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

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?



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