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Books I’ve Read in 2016

Whew! It’s March. We’ve moved. We’ve lost a lot of sleep. We’ve eaten pizza for what feels like sixty days. There is still a ton of work to be done on this fixer upper, but both my brain and my body have needed a vacation. Bermuda? Not quite. But books. Books are almost as good. (Just don’t argue with me about this, it’s all I’ve got right now).

Books I’ve Read in 2016

A Share in Death – The best way to totally get outside of your own head is to get into a detective novel.  This is the first in the long series of Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James mysteries by Deborah Crombie. I am a fan! Maybe it’s not quite as clever and twisty at the end as an Agatha Christie novel, but it’s almost as enjoyable. I’m now in the middle of the second book in the series, All Shall Be Well.

My Name Is Lucy BartonMy Name is Lucy Barton – If you’re a mom, this book is a little shattering but kind of encouraging at the same time. It’s mostly told from the hospital room of Lucy Barton, and centers on her relationship with her mother. Her mom comes to stay for a while with her while Lucy has a prolonged illness, but their relationship has been strained, to say the least, for a long time. The sweetness and strength of a child’s deep longing for her mother, no matter the age or how well her mother parented her, is still stuck in my mind. The books is sad, but there is hope in it and the artistry of Pulitzer Prize winner Elizabeth Strout is stunning. She is one of those authors whose every word is pointed and not one line is wasted.

Goodnight, Mr. Wodehouse – If you are expecting anything at all Jeeve-ish or Wooster-ish when you pick this book, you will be very surprised. It has some good Good Night, Mr. Wodehousequalities despite its misleading title, though. The book follows the adult life of Nell Stillman, who lives in a small town in Minnesota. Set in 1900s-1960s, her life is harsh, as most midwestern lives seem to be in books set during this time period, but Nell finds solace in an unlikely place – a small shelf of books in the town’s power company office. Nell gains strength and understanding from her reading to endure well in her hard years. She is a delightful character, but it’s not until she discovers P.G. Wodehouse’s books that we see her love of humor come out. In the category of books for book lovers, I’d rate this one higher than either The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry or The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend, for its highly developed and real characters and just right pace. I think fans of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn or Willa Cather would enjoy this book!

I’m now in the middle of El Dorado: The Further Adventures of The Scarlet Pimpernel and I am so ready to end this blog post and get back to it! The Scarlet Pimpernel was and remains one of my favorite books since I read it three times in my teen years. It’s one of the few books I forced my husband to read after we got married. He would probably admit that it was pretty good, although he doesn’t understand why I think it’s one of the best books ever. How I spent the next half of my life totally unaware that there were sequels about The Scarlet Pimpernel is a mystery, but I’m so thankful someone opened my eyes to the light (thanks, Hannah!).

Happy reading!

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Favorite Reads of Autumn and Winter 2015/16

As I mentioned yesterday, things have been busy here lately. It has been a shockingly long time since I posted about actual books on this bookish blog. So without further ado, here are some books I’ve read in the past few months:

The Favorites

The Lake HouseThe Lake House – Kate Morton is masterful. The Secret Keeper is still my favorite of hers, but The Lake House is everything a Morton fan would hope for. The characters were likable, the setting was stunning as usual, and the ability she has to seamlessly weave past and present is unparalleled. Seriously, I wish everyone else would stop doing the whole back and forth from past to present thing except for Kate Morton.

Emily of Deep Valley – This book deserves a blog post all its Emily of Deep Valley: A Deep Valley Bookown but suffice it to say I loooved it. If you’re a fan of orphan stories like Anne of Green Gables, this lesser known book could be just the cozy, light read you’re looking for this Winter.

Spring Harvest – Reminiscent of Heat Lightning and Winter Wheat, Gladys Taber’s novels are mid-century, mid-Western stories about a slew of characters all connected by the community they live in. It’s amazing how Taber can explain how the community sees a person and then a few paragraphs later explain what’s really going on inside the person. I love a character-driven novel, but I know they’re not for everyone.

