Reading, Reviews

July Reading – New Favorites and Quick-Lit Reviews

Today I’m linking this update on summer reading post up to Modern Mrs. Darcy’s Quick Lit. Check out lots of other quality recommendations on her page!

Vinegar GirlVinegar Girl, by Anne Tyler – If you’ve ever read an Anne Tyler book and thought “Her writing is so beautiful, but I’m at the end of the book and I still don’t know what it’s about!” then this book is for you.  It has a definite plot with a beginning, middle, and end. I think of that as a plus, as much as I admire Anne Tyler’s other books. Vinegar Girl is a modern retelling of Shakespeare’s The Taming of The Shrew (remember that 90’s movie, Ten Things I Hate About You? Also a retelling of that same play). In this retelling, the main character, Katherine, is a grown woman, but this book definitely has a Young Adult feel to it. It’s short and sweet and very clean, but some of the themes Tyler weaves in it might just stick with you. Anyone could enjoy it, and English teachers everywhere should definitely check it out.

The Friendly AirThe Friendly Air, by Elizabeth Cadell – I’ve discovered Elizabeth Cadell and my summer just got ten times better. I know there are way too many reviews about all sorts of books that say things like “This writer is a modern Jane Austen!,” and I’m about to add another one. Cadell really does write lighthearted yet interesting books about quality characters whom you will end up liking. This one was published in 1970 but it has a timeless feel. It’s about a young woman, Emma, who strikes up a friendship with an older eccentric woman, bound and determined to move to a warmer climate. She somewhat randomly picks Portugal and sets up Emma as her moving assistant. Of course, Emma becomes much more and adventure and romance ensue.

The Yellow Brick RoadThe Yellow Brick Road, by Elizabeth Cadell – My second Cadell book, and completely different from the first. This one is a mystery that starts with Jody, a sensible young lady, falling down some stairs during a job in London and waking up with the solid but mysterious knowledge that things are not as they seem. She is sure she did not simply faint and fall down some stairs, but it seems like no one wants her to know what really happened. As she pursues the truth and gathers allies along the way, the cozy world she took for granted is entirely changed. I read this book from start to finish in one day (on a sick day). It’s a great summer read!

Life Among the SavagesLife Among the Savages, Shirley Jackson – A few weeks ago, I was losing my sense of humor in mothering. Everything felt overwhelming, from getting my children to do their chores to dealing with bullying. I picked up this book and was saved. The beginning is a little slow, as Jackson sets the scene for where her family lives and works, but pretty soon Jackson had me laughing out loud over her account of shopping in a department store with her two children, or her attempt to make coffee while in labor with her third child. I can see myself reading this again in about five years. I need a whole slew of this type of books! Mothering is serious business, but if I can keep laughing as I go along, I might just make it.

The Curate’s Awakening – I’m not sure how to describe this book, other than it’s sort of a combination of a Thomas Hardy novel mixed with C.S. Lewis. It’s a novel about a young country curate (think beginner pastor) coming to grips after already choosing his profession with the fact that he doesn’t actually know what Christianity is about or if he even believes it. I’m about half way through and finding it to give me lots of food for thought. Also, the subplot of a young lady and her murderous brother keeps things moving along pretty well. (Thanks to my friend Mary for lending me this one!)

Beyond Our SelvesBeyond Ourselves, by Catherine Marshall – Catherine Marshall is the author of the famous Christy. You may have known that, but did you know Marshall wrote quite a lot of nonfiction, too? Beyond Ourselves is Marshall’s memoir of her spiritual journey in living in God’s strength was on my Fall 2014 Reading List… and I’m just now getting around to it.  I can’t even tell you how much I’ve gotten out of it thus far. My favorite quote so far:

Our emotions are often painfully misleading, and at best we have imperfect control over them…Our feelings can be affected by such irrelevant matters as the mood of those around us, by whether we had a good night’s sleep, by hunger or indigestion, or by a morning in which the rain blew through the open window, spattered the wallpaper, and the neighborhood dogs turned over the garbage pail. “I don’t feel God’s presence today,” we wail. What is the remedy? It is simplicity itself: our emotions are not the real us. (emphasis mine) (p. 58)

Fans of Elizabeth Elliot will find a lot to like about this book. I snagged the copy I own on a whim when our church library shut down and gave away all its books, but you can easily get a copy for about $4 off of Amazon if your local library doesn’t have it.

That sums up what I’ve been reading lately! Found any gems this summer? Let me know in the comments!

Reading, Reviews, Top Ten Tuesday

My Top Ten Beach Reads

Is there any felicity on earth that compares to reading a great book on a quiet beach? No. There is not.

I’m linking up to the Top Ten Tuesday meme over at thebrokeandthebookish.com to share my five favorite beach reads from the past and the five books I’ll be reading this summer. What’s even better is I’m also including the five books you must read with your kids at the beach! Fifteen for the price of ten! Hang on to your sunhats.

