Everyday Life, Reading

Books of Bondage: Why I Broke Up With Some of My Books Today

When my husband and I moved into our second home after being married for two years, we had bookshelves that looked kind of like this:

 

The shelves really didn’t have anything to do with our decision to buy the house. No really… they didn’t….

I went wild at the freedom those bookshelves gave me. Used book sales were my favorite events. One library in our area has really great sales four times a year. It didn’t take long to fill our shelves. I’m sure we looked like a very intellectual couple. As long as you ignored that section of John Grisham and Janet Oke.

Everyday Life, Reading

Movies for Book Lovers

Do you get excited when a book you love is made into a movie? Sometimes I’m tempted to, but I usually manage to curb my enthusiasm. In fact, I’ve come to the point where I don’t even want to see the movies based on my favorite books. The Lord of the Rings movies stand out in my mind as failures in turning books into movies (I realize that many people think those movies are the bomb—they may be, but I can’t enjoy them because they didn’t come close to portraying the characters or settings in the way I imagined them as I read those books in my early teens). On rare occasions, the movie is good enough to stand alone as a great movie, but it just doesn’t compare to the experience of reading the book. Of course, there are exceptions. Little Women has been made into some great movies. I’m particularly fond of the 1994 version starring Winona Ryder. But as a general rule, I stay away from movies based on books I love. I do, however, enjoy movies that involve books in the plot. Here are the ones I like the best:

Despite the fact that Will Ferrell is the lead role in Stranger Than Fiction, it’s not technically a comedy (though there many humorous parts, which I guess makes it a dramedy). Ferrell plays a rather stale IRS agent whose completely predictable life takes a crazy turn when he starts hearing a narrator inside his head. His search to discover who the narrator is and why he is the subject of the narration leads him into a whole new life he never expected. Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson, and Maggie Gyllenhaal are excellent supporting actors in this quirky movie about a writer and books that truly come to life.

The hugely popular duo of Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan makes You’ve Got Mail the classic romantic comedy it has become, but many of the lines stay in my memory on their own merit. Meg Ryan’s character, Kathleen Kelly, says,

“Sometimes I wonder about my life. I lead a small life – well, valuable, but small – and sometimes I wonder, do I do it because I like it, or because I haven’t been brave? So much of what I see reminds me of something I read in a book, when shouldn’t it be the other way around?”

That line must resonate with book lovers. If I tried to track how many times per day something in my life reminds me of a book, I might go crazy. That line, and many others, makes me love You’ve Got Mail as more than just a chick flick.  It probably helps that the bookstore “The Shop Around the Corner” looks like the most perfect workplace on earth. All that’s missing is an ocean breeze and the aroma of fresh baked cookies.

Miss Potter is the quaint tale of Peter Rabbit’s creator, Beatrix Potter. The acting is stellar, the setting is beautiful, and the history and struggle of Beatrix Potter to be a published author is enthralling and informative in a historical way. I was captivated by the way Miss Potter’s characters were so alive to her, following her around each day and endearing themselves to her. I have this idea that when I finally hit on a good book idea, the characters in my mind will become alive to me as I’m writing about them. Maybe this doesn’t happen until you write and write–it sure hasn’t yet–but that’s the standard that always stays in the back of my mind.

 Finding Neverland is a beautiful film, from the scenery to the music to the really adorable children. Based on Finding Neverland (2004) PosterJ.M Barrie’s life, it follows his friendship with a fatherless family and how they inspired Peter Pan. The acting in the movie is phenomenal. There’s probably some actor somewhere with whom Kate Winslet can’t create chemistry, but I haven’t seen her fail yet (Exhibit A: her relationship with Jack Black, of all people, in The Holiday). I don’t know how historically accurate the movie is, but I love it still. You must watch it. If you don’t smile and cry at the same time while you watch it…well, we can still be friends. But I bet you will shed a tear or two!

I suppose an honorable mention should go Becoming Jane, though I really didn’t enjoy it. I couldn’t reconcile the witty, humorous novelist Jane Austen was with the tragic portrayal Anne Hathaway gave in the movie. Knowing Hathaway is a fantastic actress and does her homework thoroughly, I can’t argue with the historical accuracy. Still, I can’t help hoping that Austen in real life smiled a little more. Also, if you haven’t seen Dead Poets Society, I’d recommend it.

So what bookish movies do you like?

