April Reads

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“Vilma Reading on a sofa” by Frantisek Tavik Simon (Czech 1877-1942)

I was able to read some lighter fiction this month and finish some of the ones I’ve been dipping into for awhile now. The weather is turning glorious, so one must push oneself off of one’s backside and out of doors. 😉 I’m still plugging away at my selections for the Back to Classics reading community, but haven’t finished any more of them. I’ve been dipping into more Children’s and YA literature and I always fall back in love with it. Recently, I finally read a Moomin tale and found in charming. Do you enjoy Children’s or YA for yourself? WARNING: YOU ARE ABOUT TO BE SUBJECTED TO A VERY TALL PILE OF BOOKS. PROCEED AT YOUR OWN RISK. 

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde (***) – I tend to rate books immediately upon completion very emotionally. I initially rated this a bit higher, but bumped it down a bit after I thought on it awhile. I’m not sure why I do this. This was silly and eye-rolling fun. I enjoyed the creativity of this story very much! It had a predictable plot, swearing, wonderfully wonky puns, and some ridiculous cliches, but the truth is, I just want to escape through a Prose Portal and visit with Jane and Mr. Rochester. The End.

Wodwo by Ted Hughes (****) – This is a collection of poems, short stories, and one play. It was weirdly wonderful. Hughes use of words is beautiful and he paints beautiful word pictures. I didn’t always understand the themes or subject of the pieces, but overall, I was enchanted by his word wizardry. My favorite poem of all, and one I’m super inspired by, is the title poem, “Wodwo”. I actually heard of this mythical creature from Robert MacFarlane’s Instagram account and googled the term. I was intrigued and chased it down, finding this book by Hughes.

Upstream: Selected Essays by Mary Oliver (***) – There were parts of this that just made my soul sing. I especially loved the opening essay, “Upstream”, and there were words and thoughts and phrases that were just so beautiful. The rest was just ok and a bit strange and rambly. I really should reread and jot down words and phrases for future contemplation.

Oath of Honor by Lynette Eason (***) – This was an inspirational thriller with a side of mystery and romance. This title was intriguing and fast paced. I suspect that there are many others in this series or previous books that introduced the family of law enforcement officials, because I felt a little confused about details about the main characters, like it was assumed I knew about them a bit already. Over all, very well done, the villain/mystery was well-hidden and the romance not too bad on the cheese-o-meter.

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (****) – This has taken me months to get through because it was heart-wrenching in many ways. Wow. I hated this book so much I loved it. This 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 Kingsolver 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 to 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.

Hourglass: Time, Memory, and Marriage by Dani Shapiro (*****) – If you remember last month, I finished another of this author’s titles, Still Life: Pleasures and Perils of a Creative Life, and thought to try another soon. This was a short and easy stroll. Just subtle and lovely look at how fast time flies and longevity in marriage (ironically, this is the author’s third marriage, BUT I want to believe the best about people, right?! Marriage is hard, but that’s what can make it good). It was poignant and it made me think.

The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert (**) – This was another Instagram FAIL. I was so disappointed after a promising beginning. Longer review here if you are interested, but slight spoiler alerts.

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!

Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende (***) – (GRAPHIC CONTENT IN THIS BOOK – READ COMPLETE REVIEW BEFORE READING!) I have a bit of a book “hangover” from this title. Brutal and honest look at life during the colonization of Saint-Domingue (Haiti) and the Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic) by the French and Spanish. This follows the life of a young slave Tete and her masters and the people she encounters in her life from her mother’s origins in Africa, enslaved to Haiti, ending up in Louisiana. It touches on Toussaint Louverture and his impact on the Haitian Revolution.  Continued review here! 

The Lost Castle by Kristy Cambron (****) – A strong 3.5 stars! This was a beautifully written inspirational historic romance. Three different women’s stories carefully woven through the generations of the countryside of France. It takes you through the French Revolution, WWII, and modern day with ease and fluidity. The romance was SO well done, tasteful and slow, I’m so happy to find an Christian author like this. I can’t wait to read more from Cambron. This title reminded me a bit of Kate Morton’s style. The ONE thing I didn’t like was there were a few “neat” bows-tied up, but I’ll forgive it, because I really enjoyed it.

Plot & Structure: Techniques and Exercises from Crafting a Plot That Grips Readers from Start to Finish by James Scott Bell (*****) – I think that title says it all. No need for a review. Ha. This was simple, straightforward, and I loved learning about what it takes to craft fiction. Wowsers. Go shake an author’s hand, will you, please? This is a great resource, wonderful for revisiting parts over and over again, and I’m sure I will, as I continue to learn and grow.

Moomins and the Great Flood by Tove Jansson (*****) – This was absolutely charming story of a little family of critters searching for their loved ones and forever home. They meet a whole bunch of fascinating friends on their journey. Gorgeous, whimsical illustrations with just the right amount of creep.  I want to move into Moominvalley with them!

Yonder by Margaret Bell Houston (*****) – My dear friend gave me a copy of this book this past weekend and I gobbled it up. Written BEAUTIFULLY and with such a wonderful blend of mystery, romance, and creepiness. A young woman Olive lives through a horrible tragedy and needs to begin again. She ends up as a companion to a young woman suffering from acute mental illness brought on by a sudden horrific event in her life. She lives in a castle on an island in the Florida keys filled with old, hidden memories, creepy handicap sister, and old, withered father. A mysterious servant Ezra is always in the shadows, as Olive tries to help the beautiful Zoé, the atmosphere and place creeps into her being. Olive finds herself healing and growing through the most unlikely friendships. This is full of lovely atmospheric bits, delicious haunts, and old pirate ghosts floating through the halls. I could feel the salt spray on my face and taste it all. I dug around a bit I found out the author is the granddaughter of Sam Houston, of Houston, Texas fame. Interesting!

The Holy Bible (*****) – working slowly through Proverbs, Hebrews, James, 1 & 2 Peter, 1 John.

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March Reads

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April is here, spring is not. However, who’s complaining when we have loads of coffee and stacks of books? Here is what I finished in March. How about you? What did you finish?

When Death Draws Near by Carrie Stuart Parks (****) – This was a unique, quirky mystery with plenty of suspense. I did not figure out the creep before the end. Bravo. It was written well and the characters were drawn wonderfully! The snake handling church plot was slightly hard to swallow, but in the end, it overall worked. I’m looking forward to reading more from this author.

Letters from Eden: A Year at Home, in the Woods by Julie Zicklefoose (*****) This was a delightful memoir mixed with gorgeous nature paintings. Ziclefoose’s attention to detail in her paintings and writing captured the beauty of the birds and natural world around her. I really enjoyed this and found it soothing.

The Skin Map by Stephen R. Lawhead (****) – This is the first in a fantasy series called Bright Empires and Lawhead doesn’t disappoint. This took me a little while to get into, but then I was hooked. The premise is that there are ley lines all over the world that lead to alternate realities and time travel. Kit Livingston’s great-grandfather shows up in London one day, shocking Kit out of his regular life, sharing secrets, mysterious maps tattooed on skin,  and multi-layered universes.

