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?

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Book Review: Solo by Kwame Alexander

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Solo by Kwame Alexander

What Kwame Alexander did for basketball in The Crossover (read in April), he has now done for music in Solo. And as in The Crossover, he subtly layers the title with various meanings and applications.

Blade Morrison is a guitarist and songwriter, whose father is a famous rock ‘n roll guitarist and musician. Having grown up amid opulence juxtaposed with perceived neglect, Blade is on the cusp of adulthood and anxious to strike out on his own; away from the limelight of his father’s career and drama of his substance abuse. If only the parents of his girlfriend wouldn’t be so determined to keep them apart, he could confidently move forward into the future, fueled by young love.

In the mean time a heated argument with Blade’s sister and father reveal unknown family secrets, which cause a shift in Blade’s priorities and motivations. These changes result in him taking a broadening journey, allowing him to realize neither his music nor his existence are solo endeavors.

This book trailer features a brief interview with Kwame Alexander about his personal interests and inspirations in writing Solo.

Alexander is the 2015 Newbery Medal and 2015 Coretta Scott King Honor Award recipient, but to learn more, please visit his website kwamealexander.com

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

Read: July 2017

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At Home in the World by Tsh Oxenreider

This was the perfect book to read at the beginning of the month since The Optometrist and I did quite a bit of traveling throughout July. Granted, it wasn’t across continents with backpacks and children, rather, across state lines in our own vehicles with suitcases and no other dependents. Yet the perspective of an introvert with wanderlust (like me) finding beauty, rest, and a deeper sense of home among the ordinary and extraordinary during her family’s year-long journey around the world was a comforting read. The writing was beautiful, inviting, and focused on the ways she and her family interacted with places they visited and the ways they lived life as a family in huge cities and tiny villages. So rather than serving as a do-this, go-here, make-sure-you-don’t-miss “travel guide,” it was still enticingly descriptive of landmarks and locations around the world.

Wanderlust and my longing for home are birthed from the same place:  a desire to find the ultimate spot this side of heaven. (p. 246)

This was highly recommended by two sources I’ve returned to time and time again this summer: the Modern Mrs. Darcy Summer Reading Guide in the Thought-Provoking Stories category and the Shauna Niequist Podcast, where Tsh was her inaugural guest in Episode 1.

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

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Summerlost by Ally Condie

You might know Ally Condie from her YA novels, including the Matched trilogy (of which I still need to read the second and third installments…), but this is her newest offering, a middle-grade stand-alone story.

Cedar Lee and her family have a new summer routine after tragedy has struck and as Cedar processes this loss and her grief, her new neighbor Leo invites her to take part in the town’s annual summer Shakespeare festival, Summerlost. I immediately developed a strong sense of place as I began reading this book, which is very important for me to connect with the story, characters, and setting. This sweet tale of healing, friendship, and remembering loved ones could be easily read over the span of a day or so, especially during summer vacation.

Book read via: youth collection from my academic library

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World of Trouble by Ben H. Winters

World of Trouble is the final installment of the Last Policeman trilogy, of which I read book 1 in April and book 2 in June, thus I wanted to finish book 3 before I forgot many of the details and connections among the three.

Now just days away from an apocalyptic asteroid making impact with Earth, Henry Palace is on a journey from Massachusetts to Ohio to find his rogue sister Nico and investigate her belief that there really might be a way for the asteroid to be re-routed in the sky before it makes impact. Final mysteries are solved and the series comes to a likely, if not somewhat depressing, conclusion.

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

EMP

Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn 

Given to me by The Optometrist for Christmas, I felt it was finally time to read this smart, epistolary homage to the alphabet, the famous pangram (use of all 26 letters in the alphabet) phrase the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog, a struggling Utopian community, and what happens when the literal letter of the law overrides common sense.

There were hints of Fahrenheit 451, which I love, and of course, Ella Minnow Pea is also known as the series of letters LMNOP. Overall a very cleverly written and thought-provoking novel!

Book read via: home library


As July gives way to August, this signifies to me the end of summer and the beginning of fall since school resumes late-month. Therefore, I’m excited to read and report on some upcoming fall books to which I’ve been given access via free, digital ARCs. Look for blog reviews over some of these titles in the months ahead!

Solo by Kwame Alexander (August 1)

Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore (September 19)

To Be Where You Are by Jan Karon (September 19)

Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu (September 19)

Uncommon Type: Some Stories by Tom Hanks (October 17)

 

Book Review: Love Story by Karen Kingsbury

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Love Story by Karen Kingsbury

For fans of the Baxter family, their story continues! The past 24 books in this broad series have focused on the Baxter children, their families, and friends over the years. But in Love Story, the patriarch of the family, Dr. John Baxter, is prompted by his grandson Cole to talk about his early years of meeting and falling in love his (first) wife Elizabeth for Cole’s school project about family history.

