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What I Read in Winter (2019)

It’s Spring, it’s spring! Well…the calendar says it’s spring. There are leaves on trees, dogwoods blooming out in the woods, azalea blossoms everywhere, and pine pollen putting a fine, yellow dust on everything. Cue Coldplay’s “Yellow!” Because it is all yellow.

I ended the winter season in bed, despite all my vitamin D taking ways. Last Thursday I woke up with a slight sore throat but thought I was fine, and by later afternoon I was down for the count. Fever, chills, aches, a throat made of fire…great fun. But minor compared to the flu of February, 2018, so that’s an improvement. This illness I call The Putrid Throat (thanks, Poldark) only lasted a couple of days, and I was given the gracious gift by my husband of spending those two days in bed. He even kept the homeschooling going on Friday so we didn’t lose a day. I should make that guy a steak dinner. [And if you’re a parent and you’re hating me right now for getting to stay in bed while sick, I know. I hate me, too. There here have been many times when bed was not an option during an illness for me, and there probably will be many times like that in the future. I salute all of you fighting illnesses in the thick of parenting through busy work schedules, single-parenthood, taxi-ing children with hot tea and theraflu by your side, and travel.]

Ending up in bed for two days means I started and finished several books. These, on top of another stack I read, make up my “Books I Read This Winter” list.

Fiction

The Bear and the Nightingale, Katherine Arden – This was a very compelling and beautifully written but dark book, set in rural Russia at the end of the medieval period. The Russians held many beliefs about household spirits, similar to the light-hearted treatment of the Scandinavian “Tomten” that guards the house and gave favor to it if the house is well cared for, or the Irish Faeries that look favorably upon a household if milk is left out for them. However, the Russian household spirits were numerous and called “demons” so that definitely adds a darker feel to the whole thing. Katherine Arden lived in Russia and studied their history and culture deeply, and her immersion is reflected well in this seamless and fascinating novel. This is part fairy tale, part historical novel, and does require you to suspend all reality and accept it for fantastical, or you will probably hate it. I loved it, however, and couldn’t put it down.

Bel Lamington, Fletcher’s Inn, and The Blue Sapphire, by D.E. Stevenson. I believe I’ve written ad nauseum about how I adore this author’s work, so I’ll not elaborate here, except to say I liked Bel Lamington, thought Fletcher’s Inn a rather weak sequel, and really enjoyed The Blue Sapphire. I wouldn’t put any of these at the top of your D.E. Stevenson list if you’ve never read her work. Start with Miss Buncle’s Book or Listening Valley or Mrs. Tim of the Regiment.

Where the Forest Meets the Stars , Glendy Venderah- Whew, this book was a page turner! It reminded me a lot of Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder, as far as atmospheric setting and some similar content, but was more personable when it came to characters and fast paced. Some hard, real life things came up in this book, and the characters’ values are certainly not my own life values. I’d give it a solid PG-13 rating (and it does, in fact, read like a movie in my opinion), but I really enjoyed it.

Becoming Mrs. Lewis, Patti Callahan – I had no intention of reading this novel of the relationship between Joy Gresham and C.S. Lewis when I first heard of it. It felt like sacrilege to touch these real people and their relationship with fiction! Then I heard Mrs. Lewis’s son Douglas Gresham talk about the book in an interview. He said that he had become friends with Patti Callahan during the writing of this book, that he really liked the book, that he found it more true to life than many other accounts of Joy Gresham, and that he thought it was a well-written and delightful novel…well, gee, he convinced me. I decided to read it. And I fully agree with him, it’s a great book! I highly recommend it, especially if you’re a Lewis fan.

Non-Fiction

Becoming, Michelle Obama – I think Michelle Obama’s memoir was an important book for me to read. Through reading it, I got to know the former first lady and former president as people instead of merely as political figures. Their backgrounds shaped so much of what they cared about in politics, and that was good for me to understand where they’re coming from, whether I agree with them on all the issues or not. It was eye opening in many ways, and I really enjoyed learning about Michelle Obama’s background and her journey from a lower-income Chicago neighborhood to the White House. I think my husband got tired of me interrupting his own reading to say, “Did you know that…..” so many times. Michelle Obama has a great writing style, and a kind tone towards all people in her book.

Book Girl, Sarah Clarkson – Several times as I read Sarah Clarkson’s memoir about the way books have shaped her life, I felt like I was reading my own story. Almost all of the same books that impacted her are the ones that have impacted me, from childhood to adulthood. She is more eloquent than I am, however, when it comes to explaining the deep effect these books have had on her. I can highly recommend her book and all of her book recommendations in it. There were some she recommends in her booklists and friend’s booklists that I haven’t read yet, and knowing our book tastes are almost exactly the same, I’m moving them to the top of my reading list.

