Everyday Life, Nonfiction, Quick Lit, Reading, Reviews

A Quest for Sustainability – Summer Reading 2018

A snapshot of my current reading pile on this mid-summer day made me realize that I have a pretty clear theme going on in this season:

Apparently I’m not gravitating towards titles with words like “revolutionize” or “begin” or even “new.” No za-za-zing or va-va-vroom hear, please! No, I’m checking books out that are about “ordinary” and “everyday” and “the middle.” Somewhat unconsciously, the theme of this summer has become the pursuit of sustainability. What good things can I do and keep doing? How can I keep doing the things I must and do them well while also keeping the joy and fun in life? This quest for sustainability is really uncool, very boring-sounding, but I’m drawn to it like a tired person is drawn to a plain white duvet and a familiar pillow. I’m weary of the fads, I’m figuring out some things about what doesn’t work, and I want to be faithful in the seemingly monotonous places in life. I don’t want to struggle along anymore in the everyday, ordinary parts of life. When the summer ends, I want to be ready for doing the school year well. I’m not itching for new– not a new house or a new career or even a new baby (and I treasure my babies) – I’m longing to get the house I currently have fit for a productive and full life, I’m settling into this homeschooling/homemaking/writing/so-much-more career, and I’m trying to squeeze every last snuggle and game of Uno out these four babies that are already here. So on that note, here’s what I’ve been reading this summer:

Everyday Holy is a collection of short devotionals, good for gently waking my brain up a bit in the morning. This is the third devotional I’ve read this year, which is…surprising. I used to dislike the idea of devotionals, but there are times when self-directed study gets hard…when you’re super busy or groggy from lack of sleep or simply a bit apathetic and you need a starting point to get you thinking in the right direction. I always appreciate Melanie Shankle’s blend of humor and honesty, and her constant grappling with the mundane, circumstantial elements of life that can numb us to the life believers are called to and graced with in Christ. My current morning reading practice is half a chapter of Proverbs (I spent the first six months of this year in Psalms and now I’m moving on!), a day or two from Everyday Holy, and a chapter of The Liturgy of the Ordinary or Give Them Grace. (Yes, I read a lot of books at once. No, I do not have ADD).

The Liturgy of the Ordinary is mostly about worship during the mundane chores and tasks we do each day. We fight in this culture against constant entertainment and a fear of the ordinary. Tish Harrison Warren explains in her book how she’s reconciling the ordinary with the sacred and coming to view them as not so separate after all. I liked parts of the book, though I don’t agree with all the author’s viewpoints. On finishing it, I’d give it 2.75 stars. I think I’m going to need to dig into The Quotidian Mysteries by Kathleen Norris next, because this book quotes it often! My biggest yet most unimportant beef with  The Liturgy of the Ordinary Day is that the text is constantly interrupted with bold main points. Listen. I know this is a common practice in non-fiction publishing right now, but I hate it. I already read that sentence, and you’re interrupting my train of thought to read it again??? No. Put it off to the side in the margin if you must, but here’s a thought: maybe you should trust your readers to read the page of text and gather the main points on their own, intelligent selves? This may come as a shock, publishing world, but we are capable of drawing conclusions and recognizing the heart of the message. Thank you, rant over. (But don’t get me started on back and forth, present to future viewpoints in historical novels…gah! Hate it. (See, told you I don’t have ADD. What’s the opposite? Complete focus at the expense of all else? Tunnel vision? I have that)).

Now, onto the cookbooks! I may have mentioned three or three hundred times that meal planning and prep is the bane of my daily existence. This summer, I’m out to conquer my struggles by keeping simple meals on repeat. Usually what happens is I swing from an uber-healthy eating phase to an “I’m sick of all this food prep give me pizza” phase. I stay in the second phase for quite a while before swinging back, but I feel nagging guilt about it all the time, so I end up avoiding buying “unhealthy” foods because I know they’re poison but then I don’t have the energy or forethought to provide my family with healthy foods and my grocery shopping is all a muddle…and then the week is suddenly a disaster. No, I’m not being dramatic. That’s why I was drawn to Eating in the Middle: A Mostly Wholesome Cookbook. Sustainability? Balance? Yes, please. I have yet to cook anything from it, but the Breakfast Egg Salad and Greek Yogurt Pancakes are on this week’s menu! I haven’t made it out of the breakfast section yet…the photos are beautiful. I have tried two recipes from Smitten Kitchen Everyday: Triumphant and Unfussy New Favorites and they were winners, especially the Chicken and Rice Street Cart Style. Have I ever gotten chicken and rice from a street cart? No. But I will be making this recipe again and again.  One of the best parts of these two cookbooks is the authors are not just good cooks but excellent writers; I actually want to read all the text and introductions to each recipe. Not sure how I became a person who reads cookbooks (or a Goodreads friend whose shelves are cluttered with cookbooks…) but I’m pretty sure it has to do with the pursuit of sustainability, haha.