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.

Still Writing: The Pleasures and Perils of a Creative Life by Dani Shapiro (*****) – this was a beautiful collection of essays, memoir-style about Shapiro’s life and process as a writer. She has such a beautiful way of looking at life with a slant, of appreciating the beauty, but still understanding the reality. Many times, I was nodding, and felt like I had found a sister with regards to understanding the mental battle writers are always facing. I really loved this one. Highly recommend.

Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death by James Runcie (***) – I found these six interconnected mysteries to be interesting and the perfect light read. Sidney Chambers is a priest with the Church of England and finds himself constantly intertwined with local crime solving. My favorite thing about this book was Sidney himself. He is constantly struggling with the tension between his duties to God and his parish and his strange ability to help the police solve crimes. His love of poetry, jazz, and biking and the gorgeous descriptions of England make these a delightful read. One story was a bit more disturbing as it involves a woman’s kidnapping by a twisted man, but for the most part these were intriguing. Not grisly or super in-depth crimes, definitely more inner character driven type writing. I enjoyed these very much and hope to read more.

The Masterpiece by Francine Rivers (***) – this was a sweet story of redemption for two people, one a single mother and the other a tortured artist with a dark past. I really enjoyed Roman, the artist’s, character.

The Holy Bible (*****) – Colossians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, and finished Psalms.

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February Reads

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Happy March 1st! My area still has a bit of winter left, but March always brings a gentle promise of the green to come. February was a busier month for me, so I didn’t finish as much. I think I have heavier books on my stack genre and topic wise. What did you finish? I’d love to hear!

The Lost Plot by Genevieve Cogman (***) – This is the fourth book in The Invisible Library series.  I’m a speculative genre fan and I’ve just recently learned that there is a lot that falls under this heading, depending on who you ask. Sci-fi, fantasy, dystopian, magic realism, and so on. I love the fantastical world Cogman has created with the Librarian’s and library being a portal to other worlds to collect rare books to keep the worlds “in balance”. The dragons and fae are intriguing and mysterious. This title was slower, more conversation between Irene, Kai, and Evariste, another Librarian. A dragon throne comes up empty after a mysterious murder and dragon factions are wanting to fill the coveted position. Irene must keep neutral while searching for a rogue Librarian who may have crossed professional lines. Irene is finding neutrality increasingly hard with her assistant Kai, as he is a dragon himself. Vale, the mysterious human police detective wasn’t really in this title, which was strange, as he has played big roles in the previous other three titles. The romantic tension between Kai and Irene, picked up, especially in Irene’s head. Cogman did a really good job of that tension, although it’s been dragging along in the same fashion and I’m sick of the snide “get you into bed comments” from Kai. Overall, I found this to be an entertaining, fun read. I think there is to be a fifth book in this series and I’m looking forward to seeing how Cogman ties everything up. Are you a speculative fiction reader? I know it might seem odd since I write memoir and poetry mostly here, but in fiction I like strange escapism generally.

Stillmeadow Sampler by Gladys Taber (*****) – This title I’ve been reading for about a year and a half. She split this memoir into four parts following the seasons and I read it slowly, making myself read only in what season I currently was in. So with a few months of setting it aside, it took me awhile. Gladys did not disappoint. I found this last bit of reading through the winter chapters of life on her Stillmeadow farm, housework, neighbors, reflections on nature to be charming, meditative, and just beautiful. Taber is one of my five favorite all time writers. I’m still chuckling to myself, because she is pretty much the POLAR OPPOSITE of the above fiction title I read.

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.

The Long Journey to Jake Palmer by James L. Rubart (***) – I have mixed feelings about this title. Jake Palmer has it all on the surface, until a freak accident, leaves him burned from the waist down. His wife leaves him and he has to face his demons. Through a series of events, he ends up follow a legend about a portal that will heal and give you your wildest dreams. I found this title intriguing, the writing beautiful, and it did make me think. However, there was just something about it that struck me weird or forced. This was written for the Christian market and it made me think sort of a retelling of Jacob wrestling with God mixed with a magic realism approach.

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.

The Holy Bible (*****) – 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and continuing to dip in and out of the Psalms.

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January Reads

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February is here. This is what I finished in January! How about you?

Mother by Kathleen Norris (***) – I read this title for my Back to Classics Challenge in the category of Classic with a Single Word Title.   The sentiment expressed in this book about the importance of mothers in the lives of their children was beautiful.  I thoroughly enjoyed the sweet family life. I value and believe this to be true and am blessed to be able to stay at home with my children. The message even brought tears to my eyes and was inspiring as a mother. I’m pretty old-fashioned and enjoy traditional family values.

With that said and keeping in mind that this was originally published in 1911, I found this book to be too saccharine. It definitely painted a women’s life as being the best ONLY one way and not the other. But of course, I’m not going to get up in arms about modern issues on a vintage book. I hate reviews like that. (Continued here.)

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.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (****) – Guy Montag’s life and world give one so much to think on! The thought of books being illegal and a life totally dictated and controlled by popular culture and the powers-to-be, so to speak. I recently just read a short story called “The Murderer” by Bradbury in his collection, The Golden Apples of the Sun, and it was so fantastic and tied into Fahrenheit a bit. I think I’ve heard SO much about this book from SO many people I was expecting something earth-shattering. For me, it was a subtle, yet powerful read and I really enjoyed it, but wasn’t blown away for some reason. Dandelion Wine was more shocking to me creativity-wise.

A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf (***) –This was my first Woolf. I really enjoyed her stream-of-consciousness type conversational style. She is humorous and interesting. In this collection (or expansion of one?) of essays, she brings up many interesting questions about women and creativity. I didn’t really feel like she came to any conclusions or definite answers to her concerns, but I felt like more like I was listening to a friend, talking over tea, chatting about her concerns and passions. Occasionally, her writing made me feel out of breath and she definitely repeated herself a lot, but I appreciated her general message, her nature descriptions, and her admiration for Jane Austen was evident, which is a plus in my book. Overall, I’m glad I read this. 

My Mother’s Quilts: Devotions of Love, Legacy, Family, and Faith by Ramona Richards (***) – I was given this as a gift by a dear person and found it sweet and heartwarming. The author looks back over her grandmother’s and mother’s lives, walking through many of the beautiful quilts they collected and made. The memories and history were fascinating and the gorgeous color photos added a lot. The only thing I didn’t like was it was a bit redundant, which added unnecessary length.

A Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden (***) – (spoiler alert!) 3.5 stars, this is a sequel to The Bear and the Nightingale which I read at the end of last year. I liked this title much better than the first in some ways, yet I skimmed a lot, especially in the beginning. I found the writing and the atmosphere of this book to be wonderfully beautiful and engaging. I love the natural elements interwoven into the story, talking with horses, water, fire, the trees etc. I loved that there were less characters, so you felt like you got to know them a bit deeper and weren’t jumping around trying to keep people, demons, and gods straight. I loved learning more about Vasilisa’s brother Sasha who is now an older, wiser, if not unconventional (violent? kind of hard to swallow) monk. The creepy monk from the first book is touched on and eww, still as horrifying as before. (Continued here – again spoiler alerts!)

A Poetry Handbook by Mary Oliver (****) – Oliver doesn’t disappoint, her beautiful words inspire. The technical part of this book was a little harder for me to dig through, but if you are patient she has gems waiting for you. The honesty about how much revision goes into good writing was sobering and a relief in some ways. She doesn’t just sit down and write these gorgeous things instantaneously, huh? 😉

Daring to Hope: Finding God’s Goodness in the Broken and the Beautiful by Katie Davis Major (*****) This is the continuing story of Katie Davis, a missionary to Uganda. This focuses on one of her adoptive daughter’s birth mother returning to reclaim her child. What I appreciated about this book was the fact that she doesn’t seem to blame God for all the heartache all around her. I’m not a big fan of the popular thought now that everything is always God’s will, including all the horrific evil in this world.  I believe that this terrible world, demonic forces, and evil choices of humans have way more to do with suffering. Katie really comes to the conclusion that no matter how her circumstances look, God is WITH her and is suffering alongside her, loving her and those all around her.

The Holy Bible (*****) – John, Acts, Romans, and dipping in and out of Psalms

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The Dean’s Watch by Elizabeth Goudge, Pied Piper by Nevil Shute, and More Favorites from my 2017 Reading Year ~

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Reading is a vast ocean of beauty, ugliness, and everything in-between. Ideas swish and swirl, changing the shape of our hearts, giving us compassion and understanding, softening our rocky edges. We are continually filled and emptied as we read. A humility, a refreshment, and a cleansing.

I had a wonderful year of reading, I’m so grateful for the beauty of being at home with my children, all reading together, and the time I’m given to share with many great minds through the pages of books. I tried my best to narrow my list down to those that I really stood out to me and that I’m still thinking about, forgive me for so many. I didn’t include The Holy Bible, books read with my children, Charlotte Mason educational volumes, and so many others, you can look under Year in Books, if you enjoy digging through book lists as much as I do.  I broke it into categories so you can skim to those you might be interested in.

Favorite Book of the Year:

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“Could mere loving be a life’s work?”

I cannot tell you how much I loved this book…how much the “simple” act of loving, of reaching out beyond ourselves has far reaching consequences. A timely and beautiful challenge to me as a wife, mother, and friend. This book moved me to tears and Goudge’s characters mean SO much to me, her sense of place is WONDERFUL…I was transported to this cathedral town. The nature descriptions were vivid and gorgeous. Sigh.

Writing/Author Memoir:

Dreams and Wishes: Essays on Writing for Children by Susan Cooper  – Although the author and I have very different worldviews, I found this book enchanting, inspiring, and laced with a bit of magic. I know, I know…weird description for a book of essays. However, Cooper did a fantastic job just speaking to that elusive “something” in story that catches us deep in our core and takes us on a figurative journey. Continued here.

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, WWI, the delicate and challenging part of being of a wealthy, upper class family, and the privileges yet heavy expectations on her. Continued here.

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, instead of writing, imagine that. Ha. Sad truth. This was just about my favorite. Just so beautifully encouraging and so very inspiring. Bradbury is hard to explain, just sort of explosive, I think is my word for him. I have commonplace quotes to think over, and I’m totally in love with his love of words. Long live logophiles.

Memoir:

Landmarks by Robert MacFarlane – This is such a hard book to describe. I loved it! About sense of place, about people who’ve connected with their immediate surroundings and specific far-off places, and the history of place words. Continued here. 

Rising Ground: Search for the Spirit of Place by Philip Marsden – I felt like the author and I were on a hike through all of Cornwall and south western part of Great Britain, chatting about the importance of home, of the religious significance of man-made rock formations, and the land, all connecting with the people who lived and died here. Continued here.

A Gathering of Larks: Letters to Saint Francis from a Modern-Day Pilgrim by Abigail Carroll (poetry-memoir mix) – I found this delightful poet in an anthology, and I’m so glad I did. I’ve been searching out her works and this is a lovely juxtaposition of the life of Saint Francis with Carroll’s modern life. I love the introduction she gives us to St. Francis and I love her jarring, beautiful, simple poetry. Visit her here.

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The Exact Same Moon: Fifty Acres and a Family by Jeanne Marie Laskas – I just loved, loved this! The author’s conversations with herself and stream of consciousness type writing. It was all so real. I could picture myself saying and thinking some of the exact same things. The beginning is a bit slow, but then the beautiful last half as she goes through IVF and adopting from China. Wow. One of my favorite memoirs in a long time. 

O Come Ye Back to Ireland: Our First Year in County Clare by Niall Williams and Christine Breen  – This was a beautiful memoir of two New Yorkers, of Irish descent, deciding to pull up roots and move to Christine’s family cottage in West Ireland. The language and writing of this memoir was so beautiful and of course, the descriptions of Ireland are enough to swoon over. Continued here. 

Education & Parenting:

Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt (YA fiction, but falls under this heading for me as it was about dyslexia) – I absolutely loved this book, I cried at times. This follows the life of Ally, a sixth-grader, who has dyslexia, and doesn’t know it. The author clearly shares some of her own life experiences through the thoughts and feelings of this young girl who believes she is stupid. It shares how one person valuing another as a person can change the course of their whole life.

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Charlotte Mason and The Great Recognition edited by Nicole Handfield – I so enjoyed this collection of essays that further helped illuminate and illustrate Charlotte Mason’s Great Recognition. I especially enjoyed the color prints of the fresco and Ruskin’s thoughts on them in such a nice convenient form.

Home Grown: Adventures in Parenting off the Beaten Path, Unschooling, and Reconnecting with the Natural World by Ben Hewitt – Firstly, Hewitt is a beautiful writer. Secondly, even though I’m not an unschooler, I took away a lot of beauty, inspiration, and new ways to think about learning at home with our children. I really enjoyed this memoir!

Fiction:

Pied Piper by Nevil Shute – This beautiful story follows John Howard, a grieving 70 year old man, who escapes to a fishing vacation in France, after the death of his son in the RAF. It’s summer 1940 and he craves quiet, avoiding all the talk of war and death in England. Little does he know what he is headed for! This was a BEAUTIFUL, heart-wrenching tale that blessed the socks off of me. It was written in a plain, straight-forward style, and yet I was right there with Mr.Howard through every step of this extraordinary journey. The love and grace shown by him and others was an example to me of God’s unconditional love. I loved the children in this book and Mr. Howard’s treating them as people. My second favorite book of the year!