Okay-ish:

Blackmoore – Eh. I wouldn’t recommend this one unless you just like reading romance Blackmoorenovels that are completely clean. The characters are interesting but not very real or believable. Edenbrooke by this author was better, though still on the “fluff” side of literature. But hey, reading a bit of fluff is not a crime. Let’s be clear, though: if it claims to be “adored by Jane Austen fans,” be very wary. =)

Far From the Madding Crowd – This is a classic and I cannot argue with how great Thomas Hardy was at rural England and tragic love. I also cannot get over how I loathe the main character Bathsheba and so I simply do not like this book. Gabriel is a great character and almost makes up for her, but she is such a heartless fool. Just once, I wish Hardy would have written a book about a smart woman who doesn’t get herself into worlds of trouble.

Books from my to-read list that I didn’t finish:

The Daughter’s Walk – There was simply too much drama for no apparent reason in this book.

The Lost Heiress – The plot sounded good, but the writing of the main character didn’t really draw me in.

I am really excited about a few new releases for this year, including a new one by Helen Simonson, author of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand and Shauna Niequist’s Present Over Perfect. 2016 promises to be a busy year, but I hope to find lots of great books to share on the blog just the same!

As always, please share books you’re enjoying in the comments!

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Home Renovation #5 – A Very Good Excuse for Not Blogging

It has been a while…let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.

(Long live The Princess Bride, most quotable movie ever).

You know what the internet really doesn’t need? Another home renovation blog. However. Since I am writing this blog, whatever my life features a lot of tends to be what ends up here. That’s always, always books and reading, and it also includes parenting, meal planning, friendship, and lots and lots of coffee. Lately, we’ve thrown another plot twist into our journey and, you guessed it, it’s a home renovation. A big one.

Picture this: a tall brown house on a hill, surrounded by tall trees, just a short walk from a beautiful river, with a nice wooded back yard and visions of wreaths on the windows at Christmas dancing in its head.

Are you seeing this in your mind? Hello, Orchard House and all that is beautiful in Little Women (1994)

Except for the beautiful snow, and the candlelight…oh yeah, and the fact that it actually looked like this:

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With crumbling cedar siding, a smell inside that makes you wish smelling salts were still a thing, holes in some of the walls, and a built in skateboarding ramp in the front entry way due to foundation issues. And that’s just for starters. I’d also like to mention that this house was practically a 1990s Wallpaper Museum. It’s just too bad I ruined it all before I thought about all the money we could make off of people who are dying to see room after jaw dropping room of floral wallpaper. It’s too late now…I only have one room left to strip of its wall paper. One room! This is our fifth house my husband and I have renovated as a couple,  and I’ve got to say, wallpaper should be illegal. Eeee-leee-gal. 

My husband has worked tirelessly at patching walls, ripping out old floors, researching contractors for vinyl siding and other jobs beyond our expertise, and now we’re about one month away from living in this house. It’s hard to believe, and I’m trying to keep all my thoughts about it on the light side because the truth is, I wasn’t expecting to move so soon out of the cozy cape cod we’re in now. We bought it when we realized we didn’t want to live beyond our means and downsized. That was four years ago, when we had just two tiny tots. Now we have three and a work-from-home husband/father. I know we’re outgrowing what most would consider a starter home, but I had fully embraced the Small House Love ideas. It’s all been a lot to work through in my overworked brain. That’s not to say I’m unexcited about gaining more square footage in a quaint neighborhood in the kind of house I’ve wanted since I was a little girl. Not at all! I’m pretty excited.  Especially since my awesome husband let me pick white vinyl siding. I’ve always wanted a white house! Here it is currently, after new vinyl but before new trim paint on the porches:

