Favorite Reads of 2018

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Happy 9th Day of Christmas, friends! Below is the list of books that touched me deeply this year. I separated them in categories, so you can skim to something that may interest you! I found this year that books that challenged or shocked me were some of my favorites. I really found myself gravitating toward books that I had an intense emotional response with or a line or thought or idea that has stuck with me throughout the year, but weren’t necessarily pretty or comfortable reads. I read through the New Testament and Psalms a couple of times and a few other books of the Old Testament and really enjoyed the slow, savoring pace. I’ve only included my favorite favorites, if you know what I mean, because I read so many lovely books including home education titles, writing books, and more.

Favorite Book of the Year:

Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (****) – Wow. I hated this book so much I loved it.  I’m not sure why this book so profoundly made an impression on me. I think in some ways it has to do with the fact that I feel SO much compassion for the mother and her girls (not to mention the Congolese) and feel like this is just so preventable. And yet, unfortunately, all to often, some of the elements of this story ring true in organized religion. This fictional story is an achingly beautiful account of The Belgian Congo and a family torn up by Pharisaical religiosity, racism, sexism, and as many other “isms” that Kingslover could think of and fit into this book. This is the first book that made me cry in a long time and I will never forget it. Even though I strongly believe the author made sweeping, prejudiced (ironically, the very thing she eloquently rails about in this book) blanket judgments of things she abhors (or at least seems too based on this novel), there is SO much to appreciate about this and pull away from it. Highly recommend if you can read it with a grain of salt and a willingness to look at yourself, shaking off deeply ingrained things that aren’t right.

Other Hard but Favorites of the Year: 

East of Eden by John Stienbeck (****) – Wow! The writing in this book was amazing and my first Steinbeck. The nature descriptions are wonderful and I enjoyed his rich prose and insightful, detailed observations. It started off very dark and depressing as we are introduced to Cathy, later known as Kate. She is one of most disturbing people I’ve read about in literature in a long time! Towards the end, I feel like I was able to feel a twinge of compassion (maybe) towards her or at least a teeny bit of understanding. As we went along, I started to see some of the “retelling of the Genesis story/Cain and Abel” feeling, as our characters battle the internal good and evil in their lives and with their families. This follows two generations of two families and weaves in and out in a beautiful way as they struggle to survive their parents and as parents, their upbringing, and finding their purpose in life. They battle the question of is our tendency towards good or evil inherited or a choice? The weight of this question is felt heavily in each person’s life.  I felt like I got to know the characters deeply and that many of their questions were universal. I loved Lee, the Cantonese servant, and eventually friend and caretaker to Adam. I loved, loved Samuel, the dreamy, distracted friend of Lee and Adam. I realize this is a crazy, all over the place review, but it’s hard to describe. Beautiful, recommend with caveat that it does have a lot of darkness: prostitution, language, and suicide.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (****) – Fascinating and intriguing look life after an epidemic wipes out most of the world’s population. Sounds depressing, doesn’t it? It isn’t because it’s told through the voice of a troupe of actors who travel around giving Shakespearean plays. Sobering and beautiful, sad yet strangely hopeful, I enjoyed the creative way St. John Mandel wrote this, wrapping up many veins well at the end.

Discovering the Character of God by George MacDonald (*****) -I absolutely love Mr. MacDonald’s belief on who God is as our loving Father. There are a few things that are vague and a few things I may argue and not agree with him on, but overall, I was so encouraged and challenged by this wonderful book. It took me a very long time to read, because I wanted to go slow and it’s not something you can read quickly. This is set up with three part chapters: his poetry, commentary, and a section from his fiction – all tied together with a topic for the chapter.

 The White Witch by Elizabeth Goudge (*****) –  Interesting, dark story about the English Civil War and the wrestling with good and evil in all of our lives. How the love of God and others trumps darkness. Fascinating look at Royalists, Puritans, class divisions, and the Romani peoples. Gardens and herbs are prominent in this book which was beautiful and piqued my interest in it all the more. This took me a LONG time to get into, you have to be very patient with Goudge, but she will reward you many times over, if you hang on.

Books that Built my Faith:

The Wild-Bird Child: A Life of Amy Carmichael by Derick Bingham (*****) –  Amy Carmichael is one of my heroines of the Christian faith, her poetry, writing, and life’s work, encouraging and inspiring me. I really enjoyed this unique look at this Irish missionary.  Mr. Bingham created an unique take on her life, beginning each chapter, with a bit of what was going on in the world at the time. I love the first hand letters, personal stories, and information from diaries that the author had access to while writing this book. I found this much more interesting than A Chance to Die by Elisabeth Elliot.

Peace Like A River by Leif Enger (*****) -this was a reread for me, in anticipation of reading Enger’s two other books soon and I gobbled it up in a few days. I loved this so much and was just drawn again in by the rich characters, story, and beautiful spiritual vein and questions posed throughout. Highly recommend!

The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis (*****) – I absolutely loved this book about a bus ride between Heaven and Hell and the conversations between “Ghosts” and “Beings”. I found it just lovely and amusing that George MacDonald was Mr. Lewis’s Being. The theology and thoughts were thought-provoking, challenging, and absolutely beautiful. I also listened to a few episodes in a series of podcast discussions on this book, which I found interesting.

Poetry:

Mountain Breezes by Amy Carmichael (*****) – This took me all year to read. It is a collection of all of Miss Carmichael’s poetry gathered from throughout her other writings. This is one of my favorite books of the year, as I found her simple, sweet poems of nature observations and the character of God to be so challenging and inspiring to my faith. Some of the poetry is very basic, but you hear her heart through it and some lines are just like arrows to your heart. I highly recommend this book.

