Children's Books, Quick Lit, Reading, Reviews, Young Adult

My Favorite Reads of 2019

The year is coming to a close, cheerful Christmas lights are shining through the windows from the front porch garlands, and holiday busyness is carrying us along like Pooh sticks in a raging river. There are many more pressing things to think about at this time of year, but I’m going sit for a minute with the books I read in the past year and write up a quick list of highlights to share here. I hope you had a great reading year and will find a good book somewhere in this list to put on your 2020 reading list!

[Side Note: Links to books throughout this post are not affiliate links]

Best Novel Published in 2019

Where the Forest Meets the Stars – This novel by debut author was beautifully written, if a bit eerie, and handled serious subject matters well. The setting was enthralling and the characters drew me in right off the bat. This book has all that and a plot that will keep you turning pages. I’d recommend this if you like the exciting, page turning nature of Gone Girl or The Girl on the Train but don’t want to actually stomach the content. This one has some similar themes as far as crime goes, but is not as jarring and the themes are handled much more gently and with more purpose.

Runner Up

I’m Fine and Neither Are You – A clever, honest, sometimes humorous look at life in the middle years of a marriage. Though my worldview differs from the author’s on many things, the subjects brought up are worth thinking over, from friendships to comparisons women make between themselves to what a good marriage looks like. If you’re in a book club, especially a women’s book club, this would be a great pick.

Also read in this genre:

Ellie and the Harpmaker – 4 stars – I will read whatever else Hazel Prior writes because her prose took my breath away. Some of the content in this book regarding relationships didn’t sit well with me; otherwise, it would be a 5 star book and winner of the category.

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill – 2.5/3 stars – liked the main character, didn’t love what goes on in the book

The Printed Letter Bookshop – 2 stars – Not my favorite Reay, though I always enjoy her literary references throughout her novels.

The Overdue Life of Amy Byler – 1 star

Beyond the Point – 2 stars

Lost for Words – 2 stars

Best Historical Fiction

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The Gown – This book was so much better than I expected. First, I should state that I’m not the best one to ask about books in this category right now, because I didn’t pick up much historical fiction this year. Call me crazy, but I’m weary of The ______ ‘s Daughter or The _____’s Wife titles, just fill in the blank with whatever comes to mind, haha! I know some are absolute gems, and I’m not seriously knocking them, but I got a bit bored with the genre. I really liked The Gown, however, for it’s attention to character development and historical accuracy without feeling overwrought and contrived, or jumping from present day to past narratives. I would recommend it to any historical fiction fan. Also, this is a good one for readers who prefer minimal strong language, and except for one “scene” I would say puts it at the PG-13 level, it’s a gentler read than most current historical fiction.

Runner Up:

The Spies of Shilling Lane

Also Read in this Genre:

The Flight Girls – 2 stars

The Lieutenant’s Nurse – 3 stars

Time After Time – 2 stars

Best Novel I Read in 2019

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Hannah Coulter – What a gorgeous, moving wise novel. I should have read this a long time ago, but then, would I have appreciated it as much as I do now at this point in my life? Probably not. It’s a retrospective review of a woman’s life, with so much insight and wisdom about humanity and all kinds of love. It’s a classic, and I loved this book more than any other I read this year. I will be reading more Wendell Berry in 2020!

Also read:

The Remains of the Day – 5 stars – If you are a fan of slow but rich novels, Mr. Carson in Downton Abbey, and figuring out whether your narrator is reliable or not, you will like this book.

The Scent of Water – I plunged into Elizabeth Goudge at the end of last year for the first time with Pilgrim’s Inn and now have also read Gentian Hill, The Little White Horse, I Saw Three Ships, and City of Bells. I love it all and will keep on reading Goudge as fast as Thriftbooks can supply me with these mostly out of print novels. (Side note: many of the covers of Goudge books are just hideous. Don’t judge these books by their covers!)

A bunch of D.E. Stevenson and Elizabeth Cadell…I will spare you the details, as I have already waxed on and on about these authors.

