Children's Books, Quick Lit, Reading, Reviews

A Summer of Espionage {Quick Lit August, 2020}

Hey friends! Time for an update on summer reading! And, a confession: I got sucked into a TV show this summer. If you know me, you know I watch TV pretty much never (sports excluded). But this summer has been weird for everyone, and I’m no exception. The strangeness of this summer in a pandemic during an uncomfortable pregnancy is probably what led me to All Espionage All The Time in my entertainment choices. I can see now that I’ve been looking for an escape from the mundane and unpleasant. Plus, sports were cancelled. So, below you’ll find what I’ve read lately, the TV show that I watched all five seasons of since May (insert horrified expression on my own face here), and what we’ve been reading in our family. Bonus at the end – the nonfiction I hope to read this fall.

Novels

Miss Graham’s Cold War Cookbook – I’m right in the middle of this one and it’s showing lots of promise! Edith Graham seems like an ordinary spinster school teacher in 1948, but when she decides to head to Germany to help rebuild the school system there, she’s recruited to use her position as a front for hunting out former Nazi officers. Her code to let the Office of Strategic Services know about her progress is her recounting of recipes. So far, I really like this book!

The Black Swan of Paris – Quite a page turner about a glittering star who flies under the radar and, mostly against her will at first, uses her talent to aid The Resistance in Paris during World War II. Perfect if you’re having trouble focusing on a book but you would love to be in the middle of one (we all have those seasons of life, don’t we?). Four stars.

My espionage reading started further back this summer with Code Name Helene, a more gritty novel than the other two featured this month but very compelling. [At the time of my review of this book, I felt the language too strong, but the writer actually explained her choice words usage at the end of the novel, and her reasoning made sense.] 3.5 stars.

The Vanishing Half – Not about espionage, though definitely about a missing person. I wouldn’t say I enjoyed it — violence, betrayal, lies, gender identity issues, substance abuse… it was all very dark and built on an already very weighty topic in a heavy time — but I read it because I wanted to dig in further to the racial strain my country is under right now and the healing we’d like to move toward. Literature helps me think through issues. 2.5 Stars.

TV

Alias – There. I said it. I watched all five seasons of a show from twenty years ago this summer. Watching Alias started out as a way to distract myself on the treadmill, but then the plot gripped me and the Bristows and friends/enemies kept me company on the couch elevating my legs (circulation issues during pregnancy are the pits!), in the kitchen, during laundry…I had to know what happened next! All the seasons are on Amazon Prime right now, don’t say I didn’t warn you about the whole story grip thing. Also, it’s not rated G. I watched it when the kids were otherwise occupied.

What We’re Reading Aloud

The kids and I are now halfway through Mrs. Frisby and The Rats of Nimh, and it’s sloooow going. We want to know what’s going to happen to Mrs. Frisby and her family, but it’s taking so long to even find out who the rats are and we still don’t know what Nimh is! But we’re committed and should be finished in the next two weeks. Next up we’re doing either Harriet the Spy or Little Lord Fauntleroy. Votes for which I should pick?

Jeremiah is reading The Last Battle at bedtime to the whole family and wow, I have not re-read this book in forever. It’s like it’s brand new to me. All Narnia books are a delight.

What the Kids Are Reading

Isaac (9) has become a huge fan of the Redwall Series by Brian Jacques. Parents take heart – this kid wanted nothing to do with letters or numbers when he entered kindergarten! Ella (11) is loving Nancy Drew books and The Rose Legacy Series by Jessica Day George. Violet (6) and Lydia (3) want to read and re-read The Princess in Black Series by Shannon Hale, and even though the books seem so long, they’re actually very enjoyable read-alouds for one sitting. I love LeUyen Pham’s illustrations.

What My Husband’s Been Reading

Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates – I picked this up for my husband, who is a reader without the time to browse around for books, and he liked it but thought it a bit drawn out. 3 stars.

