Quick Lit, Reading, Reviews

Quick Lit! What I read in March/April/May

Time for Quick Lit! I’m linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy today as readers from all over the internet discuss what we’ve read in the past month. I’m a little behind, so this is my March/April/May. Hop on over and see what other readers are reading!

In the past couple of weeks we’ve featured the chapter books my kids (ages 7 and 5) have been reading and the middle grade novels I have loved lately. Now, it’s time for some adult books! Yes, even though novels like The War That Saved My Life and When You Reach Me are my new favorites, there are some grown up books I enjoyed in March, April, and May.

A Man Called Ove – Yes, I jumped on this bandwagon, and I’m pretty glad I did. Imagine an adult version of the Disney movie Up. Ove is an elderly, grumpy man who lives in a row house in Sweden. At first glance (and in the first few chapters), you don’t love him. You think he’s kind of beastly. But keep reading. This book is at times hilarious, often thought provoking, and ultimately quite a tearjerker, but in a good way. You might rethink how you feel about the elderly curmudgeons in your life (if you have any). (Side note on colorful language: this one has a fair amount).

The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir – If you liked The Summer Before the War, I can’t think of a more similar book. It is set in a small town before World War II (I know The Summer Before the War was WWI, but both have the looming gloom) and gathers characters from gentry to very poor, very young to very old. It was fairly good, but I was expecting to like this book more. The amount of issues squeezed into this one historical novel overwhelmed the story and my attachment to the characters. (Soapbox moment: Dear Modern Novelists, We know you are passionate about many things, but please don’t try to deal with all the issues in one novel. Just pick one, for the sake of your readers’ sanity). Still, it was the kind of book I usually enjoy as far as setting and characters go, though not worthy of the comparisons to The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

Tell Me Three Things – If you’re feeling like you could use a light, beachy, YA read with a chick-flick feel but also a bit of substance, this one’s for you. The characters and the plot with a smidge of mystery make this a quick page turner. The element of dealing with grief is actually very good; it’s insightful and heartfelt, very honest, but not drenched with sorrow. It’s more of a this-is-every-day-life perspective on grief a few years after losing a loved one. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this book. However, I’d rate this book at a PG-13 level. It has all the not-so-innocent stuff you might encounter in a movie like Ten Things I Hate About You or Never Been Kissed, so proceed with caution if you’re thinking of handing it over to your young adult.

My Mrs. Brown – Very reminiscent of Mrs. Pettigrew Lives for a Day. I can’t really sum it up better than the publisher’s blurb, so here it is below. It’s one of those books that I would say “reads like a movie.” A great beach read for women who don’t enjoy a typical romance novel but would like a fairly fluffy but not terrible and sometimes even thoughtful novel for vacation.

Sometimes a dress isn’t just a dress.

Emilia Brown is a woman of a certain age. She has spent a frugal, useful, and wholly restrained life in Ashville, a small town in Rhode Island. Overlooked especially by the industries of fashion and media, Mrs. Brown is one of today’s silent generations of women whose quiet no-frills existences would make them seem invisible. She is a genteel woman who has known her share of personal sorrows and quietly carried on, who makes a modest living cleaning and running errands at the local beauty parlor, who delights in evening chats with her much younger neighbor, twenty-three-year-old Alice Danvers.

When the grand dame of Ashville passes away, Mrs. Brown is called upon to inventory her estate and comes across a dress that changes everything. The dress isn’t a Cinderella confection; it’s a simple yet exquisitely tailored Oscar de la Renta sheath and jacket—a suit that Mrs. Brown realizes, with startling clarity, will say everything she has ever wished to convey. She must have it. And so, like the inspired heroine of Paul Gallico’s 1958 classic Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to Paris, Mrs. Brown begins her odyssey to purchase the dress. For not only is the owning of the Oscar de la Renta a must, the intimidating trip to purchase it on Madison Avenue is essential as well. If the dress is to give Mrs. Brown a voice, then she must prepare by making the daunting journey—both to the emerald city and within herself.

Timeless, poignant, and appealing, My Mrs. Brown is a novel for every mother in the world, every woman who ever wanted the perfect dress, and every child who wanted to give it to her.

The Hamilton Affair – Meh. I didn’t love this. The narration style was a bit dry and though the telling was mostly chronological, it still felt fairly disjointed. Alexander Hamilton’s history is fascinating, though.

Shoulder The Sky – More D.E. Stevenson. I just love her. Other review on her work here and here.

I was in the middle of Hillbilly Elegy, but I picked up Howard’s End off the shelf the other night when I was pacing around with Lydia  because it was small enough to hold and pace at the same time. I guess you could say I’ve fallen into Howard’s End and I can’t/won’t get up. It’s worth a re-read!