Reading, Reviews

July Reading

It’s July, and that means Summer just began, right? I live in South Carolina and we only just hit consistent temperatures in the 90’s. We had an actual Spring, for a change, and it lasted forever. No wonder it’s a jolt to my system when I walk into Target and see huge displays of “back to school” supplies. Wait! I haven’t even scratched the surface of my summertime goals! I haven’t made homemade popsicles! I haven’t finished the kids’ summer listeners reading program at the library! I haven’t been to a baseball game! Or picked out a preschool curriculum for my four-year-old! Or made that inspiring vintage chore chart I saw on Pinterest. I haven’t organized every closet in the entire house!

What’s worse, I haven’t found that awesome Summer of 2013 book. Luckily, my children aren’t school age yet and the end of summer comes at the end of, well, Summer, and not in mid-August. So I have time (theoretically) to do all of the above and maybe find a good book this summer. It’s proving to be a difficult task so far (although my Jean Webster discovery was a great treat!). To make the “difficult” reference clearer, I have started reading and abandoned halfway through no less than four books in the last three weeks. That is just sad. But I happen to be a reader who won’t stick with a book if I’m hating it halfway through. I stuck with The Last Summer because I really wanted to review it, and to review a book, you kind of have to finish it.

Here are the books I began but couldn’t finish. Please don’t count these as official reviews since I only read half of the books. And please keep in mind that these books are not “terrible” and I am not looking to give a negative review. I think lots of readers would really enjoy these books. I’ll just tell you why I didn’t enjoy it and try not to give much of the plot of each book away.

Redfield Farm: A Novel of the Underground RailroadI was excited about reading Redfield Farm. It was number one on my Summer reading list and has great reviews on Goodreads. However, after a few chapters, I was pretty disappointed in the narrative style. It was a little flat. I didn’t get a good feel for the setting. And then the plot twists that occurred just seemed so utterly out of keeping with the characters, I couldn’t keep reading without thinking “ridiculous!” every few pages. It’s true that people do unexpected things and make mistakes in real life. Still, the Quakers were engaging in some pretty uncharacteristic activities in this book. If I had enjoyed the characters, I may have kept reading, but I didn’t. I wish I had, because the premise of the book with the Underground Railroad and the Quaker community working together sounded very intriguing. I think that if you enjoy books by Janet Oke or Beverly Lewis, you may like Redfield Farm. However, be forewarned: this isn’t a Christian book, so it’s not as clean as Oke or Lewis.

Home RepairI picked up Home Repair from the library shelf on a whim. I read the description and thought it sounded kind of like a quirky, memoir type novel that is both humorous and insightful. Here’s the description:

Eve’s beloved Ivan died thirteen years ago in an automobile accident. Her charming, boyish Chuck has taken a different exit out of her life: hopping into his car in the middle of a garage sale with no forewarning and departing their formerly happy upstate New York home for points unknown. Now Eve’s a boat adrift, subsisting on a heartbreak diet of rue, disappointment, and woe-left alone to care for Ivan’s brilliant teenaged son, Marcus, and Chuck’s precocious, pragmatic nine-year-old daughter, Noni, while contending with Charlotte, Eve’s acerbic mother, who’s come north to “help” but hinders instead.

But life ultimately must go on, with its highs and lows, its traumas and holidays, and well-meaning, if eccentric, friends. A house and a heart in disrepair are painful burdens for a passionate woman who’s still in her prime. And while learning to cope with the large and small tragedies that each passing day brings, Eve might end up discovering that she’s gained much more than she’s lost.

I was in the mood for a present day, this-is-real-life type book. However, I got through most of it and then just let it go. I was trying to be interested, but the non-plot wasn’t quite neatly packaged enough. Maybe the real life situation was too far removed from anything I’ve experienced for me to feel the book was relevant to life. I think this book is probably a really good book, just not my type of book. I’d say that if you liked The Friday Night Knitting Club by Karen Jacobs, you will probably like this book. Another book of this type that I did enjoy was The Atlas of Love by Laurie Frankel. The characters in this book were always interesting to me and I am closer to their stage of life (graduate school, young mom days) than I am to the life stages of the main characters in Home Repair or The Friday Night Knitting Club.

The Perfume CollectorI saw The Perfume Collector advertised on Goodreads and borrowed the e-book from my library as soon as it was available. It was…well, rather sensual. I abandoned it pretty soon after starting it. Don’t read it if you dislike erotica. The characters themselves didn’t tempt me to keep reading, either. Grace was not very appealing–the smart, small, dark haired young wife of a professor who finds herself childless and feeling like a trophy wife, at best. That kind of character has been done so many times! The format of this book is one of those historical novels that shifts from a character in the past to a character in the present (the present in this book being the 1950s). I have read a few of those books that I really like (The Secret Keeper, for one), but I think that kind of plot can be clumsy if the author isn’t careful. In this book, it felt kind of clumsy. I wasn’t drawn in from chapter to chapter. I’ve read a few other reviews from people who did like this book to people who hated it, so you may have to just decide for yourself.

