Reading, Reviews

Summer Reads for You

How’s your summer reading going? I’m still looking for some great books for this season, which is why I was recently so excited to get an email from book blogger extraordinaire Sarah Mackenzie about her own favorite books. She has flawless taste, as many of you already know. I eagerly opened up the email, clicked on “Sarah’s Favorite Adult Reads” and…oh no…all but one of them, I had already read! Talk about dismay! But it’s delightful to know she and I like the same books. =) Now, my search continues.

If you, too, are still searching for the perfect book for your beach/pool/living-room-in-front-of-a-fan reading, I am here to (hopefully) help! Below are my favorite books I’ve read in the past six months, from historical fiction, nonfiction, middle grade novels, a couple of vintage finds, and three books releasing this summer that I’m really looking forward to.

Happy summer reading!

Historical Fiction

The Last Bookshop in London – Better than The Kitchen Front but in the same vein, with more Guernsey Literary themes and similarities. I loved it, even if I have read way too many WWII novels.

Finding Dorothy – A fascinating novel set during the making of the The Wizard of Oz movie that centers on Frank Baum’s wife and her experiences.

Fantasy

Piranesi – Did I totally understand this book? No. But sometimes it’s nice to read a book you ponder for weeks, and this one was quite the page turner after about 30% of the way through. I really enjoyed it.

Middle Grade for All Ages

Pie – I loved this book so much! I read it on my own and a week later started reading it aloud to my kids, ages 4-12, and every single one of them begs for another chapter when I say it’s time to stop. The characters are so well done, and the writing portrays every scene as if it were playing out like a movie in front of your eyes. The book begins with a death, though not a violent one, so you may wonder, “is this going to be too sad and heavy for my young readers?” but I really do not think it is.

The Mother Daughter Book Club and Much Ado About Anne – I walked by these books on the library shelf many times before I decided to pick them up, and I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed them! I’d recommend these for girls ages 12 and up, or grown up women who like a good coming-of-age story centered on mother-daughter relationships and great literature.

Non-Fiction

This Beautiful Truth – Newly released book that deserves a post of its own soon! It’s amazing, beautifully written to communicate how the world around us, though broken, is still such a gift.

The Life You Long For – Should this have been grammatically correctly titled The Life For Which You Long? …either way, it’s an excellent book that goes well beyond popular self help books but remains very readable. It was my favorite book in my latest Quick Lit post.

Don’t Overthink It – Read it even if you think you’re not an overthinker! I didn’t think I was, but it’s such an enjoyable read, and showed me some ways I was spinning my wheels daily in making decisions.

Vintage Fiction

(Who am I kidding, I liked the vintage novels the best!)

The Lark – Who knew that E. Nesbit of The Railway Children wrote books for adults? Not I! And I am so excited to discover this one! It is just lovely, light and well written with arch and snappy dialogue and the perfect amount of narrator interjection that Nesbit is so good at. Bonus- it’s only $2.99 on Kindle.

Home is If You Find It – This book from 1947 is so obscure, I had to add it to Goodreads. Yikes. But Thriftbooks still had it! I went on a hunt for it when my dad told me it was so funny, he’d read it several times (Dad, I know you would’ve lent me yours but I like old books on my shelves and who knows what would’ve happened to your copy in this crazy house…). It has not disappointed, and the illustrations sprinkled throughout are done by the legendary Paul Galdone.

July 2021 Releases I Can’t Wait For!

These three books are by authors whose work I have already read and loved. I highly recommend Where the Forest Meets the Stars, The Book of Lost Names, and Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers.

The Light Through the Leaves (as of right now, only $1.99 on Kindle!)

The Forest of Vanishing Stars

Radar Girls

Actually, my copy of The Light Through the Leaves just came in from the library, so I’m off to read it…

I’d love to hear if you read any of these and what you think, or what you’ve been reading this summer!

Everyday Life, Parenting

Our Summer Morning Tasks

I adore summer. The warmth, the long days of sunshine, the swimming, the freedom from schedules, the way we can eat on the back porch and jump right into playing and reading and creating all day long…I could go on and on. But seven people in a household creates quite a mess of laundry and food prep and house cleaning, with or without an ongoing school year! So even though it’s summer, we have to crack the figurative whip to keep everyday work from drowning us. Enter, our summer morning task list! It’s not rocket science, but man is it life changing for us. Each day has its own special task that my three oldest kids take part in.

I love this system so much, and though they probably wouldn’t readily admit it, I can tell my kids are pretty happy with it, too. Our sudden drop in responsibilities to start the day from school to no school had us all feeling unhinged after the first week. I’m finding that even at a young age, kids crave a sense of accomplishment and collaboration to start off their days. When kids pursue all fun all the time, they can feel the imbalance of reward with no effort, but when we’ve worked together to beat a challenge, even something as mundane as a dirty living room, and then we go on an outing or simply soak up time at home building Lego creations and playing in the backyard, there’s a sense of rightness to it everyone can feel and appreciate.

