Read: December 2017

My December reading has included newfound literary Christmas treats, many novellas, and several 2017 buzz-worthy books!

Bonfire

Bonfire by Krysten Ritter

In this fictional debut from actress and knitter (!!!), Ritter’s protagonist Abby is a lawyer who has returned to her rural hometown in Indiana 10 years after graduating high school and escaping to the allure of anonymity in Chicago.

She has no reason to come back and face unanswered questions until Abby’s legal team is sought to investigate claims that a local, do-gooder company is actually responsible for a variety of chronic illnesses and environmental red flags. Abby realizes the task to separate these current incidents from the unexplained behaviors of past acquaintances (many bullied her and were too mean to be called “friends”) is easier said than done.

My thanks to Edelweiss for access to the digital ARC. https://www.edelweiss.plus

TDOAL

The Deal of a Lifetime by Fredrik Backman

Probably best known for A Man Called Ove (which I have yet to read), Swedish author Backman tells a brief yet compelling story in this novella set on Christmas Eve.

Upon its completion I was left thinking about ambition and legacy, and as a Christian, humility and sacrifice.

Book read via: my academic library InterLibrary Loan (ILL)

ChristmasBall

Two Tickets to the Christmas Ball by Donita K. Paul 

I honestly can’t remember where I heard about this book, but it’s been on my Christmas TBR list for several years.

Cora and Simon are two co-workers whose paths have never crossed other than in a business as usual way. But when they both visit the same mysterious bookstore on the same evening and both receive tickets to the wizard’s ball, Divine destiny is giving them a push to take another look at one another.

Filled with a bit of Christmas magic from a Christian’s perspective, this novella was more traditional in its length and made for a sweet, romantic weekend read.

Book read via: my academic library InterLibrary Loan (ILL)

FamilyUnderBridge

The Family Under the Bridge by Natalie Savage Carlson 

This Newbery Honor Book from 1959 casts a heartwarming and dreamy look at a serious topic – homelessness at Christmastime.

When Armand, a beggar on the streets of Paris, encounters a mother and her three children who are now also homeless, he begrudgingly sets in motion an unexpectedly generous approach to helping provide for them in their time of need.

The illustrations by Garth Williams, whom I met as a young girl, are a beautiful accompaniment to this story about kindness and the family you choose.

Book read via: youth collection from my academic library

Chemist

The Chemist by Stephenie Meyer

Recommended by a colleague back in the summer, I began listening to this during my Thanksgiving travels. The narration was well done with easily identifiable character voices. For those familiar with Meyer, the author of Twilight, I promise there are no sparkly vampires in this one!

This spy thriller unfolds well, allowing the reader to get to know The Chemist and how she earned her name from her former job as a mastermind of chemical persuasion for the American government. But questions remain: why is she still on the run, who set her up to interrogate an innocent man and why, and whom can she love and trust moving forward as she seeks answers (and revenge) for those who have wronged her?

Book read via: public library (audio CD)

ExitWest

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

The American Library Association’s Book Club Central, has developed a new(ish) partnership with actress Sarah Jessica Parker as their honorary chair. I just love how she describes herself as an avid reader, “To this day, I would never leave the house without something to read. I’ve been running late for things and run back just to get a book” (from American Libraries magazine). I hear you, SJP, I hear you.

Exit West has been the fall selection, which I added to my public library wish list and when I found it wasn’t checked out a few weeks ago, I brought it home with me.

Also mentioned in the NPR Best Books of 2017 list, this contemporary fiction novel depicts two Middle Eastern young adults, Nadia and Saeed, whose friendship and burgeoning love becomes increasingly difficult as safety within their unspecified city becomes painfully violent with infighting between rebels and the military. But rather than be trapped by their surroundings, portals exist in their city (as do they all around the world) allowing them to pass through a door and leave their home location.

While I would classify this as fiction with magical realism, it is steeped in a reality all too common for many who face being a refugee in various parts of the world. The prose is beautifully written and easy to follow, which makes for a beautiful read from a different cultural perspective.

Book read via: public library

FC-JRRT

Letters from Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien

Reading all of The Lord of the Rings series remains an ongoing goal, but this sweet collection of letters has nothing to do with Middle Earth. They have everything to do with Tolkien and his imaginative love shared with his children over the span of about 20 years as he writes and illustrates letters from the pen of Father Christmas.

