Children's Books, Quick Lit, Reading, Reviews

Quick Lit, Winter to Spring, What I Read in Quarantine

As promised in last week’s post, I’m playing a catch up today on books I’ve read in the past three months. I’ve read several new releases, and they have some good points, but the older books are the ones I’m really eager to share. Somehow, the newly published ones I read in the last few months didn’t sit as well with me; they don’t feel like friends, and these older books do. That’s not true of all new releases, but it is with the ones in this batch. I’ll start with the new releases and move on to “vintage” fiction and then middle grade/children’s fiction. I hope you’ll find a friendly book here for yourself to keep you company in this strange, quarantine time!

New Releases

Lovely War – A World War I novel centered on two young people’s love story, told by Greek gods. Imagine the movie Wonder Woman‘s idea of Ares being the cause of the war, but with more mythology and without super heroes. The historical research of this book framed by mythology was amazing. I learned a lot I didn’t know from both the novel and the afterword. The middle of the book was a bit slow, and romance novels always feel clunky to me – this one was no exception. There were some character descriptions that became redundant. Still, it was such a unique way to tell a story, I wanted to finish it if only for that reason. 3.5 Stars. [As most war stories go, there was some graphic content, and racial tensions are a central theme, but I would still consider this suitable for older teens.]

The Bookwoman of Troublesome Creek – Set in rural Kentucky in the 1930s, this novel tells the story of Cussy Mary Carter, one of the last Kentucky blue people and one of the first female librarians in the region. If the idea of blue people sounds a bit like science fiction, it’s not. Author Kim Michele Richardson takes fascinating history and combines it with great storytelling to give us a book that effortlessly draws readers into the setting and main character’s life. It was easy to sink into these pages and simply absorb the story, with many truly likable and a few appropriately unlikable ones. The main character is a gem, and though the book reminded me of Catherine Marshall’s Christy in some ways, it was entirely unique and my favorite new release I’ve read in 2020. It is especially good on audio! 5 Stars.

Call Your Daughter Home – Oh, I did not like this book at all. There were ghosts and murders, domestic abuse, child abuse, alcohol abuse, family quarrels… I wish I could’ve liked it, because I think the author is pretty great at painting a vivid setting and drawing up characters. But it was not my kind of book. 1.5 stars.

The Red Notebook – This novella is clever and intriguing, pleasant and engaging. Much like the story itself about a Parisian bookseller who recovers a woman’s handbag and goes on a quest to return it to her that ends up drawing him in much more than expected, it’s a book that will absorb you in the best possible way. It’s perfect to curl up with in bed, although as with most French books, you’ll probably end up hungry and want to get up to eat something. 4 stars.

The Red Address Book

Funny story…I got this one from the library on accident, when I meant to pick up The Red Notebook. It was a happy mistake, however, because this Swedish book about an elderly woman that lives with her home care assistance to help her reliving her pain, and past through her red address book she has meticulously kept through her life was moving and well-told. It’s a bit like A Man Called Ove or The One-in-a-Million Boy (both of which are wonderful) combined with the ever popular historical fiction told in retrospect. If you’re a fan of either of those, this may be a book for you. 3.5 stars.

Code Name Helene – I’m in the middle of this one right now. It is somewhat fascinating and I plan to finish it, but I’m not crazy about it. The back-and-forth between present and past narratives (actually this one is back-and-forth before the war and during the war) is not my favorite. Even though relating a story this way can be very effective, I always find it a bit jarring. While I’m enjoying the intriguing tale of a female spy in World War II, my main complaint can be summed up in what one of “Helene’s” coworkers says to her when she pulls out some particularly vulgar language: “You don’t have to do that with me.” Dear authors, I will respect your characters and your writing without a constant string of strong language and graphic content, I promise. In this instance, I can see why some of it is necessary to convey the kind of main character spy Nancy Wake/Helene has to make herself into and how harsh her reality is. But it’s pretty brutal. I’m exactly half way through, so I’ll have to complete my review of it next time, but I can already tell you that I like the similar book Code Name Verity much, much better.