The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy, and Women’s Work, Kathleen Norris – I didn’t love this book as much as I expected to, but I’m still glad I read it. It was thought provoking and a good reminder of the beauty and call to worship that is available in our everyday lives. Norris has a friendly, thoughtful tone and unique insights. However, this book remains cerebral and somewhat academic. It is not dry or lifeless, but it is very inwardly focused and you can tell it is written by a person who has led a life spent in times of long quiet and contemplation. Norris did not have children, and I have four, so my homelife is very different from hers. Several times I found myself thinking “but I have children around all the time!” as I read her work. Still, it was definitely worth reading and possibly re-reading in the future.

The Private World of Tasha Tudor, Tasha Tudor and Richard Brown – I have always loved Tudor’s illustrations, and reading about the life she cultivated in an old house using many antique things just because she delighted in

Image result for tasha tudor

that was fascinating and inspiring. I don’t plan to start wearing long dresses and dipping candles, but embracing simpler living and building beauty into everyday life, along with a deeper connection to nature in daily routine, definitely appeals to me. Her words quoted throughout are full of wit and good sense. The photos are beautiful, as well! I sat down with this book on a cold Sunday afternoon and read through it in a pleasant hour.

House of Dreams: The Life of L.M. Montgomery, Liz Rosenberg – L.M. Montgomery’s books are up there with The Chronicles of Narnia as my favorite books of all time (if I’m forced to choose!). I’ve skimmed through a few biographies of Montgomery’s life, but have never found a satisfactory account of her outer life and inner life (think journals plus facts) combined until now. Rosenberg’s tone and writing style are just perfect for taking readers through the ups and downs of Montgomery’s life without sinking into melodrama. She writes about Montgomery with admiration and respect, but keeps her tone light and not overly passionate, as some biographers can be. House of Dreams is easy and enjoyable to read, suitable for young adults, and well researched. Also, Julie Morstad’s illustrations make me slightly giddy with their perfection.

Read Alouds

The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster – We all laughed a lot in this book, but especially Ella (9), who understood the word play. Isaac (7) liked the story, but much of it was over his head. Since reading it, we’ve talked many times about how Milo, the main character, went from bored and in a hurry for no reason at the beginning of the book to curious and interested in everything by the end, and how much more he enjoyed life after his adventure.

Caddie Woodlawn, Carol Ryrie Brink – Oh, this book. As I read this aloud to my kids, I remembered over and over again why it has kept a strong hold on my heart all these years. It’s such a perfect book – a mix of danger and adventure, complex yet lovable characters, compelling history, and relationships between family, friends, and neighbors. I choked up so many times reading it, and it’s not even particularly sad, it’s just that powerful. Brink is one of those amazing writers who doesn’t have to explain what the characters are feeling, but conveys deep emotions just the same. And let me tell you how much my kids loved it: after we finished it together, they immediately got the audio book from the library and began it over again. I call that a hit. Violet (4.5 going on 10) says it’s her new favorite. (Caveat: she has said that about The Secret Garden, The Boxcar Children, Pippi Longstockings, and many other books…she is a story lover to her core).

The Railway Children, E. Nesbit – We’re halfway through this one and we look forward to reading a chapter of it every day. I have to confess, I have never read E. Nesbit, as a child or grown up. This is a terrible, horrific oversight and 2019 will see a complete remedy of it. I’m thinking about watching the movie adaptation of The Railway Children when we’re done reading the book. Ideas on which version is best are appreciated!

And that wraps up the books that saw us through Winter, 2019! Of course, we read many, many picture books with the little two as well, but that’s another post for another time. I hope your winter was a good one and that spring treats you well and brings lots of sunshine and great books your way. Happy reading!

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Favorite Picture Books, September 2018

Hey friends! We’re battening down the hatches in the path of Hurricane Florence here, but we’re well inland and so our  concerns have more to do with adequate reading material and flashlight batteries. I hope any of you who are on the Atlantic coast are safe and sound at this point! Here’s some picture book ideas for you and the children in your life based on what my children are loving lately.

