Everyday Life, Reading, Reviews, Young Adult

August Reading, Part 2, and A Tiny Rant Against Autumn

There’s a crispness in the air that I despise. Yes, I said despise. Sorry, Fall and Football lovers. I love summer and I cannot lie. I do not like cold days. I do not like the mess of leaves all over the back yard, and all the raking…raking…raking. I don’t like watching the summer flowers die. I don’t like heavy clothing and jeans every day.  But really, the biggest problem of all is that my family is not taking our one and only beach vacation until mid-September. Summer, please stay until then!

However! I am trying to conjure up happy memories of hot chocolate and books by a warm fire. Maybe if I start a Fall reading list, I’ll let go of my morbidity towards Autumn. If I can keep finding as many good books in the Autumn months as I’ve found in August, the coming season will be pretty swell.

Here are the books I finished this month.:

1. Cybele’s Secret by Juliet Marillier

Cybele's Secret (Wildwood, #2) The sequel to Wildwood Dancing, but not nearly as great. Still, a pretty good read, especially if you’re a fan of the genre. Marillier is one of  my new favorite YA authors.

2. Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

Read my reviews (yes, there are two of them) here and here

3. The Artist’s Daughter

I really liked this memoir. Read my review here

4.  Slash Your Grocery Budget & Eat a Whole Foods Diet With Aldi by Carrie Willard

I read a slew of nonfiction this month. I consider it a slew, anyway. The main reason was that Ella came down with a stomach bug on Sunday afternoon and I couldn’t leave her side without her getting upset. So while she dozed, I read all the free e-books I’ve been downloading to the Kindle app on my phone. I find these free books on moneysavingmom.com, but I usually download them and then forget about them. I was grateful to have them this weekend, though.

Slash Your Grocery Budget was a great book for people who shop at Aldi or are considering shopping at Aldi. It includes menus and recipes—features that equal awesomeness in any nonfiction book. I haven’t actually tried any of the recipes yet, but I plan to. Look for this book to show up in my next Saturday Cooking feature.

5. A Simpler Season by Jessica Fisher

With the chill in the air and the impending hours watching football, I’m feeling like now is a good time to start planning some projects for Christmas. Last Christmas I had all kinds of ideas and hardly any of them got done. I’m okay with that; my kids were 3 and 1, we had a nice holiday season that was not as stressful as usual, we celebrated what mattered. Still, I’d like to be a little more involved in the details this year. A Simpler Season was a good starting point for me to think through those some of those details. Will you still find me in Target two days before Christmas? Probably. But hope springs eternal.

6. How to Eat A Cupcake by Meg Donahue

A departure from the norm for me, but in a fun, not-too-terrible, romantic comedy kind of way. Read my review here.

Now I’m working on East of the Sun by Julia Gregson. For school with Ella, we’re reading In Grandma’s Attic. I can’t tell you how much I am loving re-reading my favorite children’s chapter books with Ella. We tried The Bobbsey Twins, but it was a little wordy for now. Maybe in a year or two. I actually never liked those books much, but they seem cute to me now.

Tell me what should go on my Fall reading list! I need a long, cheering list to console me over being robbed (robbed!) of summer.

Reading, Reviews, Young Adult

Wildwood Dancing Review

I read Wildwood Dancing, by Juliet Marillier, because another book blogger (whose blog I can’t find anymore…woops…) said it was one of her favorite books of all time. It was published in 2007, but I had never heard of it before a few weeks ago. I looked it up on goodreads.com and decided it was a good time for a fairy tale style book. And I was right. I devoured this book. Lost sleep over it, in fact. This is the first book I have read by Marillier, and I’m already onto my second.

Wildwood Dancing (Wildwood, #1)Wildwood Dancing is loosely based on the Twelve Dancing Princesses fairy tale, with many changes and additions. Set in Transylvania, in a castle in the fabled Wildwood, the book opens on a family of five daughters saying goodbye to their father for the winter. He must leave for better climates due to health concerns. He leaves Jena, his second eldest daughter, in charge of the family and family merchant business. In a time when women were not considered worthy of much education, Jena’s father goes against the grain in allowing his daughters as many educational opportunities as possible in a small village setting.