Between our Summer Morning Tasks, our own fun Summer Reading program (courtesy of Pam Barnhill), and our neighborhood pool, things are almost zen around here. (If you believe that, you think better of us than you should, haha! I have an almost teenager and a 7-month-old with three kids in between, after all!) But you know you’re in a good season of life when your biggest complaint is not being able to find a good summer fiction read. Sob. Nothing I’ve read lately has ended up being very good, which makes me terribly sad. You’ve got to help me! I always struggle with novels this time of year because there’s a lot of buzz around “beach reads” and the stereotypical beach read can be kind of airy, lacking substance. I’m going to give Next Year in Havana a try because it looks so summery and rich and I’ve heard good things, but I’m taking all recs.

Until next time, happy reading and happy summer!

Children's Books, Everyday Life, Homeschooling, Nonfiction, Parenting

Favorite How-To Books for Kids

Hi, readers! Can you believe it’s almost summer vacation time! Maybe you’re dreading all that free space in your children’s lives, or maybe you’re like us right now: every May, as our school year winds down, everything we’ve been doing all year suddenly feels unbearably stale and burdensome. Our minds have already taken in a lot, and they’re begging us, “Please, not one more date and important historical event to remember, not another science fill-in-the-blank sheet! For heavens sake, do not give us another “fun” book report assignment!” As the seasons transition to more sunshine and energy, we naturally want to run and play.

So how do we finish the academic year strong?

Or how do we keep our minds engaged all summer without killing our souls with more of the same schoolish stuff?

We pull out some how-to books and learn some skills with our hands!

Here are our current favorite how-to books. I’d love more ideas if you have them!

Sewing School 1 and Sewing School 2 – These books are so perfect for kids who want to learn to sew. They include pictures and detailed instructions, patterns…everything but the actual sewing materials. The projects are very doable in just a few hours (or less!) and will appeal to both girls and boys. My six-year-old daughter, nine-year-old son, and eleven-year-old daughter have all enjoyed these projects! If you don’t have a sewing machine for the projects in Sewing School 2, this machine has been awesome for us. I am a very out of practice and mediocre seamstress, so I am totally re-learning as I go along with the help of these books.

Cooking Class – This is the best starter cookbook for ages 5-8! The recipes in Cooking Class are easy to follow along, tasty, use mostly wholesome ingredients, and don’t require trips to the store every time your student asks to make something from her very own cookbook. I gave this to one of my six-year-old for Christmas and she has made many recipes out of it. They were all delicious and crowd pleasers.

In Bloom – As I mentioned in a recent Things that are Saving My Life post, I love this book even more than my kids do. We also have several other how-to-draw books, like this one about cartoon cars and this one about horses. I have heard amazing things about the classic Drawing with Children and have had it on my shelf from my mom’s days of homeschooling for years, but haven’t pulled it out yet. Next week I plan to open it up and try it. Maybe I’ll do the Brave Learner method and sit down with the book at the kitchen table by myself, start drawing, and see what happens….

The Redwall Cookbook– Any cookbook based on whatever literature/books your kids are into right now will be a welcome change to an otherwise ho-hum school or summer day. My two oldest have been devouring the Redwall series, and my son is always raving about how good the feasts sound. Both he and his older sister were so excited to get this from the library! Until they realized it features quite a lot of vegetables…English mice and other animals have very different tastes than American children, apparently! But they have been writing up grocery lists for me based on the dessert section, and that has been worth it.

That wraps up our favorite how-to books that are keeping us sane as we finish up the school year. May is also the time of the year I seek out a movie or two based on the literature or history or whatever connections to our studies I can draw. Last year we finished out with the film version of our literature read-aloud, Anne of Green Gables. This year I don’t see an obvious connection between what we’ve beens studying: The Gold Rush and Simon Bolivar, and also Newton’s Laws of Motion…any ideas for me??

I hope your school year ends well and your summer gets off to a great start! I’ll be back with some book reviews in just a few days, but until then, Happy Reading!

Children's Books, Quick Lit, Reading, Reviews

Spring Quick Lit Update 2021

It’s spring, it’s spring! We’re drinking in greenness and azaleas and sunshine and yellow pine pollen (unintentionally) and books, books, books!

Today I’m doing a quick lit recap of what I’ve been reading lately. Let’s start with fiction.

