Children's Books, Everyday Life, Homeschooling, Nonfiction, Parenting

Favorite How-To Books for Kids

Hi, readers! Can you believe it’s almost summer vacation time! Maybe you’re dreading all that free space in your children’s lives, or maybe you’re like us right now: every May, as our school year winds down, everything we’ve been doing all year suddenly feels unbearably stale and burdensome. Our minds have already taken in a lot, and they’re begging us, “Please, not one more date and important historical event to remember, not another science fill-in-the-blank sheet! For heavens sake, do not give us another “fun” book report assignment!” As the seasons transition to more sunshine and energy, we naturally want to run and play.

So how do we finish the academic year strong?

Or how do we keep our minds engaged all summer without killing our souls with more of the same schoolish stuff?

We pull out some how-to books and learn some skills with our hands!

Here are our current favorite how-to books. I’d love more ideas if you have them!

Sewing School 1 and Sewing School 2 – These books are so perfect for kids who want to learn to sew. They include pictures and detailed instructions, patterns…everything but the actual sewing materials. The projects are very doable in just a few hours (or less!) and will appeal to both girls and boys. My six-year-old daughter, nine-year-old son, and eleven-year-old daughter have all enjoyed these projects! If you don’t have a sewing machine for the projects in Sewing School 2, this machine has been awesome for us. I am a very out of practice and mediocre seamstress, so I am totally re-learning as I go along with the help of these books.

Cooking Class – This is the best starter cookbook for ages 5-8! The recipes in Cooking Class are easy to follow along, tasty, use mostly wholesome ingredients, and don’t require trips to the store every time your student asks to make something from her very own cookbook. I gave this to one of my six-year-old for Christmas and she has made many recipes out of it. They were all delicious and crowd pleasers.

In Bloom – As I mentioned in a recent Things that are Saving My Life post, I love this book even more than my kids do. We also have several other how-to-draw books, like this one about cartoon cars and this one about horses. I have heard amazing things about the classic Drawing with Children and have had it on my shelf from my mom’s days of homeschooling for years, but haven’t pulled it out yet. Next week I plan to open it up and try it. Maybe I’ll do the Brave Learner method and sit down with the book at the kitchen table by myself, start drawing, and see what happens….

The Redwall Cookbook– Any cookbook based on whatever literature/books your kids are into right now will be a welcome change to an otherwise ho-hum school or summer day. My two oldest have been devouring the Redwall series, and my son is always raving about how good the feasts sound. Both he and his older sister were so excited to get this from the library! Until they realized it features quite a lot of vegetables…English mice and other animals have very different tastes than American children, apparently! But they have been writing up grocery lists for me based on the dessert section, and that has been worth it.

That wraps up our favorite how-to books that are keeping us sane as we finish up the school year. May is also the time of the year I seek out a movie or two based on the literature or history or whatever connections to our studies I can draw. Last year we finished out with the film version of our literature read-aloud, Anne of Green Gables. This year I don’t see an obvious connection between what we’ve beens studying: The Gold Rush and Simon Bolivar, and also Newton’s Laws of Motion…any ideas for me??

I hope your school year ends well and your summer gets off to a great start! I’ll be back with some book reviews in just a few days, but until then, Happy Reading!

Children's Books, Quick Lit, Reading, Reviews

Spring Quick Lit Update 2021

It’s spring, it’s spring! We’re drinking in greenness and azaleas and sunshine and yellow pine pollen (unintentionally) and books, books, books!

Today I’m doing a quick lit recap of what I’ve been reading lately. Let’s start with fiction.

Still Life – I know I’m really late to this party of readers who are crazy about Louise Penny’s novels, but now I am here and loving it. I have fallen deep into Louise Penny’s Three Pines series, featuring the kind, wise, fatherly Inspector Gamache. Penny is a splendid writer and her books are transporting and thoughtful, despite the murder mysteries they revolve around. I am on number 7, listening to most of them on audio. Because they’re set in Quebec, it is nice to hear the proper pronunciation of the French words and names sprinkled throughout the books. 5 stars for the series.