The Dry Grass of AugustFinally, the last “meh” read I’ve had this month was The Dry Grass of August. I picked this book up after deciding not to read The Homecoming of Samuel Lake and it became a case of “out of the fire, into the frying pan.” The book’s plot follows 13-year-old Jubie and her trip with her mother and siblings to Florida in the 1950s. It was similar in some ways to To Kill A Mockingbird but the thing about books written around the African American plight in the 1950s is that they will never come close to being as ground breaking because they weren’t written in that time period (obviously).  I’d also compare this book to The Secret Life of Bees but without the rich scenery and spirituality. It was actually a pretty good book, with a few too many crude details for my taste (I’m a prude, I know, I know). I probably would have liked this book better about five years ago. This summer, I’m just not in the mood for Southern lit.

I just received Islanders by Helen Hull in the mail last week and I am itching to begin it. Also, I still plan to read The Princess and the Goblin before the Summer is over.

How’s your Summer reading going so far?

Reading, Reviews

Downton Look-Alikes

I am both a critic and fan of the TV show Downton Abbey. I get a bit weary of the heightened drama by the end of each season, but I love the character development (especially of Lady Mary in Season 2), the compelling historical events, the beautiful setting, and the great acting. It’s the one TV show I watched last Fall. I can only imagine what it’s like for people who don’t watch it and go into a bookstore these days. DVDs of the show are on display, books about the “real” Downton Abbey are on the required reading table for high school students, and signs saying “If you like Downton Abbey” point to books with lavish settings and old stone mansions on their covers. I have to admit, I got drawn in by that last table. I wrote down two titles to check on at the library based on their “Downton-ish” appearance. Though neither came close to being as captivating as Downton Abbey, they did have the feel and the enthralling history of that time surrounding the first World War.

I’ll start with the one I didn’t actually enjoy. The Last Summer is set in Deyning Park, an English country estate. The title refers to the opening of the book, when the first World War has yet to begin and all the young people surrounding the main character, Clarissa, are frivolous and free. Clarissa is the youngest of the family of the Earl of Deyning. She is beautiful and thoughtful and a bit forward thinking. Yes, she will remind you strongly of Lady Sybil if you read the book. What’s more, she falls in love with the housekeeper’s son, whose name is…Tom. I can’t handle it. I feel like screaming “plagiarism!” Which may be unfair–for all I know, the author, Judith Kinghorn, may have started this book years before Downton Abbey aired. Maybe. After the first few chapters, the plot similarities stop, for the most part. The book continues as purely a love story. The Deyning family moves to London for the duration of the War, and the changes in the world after World War I affect them all. Tom and Clarissa’s love life is far from easy, so if you enjoy heart wearying love stories set in historical places, you will probably like this book. The similarities between Clarissa and Lady Sybil quickly disappear. I don’t think the book was all bad, but I had trouble finding any depth to the main love relationship beyond physical attraction. The lack of constancy in loving relationships throughout the book is also a negative to me. But the contrast of how the wealthy, “old money” families lived before the war and after the war was interesting. I’d give it 2.5 out of 5 stars, based more on the plot and characters than the actual writing.

The other book I read that tasted strongly of Downton is The House at Tyneford by Natasha Solomons. The novel’s setting begins in the Vienna of 1938. Elise Landau is the daughter of wealthy and artistic parents. Her mother, an opera singer and her father, a novelist, sense the changing political climate and send their young daughter to England, promising to follow soon. Elise is one of many wealthy Jewish immigrants who leave their native country and landscape of jewels and champagne for the English landscape of serving tea on the lawn between croquet games. Elise has a lot to learn, but the reader will find her likable in her determination to do what she has to without losing herself. If I had never watched Downton Abbey, I probably would have liked this book better. I couldn’t separate the Mr. Carson from Downton Abbey and the Butler in this story in my mind. They were one and the same to me. Otherwise, the characters were very different. The house was run in the same manner, the divisions between upstairs and downstairs were a big part of the plot, but the book is more comparable to Jane Eyre or Rebecca than to the show Downton Abbey. I liked this book for its setting and for the main character, Elise. It’s not a classic in the making, but it’s a good light read.

If you’re suffering from Downton Abbey withdrawals, these books could get you through until Season 4 begins. I think that going back to literature that was actually written in the early 1900s is an even better fix. Try Howard’s EndThe House of Mirth (not English but similar society drama), or Love in a Cold Climate.