A Far Country  by Nevil Shute – Beautiful!  I really enjoy Mr. Shute!

Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury – his book follows the story of 12 yo Douglas’ summer vacation in a small town during the late 1920’s. This book is so strangely weird and deeply beautifully, bordering on creepy at times. Bradbury does a wonderful job looking at life through the eyes of this extraordinary boy’s imagination and spin on things. The language and turns of phrase are unforgettable. I believe some of this might be inspired by Bradbury’s own childhood. I’m looking forward to reading more from him.

The Major of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy – Wow. Hardy is definitely not cheery reading, but somehow you forgive him because of beauty of his writing. I love the title, it means more than what’s on the surface, of course. Mr. Henchard is a character you find yourself alternating between frustration, dislike and pity. Continued here

Buried Giant by  Kazuo Ishiguro – The beginning was slow, so it took me a bit to get into it. For me this story asked more questions then it answered about memories, age, time, and love. It was a subtle, surprisingly powerful read for me. Continued here.

Emily Climbs by L.M. Montgomery – I adored this title. (It ended up being my favorite of the trilogy.) Even though I’m an avid L.M. Montgomery fan, this is the first time I’m going through this series. Oh my. This is the second in the series and we continue following Emily as she grows into a young woman and beautiful writer. Continued here.

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Gentian Hill by Elizabeth Goudge – English history, legends, sweet romance, mystery, deeply flawed, yet lovely characters, a quiet stone chapel, a lovely working farm, and a gorgeous, idyllic coastal English village make for another charming, beautiful, deeply moving story. Continued here. 

Difficult Books that I’m Glad I Read:

The Gray House by Mariam Petrosyan – Wow! This book was the longest I read this year. It was crazy, upside down, and inside out, but totally tugged at my heart strings. I came to care about many of the characters living in the Gray House even the hard-to-love ones. Continued here.

Silence by Shusaku Endo – I’m STILL thinking about this title.  I don’t think I totally understood it for some reason. 

 

Children’s Classics I Read to Myself:

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. Continued here.

The Midnight Folk by John Masefield – 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. Continued here.

Alright, regrettably, one has to stop SOMEWHERE. Ha. There are many others I read this year that I thoroughly enjoyed, including many rereads of favorites, but I think these are the ones that I keep thinking about.  If you made it this far through my list, bravo! A couple of goals I have for the new year are to read these 12 books on this list, read more modern books, especially memoir, and work on quality choices and finishing things. How ’bout you? What was your favorite read from 2017 and what do you want to read more of next year?

And if this isn’t enough reading goodness for you, here is a lovely bookish place to visit.

Here’s to a new year of great books!

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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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Christmas-y, Winter-y Reading

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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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November Reads

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Hey, fellow Bibliophiles! There went November. What did you finish reading this past month? I’d love to hear!

I’m Half Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley (***) – This is the fourth in the Flavia de Luce series and we find Flavia at Christmas time putting up with a big surprise from her father. They are in financial trouble and he hires out their historic home to a film company. Flavia, of course, always has something up her sleeve, and this time is no different, as she hatches a plan to trap Santa. After a famous actress is found dead, she is on the case. I found this book a bit  predictable with a heavy dose of cheesiness.

Life Creative: Inspiration for Today’s Renaissance Mom by Wendy Speake and Kelli Stuart (*) – This book rubbed me the wrong way. You’ve been warned.  Spoiler alert and long review/rant here if you are interested.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (*****) –  Magic realism fascinates me, but I suspect with this one, I really just love the story of justice for the little boy who’s family is murdered. The quintessential battle between “good” (as good as dead people in a graveyard can be) and “evil”. The creepy, fantastical elements make for just a simply good story to me. I really love the relationship with one of the graveyard characters, Silas and the boy, Nobody Owens. I think there is some metaphor here maybe, deeper things, but I just see it as a good story.

Ourselves by Charlotte M. Mason (*****) – This might actually be my favorite so far (I haven’t finished Formation), of Charlotte Mason’s works. I can’t articulate why yet, still mulling over it, but I absolutely loved it. I especially found Book 2 to be challenging and beautiful!

Two-Part Invention: The Story of a Marriage by Madeleine L’Engle (*****) – I can’t tell you how much I loved this book. Madeleine looks back over life, marriage, parenting, and the creative life while walking through her husband Hugh’s cancer diagnosis. Such a beautiful look at life through the lens of faith. I don’t agree with L’Engle on all elements of faith, but her refreshing outlook on God’s character really blessed me. 

The Lighted Heart by Elizabeth Yates (*****) – Elizabeth Yates is probably best known as the author of Amos Fortune, Free Man, although she has written many other beautiful stories. In this lovely memoir, she walks us through her life with her husband Bill as he is going blind. I just love how she describes this from an outsider, yet close relation to someone struggling and how she tries to understand what he is going through. A beautiful story of how different a life of hardship can be if you choose the path of beauty and don’t shut out others, life, and the world around you. So very challenging and heart-warming.

Take Your Characters to Dinner: Creating the Illusion of Reality in Fiction: A Creative Writing Course by Laurel Yourke (****) – A sweet, online friend mailed this to me as a surprise! I savored it slowly and found this to be a fun way to learn how to write deep fictional characters. This is a book you can go back to over and over and work on small parts of it slowly. Very in-depth, detailed instruction on building believable people in your stories.

Dracula by Bram Stoker (****) – Over Halloween, the Bookstagram community (yes, that’s a thing) on Instagram, were digging into creepy classics, so I decided to try one. This is nothing like what you expect…no teen romances with vampires, or vampires struggling to be good and loving humans. (I haven’t read any modern vampire stories, just FYI) This is deep, creepy tale of good versus evil. Easy to read, engaging setting with gorgeous, haunting descriptions, much of this was written in the form of letters and journal entries between the main characters. I found myself tense and disturbed by the Professor and his friends having to find, track, and “kill” the un-dead, all victims of a centuries old vampire, Count Dracula. They then team up to end his generations of terror. Occasionally, I felt like parts were a bit redundant, like didn’t we just go through this exact situation, but overall, fascinating. Stoker’s use of vampire lore/legends was a bit “cheesy” at times, like garlic being a talisman against vampires etc. (An online friend mentioned that these might have originated WITH Stoker!) Overall, I found this adventurous and interesting.

On Writing: A Memoir of Craft by Stephen King (****) – Other then the excessive swearing and general crassness, I really enjoyed this book and felt like it was inspiring and practical. It wasn’t overly technical, which I appreciate. I’ve never read ANY of Mr. King’s fiction, just doesn’t seem like my cup of tea (he hates clichés, btw. Ha.), but I’m really glad I picked up this title. It makes me feel hopeful, encouraged, and gives me a place to start at with writing.

P.S. I found his attitude towards his wife refreshing and wonderful.