My kids and I have read Nadia: The Girl Who Couldn’t Sit Still over and over since getting it from the library and we all love it. Gray’s succinct yet descriptive and exciting writing is perfect for telling this story to young audiences and Davenier’s whimsical illustrations put life and movement into the words on the page. Being a former gymnastics coach, I enthusiastically showed three of my children (ages 4, 7, 9) the videos of Comaneci’s perfect 10s in Montreal after reading the book, and even now with the heightened difficulty of today’s gymnastics, her routines are breathtaking. I’ve never done a study of Comaneci’s life as an adult, but now I am thoroughly interested! 

For preschool ages (and beyond, of course), Bear’s Bicycle is a hilarious picture book with very little text that had my four-year-old thoroughly amused. The illustrations of Bear’s expressions as he gets into increasingly bad biking situations are just perfect. We all give it two thumbs up.

For the board book readers, we recommend Bunny and Bee’s Favorite Colors this week and 18-month-old Lydia wants to read it over and over again. It’s one of those books that suspends reality entirely…why are two little toddlers dressed up in animal costumes, wandering the forest and living by themselves in a tree house?…but it’s cute and the illustrations are colorful and fun. There’s a fair amount of text on each page, but for Lydia there is enough to look at in the pictures for her to wait until I’m done reading each page before she eagerly turns to the next. We’ll be looking for more in the series on our next library trip!

Those are our recent fave picture books! Happy reading!

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March Quick Lit 2018

Time for some Quick Lit reviews! I’m linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy and other book bloggers to talk about what we’ve read lately Hop on over and find more book recommendations than you’ll know what to do with (which in book-speak, is a very good thing)!

Winter has decided to stay forever. It did not ask our permission, because if it had, we would have said “No.” Emphatically, no. I’m attempting to embrace what will actually be the last few weeks of winter, whether that surly season likes it or not, but it’s similar to when you try to embrace those middle of the night feedings with your sweet newborn baby….you really just need to sleep, and we really just want spring. The silver lining is that winter weather keeps me under my favorite electric blanket with a book in hand. Here’s what I’ve been reading over the past month.

Fiction

The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street

I posted on Instagram that I am in love with all the characters from this book, and I really can’t give higher praise to a novel than that. The setting was pretty swell, too, aside from being central to the plot. This book is middle-grade novel perfection, and I would recommend it to anyone, young or old, but especially to people who enjoyed The Penderwicks, The Saturdays, All in a Family, and other family narratives. The theme of an older neighbor who is the grumpiest creature known to mankind is also here, so if you’re a fan of A Man Called Ove or any number of misanthropic character books, you might just love The Vanderbeekers, too.

Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers – I’d put this at the top of my favorite adult fiction read in the past year list. Debut novelist Sara Ackerman tells a tender yet fascinating and page turning story that was not overly sweet (no pun on the title intended) or shockingly harsh. I have read a lot of books set in WWII Europe, but I know next to nothing about the Pacific battlefront, so this was a nice change. Set in Hawaii as soldiers are being sent there to prepare for the invasion of Japan, the plot centers on one family’s strange struggle to find their missing husband/father and to understand the many different kinds of love between family and friends. Could I have done without some of the romance? Yes, but I’m glad it stuck to a PG level. Highly recommend for fans of historical novels and especially fans of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (though it is not at all written in the same format).

Little Fires Everywhere – This book is well written literature, with all kinds of perfectly fine-tuned details, symbolism, foil characters, universal themes…the list could go on.  It’s got some pretty hard subject matters and adult content, so I wouldn’t turn to this one if you’re looking for a light, beachy read, but it is a great book club pick and will get you thinking from many different perspectives on parenthood, community, and friendship.

The Bookman’s Tale – Though the story has a fun National Treasure type twist to it, I wouldn’t recommend this book very highly. I finished it because it was a book club pick, but it was slow going through unbelievable characters and settings, with way too much detail about some things and far too little about other important components of the story.

Non-fiction

Mom Set Free: Find Relief From the Pressure to Get it All Right – Though simplistic in writing style at times, the message of this book is something I desperately need in my parenting journey. Jeannie Cunnion points our parenting and our treatment of our own selves back to the gospel. I know this is going to be a slow conversion for me, a doer and an authority pleaser at heart, but I truly think it’s worth the trying. I really appreciate all the Bible verses Cunnion quotes throughout the book and the list she gives in the back of verses that she references.

