June Reads

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Hello, friends! Here is what I finished in June! A month of light, fluffy reading while I nursed my baby.

Old World Murder by Kathleen Ernst (****) – I found this at my local library while looking for something light to read. I was intrigued by a mystery series set in Wisconsin!  Ernst is a historian and that’s what makes her stories shine. This first one is set at Old World Wisconsin, a living history museum. The mystery was a little too easy to figure out, but I found it overall interesting. I then ended up getting four more of these out of the ten in the series, accidentally reading them out of order. The story line got a bit redundant and I did read them more for the history of my home state. The light romance was ok, but the main protagonist, Chloe’s excessive preachy tone about feminism got annoying and the characters values were questionable. I’d say this first one is the best and the other four were just 2-3 star reads. I probably won’t finish the series.

The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum (***) – Another I pulled off the shelves of my local library. This is the first book in a series that the Jason Bourne spy movies are based on. It was just ok, again a good light, fast paced read for nursing sessions. I won’t be reading anymore in this series, though. One was enough. 😉

Mine the Harvest by Edna St. Vincent Millay (*****) – a collection of beautiful poems! I’m planning out our poets for autumn study and have been reading different poets here and there. I was only slightly familiar with St. Vincent Millay’s work and I’m glad I read this.

Fuel by Naomi Shihab Nye (****) – an interesting collection of very observant poems by a Palestinian American poet. I enjoyed these for the most part, a few being very vague or politicized.

The Little Bookroom by Eleanor Farjeon (****) – This book took me TWO YEARS to finish. It’s a collection of lovely short stories for children and I found it quietly lovely. Beautiful sentiments and subtle lessons throughout the many stories. To be honest, though, my most favorite part of the book was the afterword where another author shares about a visit to Farjeon’s home and an interview with her.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (****) and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (*****) by J.K. Rowling – I finally finished up my HP rereads and these are my favorites of the series. Definitely darker and disturbing, but full of redemption and love shown by Harry, his friends, and associates. I don’t think these books are of the same literary merit of the great classics, but the unique storyline and redemptive themes are fascinating.

In the Region of the Summer Stars (***) and In the Land of the Everliving (****) by Stephen R. Lawhead – I purchased these first two books in Lawhead’s new series for my oldest as a gift and she asked me to read them with her. The first was just ok and I was hesitant about the second but I found it much more fast-paced and intriguing! These stories are based in Eirlandia ( supposedly early Ireland, I believe) and a savage tribe is ravaging the land. Conor is the eldest son of a Celtic king, but a birthmark on his face casts a superstitious shadow over him, denying him claim to the throne. Conor finds himself in a strange position, trying to prove himself and unite the fighting clans against their common enemy. Fairies and strange beast-like enemies will make this an intriguing read for fantasy fans.

The Box of Delights: When the Wolves were Running by John Masefield (****) -A few years ago, I read the first, The Midnight Folk, in this series, and I loved it SO very much. I finally got around to reading the second. This was such a weird book! It’s Christmas and a mysterious traveling magician is making the rounds in the neighborhood. Kay Harker is entrusted with a strange little box the magician gives to him for protection and it turns out to be a magical time machine! Kay finds himself in the middle of a dangerous game of keep away from a whole gang of villainous henchmen.

The Holy Bible (*****) – I finished Mark, Luke, and John. Beginning the Gospels again.

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April Reads

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(poem in photo by Mary Oliver)

Better late than never. Here is what I finished last month, waiting for my baby. He was eight days “overdue”.  What have you enjoyed reading recently?

The Mad Farmer Poems by Wendell Berry (*****) – I loved this short collection of poems. I especially loved “Satisfactions of a Mad Farmer”. I used it in my nature journal for my spring and summer sketches.

In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden (****) – an online friend mentioned that this was a good read during Lent. I have had it on my shelf forever and am so glad I dove in. I found it fascinating and found a lot to contemplate as I thought over the life of these nuns. This story is focused on a career business woman who gives everything up to enter the Brede convent. The lives of the nuns and the intricacies of their relationships was so interesting. Godden did a wonderful job making each woman really interesting and deep.

Writing Motherhood: Tapping Into Your Creativity as a Writer and a Mother by Lisa Garrigues (*****) – beautiful exercises and essays on writing and motherhood. I hope to go through this again and do some of them. The beginning part is for very new writers, but it gets deeper in the second half.

