Good Morning, February.

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The sun is shining. The fire is hot. The door opens with ease. The blue sky spills down into the dankness. The cellar door clanks back and forth, back and forth, my friend wind waving well wishes.  But it cannot block out the fluffy bits of fullness floating through the firmament. I turned the calendar page. A new month, a brilliant blue moon to love. A clean slate, chalk-dust free, full of promise.  The books are opened, tattered bookmarks and all, candle wicks blackened from light and heat, mugs with rings around them, grounds in the bottom. The ice is still here, the ice is still everywhere, but the sun glints off of it, a jewel shining in my heart. February, welcome.

Meditating on grace and truth:

For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. John 1:17

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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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My soul

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And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord,

 And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.

For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.

For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name.

And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation.

He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.

He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.

He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.

He hath helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy;

As he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever.

Luke 1:46-55 KJV

~

Monday Ponderings {December 4th}

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But there will be no more gloom for her who was in anguish; in earlier times He treated the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali with contempt, but later on He shall make it glorious, by the way of the sea, on the other side of Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles.

The people who walk in darkness
Will see a great light;
Those who live in a dark land,
The light will shine on them.

You shall multiply the nation,
You shall increase their gladness;
They will be glad in Your presence
As with the gladness of harvest,
As men rejoice when they divide the spoil.

For You shall break the yoke of their burden and the staff on their shoulders,
The rod of their oppressor, as at the battle of Midian.

For every boot of the booted warrior in the battle tumult,
And cloak rolled in blood, will be for burning, fuel for the fire.

For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us;
And the government will rest on His shoulders;
And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.

There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace,
On the throne of David and over his kingdom,
To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness
From then on and forevermore.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this.

Isaiah 9: 1-7, NASB

~

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.

 

~

 

 

Gratitude List {One Hundred Bits by Thanksgiving} #6

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{continuing my gratitude list}

51. giving, giving, and giving more…coming to the end of myself, seeing the need of my Savior more than ever to carry me

52. library trips

53. listening to my 8 year old daughter talk, talk, talk

54. fluffy, hot, clean laundry from the dryer

55. poetry

56. Minestrone soup with thick-cut sausage, home made bread slathered with butter

57. early morning light reflecting off glass-glazed ice puddles

58. warm, woolen coats

59. new tights, cardigans, rich colors

60. Amish gentleman rollerblading by with his bow hunting gear slung over his shoulder, welcome to the “deep country”, I’m so thankful I live here

~

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!

~

 

 

 

Monday Ponderings {September 4th}

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2 Kings 2.19-22: Salt in the spring of the waters.

I have noticed that when there is a word about the wonderful love of God, someone is sure to write and say how much that word helped; and this is joy to me. But I have also noticed that often that same one is cast down about the merest trifle, overwhelmed by difficulty, overcome by temptation. This should not be. The love of God is meant to make us valiant. A soldier who is constantly bemoaning difficulties has missed something.

This morning as I read 2 Kings 2, it seemed to me that verse 21 was for such: “And he went forth unto the spring of the waters, and cast the salt in there, and said, Thus saith the Lord, I have healed these waters; there shall not be from thence any more death or barren land.” The salt was cast into the spring of the waters, and then the Lord said, “I have healed these waters.” We must let God deal with the spring of action, the very inmost in us, if we are to be thoroughly right. What is it that makes things go wrong? It is often some inward pride. What is the cause of discontent? It is that love of myself that makes me magnify my own troubles and forget those of others. Self, self, self at the spring of the waters makes those waters utterly useless for the help of others.

Salt smarts when it touches raw flesh. Do not be surprised if the first effect of some sharp word of God applied to your soul is painful. Suddenly to realize that quarrelsomeness has its root in pride; that to take offence simple means that I love myself; that laziness is another kind of self-love – is to be stung, as the raw flesh is stung if salt or anything with cleansing power be applied to it. If we ask our God to cast salt into the spring of our being, we asking Him to deal with us thoroughly, to cleanse us thoroughly.

     That means that next time the temptation comes to pride, selfishness, sloth, we claim the power of the Cleansing, and in the strength of our God refuse to yield to the I.

Amy Carmichael

Thou Givest, They Gather

p. 136

(emphasis mine)

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August Reads

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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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July Reads

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The Yellow Books by Vincent Van Gogh

So, how was your reading month? One of my favorite things about summer is more free time to be between the pages of a good book! Please share a favorite title you’ve read recently in the comments.

Here’s what I read or at least finished this month:

Emily’s Quest by L.M.Montgomery (****) –  the conclusion to this lovely trilogy about Emily Starr, an orphaned girl, now a young woman, pursuing her dream to become a writer. My favorite was definitely the second in the series, and this one felt a little slow and repetitive to me, talking a lot about her current beaus and the ups/downs of friendship, rejections on her writing, and loneliness. Overall, a satisfying ending to Emily’s story and I will definitely be rereading these at some point. They are probably close to some of my favorite Montgomery titles after the Anne Series.  My oldest daughter is now enjoying them.