Favorite Past Beach Reads

  1. The Pilot’s Wife – Shreve is like Piccoult: she may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but read at least one of her books. Her writing is beautiful.
  2. Jacob Have I Loved – YA that you’ll never leave behind
  3. The Light Between OceansThe Light Between Oceans – I think this will be considered a classic in fifty years. (more about this book here!)
  4. What Alice Forgot – Light hearted, yet thought provoking.
  5. Orphan Train – A great piece of historical fiction!

Bonus: If you have not read these, these two off my Favorite Books List are best by the beach!

  1. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
  2. Anne’s House of Dreams

What I plan to read this summer:

(though probably not on the beach—I have three kids 7 and under…reading on the beach is a thing of the past and the future, but not the present).

  1. The Forgotten Room – Karen White is best read by the ocean! I especially loved Long Time Gone
  2. Everyone Brave is Forgiven – The book of the year, apparently! It’s often compared to All the Light We Cannot See.
  3. At the Edge of SummerAt the Edge of Summer – A new book by the author of Letters from Skye.
  4. Birds of a Feather – I read the first Maise Dobbs book a while ago, and it’s high time I moved on with this fabulous series.
  5. Deerbrook – An old book I’ve never heard of til recently! It’s compared to works by Gaskell and the Brontes, so sign me up! Also, it’s available for free on Project Gutenberg.

 

Great beach reads for you and your kids!

  1. The Maggie B. – I am in love with this book.
  2. Jonathan and the Big Blue Boat – Great for little boys!
  3. Amy's EyesAmy’s Eyes – I read this chapter book in an old beach house when I was 10 or so and thought it was awesome.
  4. The Nickelplated Beauty – Such a good book about a family who lives near the sea, their rusty stove, and their love for their mama.
  5. The Golden Venture – Out of print, but an absolute treasure. I checked it out repeatedly in the library as a kid. It’s about a girl who stows away to follow her dad to the California Gold Rush and ends up living in San Francisco.

I think I could go on forever! Beach reading is absolutely the best. I’m looking forward to a great summer of books and beaches. Share your favorite beach reads for you or for children!

[Side note: My brain is already on vacation. Seriously, it thinks it’s lounging on a beach chair sipping lemonade in a tropical oasis. The only problem with this is, it’s totally not true. We are not done with school yet (two more days), we are still in the middle of a million house projects, and life is very busy. I am trying my hardest to focus and get motivated to get stuff done, but my brain is saying, “Sorry. I’m done. DONE.” And my body is not far behind it. I’m tired, and it’s a weird tired. An “I’ve been sitting by the pool for three hours and can’t will myself to move” kind of tired. Except I have most certainly not been sitting by the pool. I’ve been staring at unfolded laundry and stirring macaroni and cheese. Hence the quiet on the blog. I can’t think an original thought, even though I’m off Facebook, so hang tight…something will come to me eventually. But maybe not til the rest of me joins my brain at the beach.]

Reading, Reviews

Update on the Spring Reading List

Time for a quick catch up on some recent reading! As always, my reading list is mishmash of novels and a little bit of nonfiction. A couple of months ago, I put out my Spring TBR list of 9 books. Here’s how it played out.

  1. The Summer Before the WarThe Summer Before The War, Helen Simonson – I loved the setting and the characters of this book. One the one hand, I wanted to read about them forever. On the other hand, the pace of the novel was uneven and it was hard to pull out the overarching themes that take a book from just a story to something worth recommending. Not as good as Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand.
  2. The Song of Hartgrove Hall, Natasha Solomons – Also did not meet expectations. Very gloomy characters. Very gloomy setting. The main character is a moody young man in some parts of the book and a grumpy old man in others, who doesn’t seem to have developed much of a moral compass or compassion for others in between times. The back and forth between time periods disjointed the book. Solomons’s The House at Tyneford was much better.
  3. Keep Me Posted, Lisa Beazley – Surprisingly, this one was my favorite. It was PG-13 rated in my opinion, and sometimes got a little too gossipy in tone at the beginning when the two main characters, sisters living in different countries, start writing letters back and forth. However, this book was actually one of the catalysts that led me to Give Up Facebook. I liked its themes of true friendship and authenticity. It’s not a literary masterpiece, but it has redeeming value, likable narrators, and it was just what I needed to read at the time I picked it up.
  4. Flood Girls, Richard Fifield – Abandoned early because of excessive crudity.
  5. Lilac Girls, Martha Hall Kelly – I want to go back to this one…but I’m scared. I got about 1/8 of the way in and chickened out. Why? Well, I’ve read quite a few books set in WWII. Now, I get to a certain point in the story and think, “Oh, no. No no no. I know that place. I know that name. I know how this is going to play out…and it isn’t going to be pretty.” Lilac Girls is in a stack with The Nightingale right now, waiting for me to recover enough bravery to go on.
  6. Present Over Perfect, Shauna Niequist – Didn’t get an early copy, so it’s still high on the list this summer. It has an August release date.
  7. Longing for Paris, Sarah Mae – Still in the middle of this one! I’m struggling to engage with it, but I don’t think it’s because it’s not a good book. I think it’s because it hits pretty close to home. Sarah Mae is presenting an idea and a challenge that requires hard consideration on my part. So I keep putting it off, saying, “Maybe tomorrow.”
  8. High Rising, Angela Thirkell – Haven’t gotten a hold of a copy yet. Thirkell isn’t exactly floating around libraries and used bookstores in the U.S.
  9. Last Stop on Market Street – Still on the holds list at the library for this one!