Consider the Oyster by M.F.K. Fisher (***) – Confession time: I have never eaten oysters. Ha. This book did nothing to induce me to either. My husband tried them in P.E.I, Canada as well as mussels and he enjoyed them. This was lovely writing, but I just feel grossed out by oysters. I know it’s unfair judgment since I’ve never eaten any!

Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce (*****) – Lovely imaginative tale about a clock that strikes thirteen, opening a time portal to a dreamy garden, friendship, and beauty. I really enjoyed this children’s classic.

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

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February Reads

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Here’s what I finished in February! I’m getting it up a bit late, but that’s ok. How was your reading month in February?

The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life by Hannah Whitall Smith (*****) – This title has been on my shelf and TBR forever!  One of “the Read and Finish things on my shelf books”. I am so glad I did. This is probably will be a favorite forever for me and I hope to make it a yearly reread.  The title of the book is a bit strange and misleading, don’t let that stop you from soaking in lovely book from Whitall Smith. There were a few things, I may quibble with, but overall this was the most challenging and encouraging read for my faith in a very long time. Highly recommend!

For the Children’s Sake by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay (*****) – This is probably one of my favorite books on the care and love of children. If you are a parent, educator, or just want to bless the children you come in contact with, please, please read it. You will be so encouraged! This is a reread and I was just as blessed as the first few times I’ve read it.

Re-Creations by Grace Livingston Hill (***) – My oldest daughter and I really enjoyed this book! Hill is definitely VERY predictable inspirational Christian romance and her endings we almost always predict, but the sentiments in this title were heart-warming and inspiring. A college girl is called home before graduating to find her family has scrimped and sacrificed for her education. She makes the choice to step out of her disappointment and selfishness and turns things around in the home and family by careful love and attention. This title is VERY inspiring for home-makers and creatives.

Starling and Swift Christian Cozy Mysteries by Mary Jane Hathaway (M.J. Mandrake) (***) – I read a few of these on my Kindle and found them unique and light mysteries. The protagonist is Kitty Swift, a Cruise ship interpreter for the deaf, and her guide dog, Chica. Kitty and Chica end up helping solve various murders as they cruise around. The  quirkiness of the characters was just what I needed when tired. Plots are formulaic, but the mystery aspect was intriguing. I loved the traveling to exotic locations with her as a Cruise ship employee.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling (****) – Rereading these and enjoyed this one a lot, albeit this one has a heavy, underlining tension. Harry’s teen angst and frustrations are really showing up now and Umbridge is SO conniving and the situation with her seems hopeless. Reminds me of how politicians etc use their power for their bias even though they say they are doing it for the good of the whole. Hmmm…sounds familiar. The power of the media is a very interesting topic brought up in this title as well. All relevant for today.

The Story Girl by L.M. Montgomery (*****) – This was also on my list of things I wanted to finish from my shelf. It took me a long time to read this delightful tale of a lovely bunch of friends and their summer adventures. Hilarious, sweet, and sobering at times, I really loved this and feel like Maud out did herself with this one. I can’t wait to read the sequel, The Golden Road.

The War that Saved my Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (****) –  4.5 -I really enjoyed this book and felt so much horror over the abuse of Ada and Jamie. The author did an amazing job conveying the effects of the mother’s lack of love and ignorance. This story surrounds the evacuation of British children from London.  The one teeny quibble I have with this book, is that there seems to be a pervasive trend to hint at or include modern adult issues into MG/YA, which I absolutely don’t agree with in children’s literature. Let children and young adults have a childhood! There is going to be plenty of time for them to face adult realities and choices.

The Poems of Gerald Manley Hopkins by Gerald Manley Hopkins (****) -The end of this title has fragments of unfinished or incomplete poems, poems in Welsh and Latin, I believe, and a huge section of editor’s notes. I found this part a bit tedious and skimmed it, but overall I really enjoyed Hopkins poetry. Some of his are just SO beautiful that I had to think on them for awhile. Also one I wanted to read this year from the LIST.

Ruth Bell Graham’s Collected Poems by Ruth Bell Graham (***) – I really love Sitting by my Laughing Fire poetry collection by Mrs. Graham, so I chose this off my shelf as something I wanted to read. Very good and encouraging, but I still love the other title better. Poetry really has been life-giving to me this winter and in the current season I’m in. My favorites of this collection were nature-inspired or centered around mothering.