What have you read lately? Got any summer reading lists? I’m contemplating not making one at all this summer and just being whimsical about it. Yep, that’s sounding pretty good right now. But I do love lists, so we’ll see! Happy reading!

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.

Reading, Reviews

Bloomsbury Books Are The Bomb

People are always saying that there is so much trash in modern literature. I disagree. Yes, there is some pretty horrible stuff out there. But I’m pretty sure that there has always been sub-par literature and readers in Dickens’s day had to sift through the junk to get to the ones we consider classics now, just like we current day readers have to really search for the good stuff.  It would be tragic to be a true Old Book Snob like the father figure in The Precious One who wouldn’t let his daughter read anything written after 1900. Who would want to miss out on The HelpTo Kill A Mockingbird, The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, or worse, Harry Potter!?!?

But I have to admit…old books are my favorite.

And that’s why I am totally in love with The Bloomsbury Group. It was launched in 2009 and publishes “lost classics written by both men and women from the early twentieth century.” Thanks to The Bloomsbury Group, I discovered a new favorite author and am in the process of refreshing my bookshelves with some beautiful paperbacks.

Right now I’m in the middle of Henrietta’s War. I love the writing style and the lighthearted tone of Joyce Dennys as she writes about her experiences of being on the home front in WWII. Before you go saying, “great, another WWII book,” please know that the books actually written during the war in Britain are so very different from the ones being written now. For one thing, the worst about Nazi Germany was not yet known. For another, they did not dwell on the tragedy because life became normal even in the midst of war.

Here’s a snippet from the Author’s Note:

I never do Spring Cleaning. I know I should and every year am filled with a longing to do better and rush round the house emptying drawers and shelves on to the floor and unearthing many treasures such as my dark glasses (mourned as lost) and endless snapshots. After enjoying several holidays in retrospect I somehow lose heart and bundle everything back again.

My sentiments on Spring Cleaning exactly.

If you loved The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society as much as I did, definitely check out Mrs. Tim of The RegimentHenrietta’s War, and Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day. They’re perfect for light reading without feeling like your mind is going to mush.

Too bad the house goes to mush while I read these fabulous books…

Happy Summer Reading!

Nonfiction, Reading, Reviews

What I Read This Fall

There are four more days left in this Autumn season, and I can guarantee you my Fall Reading List will not be completed in those five days. But that’s okay! A reading list is a starting point that morphs as time goes along. As Juliet says in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society,

“That’s what I love about reading: one tiny thing will interest you in a book, and that tiny thing will lead you onto another book, and another bit there will lead you onto a third book. It’s geometrically progressive–all with no end in sight, and for no other reason than sheer enjoyment.”

Well, maybe there are other reasons to read. But I find the first part to be true when it comes to reading lists. I start at the top, but get totally sidetracked when I find a new favorite author or read a book that refers to another book. That being said, here is what I did manage to read this Fall:

~Fiction~

Gilead – You must read it. Best book I’ve read in a long time!

Rosie – Not a fan of this one, but I plan to try some more recent work of Lamott’s.

The Grapes of Wrath – Very raw and uncouth, and also deep and masterful. Just not my cup of tea.

The Signature of All Things – Abandoned halfway through. Eesh. If you liked it, I think we can still be friends, but let’s not talk about this book.

Listening ValleyListening Valley – This wasn’t on my list, but I needed a comfortable, reassuring read after three book busts, so I turned to my beloved D.E. Stevenson. This is a cozy sort of book to curl up with on a foul weather day. Fans of L.M. Montgomery or Jan Karon will love it.

Lila – I read this book on the heels of Gilead, and it was so totally different from what I expected! It was awesome, though. It will have its own review soon.

~Nonfiction~

Shepherding a Child’s Heart – I really enjoyed the perspective of the first half of the book, but didn’t get much out of the second half that dealt with the method this particular author employs in child rearing.

For The Children’s Sake – I loved this book. It will receive its own review soon.

The Fitting Room – This was a much lighter read than I expected, but still pretty good.  Women of all ages can glean great wisdom from it, but it would be especially perfect to study with a group of teenage girls.

Yes PleaseOrganized Simplicity: The Clutter-Free Approach to Intentional LivingI am not funny enough to appreciate this book. If you like SNL or Tina Fey’s Bossypants, you might like this one. However, I would venture to say that Poehler just isn’t a writer. She even admits in the book that she is “better in the room.” I concur.

Bread and WineA stunning book. It’s changing my entire view of hospitality. I say “changing” because I read it through and reviewed it, but I keep going back to read parts and review the recipes. I’ve made two and they were both delightful.