Billy Collin’s poetry (****) – I read many collections of his poetry and I don’t know if there was one that was my favorite although The Art of Drowning and Picnic, Lightening  I immensely enjoyed. They are written in engaging, yet simple style, but meaningful and hugely layered. I was astonished at the beauty of some of his close, minute observations of daily life. He renders the littlest bits of our lives in a grand universal way, yet he was so approachable. I can’t wait to read more from him! Here is a TED talk by Mr. Collins that I enjoyed.  I thoroughly enjoyed this humorous, down-to-earth poet.

Habitation of Wonder by Abigail Carroll (*****) – I would give this six stars if I could. Just lovely, haunting poetry, exploring the beauty of life, nature, and faith in an approachable, gorgeous, lyrical way. I’m on my third reread of it, it’s not long, it’s so life-giving and wonder-provoking. Carroll is my favorite modern poet and you can visit her here and read some of her words.

On the Lighter Side: 

The Market Square by Miss Read (*****) – Another of my favorite genres is British family-ish type fiction. Miss Read is the master of beautiful settings and lovely characters that you come to love and care about. Sometimes not much happens, but you still keep reading anyway. This title was a bit different from her Thrush Green and Fairacre series in that it was a bit more sad and darker than those. Two friends grow up together and their families are inseparable until a change in the economy forces a wedge. Misunderstandings, class, race, morality, the World Wars, all test the true friendship between these two men as their lives move on. This was slow start for me and it took me awhile to get into it, but once I did, I loved it. So much to think on and consider and I won’t forget this story! I think this might be a series, but I haven’t checked into it yet.

Jane of Lantern Hill by L.M. Montgomery (*****) -This was a reread for me and I loved it more than the first time. Jane lives with her mother and wealthy grandmother in a colorless and harsh environment. She doesn’t know what happened to her father, being led to believe he died. One day,  a letter arrives from him, asking for her to spend the summer with him on Prince Edward Island. Little do they know how much this will change all of their lives. This possibly has a too-sweet ending, but I adore the hope and beauty that this story holds, it’s one of my absolute favorites from Maud. I love how happiness is found in the simple act of loving and serving.  This is in fact why I call myself “Amy of Hearth Ridge”. 😉

Crosstalk by Connie Willis (*****) – SLIGHT SPOILER! The daily workings of a telecommunications company may not sound fascinating, but oh wow, they are when you have Willis writing about them. The new craze is a medical implant supposedly to increase your emotional connection to your partner. Briddley, a young employee, is thrilled and astonished by the attention lavished on her by one of her bosses Trent, and now he wants to get this implant with her! The weird tech department guy won’t stop warning her about the dangers of this procedure, and her big crazy Irish family won’t leave her alone.  Continued review here!

The Anatole Trilogy by Nancy Willard (*****) – These three short fantasy adventure stories follow a young boy and were just wonderful. I was looking for a middle grade read and happen to have book #2 of this series on my shelf. I quickly got the other two and thoroughly enjoyed them, the last being my favorite. I love Willard’s ability to keep things grounded in the reality of a young child’s mind, yet make completely absurd and fantastical things and happenings seem everyday and normal. I loved this little escape and the quests Anatole found himself on with the help of many magical creatures and new friends. You can tell Willard understands young children, which I love so much.

 

 

{For major bookish browsing, check out my Year in Books category!}

Otherwise, you can just go to my past years favorite lists! 🙂 I can’t believe I’ve made these lists for three years now already. Time flies when you’re reading.

Favorites from 2017

Favorites from 2016

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December Reads {and my Back to Classics Challenge 2018 Wrap-Up}

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Happy New Year’s Eve, friends! Here’s what I finished up in December (I tried to get titles done that I’d been reading awhile, since I had a bit more time over our holiday) and about my Back to Classics 2018 Challenge!

Golden Apples of the Sun by Ray Bradbury (****) – I finished up this book for the category of  A Classic with a Color in the Title for my Back to Classics Challenge. This book was so very weird, beautiful, unmatched,  with a magical use of words, sentences, almost a prose poetry! A slow read for me, because I had to process each story or wade through the themes. Time, age, technology, natural resources, space, family, and so much more. I got bogged down a bit in his school-boy fascination with the space race and rockets which came through strongly in many of the stories. I’m too young? or something to appreciate that particular fascination maybe. The stories on the surface seem so far fetched, yet underneath there are beautiful layers to peel back and think on. I really love Bradbury!

The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux (****) – 3.5 stars -I barely finished this as my 7th title of the 12 for my Back to Classics Challenge. It fulfilled the category of A Classic in Translation. I have mixed feelings on this one. I really liked it for it’s creepy, psychological feel, the atmosphere of it, but I feel a bit confused on some of the “supernatural” seeming elements of the story after finding out more about who the Opera Ghost was at the end. I’d love to see this on stage someday, though. My older daughter and I have been talking about it a lot as I slowly read it and then she gobbled it up and really liked it. Maybe it was me? Maybe it was how slowly I read it?

Poems, 1965-1975 by Seamus Heaney (***) – This is a collection of four of his poetry books and the first three were enjoyable, but I was so bogged down and confused in the last book, North. The language, metaphors, etc, were all “Greek” to me, for some reason. Ha. Not sure what happened, but I like to be able to take SOMETHING away, even if I don’t understand completely and I was having a hard time doing that.

Night Birds on Nantucket by Joan Aiken (****) – The third book in The Wolves Chronicles and it was so strange and enchanting. Dido Twite, a brave little girl, who we are introduced to in the earlier two books, finds herself stranded on a whaling ship and falls into some crazy adventures, including stopping a plot to shoot a cannon ball from Nantucket to London! Ha. Very humorous, imaginative, and fun!

Humility: An Unlikely Biography of America’s Greatest Virtue by David J. Bobb (***) – I started this as a read for a home educating retreat this past fall and found it interesting. I especially loved the chapters on Abigail Adams and Frederick Douglas. This was a little slow moving for me, but I’m glad I finished it.