Best Non-Fiction

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Boy Mom – I have one son and three daughters, and I come from a family with only sisters, so I seriously needed this book from Monica Swanson on raising boys. She has four of her own, two graduated from high school and two still homeschooling. I love her perspectives on relationships, chores, health, media use…she hits so many topics in her book and I will read it again and again. I truly can’t recommend it more highly, and actually think it’s unfair to moms with only daughters that this book is for “boy moms,” because there is a ton of wisdom here that applies to all parenting. Monica Swanson, I hope you write many more books!

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Becoming and Beholding – This book ties for first place. I read anything Ruth Chou Simons writes, absolutely anything, from Instagram posts to published works. She is rooted in truth and is a refreshing voice for the value in patience, hard and unseen work, and growing in ways and times when no one can see it. Her art work is so soothing, and features more than just florals in this latest book.

Runner Up:

The Brave Learner – See my full review here for why I applaud this book.

Also read in Non-Fiction:

Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat – 4 stars – I learned a ton but the recipes are intense!

A Sane Woman’s Guide to Raising a Large Family – 3 stars

First We Have Coffee – 3 stars – A fun memoir of a preacher’s daughter in Northern U.S.A./Canada. It’s important for my generation to know how people lived before us.

Digital Minimalism – 4 stars – Convicting.

Becoming – 4 stars – Thoroughly interesting and eye opening, and I’m very glad I read it.

House of Dreams: The Life of L.M. Montgomery – 4.5 stars – Most well balanced and readable account of Montgomery’s life I’ve seen so far, and the artwork was perfect.

Book Girl – 5 stars – I felt like I was reading my own thoughts at times, and found a kindred spirit in Sarah Clarkson. I also found a bunch of wonderful book recommendations!

Food Freedom Forever – 4.5 stars – A must read for fans of The Whole30.

The War of Art – 3.5 stars – Interesting concepts, inspiring and important in my personal life, though I didn’t truly enjoy reading it.

Writing Down the Bones – 2.5 stars

On Writing – 3 stars (got a lot out of it, didn’t enjoy it)

The Quotidian Mysteries – 3 stars…2 stars?? I still don’t understand most of what I read . But it seemed important and eye opening at the time, which means I probably read it too quickly.

Best Children’s Literature/Middle Grade Novel

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The Vanderbeekers to the Rescue – All the Vanderbeeker books hit it out of the park when it comes to perfect middle grade novels (publishers aim this category at 8-12-year-olds). This third book in the series continues the warm setting and lovable characters from the previous books. If you or your children are fans of The Penderwicks, you must read The Vanderbeeker books! Think the Penderwick family but with two parents and a brother and an easy-to-follow plot. I’m reading the first in the series aloud right now and my 10, 8, and 5-year-olds beg for me to read another chapter every single time we finish one.

Runner Up

Astrid the Unstoppable – If you’ve ever enjoyed a book about an extraordinary girl (Harriet the Spy, Pippi Longstocking, Anne of Green Gables, the list could go on and on), you’ll enjoy this book. You’ll like it even more if you’ve read Heidi, as main character Astrid reads and refers to it in an important way in the book. Astrid is a lonely girl in an adult community with an unflappable spirit and a fiercely loving heart. Because of some themes about romantic relationships that didn’t work out (between grown ups, but still), I think this is more a 10 and up book. It is a lot of fun, though, and the characters Astrid meets along the way will make this book appeal to both boys and girls.

Also read:

The Skylarks’ War – 3 stars- Enjoyed it as a grown up, though some of the characters weren’t my favorite, but this should so very much be labeled for 14 and up! There are harsh war themes and complicated romantic themes, as well as plot lines related to sexual orientation. Besides that, almost the whole book is about the characters when they are teenagers, so it just makes sense for it to be marketed for teenagers and adults. The publishers got it wrong on that one, but Hilary McKay’s writing is stellar, which is the reason I still give it 3 stars.