And now for some short reviews of books that got added to the Spring reading list as I went along!

A Place We Once Knew Well, Susan Carol McCarthy

SA Place We Knew Wellet in Florida in 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis, this is the story of how the missile crisis was the tipping point for many other crises in a small town near McCoy Air Force Base. Before reading this book, I knew nothing about the Cuban Missile Crisis. The historical accuracy of the book combined with the emotional story depicting how many Americans must have felt during those 13 days of uncertainty in 1962 was fascinating. The actual story and characters delve into some other themes of the time like women’s healthcare and mental health. Those were not as thrilling, but all in all it was good enough to make it a solid 3 star book.

Land Girls, Angela Huth

I thought I’d love this book. I hated it. It is set in the English countryside during WWII, and follows the experiences of three young women who signed up to be Land Girls. These women did the farm work that the men would have done if they hadn’t been called to war, and then some.  All that sounds fascinating, right? Sadly, that is where the historical accuracy of this book ends. Angela Huth imposed a college co-ed dormitory lifestyle of today onto characters and situations from the 1940s. The amount of “shagging” going on was ridiculous. The amount of food these girls ate was also ridiculous (rationing, hello?). Beyond the historical inaccuracies, the amount of time spent in the secondary characters’ thoughts was jarring and unpleasant. If Huth had stuck to developing the three main characters and kept their actions in line with other literature of the period, this could have been a great book. Unfortunately, it is loathsome. And the original Land Girls think so, too.

Heidi's ChildrenHeidi Grows Up and Heidi’s Children, Charles Tritten

I need large doses of Old Fashioned Goodness in my reading life, and these were perfect. They made for excellent bedtime reading.

Stars Over Sunset Boulevard

I grabbed this one up when I saw it was a new release by Susan Meissner, who wrote one of my favorite books of last year, Secrets of a Charmed Life. Set in the late 1930s, Stars Over Sunset Boulevard follows two women as their unlikely friendship progresses. The theme of motherhood is big in this book, and I appreciated how Meissner presented it tenderly and as something of great value, but also shattered the myth that it will complete a woman. The book is on the cusp of the change in what a woman expects from her life — from children and marriage and a life firmly rooted at home to a career. The two main characters present opposite sides of that shift. The complexity of their friendship as they navigate their differences points to the most important theme in the book — nothing you strive for in life will take the place of being truthful and living with love for others greater than love for yourself.

All in all, I haven’t come across anything work more than 3 stars this Spring. The search for the great summer read of 2016 is on!

Everyday Life, Home Renovation, Reading, Reviews

Why I Loved The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up

So have you heard of this book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up? A few months ago it seemed like all my friends were telling me about. Apparently, it’s become all the rage since its release in 2014. In it, Marie Kondo outlines her KonMari method of tidying up your home once and for all. I didn’t want to hear about that, though. When this book came up in conversation, I would smile and nod, but I was thinking, “I don’t need to read another book about housekeeping, I just need to buckle down and keep house.” So I tried the Buckle Down Method. For months.  It worked terribly. When we moved into our fixer upper, I told myself it would be different. I would have more space and we would have a place for everything. But here’s the thing: if you’re not willing to confront all the things you have, you’re not willing to put them away. 

Moving after ten years of marriage and three children was eye opening. I was floored by all the boxes we pulled out of the attic only t to move them to another attic. They were out of sight, but they were weighing on my mind—what is in all those boxes? I always thought I was a ruthless de-clutterer! And it wasn’t just the attic. All my mental images of peaceful rooms were replaced with mounds of stuff.  I know I could say, “give yourself a break, you just moved in,” but that would not have been the truth. The truth was I liked our house better before we moved our belongings into it, which seems the opposite of how it should be.

Then came Spring in the midst of it all. The week after Easter feels like the true New Year. January is just a joke, when we’re still wanting to hibernate in the winter season of rest.  I don’t remember consciously deciding to, but I guess all this fresh air got to me, and I took the plunge and read The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up cover to cover last week. Surprisingly, I loved it.  Okay, yes, there was a bit too much treating inanimate objects like they are living beings, but ignore all that and what you have is a whole new way to declutter and manage your home that actually works.

