Here are the books we have read this month and what we thought of them…
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts 1 & 2 by John Tiffany (Adaptation), Jack Thorne (Adaptation), J.K. Rowling
I reviewed the play here and some of my thoughts are similar about the screenplay being in book form. It’s a quick read for a Harry Potter book, since it’s not really a book (308 pages that I knocked out in a day. Other than the first two I never knock out a HP book in a day). There are pros and cons to this that are obvious and more covert: Potterheads long for more canon material but this wasn’t written by Rowling alone, which does irk me a little. It is designed for the stage and so only reading the script causes the reader to miss some key things, like effects and nonverbal communication. Scorpius’s impact most notably suffers from not seeing the play live. Yet those who cannot or choose not to go to London want to experience it, so they sold it as a book.
As I said in my play review, they reintroduce a lot of the original stories. It has the same feel as going back home to my parents house and seeing that they’ve knocked down a wall or redone the bathroom. It’s weird, but not in a bad way. Overall, it is a fun read and I’m not haughty enough to say it’s a must read for fans of the series, but it does have Rowling’s stamp of approval and it is able to both add to and honor the heart of the original works. I’d much rather have a 7-book volume on Harry’s parents and Snape but I will take whatever I can get from this already classic fantasy series.
On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness (The Wingfeather Saga #1) by Andrew Peterson
With a fairly hearty endorsement from many on the staff of REO, I bought this book last Fall in an attempt to stretch myself in fantasy reading outside of the same three authors I continuously read. My first attempt didn’t get very far: it’s certainly a unique opening and out of my Tolkien-Lewis-Rowling comfort zone. Filled with a brand new world and described often by footnotes, I got bogged down. But I tried it again this month and I pressed on and by mid-book I was hooked. Entertaining characters, cliffhanging chapter endings, a classic good vs. evil thread that runs through it…it’s got it all. The story resets itself often – it seems an adventure is about to begin but it stalls for the greater story being told. The ending was not quite as enjoyable as other similar works. And while not close to graphic, there is violence and death, which surprised me based on the assumed young target audience for the book. But overall I like it and recommend it. Andrew Peterson’s skill as a storyteller in song transfers admirably to children’s fantasy.
Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell
A year ago, I released an article for REO on how I talk to my wife and talked about sarcasm. This spawned a discussion where fellow contributor Michael Lytle told me about a book that made the case that sarcasm isn’t always a bad thing. I finally got around to reading this best seller this month. I’m to the point in my life where I don’t mind having my pre-understandings turned upside down if presented with logic and research and practical examples. This book does exactly that on the topic of how we think, evaluate and make decisions. Can you learn more about people better from seeing their room for 20 minutes than from interacting with them for a year? If you are a fan of Sherlock Holmes or similar works in that genre, you will probably like this.
Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance
This has been called the “must read” book of the year. Some have claimed that is the best book to read if you are wanting to understand how Trump could have won the election. I have no idea if either of those things are true, but I will say this was a fascinating book. Based on what I had read ABOUT the book I was expecting more social and political commentary. While the book did have some of that, it is really just one man’s story, and that is not a bad thing at all. The themes of the book really hit home with my family having just adopted a child who was born into the exact type of environment this book describes. Mamaw and Papaw have quite an extensive vocabulary so be warned that the language gets pretty rough in places.
Think Like a Freak (Freakonomics #3) by Steven D. Levitt, Stephen J. Dubner
I loved Freakonomics, the first book by this writing team. I was about 10 years late to the party in reading that book but found the information to be very interesting. I may not agree with all their conclusion, but I love their unconventional way of looking at problems. Think Like a Freak is not quite on the level of Freakomomics but still very much worth your time. The authors have a way of taking subjects that I did not even realize I was interested in and making them enjoyable and informative. Any book with a chapter titled – “What do King Solomon and David Lee Roth have in common?” will always have a place in my heart.
A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life by Donald Miller
I started reading this in 2015. I got about halfway through and gave up on it. There were things about it that I really loved but Miller’s writing style frequently got on my nerves. He makes great effort to sound dumb and intelligent all at once and it doesn’t work as well as he thinks it does. I finished it last week and my feelings really didn’t change much in the intervening years. I wish I had better things to say about it. I just didn’t connect with it.
A Wrinkle in Time (Time Quintet #1) by Madeleine L’Engle
This was the second time I read this book and I walked away more impressed than ever. L’Engle not only tells a thoroughly interesting story, but infuses it all with so much heart it’s hard to describe. I’ve yet to read the rest of this series but that has quickly become one of my highest priorities in the coming months. As for the story, it’s an amalgam of science fiction and fantasy elements with a heavy dose of spirituality and faith. Beautiful stuff and I can’t recommend it enough.