     

If you haven’t read Rebecca by Daphne DuMurier, it is a classic that will never be outdated. It has influenced literature greatly and the style of books coming out now such as The House at Tyneford and The Violets of March are quite similar.

Happy English summer reading!

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Some Old Fashioned Goodness

Everyday Life, Parenting

I’m Upbeat

For better or worse, I tend to put a lot of thought into words. Even though two words can mean the exact same thing, I’ll weigh the options. Here’s an example: take the words “grumpy” and “irritable.” If I say, “I’m grumpy today,” I have said that I am in an unpleasant mood but it will pass and don’t take me too seriously. But if I say, “I’m irritable,” I convey that I am an easily angered person on a regular basis or I have some kind of condition, like a chemical imbalance or PMS. Words can technically mean the same thing but feel very different. And I get really stuck on them. If you give me a blank piece of paper and a pen and tell me to sit still for twenty minutes, you won’t find me doodling. When I was in elementary and middle school, my friends were professionals at doodles and bubble letters….and I was good at making word collages.

“Give me a topic, any topic, and I can make you a word collage!” Okay, I never said that. But I sure did think it.

Because I’m one of those people that thinks a bit too hard on words, I come across some words that rub me the wrong way. For example, I used to have major trouble with the word “upbeat.” When I heard it, I always thought of someone who ignores deeper issues, who acts like everything is okay no matter what, and who wears a kind of fake smile.  I thought of someone who frowns a bit when someone in a group stirs up a discussion and says, “We try to keep things upbeat here.”

Until recently, I’ve been pretty unkind in my thoughts towards “upbeat.”

Then something changed. It happened in January, that hallowed month of new beginnings. I was rethinking the way my days went, and one of the things I started realizing was that words I had always liked, such as “melancholy” and “pensive” and “soulful” were not really fitting me anymore. The thing is, you can’t really wake up each morning and expect to mother two happy children if you think of yourself as “soulful.” You have to think more along the lines of “optimistic” and “cheerful” if you expect cheerful children. I knew I was going to have to start identifying with different words. I may naturally be a more quietly active, contemplative person, but it was time to think of myself as more. It was time to start realizing I had become, and needed to keep becoming, a person who was more than those words I formerly used to define myself.

Like it or not, everyone knows that moms set the tone. I’ve known this since I was a little girl. Remember how everything felt off kilter when your mom needed a sick day or you could tell she was preoccupied with some inner worry? I remember that very well. I saw it in my own daughter’s eyes last week when her eyes filled with tears after I told her I didn’t feel like dancing with her right then because I had a stomach ache. It’s a minor illness to me, but it’s worrisome and tragic to her. And mothers seek to avert all tragedies, real or merely perceived.

January was when I started getting out of bed, facing the rainy winter day, and giving myself a mental pep talk. I would remind myself that every day is a gift, even January days, that my children would remember the feel of the days more than the things we did. I would try to remind myself of my bigger goals, like how I want them to be able to make believe and play with whatever was at hand. And I wanted to keep the TV off as much as possible. In these pep talks, I found myself speaking new words into my identity. “You are fun,” I’d say to myself. “You are full of grace and joy.” “You are giving and forgiving and open minded. You are not afraid of messes.” “You are magnanimous.” (Ha).

But none of these new, lofty words stuck like the dreaded “upbeat.” I started finding myself saying it all the time, kind of like a mantra. Upbeat. You are upbeat. I would remind myself of that when we ran out of milk and diapers again and had to go to the store,  as I bundled up the kids and herded them into the car: “just stay upbeat!” At first, I wanted to slap my forehead every time my inner consciousness told me to be upbeat. Then, I realized the word wasn’t going away. It had stuck as one of the key new words in my new mental word collage of who I am.

The great thing about word collages is that you can always add another word. I can add new ideas and character qualities without erasing who I am deep down inside. I’ll probably always be a person who is capable of living inside of herself for long stretches of time and not speaking a word for hours on end. I’ll always love a quiet walk on a lonely country road or an uninterrupted hour to read. But I like to think I’m expanding at the same time. I can enjoy running in a sprinkler outside. I can hide in a blanket fort with kids and tell stories. I can make the Lego men talk about the awesome trucks my son builds for them. I can make my kids giggle and shout with laughter during a pillow fight. I am becoming more playful, more energetic. More upbeat. It’s not always easy, but I hope to keep making progress on my mental word collage as I open myself up to claiming not only the identity I was born with but also the identity I was created to adopt. I’m sure there are plenty of other character qualities I need to adopt into my identity, but for now, I’m happy to be upbeat.

Like this post? You may also like Your Kids Have a Crush on You and Saturyet.