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So! I’m excited, I’m busy, I’m juggling two houses, and I’m not reading a whole lot. But I have to be perfectly honest. I’m not reading partly because I bought a fixer upper and partly because of Fixer Upper. No, I’d never seen that show before a few weeks ago. I finally caved and watched it because I got tired of saying, “We bought a fixer upper” and then having people say, “Oh, I love that show!” and having to say, “No, I’ve never seen that show, I’m just talking about buying a house that needs fixing up.” TV is not my thing, but now I have to admit that I love that show. And every time I mention I have a fixer upper I also have to say that I just do the boring stuff like take out all the wallpaper and redo tile. I still desperately need Joanna Gaines to come to my home and decorate for me. Also, why is all this decor and furniture not in the home’s renovation budget? Anyway! I have a fixer upper, I’m watching Fixer Upper, and I’m trying not to think too deeply about the fact that we’re going to be moving across town in just a few weeks.

Oy vey.

I have been reading books, though, and I’m hoping tomorrow to post a quick list of my favorite reads of the past few months. And maybe I’ll even get a Three Book Thursday up this week! But I’m only on Season Two of Fixer Upper, so we’ll have to see about that.

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It’s Not Too Late For Christmas

December 17th comes. I wake to find an unwelcome cold settling into my chest, but I also wake to feel something else settling in me– the softening joy and light finally taking hold in my mind and heart that tells me: It’s Christmas. I was supposed to feel like this on December 1st. Or was it November 28th? That day when Americans decide the Christmas season can start, when the attics are thrown open and red bows and colorful lights descend into our midst. That day when we are supposed to flip a switch and bring Christmas spirit in full to our homes and our families. But…what about when we can’t find the switch? Where is the On button for Christmas in ourselves?

I’ve never found it. Every year this happens. I’ve been doing all the right things…the advent studies, the decorating, the shopping (if Amazon counts), the driving around looking at lights, the Christmas movies and hot chocolate….but I have never been able IMG_4804[1]to manufacture the sense that a special time has begun. The warmth and joy in the Christmas season doesn’t come when I tell it to. It crawls into my consciousness slowly. Maybe Little Drummer Boy has to play at least twenty times. Maybe the smell of the Christmas tree has to permeate the living room completely for two weeks. Maybe I have to have eighty percent of my shopping done. I haven’t figured out the formula, but I do know that I am not into Christmas starting on December 1st. I do not dig that rule. Sure, I’ll start preparing, because that’s what it takes to make Christmas happen in a family. But when I start to get a certain panicky feeling nine days before Christmas Day because we haven’t yet made Christmas cookies or put the new bows on the porch or made any cool Christmas crafts, I have to remind myself: it’s not too late.

It’s not too late for Christmas.

We are not running behind just because we’ve pinned more than we can ever bake. We are not missing the boat when our wreaths are not made yet. Guess what? Christmas is a day. It’s one day when we welcome our Savior anew and when we gather our loved ones and offer gifts to them because we ourselves have been given so much. I like the idea of celebrating a whole season with beauty and happiness just as much as the next girl. But it’s high time we all refuse to believe that if we don’t start early, we don’t start at all. We have not missed Christmas. Put up those lights you meant to put up two weeks ago. Begin an advent activity on Day 17. Finish the craft you started. So we didn’t start reading Christmas books until yesterday. So you won’t get a tree up until tomorrow. So you can’t feel like it’s Christmas until you’re home the day before Christmas. You’re grieving someone who won’t be here this Christmas for the first time ever? Me, too. Cry on, and as Meg Ryan says in You’ve Got Mail, put up more twinkle lights. You don’t have a Christmas photo this year? Me, neither. You’re in the middle of moving? I’ve been there, and I’m drinking a cup of coffee in honor of you right now. Put on some Christmas music, and soak up what’s there, but banish the guilt.

There’s this day we get to celebrate, and what a privilege it is if we get to stretch it out into more days of celebration. But it’s not a rule and it doesn’t have to be a burden. It’s all supposed to be a gift.  