Nonfiction I’m Reading/Plan to Read

The Call of the Wild + Free: Reclaiming Wonder in Your Child’s Education and Wild + Free Handcrafts – I’m still in the middle of these books because I am a slow nonfiction absorber, but I’m enjoying the reminders of how kids and parents can learn together in harmony and without checklists. As for the handcrafts, most of them look beyond me, but they also look so beautiful, I’m willing to try them even though I’ll probably go crazy in the process!

The Lazy Genius Way – I’m pumped to read Kendra Adachi’s first book. I’ve been a big fan of her podcast for a few years now, and if her book is as full of practical and clear headed ideas as her podcast is, it will be a winner.

That’s all for this update! What’s on your fall reading list?

Picture Books, Quick Lit, Reading, Reviews

July 2020 – Summer Reading So Far – New Releases, A Classic, Picture Books, and Read Alouds

So what have you been reading this summer? I’ve had a few ho-hum new release experiences so far, but my pursuit for a good summer read this year continues! Help me by telling me what you’ve been reading in the comments! Here are my quick lit reviews for this month. {Hint: Scroll down to see our favorite picture book finds and what we’re reading aloud as a family}

Literature

The Other Bennet Sister – This was a pleasant trip back into the setting of Pride and Prejudice. I like how this book is totally consistent with the time period and the settings of Austen’s other works. All the characters are believable, and even though Hadlow offers a more complex (and possibly complete) picture of who the characters in Pride and Prejudice truly were, they were not skewed in my mind from who they have always been. I highly recommend this over Longbourn or other Austen-inspired fiction. The only downside for me is the book is a bit too drawn out by the end, but still very readable. 3.75 stars

The Jane Austen Society – Though there were some compelling elements, this book ultimately fell flat. Comparisons to The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society are simply not fair. I enjoyed the village setting and some of the characters, but the Hollywood side of the plot only added a strange, icky tone to an otherwise pleasant book. 2.75 Stars

The Dutch House – Ooh boy, this was gloomy. The concept it explored was interesting: can you ever see history as it really was? Does who you are and your ever evolving experience and understanding change your perspective too much? And how much does where we live make us who we are? Fascinating ideas, but I wouldn’t say I enjoyed the book. 2.5 stars

The Yearling – An amazing setting and strong, vivid characters plus timeless themes of family and friendship are what makes a classic, and this book is certainly a classic. I wouldn’t put it on my favorite list, but the writing is stunning and the setting will stay with me forever (much like the setting in Where the Crawdads Sing). 4 stars. (I realize it’s not at all a new release, but won a Pulitzer Prize in 1939, but I’m including it in the literature category for simplicity’s sake.)

I’d Give Anything – Marisa de los Santos is one of my favorite current writers. I always read her newest books and will continue to do so. While the themes in this book were not my favorite, and the affectionate relationships between the characters felt a bit overdone, I liked the book pretty well and its theme of forgiveness and hating what someone has done without hating the whole person is always relevant and thought provoking.

This Tender Land – I’m about halfway through this highly acclaimed novel and I’m pleased to find it really is very good! I love how it’s making so many people want to read books like The Odyssey and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, two books that seem to be combined and retold in a 1930s setting on a river in Minnesota. So far, five stars.

DNF – The Two Lives of Lydia Bird by Josie Silver, Attachments by Rainbow Rowell – Abandoned both about 30% in. Life is too short to read books you don’t like, especially if they’re just for you own enjoyment!

Picture Books

Chirri and Chirra – My 3-year-old and 5-year-old adored this whimsical story of two little girls and their visits in the forest. The colors are soothing and the animals included are very fetching. Apparently, there’s a whole Chirri and Chirra series, so hurrah! We’ll be checking more of these out. 5 stars.

Home in the Woods – I can hardly describe how much I love this book! From the illustrations to the character qualities it highlights in people who were both optimistic and hardworking, it’s a gem. 10 stars. ; )

Saving the Countryside: The Story of Beatrix Potter and Peter Rabbit – I learned a lot from this book about Beatrix Potter’s conservation efforts in the English countryside, and would like to think I would do the same if I were in her position. I hate seeing the forests I’ve driven by daily for years leveled for housing developments, but it happens frequently these days in my hometown. The story in this book is entertaining and the illustrations so cute. 4 stars.