Reading, Reviews

Some Old Fashioned Goodness

What do you do when you feel like you’ve read all the classics? That’s a problem I’ve been dealing with for the last few years. The real problem is of course, the large amount of pride I must have if I think I’ve exhausted the classics. Of course, I certainly haven’t read all the classics. Is that even possible? But I feel like I’ve exhausted my favorite Victorian era literature such as Dickens, Eliot, Gaskell, Hardy, and those types of writers. I just want a new Jane Austen book, you know? (yes, I realize I’m confusing my eras and she was in the Georgian era, but she was a trendsetter, no?).

If you’re in this boat with me, here are a few classics I’ve discovered in my feverish search for new old favorites.

The Semi-Attached Couple and the Semi-Detached HouseEmily Eden has been called Jane Austen’s successor, though she is not quite the master Austen is. However, her humorous satire of upper class England in the early 1800s is very reminiscent of Austen. Her two novels, The Semi-attached Couple and The Semi-detached House, were popular when first released in 1860. I thought they were entertaining and fun. They are lighthearted, while so many of the novels of the mid-1800s were tragic (consumption again? really?). The plot is love and marriage, but it’s not boring because true love’s course can’t run smooth or there’s no need for a novel about it. Here’s the opening lines of the novel:

“Well, I have paid that visit to the Eskdales, Mr. Douglas,” said Mrs. Douglas in a tone of triumphant sourness.

“You don’t say so, my dear! I hope you left my card?”

“Not I, Mr. Douglas. How could I? They let me in, which was too unkind. I saw the whole family, father and mother, brother and sisters–the future bride and bridegroom. Such a tribe! and servants without end. How I detest walking up that great flight of steps at Eskdale Castle, with that regiment of footmen drawn up on each side of it; and one looking more impertinent than the other!

“There must be a frightful accumulation of impertinence before you reach the landing-place, my dear; for it is a long staircase.”

So you see, this book probably won’t stir your soul, but if you’re looking for a good beach read but you’re not into modern literature, or if you’re dying for more Jane Austen and all the modern Austen mania literature is not your cup of tea, Emily Eden is for you.

The Making of a Marchioness (Part I and II)Most grown women heard of or read Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden and The Little Princess when they were young. I love those books, especially The Secret Garden. As soon as my daughter is old enough to handle words like “plague” and “crippled,” I’ll be reading it to her. But I didn’t know until recently that Burnett wrote some grownup books, too. The only one I’ve read so far is called Emily Fox Seton or The Making of a Marchioness. While the plot isn’t going to jolt you much, it’s a very pleasant read if you enjoy the writing style of Burnett. Our heroine, Miss Emily Fox-Seton, is a respectable lady but very poor. She runs errands and performs tasks for elderly ladies to make ends meet. One of the great things about her is she is not beautiful, but her “usefulness” makes her attractive to various characters throughout the book. When she is invited to one of her patron’s summer home, the direction of her life is forever changed.

My husband went on an Alexander Dumas kick a couple of years ago. He read The Count of Monte Cristo and thought it was great. I read it afterwards and couldn’t put it down. In the end I decided it was probably a guy book–grim heroics and all of that.  But there was so much more plot in it that never makes it even close to the movie version I saw in the early 2000’s starring Jim Caviezel.  I realize that always happens when books get turned into movies. But seriously, they left out over half of the book. And also, the movie plot is mostly about revenge, while the book delves into many more themes such as mercy and forgiveness and how there’s always more than meets the eye to playing God. The plot starts with the Count being falsely accused of a crime by a man who has designs on the Count’s fiancee. Of course at that point, the Count is not the Count, but lowly Edmond Dantes. Edmond spends his time in prison and the rest of his life creating a persona of greatness and a plan for revenge. I understand why they had to shorten the plan in the movie, because the book develops each detail fully and intertwines many characters into the plot by the time all is said and done. The book’s end is more satisfying in some ways and less in others. Now that I’m thinking about it, I’d like to read it again! The Count is the only Dumas I’ve read, but my husband says the one he really likes is The Three Musketeers. He tells me it’s whimsical and fun loving and kind of like The Pirates of the Caribbean movies.

