Quick Lit, Reading, Reviews

Quick Lit! What I read in March/April/May

Time for Quick Lit! I’m linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy today as readers from all over the internet discuss what we’ve read in the past month. I’m a little behind, so this is my March/April/May. Hop on over and see what other readers are reading!

In the past couple of weeks we’ve featured the chapter books my kids (ages 7 and 5) have been reading and the middle grade novels I have loved lately. Now, it’s time for some adult books! Yes, even though novels like The War That Saved My Life and When You Reach Me are my new favorites, there are some grown up books I enjoyed in March, April, and May.

A Man Called Ove – Yes, I jumped on this bandwagon, and I’m pretty glad I did. Imagine an adult version of the Disney movie Up. Ove is an elderly, grumpy man who lives in a row house in Sweden. At first glance (and in the first few chapters), you don’t love him. You think he’s kind of beastly. But keep reading. This book is at times hilarious, often thought provoking, and ultimately quite a tearjerker, but in a good way. You might rethink how you feel about the elderly curmudgeons in your life (if you have any). (Side note on colorful language: this one has a fair amount).

The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir – If you liked The Summer Before the War, I can’t think of a more similar book. It is set in a small town before World War II (I know The Summer Before the War was WWI, but both have the looming gloom) and gathers characters from gentry to very poor, very young to very old. It was fairly good, but I was expecting to like this book more. The amount of issues squeezed into this one historical novel overwhelmed the story and my attachment to the characters. (Soapbox moment: Dear Modern Novelists, We know you are passionate about many things, but please don’t try to deal with all the issues in one novel. Just pick one, for the sake of your readers’ sanity). Still, it was the kind of book I usually enjoy as far as setting and characters go, though not worthy of the comparisons to The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

Tell Me Three Things – If you’re feeling like you could use a light, beachy, YA read with a chick-flick feel but also a bit of substance, this one’s for you. The characters and the plot with a smidge of mystery make this a quick page turner. The element of dealing with grief is actually very good; it’s insightful and heartfelt, very honest, but not drenched with sorrow. It’s more of a this-is-every-day-life perspective on grief a few years after losing a loved one. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this book. However, I’d rate this book at a PG-13 level. It has all the not-so-innocent stuff you might encounter in a movie like Ten Things I Hate About You or Never Been Kissed, so proceed with caution if you’re thinking of handing it over to your young adult.

My Mrs. Brown – Very reminiscent of Mrs. Pettigrew Lives for a Day. I can’t really sum it up better than the publisher’s blurb, so here it is below. It’s one of those books that I would say “reads like a movie.” A great beach read for women who don’t enjoy a typical romance novel but would like a fairly fluffy but not terrible and sometimes even thoughtful novel for vacation.

Sometimes a dress isn’t just a dress.

Emilia Brown is a woman of a certain age. She has spent a frugal, useful, and wholly restrained life in Ashville, a small town in Rhode Island. Overlooked especially by the industries of fashion and media, Mrs. Brown is one of today’s silent generations of women whose quiet no-frills existences would make them seem invisible. She is a genteel woman who has known her share of personal sorrows and quietly carried on, who makes a modest living cleaning and running errands at the local beauty parlor, who delights in evening chats with her much younger neighbor, twenty-three-year-old Alice Danvers.

When the grand dame of Ashville passes away, Mrs. Brown is called upon to inventory her estate and comes across a dress that changes everything. The dress isn’t a Cinderella confection; it’s a simple yet exquisitely tailored Oscar de la Renta sheath and jacket—a suit that Mrs. Brown realizes, with startling clarity, will say everything she has ever wished to convey. She must have it. And so, like the inspired heroine of Paul Gallico’s 1958 classic Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to Paris, Mrs. Brown begins her odyssey to purchase the dress. For not only is the owning of the Oscar de la Renta a must, the intimidating trip to purchase it on Madison Avenue is essential as well. If the dress is to give Mrs. Brown a voice, then she must prepare by making the daunting journey—both to the emerald city and within herself.

Timeless, poignant, and appealing, My Mrs. Brown is a novel for every mother in the world, every woman who ever wanted the perfect dress, and every child who wanted to give it to her.

The Hamilton Affair – Meh. I didn’t love this. The narration style was a bit dry and though the telling was mostly chronological, it still felt fairly disjointed. Alexander Hamilton’s history is fascinating, though.