Before I tell you the five kinds of items I got rid of after reading this book, let me tell you a tiny bit about the KonMari method. The first step is going through your belongings by item type, not by room. You handle your things and ask “Does it spark joy?” Now, you don’t have to ask this about things like your toothbrush, but its a valid question for just about everything else. You may be shocked how many things in your house actually spark feelings of guilt or worse that you never even realized. I’m not trying to get all touchy-feely or assign life to inanimate objects, but Kondo’s point that our possessions have an effect on us is, strangely enough, true. So you go through this process for your clothes, your books, and progress through all the different kinds of items in your house, ending with your keepsakes and photos. Then, and only then, do you work on putting things away. Because every single thing in your house needs a home. Sound overwhelming? It’s not a process you can do in one week, for sure. Kondo recommends getting it all done in six months. I promise you, though, once you start, you’re going to want to get it all done right away!

Still curious about how this could actually be different from other methods of house cleaning? Let me share some unexpected results from my experience. Here are the five kinds things I got rid of after reading this book.

  1. Things I could use but I don’t want to use anymore. Perfectly good clothes fall in this category. I got rid of two canvas grocery bags of clothes. All of these clothes fit fine. They weren’t in bad shape. But they did not make me feel joy at all. For whatever reason, a certain blouse can make me feel like an uptight grump, and a specific dress can make me remember how inadequate I felt when I wore it to a wedding. I won’t ever put those clothes on and feel joy, no matter how serviceable or stylish they are. Beyond clothes, I got rid of scads of toiletries. Why in the world did I have 11 different bottles of lotion, with barely any used up? Six, yes six, of those bottles were expired. I threw all but one away because, newsflash to myself, I don’t even like using lotion! I now have one bottle of lotion and judging by previous lotion use, it will probably expire before I use it up.
  2. Things I’ve been meaning to use but haven’t. I.e. most of my craft supplies. I am not very crafty, yet when craft supplies come my way, I have trouble discarding them. I had in my stash glass painting supplies that I used when I was sixteen. I have been collecting odd yards of fabric for a decade, thinking I’ll someday sew something new and great with it….but I don’t really sew. Ever. The truth is if I am going to make something, I’m probably going to need new supplies. It turns out I only actually liked one piece out of the twenty pieces of fabric that have been taking up space in my home for ten years. All my glass paint was dried up. The only things I kept in my crafting stash were paints I’ve used in the last year, the one piece of fabric I liked, and my sewing kit I use for mending. I know if I really want to make something I’m going to want to use or display in my house, I’m need to pick the materials based what I like now, not what I had before. This category also could apply to books that glare at you with disdain from your bookshelf because you haven’t read them yet. Okay, so I find it pretty easy to personify books. But seriously. If you haven’t read it yet, you probably aren’t going to. And that’s what a library is for anyway!
  3. Things I thought made me who I am. Well, this is a tough one. Mementos and keepsakes come in all shapes and sizes. Weirdly enough, I’d been holding onto all my college papers. My mental hang up? I will probably never be in a situation again where the merit of my work was measured and found to be pretty great. I was good at college, and I liked to write academically. However, when I started re-reading the papers I pulled out of the attic, I realized I didn’t enjoy them at all. I am too far removed from that world to even know what I was talking about most of the time! It was something I was good at, but it’s not something I do anymore. Also, I still had all kinds of mementos from my wedding day. The sweat-stained satin shoes, the hundreds of greeting cards from friends and family, the dried boutonniere my husband wore. That’s what a wedding photographer is for, right?  It’s in this category that I found the most valuable principle I pulled out of Kondo’s book: “It is not our memories but the person we have become because of those past experiences that we should treasure. This is the lesson these keepsakes teach us when we sort them. The space in which we live should be for the person we are becoming now, not for the person we were in the past.” It’s okay to get rid of the clock you really loved six years ago. If you find yourself resentful of all the mugs you’ve collected from your travels, get rid of some! The you in the here and now needs more space to breathe and think than items to pull you from the present back to where you’ve been (on the flipside, if those mugs/candles/what-have-you spark joy, keep them!).
  4. Things I didn’t know I hoarded. Did you know that almost everyone hoards something? Kondo declares this to be true in her book. Before going through my things, I said to a friend who was telling me about her particular stockpile, “I don’t think I hoard anything. I am a terrible planner and have never had the foresight to maintain a stockpile, much to my chagrin sometimes!” Oh, but I was wrong. I counted over 250 sheet protectors from various places in my house. #whatanerdhoards. I vaguely remember this time when I seriously needed a sheet protector and didn’t have one in college…that fear has morphed into packages all around my home. Dumb? Well, I bet if you started pulling out all the you-name-its in your home, you’d be surprised at all the ballpoint pens or packages of unopened socks or bags of tortilla chips, or what have you. It only takes one time of not having what you need to make you feel like you must buy that item on a regular basis to avoid dire straits. I’m starting to wonder about my love of the name Avery…
  5. PhotosOkay, okay, before you shutter and walk away, I just want to declare this truth: Just because a moment is captured and frozen in time in a photo does not mean it’s worth keeping. I really did not need to move boxes from house to house with hundreds of photos in them of my high school missions trips, college beach trips, or even a trip to Europe. Seriously, if you go through photos (especially from back in the film era when every photo snapped was a photo developed), Kondo says you will probably only want to keep 1 in 5. This was definitely true for me. I kept plenty of photos to give a more than ample overview of my life and my favorite moments and people, and that’s all anyone needs.