My latest old fashioned find is Jean Webster, author of Daddy Long Legs and Dear Enemy. I can’t believe that I haven’t heard of Jean Webster until now! I love her characters. I read Daddy Long Legs on Friday and I just finished Dear Enemy today. I am saddened that Sallie McBride is no longer in my everyday life. Daddy Long Legs is told from the point of view of Jerusha Abbott, an orphan who has grown up in the John Grier Home, an orphan asylum in New York (FYI, asylum does not mean the orphans were crazy, that’s just what they called orphanages back then). She is blessed by a benevolent trustee with a college education on the condition that the trustee will remain anonymous and that she will write him letters letting him know how she fares in her studies. Jerusha changes her name to Judy on arriving at college, and begins to write the required letters. But she happens to be a writer and a writer without anyone to write letters to, so her letters are full of everything. They are a treat to read. Dear Enemy, however, is even better in my opinion. It is a sequel telling what happens to the John Grier Home after Judy’s life there, and it is narrated by Sallie McBride. I would like her to be one of my best friends. If only she weren’t (a) fictional) and (b) from the 1910’s. Otherwise, I’m sure we would be the best of friends. I am on a mission to read all of Jean Webster this Fall. I have been neglecting my summer reading plans because of my discovery of this new favorite author. If you like L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Windy Poplars, I strongly recommend Jean Webster’s novels to you. In fact, I’m off to go download Webster’s first novel When Patty Went to College right now. I’ve decided I can’t wait until Fall. You can download her books at Project Gutenberg for free or Amazon has several free Kindle versions. See? There’s no excuse! You must read Jean Webster. Unless, of course, you don’t like old fashioned goodness. Then you’re excused.

Let me know what your favorite little known old book is! I am always on the lookout for old books I can make into my new favorites. 

 

Everyday Life, Parenting, Reading, Reviews

Saturyet

Hello! Welcome to Saturyet. I know you thought today was Friday. Friday has been cancelled. Now we’re in the magical in between day when it’s definitely not Friday but Saturday is yet to come. On Saturyet, oil changes do not take all morning. On Saturyet, diapers do not leak at 10:00 a.m. and end what was supposed to be a full day of errands. Or at least if they do, on Saturyet, mothers remember to replenish the emergency set of clothing that should be in the diaper bag. Children play nicely together with little to no assistance from their overly busy mother. They do not beg for a mile when they’re given an inch. On Saturyet, the cupboards can be bare of anything that actually constitutes “dinner” and nobody feels like she has to rush to the grocery store. Aldi doesn’t exist when it’s Saturyet. Saturyet is for staying in bed when you feel under the weather. Or for skipping town on a day trip to the beach when the sky clears after a week of rain. Saturyet is a break from the existence that starts to feel so petty and mundane, it becomes bone crushing.

If only Saturyet existed. A break from reality. But this is reality, and in reality Saturyet’s name is Denial. Bummer. I liked Saturyet better.

Are you wondering if I am dealing with depression? I don’t think I am. From what I can tell, most mothers and pretty much every person has days when so many little things go wrong in a single day that it just seems like the day should be scrapped. There have been no real tragedies, but the day just doesn’t seem redeemable. You’ve snapped at your kids a few too many times. You’ve forgotten a few too many important details. You can’t unfurrow your brow.

Okay, maybe that’s just me. But if you are a mom and you’ve ever felt that way, I have some books you should read.

The one that most recently rocked my socks off is Desperate: Hope for the Mom Who Needs to Breathe by Sarah Mae and Sally Desperate: Hope for the Mom Who Needs to BreatheClarkson. Sarah Mae is a mother of young children and Sally Clarkson is her wise mentor. I really liked the blended perspective of someone who is in the midst of mothering small ones and someone who has four children who are nearly grown. So many times parenting books don’t seem to really “get it.” They’re too removed from the fray. Or maybe they just can’t be honest. But Sarah Mae is definitely honest. She banishes pride and shares weaknesses because she wants to truly encourage, not just exhort. She wants moms to know they’re not alone in their struggles. I, for one, really appreciate her honesty. And I appreciate her wisdom to know that things are hard but it’s all worth it and there’s a way to do your best. Your best is worth fighting for and pursuing. One of the greatest things about this book is that Sarah Mae and Sally Clarkson talk about the importance of being an individual as you are a mother and sharing your own delights and passions with your children. Parenting gurus always say that no two children are alike, but they don’t often say that no two parents are alike. If you put a completely unique child (or three) together with a completely unique parent or two, you’re going to get a combination that requires figuring out every time. Probably multiple times. So I appreciate Sarah Mae’s and Clarkson’s position that parents should come at parenting with the decision to do their very best while at the same time acknowledging their passions and quirks as part of who they are as a parent and not part of who they were before becoming a parent. And that’s just a tiny bit of the book. It’s great.

