Quick Lit, Reading, Reviews

Quick Lit -November 2018 – A New, Vintage, and Classic Hodgepodge

Hey friends! It’s a rainy and cold week here which I hate until I remember to call it “reading weather” instead of fall weather and then it’s ten times more bearable. What have you been reading lately? Here are some books I’ve enjoyed in the past couple of months, in no particular order. My list is a hodgepodge of recent releases, vintage novels, and an old classic.  Please jump on over to Modern Mrs. Darcy to see what other book bloggers have enjoyed this month, too! Happy reading!

The Clockmaker’s Daughter – So, so good. If you liked Morton’s other books, you’ll like this one. It is fairly long, but even so I would have taken more about the characters. Warning that there is an element of ghosts in it, but it’s very mild and not scary at all, just completely whimsical and not at all spiritual, in my opinion. I’d rank this one up in Morton’s top three best books, behind The Forgotten Garden and The Secret Keeper.

How to Walk Away – Reads like a Hallmark movie but with better writing and not so neatly wrapped up at the end, thank goodness! I was surprised at how much I related to the main character – you really do feel like you’re in her head, which is not a bad thing in this case. Not prize winning literature, but a nice, light read, if somewhat predictable.

The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper – I liked the first half, liked the characters, but felt a little weirded out by the end. Still, it was a cheerful read that happened to also be a bit thought provoking. I especially recommend if you like quirky characters.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine – Speaking of quirky characters…Eleanor is quirky. I was talking to a friend about this book and told her I thought the first three chapters were my least favorite opening chapters of any book I’ve ever started and finished. But I made it through, and I’m glad I did. By the end, I loved everyone in it.  Think A Man From Ove and you’ll be thinking along the right lines for this book, but with a much bigger twist at the end and a younger main character.

Around the World with Auntie Mame – Hilarious if you like books published in the 1950s (which I looove).

The Fledgling – I will read anything by Elizabeth Cadell and I have never been disappointed. This one was actually a bit of a mystery combined with a sort of Little Princess type story. It was lovely.

The Penderwicks – I am waaay behind on this modern classic, but I’m glad I finally read it! My oldest daughter liked it, as well, but the seven-and-under crowd thought it was “dreadful.” I think it’s great for girls ten and up, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some boys like it, too.

The Princess and the Goblin – We all looooved this book! It was a read-aloud for school that we looked forward to every day.  Now I want to read all of George MacDonald’s fantasy books.  Five stars from us all.

 

 

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!

Parenting, Picture Books, Reading

Jesse Bear – Our Favorite Books for Preschoolers

Things are pretty busy around here, and I have some great new releases to review for you soon, but I wanted to do a quick post about our current favorite books for the preschool picture book crowd. Check these out if you have little people in your life!

If Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood is the show parents want their preschoolers watching, the Jesse Bear books are the books all parents should want their preschoolers reading. I didn’t know about these books when my oldest two were ages 2-4, but my three-year-old and I have recently fallen in love with them. Each book in the series follows a lovable little bear who is experiencing life and the world around him with a cheerful expression and an enthusiastic eagerness to learn. There’s an enjoyment in every day, normal life that’s contagious in these books.

Our favorite is Jesse Bear, What Will You Wear? Jesse gets up and dressed and ready for his day, with rhyming words and pleasant illustrations that take readers through a day with Jesse until it’s time to get back into his pajamas. A close second favorite is Better Not Get Wet, Jesse Bear, which shows Jesse Bear bursting with longing to get wet as he goes through a summer day helping his mom and dad around the house until he finally gets to splash in his very own pool. In Guess Who’s Coming, Jesse Bear, the little bear learns to deal with an older cousin who he isn’t excited to spend time with at first, but soon learns big cousin Sarah isn’t so bad after all.

Every Jesse Bear book is perfectly illustrated by Bruce Degan (Jamberry) and will make you want to go hug a teddy bear and a toddler at the same time. There’s a Jesse Bear book about waiting for Christmas and one about counting, and several more we haven’t read it in this ten-book series.  I hope you and your little people enjoy the Jesse Bear books as much as we do! We’ll be grabbing a few more of these (and the new Fancy Nancy book!) the next time we go to the library.