The Baker's SecretOn the fiction side of things, I haven’t been hitting the novels very hard. I love being outside in the summer, running around with the kids, doing house projects, swimming, so the cold winter months are really when I do the bulk of my reading. I did read The Baker’s Secret,  and really enjoyed it, though there were definitely depressing parts (war novel). If you like WWII historical fiction like The Plum Tree or The Nightingale, you’ll like this book. I also finally got Ronia, the Robber’s  Daughter off my to-read list, and mostly enjoyed it, though it was much darker than I was expecting. I won’t be reading it to my kids…it’s more of a YA book, in my opinion.

Now homeschool planning for the coming year is heavy on the brain, so my reading habits probably won’t pick up til September or October, but I’d love to hear what your summer reading is looking like! Happy summer! And head on over the Modernmrsdarcy.com to see more of what readers have been reading this summer on the QuickLit feature!

Quick Lit, Reading, Reviews

Winter Reads – January 2018 Quick Lit

Hello! Welcome to January Quick Lit, when readers around the web recount what we’ve read recently. I’m linking up to this event at Modern Mrs. Darcy. Be sure to join in the fun and get way more book recs than I can ever give you!

2017 has come and gone, and already is becoming a blur. I finished with the lowest number of books read in a year probably since I learned to read in kindergarten. 2017 was a different kind of year. However, I did manage to read several books to round out 2017. My last “Books I have Read” update was in September! And two of them definitely qualify as being very wintery in theme. Here’s the quick lit run down.

Fiction

News of the World – 3 Stars – This is the story of an older man living as a sort of newspaper-reading gypsy in the post-Civil War midwest. He begrudgingly takes charge of a recovered German-American child that had been captured by Native Americans. The book has good characters and a vivid setting. I would have liked it better if it had been longer, I think, more detailed and more developed. Also, parts of the storyline was too hard for me to handle (children being stolen from their parents …hard stuff). I might have gotten taken in too easily by the cover and title on this one. It’s a great title, right?

Anna and the Swallow Man – 1.5 Stars – I still have no idea what the point of this book was. It started out very like The Book Thief or a similar WWII account set in Europe, but man did it veer into left field after that. It was bizarre and eerie. I even tried doing some research on this one and came up with no answers. People who are giving it good reviews, please tell me what in the world it’s about! And why you like it! As of right now, it’s not one I’d recommend.

Salt to Sea – 4 Stars – Fascinating, historical, well-researched and based on facts, and even includes some very likable characters…also, it’s a page turner. The details are stark and unflinching, though. I actually had a hard time sleeping after reading this one. I think if you in general like WWII books, you will like this one, but I will say it’s hard to stomach in places, as most WWII books set in Eastern Europe are. Ruta Sepetys is an incredible writer. I felt like I was a freezing cold war refugee in Eastern Germany while reading this book. She makes everything come alive. It’s an excellent novel by a great writer about an event I was completely (blissfully) unaware of before, but it’s not a cozy or comfortable read.

You Bring the Distant Near – 3.5 Stars – A great YA book that put Indian-American family life into new perspective for me, especially when it comes to families with daughters. I appreciated the hopeful and bright tone of the book. Not necessarily plot driven but very well written and a beautiful book.

Nonfiction

Unseen: The Gift of Being Hidden in a World That Loves to Be Noticed– 5 Stars – This book goes to the core of so much I wrestle with these days. Most of these questions or struggles go back to motives. I can’t say this book suddenly gave me every answer and made life easy, but it shook my thinking patterns out of their ruts. Here’s my favorite part of the description of the book:

We may be “wasting” ourselves in a hidden corner today: The cubicle on the fourth floor. The hospital bedside of an elderly parent. The laundry room. But these are the places God uses to meet us with a radical love. These are the places that produce the kind of unhinged love in us that gives everything at His feet, whether or not anyone else ever proclaims our name, whether or not anyone else ever sees.

