December Reads

 

Happy Fourth Day of Christmas! We are getting snow currently, a beautiful curtain of white, and my feeders are full and hopping with feathered friends. We are finishing up some last minute gifts for our final Christmas gatherings of the year coming up this weekend, sipping hot drinks, and watching Narnia movies. Sigh. I thought I would share what I finished reading in December a few days early so I can work on one of my beloved posts, my favorite books of the year.

1. Many a Green Isle by Agnes Sligh Turnbull (*****) – I just loved the main character so much. Gavin McAllister is an English professor at a small town college and has a beautiful home with his wife and four children. Life is going smoothly, maybe too smoothly. A series of serious and life-altering events happen, shaking him to the core and challenging his old-fashioned values. This is set in small town America before the Vietnam War, the relationships between the characters are deep, meaningful, and beautiful. I came to care about these people and couldn’t put this book down. I found this book so refreshing in it’s tackling of hard issues with love and grace. Perhaps a bit too idyllic or sweet for some, I LOVED this look at a strong man who cares for his family and his neighbors with all of his being. Internally and privately, he deals with his thoughts, frustrations, and own faults, yet makes choices based on love. There are definitely some bows tied neatly in this story, and maybe some convenient answers, but my heart said, “YES” to the beauty of character throughout. Now to live this way myself. I also read The King’s Orchard by Turnbull way back in January and loved it so much, you can read my review here.

2. The Wood’s Edge by Lori Benton (***) I found this Christian fiction title interesting and well-written. It was, however, a predictable look at early American revolutionary times in New England.

3. The Austen Escape by Katherine Reay (****) – 3.5 stars. I loved the pace of this book (calm and meandering) and it’s Austen-drenched dialogue – the mental illness seemed a little far-fetched and the romance had some cheesy-ness . I loved the engineering aspect and the protagonist’s relationship with her father. Overall, a fun read if you like fan fiction-ish stuff.

4. Spanning Time: A Diary Keeper Becomes a Writer by Elizabeth Yates (*****) – I found this book of Elizabeth Yates diary entries spanning her life absolutely fascinating. I’m still thinking about it, but it covered so much history and just reading from a young girl growing to woman through the early 1900’s in Buffalo, NY, then WWI, the delicate and challenging part of being of a wealthy, upper class family, and the privileges yet heavy expectations on her. This follows her determination and grit to go out on her own when the pressure was super heavy from her family and naysayers not to follow her dream of writing. It goes on sharing about her long and sort of strange relationship with her future husband, Bill. Her loneliness at times and her love of animals helping assuage some of that loneliness. Her extensive travels and meeting so many interesting people. Her long standing friendship and working partnership with illustrator Nora Unwin was so heart-warming and fascinating. Her love of England and her experience of living there with Bill up until WWII. Bill’s blindness enters at the end, which can be read about more in depth in another of her fascinating books called The Lighted Heart. I found her search for her faith interesting and at times sad. Her persistence and dogged determination as she kept on writing and submitting through every rejection. I highly recommended this collection of diary entries!

5. The Midnight Folk by John Masefied (*****) – I found this title because I wanted to read a children’s classic for myself over Christmas. I was reading reviews on The Box of Delights and found out this was the first one in the series. I’m so glad I did! What an enchanting, magical British children’s story. This story follows the little boy Kay searching for a lost treasure rumored to be about and all the magical creatures that appear at night also in search of the treasure. This has a way about it that actually might make it a *wee* bit hard to read aloud, one has to pay close attention, but those that do are richly rewarded by lovely details. I can’t wait to read the second soon.

6. Dobry by Monica Shannon (*****) – I found this book while dipping into a favorite book of mine on reading with children called Bequest of Wings by Annis Duff. Mrs. Duff was mentioning great children’s books with food in them! I was intrigued and picked this one up as it won the Newberry. I found this book absolutely sweet and interesting about a peasant boy in Bulgaria who lives with his mother and grandfather. They bake and farm for a living, yet Dobry has an artist’s eye and a bent for noticing beauty in the ordinary. This book is very slow moving (which I loved, but some might dislike), following the agricultural seasons, traditions, a mix of religious, folk lore, and beliefs drive the whole community. There is very little plot to this book, just a general look at their day to day lives, and a gradual realization the Dobry is meant to be an artist. I loved it. Very unique, sparse-like illustrations.

7. The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden (****) 3.5 stars – This is a modern title that I picked up after a lot of buzz.  Longer review here.

8. Zen in the Art of Writing: Essays on Creativity by Ray Bradbury (*****) – I’ve read 7 or 8 books on writing or author memoirs this year and this was just about my favorite. Just so beautifully encouraging and so very inspiring. Bradbury is hard to explain, just sort of explosive is my word for him, I have commonplace quotes to think over, and I’m totally in love with his love of words.

9. The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien (*****) This was a reread for me and I loved it more if possible. I found so many beautiful quotes and poems to put down in my commonplace. So many things can be applied to this journey of life and battle between good and evil. I’m especially drawn this time to Aragorn’s character and also, as always, Gandalf. I also paid very close attention to the map of Middle Earth and am starting to get more of a picture in my mind of these unforgettable character’s travels.

