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?

Reading, Reviews

Summer Reading Snippet Reviews

Well. It has been a coon’s age since I wrote a review. People tell me all the time, “I used to enjoy reading, but then I had kids.”

To which I say, “Whatever.”

Okay, okay, yes, it gets harder to read for fun when you have kids. I agree, and I’m not judging you.

Still, I find that this newborn stage is when I get more reading done than any other time in my life (besides the knee surgery time). What else am I going to do during those 3 o’clock/every other o’clock feedings? So while there hasn’t been much activity on the blog, I have been reading. Reading with a book in one hand and a baby in the other is much easier than typing a review for the blog with one hand. In short, I have been reading a lot and reviewing nothing. In an effort to catch up, this is a quick list and some snippet reviews of what I’ve read in the last two months.

A Long Time GoneA Long Time Gone, by Karen White

Karen White is a great writer. I don’t enjoy her earlier works because of the ghostliness (just not my thing), but she is so good at making her settings come to life. This is the second book I’ve read by her and it’s my favorite so far. The main characters are memorable and real. There are just certain phrases that take on their own meaning and are so right in the plot. “Yet here you are,” will never mean the same thing to me. You have to read it to know what I mean. White always has a dark element to her works, but this one has a good side of redemption, too. I enjoyed it.

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, by Mindy Kaling

It’s kind of weird that I read this book at all, because I don’t watch The Office or The Mindy Project. A few bloggers whose work I enjoy mentioned it was funny, so I checked it out. It was funny. And that’s all I have to say about that.

A Little Salty to Cut the Sweet, by Sophie Hudson

This book is made of vignettes about the author’s family and their Southern traditions and funny stories. It was fun to read, but not all that relatable for me. I’m Southern, but I’m not that Southern. =) Still, a nice, enjoyable, light read.

The Girl on the Cliff, by Lucinda Riley.

Status: abandoned. There was no redeeming value in this book and I wasn’t enjoying it at all. I got about 1/3 of the way through.

The Aviator's WifeThe Aviator’s Wife, by Melanie Benjamin

This is a popular pick for book clubs right now, but I couldn’t figure it out. It was all about a very unhappy marriage to a famous guy. I guess that’s just not my type of book. Also abandoned 1/3 of the way, through. Apparently my theory is if you can’t find any reason to keep going after 1/3 of the book, you’re well entitled to pitch it. (I mean return it to the library, of course; don’t actually throw the book away).

The Glory Cloak, Patricia O’Brien

I discovered that Kate Alcott is actually a pen name for the author Patricia O’Brien. Since I’ve really enjoyed the two books by “Kate Alcott,” I was excited to read work by Patricia O’Brien. Unfortunately, O’Brien does the whole “I love this literary character so I’m going to imagine a plot about her and write some fiction.” The Glory Cloak is about Louisa May Alcott and Clara Barton, and their imagined friendship. It sounded intriguing, but yet again, I found myself abandoning a book. O’Brien painted Louisa in a harsh, overbearing way. I’m sorry, but I can’t believe she was actually like that and wrote the things she did. The last thing I need is a fictional account of someone to ruin their good reputation in my mind. That’s just silliness.

Morning Glory and Goodnight June, by Sarah Jio

Goodnight JuneSarah Jio has been my favorite summer read author this summer. Her plot lines can get a little predictable, though. By the time I got to Morning Glory, the fourth book I’ve read by her, the mystery element of it was not quite so fun and the characters from other books were starting to mesh together in my mind. Jio’s books are probably all enjoyable in their own right if you don’t read them back to back to back. Then I read Goodnight June, Jio’s most recent book, which really didn’t have the artistry that Jio usually puts into a book. Still, if you like literary fiction and you like the children’s book Goodnight Moon, it was a fun trip into an imagined history of the book. As I mentioned earlier, imagined histories of literary figures kind of bother me, but I was able to suspend belief for this book and I wasn’t too attached to Margaret Wise Brown to begin with. Besides, she is quite endearing in this fictional account of her. And I actually didn’t see the twist at the end coming, so it wasn’t all that bad. I just missed the descriptiveness and felt the character and plot development was very rushed. Some events transpire too suddenly and neatly to be believable.

There’s one other book I’ve read and loooved, but I will write a separate post reviewing that one, so stay tuned!

I’ll also be posting my Fall reading list soon. I had fun reading this Summer, but my reading list was sorely lacking of classics and deeper works of fiction or nonfiction. When I’m in this sleepless, hormonal stage of late pregnancy and newborn mothering, it’s crucial for me to keep the mood light in my reading. Plus, my brain is just so tired. But my baby slept for six straight hours two nights in a row, so maybe the exhausted-beyond-belief stage is easing up. My Fall list will include more non-fiction and some classics I’ve been meaning to read for a while. So look for my Fall reading list here soon!