The King’s General by Daphne du Maurier (***) – Beautifully written, informative fictional story based on true people and events during the English Civil War. The immortality and lack of any redemptive characters was disappointing to me. Honor was intriguing, but I could never like her very much. Overall, I felt sad and disappointed at the end. A lot of the situations are probably what it WAS truly like but I was hoping for something a bit more hope-filled in the lives of the characters.

Thoughts Afield: Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter by Harold E. Kohn (****) – This took me a very long time to get through because I wanted to read the sections in the corresponding season. These were beautiful short devotionals/essays touching on humanity, faith, and nature. For the most part, I found these just so gorgeous and lovely with bits of stark beauty jumping out. A few were a bit moralistic, but overall, I loved them. I see that Mr. Kohn has a large back list and I can’t wait to read more of his quiet essays and observations.

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro (*****) – The beginning was slow, so it took me a bit to get into this title. For me, this story asked more questions then it answered about memories, age, time, and love. It was a subtle, surprisingly powerful read for me. I really think I’m probably missing a lot in it’s vague undertones, but I came away with much to think about and ponder. I really appreciated the approachable prose, it’s beautiful, yet simple. Yet the implication of what Ishiguro writes is complex. Can’t wait to read more by this author.

The House on Foster Hill by Jaime Jo Wright (***) – Christian fiction title that I’ve been anticipating. A longer review here if you are interested, a bit of a spoiler alert.

Inkheart by Cornelia Funke (*****) – The middle dragged a bit for me, but the story was wonderful and full of delicious book-lover’s dreams, characters coming alive, real power in reading out loud, writer’s ink bringing life to characters – my oldest and I really enjoyed reading this and talking about it! We are looking forward to the other two in the series.

The Holy Bible (*****) – Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. I just love those names, don’t you? I finished reading through for the year. However, I’ve started the Gospels again and read Matthew in November also.

Here are a few titles I forgot to include in other month recaps!

School Education by Charlotte M. Mason (*****) – I recently finished rereading this as part of my CM Book Study Group and it is so fantastic. Read here for an overview!

The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck by Bethany Turner (**) – Spoiler Alert! Everything happens too fast (boom – a best friend, boom – a Christian, boom – love at first sight, boom – engaged & married. The End.) The story idea was an intriguing one, but just very little character development.

The Esther Paradigm by Sarah Monzon (***) – A modern retelling of the story of Esther. I loved the setting, detailed and richly woven life with a Bedouin clan. I liked that the romance wasn’t just physical-attraction driven, character was important. However, the romance situation was hard to swallow. Overall, this was a light, interesting read.

Mr. Write (Sundaes for Breakfast #1) by Chelsea Hale (**) – The title (not to mention the cover art) should have clued me in, what can I say? This was very predictable, eye-rolling plot, annoying, inspirational romance.

 

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Autumn 2017 – Our Favorite Books for Children & Young Adults

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This may seem like a massive list for just a few months of the year! We do enjoy our books, that’s for sure. However, remember there are eight people (well, my 3 year old didn’t say much) weighing in on their favorites for RIGHT now. They don’t necessarily have anything to do with autumn, just what each person is enjoying personally, some from our learning and others just for extra fun during this season. I tried to take photos of all the suggestions from my family for this list, but that didn’t work out (alas, real life), but I did some. I also added an age range, but honestly, we all love most of these. Hope you enjoy this list!

The Magic Pudding by Norman Lindsay – Hilarious adventures of three friends who have a magical pudding that never runs out! Two nasty puddin’ thieves are after their treat. Wonderful rhymes and songs! (All ages! Australian Classic.)

The Enchanted Wood by Enid Blyton – This is the first in a series and my 5 year old and I are very much enjoying this! Our copy has full page, lovely, colorful illustrations. This is the story of three children that find a magic tree that takes them to faraway, crazy, lands. They meet a host of fun friends, and some creatures they wish they HADN’T met! (10 and under)

 

 

 

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis – a favorite reread here all around. (All ages!)

The Twenty- One Balloons by William Pène du Bois – the incredible story of a retired Professor who decides to take a balloon trip, ending up crashing on an island full of surprises. (All ages!)

American Tall Tales by Adrien Stoutenberg – this is well-loved favorite, especially the part about Paul Bunyan. (10 and younger)

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer – We are really just in the beginning of this book, but my 12 year old and I are really enjoying it. It is sobering, yet heart-warming. We have really interesting discussion after reading. I’m editing just a wee touch as I read this out loud, but over all a engrossing story of a young man growing up in Malawi. (12 and older)

The Black Star of Kingston by S.D. Smith – (*whispering* I find this series little simple and redundant.) My children, however, especially my boys, find the idea of warrior rabbits, fantastic! This is a prequel, I believe, to The Green Ember.  A certain boy is even getting a t-shirt from this series for Christmas. (10 and under)

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Knee-Knock Rise by Natalie Babbitt – My 8 year old and I are reading this together and so far it is a mysterious, interesting story about a boy Egan who travels to visit relatives. Everyone in the village lives in terror a menacing noise up the mountain, is Egan curious and brave enough to find out what’s up there? (10 and under)

Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown by Maud Hart Lovelace – this is the fourth in this series and I’m looking foward to reading this with my 8 year old daughter. We’ve been slowly savoring these. Adventures of two friends and their families in a Midwestern town. She picked this before we’d even read it, because she really loves these! I’m going to hold off on the last four in the series as those are when Betsy and Tacy are older. We’ll pick up on those later. (10 and under)

The Secret River by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings – This was a sad, yet mystical story about a little girl and her parents during the Great Depression. A neighbor shares the story of a secret river full of fish, sending Calpurnia on an adventure to help her family and friends. We have the version with Leonard Weisgard’s illustrations and I think that adds a lot to this. (10 and under)

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The Book of Golden Deeds by Charlotte M. Yonge – A collection of stories of bravery and true courage. You won’t find any sports “heroes” in this book! Highly moving and challenging. My daughter and I have wonderful discussions on this title. Older language, just FYI. (12 and up)

The Story of John J. Audubon by Joan Howard – This is an interesting biography or historical fiction? (I can never tell), about Audubon. My daughter and I are really enjoying talking about it. ( 8 and up)

The Cloudspotter’s Guide: The Science, History, and Culture of Clouds by Gavin Pretor-Pinney – Interesting science behind clouds told in engaging way with folk lore, stories, and myths behind clouds. Good for discussions with older students, some adult- type topics in it, just FYI. (12 and up)

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Half Magic by Edward Eager – Three children find a magic pebble that gives you HALF of what you wish for…so be careful! This leads to hilarious situations! The children love this book. (All ages!)

The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss – This is our summer read aloud that we didn’t finish and we are still very much enjoying it. Fantastic examples of what hard work and ingenuity can do. Great examples of a loving family environment. I think some of the situations in the story are a bit TOO convenient, but I didn’t mention that to the children, and they love the exotic animals, interesting houses, and adventures the Robinson family are having! Older language, just FYI. (All ages!)