The Storytelling Princess – This tale about a clever princess was longish, but held even our littlests’ interest. 4 stars.

Read Alouds

Matilda – Wow, was this book different from the movie I saw as a kid! The English village setting, the smart and kind main character who was not at all snarky, and the hilarious but terrible parents and school principle…plus the lovely Miss Honey…we all loved it. The kids thought the illustrations by Quentin Blake were awful, which made me laugh inside. They are not into impressionistic illustrations of people. But I like Blake’s illustrations every time, and we all loved Matilda! (Note: I did edit out some of the insults Matilda’s parents hurled at her when I read it aloud, which might be something to note if you have a younger audience and are considering an audiobook (remember, I have a 3-year-old in the mix!)). 5 stars.

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh – We just finished chapter one of our next read aloud, but so far, so good! This is another book I saw a movie version of as a kid but never read the book for myself.

Swallows & Amazons – Again! Haha, this is the second time my husband has read this one aloud to the kids, but the older two had forgotten most of it and our five-year-old was enthralled for the first time. It’s definitely a favorite book of ours!

That’s it for this Quick Lit update! Head over to Modern Mrs. Darcy to see what other readers are liking (links in comments of main post) and don’t forget to let me know what gems you’ve found this summer!

Children's Books, Quick Lit, Reading, Reviews

Quick Lit, Winter to Spring, What I Read in Quarantine

As promised in last week’s post, I’m playing a catch up today on books I’ve read in the past three months. I’ve read several new releases, and they have some good points, but the older books are the ones I’m really eager to share. Somehow, the newly published ones I read in the last few months didn’t sit as well with me; they don’t feel like friends, and these older books do. That’s not true of all new releases, but it is with the ones in this batch. I’ll start with the new releases and move on to “vintage” fiction and then middle grade/children’s fiction. I hope you’ll find a friendly book here for yourself to keep you company in this strange, quarantine time!

New Releases

Lovely War – A World War I novel centered on two young people’s love story, told by Greek gods. Imagine the movie Wonder Woman‘s idea of Ares being the cause of the war, but with more mythology and without super heroes. The historical research of this book framed by mythology was amazing. I learned a lot I didn’t know from both the novel and the afterword. The middle of the book was a bit slow, and romance novels always feel clunky to me – this one was no exception. There were some character descriptions that became redundant. Still, it was such a unique way to tell a story, I wanted to finish it if only for that reason. 3.5 Stars. [As most war stories go, there was some graphic content, and racial tensions are a central theme, but I would still consider this suitable for older teens.]

The Bookwoman of Troublesome Creek – Set in rural Kentucky in the 1930s, this novel tells the story of Cussy Mary Carter, one of the last Kentucky blue people and one of the first female librarians in the region. If the idea of blue people sounds a bit like science fiction, it’s not. Author Kim Michele Richardson takes fascinating history and combines it with great storytelling to give us a book that effortlessly draws readers into the setting and main character’s life. It was easy to sink into these pages and simply absorb the story, with many truly likable and a few appropriately unlikable ones. The main character is a gem, and though the book reminded me of Catherine Marshall’s Christy in some ways, it was entirely unique and my favorite new release I’ve read in 2020. It is especially good on audio! 5 Stars.

Call Your Daughter Home – Oh, I did not like this book at all. There were ghosts and murders, domestic abuse, child abuse, alcohol abuse, family quarrels… I wish I could’ve liked it, because I think the author is pretty great at painting a vivid setting and drawing up characters. But it was not my kind of book. 1.5 stars.

The Red Notebook – This novella is clever and intriguing, pleasant and engaging. Much like the story itself about a Parisian bookseller who recovers a woman’s handbag and goes on a quest to return it to her that ends up drawing him in much more than expected, it’s a book that will absorb you in the best possible way. It’s perfect to curl up with in bed, although as with most French books, you’ll probably end up hungry and want to get up to eat something. 4 stars.