The Kitchen Front – While I promised myself I would not read another WWII book set in continental Europe for a loooong time, I will never be able to resist a book about the English home front during the war. This book had an appealing plot but, sadly, was a bit saccharine. The character development was rushed, and it was very much a character driven novel. I liked Jennifer Ryan’s other two books much better. 2.5-3ish stars.

Mr. Dickens and His Carol – This is a lovely book that transported me right into Victorian London. I read it shortly after Christmas, and can’t recommend it as a December read more, especially if you’re a fan of Dickens. 4 stars.

How the Penguin’s Saved Veronica – I had a hard time getting through this book. Hazel Prior’s debut novel, Ellie and the Harpmaker, was beautifully written, but maybe I’m just not an animal lover enough to enjoy all the info about penguins, or a cold weather lover enough to enjoy the Antarctic setting in her latest book. [But I don’t know…I did like Where’d You Go, Bernadette?] The characters didn’t quite seem developed or nuanced enough to seem like real people you’re getting to know as you read, either. 2.5 stars.

Jack – I am ashamed to say I had to return this to the library before I could finish it. I blame Louise Penny. Up to this point, I have been mesmerized by all of Robinson’s writing, and expected to soak in her beautiful thoughts and words as usual when I picked up her newest book. Yes, the wording of the conversation between the two main characters was exquisite, but it was extremely hard to get through more than two pages at a time. I plan to try again someday to finish it.

I’m currently reading Across Five Aprils for the first time at the recommendation of my mom. I generally avoid Civil War stories because, well, the time period makes me cringe. But this book with its thoughtful characters and setting on the border of North and South is timeless and beautiful.

Non-Fiction

Don’t Overthink It – Though I’ve read Anne Bogel’s blog for many years, I’ve never picked up one of her books until this past winter. I love her writing style! She has a conversational approach and explains her topics in clear but enjoyable English. I wouldn’t call myself an overthinker in general, but after reading this book, I can see how anyone can fall into an overthinking trap about various facets of life. I’m not in the middle of Bogel’s Reading People.

The Life You Long For: Learning to Live from a Heart of Rest – This is the best book I’ve read this year. Christy Nockels writes a thoughtful and loving book urging us to understand who we are as God’s beloved and then live from that place of understanding, instead of striving. It’s hard to describe how great this book is, how both deeply meaningful and practical it is, but I hope you’ll pick it up.

The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz – Wow, this book blew me away. Not only did it read like a novel, I was pulled back in time by it, reliving it as if I didn’t know how the story ends. I had never understood how much of an underdog England was at the start of WWII, or what dire situations Churchill faced in being completely unready for a war. When I finished it, my husband picked it up to read and is enjoying it, too.

Read Alouds

I read aloud every day to my kids, ages 11, 9, 6, and 4. In this past spring semester, we’ve read The Prairie Thief and Red Sails to Capri. My six-year-old loved The Prairie Thief but the rest of us weren’t as enthused about it…we found the story to repeat itself a good bit and stall out in the first half. We are all loving Red Sails to Capri, with its historical setting on an island near Italy, humorous and real characters, and adventure. Next I am thinking about reading aloud a book I loved when I was a girl, Jane Flory’s The Golden Venture. I checked it out from the library many times and then one day, it was on the free pile at the front door! We’ll end our history studies this year on The California Gold Rush and this book made that time period seem real to me when I was a kid; I’m hoping it will do the same for my own kids!

What have you been reading lately? I’m always searching for more great books!

Children's Books, Quick Lit, Reading, Reviews

A Summer of Espionage {Quick Lit August, 2020}

Hey friends! Time for an update on summer reading! And, a confession: I got sucked into a TV show this summer. If you know me, you know I watch TV pretty much never (sports excluded). But this summer has been weird for everyone, and I’m no exception. The strangeness of this summer in a pandemic during an uncomfortable pregnancy is probably what led me to All Espionage All The Time in my entertainment choices. I can see now that I’ve been looking for an escape from the mundane and unpleasant. Plus, sports were cancelled. So, below you’ll find what I’ve read lately, the TV show that I watched all five seasons of since May (insert horrified expression on my own face here), and what we’ve been reading in our family. Bonus at the end – the nonfiction I hope to read this fall.