The bottom line is this: having a cluttered home makes me feel like all my problems are just that- having a cluttered home. Kondo shares story after story of how after clients tidy up, they are left with that delusion stripped away and get down to working on the real issues in their lives. Some of her clients changed jobs, some lost a ton of weight, others mended relationships. A cluttered home is not a life or death matter, but it can keep us from confronting all sorts of things because we hide behind the fact that we can’t deal with anything else, our homes are too much of a mess. Best to get that in order first. Yes…if you actually do it. This is the life changing part. Get your house in order once and for all and get on with your life. Have I done that yet? Noooooo. I’ve still got a lot of work to do. But I really hope that by the end of this summer, my home will be in order.

Image result for oak island beach houseMy goal is the feeling you get when you walk into a beach house you’ve rented for the week. The corners are empty. The floor doesn’t have stacks of anything on it. There is no laundry piled up on the beds. The air seems clearer and cleaner. Am I aiming too high? After reading The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I really don’t think so. I want to live with just what I need and just what makes our home beautiful to us.

I’m also looking forward to Kondo’s next book, Spark JoyBut first, more tidying!

Reading, Top Ten Tuesday

Spring To Be Read – A Top Ten Tuesday List

It’s been eons since I’ve joined in on a Top Ten Tuesday link up, but I’m back at it today because I’m excited about several books coming out this Spring! For more ideas on what to read this Spring, head on over to The Broke and the Bookish and explore what others are reading!

~My list~

  1. The Summer Before the War, Helen Simonson

The Summer Before the WarAfter reading Simonson’s first book, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, I knew she was just the kind of author I like. Her new book follows a small town’s and a few of its inhabitants as the WWI looms over and then burst into their lives. I think Simonson will do a great job of capturing the setting and the characters, just as she did in Major Pettigrew, and I can’t wait to find out how her first attempt at  historical fiction turns out.

2. The Song of Hartgrove Hall, Natasha Solomons

I immediately put this on my TBR list after reading The Captive Reader’s early review of it. Natasha Solomon’s  The House at Tyneford was something of a Jane Eyre tale set in WWII, and it was beautifully written.  Now Solomons is in that same time period with her book The Song of Hartgrove Hall. In the UK, its title is The Song Collector, and I wish the publishers would have kept that title here in the States! It sounds like the title of a poem. But I’ll settle with the U.S. version and try to enjoy it anyway. =)

3. Keep Me Posted, by Lisa Beazley

Keep Me PostedSisters reconnecting through old fashioned letters in the modern age of social media? Sounds like a great read! I can think of all kinds of themes this book could explore, but I’ll have to wait til April 15 to find out what this book is really like. (Thanks to Memories From Books for alerting me to this new title!)

4. The Flood Girls, Richard Fifield

Set in Montana, The Flood Girls follows the coming home story of Rachel Flood as she tries to re-forge ties with her mother and slide back into the hilarious and quirky small town of Quinn. The Flood Girls is being compared to A League of Their Own and Russo’s Empire Falls — that’s enough for me to put it on my library hold list and give it a try!

5. Lilac Girls, Martha Hall Kelly

Another title with “girls” in it, but a completely different kind of book, Lilac Girls is based on the true story of Caroline Ferriday, an American woman whose post in the French consulate in 1939 led her into the fray of WWII and the pursuit for justice for two other women, German doctor Herta Oberheuser and polish girl Kasia Kuzmerick. This book tells the story of some unsung heroes of the era, and I’m looking forward to it!

6. Present Over PerfectShauna Niequist

I love Niequist’s books – she paints pictures with her words while lending perspective on embracing the beauty of this life while loving well and following hard after God. Bread and Wine gave me a better perspective on feeding my family and friends and even taught me a few things about cooking. Present Over Perfect doesn’t release til August, but I’m hoping to get an early copy. Fingers crossed!