Organized Simplicity – I think I’ll need to come back to this book in the future, when I can handle all the very useful checklists and strategies. Right now, I just need to get through the mess that is the Holidays. It’s the best possible kind of mess! But a mess still.

Wow. I read more nonfiction than fiction in the last few months. Ladies and gentlemen, that is a first! I feel so smart and boring. Maybe I can remedy that in my Winter Reading List.

Speaking of, The Winter Reading List is shaping up and will be posted soon! What’s on your list?

Reading, Reviews

A Reading Worm Hole

Claimer: There are a lot of links in this post, but none of them are affiliates. I’m linking to them for your convenience.

I’ve unintentionally fallen into a worm hole in my reading in the past few weeks. Apparently, it’s a  worm hole that leads directly into 1930s Britain. I don’t know why I enjoy this setting so much, because I’m pretty sure I’d hate to live in it. The food, the weather, the drafty homes, the Great Depression, it all sounds pretty bleak when looked at as a whole. But for whatever reason, judging by the books I’ve randomly selected over the past two weeks, I really enjoy books set in 1930s Britain.

The Young ClementinaThe worm hole opened with D. E. Stevenson’s book The Young Clementina. Stevenson is one of my new old favorites, as I’ve mentioned before. This one popped up on my Riffle book email last week for only $2.99. Clementina was just what I would have expected of Stevenson, though not much like the cover. I enjoyed it thoroughly. With the misunderstood love plot and the resigned spinster theme, it was actually kind of reminiscent of Montgomery’s The Blue Castle, one of my favorite books ever.

Diary Of A Provincial LadyThen Diary of A Provincial Lady finally came available through my library. E.M. Delafield is always on my list of recommendations on Goodreads.com, but her work is hard to come by around here. Rachel over at Book Snob often mentions Delafield and I usually enjoy her recommendations, so I was excited to finally get my hands on this one. On the surface, it seemed kind of boring to read about the everyday housewife details of a British woman in the 1930s, but it was actually witty and sometimes hilarious. Think Bridget Jones’s Diary tones but on totally different subject matters. I thought it was amusing and fun to read. Today I downloaded a free copy of The Provincial Lady in Russia, so we’ll see if The Provincial Lady remains amusing or if one book by her is enough.

Her Royal Spyness (Her Royal Spyness Mysteries, #1)Though the book I read next isn’t written in the 1930s, it is set in that time. Her Royal Spyness is about Lady Georgiana, 34th in line for the throne, penniless, and skill-less. She decides to provide for herself by being an undercover house cleaner, but finds herself an undercover spy. Written by Rhys Bowen, it is a fast paced mystery with some pretty likable characters. I thought the plot was a bit too easy to figure out. I knew who had committed the crime by about 1/4 through the book. But it was still a good, light read, without any of the gory details I’m not too fond of in mystery novels. I could have done without all the “you’re still a virgin, what’s wrong with you?” talk included between Lady Georgie and her best friend, but I guess that’s par for the course in a modern novel. This is the first book in a long series. I may give one more a try, but I wouldn’t say that I’m hooked. I’m much more likely to go for something actually written in the 1930s, as I’ve mentioned before in a post about Downton Abbey Look Alikes.

The Daisy ChainNow, I’m climbing out (or falling further in?) the worm hole and reading The Daisy Chain, a book written in the 1850s that was very popular in its day but is neglected now in lists of classics. I hope I can get into it and write a review when I’m done, but the fact that the author apologizes for its length before the first chapter has me a little worried. =)

 

 

Reading, Reviews

So Long, January

January is a long month. There’s just no denying it. I’m not a fan, but I do appreciate the many opportunities to cozy up with a book, because winter is for reading. Here’s a “quick” overview of what I read in the past month.

The Firebird (The Slains, #2)The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley is my only venture into modern literature in January. It’s another one of those historical novels framed by present day characters and settings. The brief synopsis got me interested:

“Nicola Marter was born with a gift. When she touches an object, she sometimes glimpses those who have owned it before. When a woman arrives with a small wooden carving at the gallery Nicola works at, she can see the object’s history and knows that it was named after the Firebird—the mythical creature from an old Russian fable.

Compelled to know more, Nicola follows a young girl named Anna into the past who leads her on a quest through the glittering backdrops of the Jacobites and Russian courts, unearthing a tale of love, courage, and redemption.” -goodreads.com

If you’re a fan of historical fiction, this book is for you. The historical setting and characters are very lifelike. I learned a lot about the early 1700s in Europe when Jacobites fought for James Stewart to be on the throne and Russia was coming out of the dark ages. The bits about Peter The Great and how St. Petersburg was built were especially fascinating. The modern characters and settings were so unnecessary, though. I didn’t enjoy the present day main character, Nicola, and her psychokinetic powers, and I especially didn’t appreciate her love interest. The historical main character, Anna, and the cast of historical characters around her were likeable, well-rounded, and much more lifelike. I was especially moved by the little girl Anna and her early history (it made me want to hug my little girl tight). All in all, it was a decent book and pretty clean minus one brief encounter. But frankly, I miss the days when novels didn’t cater to this ADD society and stuck with a plot line for the whole book. I think I’m in the minority on that, though.