Jane of Lantern Hill by L.M. Montgomery (*****) -This was a reread for me and I loved it more than the first time. Jane lives with her mother and wealthy grandmother in a colorless and harsh environment. She doesn’t know what happened to her father, being led to believe he died. One day,  a letter arrives from him, asking for her to spend the summer with him on Prince Edward Island. Little do they know how much this will change all of their lives. This possibly has a too-sweet ending, but I adore the hope and beauty that this story holds, it’s one of my absolute favorites from Maud. I love how happiness is found in the simple act of loving and serving.  This is in fact why I call myself “Amy of Hearth Ridge”. 😉

Peace Like A River by Leif Enger (*****) – another reread for me, as I plan on reading Enger’s other two titles next year. I loved this so much and was just drawn in by the rich characters, story, and beautiful spiritual vein throughout. Highly recommend!

The Dirty Life: On Farming, Food, and Love by Kristin Kimball (****) – This memoir I saw recommended somewhere and I gobbled it up in ONE day on our Christmas holidays. Kristin travels to the country to interview a farmer and basically ends up never leaving. Very gorgeous writing, inspiring, and truly shows the amount of work farmers do. The nitty-gritty, bloody, filthy details of truly growing your own food and living off the land isn’t sugar-coated. I suspect the author and I differ on our views of love and marriage, but I found this very real and somehow touching. It definitely was inspiring.

Home Education by Charlotte Mason (*****) – I’ve been through this first volume a few times over the past years home educating my children. I so enjoyed going through it with my book group and gleaned again so many beautiful things.

A Time for Remembering: The Story of Ruth Bell Graham by Patricia Cornwell (****) – I really enjoy Mrs. Graham’s poetry and found that I had this biography of her life on my shelf. It was so interesting to read about her life as a child in China, where her parents served as medical missionaries and growing up to marry Billy Graham. I mostly, though, appreciate her as a mother, homemaker, writer, and appreciator of the small details of life. So interesting!

Journey Into Christmas and Other Stories by Bess Streeter Aldrich (****) – I love Aldrich’s richly layered stories, A White Bird Flying, Lantern in Her Hand, etc. and so I was thrilled to see this selection of Christmas stories by her. Some are taken from her novels, some are just stand alone short stories and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Full of precious nostalgia, beautiful sentiments, and her word-smith beauty is just lovely. The stories may be a bit extra sweet, but it was a perfect read for December. I even read a bit to my children and they loved it.

Pilgrim’s Inn by Elizabeth Goudge (*****) – This took me all year to reread for maybe the 5th time? Yes, I love this book so much. I walk away with new lines and thoughts of beauty every time. This is the second book in a trilogy, but I’ve only read one and three once, this one is so lovely, and has the power to stand alone. I talk a bit more about it here and chat about Goudge, also, who is one of my top favorite authors.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling (****) – This tome I actually finished in November, but forgot to mention it! I think this book starts making the HP series better…the first few books are good, but the last few shine. They become darker and more complex, but so do the interesting things they address. This was an entertaining read for my days of illness in November.

{Whew! So that wraps up a wonderful year of reading! I have one more bookish post I’m working on related to my 2018 reading and that’s my favorites from the year.  I can’t wait to share it with you soon. I also have made my own personal challenge for next years reading and my daughter is joining me. Can’t wait to talk about it more! How was your year? Do you have a favorite list? Please share you list or a link to yours! I’d love to read it!}

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November Reads

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{This is a BEAUTIFUL winter read and a family favorite}

Happy December and St. Nicholas Day ~ How was your reading month in November? Mine was a bit quiet as the busyness of the holidays ramp up for our family. Here is what I finished!

Mountain Breezes by Amy Carmichael (*****) – This took me all year to read. It is a collection of all of Miss Carmichael’s poetry gathered from throughout her other writings. This is one of my favorite books of the year, as I found her simple, sweet poems of nature observations and the character of God to be so challenging and inspiring to my faith. Some of the poetry is very basic, but you hear her heart through it and some lines are just like arrows to your heart. I highly recommend this book.

Severed Veil: Tales of Death and Dreams by Bethany A. Jennings (*****) – I became aware of Jennings through a writing group on Facebook and I’m so glad I did. This collection of short stories and poems were haunting and unique. I found a few of the stories really made me think and the poetry was raw and honest. I can’t wait to read more from this author and hope to buy a physical copy (I purchased a Kindle version) for my oldest daughter soon.

Hood by Stephen Lawhead (***) – This was a twist on the classic Robin Hood tale set on the border of England and Wales. I really enjoyed this for the most part, but found it very internal and slow. It wasn’t what I expected in a Hood retelling. One would think action and adventure, but this focused on his internal progression and how he became who he was to become. Overall, I did really like this, I just think I was surprised. The writing is superb and the gorgeous setting, intriguing characters (I especially loved an old woman character who helps Robin), and Welsh vein throughout were lovely. There are two more in the series which I haven’t decided if I want to tackle yet.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling (****) – We were REALLY sick earlier in November and this was perfect read while stuck in bed. I found this title very intriguing, especially how not all people are as they seem. I loved the idea that we need to look for good in others.

The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton (***) – The magic of this book is the ATMOSPHERE. Morton is a master of that! The gorgeous details that she packs into this book – clocks, maps, lost jewels, creepy mansions, nature, ancient journals, photographs, nature and so on to forever! I was enchanted by the inspiration I felt she perhaps took from a juxtaposition of Little Princess and The Secret Garden. The problem for me was that there were WAY TOO many characters spread out through time. I felt dissatisfied by the incompleteness of the many character’s stories. The main modern character of Elodie, the archivialist, was my favorite and in the middle of the book, we sort of lose her to many other characters. I was intrigued by the clockmaker’s daughter, but as the story progresses, I felt like her voice changed. She did go through horrible life circumstances, but it felt jarring to me. Overall, this was an interesting, twisty, mysterious read, but maybe a bit TOO jumbled for me to love.