Novels

Miss Graham’s Cold War Cookbook – I’m right in the middle of this one and it’s showing lots of promise! Edith Graham seems like an ordinary spinster school teacher in 1948, but when she decides to head to Germany to help rebuild the school system there, she’s recruited to use her position as a front for hunting out former Nazi officers. Her code to let the Office of Strategic Services know about her progress is her recounting of recipes. So far, I really like this book!

The Black Swan of Paris – Quite a page turner about a glittering star who flies under the radar and, mostly against her will at first, uses her talent to aid The Resistance in Paris during World War II. Perfect if you’re having trouble focusing on a book but you would love to be in the middle of one (we all have those seasons of life, don’t we?). Four stars.

My espionage reading started further back this summer with Code Name Helene, a more gritty novel than the other two featured this month but very compelling. [At the time of my review of this book, I felt the language too strong, but the writer actually explained her choice words usage at the end of the novel, and her reasoning made sense.] 3.5 stars.

The Vanishing Half – Not about espionage, though definitely about a missing person. I wouldn’t say I enjoyed it — violence, betrayal, lies, gender identity issues, substance abuse… it was all very dark and built on an already very weighty topic in a heavy time — but I read it because I wanted to dig in further to the racial strain my country is under right now and the healing we’d like to move toward. Literature helps me think through issues. 2.5 Stars.

TV

Alias – There. I said it. I watched all five seasons of a show from twenty years ago this summer. Watching Alias started out as a way to distract myself on the treadmill, but then the plot gripped me and the Bristows and friends/enemies kept me company on the couch elevating my legs (circulation issues during pregnancy are the pits!), in the kitchen, during laundry…I had to know what happened next! All the seasons are on Amazon Prime right now, don’t say I didn’t warn you about the whole story grip thing. Also, it’s not rated G. I watched it when the kids were otherwise occupied.

What We’re Reading Aloud

The kids and I are now halfway through Mrs. Frisby and The Rats of Nimh, and it’s sloooow going. We want to know what’s going to happen to Mrs. Frisby and her family, but it’s taking so long to even find out who the rats are and we still don’t know what Nimh is! But we’re committed and should be finished in the next two weeks. Next up we’re doing either Harriet the Spy or Little Lord Fauntleroy. Votes for which I should pick?

Jeremiah is reading The Last Battle at bedtime to the whole family and wow, I have not re-read this book in forever. It’s like it’s brand new to me. All Narnia books are a delight.

What the Kids Are Reading

Isaac (9) has become a huge fan of the Redwall Series by Brian Jacques. Parents take heart – this kid wanted nothing to do with letters or numbers when he entered kindergarten! Ella (11) is loving Nancy Drew books and The Rose Legacy Series by Jessica Day George. Violet (6) and Lydia (3) want to read and re-read The Princess in Black Series by Shannon Hale, and even though the books seem so long, they’re actually very enjoyable read-alouds for one sitting. I love LeUyen Pham’s illustrations.

What My Husband’s Been Reading

Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates – I picked this up for my husband, who is a reader without the time to browse around for books, and he liked it but thought it a bit drawn out. 3 stars.

Nonfiction I’m Reading/Plan to Read

The Call of the Wild + Free: Reclaiming Wonder in Your Child’s Education and Wild + Free Handcrafts – I’m still in the middle of these books because I am a slow nonfiction absorber, but I’m enjoying the reminders of how kids and parents can learn together in harmony and without checklists. As for the handcrafts, most of them look beyond me, but they also look so beautiful, I’m willing to try them even though I’ll probably go crazy in the process!

The Lazy Genius Way – I’m pumped to read Kendra Adachi’s first book. I’ve been a big fan of her podcast for a few years now, and if her book is as full of practical and clear headed ideas as her podcast is, it will be a winner.

That’s all for this update! What’s on your fall reading list?

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!

Children's Books, Quick Lit, Reading, Reviews, Young Adult

My Favorite Reads of 2019

The year is coming to a close, cheerful Christmas lights are shining through the windows from the front porch garlands, and holiday busyness is carrying us along like Pooh sticks in a raging river. There are many more pressing things to think about at this time of year, but I’m going sit for a minute with the books I read in the past year and write up a quick list of highlights to share here. I hope you had a great reading year and will find a good book somewhere in this list to put on your 2020 reading list!