Still Life – I know I’m really late to this party of readers who are crazy about Louise Penny’s novels, but now I am here and loving it. I have fallen deep into Louise Penny’s Three Pines series, featuring the kind, wise, fatherly Inspector Gamache. Penny is a splendid writer and her books are transporting and thoughtful, despite the murder mysteries they revolve around. I am on number 7, listening to most of them on audio. Because they’re set in Quebec, it is nice to hear the proper pronunciation of the French words and names sprinkled throughout the books. 5 stars for the series.

The Kitchen Front – While I promised myself I would not read another WWII book set in continental Europe for a loooong time, I will never be able to resist a book about the English home front during the war. This book had an appealing plot but, sadly, was a bit saccharine. The character development was rushed, and it was very much a character driven novel. I liked Jennifer Ryan’s other two books much better. 2.5-3ish stars.

Mr. Dickens and His Carol – This is a lovely book that transported me right into Victorian London. I read it shortly after Christmas, and can’t recommend it as a December read more, especially if you’re a fan of Dickens. 4 stars.

How the Penguin’s Saved Veronica – I had a hard time getting through this book. Hazel Prior’s debut novel, Ellie and the Harpmaker, was beautifully written, but maybe I’m just not an animal lover enough to enjoy all the info about penguins, or a cold weather lover enough to enjoy the Antarctic setting in her latest book. [But I don’t know…I did like Where’d You Go, Bernadette?] The characters didn’t quite seem developed or nuanced enough to seem like real people you’re getting to know as you read, either. 2.5 stars.

Jack – I am ashamed to say I had to return this to the library before I could finish it. I blame Louise Penny. Up to this point, I have been mesmerized by all of Robinson’s writing, and expected to soak in her beautiful thoughts and words as usual when I picked up her newest book. Yes, the wording of the conversation between the two main characters was exquisite, but it was extremely hard to get through more than two pages at a time. I plan to try again someday to finish it.

I’m currently reading Across Five Aprils for the first time at the recommendation of my mom. I generally avoid Civil War stories because, well, the time period makes me cringe. But this book with its thoughtful characters and setting on the border of North and South is timeless and beautiful.

Non-Fiction

Don’t Overthink It – Though I’ve read Anne Bogel’s blog for many years, I’ve never picked up one of her books until this past winter. I love her writing style! She has a conversational approach and explains her topics in clear but enjoyable English. I wouldn’t call myself an overthinker in general, but after reading this book, I can see how anyone can fall into an overthinking trap about various facets of life. I’m not in the middle of Bogel’s Reading People.

The Life You Long For: Learning to Live from a Heart of Rest – This is the best book I’ve read this year. Christy Nockels writes a thoughtful and loving book urging us to understand who we are as God’s beloved and then live from that place of understanding, instead of striving. It’s hard to describe how great this book is, how both deeply meaningful and practical it is, but I hope you’ll pick it up.

The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz – Wow, this book blew me away. Not only did it read like a novel, I was pulled back in time by it, reliving it as if I didn’t know how the story ends. I had never understood how much of an underdog England was at the start of WWII, or what dire situations Churchill faced in being completely unready for a war. When I finished it, my husband picked it up to read and is enjoying it, too.

Read Alouds

I read aloud every day to my kids, ages 11, 9, 6, and 4. In this past spring semester, we’ve read The Prairie Thief and Red Sails to Capri. My six-year-old loved The Prairie Thief but the rest of us weren’t as enthused about it…we found the story to repeat itself a good bit and stall out in the first half. We are all loving Red Sails to Capri, with its historical setting on an island near Italy, humorous and real characters, and adventure. Next I am thinking about reading aloud a book I loved when I was a girl, Jane Flory’s The Golden Venture. I checked it out from the library many times and then one day, it was on the free pile at the front door! We’ll end our history studies this year on The California Gold Rush and this book made that time period seem real to me when I was a kid; I’m hoping it will do the same for my own kids!

What have you been reading lately? I’m always searching for more great books!

Everyday Life

Colored Pencils to Cookbooks to Coffee at 2:00 – Things That Are Saving My Life, Winter ’21

A few years ago, I attended a delightful favorite things party that was disastrous for me. You may know about these parties…they’re like high stakes cookie swaps. Instead of swapping cookies, you bring a small item that gives you an inordinate amount of joy, and leave with someone else’s favorite item. I went to this party and watched twenty of my friends and acquaintances share their favorite little things, and I realized I hadn’t stopped to appreciate any little things in a long time. The thing I brought to that party wasn’t really much of a favorite of mine at all.

Since that wake up call, I’ve been keeping a list. I like to save my Favorite Things list to share in the dead of winter when Anne Bogel asks on her blog “What’s saving your life right now?” February can be a hard month. We’re so over winter at this point, but hibernation isn’t an option. Drat. As I looked over my list this year, I noticed that some of my lifesavers are products but the most important are practices. So, as we enter yet another month of gray, wintery weather, I hope that seeing some of the items or practices getting me through winter will stir you to think about your own favorites and how you can make the rest of this season more livable.

