Everyday Life, Reading, Reviews

Late January Decluttering Encouragement – More Wisdom from Books

A Gentleman in MoscowI mentioned in my quick-lit reviews that I was loving the book A Gentleman in Moscow but wasn’t finished with it yet. Well, I am finished, and I wholeheartedly endorse it as a great novel. It’s so much better than Rules of Civility by the same author. I couldn’t stop highlighting parts on my kindle; there were so many great quotes. One, in particular, struck me as just perfect for this time of year when everyone wants to declutter but may have lost some steam along the way, so I thought I’d share it with you today.

For eventually, we come to hold our dearest possessions more closely than we hold our friends. We carry them from place to place, often at considerable expense and inconvenience; we dust and polish their surfaces and reprimand children for playing too roughly in their vicinity–all the while, allowing memories to invest them with greater and greater importance. This armoire, we are prone to recall, is the very one in which we hid as a boy; and it was these silver candalabra that lined our table on Christmas Eve; and it was with this handkerchief that she once dried her tears, et cetera, et cetera. Until we imagine that these carefully preserved possessions might give us genuine solace in the face of a lost companion.

But, of course, a thing is just a thing.

-Armor Towles, A Gentleman in Moscow

Yes, things are just things. So if you started out with a passion for decluttering this New Year that eventually waned, may this propel you forward to further  minimalist greatness. Or, simply ease our guilt about not dusting enough. Those things are just things, right?

Want more wisdom from novels? Check this post out

Reading, Reviews

January Quick Lit- Winter Reading Update

It has been so long since I posted a book review! I’m excited to get back into some quick-lit reviews, and I’m linking up with many other reviewers at Modern Mrs. Darcy.

I read slowly through the month of December, distracted by Christmas movies and holiday goings-on. I don’t know that we’ll ever have a more beautiful Christmas season. It was purposeful and planned out in ways that gave us white space to be sporadic. We saw all of our family at one point or another throughout the month, and saw lots of each other, too. And I have to admit, it was so much fun to decorate our fixer upper. We didn’t do a whole lot, but a white house just lends itself well to my Christmas nostalgia. Even so, January came with a sigh of relief and putting away all the Christmas decor felt like giving myself permission to truly rest in this season. I got an electric blanket for Christmas and a huge box of tea from Amazon and now winter is the time for reading.

The Snow Child – If you are a lover of fairy tales written for grown ups, you’ll like this book. And I’m not talking about fairy tales written for the Young Adult audience, such as Cinder or Beauty. Eowyn Ivey writes about a couple who are older, beyond their child-bearing years, but still long for a child. I don’t think I would have appreciated this book at a younger age, but the tender aching nature of the main characters combined with their will to survive and love no matter what touched me deeply. Ivey masterfully writes about her home state and its beauty and pain. I enjoyed this book even more than To The Bright Edge of the World, and that’s saying something.

The Broken Way – Ann Voskamp’s deep thoughts and way with words demands a slow, thoughtful reading pace. This one took me about two months, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I still feel like I need to read it again. Voskamp moves further into her ideas of communion with God through gratitude that she presented in One Thousand Gifts and explores the truth that suffering and brokenness is a path that everyone walks at some point, but that God can use to bring us to deeper beauty and oneness with other people and Him than we could imagine. Any description I write of this book will barely scratch the surface – it’s a must read.

The Baker’s Daughter – There’s got to be some D.E. Stevenson in my reading list every winter. This book was my cozy, post-holiday party pick. The plot is fairly simple – a wealthy but unhappy young lady (whom the rest of her acquaintance considers verging on being an old maid) becomes a housekeeper for an artist. She wants to escape the drudgery of life in her father’s and stepmother’s home. Of course, she does in some ways and doesn’t in others.  As usual, Stevenson’s character driven novels set in Scottish villages draw me into the lives she describes in her book. I always, always think of L.M. Montgomery’s characters when I read D.E. Stevenson. Their vim and vigor and no-nonsense approach to life combined with kindness and a thirst for more in life makes them pretty much my favorite type of characters. (Important: this book is not to be confused with The Baker’s Daughter by Sarah McCoy. Completely different books!)

A Gentleman in Moscow – I’m still in the middle of this one, and loving it so much more than Amor Towles’s first book, Rules of Civility. Count Rostov is the main character, and his life in the grand Metropol Hotel in Moscow on house arrest starting in the 1920s is the surprisingly compelling setting. Philosophical yet humorous, the small setting does not limit the epic Russian nature of this novel. I am learning all kinds of things about Russsian’s evolution in the 20th century. If you have an e-reader, I highly recommend reading this book on it because being able to highlight and look up people and terms I am unfamiliar with has definitely enriched my understanding of this book and of Russia. I can’t help but compare this book with The Elegance of the Hedgehog, but with much more likable characters and sweeping scope. The characters who populate the Metropol are so real to me as I get close to the end of this book. I suppose I can’t truly recommend it until I read the end, but so far, it’s wonderful.

