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!

Quick Lit, Reading, Reviews

Quick Lit April 2019 – What I Read (And What I Didn’t!)

Today, readers across the blogosphere are gathering to catch up on all we’ve read in the past month at modernmrsdarcy.com. Join in here!

What I Read

Where the Crawdads Sing – Delia Owens has crafted a book with exceptionally beautiful writing and storytelling that lingers in your mind well after you’ve finished the book. My only hesitation in saying “I loved it!” comes from some graphic accounts of encounters between a few characters and a sinking feeling I had by the end of the book that science had won over the truth that humanity transcends nature. Our souls are unscientific, not bound by genes or the recycling of DNA over millennia, and it is our souls that makes us unique, different from the animal kingdom. However, whether I agree with the overarching ideas presented, Owens has created a literary gem. The setting of the North Carolina marshes and coastline is so alive that you will feel like you’re there the whole time you read the book (which is more than fine with me! NC beaches are pretty much my favorite places in the world). The poetry included throughout is gorgeous, and the characters live on the pages. (Side note – I am so thankful that Owens stuck with a few main characters that are fully developed and did not overpopulate her novel!) Overall, Where the Crawdads Sing is a moving and atmospheric novel with all the marks of a classic for years to come.

Sarah Morris Remembers and Sarah’s Cottage – More D.E. Stevenson. I know, I’m a broken record. There’s nothing better for middle-of-the-night sleeplessness than a comfortable author who creates characters that are good and steady friends to the reader. [While we’re on the subject of what people call “comfort reads,” who’s your favorite comfortable author? I’m curious!] And another question: why is that when finally all of my children sleep through the night on a regular basis, I get insomnia? Is it a hardwiring in the body that tells a regularly sleep deprived person, “Remember, you don’t sleep much at night?” Whatever it is, it’s maddening.

Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World – Everyone can benefit from this book. So much of the facts and principles Cal Newport introduces about technology in our lives we suspect but we don’t really know for sure (or don’t want to know for sure). It’s not a punishing , guilt-stirring book, however, but helpful and insightful. The main idea is to limit your optional technology (think social media, streaming video, blog consumption), for thirty days and then see what you gained and what you lost during that time and determine what’s really valuable to you. I’m a fan. And I’m putting Cal Newport’s earlier book Deep Work on my summer TBR.

What I Didn’t Read

Confession time: I have started The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah at least five times. Most recently, I picked it up earlier this year, determined to get through it. I got almost halfway this time. Why can’t I like this book so many people rave about? It’s one of the highest rated books on Goodreads, for goodness sake! But, I’ve tried, I’ve really tried, and I’m done trying. It’s not the book for me. I guess I prefer a book with more subtlety. The characters and the setting seemed overdrawn and overly tragic top to bottom. I couldn’t get into the way the father and the older sister treated other people. It was both unbelievable and unforgivable from the get-go. Maybe I’m missing the point, but that’s my only explanation.

That sums up this quick lit for April! May the rest of your spring be full of sunshine and good books!

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!



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