Prismacolor Pencils are our favorite!
  1. 2:00 O’clock Coffee Break – Instead of asking myself at 10:00 a.m., 11:18 a.m., and 1:37 p.m., “Should I make another cup of coffee?” I have decided once and for all that at 2:00 p.m., I will sit down with a second cup of coffee. I like to read or write while I drink that second cup, but sometimes I jot down a list or grade somebody’s schoolwork. Often I’m holding/nursing my 3-month-old. But I look forward to the 2:00 o’clock cup every day, even if the “break” only lasts 10-15 minutes.
  2. Friday grocery pick ups – Here’s another “decide once” life saver. I load my Aldi Instacart all week and then pick it up on Friday morning. Finally, we have food on the weekend, and I don’t have to stress over when I’m going to grocery shop every week. I also stick to theme nights for meal planning, like Kendra Adachi recommends in her book. It goes something like Monday Soup, Tuesday Tacos, Wednesday Roast Something, Thursday Convenience Food, Friday Pizza, Saturday Grill, Sunday Leftovers.
  3. Saturday Chores – Much like the Friday grocery pick up decision, the Saturday chores give me peace all week. When Thursday comes and I think, “Eesh, our bedroom carpet really needs vaccuming!” I don’t have to expend any energy wailing “When will it ever get done?” because I know: Saturday. We clean the bathrooms and vacuum everywhere, and I thoroughly clean the kitchen. Even if that’s all that gets truly clean some weeks, we’ve got a baseline that makes me feel less crazed in the brain.
  4. Prismacolor Pencils and Sharpener – Our homeschool is so much more enjoyable with these colored pencils. We do our map work with them and whatever other coloring we do, for school or fun. They are silky smooth and rich in color, and actually last a very long time! We’ve had our set for five years and use it daily. The Prismacolor sharpener is also a must! Regular pencil sharpeners wreak havoc on these soft pencil cores. Last winter (before I spent most of my down time holding Baby #5), I really enjoyed these pencils and In Bloom: A Step-by-Step Guide to Drawing Lush Florals. I’m completely inexperienced at drawing, so if I can enjoy it, anyone can! [On the art supply front, I am in search of good markers! Crayola just isn’t cutting it, so if you have some markers you love, let me know [Edit 4/26/21: We actually have come to love Crayola Supertips, thanks to Leanne for recommending them!]
  5. Ethique Shampoo Bar – I started 2020 trying to reduce plastic use in my home. Some of my attempts didn’t work out at all. Clean Cult products didn’t actually clean very well. Darn. But the Ethique shampoo bars are perfectly amazing. I started with a sample pack and found that my favorite is the Frizz Wrangler. It both cleans and moisturizes; I don’t even use conditioner anymore. I would use this shampoo bar even if I weren’t trying to reduce plastic. I also can honestly recommend Dropps laundry detergent. I switched from Tide with Bleach to Dropps and I can’t tell a difference. Our family of seven goes through a 210 pod order twice per year, and I love that it’s a subscription I don’t have to think about.
  6. The Whole30 Cookbook – Laugh if you want but these recipes are seriously good! We use a lot of them whether we’re in the middle of a Whole30 or not. My kids love the Italian Meatball Soup and I cook the Cherry Chipotle Chicken and the Chicken Cutlets with Roasted Pears on the reg (that second recipe is on the page linked above).
  7. Kindle Paperwhite – My Kindle is a crucial part of my reading life right now. Even though I prefer paper books, I wouldn’t get half as much reading done if I couldn’t read in the dark while holding baby Peter. I bought one for my husband for Christmas this year because I knew he would get a lot more chances to read if he had a backlit e-reader, too. (Hint – the refurbished ones work great!)
  8. The Convect Bake Mode – A friend recently told me that the fancy convect mode on my oven really just means that the fan continuously blows the heat around the whole oven so the bake is even. What??? I have been bemoaning my gas oven for two years and how the bottom is so much hotter than the top. I have to put everything on the highest wrack possible and things like cookies still have blackened bottoms and pale tops! I tried convect bake a couple of times last week and the difference was amazing. I should’ve read that user manual a long time ago. (Thanks, Megan! I owe you a batch of evenly baked cookies!)

9. Adoration – Introduced to me by Sara Hagerty’s book Adore, this idea has really meant a lot to me lately.

I’d love to hear what’s saving your life this winter, too! And for more Favorite Things on this blog, follow the links below. May the rest of your winter be warm and cheerful and full of good things, especially good books!

The Things that are Saving My Life Right Now – A Favorite Things Redemption Story

Favorite Things, 2018 Winter Edition

What’s Saving My Life, 2019 Winter

Cherries and Wicker – A Summer Favorite Things List

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