[Side Note: Links to books throughout this post are not affiliate links]

Best Novel Published in 2019

Where the Forest Meets the Stars – This novel by debut author was beautifully written, if a bit eerie, and handled serious subject matters well. The setting was enthralling and the characters drew me in right off the bat. This book has all that and a plot that will keep you turning pages. I’d recommend this if you like the exciting, page turning nature of Gone Girl or The Girl on the Train but don’t want to actually stomach the content. This one has some similar themes as far as crime goes, but is not as jarring and the themes are handled much more gently and with more purpose.

Runner Up

I’m Fine and Neither Are You – A clever, honest, sometimes humorous look at life in the middle years of a marriage. Though my worldview differs from the author’s on many things, the subjects brought up are worth thinking over, from friendships to comparisons women make between themselves to what a good marriage looks like. If you’re in a book club, especially a women’s book club, this would be a great pick.

Also read in this genre:

Ellie and the Harpmaker – 4 stars – I will read whatever else Hazel Prior writes because her prose took my breath away. Some of the content in this book regarding relationships didn’t sit well with me; otherwise, it would be a 5 star book and winner of the category.

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill – 2.5/3 stars – liked the main character, didn’t love what goes on in the book

The Printed Letter Bookshop – 2 stars – Not my favorite Reay, though I always enjoy her literary references throughout her novels.

The Overdue Life of Amy Byler – 1 star

Beyond the Point – 2 stars

Lost for Words – 2 stars

Best Historical Fiction

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The Gown – This book was so much better than I expected. First, I should state that I’m not the best one to ask about books in this category right now, because I didn’t pick up much historical fiction this year. Call me crazy, but I’m weary of The ______ ‘s Daughter or The _____’s Wife titles, just fill in the blank with whatever comes to mind, haha! I know some are absolute gems, and I’m not seriously knocking them, but I got a bit bored with the genre. I really liked The Gown, however, for it’s attention to character development and historical accuracy without feeling overwrought and contrived, or jumping from present day to past narratives. I would recommend it to any historical fiction fan. Also, this is a good one for readers who prefer minimal strong language, and except for one “scene” I would say puts it at the PG-13 level, it’s a gentler read than most current historical fiction.

Runner Up:

The Spies of Shilling Lane

Also Read in this Genre:

The Flight Girls – 2 stars

The Lieutenant’s Nurse – 3 stars

Time After Time – 2 stars

Best Novel I Read in 2019

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Hannah Coulter – What a gorgeous, moving wise novel. I should have read this a long time ago, but then, would I have appreciated it as much as I do now at this point in my life? Probably not. It’s a retrospective review of a woman’s life, with so much insight and wisdom about humanity and all kinds of love. It’s a classic, and I loved this book more than any other I read this year. I will be reading more Wendell Berry in 2020!

Also read:

The Remains of the Day – 5 stars – If you are a fan of slow but rich novels, Mr. Carson in Downton Abbey, and figuring out whether your narrator is reliable or not, you will like this book.

The Scent of Water – I plunged into Elizabeth Goudge at the end of last year for the first time with Pilgrim’s Inn and now have also read Gentian Hill, The Little White Horse, I Saw Three Ships, and City of Bells. I love it all and will keep on reading Goudge as fast as Thriftbooks can supply me with these mostly out of print novels. (Side note: many of the covers of Goudge books are just hideous. Don’t judge these books by their covers!)

A bunch of D.E. Stevenson and Elizabeth Cadell…I will spare you the details, as I have already waxed on and on about these authors.

Best Non-Fiction

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Boy Mom – I have one son and three daughters, and I come from a family with only sisters, so I seriously needed this book from Monica Swanson on raising boys. She has four of her own, two graduated from high school and two still homeschooling. I love her perspectives on relationships, chores, health, media use…she hits so many topics in her book and I will read it again and again. I truly can’t recommend it more highly, and actually think it’s unfair to moms with only daughters that this book is for “boy moms,” because there is a ton of wisdom here that applies to all parenting. Monica Swanson, I hope you write many more books!