Loving the Little Years: Motherhood in the TrenchesWhen my daughter was about two years old, several of my friends said I absolutely had to read Loving the Little Years by Rachel Jankovic. I’m so glad I have such bossy friends. Just kidding. They weren’t bossy. And I really did love the book. It is made up of “vignettes” or small snippets of mothering days and weeks and years. Jankovic writes with humor, and we all know that humor is a must when it comes to parenting. She also is very perceptive, and seems to look through some of the issues that come up with children and see the underlying problem. I would approach some things as “just a phase,” but she sees it as an opportunity to build character and guide towards lasting salvation. All the while, she keeps it light and readable. The sequel, Fit to Burst, is more of the same delightful stuff. They’re both tiny books, ones that didn’t actually take me that long to read.

The Mission of Motherhood: Touching Your Child's Heart for EternityI found Sally Clarkson’s The Mission of Motherhood to be really helpful in that she is good at laying out a sort of road map for her mothering journey. Clarkson is big into planning and setting aside time to write goals down. Her form of mothering is very intentional and focused on the actual people and not the methods. And it was encouraging to see how much she could accomplish through setting concrete priorities. I have read three books by Clarkson now, and this is my favorite one of hers so far.

Sparkly Green Earrings: Catching the Light at Every TurnAnd if you’re looking for a book to just lighten your mood, you should read Sparkly Green Earrings by Melanie Shankle. I laughed my way through it in two days. There are some teary moments thrown in there, too. It’s almost like a gift to read a book that combines funny with thoughtful and doesn’t tear anybody down while doing it. Funny in our culture is so often delivered in the form of ridicule. This book is funny and encouraging.

Mitten Strings for God: Reflections  for Mothers in a HurryAnd here’s a book with a horrible title: Mitten Strings for God. Oh my. It makes you think you’re going to read a bunch of little daily quotes, ala Chicken Soup for the Freezing Soul. I never would have picked this book up, but a blogger who’s mothering style I really appreciate (Sarah from memoriesoncloverlane.com) repeatedly mentions in, so I decided it was worth a try. And it was! It was about quieting down our busyness and to do lists and focusing more on being present for our children. Katrina Kenison writes as someone who hasn’t forgotten what childhood is like. She recommends things like making sure your children have a secret place. Doesn’t that sound delightful? It’s a peaceful but inspiring book to reflect on.

What’s on your list of favorite mom books?

Reviews

I’m Still Wondering

State of WonderState of Wonder by Ann Patchett was released in 2011, and since then it has steadily gained in popularity. It’s one of those books you see on the Target book shelf, so you know it’s a popular read. =) In it, Patchett tells a story of white coat scientists who find themselves in the Amazon experiencing science in ways they never thought they would. The science part is that they are in pharmaceuticals, trying to develop a drug that will allow women of any age and stage of life to become fertile again. The bark that a certain tribe eats in the Amazon is the basis of the miracle drug. The company that the main character, Marina Singh, works for sends her colleague, Anders Eckman, to the site of the bark’s growth and tribal use to track down the elusive and brilliant Dr. Annika Swenson. They then receive a letter informing them that Anders has died. Marina is nominated to find out what really happened to Anders and also to find Dr. Swenson and nail down a release date for the drug she has been working on for years. Marina’s journey from the frozen tundra of Michigan to the Amazon takes Marina (and the readers) to a world that is totally new. At least it was for me, as I’ve never been to the Amazon.

The beginning of this book was a little slow, and didn’t really pick up until Marina leaves Michigan. Then, it kind of stalls in the city where she first starts her search for Dr. Swenson. But when she finally gets to the location of the research, it becomes fascinating. The tribal people and the land they live in is understandably scary and new to Marina, but also strangely inviting. She finds herself coming out of the straight laced researcher and into a more adventurous woman. And she sees first hand what the work she does in a lab can do for, or to, real people.

The book raises the interesting question of what society would be like if women could decide at what point in their lives they want to bear children. Would women wait until their careers are completely fulfilled? Until they find the perfect partner in parenting? Until they feel mature enough themselves to parent children? If there were no bounds to fertility, when would women choose to have children? What would life be like for children if the majority of, parents started parenting in say, their 50s?

Though Marina seemed a bit of a watery character, I liked her alright. Dr. Swenson, on the other hand, was very complex. She was cold and had a wry sense of humor (maybe kind of like Dr. House on the TV show? Or Doc Martin for you Brits?) She emotionally disconnected herself from the women she was doctoring in the Amazon, had doctored in the States, and could affect through her drug development. She doesn’t seem to care much about anything. But by the end we see that her not caring actually hides a person who may care a great deal, but only about herself. Is she a villain or not? That’s the question I was left with.

Some readers were miffed by the scientific inaccuracies in the book. I am not and have never been in the medical field, so maybe that’s why it doesn’t bother me that a novel doesn’t read like Gray’s Anatomy.  I wasn’t reading it to learn how to properly perform a C-section, or to make sure of how long an Ob-gyn residency is. If I were reading a book that was based on my profession, maybe I would be a little bit more upset about inaccuracies. The ones in this book didn’t upset me that much, but there’s your fair warning: don’t read this novel as factual.