The Red Address Book

Funny story…I got this one from the library on accident, when I meant to pick up The Red Notebook. It was a happy mistake, however, because this Swedish book about an elderly woman that lives with her home care assistance to help her reliving her pain, and past through her red address book she has meticulously kept through her life was moving and well-told. It’s a bit like A Man Called Ove or The One-in-a-Million Boy (both of which are wonderful) combined with the ever popular historical fiction told in retrospect. If you’re a fan of either of those, this may be a book for you. 3.5 stars.

Code Name Helene – I’m in the middle of this one right now. It is somewhat fascinating and I plan to finish it, but I’m not crazy about it. The back-and-forth between present and past narratives (actually this one is back-and-forth before the war and during the war) is not my favorite. Even though relating a story this way can be very effective, I always find it a bit jarring. While I’m enjoying the intriguing tale of a female spy in World War II, my main complaint can be summed up in what one of “Helene’s” coworkers says to her when she pulls out some particularly vulgar language: “You don’t have to do that with me.” Dear authors, I will respect your characters and your writing without a constant string of strong language and graphic content, I promise. In this instance, I can see why some of it is necessary to convey the kind of main character spy Nancy Wake/Helene has to make herself into and how harsh her reality is. But it’s pretty brutal. I’m exactly half way through, so I’ll have to complete my review of it next time, but I can already tell you that I like the similar book Code Name Verity much, much better.

Vintage Fiction

O, The Brave Music – I adored this book. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was reading a girl’s David Copperfield (and I love David Copperfield, or Great Expectations, or any number of first-person, autobiographical novels by Dickens). Set at the turn of the century in Northern England, Ruan’s coming of age story includes several tragedies but also a depth of character and wisdom, along with warmth and unfailing delight in the world around her. It’s the kind of book that feels like a friend to this old-fashioned soul. 5 stars. [Thank you to Simon from Stuck in a Book for a rave review of this book that got me looking for a used copy!] 5 stars.

The Tall Stranger – Okay, I read too much D.E. Stevenson, but hear me out – this stand alone novel is excellent. The cast of characters is real and friendly, the settings varied and vivid, and the whole thing is put together flawlessly. Do me a favor and do not read the publisher’s blurb about it– they never do Stevenson novels justice and make it out to be complete frippery, which it’s not, in my opinion. This book is free on Kindle Unlimited and Kindle Unlimited is offering a free two-month trial through the end of April. 5 stars.

Five Windows – Also D.E. Stevenson, but different because it’s a first-person, autobiographical narrative by a male character, and yes, it reminds me of O, The Brave Music but in a more modern time, with less tragedy. There are some character overlaps with The Tall Stranger which I find delightful. Really, this book comes first in chronology before The Tall Stranger, but they’re not in a true series, so it doesn’t matter which you read first. And it’s also free on Kindle Unlimited! 4.5 stars. I also read Still Glides the Stream by Stevenson on Kindle Unlimited and give that three stars, but still a very pleasant, enthralling read if you’re a Stevenson fan like I obviously am. I’m almost embarrassed of how much I enjoy her books!

Journey’s Eve – This book was pretty nutty, as Elizabeth Cadell’s more mysterious novels sometimes are. It was a fun story, and I liked it, but I get a little tired of the way Cadell’s heroes can be kind of pushy. 3 stars.

Middle Grade/Children’s Literature

The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone – Well, the name of this book is extremely inconvenient, but the actual book is a lighthearted fantasy about a girl’s quest in an imagined land that seems a little bit like Australia. I liked it, but not quite enough to plunge right into the sequel yet. I let my ten-year-old and eight-year-old read this, but neither of them wanted to before it was due back to the library. 3.5 stars.

The Penderwicks Series – Ella (age ten) and I completed this series separately but together over the winter. We both agree that The Penderwicks in Spring (book 4) was our least favorite, the first through third books in the series were our favorites, and the last book in the series was a fairly satisfying ending. As a whole series of five books, we highly recommend it!

