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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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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Gather Round {June 23rd}

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{I truly wish we could all ‘gather round’ and chat about life, relationships, education, books, and our passions. Please grab a mug of steaming coffee or pour yourself a cup of tea, and get comfortable. I enjoy being a ‘fly on the wall’ so to speak, reading about people’s lives, plans, or just what’s generally happening. I’d like to share that occasionally (every, fortnight, or so) here under this title. I’m not sure how it will play out, but I’d like to give it a go. I will post headings so that if you only have a few moments, you can scroll right to what interests you. I love conversations, don’t be shy, please chime in.}

Previous fly on the wall moments:  😉  check out past installments here. 

Domesticity ~ My sister-in-law gave me a delicious baked mac ‘n cheese recipe, which was met with rave reviews. It’s been rainy and cool, after a few scorching days, and I love the sweet, mistiness, so this was a perfect treat for lunch. I think I could serve it for dinner, also, by adding a large salad or other side. My friend gave me some chicken curry seasonings packets that she picked up from an Indian grocery, so I hope to try those soon. Bananas are plentiful around here, so due to the cooler weather, I’ve been able to make banana bread more often. My children are in rapturous delight about that development. I’ve been looking for a cross-over back apron pattern, preferably free, as I feel in the mood to sew up a new apron, and possibly start on gifts. We have the two last birthdays of the eight we have here at Hearth Ridge, so I’ve been thinking about surprises for those.

Education ~  We are finished up with just about everything EXCEPT two Plutarch lessons. We will finish those next week as soon as our Texas family visitors leave to travel onto more family. There are some other things I’d like to do before we begin again in September, so we just do them here and there, throughout the summer holiday. I’d love to take an home education online course sometime, but still trying to figure out how that would work to carve out an hour weekly HERE, due to the noise levels. I am all registered for a Charlotte Mason home education retreat in the fall and I’m highly anticipating that, although I don’t want to wish away the summer breezes too soon.

Writing ~  I’ve been working on a few things for the local journal and I’m working on a poem for a dear heart who asked me to write one for her. I have one or two essays noodling around in my brain for the blog. One poem and piece I still have out on submission and am waiting to here if anything comes from them. I’m thinking on how to breathe a breath of fresh air into this online space and it’s been exciting to think about ideas. What do you like to read here? My fiction characters are chattering away at me, whispering crazy things, and delightfully hanging about, but I haven’t done much with them beyond just talking to them here and there. And that’s ok. Seasons.

Reading ~ I have ever so many lovely titles sitting here, all raising their hands, shouting, “Pick me, pick me!” and so I plug ever onward through my To Be Read Never Ending Pile. It’s so delightfully pudgy and I just could faint from all the wonderful stories and goodness that there is in there. I’ve been revisiting my favorite author EVER, Maud Montgomery, often, and I have some old favorites that I’m just dipping into here and there. For instance, I’m almost through Goudge’s lovely Pilgrim’s Inn for the third ? time. Swoon. I’m excited to keep plugging away at my various choices for the Back to Classics readers group I signed up for…I plan to take Les Miserables on my vacation later this summer and give it a little more TLC. So, I will continue to wade in deeper and deeper, pushing aside the beautiful waves of pages and wonder. Come save me if I start drowning, will you please?

Sillies & Sundries ~  I just loved this podcast about Favourite Romantic Couples in Fiction, a perfect listen, from my favoUrite British podcast ladies, Miranda and Sophie.

Cheerio, lovelies.

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Anne of Green Gables: Chapters 17 & 18

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{continuing my S-L-O-W as molasses rereading of this favorite}

In Chapter 17, we find Anne still reeling over her forbidden friendship with Diana. They secretly meet and Diana shares that her mother will not forgive Anne for setting Diana drunk. 😉 Marilla is her funny self, not sharing too much sympathy for Anne’s outrageous sorrow over this injustice.

“I don’t think there is much fear of your dying of grief as long as you can talk, Anne,” said Marilla unsympathetically.  p. 113

She decides to go back to school (I forgot that she wasn’t going? I don’t remember why. Maybe just the sadness over the lost friendship? They let you out of school for that?) and bury her sorrows in study. Everyone is glad that she is back, she is a lively and imaginative addition to the otherwise boring school day.  She is very much rebuffing any overtures of friendship on Gilbert’s part, even an glorious apple left for her. Diana and her pass a few secretive notes, basically saying Diana is not allowed to talk or play with her at all.

Anne throws herself passionately into her studies trying to beat Gilbert at everything.

“She was as intense in her hatreds as in her loves.”

Geometry and Anne do not mix at all and she is in “the depths of despair” over it.

Chapter 18 finds Marilla off to see the Canadian Premier with Rachel Lynde, so Anne and Matthew are taking care of Green Gables.

A humorous and heartwarming conversation in the cheerful kitchen happens between them and as they are chatting, Diana bursts in, hysterically crying about Minnie Mae being ill.

Anne is as cool as a cucumber, bragging a bit about her knowledge of croup, believing now that she knows why she had to deal with Mrs. Hammond’s three sets of twins. For this moment of glory alone, it was all worth it.