Images of Rose by Anna Gilbert (***) – 3.5 – I felt a bit like Catherine Norland as I read this and constantly kept thinking of Northanger Abbey. About half way through this title, I realized that it was indeed a gothic romance. I picked this book up at a used book sale because the cover drew my eye. Unfamiliar with the author, I dove in, and wow, Gilbert is a BEAUTIFUL writer. The sense of place (England!), nature, the characters, are just so lovely. The plot was a bit cheesy and far-fetched, however, although, I didn’t catch the biggest clue to the mysterious, psychological things going on till the last part, which also commends the author. Overall, I loved reading this just for the cadence, flow, and loveliness of the writing, but the plot was definitely creepy and hard to swallow. Another plus, the romance was done SO well, something you felt, rather than were told, and the attraction between characters was shown through little things, thoughts, expressions, versus so many modern takes on romance were it is written purely as an uncontrolled physical attraction. I *might* check out another of this author’s titles just to see if there are better plots.

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. I found it fascinating that someone who seemed to have good morals at the core, often went astray by not controlling his explosive emotions and rash, head-long decisions. A sobering lesson. I was surprised by how much I was rooting for Elizabeth-Jane and Mr. Farfrae early on, but as Donald rose in prominence in the town, I began to dislike him for some reason, although he certainly didn’t do anything really to deserve that. Maybe I just felt rather like rooting for the underdog, whoever that may be at the moment. I never could like Lucetta, though, she seemed devious and manipulative to me, right from the get go. Overall, the beauty of the Hardy’s natural descriptions, sense of really being there in, Casterbridge, and how I came to care for the characters made this a wonderful read, one I will be thinking on for awhile. The thoughts of second-chances, forgiveness, and regrets are worth things to meditate upon.

PS – a book nerd note, I found this at a used book sale in a plain, sort of ugly teal-ish colored PB, Rinehart Edition. It had a LOVELY feel to the cover…this is in rough shape, but it was so smooth, pliable, and the pages thick and full of character. It was part of the joy of reading this…I know, I’m weird.

Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie (***) – 3.5 stars because Christie is has a beautiful style as a writer. This Hecule Poirot mystery wasn’t my favorite, seemed a bit predictable. 

Why I Wake Early by Mary Oliver (****) – Beautiful nature poetry done in the stark, jarring, gorgeous way that only Oliver can do.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: His Life by Catherine O. Peare (*****) – A middle-school level biography written in a lovely, engaging style. I will be using some of the stories for my poetry lessons in our Charlotte Mason community. A lovely gal at the Living Education Retreat, that I attended this summer, recommended this. I hope to check out more of Peare’s titles in the future.

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.

The Maytrees by Annie Dillard (***) – This was written BEAUTIFULLY, which I would expect from Dillard. The beginning part about the Maytree’s romance and marriage was lovely, but unfortunately, the jarring twist in the middle left a bad taste in my mouth. The ending was just strange, and I was sorry that such descriptive, honest writing had to be used with a sad, weird story.

Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty (***) –  a middle -grade fantasy. My oldest and I both read this and discussed it. It was very creepy, despite that we liked it, and we’re glad for the redemptive ending. Still shuddering and shivering a bit, though.

The Memoir Project: A Thoroughly Non-Standardized Test for Writing & Life by Marion Roach Smith (*****) – I loved this kind of shocking, and brutally honest look at writing. She really rips to shreds a lot of stereotypical ideas floating around about memoir, specifically.

Pen on Fire: A Busy Woman’s Guide to Igniting the Writer Within by Barbara DeMarco-Barrett (****) – Helpful and informative! I really loved the conversational, relational style of this. I didn’t use any of the exercises, those seem a little contrived to me, but she really was encouraging and this is one I’d like to own.

Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt (*****) – 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.

The Gray House by Mariam Petrosyan (****) – Wow! This book 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. That is the prevailing feeling I have walking away from this book, a deep sense of compassion, and a feeling of seeing myself in many of the feelings, thoughts, and frustrations of these very real feeling people. Without this fabulous book club: Silvia Cachia, I would have been lost much of the time, ha! This book was very challenging for me, I think one of the first of it’s sort for me to read. I’m not even sure what to classify this as? Maybe dystopian magical realism? Is that even a thing? I just made that up. This was a BEAUTIFUL translation, flowed so well, and the depth of each person you got to know was wonderful. Overall, I’m glad I read this, I probably will never understand all that I just read, but I was fascinated by this world and these people Petrosyan shared with us.

