Reading, Reviews

Books To Read This Winter – There’s Something For Everyone!

Winter is simply the best time to read. I mean, I love stretching out on a deck chair on a sunny June day with a book, but there are lots of other things I love in June, too… picking berries, swimming, planting things that probably won’t grow, going on long walks at sunrise, washing stuff…I really like June. But if I’m next to a roaring fire on a cold December day, my hands are aching to have a book in them. All is wrong with the world if I’m without something to read in wintertime. Lucky for you, I started my winter reading early this year! I’ve read a little bit of everything lately, and so I’m putting together a little guide for what to pick up this winter, gathered from several different genres.

Literary Fiction

To The Bright Edge of the World, Eowyn Ivey

To The Bright Edge of the WorldThis is my favorite book of 2016. It combines adventure with history in a completely new way, and is one of those books that is so interesting and well written, it will appeal to men and women of any age. Set in the frontier of Alaska at the end of the 19th century, this novel is based on the real historical figures of Colonel Allen Forrester and his wife Sophie. Colonel Forrester is given the task of mapping an unexplored area of Alaska, and the fictionalized accounts of his trip with his small group of men are enthralling and make me want to know much more than I do about Alaskan history and all the mysticism explorers encountered. While Colonel Forrester is away, Sophie pursues her own love of nature through the newly invented camera. I found both of their narratives to be equally absorbing. This is the kind of book that you put down and you can’t wait to pick up again, and when it’s over you long to start another one just like it. I haven’t read Ivey’s first novel The Snow Child, but it is on the bedside table stack and will surely be one of my Winter 2016 reads.

Historical Fiction 

Amy Snow, Tracy Rees

Amy SnowIf you like historical fiction about women in the 1800s, this book is your cup of tea. It follows the life of the title character Amy Snow, who was found as an abandoned newborn by a young heiress and raised in a confusing and unconventional way. After the heiress dies at a very young age, Amy must follow a trail left for her to discover the truth about who she is and who her benefactress was, as well. I would say that Jane Eyre heavily influenced Tracy Rees; Amy’s character is very similar in tone and personality to Jane. This is the winter equivalent to a light, well-written beach read, with a huge plus that it is fairly clean/non-smutty, though it deals with some adult themes.

Memoir

 The Magnolia Story, Chip and Joanna Gaines

As a fan of Fixer Upper, I knew I would be reading this as soon as I heard they were The Magnolia Storyreleasing it. I tried to go into it with low expectations…after all, they’re TV personalities, not writers. I was pleasantly surprised, though, because what I found in the pages of The Magnolia Story was not a story about TV personalities…it was a story about real people, with real faith and normal struggles. Sometimes it seems like a memoir has to feature a tragedy to get published, but this one was hopeful and inspiring. I garnered some real perspective on thriving when you’re not in the middle of what you would consider success, and on building a strong marriage by sticking close together in life, pursuing similar dreams.  As a book, it’s not a Pulitzer Prize winner or anything, but a tiny taste of what it would be like to sit around a dinner table for a few hours with Chip and Joanna Gaines and laugh and talk with them about life.

Mystery or Crime Novel

Lady Cop Makes Trouble, Amy Stewart

Lady Cop Makes Trouble (Kopp Sisters, #2)The sequel to Girl Waits With A Gun does not disappoint. Constance Kopp is back as one of the first lady cops in America. She is trying to work her way into the well-deserved role of deputy sheriff, but a German con-man is besting her and everyone else on the police force. Just as I did in the first installment of The Kopps Sisters series, I thoroughly enjoyed the history and real-life people woven into this page-turner. Amy Stewart always features a plot-line straight from the newspapers of the early 1900s. Definitely start with the first book, but don’t wait too long to get into this series if you’re a fan of Maisie Dobbs or historical crime fiction in general. On a clean-read note, this is a very non-graphic crime novel, for those of you concerned with being able to sleep at night (that would be me).