The Winter Witch by Katherine Arden (***) – This was the conclusion to a trilogy and in some respects was the best of the three books. The setting/atmosphere, the intriguing questions raised about Christianity and Paganism, and the continued character development were well-done. I can’t put my finger on it, but the blending of “good and evil” were hard for me to muddle through in this title. You know how literature brings us “good” and “bad” witches, wizards, etc, and the blurring of those lines in this book were difficult for me. I need some hope and some true good (not perfection, necessarily, but goodness) to hold onto and I didn’t find one character that fit that for me. The ending had some good points, but at the same time Vasya now is somehow in “bed” with two opposing demons (quite literally with one – eww) and her family is a bit torn apart. I just felt like the resolution over the war and some of the physical battles in Moscow were wrapped up coherently, but the spiritual realm battles were muddled and not as well-done. But possibly the author wanted that way, kind of not wanting to answer questions, but leaving it for us to decide. Probably the most intriguing, but dark character in this whole series was the creepy priest and in this third title, there was an interesting twist to his story. Overall, the atmosphere of this series was beautiful, but I’ve still mixed feelings about the story. It gives me a bit of an uncomfortable feeling, which isn’t always a bad thing, but this wasn’t like a challenging, uncomfortable feeling.

White Pine: Poems and Prose Poems by Mary Oliver (*****) – Beautiful collection of poetry, simple, sweet, centering on nature. I really enjoyed this!

The Holy Bible (*****) – Luke, John (My plan is to be reading through the Gospels over and over this year, and so this was my first time through and it was lovely. Back to Matthew now!)

 

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January Reads

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I can’t believe it, but I believe this is my THIRD year through with monthly book lists! Fun stuff! You can read my other years under the Year In Books category in my topic cloud, if interested. I love nosing around in other’s book lists. So, I did very well this month on working on my 2019 – 30 books that I want to finish or read from my shelf. I got many started and finished a few! 🙂 Exciting stuff! I also bought NO new books for myself, except I accidentally bought a couple of Kindle books, forgetting my pledge not to buy books, probably because I don’t really LOVE digital books, therefore, mentally don’t count them as books, if you can follow that logic. LOL! 😉 Without further adieu, here is my first reading pile of the year…

An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace by Tamar Adler (****) – This is sort of a cheat book, because I was almost finished with this in December of last year. This is a beautiful cooking memoir unlike anything I’ve read in that genre so far. Adler writes BEAUTIFULLY and helps you see how each simple, delicious meal can be the basis for your next one. The water you just cooked your vegetables in, can be the start of the soup for dinner. I really, really enjoyed this and found her recipes simple and for the most part just so nice for a normal, home cook. I was encouraged and inspired by her.

Sitting by My Laughing Fire by Ruth Bell Graham (*****) – This was a reread for me, simple, beautiful, thoughtful poetry by the mother of five and wife to Billy Graham. Soothing and challenging, I really enjoy pulling this title out occasionally.

The Life Around Us: Selected Poems on Nature (****) and Breathing the Water (*****) by Denise Levertov – Levertov is a beautiful poet, I must have been in the mood for poetry this month, because I’ve read a lot! The Life Around Us  was good, a tad preachy about protecting the earth…I love poems that make us appreciate the beauty of nature and encourage stewardship, but ones that kind of beat us over the head about pollution aren’t always my favorite. For the most part, they were beautiful and interesting. I loved Breathing the Water, just gorgeous.

The Mortal Word by Genevieve Cogman (***) – 2.5 -This is the fifth in a fantasy series about a magic library with a side of dragons and fairies. This title was just ok, entertaining, but I wouldn’t say stunning or anything. I keep reading and hoping they will get better! HA! Librarian Spy Irene is caught in the middle of talks between the dragons and fairies, when a murder takes place! Suspicions fly through the air and threaten the peace treaty.

Mother Culture by Karen Andreola (*****) – This was a lovely Christmas gift and wow, so encouraging and inspiring! Mrs. Andreola is one of the people that has constantly blessed and encouraged me in my Christian faith, mothering, and home educating path. She writes with a sweet, encouraging spirit, and you come away refreshed and your heart’s burdens lightened. This book speaks to the mother and/or home maker, gently showing us how to live life to our fullest, filling ourselves, so we can spill out and share encouragement, servant-hood, and love to others. It is a balanced look at a well-rounded home maker’s life. I found this lovely and I’m sure I will reread this book often and it already is treasured. Highly recommend!