Up next is a huge stack of holds from the library that all came in at one time. I love/hate it when that happens. But at least it means lots of new reviews will be going up soon! Until then, I hope you enjoy some winter reading and tell me all about the good books you discover.

Reviews

Rules of Civility Review

Rules of CivilityLast week I finished Rules of Civility by Amor Towles. It came highly recommended on several book blogs. I can see why: the writing was very clever, the characters started out as intriguing, and the setting of New York City in the late 1930s was dazzling. However, what started as refreshingly different ended as testament to meaninglessness.

The main character, Katey Kontent (pun intended), has grown up in Brooklyn. Through a series of career movies and friendships, she works her way into the center of New York’s elite socialites. The book also follows, Tinker Grey, the city’s most eligible bachelor, who also happens to be pretty down to earth and likable. Or so it seems.

For the first half of the book, I was thinking, “man, this books is pretty great.” For the second half I was thinking, “this book is pointless.” At the crucial point where the main character should be reaching some clarity, she makes choices that just make things foggier. I think the reader is supposed to draw meaning from Tinker’s choices, but they, too don’t seem to lead to much meaning.

Final verdict: while I enjoyed the writing style at first, the characters and the messages were without roots. Their evolution was not into something better than what they were at the beginning. They seemed soulless. Yes, I know that technically they were; they were fictional characters. But fiction at its best should be a presentation of characters real enough to understand and learn from. Maybe it was personal differences that kept me from understanding the characters in Rules. Whatever the reason, I can’t recommend this book very highly, but I know I’m in the minority of readers.

After finishing Rules of Civility, I moved on to 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess.” Friends, I love this book. Reading it on the heels of a Rules of Civility, a book that presents a lot of questions about the typical American Dream, drives home some of the points even more. Expect a detailed post on to appear soon. Though it’s non-fiction and I’m a self-proclaimed slow non-fiction reader, I read half of it in one day.

Everyday Life, Reading, Reviews, Top Ten Tuesday

What I Read At The Beach

My daughter and I feel the same way about the beach.
My daughter and I feel the same way about the beach.

I didn’t participate in Top Ten Tuesday this week because I just returned from my long awaited beach vacation. It was lovely. We went to the same beach I’ve been going to since I was a tyke, and I just didn’t want to leave. It feels like home. And it’s on the beach. A more perfect combination probably doesn’t exist.

Orphan TrainWhile at the beach I read Oprhan Train by Christina Baker Kline. I really enjoyed it. It was partly set in 2011 and presented as the story of a 17-year-old girl named Molly, and partly set in the 1920s-40s and told by Vivian. Is there a technical name for those books that flux between now and then? There must be by now, but I don’t know it. Please tell me if you do. Molly has been in foster care since she was a little girl, going from family to family and never finding a family to love or to love her. She is rough around the edges, but understandably so. She meets Vivian because her boyfriend sets up a community service project for her in hopes of keeping her around instead of seeing her sent to a new family or somewhere worse. Vivian is in her 90s, and their project together is to clean out her attic.

I feel like I shouldn’t give too many plot details because I think Kline has put together a book that gives just enough away of the story in each part to maintain a comfortable level of suspense and comprehension for the reader. Knowing too much about the plot of a book before you read it takes away half the fun of reading. So I’ll just tell you that this is a good read which will also inform you of some actual history. I had never heard of the orphan trains that took children from New York City to the Midwest. I was fascinated by the story of these children, and saddened by the story of a current day foster child, too. While reading this book, when I saw my own mom wipe the sand off my children’s faces at the beach or saw my husband jump with them in the waves, I thought, “How many children, just like those children on the orphan train, never experience a simple, caring gesture of a loving parent or grandparent? How many two-year-olds never have someone brush the hair out of their eyes and pat them on the back or help them blow their noses?” It is something to think about.

If you decide to read Orphan Train or if you have already read it, please share your thoughts! I always love to find out what other reads think of the books I review.

I also started reading at the beach Rules of Civility by Amor Towles, because so many people mentioned it in their Top Ten Tuesday list last week. Most of them paired it with The Great Gatsby and said they really liked it, so I thought I’d give it a shot. So far, it’s not much like Gatsby but it’s pretty good in its own right. A full review will appear here by the end of the week (I hope).

Happy reading!