My daughter is actually studying chocolate in school, so I was able to share a little bit about this book with her and why people would want to choose fair trade chocolate.

Short by Holly Goldberg Sloan – I heard about this middle grade novel on What Should I Read Next? and thought it might be something my daughter (9) would want to read since she’s obsessed with musicals right now. But since she’s also not into reading very long books on her own, after reading it I returned it to the library. Maybe she’ll be willing to tackle it in a year or so.

In this one, Julia is forced to try out for a local production of The Wizard of Oz alongside her brother, who is the obviously talented actor and singer. All Julia is is tiny, which seems to bring her right to the role of a Munchkin. As the summer progresses, Julia seems to find herself anew through the world of theater.

I did like the book, although it seemed to be missing a little bit of Julia’s relationships with kids her age. We understand her two best friends are out of town, but she has no relationships with other peers for the whole summer, instead befriending an adult actor and her elderly neighbor. These relationships are interesting, but it doesn’t seem to show us the whole picture of Julia. The latter part of the novel lagged a little for me, too.

How to Hug a Porcupine: Negotiating the Prickly Points of the Tween Years by Julie A. Ross – This book is highly recommended by Meg of the Sorta Awesome podcast. While it is aimed toward middle schoolers, most will say the “tween” years start at 9. And in our home, my oldest child turned 9 in October. We’re already seeing some of that tween behavior and trying to cope with the fact that she’s not a little girl anymore.

In this book, Ross outlines a lot of stories from parenting groups she’s held and uses the stories to offer the reader guides to parenting tweens. Scripts, tactics, and reassurance all show up here. I found most of Ross’s work to be extremely helpful as I look at raising tweens for the next million years. (OK, no, but really, like 12 years.) I did think the section about the Internet was pretty outdated; what are the chances our kids are not going to put pictures of themselves online? I’m thinking VERY slim. But all in all, I think it was a worthwhile read and one I will probably go back to.

The Road Back to You by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile – While the Enneagram seems to be having its heyday right now, I’ve been hearing about it for several years (again, on Sorta Awesome!). The Road Back to You is an excellent primer about the nine types of the Enneagram; the authors are knowledgeable, relatable, and funny. I listened to this on audio through Hoopla, and it is read by Ian Cron (from whose point of view the book comes anyway). He was a great narrator, and I couldn’t stop listening! I think the Enneagram is really hard to figure out by online tests, unlike Myers-Briggs. Reading about all the types and especially the list of things each type might say was much more helpful than taking any quiz for me. I love that the goal of the Enneagram is really spiritual growth and self-improvement, and I highly recommend this book as a good place to start if you’re interested in it at all.


That’s it for January! I’ve already finished three books in February that I’ll be eager to share with you. You can always follow me on GoodReads if you want, too. What have you been reading?

This post will be added to QuickLit at Modern Mrs. Darcy.

My Read-the-Shelves Challenge for 2017

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I don’t make a lot of reading goals – I like to read what I want to read, when I want to read it. (Perhaps that’s a personality thing. I am an INFP.) I do make a GoodReads goal that I think is reachable, just for fun. (This year mine is 80 books.)

But after I read a whole lot of new releases last year, I decided to make a small goal this year of reading my shelves. Whether these are actual books on my actual bookshelf, or books I’ve bought for my Kindle, I’m trying to get through some of what I already have.

So far, I’m not doing so hot. I picked out 10 books to tackle in the first three months of 2017, and I’ve only read one of them so far. Maybe by posting them here, you will hold me accountable for reading them! (Or at least that will happen in my head.) Or you can convince me to give up on a title that’s not worth the time.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi – This is one I snuck in, because I bought it for my Kindle when it was on sale right after Christmas. And it’s the only one I’ve read so far. Review coming in my January book round-up.

Light a Penny Candle by Maeve Binchy – Why haven’t I read this yet? I have no idea. I think I read half of it at one point and then put it down for some reason. Binchy is one of my very favorite authors and I’ve had this book sitting on my shelf for years while I’ve read all of her other work as it’s come out. (While she was living and even now, posthumously.) This is the year I actually finish Penny Candle!

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova – This book has made it from my shelf to my parents’ and back to mine, and I don’t think any of us ever read it. But after hearing someone give it rave reviews on the WSIRN podcast, I am excited to dive in to this creepy thriller. I think it will be an excellent wintery read.

Boundaries with Kids by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend – I know I really need to read this, but I have to make myself read nonfiction. Also it scares me.

Rhinestone Jesus by Kristen Welch – Yep, this one kind of scares me too. But so does being complacent.

The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio by Terry Ryan – This true story has great reviews, has been made into a movie, and just sounds like plain fun. I picked it up in a thrift store a couple years back and I am ready to dig in.

Bittersweet by Shauna Niequist – I’ve read and loved Shauna’s other books Cold Tangerines and Bread & Wine; I don’t know why I’ve let this one sit on my Kindle for years unread. I just downloaded it on my phone to be my stuck-nursing or waiting-office read.

Notes from a Blue Bike by Tsh Oxenreider – Notice a theme here? I really like Christian living books. I WANT to read them, especially those by bloggers I’ve read/met/love. But I often push aside nonfiction for the new fiction I want to read. I really enjoy Tsh’s writing and philosophies, and I can’t believe I’ve let this one languish since (SHAME) June 3, 2014, according to my friend Mr. Amazon.

Emily of New Moon by L.M. Montgomery – I waited until I was 34 to read all the Anne of Green Gables books. What a travesty! I ADORED them, and so reading Emily is next on my list. I have the whole series on Kindle, but I will just put this one on the “by the end of March” list.

Harvest of Gold by Tessa Afshar – This is the follow-up to Afshar’s Harvest of Rubies, a fictional story about Nehemiah’s cousin Sarah, also a scribe. I ADORE Afshar’s books. This one has a 4.8/5 rating on Amazon so I am pretty sure it’s not going to disappoint me, either. (If you are at all into biblical retellings, check out her book Pearl in the Sand about Rahab. It’s so good. And it’s only $3.49 for Audible, which is kind of awesome!)

So those are my first 10 books on my Reading-the-Shelves challenge for this year. Anyone want to join me? Or do you have other reading challenges for yourself this year?