Maud Montgomery’s nature descriptions shine here again:

“The night was clear and frosty, all ebony of shadow and silver of snowy slope; big stars were shining over the silent fields; here and there the dark pointed firs stood up with snow powdering their branches and the wind whistling through them. Anne thought it was truly delightful to go skimming through all this mystery and loveliness with your bosom friend who had been so long estranged.” p.142

Anne does help Minnie Mae and Matthew brings the doctor, who congratulates her on her quick thinking and for saving Minnie’s life.

Marilla comes back and in her cool, calm way shows Anne her pride in what she did by serving up a delicious meal, with the added treat of blue plum preserve. She calmly holds back that Mrs. Barry had been there, gushing in thankfulness and contrition. Anne finished the day in a rapture, as she is invited to dinner with the Barry family.

 

Here is a podcast on Women’s Friendships in Story and it has an interesting look at Anne and Diana’s friendship! I highly recommend it!

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May Reads

The Wonderful Wizard of OZ

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz – L. Frank Baumillustrated by W. W. Denslow and originally published by George M. Hill Company, Chicago (1900)

“I have always thought myself very big and terrible; yet such small things as flowers came near to killing me, and such small animals as mice have saved my life.” ~Cowardly Lion

 

 

 

How was your reading month? I got some good ones finished and I’ve started many titles that promise to be lovely. My stack is heavy on non-fiction right now for June, which is very unusual for me. I’m trying to find more fiction in the fantasy genre that is based more in myth, legends, and folklore. Please share if you have any good titles that fall in the description. Here’s what I read in May:

The Story of the Trapp Family Singers by Maria Augusta von Trapp (****) I read this for my Back to Classics by a Woman Author category. I found it heart-warming and pretty funny at times. I especially loved Mrs. Trapp’s hilarious explanation on their attempts at learning English and also the lengths she would go to hide her pregnancies.  I was amazed at the Trapp family’s resourcefulness and determination. It dragged just a bit for me, but overall, a good story. By the way, the movie is only slightly inspired by the real Trapp family’s life, very little of it is true.

The Alliance by Jolina Petershiem (****) Amish/Mennonite dystopian, anyone? Ha. I’ve read my fair share of Amish inspirational novels in life, so I was bit skeptical about this one, but I was pleasantly surprised. The characters were interesting and multi-faceted and it had intriguing premise.  If something big happened to our power grid or our society’s basic structure (that heavily relies on technology and electricity), who would be more adapted to handle that type of world? This title didn’t shy away from the dark side to people when faced with desperate situations and it didn’t have pat answers or solutions for tough things. This is a page turner with well-drawn relationships, fast paced action, and hard questions.  Older teens and up as it has violence and other disturbing images.

Moonheart by Charles de Lint (***) – I really enjoyed this story, well-written, good characters, and beautiful settings, urban Canada into an Otherworld. I love Mr. de Lint’s ability to create intriguing, mysterious settings, memorable characters, and amazing creatures. He did extremely well with creep. I want to give this five stars as it was close to perfection in what I love about the fantasy genre. My only hesitation has to do with my Christian faith as this is heavy on occultism in a way that really is hard to reconcile. I also really disliked heavy swearing. I can usually read something that isn’t to my taste and just throw out anything I don’t agree with, but I can’t recommend this book without reservation.

Fictitious Dishes: An Album of Literature’s Most Memorable Meals
by Dinah Fried (****) – This was a lot of fun. A combination of photo art and sentiments by Fried about memories of food in fiction she has read. I really enjoyed this and also found some new books and authors to check out. This was short and sweet, a nice break from all my long books and huge stacks. I heard about this book on a lovely podcast called Tea & Tattle.

The Wood Wife by Terri Windling (***) – This was a beautifully written book about Maggie Black, a writer, who inherits her mentor’s home in Arizona. She finds herself drawn to and inspired by the harsh, yet beautiful landscape around her. A mystery surrounds the death of the poet who’s home she now calls her own. Heavy on spirit-ism, Native Peoples religious beliefs, and occultism, so I recommend with reservation.

Touch Magic: Fantasy, Faerie, & Folklore in the Literature of Childhood by Jane Yolen (****) – I enjoyed this short, inspiring book on writing and exploring the fantasy genre. There was one chapter I warmly disagreed with, but it wasn’t anything horrible, it was just a preference of mine. Over all, I really enjoyed this.

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro (****) – This is one I’ve wanted to read for a long time and a few online friends read it in the month of May and discussed it here. I found it sad and multi-layered. After reading his The Buried Giant, I feel like I walked away from both of these, with more questions then answers. Stevens is a faithful butler who is out on a long-over due holiday, thinking back over his long career and who he is as a person. Thought-provoking. I’m sure I will get more out of this on subsequent readings.

The Art of Drowning and Picnic, Lightening by Billy Collins (****) – I immensely enjoyed these two books of poetry. 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. 

The Holy Bible (*****) – Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Hebrews, 1-3 John, Jude, and Revelation.

Mother’s Day Weekend: Do Something that Won’t Compute

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Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers and to the beautiful women who serve day in and day out, even if they are not physical mothers. May you feel loads of love this weekend! I invite you all to listen to this inspiring and beautiful podcast:

Do Something That Won’t Compute

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