If You Only Knew: My Unlikely, Unavoidable Story of Becoming Free – I wasn’t planning on reading Jamie Ivey’s memoir, but a friend told me she really liked it and let me borrow it, and I’m seriously glad she did (thanks, Erica!). Yes, Ivey tells a story that is messy and vulnerable, but she doesn’t tell it because she feels like spilling her guts – there is an intense purpose to her writing and she constantly points her readers back to the cross and Jesus’ love for us. There’s a chapter at the end called “Sin-shame” about how we treat others who are vulnerable in what they share with us that really convicted me. I was surprised by how great this book was. It was easy to get into, but it was also deep; I was expecting something a lot lighter from the host of a podcast titled The Happy Hour. =)

Comforts from the Cross: Celebrating the Gospel One Day at a Time – Can you tell I’m pretty gospel-focused these days? It’s incredible that I’ve been following Christ since I was an itty-bitty five-year-old yet I can’t seem to accept or give grace and free, unconditional love in my daily thoughts and actions. This devotional has been awesome, even though it has a Chicken Soup for the Soul type title that makes me cringe a little. I’m finding it a great follow up to the devotional Gracelaced, which adored last summer. That’s two more devotionals than I’ve ever enjoyed before, so maybe my feelings on devotionals in general are turning.

Girl, Wash Your Face – I’m listening to this one on audio and still have about 25% left. Having no familiarity with Rachel Hollis before reading this book, I didn’t know what to expect. It has a lot of “own your life” themes. The central idea is we shouldn’t believe lies about ourselves. Sometimes it feels too much like a “girl power” memoir and sometimes I’m left breathless at the insights from this down-to-earth lady who has done a lot and seems pretty different from me but maybe really isn’t. It’s a good treadmill audiobook, if you’re in the market for one of those. I admit, I was mostly grabbed by the title.

That rounds out what Quick Lit for this month. Happy reading, everyone!

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Summer 2017 Quick Lit

Welcome to my summer edition of Quick Lit!  This is when readers across the blogosphere give short reviews of the books they’ve read in the last month or so. See what other bloggers are reading here.

Our slow summer has continued, and it has become rather glorious, minus the interruption of a family stomach bug for the last week. (Oh summer, you bring us many things, but a stomach bug is usually somewhere in the mix…). But! We’ve got grass in our backyard, our swing set is up again, and the kids and I are luxuriating in unscheduled days (though it’s kind of driving my husband a little crazy). As far as reading goes, though, I told my dad recently it’s probably been the worst reading summer of my life. For a good month, I couldn’t find any books to get into. Everything I picked up made me think “blah.” But then Thriftbooks.com had a sale and I bought some older books on my to-read list, and suddenly this summer’s reading was totally redeemed. Lesson: older books are always the answer to my reading ruts. But there is one new-release on my list that was just what the reading doctor would have ordered if there was such a thing. I’ll start with that one:

In Farleigh Field by Rhys Bowden would be a great beach read. It is not serious historical fiction by any means, but it combines a British country manor with some World War II spies and code breakers — a combination that is just right for a lighthearted but adventurous book. Similar in setting to The Summer Before the War and The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir but completely different in tone with more likable characters. Maybe it’s a little predictable, but I still enjoyed it. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to Paris – I requested this one from the library because after reading My Mrs. Brown, I suspected the original story published in 1952 would be more to my liking than the new rendition. I liked the character of Mrs. Brown but I loooved Mrs. ‘Arris. Besides loving the main characters, the cast of characters around her, the length of the novel (shorter), and the subtle meanings laced in an out of the novel were on point. If you’re into vintage novels (and maybe even if you’re not), check this one out.

One Fine Day – I’ve had the author Mollie Panter-Downes on my to-read list for a long time. Her book that walks through the full summer day in the life of an English woman shortly after World War II did not disappoint. It’s not a plot-driven book, but a piece of art in that Panter-Downes manages to create a complete life-story of a woman based on what she thinks and does in one day. I loved the main character, the setting, and the reminder that our every days can add up to beautiful life times.

Nancy and Plum – Think A Little Princess meets The Boxcar Children. I don’t know why this book isn’t more famous. I adored it.

Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown and Betsy and Tacy Go Over The Big Hill – I didn’t read this series as a girl, I guess they just slipped through the cracks because I read lots of similar books, but I’m thoroughly enjoying them now. I love some old fashioned goodness. A full review of my take-aways from the series will be published soon!

Penny From Heaven – This was on my list of Newbery Medal winners and runners up to read. It was a little disappointing–very much a memoir of a child and not at all what I would have liked to read when I was a child myself. Still, if you like memoirs, you will probably enjoy this one. It certainly had a unique set of characters.

Love Lives Here –  Maria Goff wrote this book sort of as a “here’s what I’ve learned in life so far.” It’s a great companion to Love Does by her husband Bob Goff, since they are opposite personalities with the same goal in life – to love others well. I wouldn’t call either book great literature – neither of them are really writers – but the wisdom and the genuineness that exudes from them the Goffs makes it well worth the read. I would call them some of my faith heroes.