This is a perfect Christmas read-aloud for members of the whole family but I would suggest using the print version so as to not miss out on viewing his variations of hand lettering and fonts for the different characters, along with the accompanying colorful illustrations.

Book read via: my academic library InterLibrary Loan (ILL)

TheHangman

The Hangman by Louise Penny

This Chief Inspector Gamache novella was written for the Good Reads incentive program for reluctant readers in Canada, thus making it very approachable with the plot and vocabulary. A handful of Penny’s characters from Three Pines make an appearance and only whets your readerly appetite for more!

Book read via: public library Overdrive

SistersFirst

Sisters First by Jenna Bush Hager and Barbara Pierce Bush

Over the past three decades the Bush family has been synonymous with American politics. Without a political agenda, this co-authored memoir by twins Jenna and Barbara lends a very personal and inviting presence to hear their side of the story.

This memoir is filled with candid stories of their childhood, honest explanations of moments in the spotlight, and, most importantly, a deep and appreciative love for each other and their unique family.

Book read via: public library


Next up on the blog: my knitting recap and goals for 2018!

Advertisements

Read: Top 5 of 2017!

Favorite books read in 2017:

(Links below lead back to blogs where I discuss these books in more detail.)

Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan
This was my FAVORITE book of the year, especially via Audible!

Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
Why did it take me over 3 decades of living on Earth to discover this literary kindred spirit?!

Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist
An ideal read when needing to take a breath at the start of summer.

The Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson
Discovering the term “Southern fiction” makes me very excited to read more in this genre in the coming year.

Still Life by Louise Penny
…Plus the next 5 Chief Inspector Gamache books I’ve also read this year – a newfound favorite mystery series.

Total books read: 74

Home library: 13     Public library: 23     Academic library: 9     InterLibrary Loan: 11     E-books: 13     Audio books: 5

2018 reading goals:

  • Seasonal reading
    Over the past two Christmases, I have really enjoyed reading seasonally, so I hope to do more of that through spring and summer this year (as well as fall and winter).
  • Less screen time
    Since this summer, I’ve been motivated to spend less time on my phone and instead reach for a book and hope to continue this diligent bit of self-control into the new year.
  • Diverse reading
    I live by the philosophy that “the right book finds you at the right time.” In September and beyond I have intentionally been more open to reading books with diverse characters and plots, namely viewpoints from African American authors and stories about immigration, and I desire for this pattern to continue to inform my view of the world.
  • Read more from my home library
    Upon viewing my reading statistics, over the past year I’ve leaned heavily on borrowing library books, for which I (and my bank account) are so thankful, but there remain many, many books I need to read on the shelves of my home library.
  • An active TBR list
    Like a lot of people the winter blues can really zap me in January, so having a list of books ready to read and/or request from the library really gets me excited!
    On my short list are:
    • Lean In by Cheryl Sandberg
    • Dear Fahrenheit 451 by Annie Spence
    • Courage is Contagious by Nicholas Haramis
    • Endurance by Scott Kelly

What have been your favorite books of 2017? Are there specific books you are excited about reading in 2018?

4 Quick Christmas Reads

With Christmas less than two weeks away, if you need a short but memorable way of getting into the Christmas spirit, I might I suggest these four titles?

TDOAL

The Deal of a Lifetime by Fredrik Backman

While this is classified as a novella, I found it to be more of a short story that takes place on Christmas Eve as a man of importance examines his actions and behaviors in a selfless way.

ChristmasBall

Two Tickets to the Christmas Ball by Donita K. Paul 

More of a traditional novella, this story takes a cute perspective of Christmas magic combined with Christian principles and God’s love. Themes include looking beyond the surface of those you think you know, kindness to others, developing new traditions at Christmastime, and a sweet and chaste romance.

FamilyUnderBridge

The Family Under the Bridge by Natalie Savage Carlson 

This Newbery medal winner from 1959 is one I never before remember reading, but the cover looked very familiar to me. Recently I was intrigued when another book blogger mentioned how this story of a beggar and a family with small children find one another on the streets of Paris at Christmastime. So I pulled it off the shelf from my academic library’s youth collection, found it tinged with sadness at the beginning, happiness at the end, and a wonderful reminder of how often family are the people you choose.

FC-JRRT

Letters from Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien

Of these four, this is the only one I haven’t yet finished reading. Since I still have another week to read it before it’s due and our library closes for the Christmas holiday, The Optometrist and I are enjoying taking our time reading aloud these imaginative letters J.R.R. Tolkien wrote from the pen of Father Christmas to his children, spanning the 1920s, 30s, and 40s. The illustrations drawn by Tolkien aren’t to be missed so if you are on the lookout for this, I highly recommend the print versus the audio!