Adventures with Waffles – Though it is well liked by many readers I agree with on most books, I didn’t love this one. It was quite melancholy for a book with “adventures” in the title. The characters grappled with some hard themes without much satisfying resolution. The main character and narrator, Trille, a boy whose best friend is a headstrong, crazy girl named Lena (similar to Parr’s Astrid the Unstoppable and Pippi Longstockings), is a bit infuriating in his passivity. But so many people love this book, I’d say give it a shot for yourself if you’re a fan of middle grade novels!

Meet the Austins and the rest of The Austins series- The first book was a lovely family story, so well written as Madeleine L’Engle’s books always are. I liked The Austins series as a whole, but was unprepared for the science fiction turn the third book, The Young Unicorns, would take. Whew! It’s like That Hideous Strength for children. Older children, haha. Not quite as pleasant as the first or second book, but highly thoughtful. 4 stars for the series.

Anne of Green Gables – A re-read for about the twentieth time (barely an exaggeration), but this time I read it aloud to the kids and the funny parts were funnier, the sad parts sadder, the descriptive, flowery parts less important. Reading books aloud to kids changes your perspective on a book, even when you know it as well as you possibly can, and usually for the better. I choked up so much in the last few chapters, the kids wanted to laugh at me and cry at the same time. We started Anne of Avonlea immediately after, but lost Isaac’s interest (he honestly enjoyed Anne of Green Gables and laughed heartily at many parts), so now we’re reading aloud From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and all liking it. But I’m tempted to keep reading the whole Anne series again on my own for, well, maybe the tenth time? I’ve lost count. They are absolutely my favorite books…except for maybe The Chronicles of Narnia…ack, who can choose? And in case you’re wondering, we did watch the film adaptation by Sullivan Entertainment, though not either of the sequels, and had a fun time discussing the differences between the book and the movie. We all thought the actresses who played Anne and Dianna were too old, but played their parts well. Five million stars to the book and five stars to the movie.

That about wraps it up for this quick lit catch-up post! Modern Mrs. Darcy has lots of other book bloggers chiming in about recent reading on her blog today, so hop on over to see what other readers are saying about books this spring. And please let me know what books you’ve discovered lately in the comments!

Happy reading!

Children's Books, Quick Lit, Reading, Reviews, Young Adult

My Favorite Reads of 2019

The year is coming to a close, cheerful Christmas lights are shining through the windows from the front porch garlands, and holiday busyness is carrying us along like Pooh sticks in a raging river. There are many more pressing things to think about at this time of year, but I’m going sit for a minute with the books I read in the past year and write up a quick list of highlights to share here. I hope you had a great reading year and will find a good book somewhere in this list to put on your 2020 reading list!

[Side Note: Links to books throughout this post are not affiliate links]

Best Novel Published in 2019

Where the Forest Meets the Stars – This novel by debut author was beautifully written, if a bit eerie, and handled serious subject matters well. The setting was enthralling and the characters drew me in right off the bat. This book has all that and a plot that will keep you turning pages. I’d recommend this if you like the exciting, page turning nature of Gone Girl or The Girl on the Train but don’t want to actually stomach the content. This one has some similar themes as far as crime goes, but is not as jarring and the themes are handled much more gently and with more purpose.

Runner Up

I’m Fine and Neither Are You – A clever, honest, sometimes humorous look at life in the middle years of a marriage. Though my worldview differs from the author’s on many things, the subjects brought up are worth thinking over, from friendships to comparisons women make between themselves to what a good marriage looks like. If you’re in a book club, especially a women’s book club, this would be a great pick.

Also read in this genre:

Ellie and the Harpmaker – 4 stars – I will read whatever else Hazel Prior writes because her prose took my breath away. Some of the content in this book regarding relationships didn’t sit well with me; otherwise, it would be a 5 star book and winner of the category.

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill – 2.5/3 stars – liked the main character, didn’t love what goes on in the book

The Printed Letter Bookshop – 2 stars – Not my favorite Reay, though I always enjoy her literary references throughout her novels.