The Holy Bible (*****) – Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus, and Philemon

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Snowy {One Hundred Bits of Gratitude by Thanksgiving} #6

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{a gorgeous restored church on Prince Edward Island, Canada}

 

51. lamp-lit dinner of buttery pancakes shared with two children who were at home with me last night. We listened to soft music as the flame flickered. So peaceful!

52. the sound of potatoes being grated. Juicy and a pleasant scraping. Hash browns for my husband! Opening deer hunting and an empty fridge had me scrambling to find some things for hungry bellies. The hunters seem to appreciate the few eggs, random turkey sausage (found deep in freezer),  and hastily-made hash browns.

53. the sizzle of oil and smell of crispy potato.

54. the soft, top outline of snow on some forgotten laundry on line.

55. slowly attempting to paint the constellation Orion in my nature journal. It looks primitive, but I’m glad to capture the moments I’ve spent gazing at this imposing fellow in the sky.

56. fascinating essay here and quotes here on Myth & Moor, probably one of my favorite blogs. I suspect that the author and I are kindred spirits, hopefully, we could be friends even though we may differ in many of our core beliefs.

57.  reading The Little Engine That Could over and over to my littlest as he just discovered it on our library shelf. I never realized until now that it’s sort of a retelling of the Good Samaritan.

58. Black-Capped Chickadees and a Male Cardinal at my feeders! We don’t have a lot of trees and I’ve really missed the variety of birds that we had at our former home.

59. pretty Christmas wrapping paper that I ordered. I usually wrap all my gifts in one print, the monochromatic scheme looks so pretty under the tree and frankly, it’s just easier.

60. I got a few things scribbled last night in my journal. Some writing actually down in ink and not floating around in my stuffed, spilling-over brain! I’ve really struggled with making the time, because it feels like I need so much mental space, of which I have zero right now. I’m finding I’m going to have to fit it in the margins of life or it won’t happen at all. How wonderful it is to just get down one page of words captured for just a little while.

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October Reads

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I’m finally getting a chance to get this down, readers!  I have almost all children’s and YA on my list! Ha! It was fun reading month. Anything good that you finished up in October?

The Way to Write for Children: An Introduction to the Craft of Writing Children’s Literature by Joan Aiken (****) – I found this short book very helpful and encouraging for writers. The title sort of says it all, I think! A big thing I walked away with is that with YA story telling you get more into the feelings and internal struggles of your characters were as with writing for children, it’s more at face value. Children are so open and don’t spend a ton of time musing over things they say and decisions they make. A lot of food for thought.

The Anatole Trilogy by Nancy Willard (*****) – These three short fantasy adventure stories follow a young boy and were just wonderful. I was looking for a middle grade read and happen to have book #2 of this series on my shelf. I quickly got the other two and thoroughly enjoyed them, the last being my favorite. I love Willard’s ability to keep things grounded in the reality of a young child’s mind, yet make completely absurd and fantastical things and happenings seem everyday and normal. I loved this little escape and the quests Anatole found himself on with the help of many magical creatures and new friends. You can tell Willard understands young children, which I love so much.

The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen (***) and The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Brontë (*****) by Syrie James – I found these perfect light reads for bibliophiles and lovers of these two authors. I especially enjoyed the one surrounding Charlotte Brontë’s life. The author did extensive research, using as much historically accurate information, mixing it superbly with her imagination, to create a lovely story.  I probably won’t read anything else from this author (mainstream romance!), but these two stories were fun, clean, and very interesting.

Black Hearts in Battersea by Joan Aiken (*****) – If you recall, last month I read the first in this series, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, and if it all possible, I loved this one even more! Simon, a wonderful character we were introduced to in the first book, is in London, and is looking for his missing friend, when he stumbles upon a plot to overthrow James III! He meets a little firecracker of a girl, lonely daughter of his evil landlords, and the fun ensues. Filled with hot air balloons, tunnels, spies, intrigues, secrets hidden in old, dirty paintings,and wonderful characters, this was a lovely read.

Whispers of Mirrowen Trilogy by Jeff Wheeler (***) – My daughter recommended these books to me, so I took her advice. Definitely page turners, these follow an unique group of people (almost like a fellowship), as they help the enigmatic Tyrus attempt to battle the plagues that have ravished their kingdom and those around them. Unbeknownst to each of them, Tyrus picked them for their different abilities and powers as he alone knows the dangers that lurk in the Scourgelands. Filled with dryads, grand worlds/kingdoms/races, fireblood powers, rings & knives with sinister secrets. Overall, I like these, even if you did have to stretch your imagination a bit and they were a bit dark at times. My favorite was the last book, Poisonwell.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling (***) – I enjoyed visiting again with Harry as he begins his second year at Hogwarts. Dobby is super irritating to me, for some reason. Ha! Is that bad that I don’t like him? Lockhart is a funny, pompous, wind-bag of a character, and I just love Mrs. Weasley and her howlers. I found the diary of Tom Riddle part very intriguing ,very creepy, and perfect bit to the story. Maybe because I love diaries/journals so much.

Dreamlander by K.M. Weiland (****) – This follows a young man whos dreams aren’t like everyone else. He wakes up in a new world while he’s asleep in modern USA. And when he sleeps in Lael, he back on Earth.  He is one of the Gifted in the Kingdom of Lael and has a huge task on his shoulders as an invading army bears down on them. He also brought evil back with him and now has to correct his mistake. This was fast-paced, interesting, and unique. It has a great twist ending as well! I was pleasantly surprised by this one.

The Holy Bible (*****) – Romans, I & 2 Corinthians

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September Reads

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I was able to finish up quite a few things on my stack this past month, as well as read a few light reads. I tend to grab those types of things when our school year is going, because I’m reading so many rich things with my children. How was your September reading month?