Vintage Fiction

O, The Brave Music – I adored this book. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was reading a girl’s David Copperfield (and I love David Copperfield, or Great Expectations, or any number of first-person, autobiographical novels by Dickens). Set at the turn of the century in Northern England, Ruan’s coming of age story includes several tragedies but also a depth of character and wisdom, along with warmth and unfailing delight in the world around her. It’s the kind of book that feels like a friend to this old-fashioned soul. 5 stars. [Thank you to Simon from Stuck in a Book for a rave review of this book that got me looking for a used copy!] 5 stars.

The Tall Stranger – Okay, I read too much D.E. Stevenson, but hear me out – this stand alone novel is excellent. The cast of characters is real and friendly, the settings varied and vivid, and the whole thing is put together flawlessly. Do me a favor and do not read the publisher’s blurb about it– they never do Stevenson novels justice and make it out to be complete frippery, which it’s not, in my opinion. This book is free on Kindle Unlimited and Kindle Unlimited is offering a free two-month trial through the end of April. 5 stars.

Five Windows – Also D.E. Stevenson, but different because it’s a first-person, autobiographical narrative by a male character, and yes, it reminds me of O, The Brave Music but in a more modern time, with less tragedy. There are some character overlaps with The Tall Stranger which I find delightful. Really, this book comes first in chronology before The Tall Stranger, but they’re not in a true series, so it doesn’t matter which you read first. And it’s also free on Kindle Unlimited! 4.5 stars. I also read Still Glides the Stream by Stevenson on Kindle Unlimited and give that three stars, but still a very pleasant, enthralling read if you’re a Stevenson fan like I obviously am. I’m almost embarrassed of how much I enjoy her books!

Journey’s Eve – This book was pretty nutty, as Elizabeth Cadell’s more mysterious novels sometimes are. It was a fun story, and I liked it, but I get a little tired of the way Cadell’s heroes can be kind of pushy. 3 stars.

Middle Grade/Children’s Literature

The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone – Well, the name of this book is extremely inconvenient, but the actual book is a lighthearted fantasy about a girl’s quest in an imagined land that seems a little bit like Australia. I liked it, but not quite enough to plunge right into the sequel yet. I let my ten-year-old and eight-year-old read this, but neither of them wanted to before it was due back to the library. 3.5 stars.

The Penderwicks Series – Ella (age ten) and I completed this series separately but together over the winter. We both agree that The Penderwicks in Spring (book 4) was our least favorite, the first through third books in the series were our favorites, and the last book in the series was a fairly satisfying ending. As a whole series of five books, we highly recommend it!

Adventures with Waffles – Though it is well liked by many readers I agree with on most books, I didn’t love this one. It was quite melancholy for a book with “adventures” in the title. The characters grappled with some hard themes without much satisfying resolution. The main character and narrator, Trille, a boy whose best friend is a headstrong, crazy girl named Lena (similar to Parr’s Astrid the Unstoppable and Pippi Longstockings), is a bit infuriating in his passivity. But so many people love this book, I’d say give it a shot for yourself if you’re a fan of middle grade novels!

Meet the Austins and the rest of The Austins series- The first book was a lovely family story, so well written as Madeleine L’Engle’s books always are. I liked The Austins series as a whole, but was unprepared for the science fiction turn the third book, The Young Unicorns, would take. Whew! It’s like That Hideous Strength for children. Older children, haha. Not quite as pleasant as the first or second book, but highly thoughtful. 4 stars for the series.

Anne of Green Gables – A re-read for about the twentieth time (barely an exaggeration), but this time I read it aloud to the kids and the funny parts were funnier, the sad parts sadder, the descriptive, flowery parts less important. Reading books aloud to kids changes your perspective on a book, even when you know it as well as you possibly can, and usually for the better. I choked up so much in the last few chapters, the kids wanted to laugh at me and cry at the same time. We started Anne of Avonlea immediately after, but lost Isaac’s interest (he honestly enjoyed Anne of Green Gables and laughed heartily at many parts), so now we’re reading aloud From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and all liking it. But I’m tempted to keep reading the whole Anne series again on my own for, well, maybe the tenth time? I’ve lost count. They are absolutely my favorite books…except for maybe The Chronicles of Narnia…ack, who can choose? And in case you’re wondering, we did watch the film adaptation by Sullivan Entertainment, though not either of the sequels, and had a fun time discussing the differences between the book and the movie. We all thought the actresses who played Anne and Dianna were too old, but played their parts well. Five million stars to the book and five stars to the movie.