The Overdue Life of Amy Byler – 1 star

Beyond the Point – 2 stars

Lost for Words – 2 stars

Best Historical Fiction

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The Gown – This book was so much better than I expected. First, I should state that I’m not the best one to ask about books in this category right now, because I didn’t pick up much historical fiction this year. Call me crazy, but I’m weary of The ______ ‘s Daughter or The _____’s Wife titles, just fill in the blank with whatever comes to mind, haha! I know some are absolute gems, and I’m not seriously knocking them, but I got a bit bored with the genre. I really liked The Gown, however, for it’s attention to character development and historical accuracy without feeling overwrought and contrived, or jumping from present day to past narratives. I would recommend it to any historical fiction fan. Also, this is a good one for readers who prefer minimal strong language, and except for one “scene” I would say puts it at the PG-13 level, it’s a gentler read than most current historical fiction.

Runner Up:

The Spies of Shilling Lane

Also Read in this Genre:

The Flight Girls – 2 stars

The Lieutenant’s Nurse – 3 stars

Time After Time – 2 stars

Best Novel I Read in 2019

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Hannah Coulter – What a gorgeous, moving wise novel. I should have read this a long time ago, but then, would I have appreciated it as much as I do now at this point in my life? Probably not. It’s a retrospective review of a woman’s life, with so much insight and wisdom about humanity and all kinds of love. It’s a classic, and I loved this book more than any other I read this year. I will be reading more Wendell Berry in 2020!

Also read:

The Remains of the Day – 5 stars – If you are a fan of slow but rich novels, Mr. Carson in Downton Abbey, and figuring out whether your narrator is reliable or not, you will like this book.

The Scent of Water – I plunged into Elizabeth Goudge at the end of last year for the first time with Pilgrim’s Inn and now have also read Gentian Hill, The Little White Horse, I Saw Three Ships, and City of Bells. I love it all and will keep on reading Goudge as fast as Thriftbooks can supply me with these mostly out of print novels. (Side note: many of the covers of Goudge books are just hideous. Don’t judge these books by their covers!)

A bunch of D.E. Stevenson and Elizabeth Cadell…I will spare you the details, as I have already waxed on and on about these authors.

Best Non-Fiction

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Boy Mom – I have one son and three daughters, and I come from a family with only sisters, so I seriously needed this book from Monica Swanson on raising boys. She has four of her own, two graduated from high school and two still homeschooling. I love her perspectives on relationships, chores, health, media use…she hits so many topics in her book and I will read it again and again. I truly can’t recommend it more highly, and actually think it’s unfair to moms with only daughters that this book is for “boy moms,” because there is a ton of wisdom here that applies to all parenting. Monica Swanson, I hope you write many more books!

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Becoming and Beholding – This book ties for first place. I read anything Ruth Chou Simons writes, absolutely anything, from Instagram posts to published works. She is rooted in truth and is a refreshing voice for the value in patience, hard and unseen work, and growing in ways and times when no one can see it. Her art work is so soothing, and features more than just florals in this latest book.

Runner Up:

The Brave Learner – See my full review here for why I applaud this book.

Also read in Non-Fiction:

Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat – 4 stars – I learned a ton but the recipes are intense!

A Sane Woman’s Guide to Raising a Large Family – 3 stars

First We Have Coffee – 3 stars – A fun memoir of a preacher’s daughter in Northern U.S.A./Canada. It’s important for my generation to know how people lived before us.

Digital Minimalism – 4 stars – Convicting.

Becoming – 4 stars – Thoroughly interesting and eye opening, and I’m very glad I read it.

House of Dreams: The Life of L.M. Montgomery – 4.5 stars – Most well balanced and readable account of Montgomery’s life I’ve seen so far, and the artwork was perfect.

Book Girl – 5 stars – I felt like I was reading my own thoughts at times, and found a kindred spirit in Sarah Clarkson. I also found a bunch of wonderful book recommendations!

Food Freedom Forever – 4.5 stars – A must read for fans of The Whole30.