Mandy by Julie Andrews Edwards – yes, by THAT Julie Andrews. This started off slow for us, and some children were very frustrated and emotions ran high about certain parts of this book, that they actually wanted to quit! However, I pressed on with this one, because I had peeked ahead, and now they can’t get enough of it. Hopefully, they will enjoy the ending. (All ages!)

Honorable mention, not pictured:

The Dry Divide by Ralph Moody – this is the 7th book in the Ralph Moody Series which my husband has been reading in the evenings to the children. We love this rough and tumble true story of Ralph’s life.

The Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini – my oldest wanted me to include this series. We both enjoy fantasy and she read this series this autumn after it was recommended to her.

We read many picture books and my youngest has favorite board books, but I can’t get my head wrapped around our favorites in those areas right at the moment. I’ll let you know if any jump out at me.

Happy Reading! Please share if you have any favorites from these genres in the past few months!

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October Reads

Lesser Ury (German, 1861-1931), Parisian Interior, 1881 - Copy

Lesser Ury (German, 1861-1931), Parisian Interior, 1881 {Google}

The weather is turning into a perfect blend of cold, misty, grayness. Perfect for reading, that is. Curling up with the hot coffee, quilts, and taking a deep sniff of those old books off of ones shelves is just about perfection here on earth, don’t you agree? I wanted to clear up something that came up on last month’s post. These posts list the books I’ve FINISHED that month. Maybe my title is a bit misleading, but many of these books I may have been reading for months, but I finished them up in the month I list them. I also had a request for listing the children/YA books we read here. I think I will try to do that quarterly. So be looking for an autumn children’s/YA book round up soon. Maybe later today if I can squeeze it in!

Dreams and Wishes: Essays on Writing for Children by Susan Cooper (*****) – Although the author and I have very different worldviews, I found this book enchanting, inspiring, and laced with a bit of magic. I know, I know…weird description for a book of essays. However, Cooper did a fantastic job just speaking to that elusive “something” in story that catches us deep in our core and takes us on a figurative journey. Those fictional journeys often speak into our reality. She is mainly speaking of this in regards to writing, fantasy, imagination, and especially the openness and wonder in children. I loved many of the ideas that I pulled from this reinforce Charlotte Mason’s thoughts on how young children need broad exposure to rich ideas from imaginative worlds, nature, myths, and legends. Although she is talking mainly from her perspective, there is so much in these essays that can span many experiences and situations. I really, really enjoyed this.

The Lifegiving Table: Nurturing  Faith through Feasting, One Meal at a Time by Sally Clarkson (*****) – As always, encouraging, idealistic, and something to aim towards. Clarkson’s books always make me so thankful for my life as a wife and mother. I know that some find Mrs. Clarkson a bit too idealistic, but I read once a quote somewhere on the topic of writing, “Don’t look at a wonderful writer and think that you will never be able to write like them, instead look at them and think I want to write like that.” I’m probably misquoting that and I don’t know who originally said it, but I take it as aim high, live your life to the fullest. Clarkson is that catalyst for me as a mother and friend, especially. I love her thoughts on hospitality and all the recipes in this book look simple, doable comfort food. I love her Scriptures and encouragement for my faith. She calls us high, yet shows us grace for weary times. I love her compassion towards times when things are chaotic and hard. I felt this strongly especially in this title and I loved her thoughts on young adult/adult children as I’m just entering that season. Overall, another favorite from Sally. I can’t wait to try some of the recipes.

Wild Days: Creating Discovery Journals by Karen Skidmore Rackliffe (***) – Basic, yet beautiful ideas about how to use journals as an important part of learning. This book is really nice if you need some fresh inspiration for nature, science, or common place journals.

Home Grown: Adventures in Parenting off the Beaten Path, Unschooling, and Reconnecting with the Natural World by Ben Hewitt (****) – First of all, Hewitt is a beautiful writer. Secondly, even though I’m not an unschooler, I took away a lot of beauty, inspiration, and new ways to think about learning at home with our children. Really enjoyed this!

Anna Akhmatova (Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets) by Anna Akmatova (****) – The notes at the end of this collection saved me a bit as I confess extreme ignorance about Russian history. I loved Akhmatova’s use of words, though. Sigh. Even though I didn’t always completely follow what subject she was touching on, I still loved her raw depth of emotion and the cadence. Some of her originality was probably lost in translation, but overall I just loved these.

The Silver Hand by Stephen R. Lawhead (*****) – This is the second in the Song of Albion series that my oldest and I started last month. Wow. This one was even better than the first. The two time-traveling Oxford post graduate students are now fully apart of the Celtic world of Albion, which is thrown into civil unrest at the murder of their king, Meldryn Mawr. Lewis or Llew, as he is now known by, finds himself in an important position, with insane odds stacked against him, that could affect the future of Albion.  I loved Tegid, the Bard character’s perspective, which this story is told mainly through. This is definitely for older young adults as it is very violent.

Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper (*****) – This was a comforting reread, and I loved it even more than the first time I read it. Three children are visiting their mysterious Uncle Merry Lyon, in a dusty old house on the Cornish coast. After finding an hidden entrance to an attic full of junk, a old map is discovered, and that’s the beginning of a dangerous, creepy, mission to find a missing grail. King Arthur, England, and scary evil henchman. Yes, thank you very much, Susan Cooper. Middle school on up!

Songs from the Slums by Toyohiko Kagawa (***) – Heart-wrenching poems from a Japanese minister who chose to live and work among the extreme poor of Japan’s slums.

Freedom of Simplicity: Finding Harmony in a Complex World by Richard J. Foster (****) – 3.5 I believe the author is from a Quaker background and I found his outlook interesting.  I loved the first 3/4ths of this book, so much to think on and pray about. The emphasis really being getting our eyes off of ourselves and onto the Lord. The last fourth of the book was interesting, a kind of “Christian socialism” promoted. Some of it was good and it had elements of truth, but a bit formulaic and the author seemed a bit more “preachy”. Overall, an interesting read, full of food for thought.

The Holy Bible (*****) – Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, and John (I honestly read John again at the same time I was in Ezekiel, as it is such a heavy book)

Care to share what you read this month?

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September Reads

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The Lady and the Unicorn: À mon seul désir 

How was your reading month in September? I finished a few things and started a few others. With our home learning beginning, I definitely slowed down (for me, anyway) as my brain power lowers a wee bit after spending each day in lovely books with my children. I really have too many books (is there such a thing?) going currently, which sometimes makes me uninspired to pick up anything. I need to cull my stack a bit. Someone asked me recently how I read so much. Well, I rarely watch any t.v. or movies, not that I don’t like them, it’s just I want to read, write, or be on social media instead. I read fast, sometimes too fast. I also read while doing other things, riding in a car with my hubby or I even read while cooking, which I don’t recommend. Ha.