In addition to the Baxters, we are reacquainted with friends of the family featured in other books – namely Andi Ellison and Cody Coleman.

Revelations are shared that open lines of communication and offer hope of redemption given by Jesus. Themes include seeking God’s will, forgiveness, recounting struggles and losses from the past, but rejoicing in God’s gift of the present with optimism.

To learn more about Karen Kingsbury’s books, visit her website  http://www.karenkingsbury.com/

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

 

 

Read: May 2017

All of my April reading projections were upended with access to new books in May: two memoirs, a sci-fi sequel, and a YA mystery!

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Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? And Other Questions You Should Have Answers to When You Work in the White House by Alyssa Mastromonaco with Lauren Oyler

After hearing Alyssa Mastromonaco’s interview on a recent episode of Fresh Air, I was curious to pick up her autobiography.  Filled with wit, candor, and gumption, she recounts honest, some humorous, and many less-than-glamorous stories about the hard work it took to coordinate, plan, and serve as President Obama’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations (among many political jobs and positions held for a variety of politicians).

She significantly downplays her own abilities, but it’s evident that she just didn’t “arrive” or “happen onto” a position working alongside the leader of the free world. So if you’re remotely interested in political autobiographies, this is a refreshing and inspiring read.

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

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Waking Gods by Sylvain Neuvel

As soon as The Optometrist and I finished reading book 1 of the Themis Files, Sleeping Giants, in April, we quickly segued into reading aloud book two together, Waking Gods.

The cast of characters from Sleeping Giants returns, allowing the reader to gain more backstory and details of these individuals’ lives. We also learn more about the history of Themis, the other alien robots, and their descendants populating much of the Earth, while the Earth Defense Corps (EDC) tries to stay one step ahead of the robots to preserve as much of humanity as is possible. The story ends with a very obvious cliff-hanger, so The Optometrist and I are anxious to continue the series as soon as the third book is published (TBD)!

My thanks to Edelweiss for this digital ARC!

SCC_book

Between Heaven and the Real World by Steven Curtis Chapman with Ken Abraham

My adolescent, teenage, and college years were punctuated with a soundtrack revolving heavily around Steven Curtis Chapman’s music (some of which was on cassette tape, ahem). Thus, when I heard about the release date for his long-awaited memoir, I immediately added it to my InterLibrary Loan requests.

This autobiography is filled with stories and personal photos of early influences growing up in a musical family, his initial launch into Contemporary Christian music as a songwriter, how he met and fell in love with his wife Mary Beth, his numerous successes and awards in the music industry, the birth of their three children, the adoption of their three daughters from China, the grief and heartache of the death of one of their daughters, and the faithfulness of God carrying him through each “great adventure” he and his family have encountered personally and professionally.

Themes of God’s love and the hope we have in Him alone make this a must-read for any fan of Steven Curtis Chapman!

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

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Zero Day by Jan Gangsei

Addie, a politician’s daughter, was kidnapped from the governor’s mansion as an 8 year old girl and has suddenly reappeared at the age of 16 with her father now elected as President of the United States. Simultaneously, a series of public events in Washington, D.C., some political and some not, have been hacked or hijacked by a group calling themselves Cerberus, striking fear into innocent people. Always a brilliant computer whiz, the question remains, is Addie’s reappearance tied to these acts of political anarchy?

This was a great YA page turning mystery, perfect since May is National Mystery Month!

Book read via: home library (bought from our Scholastic book fair fundraiser)

 

Currently reading/soon to be finished in June: Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist, The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien, and Countdown City by Ben H. Winters.

Read: February 2017

My reading journey for most of the month of February can be summed up as “gloom, despair, and agony on me.” Maybe because I was trying to read most of these at the same time or maybe because the first couple contained heavier & darker subject matter, which didn’t help my mindset. Yet, as the month has ended, an inspiring pair of memoirs helped perk up my reading mood!

It’s also been neat to read in a variety of formats this month: non-fiction audio (British), fiction e-book (British), and two print non-fiction books (American).

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H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald

This is my second book finished via Audible (first one here) and the narration by the author added to the beauty. I felt this book had two main themes: 1.) The reader joins Macdonald as she recounts the sudden death of her father and the subsequent grieving process, which coincides in training her new goshawk Mabel. 2.) Macdonald shares her childhood/lifelong fascination with training birds of prey and repeatedly references T.H. White’s The Goshawk (1951), comparing and contrasting her personal experiences with his.

I’d heard such good things about this book and agree that the writing is notably smart and vulnerable. I wasn’t surprised that I learned more than I ever thought I would about raising hawks, but wasn’t expecting to empathize with her grief as strongly as I did.