Faith-Based

The Broken Way, Ann Voskamp

The Broken Way: A Daring Path into the Abundant LifeI’m slowly and carefully soaking up the words of this book on chilly Autumn mornings before my children wake up. So far, it is everything you would expect from Ann Voskamp – a constant fluctuation between despair and bright hope, earthly circumstances and heavenly perspective, fear and awe-inspiring love. I would venture to predict that this second book of Voskamp’s won’t be the raging success her first one was, mostly because it isn’t as much of a self-help book on finding joy. Joy is still a theme, yes, but Voskamp is exploring a tougher path this time to true, complete joy in giving.  This one isn’t going to get you keeping a list of things to be grateful for. It will get you thinking more on what’s been given up for you and how you can give more up for others. As I keep on reading it, I’ll give a fuller review. I’ve read enough to say you should definitely join me in reading it!

Fantasy or YA

Nothing new to report here, but I’d strongly recommend Robin McKinley’s The Blue Sword and many of her other books. Clearly, I need some recommendations in this genre.

Those are my top picks for Winter reads in 2016! Tell me what yours are, pretty please? I’m always looking for a good book this time of year.

And if you’d like to follow me on goodreads.com, here’s the link to do that. It’s so fun to be Goodreads Friends and see one another’s reviews about all sorts of books, and I guarantee you’ll find a plethora of good reads. It’s better than Pinterest for book lovers (and maybe more dangerously time consuming…but check it out anyway!). Happy Reading!

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Children's Books, Reviews

Picture Book Round Up, October 2016

It’s picture book review day! I’ve caught up on reviewing the nonfiction I’ve read lately and the books I hope to read this season. Now, it’s time to talk about the picture books my children have loved lately! Reading books together is one of our favorites things to do. Our library card is almost always maxed out on items checked out. Isn’t that the way it should be? =) Here are our recent discoveries and current favorites.

Violet’s Picks (Age 2)

Get Out of My Bath! by Britta Teckentrup

An interactive book about an elephant with too many bath buddies, this one is silly and fun, especially right before bath time. Violet loves the part when the narrator tells the reader to say, “Get out, crocodile!” She uses her deepest voice. This book also might aid a little bit in teaching children the idea of right and left. Just a tiny bit, though. We have several of Britta Teckentrup’s books in our library basket this week, thanks to a good recommendation from a friend. Tree is my favorite so far.

Corduroy

231850I don’t really have to say much about this one do I? It’s well-loved. Violet wants to read it pretty much every day at nap time.

Curious George Goes to an Ice Cream Shop

291367The beach house we stayed in during the last week of September had several Curious George books that Violet loved, but this one was her favorite. We are now picking one out each time we go to the library. It’s funny how each of my children seem to really latch on different book characters at this age. Her siblings never loved Curious George, but Violet seems to relate to his mischief and mayhem. I just hope the books help her live that out vicariously instead of practically. Ha.

Isaac’s Picks (Age 5)

Captain Pajamas, Defender of the Universe, by Bruce Whatley and Rosie Smith

I wouldn’t have picked this one, but what boy can resist it on display at the library? Turns out, it is pretty fun to read aloud, though I leave out a few words based on family preference (nothing terrible, just a couple of “dumbs” that I think we can do without).  Captain Pajamas/Brian is a little boy who longs to do big things and keep people safe. The hidden message I gathered from all the silliness is that reminder for grown ups: little boys need to be encouraged to do big things and take on challenges. But mostly, it’s a funny book with a comic feel that little boys who want to be big boys will enjoy.

The Caboose Who Got Loose

Isaac loves the drawings of Bill Peet. We’re just getting into his children’s books because they are a on the long side for little people. This one reminds me of Virginia Lee Burton’s The Little House. I suspect it will make both you and your train-loving children very happy.