7. Longing For Paris, Sarah Mae

Longing for Paris: One Woman's Search for Joy, Beauty, and Adventure--Right Where She IsAs a mom, it’s easy to feel like all you do is give everyone in your family what they need while ignoring the dreams that have been building inside of your for a lifetime. Sarah Mae gets this. She wrote Desperate from that place (one of my favorite books, by the way!), and now her new book is another exploration into finding hope in current situations. She has always wanted to spend time in Paris, but she’s never come close to that. Her book is about how all of us have ideals of places or positions that we think will truly fulfill us, but the art of living wholly here and finding joy right where we are is a worthy pursuit in this phase of life. I’ve got this one on my Kindle, just waiting for me to be brave enough to see what it’s all about.

8. High Rising, Angela Thirkell

I have not yet read anything by Angela Thirkell, but she is always mentioned in the same set as some of my favorite British authors, D.E. Stevenson and Barbara Pym, so I’m making it my goal to finally read High Rising this spring.

9. Last Stop on Market Street, Matt De La Pena

Winner of the 2016 Newberry Medal, this is one to go along with my Three Book Thursday series on children’s books. Stay tuned!

10. Many other books I have not discovered yet!

My reading lists are always fluid. I will stop reading some of these books I’ve listed today, or I will find other books that look better…but it’s always good to have goals and my goodreads.com to read list is always growing, despite how many books I check off!

Have a wonderful Spring full of books and outdoor reading, with lots of running around in the warm weather mixed in!

Reading, Reviews

Light Reading Gone Awry: What I’ve Read This Winter

I’ve said before that winter is the best time for reading. A great classic and a warm fire on a cold night is just delightful. However, in the midst of all this renovating craziness and cold season sleep deprivation, I absolutely have to keep the reading light and easy.  I’m about to rethink my light reading theory, though, because it is so hard to find a quality light read! Here’s what I’ve read in the last few weeks. Please share your favorite light reads with me and save me from light reading gone awry! (If you’re more of a non-fiction fan, scroll to the end of this post).

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend – 2 Stars
25573977I was excited about this book because it is touted as perfect for lovers of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Why, I’m not sure, other than there’s lots of mentions of books in it, and a few letters. What I love about Guernsey is the setting (English Channel Islands), the characters (fresh and witty and kind), this history (WWII), and the subtle plot and character development. The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend is set in the Midwest, has one-dimensional characters, and every single feeling and detail of the characters is written down in painstaking detail. (And so is the physical nature of relationships, so thumbs down there. Really, I don’t need to know any of that about book characters!) In its tone and story, it’s similar to a Fannie Flagg or Sandra Dallas book, but the strong, unforgettable characters are simply not there and the pace is super slow. I wanted to like it, but I found it to be pretty trite. If you liked The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, you might like this one, but I’d still guess The Readers of Broken Wheel characters won’t draw you in. Feel free to prove me wrong and let me know what you think!

The Lost Husband – 2.5, almost 3 Stars

I really liked some of the characters in this book, and it was nice to read a novel written from a mom’s point of view for a change. The main character, Libby, does such a good job of describing why she can’t stand watching violent movies. The book is back at the library so I can’t type it out, but I think most moms of little children would enjoy this as a light read. However, I have to tell you, there’s a character who claims she can speak to the dead. If that sounds as sketch to you as it does to me, don’t let this stop you from reading on; it never happens and it’s not a big part of the plot.

The Daughter’s Walk – DNF

Sheesh. I wanted to ask the author, “Why do you feel the need to create horrific events like this for your characters? Do you hate them? I can’t take it!” I know Jane Kirpatrick has lots of fans, but this book is not my cup of tea.

The Brontë PlotThe Bronte Plot – 3.5 stars

This one is my favorite of the light read bunch I picked up in the last few weeks. If you love Victorian British Literature as much as I do, you will thoroughly enjoy it. If you aren’t a big fan of Victorian British Literature, you might still like it! There are lots of references to works by Charlotte Bronte, Emily Bronte, and even Anne Bronte, so get ready to google some stuff if you’re unfamiliar with their works. Beyond the literary ties to some of my favorite books, I loved the elderly character, Helen. In my mind, she is played by an elderly Vanessa Redgrave and is just like her character in Letters to Juliet. So far, everything Katherine Reay has written has been a 3-4 star read with absolutely zero smut and thought provoking subjects that manage to end up being uplifting instead of depressing. I highly recommend her for all your light reading needs.

Chasing GodOn the non-fiction side of things, I just finished Chasing God by Angie Smith and I loved it. My favorite part was the last two chapters, because Smith pulls out some details of Jesus’ interactions with people in the gospels that I have missed my entire life. Her humor and humility makes this a great read if you want to go deep but you’re struggling to focus on the really serious books about Christianity. I’m looking forward to reading her other works, as well.