Book read via: Audible

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Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave

When I read Cleave’s Little Bee in 2010, I fell in love with his style of writing, and have such fond memories of reading both it and then Gold in 2012. I kept hearing rave reviews from book bloggers and even had access to this via a digital ARC since December 2015 but finally dove in January.

Although I loved Cleave’s turns of phrases throughout the entire book, I honestly had to slog through the first bit before I really cared about the plot and characters about halfway through.

Set in England in WWII we meet characters from a variety of social backgrounds: privilege, middle class, those esteemed, and those marginalized. As always seems to be the case, the war brings out a sense of national pride in these individuals as they forego what has been normal and step into positions of public service with inevitable loss, but with love and personal honor discovered along the way.

My thanks to NetGalley for this digital ARC!

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Self Talk, Soul Talk: What to Say When you You Talk to Yourself by Jennifer Rothschild

I already wrote a lengthy post about this book last month, so check out that thorough blog post to read more!

Book read via: home library

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The Magnolia Story by Chip and Joanna Gaines

Since we don’t have cable, I was excited to see how Netflix carried select episodes of Fixer Upper for a short time (boo! for it being removed). While I didn’t watch as many as I would have liked, I immediately came to love Chip and Joanna Gaines, their design aesthetic, and the kindness they show to each other (vs. other mean-spirited reality TV shows).

Their memoir contains both of their voices (differing font, which makes it easy to “hear” which one is talking) and provides insight into the hard work it has taken for them to reach their current level of success. My take-away from the book was Joanna’s decision to thrive in the midst of change and upheaval rather than just survive.

Book read via: public library

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What an encouraging way to wrap up the month! And with March comes spring break and a road trip, so, extra time for reading (and knitting, too)!

Read: January 2017

A new year, new month, new books read! Here’s my January recap.

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Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance

I kept reading reviews from bookish bloggers who read this near the end of 2016 and it piqued my curiosity. My formative years and my current geographic location were/are entrenched in living in a small town surrounded by very rural areas. But my impression of “hillbillies” received such a startling wakeup call through the eyes of Vance, who grew up in the rural Rust Belt of Ohio. His memoir shines a very personal light onto the everyday lives of those living in poverty, violence, and without a lot of hope. This cycle continues today in all parts of our country, evidenced by certain educational and political statistics, but Vance is a living testament to the fact that change and a bright future is possible.

This recent article/interview from The Guardian has more details about this best seller.

Book read via: public library Overdrive


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Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling, illustrated by Jim Kay

The Optometrist surprised me at Christmas by giving me the boxed set of the Harry Potter movies on Blu Ray! We’ve since worked our way through all eight, which was a lot of fun to see the actors age (with improved acting skills) quickly, one movie at a time. This spurred us to begin re-reading the series aloud to each other, this time from the beautifully illustrated edition by Jim Kay. If, for some reason, you still haven’t journeyed into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter (either through the books or movies), what are you waiting for?!

This video provides a glimpse into Kay’s home art studio and some of his artistic inspirations.

Book read via: home library

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March. Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, & Nate Powell

This YA graphic novel autobiographically recounts Representative John Lewis’ (D-GA) youth growing up in rural, segregated Alabama, and the eventual and pivotal role he played promoting the social gospel and Civil Rights movement. It’s the first of three graphic novels in this series and would be a terrific inclusion for any discussion about Civil Rights, Martin Luther King, Jr., or Black History Month in February. And March: Book Three won the Printz award last week, so I am especially excited to read installments two and three!

Related: This video clip showing Lewis, Aydin, and Powell accepting the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature for March. Book One will bring a tear to your eye.

Book read via: youth collection from my academic library

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Stranded by Dani Pettrey

Third in the Alaskan Courage series (previously read books 1 and 2 in December), Pettrey plots another inspirational mystery, this time on a cruise ship headed from Alaska to Russia with an unaccounted for disappearance at the heart of the story. The McKenna siblings, along with other recurring characters from the first two books, are featured once more as they open their hearts to God’s leading, find love, and rely on one another to bring about justice to those who have been victims of evil.

Book read via: public library

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Take the Key and Lock Her Up by Ally Carter

YA author (from Oklahoma!) Ally Carter resumes her Embassy Row series with this third installment, which continues with Grace needing to be on the run to preserve her safety, finding out who her true allies are, and discovering the answers to long-held secrets. Grace possesses a lot of youthful angst, but the plot and mysteries are compelling, inviting the reader to journey with her and find out what she learns, especially in light of the historical pressures her character faces.

Read more: my review of book 1, All Fall Down, and thoughts about book 2, See How They Run.

Book read via: public library

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A sneak peak into my February reads…H is For Hawk by Helen Macdonald (Audible streaming), Self Talk, Soul Talk by Jennifer Rothschild,  Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling, and more!