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Becoming and Beholding – This book ties for first place. I read anything Ruth Chou Simons writes, absolutely anything, from Instagram posts to published works. She is rooted in truth and is a refreshing voice for the value in patience, hard and unseen work, and growing in ways and times when no one can see it. Her art work is so soothing, and features more than just florals in this latest book.

Runner Up:

The Brave Learner – See my full review here for why I applaud this book.

Also read in Non-Fiction:

Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat – 4 stars – I learned a ton but the recipes are intense!

A Sane Woman’s Guide to Raising a Large Family – 3 stars

First We Have Coffee – 3 stars – A fun memoir of a preacher’s daughter in Northern U.S.A./Canada. It’s important for my generation to know how people lived before us.

Digital Minimalism – 4 stars – Convicting.

Becoming – 4 stars – Thoroughly interesting and eye opening, and I’m very glad I read it.

House of Dreams: The Life of L.M. Montgomery – 4.5 stars – Most well balanced and readable account of Montgomery’s life I’ve seen so far, and the artwork was perfect.

Book Girl – 5 stars – I felt like I was reading my own thoughts at times, and found a kindred spirit in Sarah Clarkson. I also found a bunch of wonderful book recommendations!

Food Freedom Forever – 4.5 stars – A must read for fans of The Whole30.

The War of Art – 3.5 stars – Interesting concepts, inspiring and important in my personal life, though I didn’t truly enjoy reading it.

Writing Down the Bones – 2.5 stars

On Writing – 3 stars (got a lot out of it, didn’t enjoy it)

The Quotidian Mysteries – 3 stars…2 stars?? I still don’t understand most of what I read . But it seemed important and eye opening at the time, which means I probably read it too quickly.

Best Children’s Literature/Middle Grade Novel

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The Vanderbeekers to the Rescue – All the Vanderbeeker books hit it out of the park when it comes to perfect middle grade novels (publishers aim this category at 8-12-year-olds). This third book in the series continues the warm setting and lovable characters from the previous books. If you or your children are fans of The Penderwicks, you must read The Vanderbeeker books! Think the Penderwick family but with two parents and a brother and an easy-to-follow plot. I’m reading the first in the series aloud right now and my 10, 8, and 5-year-olds beg for me to read another chapter every single time we finish one.

Runner Up

Astrid the Unstoppable – If you’ve ever enjoyed a book about an extraordinary girl (Harriet the Spy, Pippi Longstocking, Anne of Green Gables, the list could go on and on), you’ll enjoy this book. You’ll like it even more if you’ve read Heidi, as main character Astrid reads and refers to it in an important way in the book. Astrid is a lonely girl in an adult community with an unflappable spirit and a fiercely loving heart. Because of some themes about romantic relationships that didn’t work out (between grown ups, but still), I think this is more a 10 and up book. It is a lot of fun, though, and the characters Astrid meets along the way will make this book appeal to both boys and girls.

Also read:

The Skylarks’ War – 3 stars- Enjoyed it as a grown up, though some of the characters weren’t my favorite, but this should so very much be labeled for 14 and up! There are harsh war themes and complicated romantic themes, as well as plot lines related to sexual orientation. Besides that, almost the whole book is about the characters when they are teenagers, so it just makes sense for it to be marketed for teenagers and adults. The publishers got it wrong on that one, but Hilary McKay’s writing is stellar, which is the reason I still give it 3 stars.

Raymie Nightingale – 3 stars – I admire Kate DiCamillo and her writing. but I wouldn’t hand this book to just any kid. It’s heart breaking, but many children have to deal with themes like adultery (a dad leaving for another woman, in this case) or living with an unstable guardian in their actual lives, so I get that having a book to relate to is important. I felt pretty glum when I finished this book, but the great characters gave it a lot of redeeming value.

Front Desk – 2 stars

A note about middle grade novels – I read these without my kids (ages 10, 8, 5, and 2) not only because I like to preview new books before I choose them as read alouds or recommend them, but because I think some of the greatest novels ever written are labeled children books. It takes a great writer to make good children’s literature, and as C.S. Lewis says, “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” Forget the labels and pick up a good children’s novel.

And that wraps up my 2019 reading year! I would love to hear from you, too. What did you read and love this year?

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Thank you for reading along with me in the past year and encouraging me to keep going here in this on-line space.

Mia/Alana

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