That about wraps it up for this quick lit catch-up post! Modern Mrs. Darcy has lots of other book bloggers chiming in about recent reading on her blog today, so hop on over to see what other readers are saying about books this spring. And please let me know what books you’ve discovered lately in the comments!

Happy reading!

Quick Lit, Reading, Reviews

Winter Reads – January 2018 Quick Lit

Hello! Welcome to January Quick Lit, when readers around the web recount what we’ve read recently. I’m linking up to this event at Modern Mrs. Darcy. Be sure to join in the fun and get way more book recs than I can ever give you!

2017 has come and gone, and already is becoming a blur. I finished with the lowest number of books read in a year probably since I learned to read in kindergarten. 2017 was a different kind of year. However, I did manage to read several books to round out 2017. My last “Books I have Read” update was in September! And two of them definitely qualify as being very wintery in theme. Here’s the quick lit run down.

Fiction

News of the World – 3 Stars – This is the story of an older man living as a sort of newspaper-reading gypsy in the post-Civil War midwest. He begrudgingly takes charge of a recovered German-American child that had been captured by Native Americans. The book has good characters and a vivid setting. I would have liked it better if it had been longer, I think, more detailed and more developed. Also, parts of the storyline was too hard for me to handle (children being stolen from their parents …hard stuff). I might have gotten taken in too easily by the cover and title on this one. It’s a great title, right?

Anna and the Swallow Man – 1.5 Stars – I still have no idea what the point of this book was. It started out very like The Book Thief or a similar WWII account set in Europe, but man did it veer into left field after that. It was bizarre and eerie. I even tried doing some research on this one and came up with no answers. People who are giving it good reviews, please tell me what in the world it’s about! And why you like it! As of right now, it’s not one I’d recommend.

Salt to Sea – 4 Stars – Fascinating, historical, well-researched and based on facts, and even includes some very likable characters…also, it’s a page turner. The details are stark and unflinching, though. I actually had a hard time sleeping after reading this one. I think if you in general like WWII books, you will like this one, but I will say it’s hard to stomach in places, as most WWII books set in Eastern Europe are. Ruta Sepetys is an incredible writer. I felt like I was a freezing cold war refugee in Eastern Germany while reading this book. She makes everything come alive. It’s an excellent novel by a great writer about an event I was completely (blissfully) unaware of before, but it’s not a cozy or comfortable read.

You Bring the Distant Near – 3.5 Stars – A great YA book that put Indian-American family life into new perspective for me, especially when it comes to families with daughters. I appreciated the hopeful and bright tone of the book. Not necessarily plot driven but very well written and a beautiful book.

Nonfiction

Unseen: The Gift of Being Hidden in a World That Loves to Be Noticed– 5 Stars – This book goes to the core of so much I wrestle with these days. Most of these questions or struggles go back to motives. I can’t say this book suddenly gave me every answer and made life easy, but it shook my thinking patterns out of their ruts. Here’s my favorite part of the description of the book:

We may be “wasting” ourselves in a hidden corner today: The cubicle on the fourth floor. The hospital bedside of an elderly parent. The laundry room. But these are the places God uses to meet us with a radical love. These are the places that produce the kind of unhinged love in us that gives everything at His feet, whether or not anyone else ever proclaims our name, whether or not anyone else ever sees.

I will be reading this book again.

That wraps up this quick lit edition! I’m currently in the middle of five (yes, five) books, so February’s quick lit could be quite the lineup. Assuming I can actually finish those books before my library loan runs out…Happy reading!

For more Quick Lit reviews on Miathereader.com, just click the Quick Lit tag under the title of this post. I hope this site helps you find a great read!