Do you have any other quick Christmas titles to share? If so, please leave them in the comments below!

5 Favorite Epistolary Novels

As the weekend dawns, let’s take a look at five of my favorite epistolary novels. Happy reading weekend, bookish friends!

dracula_book_cover

Dracula by Bram Stoker

During the last semester of my Masters in Library Science program I was enrolled in a reader’s advisory class in which we read a lot of books in various genres, one of which had to be a horror novel.

More recently I’ve discovered I am a highly sensitive person, thus am hesitant about scary premises, but even in 2010 I opted for a classic approach to this assignment. Upon picking up Dracula, I wasn’t expecting this Gothic classic to be told in a series of letters! It was creepy, mysterious, and compelling, but didn’t give me bad dreams at night!

Published in 1897, this novel is now in the public domain and the above link is a free electronic version via Project Gutenberg. Print copies are still easily available too, if you prefer a more tactile reading experience.

guernsey_bookcover

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows 

While it’s been a number of years since reading this sweet series of correspondence between a woman living in London and a small community on a French island, I think fondly think of the enjoyment I received in reading this story set during World War II.

EMP

Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn

I received this as a gift from The Optometrist for Christmas last year and chose to read it a bit later, in July. Centered around the phrase “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog,” the story grows progressively more interesting as letters of the alphabet are banned from being used in written or verbal speech. Read it and you’ll learn why!

84CharingCrossRd

84, Charing Cross Road  by Helene Hanff

I forget how I heard about this epistolary novel, but it was on my ever-growing “wish list” (I would like to read it without buying it). Having reached a slight lull in my reading decisions, I freely requested it through my academic library’s InterLibrary Loan department.

This slim novella could easily be read in a day, or leisurely over a weekend, and was a lighthearted but heartfelt series of real letters between Helene Hanff and the employees of Marks & Co. booksellers found at 84, Charing Cross Road in London.

This little gem was also the catalyst for this blog post!

DearMrHenshaw

Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary

I remember reading this as a little girl while visiting my grandparents, but retained nothing about the plot 25+ years later. The story centers around Leigh Botts, a little boy who writes many letters to his favorite author, Mr. Henshaw, and thus grows as an author himself. It goes without saying that Beverly Cleary knew a thing or two about this topic, having received countless letters from young readers throughout her lifetime.

Upon re-familiarizing myself with this as a part of my Newbery Reading Project, and an example of an epistolary children’s book, I was reminded how well-written children’s books can endure across generations of readers. Even though children are obviously well acquainted with technology and are now more likely to e-mail an author, the themes of inspiration, imagination, dedication to reading and writing, children whose parents are divorced, a longing for friendship, love, and a desire to be known are all timeless.

A surprise came in remembering Paul O. Zelinsky illustrated this book. I loved the episode of Reading Rainbow when Zelinsky’s Caldecott winning version of Rumpelstiltskin is included! Watch the full Reading Rainbow on YouTube episode here.


Are there other epistolary novels you’ve enjoyed and would recommend? Please feel free to share in the comments below!

Read: October 2017

Jane

Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore

This new release from the author of Graceling was one I had been anticipating for the fall, but it did not live up to the fondness I had in reading her debut novel many years ago.

The basic premise is that Jane, a young woman mourning over the death of her explorer aunt, fulfills a promise made to her aunt and accepts an invitation to a gala at Tu Reviens, a castle on a secluded island owned by a wealthy friend’s family. I enjoyed the first 2/3 of the book as Jane gets to know the other gala guests and residents of the house and begins to suspect things aren’t as they seem.

But then, the plot intentionally starts to shift and Jane is able to choose her own adventure. Once this happens, as a reader, I found it hard to remember details of plot lines, especially before things shift at the start of the next chapter. I would have also liked a bit more connection between these scenarios and an overall sense of closure at the end of the book, which didn’t happen.

My thanks to NetGalley for access to the digital ARC. https://www.netgalley.com/ 

41SRMAXU4qL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_

Artemis by Andy Weir

Andy Weir’s sophomore release with a female lead character (huzzah!), set on the moon, is available November 14. Look for my book review in just a couple of weeks!