 

 

 

Dinotrux, Dinotrux Dig the Beach, and Revenge of the Dinotrux, by Chris Gall

The Dinotrux series was Isaac’s library discovery last month, and I have never seen him more excited about finding his own books. He plopped right down in the aisle and looked through all of them, and then you better believe my husband and I had to read the three he brought home over and over again in the following two weeks. (Also, many thanks to the aunts and uncles took some turns during our big family beach trip). I’d still vote the Jim and Kate McMullan truck books way over these, but if you’re looking for more truck books for your children, these are probably going to be a hit. Just please don’t send me nasty messages about how many times you have to say things like “grrr” and “boink.” That’s just life with truck books/boys. The bonus for this book? There are Dinotrux toys to go with the books. You may or may not want to keep that detail to yourself….

Ella’s Pick (Age 7)

Fancy Nancy: Saturday Night Sleepover

A new Fancy Nancy release always makes Ella’s day. She has been a fan for several years now. This newish (2015) book is about Nancy and her youngest sister sleeping over at their neighbor’s house while their parents go on an overnight trip. Nancy has to use her best big sister skills to help ease little JoJo’s fears about being without her parents. Nancy does a great job, and also discovers that she gains comfort from having a little sister close by. It’s a cute sibling story. On the Fancy Nancy subject, Ella is thrilled to find that Nancy is in her own set of chapter books now. The Nancy Clancy series is perfect for developing readers who have grown up with Fancy Nancy. Ella is on book 3 and I’m loving how she is gaining confidence in reading her own chapter books.

This is the only picture book I can remember Ella picking out herself lately, because she’s so into chapter books now! I’m glad she loves to read and is progressing rapidly, but I could just weep over how grown up she is becoming. Moms are so weird like that.  She still loves to read picture books with the rest of us, though, so I’m treasuring these days while they last.

That sums up our favorite picture books for now. Happy reading!

 

Reading, Reviews

All The Pretty Things and Other September Reads

Thank you for all your kind words after my last post, The Summer That Was Quiet and Hard. Knowing that the whole self-contempt, identity issue is something many of us face, I wanted to share a few books that are helping me think through it all. 

This past month or so of reading has been completely out of the ordinary. I am usually a novel girl, as in, I read lots of novels and throw in a few nonfiction books here and there for good measure. But when you’re trying to figure out a lot of real life and you feel like you’re wading through deep waters, a thirst for help and wisdom and true stories from other travelers along the path is all that will do. And I gotta say, a couple of these books that just came out in the last two months are amazingly wonderfully.

Present Over Perfect

Present Over Perfect: Leaving Behind Frantic for a Simpler, More Soulful Way of LivingI put Shauna Niequist’s Present Over Perfect on my Spring TBR list, hoping to get an early release copy. I didn’t get one, but it was God’s goodness to me that I didn’t and that somehow I didn’t even get around to buying it the day it came out. I waited to read it until the very end of August. There could not have been a more perfect book for me to read at that very moment in my life. This surprised me, because I actually thought before I started the book, “I’ve kind of heard a lot about this message –the slow your pace, pay more attention to the present message–lately and I’m not so sure this book is going to have anything new to say about it.” Let me tell you, I was wrong.  Present Over Perfect bowled me over. It was this book that helped me recognize the self contempt I was feeling, and the one that gave me some tools to start waging the slow thought-battle against it. Niequist has so many good things to say about how we define ourselves and what our defining measures can do to our lives, in good and bad ways. I want to read it again right this minute. I hope you pick it up, and I hope it is the huge gift to you that it was to me.