Quick Lit, Reading, Reviews

Moxie and Betsy and Other Frivolous Reading: A Quick Lit Review

Happy Quick Lit day! Join me and other book bloggers as we link up over at Modern Mrs. Darcy to share what we’ve been reading lately.

Hello, from the depths of a new school year! I don’t know about you, but living in the southeast of the U.S. has made it a little hard lately to get into the swing of school things, what with eclipses and hurricanes and random holidays (what is Labor Day is about anyway?). I haven’t been updating here on reading or much else because, well, life. But life is good! Even if the reading pace is still about as slow as it has been since I was maybe less than five years old. And I have been keeping it extremely light. Frivolously light. Don’t judge. I’ll get back to War and Peace someday, or at least Martin Chuzzlewit. Here’s a rundown of what I have managed to read in the last month!

What I Read

Of Mess and Moxie, Jen Hatmaker

Jen Hatmaker makes us laugh and makes us think and gives us reason to look at Jesus, while also handing over a great recipe here and there in this book–that is a very unique description for a book, wouldn’t you say? Do I agree with her on every viewpoint? No. Do I need to in order to like her book? Again, no. Unless you’re planning on digesting every book you read as absolute truth, you shouldn’t worry about whether or not you’ll agree with every thought someone else presents. I liked this book much better than For The Love – it had more purpose and was written with an undertone of humility that was refreshing and endearing. It’s fun and it’s interesting. Bottom line, I mostly read this for fun and ended up getting more out of it than I expected. (Related Review: 7).

The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman

This is the first book I’ve read by Neil Gaiman. It’s a mix of a realism and fantasy, reminiscent of Madeleine L’Engle (I feel like I’ve been saying that a lot lately). I enjoyed the atmosphere and the style of Gaiman’s writing. The story and the main character (a boy the same age as my son) made me sad. There was a bit of a hopeless feeling to the story. There’s probably a lot of analogies in it that I don’t have the mental bandwidth to explore. Overall, I thought it was well written and moving but a little bit confusing. (Grain of salt disclaimer: sleep deprived mom of a baby reviewing, here.)

The last six books in the Betsy-Tacy Series – I finished all of the books about Betsy when she was grown up. Though the first books in the series were better as far as crafted pieces of literature, the later books were still enjoyable because of the characters, and I actually feel like I gained some valuable every-day wisdom. Maud Hart Lovelace wrote them as mostly autobiographical. Betsy/Maud has a pretty different personality than me, so reading how she related to her parents and her friends through her growing up years actually gave me lot to think about in terms of how to parent my children whose personalities are different than mine. Maybe a fictional series about a girl in the early 1900s is a strange place to find parenting insights, but they are pretty much everywhere. I’m glad I had Betsy and her lighthearted books to take me through this summer.

GraceLaced – Loved. Full review here. (And this and the next one are not frivolous…)

You Are Free, Rebekah Lyons – I like the way Lyons writes, but for some reason, I didn’t really connect with this book.

What I Didn’t Read

I picked up several books based on reviews and their titles this summer, but they simply were not for me. Mostly because in the first few chapters, the content met my explicit threshold. I had been looking forward to The Stars Are Fire, after really enjoying Stella Bain by the same author, but I just couldn’t get past the opening content. We Are Called to Rise gave me the same problem in like the first two pages, but I do still appreciate the inspirational title. When I come downstairs in the morning and look at the piles of dirty dishes on the counter, I take a deep breath and whisper to myself “We are called to rise!” and get to work. Game changer. As for The Alice Network, I actually got 40% done (thank you, Kindle, for your specific progress reports), and still found the characters to be grating and overly foul-mouthed, so I threw in the towel. Really, all I want to read right now are old books. I’m in a book time warp and I’m not fighting it.

What I Read With the Kids

We’re starting off the school year with Half Magic by Edward Eager as our read-aloud and it is awesome. We all laugh and laugh, and learn about fractions while we’re at it. I can’t believe I haven’t heard of this book before, but I’m glad our homeschool curriculum starts out the year with this fun read-aloud.

Over the summer, we read In Grandma’s Attic. I read this whole series as a girl, but I was unsure whether Isaac (age 6) would enjoy it. The funny stories and big brothers of the main character made it alright, though! He and the other two kids (ages 8 and 3) requested more chapters every time.