Jena and her sisters, Tatiana, Paula, Iulia, and Stela, are saddened by their father’s departure, but they are cheered by a secret they have long shared: they have a portal to the Other Kingdom. What is the Other Kingdom? It’s where the fantasy characters of fairy tales live–dwarves, trolls, fairies, and many other non-human beings. Every full moon, Jena and her sisters are able to access the portal into the Other Kingdom for the dance held at full moon. They do not wear out shoes, but they do have secret stashes of ball gowns. This arrangement seems perfect, but there is a darkness hovering over the family related to the Wildwood. As a little girl, Jena and her two cousins, Costi and Cezar, experience a tragedy that changes the courses of their lives more than they realize. The darkness deepens when the Night People come to the forest. The Night People resemble vampires, but they are not exactly the same. The book is set before Bram Stoker’s Dracula was published, and I really admire Marillier for knowing her history on this one and going back to the original folklore.  Jena’s family becomes entangled with the Night People and disasters in the village make Cezar, Jena’s power hungry and vengeful cousin and neighbor, suspicious and enraged. It’s up to Jena and her sisters to put to rights all that has been upset between the Other Kingdom and the world in which they live.

Unlike some fairy tale re-tellings, Wildwood Dancing becomes an intricate story in the hands of Juliet Marillier.  She makes more lively and lifelike characters, researches thoroughly the area where the novel is set, and teaches readers Romanian words along the way. The additions of a magical pet frog, cunning or charming non-humans as dancing partners for the sisters, and smart and educated “princesses” (really merchant daughters) transform the Twelve Dancing Princesses into a riveting tale. This is a book I stayed up late to finish. It is fanciful and fun. I would add it to my list of Great Books for Teenage Girls, and recommend it to anyone who likes a fun fairy tale story. I’m currently reading the companion novel, Cybele’s Secret, which so far is not quite as good, but still a fun read.

And if you’re wondering if I’ve become a Young Adult fiction or fantasy junkie, rest assured–I have not. My next review will be of the 1927 release Islanders by Helen R. Hull. So stay tuned for a more serious book review in the next few days.

Children's Books, Everyday Life, Parenting, Reading, Reviews

August Reading, Part 1

This is a two-part post because it’s looking like I’ll have to do two August reading posts. August has yielded a bumper crop of good books so far.

I’ll post full reviews of the books I’ve read in the next few days.

Read:

Wildwood Dancing (Wildwood, #1)Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier is a retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses, but with many additions and twists. I fully enjoyed how Marillier made the fairy tale into a completely developed plot full of lifelike characters, but kept the fanciful and enchanted feel of the story. There is so much more to this story than the original fairy tale. The princesses in the real story are middle class merchant daughters in this story, and there are only five of them. The enchanted place they go to is actually a parallel world. The secrets to their futures is entrenched in one tragic day from the past. The book takes readers into Transylvania of long ago, before Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and Marillier uses original folklore and Romanian language to enhance her tale. It’s got a lot going for it! This book is a gem of a novel masquerading as a run of the mill Young Adult book. I’d give it 4.5 stars and recommend it for anyone who likes a fun and imaginative tale.

 

IslandersI finally finished Islanders by Helen Hull this month! There are many themes one could discuss in Islanders; it’s kind of Edith Wharton meets Laura Ingalls meets Kate Chopin. I think I liked it. It certainly is the handiwork of a great author, whose characters are complex and honestly portrayed, so much so that one can’t actually love them whole-heartedly. The book was a survey of womanhood in the 1850s-1920s, told through the life of Ellen Dacey. The major theme is isolation and dependence. I didn’t like it as much as Heat Lightning, but I did enjoy its perspective. More to come in the full review!

 

The Weird SistersMy favorite book of the month was The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown. I picked up this book off a random “to be shelved” cart near the children’s section at 2nd & Charles. While my children perused the Thomas and Friends and Curious George selection, I read the first chapter, and then reserved it at the library on my iPhone. It is a quirky story of three sisters. Their father is a somewhat eccentric Shakespeare professor at Barnwell College in Ohio. The sisters are different, but so very alike. The references to the reading culture of the entire family and the insights into a family of three girls sometimes made me smile. I am one of three sisters, and there are definitely similarities between the sisters in this book and my own sisters and I (however, my sisters are way more awesome than the younger two sisters in this book). If you are a hardcore Shakespeare scholar, you probably won’t like this book, but if you are a casual fan of Shakespeare and family life novels, you’ll like this one.

The nonfiction hanging out on my nightstand this month is Francis Schaeffer on the Christian Life: Countercultural Spirituality. I am a painfully slow biography reader, but I thank my book group leader for picking out this book. It has challenged me, for sure.

And…drumroll…I started pre-K homeschooling with my 4-year-old, Ella, this week. We are doing some basic letter sounds and writing, and reading a book together.photo.JPG

Right now we’re reading The Boxcar Children. Any suggestions for chapter books for a little girl with a sharp mind and sensitive heart? I’d love to hear them!

What are you reading this month?

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