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen (*****) – I reread this for my Back to Classic Books, Reread a favorite classic catagory.  This is my first reread of this book in many years. I loved it much more than I remembered liking it before! Being able to hear and read the thoughts and feelings of Fanny was enlightening and so gratifying. The Crawfords made my skin crawl ;), and I found myself thinking about Mrs. Norris, the extreme busy-body and cruel aunt a lot also. I also felt myself grow in compassion for Sir Thomas due to his lump of a wife, Lady Bertram, who cared more for her pug than any person. Her extreme self-centeredness irritated me so much for some reason. The depth of the characters, beauty, and honesty about human nature was refreshing and delightful. I felt like banging Edmund on the head more than once for his blindness about Miss Crawford, but then again, I knew what a stupor one can be in when infatuated by an idea of someone.

The Rosemary Tree by Elizabeth Goudge (*****) – A new Goudge for me and it was just lovely. This story centers around three interconnected groups of people, a vicar and his wife and their troubled relationship, their children and the terrible private school they attend, and the vicar’s Aunt struggling to survive at the big, decrepit family mansion. The characters were deep and well-drawn. The redemption and love woven throughout this story was fantastic. The lovely nature, animals, and Goudge’s treatment of children were just lovely. Another favorite Goudge for me!

The Stillmeadow Album by Gladys Taber (****) – A friend surprised me with this in the post! This was like having Gladys give you a tour of her beloved farm, Stillmeadow. I really enjoyed this, even though the photos were in black & white.

My Own Cape Cod by Gladys Taber (****) – Later in life, Gladys moved to Stillcove, her little cottage in Cape Cod. I found the same charm in sharing a bit of her daily life. I did find myself missing Stillmeadow, though, so this wasn’t my favorite. I think Jill’s (her close friend) death and her older age made this have a bit of a melancholy tone to it as well.

A Change and A Parting: My Story of Amana by Barbara Selzar Yambura (****) – I picked this up at a yard sale this summer for .50 cents. It wasn’t a fast page turner. It was the memoir of a woman growing up in the original Amana colonies. I found it very interesting to learn more about their beliefs and how they lived in a complete communal society. The harshness and absolute rules were astounding to me. The fear surrounding this sort of religious life was intense.

Book Girl: A Journey Through the Treasures and Transforming Power of a Reading Life by Sarah Clarkson (****) – I loved Clarkson’s emphasis on women and the pure treasure reading is for our emotional, physical, and mental well-being. I think what I most took away from this book was more for me as a mother. That the little seeds we are sowing everyday of beauty and good literature are crucial. Even if we don’t see the harvest or we don’t see anything “measurable” EVER, we still keep faithfully sowing into our children and those around us by faith. If you are a bibliophile, the book lists and sentiments may be a bit of a review for you (also there are A LOT of heavy theological books recommended), but keep reading, because there are little gems interspersed throughout that will encourage you and spur you deeper into your shelves, reading community, and sharing all the wonder and beauty found in books.

The Heaven Tree Trilogy by Edith Pargeter (****) – I found the recommendation for this in the above Book Girl! This is a massive three book story about 12th century England and Wales. Tensions are high at the Welsh border and this follows the life of a master carver, his intrigues, loyalties, and love. I love the depth of character and seeing the good and bad sides of both the protagonist and antagonist. They are not one dimensional! This is a beautiful story, a page turner, and I really enjoyed it. This would be a perfect winter read!

The Rain in Portugal by Billy Collins (****) – another collection of poems by this humorous American poet. I enjoyed it!

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling (****) – I thought it was a time for a reread of these. I enjoyed this one more this second time around. Without giving too much away, I especially loved the ending when Harry is able to crack Dumbledore’s riddle with the mirror, showing his pure heart and motives.

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken (*****) – I loved this imaginative story of English children in a beautiful mansion, scary wolf-filled countryside, and nasty woman who sends the girls to an orphanage. I read this one afternoon after school was done and it was just a perfect escape. I saw there are more in the series and I hope to read those as well.

Greenwitch and The Grey King by Susan Cooper (****) – These are books 3 and 4 in The Dark is Rising Series, which I’ve been rereading. This is an intense, but wonderful series based on English and Welsh legends, and I really enjoy it. Do you notice a pattern here this month? I tend to gravitate toward children’s literature when I need a mental break. There are so many wonderful children’s classics out there and so little time.

The Ringmaster’s Wife by Kristy Cambron (***) – This is the second book I’ve read by this author and over all, I’ve enjoyed her. I was intrigued by the Ringling circus plot and English connection. Overall, a bit of a predictable story.

A Sensible Arrangement by Tracie Peterson – I grabbed this off my local library shelf and it was disappointing to me. I knew what I was getting though ;), but was desperate for a light read. While the story was predictable, the stilted-seeming conversation really bugged me the most. I know I probably seem SO snobbish and I hate to criticize writers, but I have to be honest! I’m pretty sure that Peterson has many fans, but I just need to try to stay away from most inspirational romance from now on.

The Holy Bible (*****) – second half of Psalms, Acts

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Autumn Equinox on Saturday and other ramblings…

Rain is falling, concentric splatters on the puddles in my driveway. My mind is all-a-swirl as we are finishing up our second week of home education here at Hearth Ridge Farm. Yesterday afternoon, I snuggled down and read the book The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken, and was thoroughly delighted. Just what I needed at the moment. An escape to England, mysterious wolves, big, beautiful houses with hidden passageways, and endearing children to cheer along the way. The beauty of story. It made me think about the piles of scribbles I have laying all about my house, the discarded ideas, the dusty laptop. The brilliant purple morning glories are dripping wet, a fog and wetness hanging around these last few days. I can’t resist admiring the way their beauty and green tendrils sneak in and out, through and under, a lovely vein of happiness through the outside of my deck. How story and beauty keep us moving forward, their beauty splashing against the gray of dishes, discouragement, and ugly despair of our world. The poem, The Chairs That No One Sits In, a gentle, almost silent-sort-of plea for that elusive something that we often forget, that we drown by the incessant Sirens of our day. The cooling down the past couple of days, the the red tinges peeping out, my daughter exclaiming with delight over the leaves “following” our vehicle, the tinkling, crunching noise and movement swirling up around us, so very beautiful. Autumn is our guest arriving Saturday, and I’m warming up to its cool promise of sweaters and more afternoon teas. I was delighted as I drove through the changing countryside on Tuesday, listening to two kindred-spirit creatives talk on mystery, writing, and just general lovely bookishness. I notice another flower friend, my poor geranium is still hanging on, by the way, a mystery and delight to me, because it is long overdue for a re-potting and often gets neglected. Again, that splash of something that cuts through the piles and dust and smells of life. Reality doesn’t change, but I can make one step forward, parting the waters, one more song to carry me on my way, one more beautiful image, word, and thought that brings me and those around me hope.