We’re always blazing through picture books around here, so I’ll have to do a picture book round up soon!

Children's Books, Quick Lit, Reading, Reviews

February Reads – A Quick Lit Update

February is sweeping by me. Our fourth child is due on the last day of this month, and I think it’s fair to say the nesting instinct has kicked in pretty hard in the last week. I can’t stop thinking that everything has to be cleaned/painted/de-cluttered now, “just in case” the baby comes early. I’ve never had a baby early, so this sort of thinking is probably unwarranted. Still, I’ve managed to sit still long enough to read some pretty great books in the last month. Today, I’m joining Modern Mrs. Darcy and friends again for Quick Lit, a feature that gives us a chance to catch each other up on what we’ve been reading in the past month.

(Psst…check back for some kids’ book reviews coming this Thursday!)

Fiction

The Girl Who Drank The Moon, Kelly Barnhill – Have you heard about this book yet? It’s a storyteller’s treat that whisked me into another world every time I cracked open the book. I loved the characters, the setting, the lyrical prose…pretty much everything about it. It’s completely worth all the publicity and fan love it’s getting. If you’re considering giving this to your grade school aged child, I might suggest reading it for yourself first. It’s very emotionally tense at times. Though quite unique, it did remind me of Shannon Hale’s Book of A Thousand Days or Juliet Marillier’s Wildwood DancingI highly recommend it to anyone. 4.5/5 stars (Also, this book is this year’s Newberry Award Winner, so it’s actually possible I’m not the only one raving about this book).

The One-In-A-Million Boy, Monica Wood – A story about an unlikely friendship between a young boy and a very old woman, this story was sometimes sweet and sad, often awkward, almost charming, and mostly hopeful about how friendships with all sorts of people – young, old, poor, rich, religious, successful…all sorts – keep a person fully human and alive. Wood does an amazing job of describing characters who become very, very real as you read. Some parts of the plot seem fairly unrealistic, but hey, if you want all your books to read like real life, maybe just stick to real life. I don’t mind a book veering off into unlikely circumstances, as long as it flows with the rest of the story. It wasn’t perfectly constructed, but it was still a good read. 3/5 stars

I Let You Go, Clare Mackintosh – Though this was a well written crime novel with a huge plot twist that you can’t even guess though you’re thinking the whole time, “I heard there is a huge plot twist,” I wasn’t a big fan of this book because of very vivid descriptions of domestic violence and a good bit of language. Mackintosh writes from her professional life experience as a former police officer. She speaks to an all-too-true issue in our world. If you’re a fan of The Girl on the Train (the book), you’ll probably like this one, too. I’m beginning to understand I’m simply not a crime novel fan, so I should probably stop trying. 2.5/5 stars.

non-fiction

How to Manage Your Home Without Losing Your Mind: Dealing with Your House’s Dirty Little Secrets, Dana White – White is the author of the blog and podcast A Slob Comes Clean, and she knows of what she speaks. (She’s also pretty funny). If you’ve read all manner of “get your house in shape” books and never once really hit on anything that worked for you, this might be your book. It’s for those of us have what Dana calls “slob vision” or basically blindness to messes until they get really bad. Like, blind to a sink full of dishes until you have no plates to eat off of. If you consider yourself a person who likes projects instead of a person who manages everyday details, this book will definitely give you some ideas on how to be a good home manager without making you feel like you have to change your entire personality to do so. I’ve learned that personality-wise I’m more on the naturally tidy side of the spectrum of home managers. Not that I am on top of everything all the time (um…no), but I’m more likely to walk through a room and take a few things that are out of place with me to put away as I go about other tasks than to ignore a mess until it becomes a project. I still enjoyed White’s perspective and it was illuminating reading a little about how peoples’ personalities make them approach maintaining a home differently. The power of habits plays a large role in White’s approach, and habits are always a fascinating study in my book. (Gretchen Rubin’s Better Than Before is an awesome book on the topic of habits, as well).

And now it’s your turn to let me know what you’re reading! February is a great month to hit the books, wouldn’t you say?

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?



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