I will be reading this book again.

That wraps up this quick lit edition! I’m currently in the middle of five (yes, five) books, so February’s quick lit could be quite the lineup. Assuming I can actually finish those books before my library loan runs out…Happy reading!

For more Quick Lit reviews on Miathereader.com, just click the Quick Lit tag under the title of this post. I hope this site helps you find a great read!

Quick Lit, Reading, Reviews

Moxie and Betsy and Other Frivolous Reading: A Quick Lit Review

Happy Quick Lit day! Join me and other book bloggers as we link up over at Modern Mrs. Darcy to share what we’ve been reading lately.

Hello, from the depths of a new school year! I don’t know about you, but living in the southeast of the U.S. has made it a little hard lately to get into the swing of school things, what with eclipses and hurricanes and random holidays (what is Labor Day is about anyway?). I haven’t been updating here on reading or much else because, well, life. But life is good! Even if the reading pace is still about as slow as it has been since I was maybe less than five years old. And I have been keeping it extremely light. Frivolously light. Don’t judge. I’ll get back to War and Peace someday, or at least Martin Chuzzlewit. Here’s a rundown of what I have managed to read in the last month!

What I Read

Of Mess and Moxie, Jen Hatmaker

Jen Hatmaker makes us laugh and makes us think and gives us reason to look at Jesus, while also handing over a great recipe here and there in this book–that is a very unique description for a book, wouldn’t you say? Do I agree with her on every viewpoint? No. Do I need to in order to like her book? Again, no. Unless you’re planning on digesting every book you read as absolute truth, you shouldn’t worry about whether or not you’ll agree with every thought someone else presents. I liked this book much better than For The Love – it had more purpose and was written with an undertone of humility that was refreshing and endearing. It’s fun and it’s interesting. Bottom line, I mostly read this for fun and ended up getting more out of it than I expected. (Related Review: 7).

The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman

This is the first book I’ve read by Neil Gaiman. It’s a mix of a realism and fantasy, reminiscent of Madeleine L’Engle (I feel like I’ve been saying that a lot lately). I enjoyed the atmosphere and the style of Gaiman’s writing. The story and the main character (a boy the same age as my son) made me sad. There was a bit of a hopeless feeling to the story. There’s probably a lot of analogies in it that I don’t have the mental bandwidth to explore. Overall, I thought it was well written and moving but a little bit confusing. (Grain of salt disclaimer: sleep deprived mom of a baby reviewing, here.)

The last six books in the Betsy-Tacy Series – I finished all of the books about Betsy when she was grown up. Though the first books in the series were better as far as crafted pieces of literature, the later books were still enjoyable because of the characters, and I actually feel like I gained some valuable every-day wisdom. Maud Hart Lovelace wrote them as mostly autobiographical. Betsy/Maud has a pretty different personality than me, so reading how she related to her parents and her friends through her growing up years actually gave me lot to think about in terms of how to parent my children whose personalities are different than mine. Maybe a fictional series about a girl in the early 1900s is a strange place to find parenting insights, but they are pretty much everywhere. I’m glad I had Betsy and her lighthearted books to take me through this summer.

GraceLaced – Loved. Full review here. (And this and the next one are not frivolous…)

You Are Free, Rebekah Lyons – I like the way Lyons writes, but for some reason, I didn’t really connect with this book.

What I Didn’t Read

I picked up several books based on reviews and their titles this summer, but they simply were not for me. Mostly because in the first few chapters, the content met my explicit threshold. I had been looking forward to The Stars Are Fire, after really enjoying Stella Bain by the same author, but I just couldn’t get past the opening content. We Are Called to Rise gave me the same problem in like the first two pages, but I do still appreciate the inspirational title. When I come downstairs in the morning and look at the piles of dirty dishes on the counter, I take a deep breath and whisper to myself “We are called to rise!” and get to work. Game changer. As for The Alice Network, I actually got 40% done (thank you, Kindle, for your specific progress reports), and still found the characters to be grating and overly foul-mouthed, so I threw in the towel. Really, all I want to read right now are old books. I’m in a book time warp and I’m not fighting it.

What I Read With the Kids

We’re starting off the school year with Half Magic by Edward Eager as our read-aloud and it is awesome. We all laugh and laugh, and learn about fractions while we’re at it. I can’t believe I haven’t heard of this book before, but I’m glad our homeschool curriculum starts out the year with this fun read-aloud.