Raymie Nightingale – 3 stars – I admire Kate DiCamillo and her writing. but I wouldn’t hand this book to just any kid. It’s heart breaking, but many children have to deal with themes like adultery (a dad leaving for another woman, in this case) or living with an unstable guardian in their actual lives, so I get that having a book to relate to is important. I felt pretty glum when I finished this book, but the great characters gave it a lot of redeeming value.

Front Desk – 2 stars

A note about middle grade novels – I read these without my kids (ages 10, 8, 5, and 2) not only because I like to preview new books before I choose them as read alouds or recommend them, but because I think some of the greatest novels ever written are labeled children books. It takes a great writer to make good children’s literature, and as C.S. Lewis says, “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” Forget the labels and pick up a good children’s novel.

And that wraps up my 2019 reading year! I would love to hear from you, too. What did you read and love this year?

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Thank you for reading along with me in the past year and encouraging me to keep going here in this on-line space.

Mia/Alana

Reading, Reviews, Young Adult

Book Inhalation: Summer Reading Snippets, 2015 Edition

Are you soaking up the last days of summer this week? I am! We start first grade homeschooling in one week. It has been a truly awesome summer for our family. My husband has been busy with his new business, but way less busy than he was at this time last year. He’s been able to join us in our summer fun much more than in previous years. I love the days of waking up and throwing on a t-shirt and shorts (layering is too much work!), serving the kids breakfast in their playhouse,  watching them splash and play in crazy imaginative ways in our little kiddie pool on the back porch (which they can fill up themselves now…it’s almost like I’ve arrived), and so much more. Summer is my favorite.

And I have been reading a lot of books over the last few months, which also contributes to the awesomeness of this summer.  As soon as I put one down, I’m picking up another. Can you call that chain reading? I’m inhaling books these days, not stopping long enough to write a review or even process what I’m reading very well. I guess this is my version of summer binge TV watching. This book inhalation will slow down pretty soon (darn), but it’s been fun while it lasted. In the unintentional summer tradition of this blog, here is the 2nd  annual Summer Reading Snippets post.

Secrets of a Charmed LifeSecrets of A Charmed Life – My 2nd favorite book of the summer! I was totally spellbound by this book. I read this book in a 36 hour timespan. It’s very much like Kate Morton’s The Secret Keeper, but shorter. One thing I really appreciate about this book is that while it is framed by a present day narrator, the bulk of the book is told in the past and does not flip-flop from past to present. I’ve come to deeply dislike all these books that transition every other chapter or so between past and present. Unless the writer is truly masterful, this format is jarring.  I like to get fully immersed in a story and setting. Secrets of A Charmed Life is a perfect beach read or curl up by the fire read. Just don’t plan on doing much else for two or three days! Five stars.

Henrietta’s War – A quaint mid-century British book that I loved. Full review here.

Ana of California – This is a pretty good YA book if you first put out of your mind the claim that it is a “modern day retelling of Anne of Green Gables.” It may be inspired by Anne of Green Gables, but that is the beginning and end of its ties to one of the best books ever written (okay, I am biased. I looove L.M. Montgomery).  None of the characters actually match up in personality between the old books and this “retelling.” Okay….so I obviously have some scornful feelings about the “retelling” claim, but I really did enjoy this book. The foster care background and the character development is well done, and I think it calls to light some important themes of caring for parent-less children and forgiveness. 3.5 stars. 

The Sound of GlassFalling Home and The Sound of Glass – I picked up Falling Home because it was all I could reach from the sofa one time when I was holding my sleeping baby at the beach house we rented in May. Thumbs down. However, The Sound of Glass, White’s most recent book, was pretty good if you like a good yarn. Her settings are always s. Her characters, especially the main characters, get a little predictable if you read more than a few of her books. My favorite book of White’s is still A Long Time Gone.  1 star and 3.5 stars.