The War of Art – 3.5 stars – Interesting concepts, inspiring and important in my personal life, though I didn’t truly enjoy reading it.

Writing Down the Bones – 2.5 stars

On Writing – 3 stars (got a lot out of it, didn’t enjoy it)

The Quotidian Mysteries – 3 stars…2 stars?? I still don’t understand most of what I read . But it seemed important and eye opening at the time, which means I probably read it too quickly.

Best Children’s Literature/Middle Grade Novel

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The Vanderbeekers to the Rescue – All the Vanderbeeker books hit it out of the park when it comes to perfect middle grade novels (publishers aim this category at 8-12-year-olds). This third book in the series continues the warm setting and lovable characters from the previous books. If you or your children are fans of The Penderwicks, you must read The Vanderbeeker books! Think the Penderwick family but with two parents and a brother and an easy-to-follow plot. I’m reading the first in the series aloud right now and my 10, 8, and 5-year-olds beg for me to read another chapter every single time we finish one.

Runner Up

Astrid the Unstoppable – If you’ve ever enjoyed a book about an extraordinary girl (Harriet the Spy, Pippi Longstocking, Anne of Green Gables, the list could go on and on), you’ll enjoy this book. You’ll like it even more if you’ve read Heidi, as main character Astrid reads and refers to it in an important way in the book. Astrid is a lonely girl in an adult community with an unflappable spirit and a fiercely loving heart. Because of some themes about romantic relationships that didn’t work out (between grown ups, but still), I think this is more a 10 and up book. It is a lot of fun, though, and the characters Astrid meets along the way will make this book appeal to both boys and girls.

Also read:

The Skylarks’ War – 3 stars- Enjoyed it as a grown up, though some of the characters weren’t my favorite, but this should so very much be labeled for 14 and up! There are harsh war themes and complicated romantic themes, as well as plot lines related to sexual orientation. Besides that, almost the whole book is about the characters when they are teenagers, so it just makes sense for it to be marketed for teenagers and adults. The publishers got it wrong on that one, but Hilary McKay’s writing is stellar, which is the reason I still give it 3 stars.

Raymie Nightingale – 3 stars – I admire Kate DiCamillo and her writing. but I wouldn’t hand this book to just any kid. It’s heart breaking, but many children have to deal with themes like adultery (a dad leaving for another woman, in this case) or living with an unstable guardian in their actual lives, so I get that having a book to relate to is important. I felt pretty glum when I finished this book, but the great characters gave it a lot of redeeming value.

Front Desk – 2 stars

A note about middle grade novels – I read these without my kids (ages 10, 8, 5, and 2) not only because I like to preview new books before I choose them as read alouds or recommend them, but because I think some of the greatest novels ever written are labeled children books. It takes a great writer to make good children’s literature, and as C.S. Lewis says, “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” Forget the labels and pick up a good children’s novel.

And that wraps up my 2019 reading year! I would love to hear from you, too. What did you read and love this year?

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Thank you for reading along with me in the past year and encouraging me to keep going here in this on-line space.

Mia/Alana

Quick Lit, Reading, Reviews

2019 Summer Reading Re-cap: Fiction

Happy mid-summer! I hope your summer has been full of adventure and fun plus some meaningful work, or at the very least, really good books! I’ve read a slew of both new and vintage fiction summer, so I’m going to join Modern Mrs. Darcy/Anne Bogel and do a quick lit recap for June and July reading of the fiction I’ve been reading. Click over to her site and see what other readers and reviewers have liked or disliked so far this summer. Our summer started mid-May and we gave ourselves permission to be lazy about projects and curriculum planning and all the the normal school year things until July, so I’m now realizing I haven’t updated the blog on any books since April! So this is going to be quite a long list.