Shadows of Self (Mistborn – Alloy Era #2) by Brandon Sanderson
This is book two in the second Mistborn Trilogy. This trilogy is set a few hundred years after the events described in the first trilogy. It’s a world of Allomancy, Feruchemy and Hemalurgy. Take my word for it: If you enjoy fantasy/action, then there are few series better than this one. Sanderson has always been skilled at world building and compelling, intelligent plotting, but it’s with this second trilogy that he really shows off his sense of humor, something that was lacking in his early works.
Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance
While this reflection on the culture of the Appalachian hillfolk is certainly relevant in our current political climate, I read this book for more personal reasons. My parents both come from regions of the country considered to be culturally “hillbilly”: my father from the Appalachian area of southern Ohio and northeastern Kentucky and my mother from the Ozarks of southern Missouri. They both come from working class families of Scottish or Scotch-Irish descent.
I had a drastically different upbringing and family life than the author thanks to the grace of God and the good life choices of my parents and their parents and so on, and I never have actually lived in a true hillbilly culture or region myself. Due to the wide variety of places I’ve lived and their cultures, I don’t fully belong to any culture, but I feel a connection to this one on some level and wanted to learn more. This book did not disappoint.
Warning: this book does contain quite a bit of strong language.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Harry Potter #1) by J.K. Rowling
I’ve read the Harry Potter books several times and count them among my favorites. This time I read this book with my boys (ages 8 and 10), and it was their first time. They enjoyed it immensely and can’t wait to start the next book.
Check out fellow REO contributor Ben Plunkett’s review of this book here.
The Monster in the Hollows (The Wingfeather Saga #3) by Andrew Peterson
We have been reading The Wingfeather Saga (The Monster in the Hollows is the third book in the series) together as a family, one chapter a night, for several months. This is my third reading, my eldest son’s second reading, and everyone else’s first. I hope to do a more thorough review at some point, but I enjoy the entire series immensely, and wholeheartedly recommend it.
Unstuffed: Decluttering Your Home, Mind, and Soul by Ruth Soukup
On it’s own, I don’t think this book would really inspire much change in my life and habits. However, I found it to be encouraging and complimentary as I am attempting to implement lessons learned by last month’s reading of Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and Kim John Payne’s Simplicity Parenting.
Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
I read this book because it was supposed to be funny. It wasn’t.
Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman
An unlucky, crippled Norse boy helps Odin, Thor, and Loki attempt to retake Asgard from the frost giants who captured it and banished the Norse gods to Midgard. A very enjoyable read, suitable for young adults.
Steelheart (Reckoners #1), Mitosis (Reckoners #1.5), Firefight (Reckoners #2), and Calamity (Reckoners #3) by Brandon Sanderson
The Reckoners trilogy (Steelheart, Firefight, and Calamity) and short story (Mitosis) is Brandon Sanderson’s take on super heroes and villians. For the past decade, some ordinary people have, seemingly at random, gained super powers, but all have become evil, and chaos has ensued. The Reckoners are a group of normal people who attempt to fight back against those with super powers, called “Epics”, as well as try to discover why these people became Epics and why they are all evil.
This isn’t my favorite of Sanderson’s stories, but it was still interesting and fun to read. Even the worst of his stories (and this isn’t the worst) are better than most sci fi and fantasy authors’ best stories.
This series is targeted at young adults, but I think it is better suited for those at the higher end of that age range.
El Deafo by Cece Bell
This graphic novel contains the story of how author Cece Bell became mostly deaf as a young child and dealt with being treated differently as a result. I really like the message of turning a disability into a super power.
One of my kids was assigned this book for summer reading for school last year, and all of my kids absolutely love this story.
The Time of Our Lives: A conversation about America; Who we are, where we’ve been, and where we need to go now, to recapture the American dream by Tom Brokaw
In this book Tom Brokaw describes the idea of the American dream from the perspective of the past and the present and suggests solutions we can implement in order to ensure the American dream is achievable in for future generations.
I agree with him on many of the problems he describes, but don’t necessarily agree with all of the solutions. It was thought provoking though.
I listened to this one rather than read it, and I do really enjoy listening to Tom Brokaw regardless of what he’s actually saying.
Six Frigates: The Epic History of the Founding of the U.S. Navy by Ian W. Toll
I have no idea what a mizzenmast or a jib is. Fortunately for me, my lack of maritime vocabulary did not keep me from enjoying this book about the early days of the U.S. Navy. The author not only tells his reader about things at sea during those days, but also about the political climate in the fledgling republic that would become the United States of America. The book covers the historic campaign against the Barbary pirates and then moves on to the War of 1812. I learned a lot from this book and I recommend it to anyone who wants to learn more about early American history.
Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship by John F. MacArthur Jr.
While I’m not a complete cessationist like MacArthur, I did appreciate his very thorough examination of the Bible’s description of the nature and work of the Holy Spirit. I also appreciate how he didn’t pull any punches when calling out the heretical words and behavior of many of the best-known purveyors of the Word of Faith movement and the prosperity gospel. I do not think it is fair, however, to use the extreme examples of charismatic theology to characterize everyone who is a part of that very large camp.