You are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit by James K.A. Smith (**) – review here.

The Holy Bible (*****) – I Chronicles, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Philippians, Colossians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, and Hebrews

 

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Metaphoric Mountains, The Maytrees by Annie Dillard, and “The Magic of Ordinary Days”

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From somewhere, somehow, comes the idea that things that are hard are wrong. Or that rough days are temporary and not “real” life. The crunch under my dirty tennis shoes, one more mile, that late night conversation with family, exhausted, and one more dish, one more mess, spilled milk, rivulets swirling with dust from unwashed floor. Ignorance is bliss, they say, and I gaze at beautiful Instagram photos from mountain tops. The breath-snatching, far-reaching beauty in every direction, I am choosing to forget what it took to get there.  The climb, the stumbling, the sharpness, the gasping for air, these things are real life. I’m in denial, I’m doubting, I’m missing out on the beauties of this life, when I focus on the perceived unfairness, the lie of the serene life I’m must be missing just beyond my grasp.  Amy Carmichael, a beloved writer, put it this way, speaking on a verse from Ecclesiastes 8:8, The Holy Bible,

“No day, no hour, no minute when we can count on being out of the reach of the fiery darts.  Greek fire, as the Crusaders called it, used to terrify them because it burned on the water. There was no escape from it. There is no escape for us from the Greek fire of the enemy of souls. We have never been promised such escape. ‘There is no furlough in war’. ‘If ye trust not surely ye cannot be trusted!’ If we let our hearts ask for what is not promised – furlough from war –; if we let ourselves wish for it; if the inmost thought in us longs for respite from the conditions of war, or wonders why they are what they are, or why they are so prolonged; then we are not trusting, and we cannot be trusted with the spoils of the battle – treasures for others.” * (emphasis mine)

Lou Bigelow and Toby Maytree find each other and marry, Annie Dillard’s prose bringing their love to life in a Massachusetts town. Weary, sun-scorched, wandering, I chose The Maytrees off my small library shelf, because I have appreciated Dillard’s nonfiction.  Half way through, my delight is drowning.  Maytree is moving to Maine, with another local gal, Deary. No explanation, really. Just all of a sudden. This jarring twist to the narrative was clever, I suppose. But as I search for a foot hold, reaching one bloodied hand towards the next bit of rock to climb in my own marriage, my own pile of relationships, I wonder at those that quit. We exalt those that leave. We exalt those that change. What of those who keep at the same for their entire lives? What of those who “make mere loving their life’s work”*? Those mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters who grapple with the mountain side so they can share the vista at the top.

I don’t have to fight this climb. I focus and bask in today’s work upward. I choose to be glad in the forward motion, be it icy rain on my face, warm sunshine flickering overhead, the cutting ropes around my waist, the pack pressed sweaty to my back.  I’ve been given the gift of life. It’s not easy, acts of faith, this deep trust.  Things worth fighting for are never easy, that breathtaking view that C.S. Lewis said was “higher up and further in”*.  In contrast to the Maytrees, Olivia Dunn, in the movie, “The Magic of Ordinary Days”*, is dumbfounded at the love that Ray Singleton, his family, and neighbors, shower on her, a stranger, and her unplanned baby. The beauty of this story is that these people make a choice to love. They don’t reject, give up, or complain under the unfairness, inconvenience, or shame of taking on this steep, unfamiliar mountain. They keep climbing. Ray keeps reaching forward, quietly, faithfully loving, even when many would have long ago quit, left, or just needed “a change.”  Isn’t that a picture of Jesus Christ? It wasn’t easy to die in relative obscurity. His life was full of hardship and hate. He didn’t sit around pinning and waiting for things to get easier.  He went about His Father’s business, Love spilling from every bloody step He took.  Hard isn’t wrong, it’s real. Hard is brave, trusting, and true. Hard brings us to those glorious mountain tops.

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Thou Givest, They Gather, by Amy Carmichael, p.116-117

The Dean’s Watch by Elizabeth Goudge, p.122

The Maytrees by Annie Dillard

The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis, p. 202

“The Magic of Ordinary Days” Hallmark Hall of Fame, 2005

 

May Reads

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I can’t believe May is spent. Time for a favorite chat of mine. BOOKS! So, what have you been reading? I’ve been faithfully listening to my favorite podcast “What Should I Read Next?” and actually picked up some modern titles from her recommendations. I don’t usually read a lot of modern stuff, frankly, because I love older books so much, dislike dark, modern topics, and really there is only so much time in the day. I tend to want happier fiction and a lot fiction written today seems depressing.  A lot of my fiction reading is for inspiration and a rest for my brain, so I don’t read too many heavy topics unless I want to challenge myself. I guess I’m that way with memoir, really all non-fiction too, although I’m more able to read a darker story if it’s true. How about you? Do you like light fiction? Or do you prefer heavier topics? What are your favorite genres?