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, Reviews

A Few Great Mid-century Midwestern Books

Most of the posts I’ve written so far have focused on recently released literature (well, at least released in the last five years).  While I like to read new releases and be one of the first to discover great books, most of the books I really love have been around for 50-100 years. Or more. Just that smell of old pages between hardback covers makes me smile deep down inside.  Last fall, I read two great books written in the mid-1900s and set in the mid-west: Heat Lightning by Helen Hull and Winter Wheat by Mildred Walker.

photo Heat Lightning follows the journey of Amy Norton, a 35-year-old wife and mother of two, as she travels from her home in New York to visit her family and hometown in the midwest.  She is basically having a mid-life crisis.  Her kids are old enough to be independent (during the book, they’re at summer camp) and her husband has been distant and is camping while she travels. At the beginning of the book, you meet the Westovers, Amy’s family, who live in the small town where Amy grew up. I felt like I knew them as soon as they were introduced. Helen Hull did character descriptions and development so well.  Forgive me for throwing Downton Abbey into this post that really has nothing to do with Downton Abbey, but if you’re a fan of that show, Madame Westover will remind you of Dowager Countess. She is the book’s best character. As the plot moves forward, the Westovers and their endearing characters and family relationships becoming the heart of the book.  However, a careful reader can see Amy’s spirit returning as she figures her past and present out at the same time.

Rachel of the Book Snob blog wrote that Heat Lightning “certainly should be a classic of ordinary American life.” Now, take into consideration that she is British. =) But I enjoy her book reviews and share some of her book tastes, which is why I decided I had to read Heat Lightning. The only publisher currently releasing it is Persephone, but I got mine used on Amazon.   There are several themes, all well developed, but all very subtle. You could miss them completely if you’re just reading the book for its plot, which is, frankly, not exactly gripping (and that’s fine by me).  One theme pointed out in the Persephone edition’s preface by Patricia McClelland Miller is “how can women flourish when they are expected to make most of the adjustments in situations which really require the efforts of both men and women?” I don’t know if I noticed that theme as much as I noticed the theme of reconciling your childhood home with the home you set out to make with your husband and children.  However, I can think back on the number of couples introduced throughout the book and the life transitions each couple was navigating, and I think I’d like to re-read the book and focus on how Hull presents the husband-wife relationship. All in all, the book is both realistic and favorable when presenting marriage relationships. It kind of reminded me of Ilyrian Spring by Ann Bridge.

The theme that permeates almost all midwestern literature is that of town versus country. The characters are firmly planted in the farmland or rural town where they are born, but dream of something that they think must be greater (the city). Or they’ve been to the city but realize it’s not all it’s cracked up to be and there’s a part of them that will never be at home unless they’re in the rural setting they came from. The town vs. country debate is a part of Heat Lightning, but it is more central to the plot in Winter Wheat. 

Winter WheatEllen Webb is a girl on the cusp of something totally new and great to her: college in a big city. That is, if the winter wheat crop is good. She has lived on a wheat farm in Montana her whole life with her East Coast father and Russian mother. Her parents met in World War II and they don’t seem to have much in common from Ellen’s perspective. Their relationship is the crux of the book. Ellen tries to reconcile her identity and the direction of her life through her parents’ relationship. She wants to discover that her parents truly love one another, but the more Ellen learns, the more discouraged she feels about love in general and the love that created her. Also, Ellen has a hard time figuring out where she really comes from. She longs to understand and appreciate her roots, but she only knows Montana. I enjoyed following Ellen’s perspective as it went through different seasons of being completely attached to detached to her home and her family. She loves them, she hates them, she wants to understand them, she wants to get away from them.  Along with the importance of figuring out where you’re really from,  the responsibility of a girl to make her own way in the world in the post-war culture is a very prominent idea. Mildred Walker gave Ellen Webb a strong voice and character. Even when Ellen is troubled and directionless, I just knew she would fight her way through to be strong and ready to reach for a life she wants to live. The tone of the book was kind of lonely, as there are so few characters that really play into the plot or have much dialogue. I’ve never been to Montana, but I think the loneliness of the story and the setting are key to the book’s themes.

I enjoyed both of these books, but I liked Heat Lightning the best out of the two. Hull’s thoughtful, tender writing is beautiful and I can’t wait to find another one of her books.

The Magic of Ordinary DaysAnd if you’re not into “older” books but think a novel set in the midwest in the 1930s or 40s sounds like just the kind of book you want to read, check out Ann Howard Creel’s The Magic of Ordinary Days. Written in 2001 and made into a Hallmark movie in 2005, I think it’s a beautiful book. It also explores themes like the loneliness and simplicity of mid-western farming and the importance of relationships that are built and tried by hardships and how they hold up or break down. I have already read it twice and will probably read it again someday.

Happy reading!