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Late Summer Sentiments, served with-a-side-of-Lucy

 

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{Glorious sunset in our back meadow}

The beautiful dew-drenched mornings are a bit chilly now – my coffee steam rising warm, wiggling into the cool air.  The stillness in the air and the hint of wood smoke drifting from our Amish neighbors whispers autumn. However, today reached the 80’s so I’m still holding onto summer. Summer is the L.M. Montgomery part of the year for me. Do you do that? Explain and figure out life through the books you’ve read and characters your favorite, dear authors have given you? I do. The robust, deeply rich, fragrant smells and luscious greens and deep blues are frankly, JUST like Montgomery and her lovely phrases, characters, and richness. This is the stuff of summer loveliness, which I’ve grown to enjoy. Summer hasn’t always been my favorite, the knife-thick humidity, blazing sun, and the flies and endless running-around-schedule. However, I’ve come to appreciate what it gives me for later, the fortifying memories, color, and deep, earthy fragrances to carry me through our gray, frigid months. There is something about taking the calendar and dividing into into literature seasons, huh? How absolutely juicy and delicious that sounds! There is something about our dusty, gravel roads that just begs for a little girl with red braids skipping down them.  I’m enjoying these last moments, sitting still in their deepness, filling up, and spilling up and over with this warm wind, brilliant sun, and sky. What a gift for the taking!

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Monday Ponderings {August 20th}

Frog jar Mercer Mayer

 

Soundtracks for today: “Bring Me a Little Water, Silvy” and  “Little Sparrow”

Leisure

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

~William Henry Davies

{I said no thanks to someone this weekend over a seemly innocent thing, no big deal in my mind, and yet it really seemed to bother/intrigue them why I did so. I’ve been mulling on it ever since and I got to thinking about how much of our lives are driven by “more, more” and “it’s your right” and “take, take, take” and “you deserve it” and the idea that there are cultural norms that you MUST follow. I hope and prayerfully propose and DECLARE to myself and I pray for my children, that we DO NOT have to follow all of these winds blowing through our cultural landscape. So, here’s to a week of saying, “No thanks!” to all the things that rob us of light, love, health, and the time to just sit and stare.}

{Illustration from Where are You, Frog? by Mercer Mayer, all rights reserved.}

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July Reads

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Hello, Dear Readers,

It’s time for last months reading recap!

East of Eden by John Steinbeck (****) – This is one of my Back to Classics picks for the year in the Author that’s New to Me category.  Wow! This was an amazing book and my first Steinbeck. The nature descriptions are wonderful and I enjoyed his rich prose and insightful, detailed observations. It started off very dark and depressing as we are introduced to Cathy, later known as Kate. She is one of more disturbing people I’ve read about in literature in a long time! Towards the end, I feel like I was able to feel a twinge of compassion towards her or at least a teeny bit of understanding. As we went along, I started to see some of the “retelling of the Genesis story/Cain and Abel” feeling, as our characters battle the internal good and evil in their lives and with their families. This follows two generations of two families and weaves in and out in a beautiful way as they struggle to survive their parents and as parents, their upbringing, and finding their purpose in life. They battle the question of is our tendency towards good or evil inherited or a choice? The weight of this question is felt heavily in each person’s life.  I felt like I got to know the characters deeply and that many of their questions were universal. I loved Lee, the Cantonese servant, and eventually friend and caretaker to Adam. I loved, loved Samuel, the dreamy, distracted friend of Lee and Adam. I realize this is a crazy, all over the place review, but it’s hard to describe. Beautiful, recommend with caveat that it does have a lot of darkness: prostitution, language, and suicide.

Mathematics: An Instrument for Living Teaching by Richele Baburina (****) – This is a reference book for how Charlotte Mason approached maths and her words gathered together on mathematics and laid out in a very helpful way. I skimmed some of this, but found it very interesting and plan on referencing it in the future.

The Selected Journals of L.M. Montgomery, Vol. 1: 1889 – 1910 by L.M. Montgomery (*****) – I absolutely loved this look into Maud’s life as a young teenage girl, growing into a young engaged woman. The angst, temptations, and frustrations of the growing years were the same as many of us go through, but this was unique peek into a woman’s life at the turn of the century. Maud’s life with her grandparents was very rigid, so it was fascinating to see how she escaped into books and nature. I don’t care what Maud said, her own personality comes through in Anne and her other characters SO much! 😉 I can’t wait to read the next of these! I think there are five of them.

The Reckoning at Gossamer Pond by Jaime Jo Wright (****) – A strong 3.5 stars! This was a page turner! Mysterious, full of awesome creep, and I loved the Edgar Allen Poe vein throughout. I also loved the newspaper setting in Libby’s world and coffee shop in Annalise’s life. I felt very interested and connected to both Libby and Annalise, both in their respective mysteries and time periods. The growing affection between Libby and (well, I won’t spoil it) was done well, not too cheesy, but slower and more natural.