Shoulder The Sky – More D.E. Stevenson. I just love her. Other review on her work here and here.

I was in the middle of Hillbilly Elegy, but I picked up Howard’s End off the shelf the other night when I was pacing around with Lydia  because it was small enough to hold and pace at the same time. I guess you could say I’ve fallen into Howard’s End and I can’t/won’t get up. It’s worth a re-read!

What have you read lately? Got any summer reading lists? I’m contemplating not making one at all this summer and just being whimsical about it. Yep, that’s sounding pretty good right now. But I do love lists, so we’ll see! Happy reading!

Children's Books, Parenting, Reading, Reviews

Awesome Chapter Books for Young Children

We are hitting the short chapter books hard around here lately! It’s sometimes tricky to find chapter books suitable for very young children, but these I’m sharing today are perfect. I quite enjoyed them, too. If you’re looking for some quality literature to draw young children into chapter books, this list is for you.

 

I read Gooney Bird Greene by Lois Lowry  to both Ella (7) and Isaac (5) and they loved it. Violet (2.5) also listened and laughed with us. I don’t know why I’ve never heard of this book before now? It is perfect for 4-7-year-olds. Gooney Bird Greene is an accomplished story teller, and her whole second-grade class, including the teacher, is enamored by her true stories. This book would pair wonderfully with a story-telling unit study if you’re a homeschooler. Or just read it for fun! Because it is seriously fun. It’s the first in a series of five books, and I just discovered the whole series is on CD at my library. Score! I plan to check that out and give my kids lots of fun listening time during the long, hot afternoons this summer.

I tried to read Pippi Longstocking to Ella when she was five and it was a major flop. I pulled it out again last month, though, and this time it has been a big hit with her and Isaac. Maybe Ella wasn’t ready for the absurdity of Pippi when she was younger (Ella’s a very literal person), but now the zaniness of this story completely entertains us all (yes, even Violet announced, “I love Pippi!” yesterday). I love all things Astrid Lindgren, so I can’t wait to read the next Pippi book!

Princess Cora and the Crocodile is a purely fun and silly chapter book we all enjoyed at bedtime last week. Though it has chapters, it’s truly just a long picture book, with illustrations on every page. Princess Cora is a little girl whose princessly life is extremely dull, until her fairy godmother sends her a pet crocodile who hilariously sets everything right. I’m guessing even reluctant chapter book readers/listeners will enjoy this book.

These next two books on our list are a bit more serious, but still great for young children. Isaac particularly liked The King’s Equal, a short fairy tale by Katherine Paterson about a haughty prince who can’t be crowned until he finds a wife who is his equal in every way. In six short chapters, kids (and grown ups) consider themes such as wisdom, kindness, industriousness, true beauty, and friendship. I’m so glad a good friend lent me this book!

The Light at Tern Rock is another tiny book with big themes we recently finished. It’s about a young boy named Ronnie and his aunt who agree to fill in for the lighthouse keeper for a few weeks right before Christmas. The days keep stretching on and the main characters have to learn to make the best with what they have, and to be gracious to those who treat them unfairly. It was so good, a great read for kids six and up.

I hope you find some gems for your family in this list! I’m on the hunt for more as we approach summer reading time. Eee! I love summer reading…

Happy reading!

 

Children's Books, Reading, Reviews

Why You Should Be Reading Middle Grade Novels

Hello, friends! It’s been a while, and I have so many books to catch you up on! Most importantly, I’ve made a discovery in my adult reading life: middle-grade novels. These are the novels publishers say are appropriate for people ages 8-12, but adults are missing out if we leave these books to the kids! If you find yourself wondering what happened to your joy in reading, or you feel too overwhelmed by life to enjoy the serious (and often depressing) themes in adult novels, you should definitely pick up a one of the many wonderfully crafted books in this genre.

Yes, you may be an adult and you may think you should be reading adult novels, but how often have you heard or even said, “I used to love to read”?  This phrase is usally followed by a brisk, “But who has time?” or, “I’m just too tired to focus on a book at the end of the day.” Yes, there is some truth in these reasons for why adults don’t read like they used to or would like to. But that’s not the whole story, is it?

It’s sad, but somewhere along the way through childhood to adulthood, reading lost its magic. We try to get into a novel and are left feeling, well, jaded. Maybe even bored. And all along, we’ve thought, “It must be us. We must have changed. We aren’t real readers anymore.” Well, today I am here to tell you, it is most definitely not us. It is the books.