Katherine Wentworth (Katherine, #1)That foray into literature from the last year/last 80 years was short lived, and I went right back to my newly discovered D.E. Stevenson to read Mrs. Tim Gets A Job and Katherine Wentworth. For a complete review on D.E. Stevenson the post, Lost in D.E. Stevenson. I just love her writing. I’m finding her main characters can get a little redundant – they are so similar to one another from book to book, minus the Miss Buncle books – but I like them all so that eases the pain of repetition. It’s almost become comforting because I know I’ll find a friend-like protagonist when I read Stevenson. And it turns out she’s a cousin of THE Robert Louis Stevenson. She just gets cooler and cooler.

I finished The Unwired Mom at the beginning of the month. More on that will come in the next few days when I post an update on The 7 Challenge.

Now I’m in middle of The Prayer Box and I just hit that wonderful moment in a reader’s life when every single book I’ve requested from the library in the last three months comes in on the same day. I’m not going to be sleeping much for the next two weeks, I guess. On top of that, the Olympics start this weekend. I loooove the Olympics. Sleep, you will just have to wait.

I hope your winter reading has been expanding your world and feeding your soul. Always feel free to share what you’re reading with me in the comments!

 

Reviews

Lost in D.E. Stevenson

Thanks to the blog The Captive Reader, I have been completely lost in the works of D. E. Stevenson (Dorothy Emily Stevenson, 1892-1973) since Christmas. She is the perfect writer to get me through the winter months, with her light wit, cleverly rendered characters, and cozy English village settings. Stevenson clearly idolized Jane Austen–she refers to Austen in every book I’ve read so far– and took notes from Austen on how to develop unique yet familiar characters. Her works are similar to some of her contemporary British authors (Barbara Pym, Dodie Smith, P.G. Wodehouse, etc.), but they avoid the dismal endings so often chosen by mid-century authors. Stevenson is a fan of tying up books neatly at the end, which I appreciate even as I am aware that tidy endings are not considered very artistic in this day and age. Why not? I have no idea. Books don’t have to be open-ended like “real life” to be art, people. But I digress.

Mrs Tim Of The Regiment (Bloomsbury Group)Stevenson published over 40 novels between 1923-1970. Her works are becoming popular again thanks to Persephone Books‘ re-publishing three of her works since 2009. I started with Mrs. Tim of the Regiment, which is written as the diary of a woman married to a soldier in 1935. Hester (Mrs. Tim) is a very likable character, the kind you’d think would make a great friend, and the characters around her are all amusing. The book isn’t very plot driven, but more about character development. It was written at the request of one of Stevenson’s friend’s whose daughters was going to marry a British soldier. Stevenson stated that she wrote it as an autobiographical piece mixed with fictional characters and plot, so it is an interesting piece of social study at the same time that it is a light novel. I found the last third of it to be rather slow, but enjoyed it over all.

Miss Buncle's Book Miss Buncle’s Book is my favorite so far. It follows the tale of a poor spinster in a small English country village who turns to writing to make ends meet. The only problem is she has no imagination, so she writes a novel based entirely on the people of her own neighborhood. Miss Buncle’s book wreaks havoc on the peace of her neighbors when the village begins to read it. I loved this book! It is clever and flows well from beginning to end. The characters are delightful and there is a more sustainable plot in it than any of the other Stevenson books I’ve read thus far. While Mrs. Tim of the Regiment is a book I’d definitely recommend, if you’re only going to read one Stevenson, make it Miss Buncle’s Book. I think the sequel, Miss Buncle Married, is also worth a read if you enjoy Miss Buncle’s Book, though it is not as well crafted as the first book in the series.

I’m now in the midst of Mrs. Tim Gets A Job, which is enjoyable because it’s about Mrs. Tim, but it’s my least favorite Stevenson so far. However, saying it’s my least favorite Stevenson still puts it miles ahead of most of the current books I’ve picked up in the last six months. If you like “vintage” novels and need a good winter read, several of Stevenson’s books are available on Kindle or Nook. And of course, there’s always the library. Sadly, my local library doesn’t have many of Stevenson’s books and I ended up buying two of them (gasp!) on my Nook.

What have you been reading to keep sane through these cold winter months?