The White Witch by Elizabeth Goudge (*****) – Interesting, dark story about the English Civil War and the wrestling with good and evil in all of our lives. How the love of God and others trumps darkness. Fascinating look at Royalists, Puritans, class divisions, and the Romani peoples. Gardens and herbs are prominent in this book which was beautiful and piqued my interest in it all the more. This took me a LONG time to get into, you have to be very patient with Goudge, but she will reward you many times over, if you hang on.

Hiking Naked: A Quaker Woman’s Search for Balance by Iris Graville (*****) – I picked this up off my non-fiction library new shelf and I’m so glad I did. This is the memoir of a full-time nurse, who is burned out, and knows she and her family need a change from their fast paced lives. They end up moving to a small village in Washington State, North Cascades. They really begin living pretty primitively and work hard at odd jobs in the tourist season. Through it all, Graville journals, hikes, and just really searches her heart about what is important. I appreciated that her and her husband had a normal, yet good marriage. The only thing I didn’t like was once in awhile it felt a teeny bit whiny and I’m not a Quaker, so some of that was vague to me, but over all really enjoyed this story about her life and family.

The Pleasure of Reading: 43 Writers on the Discovery of Reading and the Books that Inspired Them edited by Antonia Fraser and Victoria Gray (*****) –  That title says it all! Ha. It was just lovely (for the most part) essays from writers on their lives and reading. I read this pretty slow, but really enjoyed it. At the end of each chapter, each writer shares a list of a few favorites. I was surprised how many lists had Alice in Wonderland on their lists! I think it’s time for a reread.  🙂

Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction by Ursula K. Le Guin (***) – I really enjoy the first half of this book, just about fantasy writing and the importance of imagination. The second half was forwards she wrote for her books and she gets more defensive of some of her gender neutral writings etc. I found it to get a bit too whiny and possibly preachy?

The Little Library Cookbook by Kate Young (*****) – I read this on a road trip and was positively charmed by the recipes and memoir reflections of Miss Young’s life. One of reading and and feasting created to compliment her favorite stories. Many of the recipes were drool worthy and weren’t TOO difficult (except for a few) for the average home cook. Just LOVELY.

The Benedict Option: A Strategy  for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation by Rod Dreher (***) – I found the beginning of this book absolutely fascinating as Dreher gives us a snapshot of how Christianity has fallen apart through the ages and a view of it in the United States. Not super in depth, but accessible to the normal reader, I appreciated this part a lot. I found some of his ideas very idealistic, yet I loved his hopeful tone and encouragement about cultivating community. I was a bit skeptical because I don’t love a lot of what you might label as “Christian self-help etc” type books, but overall, I liked this one.

Sailing Alone Around the Room: New and Selected Poems by Billy Collins (*****) – I just loved this collection of poems, revisited ones from Picnic, Lightening and The Art of Drowning, both which I read earlier this year. His poems are so REAL and concrete and so very universal. You feel like what he just shared happened yesterday to you. Yet, he surprises you, too, by his close, minute observations. I really am enjoying Mr. Collins.

The Holy Bible (*****) – I finished Psalms, digging into Proverbs, and read Matthew and Mark.

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June Reads

Happy July, Readers! I’m catching up after being on holiday, so things are a little behind, but that’s ok. Here is what I finished up reading in June ~

1492117  Formation of Character by Charlotte Mason (*****) – It’s hard to review these as a whole, because each section is jammed packed with interesting and wise tidbits about educating children, parenting, and frankly, I learn a lot to meditate on about all of life. It takes me a LONG time to read these, unless I’m reading with a group. This volume of Miss Mason’s is unique, in that it gives chapters that serve as examples with problems one might face in different situations or children. I highly recommend. Be forewarned, once you finish, you may want to turn right back around and read it again, because there is SO much goodness in here.

35489103   The Landscapes of Annie of Green Gables by Catherine Reid (*****) – Gorgeous book of photos, quotes, and brief history on L.M. Montgomery and the island she loved so much. I highly recommend for an Anne of Green Gables or Montgomery fan!

35505416  Across the Blue by Carrie Turansky (***) – I won this on a blog, which was so nice, because I didn’t even know I was entered! Ha. In the end, I’d give this a 2.5-3 stars as the topic was interesting, a fictional story based around the first man to fly over the English Channel. I loved the different angles, including a mystery. The breaking societal norms for a upper class woman feels like it is been written about over and over, and the romance was predictable.

The Night Circus The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (****) – 3.5 – This was beautifully written, crazy, and unique. I loved the dark, yet twinkly feel to this book. I mostly felt sorrow for how badly Celia was treated by her father and Marco also by his adoptive guardian. It showed clearly that abuse can manifest itself in many different ways, through outright violence and anger or manipulation and careful, calculated control. (More of my review here if you are interested!) 

20170404 Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (****) – Fascinating and intriguing look life after an epidemic wipes out most of the world’s population. Sounds depressing, doesn’t it? It isn’t because it’s told through the voice of a troupe of actors who travel around giving Shakespearean plays. Sobering and beautiful, sad yet strangely hopeful, I enjoyed the creative way St. John Mandel wrote this, wrapping up many veins well at the end.

The Color of Magic (Discworld, #1) The Color of Magic by Terry Pratchett (****) – This fantasy/sci-fi classic has been on my list for awhile and I was so enchanted by Discworld and the amazing characters that Pratchett created. Not sure if I will go on to read all the Discworld, as I think there are 40 or more of them! I’m tempted to try book two. If you want a crazy unique, light story, check this one out!

Serve It Forth Serve It Forth by MFK Fisher (****) – I’ve been wanting to read Fisher since I’ve enjoyed Julia Child’s and Peter Mayle’s foodie memoirs. This did not disappoint! Just random chatting about the history of food, stories about meals she shared, and delicious food descriptions. I will be reading more from her!