The Persian Pickle Club – Another beach read, but it turned pretty well. I’ve never read Sandra Dallas’s work, but I found myself comparing The Persian Pickle Club to a Fannie Flagg book, kind of like Fried Green Tomatoes. 3 stars.

The Tilted World – I couldn’t finish this book about the Mississippi River flood in the 1930s and some very hopeless moonshiners. It was harsh and raw and great for readers who like Kenneth Follet. No stars because I didn’t finish it.

Saving Amelie – I cannot say enough good things about this Christian Fiction novel.  I don’t read a whole lot in this genre, but I’m glad I gave this book a chance. Set in Nazi Germany, it’s a look at the sanctity of all human life and how far from understanding that some people in this time era came. In light of recent debates on abortion in our country, this book hit even closer to home than usual, though it has more to do with treasuring children with disabilities than valuing them during pregnancy. 4 stars.

Code Name Verity (Code Name Verity, #1)Code Name Verity – Young Adult fiction at its best! I loooved this book. Apparently, WWII was a theme in my summer reading. Oh, who am I kidding, it’s always a theme in my reading. I loved the creative journal format and the varying points of view that instead of making me infuriated, kept me guessing and led to some “aha!” moments in the plot. I’d read this again with my daughter when she reaches about age 15-16 in a heartbeat. 4 stars.

All The Bright Places – Two thumbs way, way down. YA at its postmodern worst. Do not read it. It’s being compared to The Fault in Our Stars, but it’s so much worse. That’s all I have to say about that. 1/2 star.

The Brontes Went to Woolworths – Erm…this is one of the weirdest books I’ve ever read. I can’t make sense of it at all. I think it’s supposed to be a comparison of three sisters who are like the Brontes but live in the 1940s. Their weird obsession with their current day stage actors just threw me off entirely. I don’t even know how many stars to give it.

A Spool of Blue Thread – Ann Tyler is an incredible writer. However, sometimes I get to the end of her books and go, “what was the point of that, again?” She’s an author I read for the beauty of her words and depth of her descriptions and characters, but not so much for the story. Tyler makes me think about writing and about how people live and think in every day life.

Garden Spells and The Peach Keeper – Here’s a conundrum: I like Sarah Addison Allen’s writing style, settings, and magical feel but I just don’t like her characters or the decisions they make. One might say they’re very human, but I’d say they’re often plain self-centered. Also, I end up skipping over many pages in her books when she decides to throw in a little romance because it is soooo cheesy and overly detailed. I guess the point is I get why people like her books, but I am not a fan. Yet. She may win me over someday.

Doomsday Book (Oxford Time Travel, #1)Doomsday Book – I am definitely finishing this book one day. It came due to the library when I was only a few chapters in (I got a little overly ambitious on one library trip and checked out too many books!). I read Blackout and All Clear by this author and really liked them.

Divergent – Always late to the dystopian lit parties, I’m in the middle of this one now. I’m not loving it, but I’m too involved to back out now.

I’m pretty sure this list doesn’t cover all the books I’ve read this summer, but those are  all I can remember right now. Even though I’ll be too busy to read as much as I have the past few months, I’m still a firm believer that Fall and Winter are the best times for reading. So, what have you read this summer? Anything I should put on my Fall reading list? I’m looking to get in a few more nonfiction titles and some classics.

Happy reading!

Reading, Reviews, Young Adult

Recent Book Busts

A friend asked me last week, “What are you reading lately? You haven’t posted much.” Sigh. She is right. I haven’t posted much about what I’ve been reading because apparently my selections have been pretty sub par lately. I’ve started and not finished three books in the last three weeks that were maybe not my type of books or maybe just awful books.

Lost, Jacqueline DaviesThe first book I started and didn’t finish is Lost by Jacqueline Davies. I haven’t completely given up on this book, which is set in 1911 around the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire. The idea behind the book still intrigues me:

Essie can tell from the moment she lays eyes on Harriet Abbott: this is a woman who has taken a wrong turn in life. Why else would an educated, well-dressed, clearly upper-crust girl end up in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory setting sleeves for six dollars a day? As the unlikely friendship between Essie and Harriet grows, so does the weight of the question hanging between them: Who is lost? And who will be found?