L’Abri by Edith Schaeffer (****) – This followed a portion of theologians Francis and Edith Schaeffer’s lives as they begin their ministry of hospitality and outreach to searching individuals in the Swiss Alps. I found this inspiring and challenging. I especially loved how hospitality, simple, yet delicious meals, and just opening ones door, played a vital role in helping so many people. Food and conversation around a table has so much power.  I found it interesting to get a glimpse of the Schaeffer’s children’s lives and how they prayed in their financial support. I loved the sketched map at the beginning of this book, so charming.  The stories were just a wee bit redundant by the end of the book, but overall my faith was challenged in a timeless way and I know I won’t forget the beauty I pulled away from this title.

“Twelfth Night” by William Shakespeare (***) – This is one that I’ve been reading for awhile as we completed this last year with our Charlotte Mason Community. I didn’t love this one as much as some of the others we have done. The tricks seemed a bit too cruel, for some reason I felt bad for Malvolio especially even though he was such a silly person, and I couldn’t like Olivia very much. Overall, the language was so beautiful and the turns of phrase so interesting. Maybe I was just sick of the “twin” vein since we had completed “A Comedy of Errors right before. My children loved this play very much, so it was just me that thought it was “meh”. One thing I loved from our group was that my friend wore yellow tights with cross-garters for our class! That was such a fun touch.

Twelve Moons by Mary Oliver (****) – A beautiful collection of her poetry. I especially loved the second half of this book.

Maud by Melanie J. Fishbane (****) – 3.5 stars – This was a light, interesting historical fiction based on some true events and people in Maud’s life. A YA look at teenage Montgomery’s angst and loneliness. The grit and determination that drove L.M. Montgomery to pursue her dream of writing. I enjoyed this, although occasionally there did seem to be “fact dumps” in the middle of the narrative.

The Man in the Brown Suit by Agatha Christie (*****) – This is the first Agatha Christie that I have TRULY loved! I think it’s because I don’t really love Hercule Poirot that much (and I’ve only read his titles, if I’m remembering correctly), but I didn’t realize that was the problem till I read this one. This is hilarious in a dry way, I loved the main character Anne, lots of twists and turns, but definitely more tongue and cheek than super creepy. Light romance, history, travel, and suspense. What a fun read!

Refuge on Crescent HillEnchanted Isle, and Shadows of Ladenbrooke Manor  by Melanie Dobson (***) – about 2.5 stars between the first two of them.  I heard about Refuge on Crescent Hill as something that was “good Christian fiction” and the story was mysterious and interesting. I felt like the sense of place and the depth of characters were a TEENY bit flat and I still want to know how to write clean fiction with elements of faith without being preachy. Unfortunately, Enchanted IsleI disliked immensely. I felt like this was very slow, plot-line very unbelievable (an old amusement park in The Lake District?), full of cliches and little bits of British culture dropped in to make it seem authentic. The descriptions of the nature were beautiful. Then, because I’m ever an optimist, I tried a third title from this author. I was pleasantly surprised by Shadows of Ladenbrooke Manor. I’d probably give it a solid 3.5 stars and it reminded me a small way of Kate Morton. Teen pregnancy, a special needs little girl, family secrets, and a cottage and a manor in England. The characters were flawed, yet there was a redemptive vein through it all, the story was interesting, and a lot of surprising twists and turns. The flashbacks and journal entries slowly came together at the end of the story. The slight romance was tasteful. The overall tone was sad, yet hopeful. This was clean in the sense that it wasn’t graphic, but not preachy and included dark, hard choices. The sense of place was well done, not overwhelming, but yet you felt immersed in this world. I enjoyed this.  So surprising and interesting to see three novels from the same author in this way.

A Red Herring Without Mustard by Alan Bradley  (*****)- This is the third in the Flavia de Luce mystery series, surrounding a lonely, slightly disturb, morbid yet genius 11 year old with a knack for solving mysteries and love of chemistry. I loved this! An attack on a Gypsy woman stirs up the town and brings to light a mystery surrounding a missing child, stolen antiques, and Flavia’s concern over her father hiding their money troubles. The depth of the main characters in these books is amazing and fascinating as Flavia’s relationship with her father, dead mother, and sisters unfolds just a little bit more. I love the glint in the police Inspector’s eye also regarding Flavia’s detective abilities. Highly recommend!

Collected Poems by Edward Thomas (***)- An English poet and naturalist, I found these haunting and sad. Some of them were a bit convoluted, but I appreciated them. Thomas seems a bit lost all the time, searching for something. I loved his close attention to the natural world, his love of the English countryside, but I often wanted to reach out and offer him some hope.

Sense & Sensibility by Jane Austen (*****)- This was a reread and I loved it probably more than the first time I read it. I really noticed a difference between Pride & Prejudice, which I’ve also reread this year, and this in the writing style. S&S is much deeper, richer, and meatier, if you will. The tone is a lot more serious and it touches on some tough issues. I found myself really admiring Elinor and Colonel Brandon as characters. Marianne is harder for me to like, although I wonder if I am more like her in the way I’m too quick to show my emotions. Highly recommend.

The Paradise War by Stephen R. Lawhead (****) – This fantasy follows two Oxford graduate students who chase a crazy tabloid story to Scotland. This is a weekend diversion intending on checking the fantastic claims of this paper, seeing if they have any merit. Lewis is a bland, laid back American who is skeptical, yet curious. Simon is a wealthy, English, spoiled kid who thinks it’s great fun to drag his roomie on wild goose chases. Something is suspicious about the whole trip to Lewis and before he knows it, Simon is missing and he is in a web of Celtic history, myths, legend, cairns that open doorways to the past. My oldest, Annie, and I found this first in the series fascinating and really enjoyed it.

Thou Givest, They Gather by Amy Carmichael (*****) – I’ve been reading this devotional on and off for a year or so. This is a collection of unrelated devotional pieces that didn’t make it into Carmichael’s other devotionals. Gathered together these are piercing and soul-searching bits to challenge and encourage deeply. I highly recommend.

The Holy Bible (*****) – Esther, Job, Isaiah, 2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude, Revelation

Happy Reading!

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August Reads

Carl_Larsson_-_Little_Red_Riding_Hood_1881

Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf in the Forest by Carl Larsson – 1881

What is on your reading stack?

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren (*****) –  4.5 stars. I was extremely intrigued by the beautiful, minute, yet deep observations on nature and life. They were subtle, and I almost want to go back through this book and try to jot them all down for rainy day reviewing. The story was one of the exhausting, messy life it really is to make it as a scientist- weird, quirky, and a bit nuts. Besides the excessive use of the “F” word, this crazy, beautifully written memoir, was so interesting and inspiring no matter what line of work you are in. The vague, strange undefined friendship with Bill, her lab partner, was a bit hard to read and maddeningly endearing at the same time. The author ranted a bit too much about how bad she was treated as a woman in a science field, other than those few things, I really enjoyed it and now want to go plant a tree.

