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!

Reading, Reviews

Quick Lit Review- August, 2016

I’m linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy’s Quick Lit today to review what I’ve been reading lately. I have to confess, most of these books were read at the end of July or before August 6 because OLYMPICS. I save up all my TV watching hours for four years and cram them into two weeks and I loooove it. I wrote here about how my husband and I had to re-think our sports watching habits a few years ago, but I will not be moved on this– I will watch as much Summer Olympics as possible. But onto the books I did read since last month’s Quick Lit review!

The Light of ParisThe Light of Paris, by Eleanor Brown – I looked forward to this new book coming out by Brown because I really enjoyed her debut novel, The Weird Sisters. The Light of Paris was not as appealing to me, partly because it’s one of those back-and-forth situations between a character in the past and present, which I am pretty much sick of. The one technique that saves this novel structure in The Light of Paris is the present day plot is narrated in first person and the past plot is narrated in third person, so it’s a tiny bit easier to keep the plot lines straight in your mind. Still, I much prefer getting into one character’s story and staying there. Other than structure, I’d give it a 2.5 stars, mostly because the themes and story lines were not all that believable or enthralling.

The Affair at the Inn – I discovered that Kate Wiggins, author of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, co-wrote a charming little book about a group of travelers in England in the 1800s. It was amusing, a nice light read for fans of old books and free on Project Gutenberg.

The House on the Cliff – My most recent D.E. Stevenson read. As usual, she does not disappoint.

The Grand Sophy – First foray into Georgette Heyer! I can’t say it turned me into a devoted fan, but all the readers who say Heyer is great for a sick day weren’t lying.

The Middle PlaceThe Middle Place – Kelly Corrigan’s first memoir is a touching and honest account of dealing with cancer and family relationships at the same time, though I much more enjoyed this memoir about a brush with death, largely because of the faith behind it. I listened to this one while painting some furniture.

Deck with Flowers – More Elizabeth Cadell! She’s my new-old discovery this summer, and I’m really enjoying reading her books as I can find them.

There’s an Easier Way: 21 Ways to Lovingly Raise Your Children Without Regrets – I picked up this booklet on Amazon after hearing one of the authors, Bonni Greiner, speak on The God Centered Mom Podcast (which I highly recommend). The book is an easy read that doesn’t go incredibly deep but is full of useful tidbits, all of them doable and sensible. If you’re feeling overwhelmed as a mom but you also don’t feel up to reading a deeply theological parenting book, this one is great to get you thinking in the right direction without robbing too many precious brain cells or sleep. =)

I’m currently in the middle of new release Radio Girls, and enjoying it so far! What have you been reading?

Reading, Reviews

July Reading – New Favorites and Quick-Lit Reviews

Today I’m linking this update on summer reading post up to Modern Mrs. Darcy’s Quick Lit. Check out lots of other quality recommendations on her page!

Vinegar GirlVinegar Girl, by Anne Tyler – If you’ve ever read an Anne Tyler book and thought “Her writing is so beautiful, but I’m at the end of the book and I still don’t know what it’s about!” then this book is for you.  It has a definite plot with a beginning, middle, and end. I think of that as a plus, as much as I admire Anne Tyler’s other books. Vinegar Girl is a modern retelling of Shakespeare’s The Taming of The Shrew (remember that 90’s movie, Ten Things I Hate About You? Also a retelling of that same play). In this retelling, the main character, Katherine, is a grown woman, but this book definitely has a Young Adult feel to it. It’s short and sweet and very clean, but some of the themes Tyler weaves in it might just stick with you. Anyone could enjoy it, and English teachers everywhere should definitely check it out.

The Friendly AirThe Friendly Air, by Elizabeth Cadell – I’ve discovered Elizabeth Cadell and my summer just got ten times better. I know there are way too many reviews about all sorts of books that say things like “This writer is a modern Jane Austen!,” and I’m about to add another one. Cadell really does write lighthearted yet interesting books about quality characters whom you will end up liking. This one was published in 1970 but it has a timeless feel. It’s about a young woman, Emma, who strikes up a friendship with an older eccentric woman, bound and determined to move to a warmer climate. She somewhat randomly picks Portugal and sets up Emma as her moving assistant. Of course, Emma becomes much more and adventure and romance ensue.

The Yellow Brick RoadThe Yellow Brick Road, by Elizabeth Cadell – My second Cadell book, and completely different from the first. This one is a mystery that starts with Jody, a sensible young lady, falling down some stairs during a job in London and waking up with the solid but mysterious knowledge that things are not as they seem. She is sure she did not simply faint and fall down some stairs, but it seems like no one wants her to know what really happened. As she pursues the truth and gathers allies along the way, the cozy world she took for granted is entirely changed. I read this book from start to finish in one day (on a sick day). It’s a great summer read!

Life Among the SavagesLife Among the Savages, Shirley Jackson – A few weeks ago, I was losing my sense of humor in mothering. Everything felt overwhelming, from getting my children to do their chores to dealing with bullying. I picked up this book and was saved. The beginning is a little slow, as Jackson sets the scene for where her family lives and works, but pretty soon Jackson had me laughing out loud over her account of shopping in a department store with her two children, or her attempt to make coffee while in labor with her third child. I can see myself reading this again in about five years. I need a whole slew of this type of books! Mothering is serious business, but if I can keep laughing as I go along, I might just make it.

The Curate’s Awakening – I’m not sure how to describe this book, other than it’s sort of a combination of a Thomas Hardy novel mixed with C.S. Lewis. It’s a novel about a young country curate (think beginner pastor) coming to grips after already choosing his profession with the fact that he doesn’t actually know what Christianity is about or if he even believes it. I’m about half way through and finding it to give me lots of food for thought. Also, the subplot of a young lady and her murderous brother keeps things moving along pretty well. (Thanks to my friend Mary for lending me this one!)

Beyond Our SelvesBeyond Ourselves, by Catherine Marshall – Catherine Marshall is the author of the famous Christy. You may have known that, but did you know Marshall wrote quite a lot of nonfiction, too? Beyond Ourselves is Marshall’s memoir of her spiritual journey in living in God’s strength was on my Fall 2014 Reading List… and I’m just now getting around to it.  I can’t even tell you how much I’ve gotten out of it thus far. My favorite quote so far:

Our emotions are often painfully misleading, and at best we have imperfect control over them…Our feelings can be affected by such irrelevant matters as the mood of those around us, by whether we had a good night’s sleep, by hunger or indigestion, or by a morning in which the rain blew through the open window, spattered the wallpaper, and the neighborhood dogs turned over the garbage pail. “I don’t feel God’s presence today,” we wail. What is the remedy? It is simplicity itself: our emotions are not the real us. (emphasis mine) (p. 58)

Fans of Elizabeth Elliot will find a lot to like about this book. I snagged the copy I own on a whim when our church library shut down and gave away all its books, but you can easily get a copy for about $4 off of Amazon if your local library doesn’t have it.

That sums up what I’ve been reading lately! Found any gems this summer? Let me know in the comments!



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