The Holy Bible (*****) –  Mark, Luke, and John, and some of Psalms

If you want to look through my monthly books posts, take a peek at my Year in Books! I will be back soon with my Best of 2017!

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Unexpected Christmas Gift

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Some things need a deep soaking, a curing, if you will. Our Amish counter top is in my basement, butcher-block, solid, dusty, maple, I think, or maybe it’s walnut, I’m not totally sure. All this past autumn, it’s been waiting patiently, thirstily, for a deep drink of mineral oil and a soft touch. Every time I’d see it, going about putting groceries away in the chest freezer, washing another load of laundry, the many trips up and down the basement steps, there it was in my peripheral vision. A slight wood smell lingering. In November, I watered the poor, dear dead bit of tree for the first time. It was a surprisingly simple process to draw out the beautiful swirls, richness, and golden-dark amber hue. Every day for a week, a deep rubbing, fingers brushing, seeping, curing, and protecting. Oily finger tips, tree-grain lapping it up, slow care bringing the wood out of its deep sleep. A little bit of tending each day, in between frenzied holiday preparations, the cool, dim basement, and a length of earthiness, a bit of sanctuary. My hands moving, smoothing the dry places with another drop of oil, quiet motion, almost a prayer. I’m now serving the guest it’s drink only once a week, but this process of working slowly with the grain, this beauty of birth, the seeing of the seed in fallow ground sprout, these moments in the mundane, have been my own unexpected Christmas gift. One that I will be reminded of every time I enter my kitchen. True beauty is found in the process, the moments, the counting the rings of life slowly. Soaking in every rich detail.

(I started writing this awhile ago, and my counter top is now installed!)

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Christmas-y, Winter-y Reading

John_William_Waterhouse_-_The_Annunciation

John William Waterhouse – “The Annunciation”, 1914 {Google}

Oh, ’tis the season for a good book. Well, it’s always the season for that, but it’s delightful thing to pick up something related to winter and Christmas. I’ve been inspired by reading other’s Christmas reading.  This list isn’t exhaustive, but I’ve just named a few in each area that we’ve enjoyed or are enjoying currently.

For the Family, our past favorite chapter books:

 

{Goodreads, Google}

The Christmas Stove by Alta Halverson Seymour -We are currently reading another Christmas story of hers and loving it. These are set around the world and The Christmas Stove is set in Switzerland.

On That Night by Elizabeth Yates – this book fostered many good discussions and I hope to reread it again another year. Lovely, heart-probing story.

Winter Cottage by Carol Ryrie Brink – a lovely story from the author of Caddie Woodlawn, another favorite title of ours. A family struggling during the Depression, end up staying in someone’s summer cottage. A heart-warming tale set in winter-y Wisconsin.

Currently, we are reading two new tales to us, and are really enjoying them:

 

{Goodreads, Google}

The Wonderful Winter by Marchette Chute – don’t let that cover fool you! We found an older copy of this lovely story. An orphaned boy runs away to London and spends his best winter ever with an acting troupe! We haven’t finished this, but the writing is GORGEOUS.

I Saw Three Ships by Elizabeth Goudge – I’ve been wanting to read this story for years and now we are finally getting to it. Polly lives with her poor aunts and is hoping for a Christmas surprise. Charming story surrounding the Christmas carol of the same name. I am a huge Goudge fan, so I’m delighted with this!

For myself to enjoy, I was trying to remember ones that I have really loved over the years:

 

{Goodreads}

A Christmas Book by Elizabeth Goudge (not pictured) – I fondly remember this book from years ago and hope to revisit it in the future. A collection of stories from her previous novels, centering around Christmas, and a few new stories, make for a charming read by the tree, sipping hot chocolate.

Winter in Thrush Green by Miss Read – I’m a huge Miss Read fan, albeit I haven’t read much of hers recently and need to remedy that! I enjoyed this story, Miss Read is so good at cozy stories centered in little villages and you can’t help fall in love with what’s happening in the villager’s lives  and the subtle humor throughout.

Martha’s Vineyard: Isle of Dreams by Susan Branch – this may be a bit too sad for the feeling of the season, but I adored this memoir. Filled with Susan’s delightful illustrations, she shares how she pursued her dreams of drawing & painting, finding a darling little home of her dreams, helping her heal and work through a hard divorce.

Miracles on Maple Hill by Virginia Sorensen – I read this with my children and was deeply moved. This is a good title for deep winter, angling into spring. A little family decides to move to a small cabin they’ve inherited that is filled with great summer vacation memories. Dad is suffering from PTSD from the war and it hasn’t been an easy time as a family. This is written so beautifully and surprising wisdom and beauty sneak up on you all the time. I hope to reread this later in winter.

Honorable mention: Jane Austen’s 6 novels often make it into my winter reading rotation. My favorites, currently are, Persuasion, Northanger Abbey, and Pride & Prejudice.

We also enjoy many different pictures books and devotional type readings together, but I’ll stop for now. How ’bout you? What titles have you enjoyed during the winter season?

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