My thanks to NetGalley for access to the digital ARC. https://www.netgalley.com/ 

WednesdayWars

The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt

My original inspiration to read this came from Everyday Reading at Janssen’s high recommendation. Then I read about Madeleine’s Newbery project on Top Shelf Text, so I have revisited my goal of diligently reading more Newbery award-winners and am excited about this project!

Set in the late 1960s during the Vietnam War, 7th grader Holling Hoodhood is convinced his teacher hates him. As the school year progresses, he begins to better understand himself, his teacher, his believably quirky family members, the impact of war in his school and community, along with an unexpected appreciation for Shakespeare.

A great, more contemporary partner book would be Summerlost by Ally Condie.

This is a terrific coming-of-age middle grade novel, very deserving of its Newbery honor.

Book read via: public library

graveyardbook.jpg

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Coraline was my first Gaiman book and The Ocean at the End of the Lane was one I thoroughly enjoyed a few years ago. I would also say I’ve read about 30% of American Gods and would still like to finish it, maybe as an audio book.

Knowing Gaiman is a masterfully spooky storyteller, I was a bit hesitant to read this 2009 Newbery-award winner. While there definitely were some moments I felt nervous for how things were going to turn out for protagonist Nobody “Bod” Owens, and while steeped with murder and death, there were many moments filled with gentleness, kindness, and caring.

While reading, I felt like these were a continuation of stories with some chapters containing a mini-adventure as Bod grows and learns about the dead and the living. In the post script, Gaiman shares how portions of the book were pieced together over time (the sensation I experienced), but there is still great continuity in the writing and execution of this middle grade novel, perfect for Halloween.

Book read via: youth collection from my academic library
HateUGive

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

I first heard about this YA debut via the Modern Mrs. Darcy Summer Reading Guide in the Thought-Provoking Stories category. Since then I have heard it mentioned many times as a tour de force centered around the topic of police brutality in an African American community.

In my quest to read more diverse books as of late, this has probably stretched me the most as I’ve begun to better understand the injustices many African Americans face in low-income areas. Although this is a work of fiction, the killing of innocent young people and the cyclical reality of drugs and gangs in so many neighborhoods was brutally honest and eye-opening.

Book read via: public library

Anne

Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery

I have owned a paperback copy of Anne of Green Gables for probably two decades and have meant, year after year, to read this childhood classic. I also have a framed Litograph of the text of Anne in my library office. Yet, when I discovered Rachel McAdams’ narration, I bought the corresponding e-book just to take advantage of the Audible deal. After finishing Echo last month, I was ready to dive into another great audio book and this one did not disappoint!

Now I can say I finally understand the hype for Anne (my husband was astonished I had never read this beloved series, while he was very familiar with the miniseries) and, as Anne would say, I would now consider her a “kindred spirit.” I have absolutely fallen in love with this smart and spunky heroine and her fantastic “scope of imagination.”

Thankfully my public library has other audio books in the Anne series available via Overdrive, so I’m excited I can continue to listen to Anne’s subsequent adventures.

Book read via: Audible

bury-your-dead

Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny

Looking back on previous blog posts, about every couple of months I pick up the next installment of the Chief Inspector Gamache series, with this being the 6th. I love how Penny often sets her stores in real places, with this story centering around the Winter Carnival in Québec City. To help give my imagination a boost, I often performed image searches online to see what locations like the Literary and Historical Society (Lit and His) and the Château Frontenac look like in real life.

I was also able to learn a little Canadian history, particularly about Samuel de Champlain, the founder of Québec City and the historical figure around whom this mystery centers.

When a prominent Champlain scholar is found dead while the Chief Inspector is visiting Québec, grieving the loss of one of his recently deceased agents, he can’t help but get involved to catch the murderer. All the while the Chief Inspector has tasked his 2nd in command, Agent Beauvior, to oversee a secret investigation in Three Pines; re-interviewing and re-examining evidence from the previous book in the series The Brutal Telling.

There were so many intriguing plot lines and cozy settings, I didn’t want to see this one end!

Book read via: public library


Fall is the perfect time for cozy reading, so please share what you’re enjoying or anticipating reading during this season!

Book Review: Church of the Small Things by Melanie Shankle

ChurchSmallThings

Church of the Small Things: The Million Little Pieces That Make Up a Life by Melanie Shankle

Last July I Read The Antelope in the Living Room and so enjoyed Shankle’s style of writing, where you’re able to “hear” her voice as you do via her blog, Big Mama.