Over the summer, we read In Grandma’s Attic. I read this whole series as a girl, but I was unsure whether Isaac (age 6) would enjoy it. The funny stories and big brothers of the main character made it alright, though! He and the other two kids (ages 8 and 3) requested more chapters every time.

We’re always blazing through picture books around here, so I’ll have to do a picture book round up soon!

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, Quick Lit, Reading, Reviews

February Reads – A Quick Lit Update

February is sweeping by me. Our fourth child is due on the last day of this month, and I think it’s fair to say the nesting instinct has kicked in pretty hard in the last week. I can’t stop thinking that everything has to be cleaned/painted/de-cluttered now, “just in case” the baby comes early. I’ve never had a baby early, so this sort of thinking is probably unwarranted. Still, I’ve managed to sit still long enough to read some pretty great books in the last month. Today, I’m joining Modern Mrs. Darcy and friends again for Quick Lit, a feature that gives us a chance to catch each other up on what we’ve been reading in the past month.

(Psst…check back for some kids’ book reviews coming this Thursday!)

Fiction

The Girl Who Drank The Moon, Kelly Barnhill – Have you heard about this book yet? It’s a storyteller’s treat that whisked me into another world every time I cracked open the book. I loved the characters, the setting, the lyrical prose…pretty much everything about it. It’s completely worth all the publicity and fan love it’s getting. If you’re considering giving this to your grade school aged child, I might suggest reading it for yourself first. It’s very emotionally tense at times. Though quite unique, it did remind me of Shannon Hale’s Book of A Thousand Days or Juliet Marillier’s Wildwood DancingI highly recommend it to anyone. 4.5/5 stars (Also, this book is this year’s Newberry Award Winner, so it’s actually possible I’m not the only one raving about this book).

The One-In-A-Million Boy, Monica Wood – A story about an unlikely friendship between a young boy and a very old woman, this story was sometimes sweet and sad, often awkward, almost charming, and mostly hopeful about how friendships with all sorts of people – young, old, poor, rich, religious, successful…all sorts – keep a person fully human and alive. Wood does an amazing job of describing characters who become very, very real as you read. Some parts of the plot seem fairly unrealistic, but hey, if you want all your books to read like real life, maybe just stick to real life. I don’t mind a book veering off into unlikely circumstances, as long as it flows with the rest of the story. It wasn’t perfectly constructed, but it was still a good read. 3/5 stars

I Let You Go, Clare Mackintosh – Though this was a well written crime novel with a huge plot twist that you can’t even guess though you’re thinking the whole time, “I heard there is a huge plot twist,” I wasn’t a big fan of this book because of very vivid descriptions of domestic violence and a good bit of language. Mackintosh writes from her professional life experience as a former police officer. She speaks to an all-too-true issue in our world. If you’re a fan of The Girl on the Train (the book), you’ll probably like this one, too. I’m beginning to understand I’m simply not a crime novel fan, so I should probably stop trying. 2.5/5 stars.

non-fiction

How to Manage Your Home Without Losing Your Mind: Dealing with Your House’s Dirty Little Secrets, Dana White – White is the author of the blog and podcast A Slob Comes Clean, and she knows of what she speaks. (She’s also pretty funny). If you’ve read all manner of “get your house in shape” books and never once really hit on anything that worked for you, this might be your book. It’s for those of us have what Dana calls “slob vision” or basically blindness to messes until they get really bad. Like, blind to a sink full of dishes until you have no plates to eat off of. If you consider yourself a person who likes projects instead of a person who manages everyday details, this book will definitely give you some ideas on how to be a good home manager without making you feel like you have to change your entire personality to do so. I’ve learned that personality-wise I’m more on the naturally tidy side of the spectrum of home managers. Not that I am on top of everything all the time (um…no), but I’m more likely to walk through a room and take a few things that are out of place with me to put away as I go about other tasks than to ignore a mess until it becomes a project. I still enjoyed White’s perspective and it was illuminating reading a little about how peoples’ personalities make them approach maintaining a home differently. The power of habits plays a large role in White’s approach, and habits are always a fascinating study in my book. (Gretchen Rubin’s Better Than Before is an awesome book on the topic of habits, as well).

And now it’s your turn to let me know what you’re reading! February is a great month to hit the books, wouldn’t you say?