Happy reading!

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!

Nonfiction, Reading, Reviews

How The Small Things Become The Big Things

Do you ever feel like you’re in the middle of living out a theme? Like all the messages you run into or the conversations you have come back to this one idea, even if you’re not trying to bring it up?

There’s an obstinate theme in my life right now, and the theme is this: the big things and the small things in life are not that different.

Or, more poetically speaking, the small and unseen minutes we live add up to the grand, sweeping, epic whole. Tiny thoughts, words, and actions are the grains of sand that make up the whole.

Image result for the painted desert

It’s a big thing to exercise. It’s a small thing to take a walk. It’s a big thing to be a friend. It’s a small thing to have a conversation. It’s a big thing to feed your kids for an entire childhood. It’s a small thing to make a comforting recipe on a weeknight. It’s a big thing to love someone with your whole heart. It’s a small thing to look straight into the eyes of your child when he’s telling you about the Transformer he’s pretending to be while you’re trying to cook dinner. The small and the big get blurry when we stare at them together.

Church of the Small Things: The Million Little Pieces That Make Up a LifeI didn’t know this big vs. small idea was the ground rock of Church of the Small Things: The Million Little Pieces That Make Up A Life, the newest release from NY Times Bestseller (and the writer of the first blog I ever followed) Melanie Shankle. I signed up to be on her book launch team almost blindly, because all her books are delightful and her blog in its early days spoke straight into my middle-of-the-night pacing with my firstborn and gave me the gift of humor with a shot of perspective. (Being on the book launch team just means I get to read the book early and review it, not that I’m paid or have any incentives for getting others to buy it or anything like that). Now, I can honestly say this is her best book yet, a perfect combination of funny and wise musings about the way a life lived in the small moments is a life worth living wholeheartedly. Better still, it fully forms the thoughts surfacing in my own life about purpose and faithfulness.

Shankle “had me at hello” when her introduction began with the Biblical account of Jesus feeding the 5,000 with a boy’s lunch because she basically asks, “what about the boy’s mother who probably packed the lunch?” I love how she muses about what the mother could’ve been thinking that morning and how the last thing she would have expected was a miracle to come from that packed lunch. You probably know that feeling of doing something so minute as packing a lunch, you’re not even really thinking about it, or if you are, you’re wishing you had something better to give your kid and what is a Bento box anyway? Shankle’s position is that all those little moments of faithfulness are shaping you and shaping the people around you. How true. More often than not, it’s the ordinary faithfulness, the staying instead of going and the hidden jobs that have no platform, that make a person’s character.

It’s easy to resent the never ending meal prep, the staff meeting you are wishing yourself out of, the paperwork you just did, or whatever seemingly unimportant and repetitive task you wake up to day after day. We all feel that way. Here’s my favorite quote about this from the book:

Nothing is wasted when we view it through the lens of what God has for us in whatever life brings our way. It’s all part of who we are and who he is making us to be. For some, that may be a public role on a big stage, but for the vast majority of us, it’s about being faithful in the small stuff: going to the grocery store, volunteering in our kids’ classroom, befriending the new girl, coaching a Little League team, showing up for work every day, being kind to our neighbors.

We need to look for God in the ordinary, everyday things, to pursue our lives and live our dreams and be faithful in the small things, because those are the moments that prepare us for the next thing.

-Melanie Shankle, Church of the Small Things

Maybe we should stop questioning whether what we’re doing at this minute or this stage of our lives is important or worthy and simply, finally believe this: it is all important. To me, that’s so encouraging.