Atlas Girl – I’m in the middle of this one by Emily Wierenga. She writes beautifully, but I’m having a hard time getting to the reason behind the memoir. Do you ever do that? Read a memoir that’s so personal and raw and wonder why the writer felt that a journal-like account of her life and thoughts needed to be published? Probably it’s just the frame of mind I’m in that’s throwing me off. I should probably finish it before I give a final verdict.

What have you been reading this summer?

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Five Fall 2016 Read-Alouds

As promised last week, today’s post features the books we’ve read aloud as part of our home school curriculum or just for fun in the past two months. Before I get any further, I have to say a giant, gargantuan “Thank you!” to Julie H. Ross for her curriculum A Gentle Feast.  It lines up with my teaching style perfectly and gives me direction for adding richness to our daily school life. Several of our Fall 2016 read-alouds came from her reading list. The others are just-for-fun reads that we’ve enjoyed.

  1. Homer Price

Robert McCloskey is famous for his picture books, such as Make Way for Ducklings and Blueberries for Sal. I’d never picked up any of his chapter book, but now I’m so glad I did. Homer is a boy growing up in a small town in the 50s, with an eye for inventions and figuring problems out. Often, though, he simply enjoys the escapades of the grown ups around him. It’s a great book, full of illustrations, a funny cast of characters, and not too many big words for small ears. It was a big hit with both my seven-year-old daughter and five-year-old son. I was so glad to start the school year off with a chapter book that appealed to both of them, because sometimes they seem more geared toward middle grade girls.

2. Swallows and Amazons

Swallows And AmazonsMy husband read this book to the kids at bedtime for a couple of months through the summer. They all liked it (though one pretended he didn’t just because he was being obstinant), and really, what’s not to like? Four kids living on their own island with their own boat for a whole summer? Battles with other boats and an imaginary pirate? Real life thieves? If your children are old enough to put up with some sailing lingo, this book is an excellent adventure story. It is a bit on the long side for very young children, probably best suited for 2nd-5th grade. Apparently, it’s been made into a movie this year, too, though I’m not sure how available it is in the U.S. and I highly doubt it will compare to the book.

3. Ramona and Beezus and Ramona and Her Father

When faced with a three-hour car drive with my three children seven and under without my husband, I impulsively/desperately snatched these audio books up at the library. We listened all the way there and all the way back. We laughed and laughed at Ramona and Beezus. Ramona is only four-years-old in this story and her mischief knows no bounds. Ramona and Her Father was enjoyable, too, but the subject matter was a little on the serious side for my kids. Still, listening together sparked a lot of good discussions about the story. Sometimes I look to fictional parents to inspire me to greatness, but in the Ramona books, I just enjoy how flawed yet loving her parents are. I feel you, Mr. and Mrs. Quimby. You shouldn’t call your daughter “a naughty girl” so often, but I feel you. These are books that I don’t think we would have enjoyed half as much if we hadn’t listened to a professional reader (Stockard Channing) doing all the voices.

4. The Burgess Bird Book for Children

We’re making our way through this book as part of our science curriculum this year. It is delightful. I know I use that word overmuch, but it really is. Peter Rabbit hops through The Old Orchard, conversing with the different birds and casually learning their habits, likes, and dislikes, as well as a bit of their personalities. There are black and white sketches of the birds throughout. This is my first exposure to Thornton Burgess’s nature books written for children. The fact that they are about one-hundred-years old (published in 1919) only adds to their charm. I’m happy to discover I have several Burgess animal books on my shelf that I didn’t even realize I had collected over the years! These are the kind of discoveries that make my week.

5. The Five Little Peppers
3981348We just started this one last week.  Isaac (5) has already lost interest, so I’m guessing it’s going to end up being one I read mostly to Ella (7). However, the cookies and books technique might drawn him back in. =) The Peppers are a poor, fatherless family who all have to pitch in and “make do,” but they do so with cheer and love and that’s why I think generations keep coming back to read about them.  I only read the abridged, illustrated edition as a child, so I’m thoroughly enjoying this read-aloud myself. I love the character of Polly Pepper, who is both admirable and likable. I’m hoping the future chapters will feature Ben and the other boys a bit more so we can get to know them, too.

That’s it for our chapter book read-alouds so far this fall! Stay tuned for an update on the picture books we’ve been enjoying lately, coming soon. Happy reading!



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