New Fiction

The Spies of Shilling Lane – Mrs. Braithwaite is our main character in this unexpectedly cozy, adventurous read. She is a middle-aged, domineering village woman, who is suddenly demoted from her position in her village and decides to go visit her daughter in London during WWII, only to find her daughter missing. Mrs. Braithwaite puts herself on a mission to find her and runs into more intrigue and danger than she ever expected. Despite some adult themes, this book is not a heavy WWII book. It’s reminiscent of The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax but with a more familiar setting… or maybe that’s just for those of us who have read way too many books set in WWII England. There were some sections that were a bit on the cliche side, and some character development that happened very fast at times, but overall it’s a fun read with a lot of heart for historical fiction fans.

Time After Time – This magical realism novel starts out with tons of potential, between the characters, setting, and history. If you liked The Curious Case of Benjamin Button or The Age of Adeline, you will probably like this book! That being said, I think I would have liked it better as a short story or novella. The first quarter of the book was 4-5 stars. The dialogue between the two main characters was swingy and the concept for the story was grabbing, plus Grand Central Station was a fascinating setting. In the last three-quarters the good things the novel had going for it fell apart and fell in the 2 star range, so it’s somewhere at 2.5 star as an entire book for me (but don’t grade me on my math!). The middle is too long and tumultuous, in my inexperienced opinion. On a side note, the comparisons to The Time Traveler’s Wife don’t ring true. The Time Traveler’s Wife was much more graphic and tragic. This one isn’t exactly lighthearted or “clean,” as far as themes go, but leaves out details and has less language.

The Lieutenant’s Nurse – I couldn’t put this one down. Ackerman wove fascinating pieces of radio communications in the Pacific throughout her story leading up to the attack at Pearl Harbor. The characters were also interesting, though the romance focus was a little much for me. I could’ve done without about half of it and still thought that was more than plenty. I enjoyed the book, though, and was pleased that, like Ackerman’s first book, there was no smut and just a smattering of language. I liked her first book, Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers, better than The Lietuenant’s Nurse, but both were enjoyable and Sara Ackerman is quickly becoming one of my favorite writers of compelling, readable, and clean summer reads.

I’m Fine and Neither Are You – The cover of this book and even the publisher’s write up did not prepare me for how tender, fragile, at times beautiful, and thought provoking this novel about the modern woman’s pursuit of the perfect life would be. The life of Penelope Ruiz is painted in vivid detail and echoes many real life conversations I’ve had with friends about the burden in the modern goal to “do it all.” This book begs the question, “but why?” It was not at all light, but there was a sense of humor woven throughout the weighty themes. It was easy to read, hard to forget, and reminded me of Liane Moriarty’s What Alice Forgot. I am probably the target audience for this book–it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea–but I’d give it four stars.

Vintage Fiction

The Scent of Water – Goudge is a long drink of water for a thirsty, old-fashioned soul. Like her other adult books, The Scent of Water is an introspective novel centered around a home, a country town, and the people in it. The book approaches life on the soul level, and though the plot won’t drive you to turn pages as fast as possible, I keep on reading Goudge because the wisdom, truth, and beauty in it are timeless.

Amberwell, Summerhills, and Celia’s House – More of my favorite D.E. Stevenson! She’s the current home base of my reading life for her glorious settings in the Scottish or English countryside and strong, noble, likable characters.

Corner Shop – Though I love Elizabeth Cadell, this one was not my favorite of hers. It was hard to follow.

Jane of Lantern Hill – I re-read this L.M. Montgomery novel for the first time as an adult while we were at the beach in May. It is wonderful, right up there with the Anne and the Emily books. I hate how L.M. Montgomery’s work is considered children’s literature—almost all of it is much more enjoyable when you read it as an adult! But since she and C.S. Lewis are my all time favorite authors, I may be incredibly biased.

Thrush Green – I always think I should be the perfect candidate to enjoy the works of Miss Read, but alas, I simply cannot get into them. Oh well.

And that’s all for the summer reading fiction update! I’ll be adding a non-fiction post just as soon as I finish the three non-fiction books I’m in the middle of. For all my fiction reading speed, I operate on a slow intake when it comes to nonfiction. But I’ll have that nonfiction reading list up soon! Until then, happy summer reading!

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