It’s all kind of like that story about the boy with the spool of thread. You know the one? The wise old woman gives Peter a spool of thread that represents the time of his life, and when he gets uncomfortable and wants to skip some part, he does, simply by un-spooling some of the thread. When he gets to the end of his life, and he’s only lived the parts he thought were enjoyable or momentous, who is he? He’s like a shell of a person with an empty life. He didn’t stick around for the crying baby, he couldn’t handle all the school lessons, he wasn’t into working so he skipped the work…yikes. I’m actually glad we can’t do that. But sometimes, we do it as best as we can without a spool of time-thread. I know I do. Distraction, ungratefulness, wishing for other circumstances, it all keeps us from being faithful in the little things.

I’m grateful for Church of the Small Things for finally nailing down the clarity I was seeking in this theme I keep coming back to: the small things become the big things and faithfulness is in every moment.

That is the serious side of the book. What might be even better, though, is that this book will make you laugh. It’s got some deep thoughts in it and that’s what stood out to me after I finished it, but oh, how good it was to laugh out loud while reading about Shankle’s experiences throughout her life. She focuses on stories about seemingly monotonous life experiences that became important, or stories about the people around her whose everyday faithfulness to loving those around them changed the lives around them, one everyday-day at a time, with a huge dose of humor injected in everything.

Church of the Small Things has encouraged me a great deal lately, even more than I anticipated it would. I’m thinking it could encourage many of us, (note: it is mostly geared toward women, though I do force my husband to let me read him particularly funny parts). If you’re thinking about grabbing up a copy, now is the time! There are some pretty cool pre-order bonuses you can get if you order before October 3rd.

Whether you end up reading this book or not, I hope you are encouraged to look at your small moments as more valuable than you realize. As Melanie says, “Nothing is wasted.”

{Plug for future blog post – I’m working up the nerve to post some parenting related thoughts in the coming weeks. It’s been a long season of quiet on that front here at Miathereader.com. If you’re into that, could you comment here if any of these popular posts have resonated with you in the past or do now? Thank you so much, friends!

Put Down the Scissors

Loving the Littles Who Persecute Us

Surface Farming}

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!

Children's Books, Reading

Silly Books to Share With Kids

Silliness is powerful. Kids love to be silly with the grown ups in their lives. And I’ve noticed that just a little bit of zany will go a long way towards fostering a fun relationship with a little person you generally have to boss around and discipline all.day.long.

Even though I know that a few silly interactions peppered throughout our days brings new closeness to our relationships, silliness doesn’t come naturally to me most days. The to-do lists, the heavy nature of life some days, the exhaustion…it all kind of wipes away any desire for to be even a little bit goofy. So, like I do for many dilemmas in life, I turn to books. There are so many great silly books that both you and the children you love can enjoy together! Here are a few we’ve found recently on our library trips.

We Forgot Brock! – A little boy named Phillip has an awesome imaginary friend named Brock. Brock looks like a cross between a pirate and a rock star, but only Phillip can see him. That is, until Phillip accidentally leaves Brock behind somewhere, and Brock adopts more friends. The ending is happy and the whole book cracks us up.

Matilda’s Cat – Matilda thinks her cat likes all kinds of fun things. It turns out, she doesn’t know her cat so well. But Matilda’s cat knows her!

The Legend of Rock, Paper, and Scissors – Though a bit wordy, this book will have the grown ups laughing and the kids sort of laughing and sort of scratching their heads.

Mo Willems’s Elephant and Piggy Books (especially, We are in a Book!) – It’s really the illustrations that will get you every time in the Elephant and Piggy books. Even very young listeners will laugh.

The Bink and Gollie Series – Oh, how we love Bink and Gollie. They are fun to read ourselves, but our library also has these books on CD, and let me tell you, they are hilarious. All my kids are crazy about them, but Violet (age 2) is the one who currently listens to them nonstop. Bink and Gollie is part of our family culture. “Use your gray matter, Bink,” is now synonymous with, “Would you just stop and think a minute!” and saves us one unpleasant parent-child interaction by inserting some humor into an otherwise scolding situation.

We could go on and on, because so many children’s books have a silly component to them, for an obvious reason: children love to be silly. If you can’t muster up the mental energy to engage in a staring contest or tell endless knock-knock jokes with your kids, maybe try reading a silly book together. It just might get you back on the fun parent track.

Happy reading!

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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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