Yes, absolutely, some books written for adults are incredibly good, but many…maybe even most…leave us life-long book lovers feeling just blah. We don’t want to be immature or unenlightened, but we get discouraged by all the disheartening story lines, the fashionably uncertain endings, the lack of engaging plots. Childhood readers become adult TV-watchers not because they don’t have time or they’re too tired to read a novel, but because the delight that was once in books…the vacation from life, the relaxation, the refreshing use of our own imaginations we once experienced…it’s gone.

The answer is middle grade novels. You know, the books that made us into readers to begin with, like A Wrinkle in Time or Where the Red Fern GrowsAnne of Green Gables, and yes, even Harry Potter. There are so many wonderful books in this category, and they remain perfect for readers of all ages. Here is why adults should be reading them:

(1) They aren’t extremely long.

(2) They offer a refreshing break from adult themes like violence or substance abuse, etc. (though there can be hints of war violence or playground/bully violence). Wherever your moral compass points, you can’t argue with the fact that there is already just plain too much of these things in our world.

(3) The plots are fascinating. Our eight to twelve-year-old selves wouldn’t want to read a boring book, and neither do we as adults! We just don’t want to say that out loud.

(4) There is a clear beginning and end. No guessing games, no loose ends. Unless of course, the books are series, which is a different matter.

Convinced yet? Then pick of one of these books I’ve read recently and thoroughly enjoyed.

The War That Saved My Life – A Newbery Honor Book of 2017, this book tells the story of a young girl and her brother who are sent to the country in World War II to escape London’s danger of bombing. The main character, Ada, has led a horrible life in London, never even being allowed to leave her apartment because of her deranged mother’s view of a minor deformity Ada has lived with her whole life. The characters in this book are incredibly good. My only complaint is the lack of description of the people – but that can be kind of fun in that each person’s appearance in your mind as you read is totally up to your imagination. This is quick yet moving read. Perfect for fans of The Book Thief, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, and Emily of New Moon…or books in general. I’m super excited to discover this book will have a sequel in October.

When You Reach Me – A book about time travel and friendship that doesn’t feel like science fiction at all. This book is set in the 1970s and revolves around Miranda and Sal, two sixth-graders whose lives change by mysterious events that become more clear as Miranda receives letters from a person from the future. It’s such a strange sounding but very good book, and quite easy to follow and enjoy (unlike some time travel novels). If you like A Wrinkle in Time, you will enjoy this book.

Wonder – I don’t know how to describe this book except to say I couldn’t put it down. Here’s the publisher’s blurb:

August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school—until now. He’s about to start 5th grade at Beecher Prep, and if you’ve ever been the new kid then you know how hard that can be. The thing is Auggie’s just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he’s just like them, despite appearances?

R. J. Palacio has written a spare, warm, uplifting story that will have readers laughing one minute and wiping away tears the next. With wonderfully realistic family interactions (flawed, but loving), lively school scenes, and short chapters, Wonder is accessible to readers of all levels.

The Girl Who Drank The Moon – Reviewed in this blog post.

Pollyanna and Pollyanna Grows Up – If you think you know this story because you’ve seen the movie, think again. The books are so much less annoying than the Hayley Mills version done by Walt Disney in the 1960s. I downloaded these on my kindle from Project Gutenberg for free. The audiobook form of Pollyanna is free, too!

Dear Mr. Henshaw – Famous author Beverly Cleary didn’t win a Newbery Award for her Ralph the Mouse books or her Ramona books, but for this little novel about a boy who writes letters to his favorite author and learns a lot about life along the way. It is touching and sometimes funny and I just enjoyed it through and through.

Note: I won’t be introducing my children to any of these until age ten or older, despite publisher recommendations.

After enjoying these books so much and realizing all but one of them was a Newbery Award winner or runner up, I printed out a list of the Newbery Award books. I was really surprised that I have only read a small fraction of these books! And I call myself a reader who loves children’s lit….so, I’m making it my goal to read a bunch of these this year. Yes, I am still reading adult literature here and there, but when you’re a sleep-deprived mom of a newborn, light reading that is still quality literature is the way to go. Also, I don’t want to stop reading middle grade novels now that I’ve discovered all that I’ve been missing out on in the past twenty years of my life! They are so good…have I said that already?

I’d love to hear about the books you loved as a kid and the ones you are reading now!

Happy reading!

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