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!

Everyday Life, Reviews, Saturday Cooking

Cooking and Coronavirus

Hey readers! What are you up to these in these strange days? As a homeschooling parent, this new normal didn’t seem all that different to me at first. Now, after weeks of no events or family/friends or even parks, plus never being able to find bread in the supermarket, it’s getting real! But we are healthy and happy at home, and remembering that this is temporary, even if it already feels like it’s gone on too long. And it’s spring, so hurrah!

Oddly enough, just when I should be posting the most about books that you finally have time to read, what I’ve been reading is…cookbooks. Womp, womp. If you know me at all, this may surprise you because meal prep is not my fave. As different types of people go, I’m the type who does not think about what they’ll eat for dinner when they wake up in the morning. That is why I need cookbooks so desperately– to get me thinking about what food to buy and what to do with it. Like it or not, food preparation is a big part of life with a family of six who eats three meals a day at home, even in the best of times! So here are some cookbook reviews for you. (Psst: I always check out cookbooks from the library before I purchase them!)

Holiday and Celebration Bread in Five Minutes – I adore this cookbook. I haven’t bough it yet, but when I borrowed it and made some recipes over the holidays, I felt as legit as Mary Berry. Of course, you can’t really make these breads in five minutes–can you do anything in the kitchen in five minutes?– but you can make a big batch of basic types of dough in say, twenty-thirty minutes. The idea is to have dough in the fridge, ready to go, and then at baking time, you pull off a chunk of dough for a specific recipe and have that bread ready pretty quickly. I did two of the recipes and can’t wait to do more! Swedish Tea Ring, anyone? Putting this one on my birthday list in June may look a little strange based on the “holiday” title…but I’m doing it. Five stars, even if it does have “5 minutes” in the title. [I take issue with any cookbook with “minutes” in the title. 30 minute meals? A myth. Every dinner takes me an hour. From the minute I turn the light on in the kitchen to dinner on the table, it’s always an hour, even when it’s just leftovers. I can’t explain it. I guess I could blame the four kids interrupting…]

Magnolia Table – This is the cookbook I wish had been out when I was a newlywed. I didn’t know how to make so many home-cooked favorites that my husband enjoyed, and the Joy of Cooking and Southern Living cookbooks I got for wedding presents assumed I already knew a lot. This cookbook has pictures and instructions on even certain brands to buy, and everything I’ve made has turned out beautifully. If you’re assuming it’s all fried chicken and biscuits, there are more than just Southern cooking recipes included, as Joanna Gaines has Korean, Tex-Mex, and other influences in her culinary tastes. Still, you’re not going to stay svelte eating out of this book for long (how does she do it??). The dessert section is enormous. But once a week or so, an entree or treat out of this collection will thrill your family (and yourself). After getting this cookbook from the library, I bought it as fast as you can say “fluffy pancakes,” and I’m using it several times a week. Five stars from me and everyone else in my household.

Healthyish – I checked this one out from the library in the fall and then put it on my Christmas list and lucky me, got it! It includes a lot of recipes that only require a few ingredients, similar to Real Simple Magazine recipes. I like that the recipes are doable and nourishing, without swinging all the way into “eat this, not that” rules. My only downside is my family hasn’t loved the recipes I’ve made out of it as much as I have. Four stars.

Smoothie Project – We eat a lot of smoothies here, but also get in ruts with the combinations and flavors, and that’s why this book has been so great. I appreciate that there are ideas for healthy but optional add-ins (ex: collagen). The best thing about it is my ten-year-old grabbed this off the library stack and ran with it. She made “Nice Cream” and marked a bunch of other recipes to copy for her recipe book. Lesson learned: kids can make smoothie recipes. Game changer! Four stars.

A Homemade Life – Part cookbook, part memoir, and very reminiscent in style to Shauna Niequist’s Bread and Wine. However, I give Bread and Wine 5 stars and this one 2. The writing is descriptive and nostalgic, but these recipes are pretty hard, require ingredients I don’t have on hand, and the memoir selections were not really my cup of tea, either. Sadly, I liked the theme of the book better than the actual book itself. One star.

The Laura Lea Balanced Cookbook – I love reading this cookbook and the recipes look great…but I haven’t tried anything out of it yet. Some of the ingredients are unfamiliar to me (tamari?) and I don’t have things on hand like coconut sugar or tahini. But really, I think I can make good use of it if I take the plunge and buy a few of the staples Laura Lea uses in this book to make familiar recipes in a healthier form. It would be great for anyone trying to go gluten free without completely changing the kind of meals you usually enjoy. No stars yet.

In addition to these new cookbooks, my go-to’s remain The Whole30 Cookbook because it is delicious, the Damn Delicious website (she has a cookbook out now that I need to check out, too!), and Moe’s To Go. Wait, what? I meant Mom’s recipe cards, not Moe’s To Go! Did I say Moe’s? I did not mean Moe’s…or Marco’s…

See you soon for an update on novels and children’s literature! Follow me on Goodreads for real time updates and book reviews. Happy reading and cooking and whatever else you do to stay sane in a crazy world!

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