Now I’m in the middle of What Is A Family? by Edith Schaeffer which is very inspiring but also overwhelming. I have to remind myself “take small steps and make a little progress” almost every time I read it, though, because Schaeffer has some pretty high standards of nurturing— flowers on the table at tea time (and, well, tea time), lots of lovely art supplies, nature all around, etc.

So, what have you been reading?

Children's Books, Friday Favorites - Children's Books, Reading, Reviews, Three Book Thursday

Three Book Thursday: Frontiersman Edition

Welcome to Three Book Thursday! Three Book Thursday is a feature that’s all about sharing the joy of books with children. To read more posts like this one, go here!

My children and I are in the middle of the best unit study for young kids ever. We’re studying frontiersmen (and frontierswomen? frontierspeople?). Seriously, what kids do not want to pretend they’re churning butter in the mud pit under the swing set? Or tying meat onto their horse after hunting (but the horse is actually a mop and the meat is actually your sister’s pink cupcake purse…)? It has been an amusing for me to watch them play after doing this study, at any rate!

(Side note on our history theory: A lot of people say “It’s important to study history chronologically,” in a more classical method like Susan Wise Bauer‘s books follow. Another group says “read what your kids are interested in” or “start with U.S. history because it has the best literature for young children to go with it!” Rea Berg is a big proponent for this theory. Since I’m crazy about reading, I’m a big fan of the route with lots of stories and literature. And we also pick up The Story of the World and read that, too. In other words, we like it all! But mostly we stick with a literature based approach to history, so sometimes our just-for-fun books will also be our school books, but please know that these books stand alone as great books to read with your kids and it’s important to pick the educational method that fits you and your children best.)

Without further ado, here are our favorite books this week!

Daniel Boone's Great EscapeDaniel Boone’s Great Escape by Michael P. Spradlin is currently Isaac’s very favorite book. It’s just a snippet of what Daniel Boone did in his life, but it works well for young children because it’s an exciting adventure through and through. In the later part of Daniel Boone’s life, after he’s founded Boonsborough and even become a grandfather, he was captured by Shawnee warriors. His escape is pretty amazing! This book definitely falls in the Heroes For Boys category that I’m always seeking out on our library trips.

We’ve also enjoyed Who Was Here: Discovering Wild Animal Tracks as we talk about tracking animals.  One page has a clue about the animal and a picture of its print, and the next page has the answer. It’s a good combination of learning about 18769496the animals’ tracks, their habitats, and some interesting facts about them. We read Tracks in the Snow as another track-themed book, but it was definitely more for the 2-3-year-old age group than for a 4-year-old or 6-year-old. It was very cute and Violet loved it, though the concept of snow was totally lost on her.

I’m thankful we get to investigate tracks for fun instead of for food, but I also think it’s good for our modern-day children to know how much hard work frontiersmen went through. So of course, I chose Little House in the Big Woods as our read aloud for this month. Last time we read it, Ella was only four. She doesn’t remember much of it, and it’s all new to Isaac this time around. Does homeschooling mean I get to read the Little House books to my children every two years? Sold! =) I feel like I need to reread these books for my own perspective on how much easier my life is than Caroline Wilder’s was. And if you want to put Christmas gifts into perspective for your kids, read them just the Christmas chapters from Little House in the Big Woods or Little House on the Prairie.  Wow. Besides the perspective, these are simply some of the best books ever. And the great part is I hardly remember On The Shores of Silver Lake! Can’t wait ’til we get to that one.

So that’s what’s in our reading basket this week. What have you and your kids been reading?

Reading, Reviews

The DNF List of The Summer

Confession: for every book I read start to finish, there are is another book (or two) figuratively marked with a glaring DNF. I have no shame about the Did Not Finish category. I know some people feel if they start a book, they must finish or else it’s all been a waste of time. I prefer to take Thomas Edison’s view, though: he discovered 10,000 ways not to invent a light bulb, I have discovered 10,000 books (er..maybe a few less) that I didn’t want to spend time reading. Unless a book has inherit merit (say, you promised a friend you’d read it, or it’s on your syllabus, or it’s The Bible, for instance), I say, feel free to cast it aside! How many books would I never discover if I was too afraid to pick up a book because I knew I was going to make myself finish what I started?  To prove I’m serious about this, I’m admitting today that I started and didn’t finish these four very popular books this summer. (please note: these are the books I did not finish just in the last two months. There are tons of others).