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The Lost Book of the Grail by Charlie Lovett (****) – I really enjoyed this. England, King Arthur and the Holy Grail legend, cathedrals and all the beauty that comes along with them, loads of book talk, relics, dusty libraries with ancient manuscripts, an older, bookish professor, a well-read, spunky American, questions about faith, delicious food, cottages, fantastic, mysterious secrets, history, light, sweet romance, digging through ancient ruins, secret codes, and most of all, did I mention England? Enough geeky stuff to be interesting, but not too much to become boring. This would be a great summer vacation title.

I also read Lovett’s First Impressions: A Novel of Old Books, Unexpected Books, and Jane Austen (**) – I was so disappointed after the Grail title. I did not like the main character, Sophie, at all. She’s a liar, thief, and horrible judge of character. She uses people for her own purposes. I really loved the story in time with Austen and Rev. Mansfield, but the modern flash forward story I disliked so much. Adult content in this title.

The Madwoman Upstairs by Catherine Lowell (***) – I enjoyed the plot of this book very much. Samantha Whipple is a distant descendant of the Brontë family and is rumored to have inherited important artifacts that literary historians would love to get their hands on, not to mention that people are speculating about the value of such objects. She is a student at Oxford and I enjoyed Samantha’s weird bookish, anti-social character very much (not all homeschoolers are weird, in fact I find them fascinating, so that was a bit stereotypical). I was glad to see inside her brain, although at times she was a little irritating. I loved all the geeky book info and the deep delving into Brontë history and lore. I like the dark, mysterious feel to all of it, although at times I didn’t feel that I had ENOUGH description or sense of place, if that makes sense. I thought the romance was a bit cliché and cheesy, professor and student, but perhaps Lowell was trying for some Brontë symbolism. Mr. Rochester and Jane? I was very pleased that the romance was more about how they got along, yes, there was tension, but it was more their common interests that drew them together. I liked the mystery surrounding the professor and his father! The mysterious clues regarding her inheritance left by Samantha’s late father were a bit confusing and could have been clearer, more jarring and exciting. They were a bit of a let down. Overall, this was entertaining, bookish, fan fiction-ish read and I liked it.

By Heart: A Mother’s Story of Children and Learning at Home by Kathleen Melin (***) –  I loved this memoir for many reasons, number one being the author’s gorgeous writing style. This is most definitely dated, home schooling was a newer, braver option for educating one’s children, but I found her feelings and questions to be still relevant today. The second reason I enjoyed this book was a completely different perspective for me. She is politically and religiously the opposite in many ways than myself, yet I appreciated her thoughts and challenges as she pulled her children out of public school and started home educating them. I loved her insider look at religious home educators and it was challenging to me as I thought of how I may be true to my faith, yet not in a harsh, unloving way. The beginning of the book felt a little more preachy and slow than the end. The last chapters were gorgeous as she shared her feelings, the struggles between her and her husband choosing this lifestyle, her challenges and thoughts on women in the home, career goals, etc. I enjoyed her insights into each of her children and how nature touched her in a profound way. It always is interesting to me how one can just be so moved by creation, yet not acknowledge a Creator. And although, I didn’t always agree with some of her conclusions to problems that they faced, I loved hearing her thoughts and musings. This was a simple book, but just a lovely encouragement on home educating and looking at your children and husband as individual people.

Garden’s of Awe and Folly: A Traveler’s Journal on the Meaning of Life and Gardening by Vivian Swift (****) – Swift’s gorgeous watercolors make this book a delight. She travels to nine various lesser known gardens around the world, commenting on them, sharing their history, and ruminating on life as she spends time in each garden.

Pocketful of Pinecones: Nature Study With the Gentle Art of Learning: A Story for Mother Culture by Karen Andreola (*****) – this was a reread and I love it’s simplicity, peacefulness, and idealism. I love the challenge it presents to aim high in our relationships and life. This is a fictional story set in the 1930’s about a family applying the Charlotte Mason educational philosophy to their lives.  My favorite thing about this sweet title is that life and learning are authentic. They learn and live in an intricate weaving and life is not divided into perfect compartments which rings true to me. Our home educating life is very like that, it has an ebb and flow, and so I appreciate this story because of that aspect.

The Moon Stands Still by Sibella Giorello (***) – fun, light detective mystery. Giorello is a good writer, here is a longer review if you are interested.

The Pelican Bride by Beth White (**) – review here.

With No Reservations by Laurie Tomlinson (***) – entertaining, modern plot, I liked hearing the struggles with PTSD and alcoholism in the main characters, but the romance was a bit hard to swallow.

Ruth, 1 & 2 Samuel, finished Psalms, Romans, 1 Corinthians: The Holy Bible (*****)

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