The book is comprised of independent vignettes of everyday life and relationships: marriage, motherhood, sisterhood, friendship, and obedience to Christ’s leadership. This theme of living simply and not overlooking the ordinary moments of life is popular right now, but her perspective is a unique and fresh one.

This quick read was filled with approachability, laugh out loud moments, and plenty of truthful opportunities to murmur yes, while highlighting meaningful passages.

My thanks to Edelweiss for access to the digital ARC. http://edelweiss.abovethetreeline.com/

Learn: Summer 2017

Linking up with Emily P. Freeman and others, sharing the silly and sublime of what I’ve learned throughout this summer.

1. Vacations shouldn’t be divided in order to conquer

The Optometrist and I do a great deal of “dividing and conquering” in life: taking turns fixing meals, tackling different parts of the store as we grocery shop, and handling different household responsibilities and chores. But the decision to travel with each other to his optometry conference in St. Louis and my knitting retreat in Nashville did not ever allow us to feel like we truly took a “vacation” together. While this was just the way it worked out this summer, in the future I think we’ll be more diligent about planning a trip where neither of us is required to be somewhere else for hours each day and then trying to fit in time to explore together.

2. Amazon donation program

Recently one of my dear colleagues and friends shared how you can re-use your Amazon boxes, fill them with items you wish to donate, and mail them away for free! We haven’t tried this yet, but have a couple of Amazon boxes (after cleaning out some cat hair) that could definitely be used to benefit a good will effort.

3. James 4:8 in Practice

“Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” (James 4:8a – ESV)

Over the summer I continued with my daily Bible reading (current focus is to finish the Old Testament rather than the whole Bible this year) along with Margaret Feinberg‘s Overcomer Bible study of Philippians. Utilizing the color method, I was able to creatively study and analyze names, verbs, repeated phrases, etc. in Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi, was guided with application principles of what I learned, and also participated in a weekly Facebook Live video series (free and still open to everyone!).

The more I’ve been in scripture, the more grounded and peaceful I’ve been and the more I’ve been aware of my need to check in with God throughout the day. It’s been a very sweet spiritual practice.

4. Put down your phone and read

Sarah Mackenzie of Read Aloud Revival, posted on Instagram several months ago saying, “I’ve been surprised by how much time I’ve had for reading since I’ve committed to picking up a book (rather than my phone) when I have a few minutes throughout the day.”

I’ve taken her advice to heart (not every time, but making a more concerted effort) to said no to the sleek white baby and yes to the old fashioned monograph awaiting my attention.

5. Have a giant stack of books ready to read

With that in mind, in June and July I read several books from the Modern Mrs. Darcy Summer Reading Guide, all of which I requested either from our public library or my academic library’s InterLibrary Loan service.  As always seems to be the case, they all started arriving about the same time, which created piles of books around the house. (a.k.a. the best problem to have)

My trick for not feeling overwhelmed by all the books at my disposal was to write on my calendar the date it was due to give myself a visual cue on how much time was left before it needed to be returned, then alternated the types of stories I read to shift my mental focus – ex. a murder mystery followed by a light-hearted YA novel.

My final selection I chose from the MMD list, The Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson, is one I started today and am loving it already!

6. When needing a reading break, have a solid queue of other media ready

Visual media – I tell you what, The Optometrist buying us a Google Chromecast has changed the way we “watch television” (Internet streaming since we don’t have cable). Our BluRay player had been our portal for streaming YouTube and Netflix, but when it no longer supported YouTube (even when it did work you had to still type out your search, one letter at a time) and was consistently cantankerous in connecting with Netflix, he ordered a Chromecast and voila, we’re now able to use our phones (both his Android and my iPhone) to “talk” to the device, immediately relaying what’s on your phone to the TV.

And our summer streaming pick from Netflix? Broadchurch. 

Audio media – I’ve been a podcast listener for over a decade, but discovering some new ones, or really good episodes of shows I’ve long appreciated, have been great ways to be informed, inspired, or entertained. Using the podcast app on my iPhone I rotate what the I’m listening to (like the order of books I choose to read) and use the “Up Next” feature to create a playlist so after one podcast is through, a different one will immediately follow.

Podcasts saving my life this summer:

Shauna Niequist

Making Oprah

Fresh Air

Up First

And after hearing rave reviews about the Audible version of Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan, I bought it on sale, and am LOVING this middle-grade WWII novel about hope, kindness, and the power of music; all things I love, but in tandem? Perfection.


What things have been saving your life this summer?