  1. Go Set A Watchman – Okay, don’t judge. I read this book through more than halfway, and I really appreciated the look into the way an author can develop characters and they can morph into people the author didn’t set out to create at the beginning. It really is like reading a first draft of To Kill A Mockingbird. I can totally see why Harper Lee’s editor suggested a re-write from Scout’s childhood perspective, for those were far and away the best parts of WatchmanYou can’t read this book as a sequel. It’s separate, it has hardly anything to do with TKAM. I read it out of curiosity, but when my curiosity was sated, I didn’t find anything in it to keep me going.
  2. The Book of SpeculationThe Book of Speculation– So morbid and dark! Tarrot cards, curses, babies abandoned. Not my cup of tea. I kind of wanted to know what happened, but not enough to endure through the end of the book. Maybe I should have skipped to the end? I was afraid of the end, though. It’s better not to know, sometimes. Plus, the cover ends up having nothing to do with the book. A misleading cover is such a bad start to a book relationship.
  3. In The Unlikely Event – I may pick this book up again one day, but right now I cannot handle any more books that shift their points of view. I counted twenty different points of view in this book. Twenty! Judy Blume can get away with it, because I’ve heard from so many people that this is a really awesome book. Right now, I just want to get sucked into a character and a story and stay there, please? Alright? Alright.
  4. The Nightingale – I will read this book one day. But this was about the 4th novel set in WWII I picked up this summer and I just could not go down that road again. I’d love to know any reader’s thoughts on this book.
  5. Circling the SunCircling The Sun – This is another book I may go back and finish. It was a hard week when I started this one, though, and I could tell by the first five chapters that this one would have some harsh word pictures in it. I needed soft, like Miss Read or something. So when it came due at the library, I gave it back only 1/8 done, vowing to go back to it one day when I was ready for the grit of African soil. I’ve heard so many people say it’s amazing. I make myself feel better by chanting, “I have read Beryl Markham’s true memoir, I have Beryl Markham’s memoir on bookshelf, I am not a phony book lover, I am not a phony book lover…” It sort of worked.

How do you feel about starting and finishing books?

Children's Books, Reading, Reviews

Books For Grown Up Fans of Louisa May Alcott

If you check out any books lists with the title, “Best Books of Childhood” or “Top 100 Classics,” you will find Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women somewhere in the top ten. I read the binding out of that book and Alcott’s many others when I was a young girl all the way through the teenage years. Then one cozy day close to a Christmas in my mid-twenties, I remembered the opening scene of Little Women, when Jo says, “Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” and I had an instant longing to get reacquainted with some of my favorite literary people of all time. I snatched the book off the prominent living room bookshelf, where it has sat for my entire adulthood, still a bit ragged and adorned with blue crayon thanks to a younger sister. I got through the first few chapters while fighting back the thought, “I should be enjoying this more. I love this book, don’t I?” The sad truth is, Little Women did not speak to me like it did when I was younger. Maybe it was the simplistic language or the situations I already knew so well but no longer related to, but I put the book down before even getting to the part when Amy burns Jo’s manuscript. It was a sad day.

Since then,  I’ve made it my mission to find books that grown up fans of Louisa May Alcott will love. I was so happy to find that these books do exist! And I’m constantly trying to find more. Here is my running list so far.

(Oh, and one of the best parts of this list is hat with the exception of The Blue Castle and Emily of Deep Valley, all of these books are free as e-books at Project Gutenberg. You’re welcome!)

MotherMother – I read this just last week and found it to be both sweet and relevant to today. Written by Kathleen Thompson Norris in 1911, it tells the story of Margaret, the oldest daughter of a large family who longs to get away from her small-town, family life and make something of herself. By a seemingly fairy tale twist of fate, she is whisked off as a secretary to New York City. As the story develops, Margaret becomes a modern thinking woman, and her mother seems to live a sad life. Margaret’s wisdom grows, however, and this book becomes a tribute to motherhood. It is old fashioned, and I loved ever bit of it.

A Girl of the Limberlost – If you have not discovered Gene Stratton Porter’s best novel, you must rush to read this classic right away! Elnora Comstock is one of my favorite literary characters. Though poor and unloved by her grief-hardened mother, Elnora’s strength of character and determination to learn despite the odds against her makes this novel a classic American coming-of-age story.

The Making of a Marchioness – Who knew the famous writer of The Secret Garden and The Little Princess also wrote for adults? Frances Hodgson Burnett’s adult novels still follow the trend of a poor girl finding unlikely happiness, which I don’t mind because it’s kind of comforting when you have expectations of a writer and your expectations are met.

The Blue CastleThe Blue Castle – L.M. Montgomery’s best book for grown ups may feature a little too much rebellious spirit to be classified as Alcott-esque, but I’m pretty sure if you like Alcott’s books, you’ll like this one, too.

Daddy Long Legs and Dear Enemy – Jean Webster’s books are written as letters, so style-wise they differ a good bit from Alcott, but in character and theme, they are very similar.

And here are a few on my-to read list that I suspect will fall into this category as well.

Emily of Deep Valley by Maude Hart Lovelace

Stepping Heavenward by Elizabeth Payson Prentiss

The Wide, Wide World by Susan Bogert Warner

(Why do all these writers have two last names?)

I hope you find something on this list that makes your Fall reading a delightful plunge back into old-fashioned books.

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