The Dark Is Rising (The Dark is Rising, #2) The Dark is Rising (Book 2 in The Dark Is Rising Sequence) by Susan Cooper (****) I love Middle Grade and Young Adult Classics and this is a fantasy classic that is underappreciated I think. This is a reread and I enjoyed it just as much as the first time. I recently reread the first one, Over Sea, Under Stone, and am planning on slowly continuing through this series. If you enjoy English myths, fantastical battles between good and evil, and children on daring adventures, you will LOVE these. If you are giving these to children, I would say they are on the darker end of fantasy. Just FYI.

Smoky-House Smoky-House by Elizabeth Goudge (***) – Ahh! I love your stories so much, Elizabeth dear. This one was a sweet children’s story about a widower and his five children, and a mystery surrounding their inn, the Smoky-House. This one was sweet mixed with strange about Free Traders on an English coast. It was not my favorite of all Goudge’s, but I loved the three animals and how they were major characters of the story, and we were able to hear their conversations.

Discovering the Character of God Discovering the Character of God by George MacDonald (*****) – I absolutely love Mr. MacDonald’s belief on who God is as our loving Father. There are a few things that are vague and a few things I may argue with him on, but overall, I was so encouraged and challenged by this wonderful book. It took me a very long time to read, because I wanted to go slow and it’s not something you can read quickly. This is set up with three part chapters: his poetry, commentary, and a section from his fiction – all tied together with a topic for the chapter.

Five on a Treasure Island (Famous Five, #1) Five on a Treasure Island (The Famous Five Series, Book 1) by Enid Blyton (*****) – I’ve been wanting to read this series and I really enjoyed this lovely story of three cousins who meet and stay the summer with their cousin and her dog. Full of adventures and lovely English sentiments, I can’t wait to read more and share them with my children, also.

The Divide (The Alliance #2) The Divide by Jolina Petersheim (****) – This was the sequel to The Alliance which I read last month and I enjoyed the conclusion to the story of a Mennonite community struggle for survival in a dystopian society. This one was a little darker and had a sad undertone to it, but overall I was enthralled and it raised a lot of questions on how far you would be willing to go when defending your love ones and battling starvation. Not a light read, but interesting!

Stillmeadow Seasons (Stillmeadow Series, #3) Stillmeadow Seasons by Gladys Taber (*****) – I finished my current Taber read, as I always have a little bit of her memoirs going. She is so lovely, simple, and hearkens back to the days of living off the land, following the seasons, and the beauty and value that can be found in homemaking. I don’t think I have any new Stillmeadow books to work on, so I might need to search around online for one. *ahem* 😉 I do have one about her father and one about her later years, living in Cape Cod.

Assassin's Apprentice (Farseer Trilogy, #1) Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb (*****) –  Don’t judge this one by it’s ugly cover! Another high fantasy classic that I just learned about. This was a wonderfully, full, richly constructed world and characters. I can’t wait to read the others in the series. This is written in older, beautiful language, feels like a mystery, adventure, within the confines of feudalism, and the intrigues of the court and common people.

Holy Bible: King James Version The Holy Bible (*****) – Isaiah and some of Psalms.

 

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Anne of Green Gables: Chapter 19 & 20 {and other related book chat}

 

One June evening, when the orchards were pink-blossomed again, when the frogs were singing silverly sweet in the marshes about the head of the Lake of Shining Waters, and the air was full of the savor of clover fields and balsamic fir woods, Anne was sitting by her gable window. She had been studying her lessons, but it had grown too dark to see the book, so she had fallen into wide-eyed reverie, looking out past the boughs of the Snow Queen, once more bestarred with it’s tufts of blossom. In all essential respects the little gable chamber was unchanged. The walls were as white, the pincushion as hard, the chairs as stiffly and yellowly upright as ever. Yet the whole character of the room was altered. It was full of a new vital, pulsing personality that seemed to pervade it and to be quite independent of schoolgirl books and dresses and ribbons, and even of the cracked blue jug full of apple blossoms on the table. It was as if all the dreams, sleeping and waking, of its vivid occupant had taken a visible although immaterial form and had tapestried the bare room with splendid filmy tissues of rainbow and moonshine.

p. 161-162, Anne of Green Gables

 

{Short note to Maud -excuse me for a moment!} Oh, Lucy Maud. You just have such a way with words. And make up beautiful words, too, like silverly, yellowly…sigh. I so wish I could be your friend in real life. I know you said that your characters resemble no one in real life, but as I learn more and more about you, oh my, so much of your wonderful thoughts, love of nature, and turning from pain and choosing to focus on beauty comes through in your writing. I’m reading the first volume of your journals, gifted to me kindly by my sister, for my birthday. You know that, young Maud is very much like young Anne in many ways, right? Such a beautiful composite and interweaving of real life experiences, feelings and fiction’s glorious imaginative flights of fancy. The photos of P.E.I. in a lovely book I borrowed from the library remind me so deeply of my own trip and introduction to your beloved island. Just glorious! Thank you from the bottom of my heart for putting your pen to the paper and sharing pure beauty in ink. }

Chapters 19 & 20

{continuing our readings}

These two chapters were just lovely with Anne and Diana’s infamous jumping on top of Aunt Josephine in the very Sparest of Bedrooms. Of course, Anne ends up gaining a Bosom Friend from the whole ordeal. Matthew stood up to Marilla, with always humorous conversations occuring when he does.

Anne’s place names are just sooo wonderful. Dryad’s Bubble, Idlewild, The Haunted Wood, and Victoria Island, in honor of the Queen, of course.

Anne’s inattention and imagination are large factors in Matthew’s handkerchiefs being starched and a pie being burnt to a crisp. Surprise, surprise. She is moodily reflecting on the fact that she has been at Green Gables for a year.

Marilla makes Anne take a dreaded trip at TWILIGHT through the Haunted Wood to get an apron pattern from Mrs. Barry, which is just about the same as death. How could you, Marilla? 😉

Such hilarious, beautiful chapters and made all the more wonderful by simultaneously dipping into Volume 1 of L.M. Montgomery’s journals and Catherine Reed’s The Landscapes of Anne of Green Gables. I highly recommend them.

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