Pied Piper by Nevil Shute (*****)-  This beautiful story follows John Howard, a grieving 70 year old man, who escapes to a fishing vacation in France, after the death of his son in the RAF. It’s summer 1940 and he craves quiet, avoiding all the talk of war and death in England. Little does he know what he is headed for! This was a BEAUTIFUL, heart-wrenching tale that blessed the socks off of me. It was written in a plain, straight-forward style, and yet I was right there with Mr.Howard through every step of this extraordinary journey. The love and grace shown by him and others was an example to me of God’s unconditional love. I loved the children in this book and Mr. Howard’s treating them as people. One of my favorite books of the year so far!

News of the World by Paulette Jiles (****) – My sister recommended this to me and it was a sweet, yet sad story of a little girl who was captured by a Kiowa Indian tribe and it now being returned to her relatives many years later. Old Caption Kidd is commissioned with this task, and he funds their long journey by reading the news for .10 cents a person as they slowly trek across frontier Texas. This is a sobering read and brings to light the brutality of our country in those wild west days. Gun battles, primitive living, dangerous elements, and fiery political arguments following them as they fight to stay alive. The care and love that grow between the little girl and Kidd, who she begins to fondly refer to as Opa, is so heartwarming and I found this to be such a rewarding historical fiction, as I believe it’s based on some true facts.

Waking the Gods by Sylvian Neuvel – (***) 3.5 – fun, sci-fi with a creepy side to it. Written in an unique way through interviews, media reports, etc. This is a sequel to Sleeping Giants, which I read at the beginning of this year. If you are into alien invasion stories, these books are for you. I think there might be a third in the series coming as well.

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson – (****) I love the humanity of this book, Robinson’s writing humming with reality and depth of soul, these are real people to me. I found the questions of Reverend John Ames, his doubts, fears, and thoughts to be universal in their simplicity and complexity. I loved how the love for his wife and child were strongly FELT, even as he told. I enjoyed the town of Gilead, it’s smallness, again the feeling that it could have been me living here at that time in history.I enjoyed the generational lines to this book, the looking back and forward, deeply into the lives of these people, particularly the three ministers, grandfather, father, and son. Robinson definitely has strong views of her own, I feel like those come through in her writing, even though she tries to put “always questioning” spin on them. Her writing is just exquisite and the beauty is in it’s plain, straight-forward way of flowing. It took me awhile to read this, I hesitate to say this, since so many love it, and the Pulitzer Prize and all, but occasionally, I felt like it was trying to be beautiful, especially in the beginning, I struggled to fully get into it…, but when I hit 1/2 way, maybe even 3/4 of the way, I really started to appreciate it and see its richness. Lovely and I look forward to reading more of this author.

Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury (*****) –  this book follows the story of 12 yo Douglas’ summer vacation in a small town during the late 1920’s. This book is so strangely weird and deeply beautifully, bordering on creepy at times. Bradbury does a wonderful job looking at life through the eyes of this extraordinary boy’s imagination and spin on things. The language and turns of phrase are unforgettable. I believe some of this might be inspired by Bradbury’s own childhood.

A Gathering of Larks: Letters to Saint Francis from a Modern-Day Pilgrim by Abigail Carroll (*****) – I found this delightful poet in an anthology, and I’m so glad I did. I’ve been searching out her works and this is a lovely juxtaposition of the life of Saint Francis with Carroll’s modern life. I love the introduction she gives us to St. Francis and I love her jarring, beautiful, simple poetry. Go here to read some beautiful poetry.   

The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish (****) – Slight spoiler here, just FYI! This is a beautifully written story, touching a point in history (immigration of Spanish/Portuguese Jews to London due to the Inquisition, following through to the ravages of the plague on London) and historical characters that I knew nothing about. I’m still in awe over Kadish’s writing. Antique documents found in an old house, dusty caches of inked treasures drew me in. I don’t always love stories that jump from the past to the future and back again, but this was done well. So much rich detail, characters, and well-developed sense of place. Ester’s deep internal ramblings, along with Helen’s regret, and Aaron’s search all tie together well, occasionally some of their inner musings got a little muddled, but over all, interwoven so well. This felt slightly dark, chilly, and sad in so many ways, just all these people living in terrible fear, and the horror of persecution for beliefs. Little shafts of light shone through the darkness though and I appreciated those, because otherwise this would have been pretty heavy. The tension over the documents of antiquity found and studied by competing departments of the university was intriguing and kept me on my toes, I actually felt my fist clenching a bit as I read.

The ending was pretty predictable in regards to Helen, Aaron’s was not as clear, and Ester’s was a surprise. I felt saddened by the choices, viewpoints, and conclusions that the author comes to. I disliked the heavy immorality. Overall, this was an deep, fascinating read and one I will be thinking about for awhile.

Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm by Kate Douglas Wiggin  (*****)- I loved this charming story of young Rebecca going to live with two spinster aunts who help her get an education. So sweet and I was enchanted by her and how she blessed the whole town.  I found the end of the potential romantic interest a bit jarring, weird, and unsatisfying for some reason. I saw a lot a reviews online saying that this obviously inspired Anne of Green Gables and I didn’t see that much at all! I was surprised because it seemed even to the point that people where alluding to Montgomery using a little too much inspiration, if you know what I mean. I can see similarities to Wiggin and Montgomery’s writing style and the story line of a young girl wanting to be a writer. Emily of New Moon is more similar in plot, than Anne! Anyway, this was just a pleasure to read.

Poetry of Lucy Maud Montgomery by L.M. Montgomery (***) – This is a small collection of her poetry, she was actually a very prolific poet. By her own admission, she did write poetry for the market, paying the bills, and you can see that in some of these. However, there are quite a few that were so lovely and blessed me so much. I could just breath the very things she was talking of in her poetry, while I was in P.E.I., since many are on nature.

Landmarks by Robert MacFarlane (****) – This is such a hard book to describe in a good way. I loved this book. About sense of place, about people who’ve connected with their immediate surroundings and specific far-off places, and the history of place words. The importance of recognizing and keeping places in nature alive for family, the lore, legends, and special connections the words bring to these intimate geographical parts of our world. I’d say this is part travel log, part reading log, part naturalist memoir, part logophile’s dream. This mainly focuses on England/UK, but it is worth reading no matter where you live. I definitely plan on reading more of this author’s work.

The Alpine Path: The Story of my Career by L.M. Montgomery (****) – this is a short, simple biography touching on the main points of Montgomery’s career. I found this inspiring and lovely for anyone who loves writing and words, or who is just a fan of her beautiful stories.

Jurassic Park and Lost World by Michael Crichton (***) 3.5 – I found these entertaining and just ok for a light read. Definitely violent and a bit creepy. The huge sections on evolution felt clunky and out of place in the high action plot. I felt the first was TOO fast paced, the second was a better balance of action and dialogue.

The Holy Bible (*****) – 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, James, 1 Peter

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