(goodreads.com)

The plot seems good but it starts off very confused, with Essie having delusions about her baby sister and chaotic thoughts about what is real and what is not, including whether she herself is still real. I wasn’t expecting such a psychological experience when I checked this book out at the library from the Young Adult display table. I may go back to it at some point, but usually once it’s back at the library, I’m not checking it out again. =)

When Audrey Met AliceThe other book I picked up off the YA table was a complete bust. When Audrey Met Alice drew me in with the promise of including snippets of Alice Roosevelt’s diary. I’ve always thought her an interesting person in American History. However, the now-and-then setting of this book was terrible–Audrey is the current First Daughter and her mother is President. She is struggling with some petty teenage troubles and when she finds Alice’s diary, she turns to it for comfort and ideas on how to cope. I held out hope that the book would get better when Alice’s part came in, but as soon as excerpts from Alice’s diary became part of the story, it was clear that the diary was all made up. The language was all wrong, the opinions were far fetched, and the writing style was not at all what it would have been if Alice Roosevelt had actually written it. I turned to the back of the book and, sure enough, there was the disclaimer stating that the diary was actually written by the author. I would have been spared a lot of wasted reading time if that disclaimer had been at the beginning. I wouldn’t recommend this book for adults or young adults.

Still Life with Bread CrumbsFinally, I tried out my first Anna Quindlen book and downloaded Still Life With Bread Crumbs from my library’s eBook site. Quindlen is clearly a writer whose strength is imagery. I thoroughly enjoyed her word pictures and the way she describes her main character’s renowned photography. However, this character driven novel didn’t really have characters that grabbed me. Still, it was an enjoyable read until about halfway through, when the two main characters become love interests. I realize that happens in a lot of books and is often a very good thing, but I couldn’t handle it in this book. It seemed all wrong for the characters and some parts of it were actually wrong. But I can’t say anything bad about Quindlen’s ability to write, because her prose is beautiful. If her book hadn’t included so much infidelity, I probably would be raving about it. I just can’t enjoy books centered on extramarital affairs, or really unhappy marriages. Still, I wish the photographs described in the book really existed–I would probably buy the calendar based on them to hang in my kitchen.

So, right now I’m not reading anything. And it’s not a terrible way to live. Any suggestions? Fiction or non-fiction, I’ll take any ideas.

 

Reading, Top Ten Tuesday, Young Adult

Top Ten Tuesday: Best and Worst Book Worlds

Today’s Top  Ten Tuesday theme was one I couldn’t resist: book worlds where you’re glad not to live. But I’m going to tweak it a little and do five places where I’m glad I don’t live and five book places I would like to live. If you think this topic is as much fun as I do, check out The Broke and the Bookish blog. The ladies there host this meme every week and have lots of great bloggers chime in on all kinds of book topics.

So here goes!

Worst Book Worlds: Or, Books Worlds Where I I Don’t Want To Live

1. The United States featured in The Hunger Games. Yikes.

2. Charles Dickens’s London. The coal, the fog, the rain, the damp, the poor….eesh. When I read The Old Curiosity Shop, I cheered internally when Nell and her grandfather leave London to go to the country. And then there’s the danger of being put in the Debtor’s Prison, like Little Dorrit’s family. Talk about hopelessness.

3. The United States in Matched. I still haven’t read the third book in The Matched trilogy by Ally Condie. If you’re unfamiliar with it, basically everything is decided for your in life by The Society: your spouse, your vocation, your house, your food, everything. And that’s really all you need to know about why I don’t want to live there.

4. Life After Life‘s setting: a world where you can keep on living alternate versions of your life. This book gave me waking nightmares. Very vividly written and thought provoking, but not a read I enjoyed!