I liked most of the book. I didn’t like the ending. The actions of the characters at the end were very disappointing. I know it sounds immature and harsh and real reviewers don’t say this, but I found myself saying at one point in the last ten pages “well that was dumb.” But leave off the last ten to fifteen pages, and it’s an intriguing book. The proof of that is in the fact that I still find myself wondering about it.

Children's Books, Everyday Life, Parenting, Reading

Books for Little Boys

I am from an all girl family. I have two younger sisters, but no brothers. When we found out our first child was a girl, I was excited and, to be honest, rather relieved. Because what would I do with a boy? Being a mom to a little girl came pretty naturally. But then…oh, but then…I was about 85% sure about two months into my second pregnancy that I was having a boy. There were none of those signs you hear about like carrying the baby lower or higher or being sicker than last time or anything at all. The pregnancies were pretty much the same (speaking of weird signs, that one about heartburn being related to babies  who have lots of hair? It’s bogus. Both my babies had dark, thick, brown hair, and I had no heartburn whatsoever. I just had to let all two of you who care know that.).  But I was pretty sure I was having a boy. When the ultrasound confirmed it, I was very excited, but I was also a little apprehensive. How do I raise a little boy? And what’s even more daunting, what do I read to a little boy?

Just kidding, there are many parts of parenting a boy that make me feel more nervous than what books to read him. But it is something I had to figure out! So I thought I’d share what I’ve discovered so far as I read books to my son, Isaac, and watch his love of reading grow.

As a side note, my daughter really enjoys most of these books, too. Little girls like trucks! It was a revelation to me.

Farmer John's TractorI’ll be honest, I may love Farmer John’s Tractor by Sally Sutton more than my children do. It gives me a nostalgic feeling, and I don’t know why because it’s based in New Zealand and I have definitely never been there. Maybe it’s from watching all of those All Creatures Great and Small episodes with my parents when I was little that are set on Yorkshire sheep farms. Whatever the reason for my nostalgia, my kids really do love it, too. Read it on a rainy day and let your kids go out and splash in puddles on their bikes afterwards.

My Truck is Stuck!My friend recommended My Truck is Stuck to me because her two-year-old boy loved it (thanks, Jessica!). I don’t think I would have picked it up otherwise because I always gravitate more to books about people than animals (“How sad!,” some of you are thinking. It’s not a conscious decision, it’s just how I judge book covers, for some reason), but she was right, Isaac definitely loved it. In fact, we often say, “Can’t go! my truck is stuck!” when we’re playing with trucks. It’s a fun book.

Little Blue TruckWe read this book all the time. It’s one of those books that we got from the library and then bought as soon as we saw it in a store. Not only is the book beautiful and the story fun, but it teaches a great lesson about being kind to people (or trucks?) who haven’t been kind to you. It’s a keeper. The sequel, Little Blue Truck Leads the Way, has not been quite such a hit with our son, but we’ve only read it once since we got it from the library on Monday, so it may become a late blooming favorite. We’ll see.

Going to the Zoo with Lily and MiloBoth my children love the Lily and Milo books by Pauline Oud. They are fun because the illustrations give you a chance to be observant. Milo does some pretty funny things while Lily isn’t watching, like collecting friends at the zoo instead of paying any attention to the zoo animals. My daughter thinks they’re great and Isaac laughs out loud at them. He’s a laugher (no lie, he started laughing at 5 weeks and hasn’t stopped since), so maybe your kids won’t find them quite so amusing as he does, but they will probably like them. I sure do. =)

Roadwork!Roadwork is another one by Sally Sutton that Isaac loves. It kind of makes me sad because I have to admit, I verge on the tree hugger side of things (understatement), so seeing that beautiful pasture they start out on becoming a lovely highway isn’t so fun for me. But the project progression is pretty fascinating, especially to my little boy. We have gotten it from the library so many times, we really just need to buy it. But then I would be stuck reading it multiple times a day without the excuse that “we had to take it back to the library.”

The Bravest KnightThe Bravest Knight is an awesome book for boys. I really do want my son to think about being brave and chivalrous and all that. This story kind of puts a funny twist on the knight idea, though. My son is always laughing at the cat in the book. I think he may be a little young to really appreciate the story, but he sure does love it.

I’ve only scratched the surface of books I’ve discovered that my little boy loves. And I’m still discovering more. I may have to write a part two very soon. Please let me know which books the little boys you know love, too!

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