It’s December 17th.  I’m going to bake some cookies. I’m going to fold some laundry. I’m going to wrap some presents. I’m going to wash the dishes. And in it all, I’m going to remember, it’s not too late for Christmas.

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A Classic Re-Read, A New Release, and A Nonfiction Book

It’s been so long since I posted an actual book review! My reading has slowed down over the last month or so for three reasons.

Reason #1: The Classic Re-read.

The beauty of classic literature is that it so full of nuance, well chosen words, and fully Great Expectationsdeveloped characters and plot, you get sucked in heart and mind. You feel stretched and grown when you’re done. The fact that goes along with all that beauty: reading a classic takes longer than reading most current fiction! Even for the fastest readers, or for those who feel right at home in 19th century English lit, Great Expectations is going to take a while! That is the classic I decided to re-read this fall. I love using the back-to-school vibe to get me back into a classic frame of mind. This is the fourth time I’ve read Great Expectations, but it’s been about ten years. I can honestly say it is still one of my favorite books. It’s amazing how my thoughts changed on the characters. Suddenly Pip seems so emotionally unstable and self-conscious and paranoid! Maybe for good reason, though… but I totally like Herbert better than any of the other characters now. He’s like the Ronald Weasley to Harry Potter, except for Herbert is good and noble through and through. My overriding conclusion after re-reading Great Expectations: Dickens is the man.

Reason #2: The New Release

This new release slowed my reading down so much! It’s called The Race for Paris, and it The Race for Parisis wonderful. Why is it so slow, then? Well, I feel compelled by overwhelming curiosity to stop and research the real people and situations included in this novel about female photographers fighting against all odds to be the first photojournalists on the scene at the liberation of Paris in 1945. Meg Waite Clayton has done an incredible job of mixing true history and new characters. This book is as good as a history lesson, if not better. I haven’t reached the end of it yet, so I can’t speak for how much I love the whole plot, but the setting alone has me won over as a fan. If you liked Code Name Verity, you’ll probably like this one as well (and so far it’s not as brutal in war crime content).  (Also, speaking of Meg Waite Clayton, I am a big fan of her book The Wednesday Sisters).

Reason #3: The Whole30

I’m blaming The Whole30 for all kinds of things this month. I got the book from the library out of curiosity in September because I knew our eating habits had been sliding down a hill that only leads to pancakes for dinner two times in one week,  and a sugar addiction as deep and as wide as the river of maple syrup my son leaves on his plate after said pancake dinners.  After trying all summer to right the eating habits by gradual, subtle changes, I declared myself beat. I needed a plan. The Whole30 made sense because it’s only for 30 days and it doesn’t claim that all the good stuff in life is bad for you, necessarily, but that it’s a good idea to cut some things out and see for yourself what makes you feel well and what doesn’t. I’ll write a whole review of the experience later, but right now what you need to know is that I’ve been poring over this book more than any other book this month.

Other books I’ve picked up this Fall:

The Royal We – Maybe I didn’t give it enough of a chance, but the first two chapters felt too much like chick lit. Status: abandoned.

Far from the Madding Crowd Far From The Madding Crowd – I intend to finish this one, but right now I’m having trouble getting into it. I’m on chapter four, and I adore Hardy’s ability to paint a picturesque landscape of rural England, but I am greatly fearful that I already know how it’s going to end and Tess of the D’Urbervilles ruined me for that sort of thing. <sob>

Where’d You Go, Bernadette? – I listened to about a quarter of this audiobook while getting a cavity filled last week, and I keep trying to squeeze in time to finish the rest, but it’s proving difficult. I’ll probably just have to check out the paper book and finish it up, but I’d rather hear the rest of the narration by Kathleen Wilhoite, who does a fabulous job.

I’m looking forward to all the other books on my to-be-read list this fall. A tall stack of books on my bedside table is one of life’s simplest pleasures.  Happy reading!

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