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:

 

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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?

~

 

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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