5. C.S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy worlds. Basically, anything that includes science fiction is somewhere I do not want to be. I like normal life. The ability to travel to other planets is nice to read about, but man am I grateful not to live there when I’m done reading!

Best Book Worlds: Or, Books Worlds Where I Want To Live

1. C.S. Lewis’s Narnia. For those of you who have only read The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, you won’t get this one. Or maybe you will, if you can get past the beginning when it’s a perpetually frozen iceland. Like Bree in The Horse and His Boy, if I lived anywhere else but Narnia in the world of these books (say, Calormene), I would be high tailing it to Narnia. I want to see a Dryad, talk to a Beaver, dance with a Faun, all of it.

2. Tolkein’s Rivendell. Or anywhere but Mordor. Actually, I’d probably just like to visit Rohan, but not live there. I’m not exactly keen on horses.

3. Green Gables. Sigh. Green Gables.jpg

4. Guernsey from The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. After the German occupation, of course. Living on an island that’s not too far from the mainland sounds great.

5. Hogwarts. But just for a visit. =)

 

Children's Books, Reading, Reviews, Top Ten Tuesday, Young Adult

A Book for Your Winter TBR List: The Secret of the Ruby Ring

The Secret of the Ruby RingHoliday break is soon to begin for kids, and hopefully that means you’re thinking of some great books that will encourage you and your kids to have fun reading while taking a break from the required reading of school and every day life. Today I’m sharing about a book that I absolutely loved as a young girl–I think kids ages 8-92 should put this on their Winter To Be Read list. This book, The Secret of the Ruby Ring, by Yvonne MacGrory,  is one I picked up on a weekly library trip at age ten, when our local library’s children section had a castle dungeon feel and every book I picked up was a treasure. Man, I miss those days. I haven’t thought about the book in ages, though I loved it so much, but a few days ago when my daughter asked for a bed time story, the plot of this book popped into my head and I thought, “Gasp- perfect!” Here’s the summary from Goodreads.com:

Lucy, a rather spoiled almost-eleven-year-old, gets a very special birthday present from her grandmother. This gift, a star ruby ring, has been passed down for generations through Lucy’s family. The evening before her birthday, Lucy accidentally discovers the magical secret of the ring: The secret of this Ruby Ring is that two wishes it can bring.

Twisting the ring and making her first wish, Lucy finds herself transported to a far away time, that of Ireland in 1885, a time of unrest, evictions, and boycotting. At first, Lucy is intrigued by Langley Castle and its inhabitants, but soon she misses her family and friends. When she decides to use her second wish to go home, Lucy discovers that the ring has disappeared.

Can Lucy convince young Robert that she is from another age? Will he help her to retrieve the ruby ring, or will Lucy be trapped forever in a bygone age?

Now, before you roll your eyes and say, “time travel again, puhlease,” let me tell you that this book had a profound positive effect on me at age ten. I thought the story was magical (I think I read it twice before I returned it to the library), but I also thought the message applied to me: you’re not put on this earth to be a princess and have the world revolve around you. It’s pretty cool when a book delivers a message so clearly, a ten-year-old girl can take it to heart. And that message is one our Disney princess culture girls need to hear, often and over and over again. Actually, it’s one I need to hear pretty often, too, based on my Downton Abbey envy. One of the greatest things about this book  is that when I recently picked it up to read as an adult, I still loved it. The characters were so personable and the plot was perfectly paced between action and insight into Lucy’s character. Though it never hit the best seller list in the U.S., it won Children’s Book of the Year in Ireland in 1994 and really reads like a classic. This would be a great book for young girls all the way to  grown ladies to read over Christmas break. I wish I could read it for the first time with you.

This post is my contribution to the Top Ten Tuesday theme, Winter Reading List, over at the awesome blog, The Broke and the Bookish. Go on over to the B&B blog to see all the other winter reading lists that book lovers are putting together today. And thanks for stopping by Mia The Reader, too! Leave a comment on what your favorite Winter read is. I’m always looking for a great read to add to my TBR list. 



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