All the Pretty Things

All the Pretty Things: The Story of a Southern Girl Who Went Through Fire to Find Her Way HomeEdie Wadsworth of Life In Grace has been writing her memoir for three years. This is one of those, “I wasn’t going to write a memoir but a publisher asked me to” situations that makes aspiring writers jealous and angry, but I am really glad that Wadsworth wrote it, no matter what the process was. All The Pretty Things is a book I couldn’t put down. Edie grew up in rural Tennessee, the daughter of dysfunction and love. Her family and her story will make you laugh and cry in sequence over and over again. I loved it. If you’re a fan of The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, this book is definitely your cup of tea. I liked it even better than Walls’s memoir because of the huge measure of hope and redemption on every page. I bought this book. I love books, I read tons of books, but the library is my best friend. I hardly ever buy brand new books, but I bought this one. It’s so good, and filled with hope in hard situations. (Side note: her short podcast series Grace Talks is still my favorite podcast ever).

Chase

Chase Study Guide: Chasing After the Heart of GodThis is the second study I’ve done by Jennie Allen (the first one was Stuck) and again I am so thankful for the books and studies that are in my life at just the right time. Chase begins with a chapter called “Identity” and that is perfect. I’m finding you have to come face to face with who you are without God and with God before anything can become clear and you can live in the goodness God gives us. Chase studies the life of David and so far it’s been eye opening to look at stories I’ve read a million times (like David and Goliath) through the lens of how David’s belief in God changed his actions when compared to everyone around him. Truly, what we believe about God and ourselves changes everything.

So that’s what I read in September. And now it’s October! I’ll be back in a few days to post my reading goals for this Fall. Until then, have a great start to October!

Reading, Reviews

Quick Lit Review- August, 2016

I’m linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy’s Quick Lit today to review what I’ve been reading lately. I have to confess, most of these books were read at the end of July or before August 6 because OLYMPICS. I save up all my TV watching hours for four years and cram them into two weeks and I loooove it. I wrote here about how my husband and I had to re-think our sports watching habits a few years ago, but I will not be moved on this– I will watch as much Summer Olympics as possible. But onto the books I did read since last month’s Quick Lit review!

The Light of ParisThe Light of Paris, by Eleanor Brown – I looked forward to this new book coming out by Brown because I really enjoyed her debut novel, The Weird Sisters. The Light of Paris was not as appealing to me, partly because it’s one of those back-and-forth situations between a character in the past and present, which I am pretty much sick of. The one technique that saves this novel structure in The Light of Paris is the present day plot is narrated in first person and the past plot is narrated in third person, so it’s a tiny bit easier to keep the plot lines straight in your mind. Still, I much prefer getting into one character’s story and staying there. Other than structure, I’d give it a 2.5 stars, mostly because the themes and story lines were not all that believable or enthralling.

The Affair at the Inn – I discovered that Kate Wiggins, author of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, co-wrote a charming little book about a group of travelers in England in the 1800s. It was amusing, a nice light read for fans of old books and free on Project Gutenberg.

The House on the Cliff – My most recent D.E. Stevenson read. As usual, she does not disappoint.

The Grand Sophy – First foray into Georgette Heyer! I can’t say it turned me into a devoted fan, but all the readers who say Heyer is great for a sick day weren’t lying.

The Middle PlaceThe Middle Place – Kelly Corrigan’s first memoir is a touching and honest account of dealing with cancer and family relationships at the same time, though I much more enjoyed this memoir about a brush with death, largely because of the faith behind it. I listened to this one while painting some furniture.

Deck with Flowers – More Elizabeth Cadell! She’s my new-old discovery this summer, and I’m really enjoying reading her books as I can find them.

There’s an Easier Way: 21 Ways to Lovingly Raise Your Children Without Regrets – I picked up this booklet on Amazon after hearing one of the authors, Bonni Greiner, speak on The God Centered Mom Podcast (which I highly recommend). The book is an easy read that doesn’t go incredibly deep but is full of useful tidbits, all of them doable and sensible. If you’re feeling overwhelmed as a mom but you also don’t feel up to reading a deeply theological parenting book, this one is great to get you thinking in the right direction without robbing too many precious brain cells or sleep. =)

I’m currently in the middle of new release Radio Girls, and enjoying it so far! What have you been reading?

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, 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?