The Wind Will Howl by Sibella Giorello (***) – I’ve been following Giorello’s Raleigh Harmon detective series for years and this new one was an interesting and well thought out. The mystery is set around a Native American man’s murder and investigation on a reservation. Creepy and with a good twist at the end. The romance was a bit cheesy, but overall this was a interesting murder mystery.

The Wonderful O by James Thurber (*****) – I love children’s literature, especially older titles, and this one was wonderful. Intriguing and fascinating idea of the island of Ooroo and what would happen if the letter O was banished. My oldest and I both read it and talked about it a lot. My middle son then picked it up too and we all had some very interesting discussions about letters, the importance of language, and evil people controlling others through manipulation and censorship.

Art Matters: Because Your Imagination Can Change the World by Neil Gaimen (***) – 2.5ish – Again, hyped on Instagram, not that great. Ha! 😉 A very basic call to creativity and freedom of speech mixed with political correctness of today. This was a short, illustrated book and the black-line type drawings were intriguing. I don’t know if this is really worth reading.

Virgil Wander by Leif Enger (*****) – I’m STILL thinking on this BEAUTIFUL title. This follows Virgil Wander after a freak accident leaves him without some of his memory. He sort of feels like a different person, a new person. I think there are a lot of underling themes in this story, and Enger is AMAZING at drawing out and making fascinating characters. Rune and Virgil are my favorite and their friendship and stumbling through their troubles together is so intriguing and interesting. The towns people and the intricacies of kite building and flying and old reel movie theaters was so wonderful…Enger lending a transcendence to the ordinary and commonplace. The first 3/4ths of this book were amazing to me, for some reason, some of the ending was too neat, or dissatisfying to me, but I can’t place my finger on why. Maybe it was just because it was over! Thank you, Mr. Enger, for your books…they sort of feel like they are about nothing, but in the end, maybe they are about everything. One walks away with more questions than answers, and yet that feels ok and like someone else out there understands.

So Brave, Young and Handsome by Leif Enger (*****) – after reading, Virgil Wander, I had a major book hangover, but then remembered I had this other Enger on my shelf. Yay! I had hesitated on this one after reading Peace Like a River, because of mixed reviews out there. Wow. That was foolish. I found this just lovely and fascinating. I was drawn into Mr. Enger’s characters and the beauty one slowly found and considered as you followed their own life questions. Enger’s plots are interesting and slow moving, yet they really step aside and allow for his character’s to deeply shine through. Monte Beckett is a struggling one-hit wonder author who is floundering around. He ends up on the run with a fugitive from the law! An unbalanced ex-Pinkerton is on their trail and this guy is a piece of work. I loved how Beckett’s heart gradually grew and turned toward home and how the letting go of the tightly clenched thought of what his life was suppose to be, unwound his words. Wow. Again, so many interesting thoughts and questions after reading.

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson (*****) – my oldest told me I HAD to read this, but that it was very sad! So, I read it and oh wow. I loved it. It did make me cry though! The ending was unbelievable, love lost, and the importance of family and friendship. I really enjoyed this classic.

The Holy Bible (always 5 stars 😉 ) – Matthew, Mark

 

A fantastic reading month for me! So much goodness! What did you read this month? Have you read any of Leif Enger’s 3 books? 🙂

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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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Monday Ponderings {November 5th}

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If any strain of my “broken music” make a child’s eyes flash, or his mother’s grow for a moment dim, my labour will not have been in vain. 

~ George MacDonald, “The Fantastic Imagination”

{This quote came to my attention via the lovely Instagram account _bryana_joy and I found it very intriguing. I searched around for it online and found the complete essay. I highly recommend it for writers, artists, any creatives, but also for mothers as it gives an interesting perspective of childlike wonder and an inside-out view of children. Just asking ourselves the question of what is already inherently inside our child (who is made in the image of God), just waiting, faithfully sowing, and spreading beauty that kindles that spark of wonder. We are not molding them from the outside-in and that is such a huge relief. This essay is not a super easy read, and I’m still reflecting on it, and think it’s worth reading.}

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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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