We rearranged our living room to make space for this rocking recliner, and unintentionally created a reading corner for the family. My heart swells when I see this happening during the day, and it’s occurring more and more as the kiddos realize the cozy factor of a good book and a comfy chair.
Food. World Wars. Ethnic or racial conflicts. Baseball. Literature. A hint of magic realism. Any abstract idea that is made concrete, especially through narrative nonfiction.
Those ingredients make the perfect book for me. Maybe not all of them in the same book, but toss a few between the covers and I’m good to go. If I’m browsing my library’s website or have the rare chance to actually peruse the stacks at a brick-and-mortar bookstore, I’m like a moth to the flame when I see those themes appear on a book jacket or shelf label. It’s usually a home run (back to the baseball references…see what I did there?).
So imagine my excitement when I came across this book:
It hit all the right notes. I was sure it would be a winner.
Then, 106 pages into it, I quit.
I had forgotten one key factor in my reading life – I have a huge trigger for stories about children who are suffering. With three kids of my own, it’s too easy for me to project the situation I’m reading onto the lives of my kids. I start to picture them with the sickness, or them in the prison camps, or them as orphans. The book is no longer about an unknown character. It’s about my own flesh and blood. I walked away from The One in A Million Boy a few months ago for the same reason, even though I had endured a looooong library hold list to finally get it in my hands. The boy in the story became my boy. I couldn’t read past what I was seeing in my mind and decided to send it back to the shelves.
That’s what happened as I turned page after page of Mischling. Affinity Konar is a skilled writer and her tone and prose makes the book almost seem like you’re reading a dream. It’s wistful but tragic. Haunting and hopeful. Yet I found myself flinching as I turned each page, dreading the horrors that I feared were in store for the main characters. It came to the point where I put it down and walked away. Of course I’m still wondering what happens and how the story resolves, but I’ll have to wait for now.
Yes. I quit reading a book I should have loved. However, there were plenty of books I kept reading and enjoyed as the calendar said goodbye to January and welcomed February. Click the cover image to learn more about each book.
Angelina’s Bachelors: A Novel with Food A quick read with lots of recipes, but with some deeper themes of love and loss. I read it in about 24 hours. The perfect palate-cleansing book, in more than one way.
Walking I chose this book as an homage to my grandfather, who passed away at the beginning of 2016. He was so moved by Thoreau’s writings and philosophies during his life that he built a small cabin in his backyard that he he named “Walden.” It was sparsely furnished, tucked away in a swath of ivy and between two large hemlock firs. He would go out there to sit in nature and just be. We would sneak out to the cabin and loved playing in it. While this book didn’t do anything for me, I enjoyed listening to it and reflecting on my grandfather’s life and legacy.
A Fall Of Marigolds This book alternates time periods and narrators each chapter, a feature I have come to really enjoy in novels. I wished there were more chapters dedicated to the present-day side of the story as it seemed a bit weak in tying the entire narrative together, but I still enjoyed the story. Also, the fact that sewing and fabric were a central player in the story made it unique, too. I enjoy sewing and the author’s descriptions of the textures and colors really brought them to life.
A Sound Among the Trees Out of the three Meissner books I’ve read, this one is my second favorite (Secrets of a Charmed Life still holds the number one spot in my mind). While the majority of this book is told through letters, I didn’t mind reading those chapters even though I usually am put off by that style of writing. I like books that are set during the Civil War and this one approached a familiar story from an unsuspecting angle which made it fun to read. Plus, I brought this book on our surprise weekend away which meant I read it pretty much non-stop for two straight days.
I Let You Go I was hesitant to start this book since I knew one of the main plot lines was about the death of a child, and as I said already – that’s a huge trigger for me. Even though that scene happens at the beginning of the book and sets the entire story in motion, Mackintosh doesn’t dwell on the situation as much as uses it as a catalyst to reveal the complexities of the other players in the story. Be forewarned – unreliable narrators come into play here (I found myself flipping back and forth between chapters to try to figure out what was happening) and the ending? Oh, the ending. It’s infuriating and stunning and perfect. Definitely a page turner.
Underground Airlines I have been recommending this book non-stop since I finished it. Wow. Wow. Wow. This is a book were they blurb on the jacket flap actually does make you want to read it, so start there and be ready to be sucked right in.
A Holy Ambition John Piper is one of those authors who writes in a way that is slightly offensive, but then after you’ve pondered what he’s actually saying, you realize that’s he’s most likely right. And then you walk away convicted, challenged, and encouraged. This book is a collection of sermons about missions and “going where we are not.” I picked it up from a box of donated books and read a portion each morning as part of my daily devotions.
The Bookshop Book Now I want to go to all the places, see all the shops, and read all the things. The photo spreads are breathtaking. The descriptions of the bookshops made me want to jump into the text and never leave. If you’re wanting a bookish theme to a trip you’re taking, this book would be a great place to start.
War Brides While this book lands directly in my sweet spot of World War 2 fiction, it left me unsatisfied. Portions of the books seemed to drag, while other jumped over key points in the character’s lives that could have added depth to the plot. The author missed the mark on character development and at times it felt like I was reading a long list of descriptions about each of them, instead of truly entering their motivations, thoughts, or emotions. The ending is highly unbelievable. I finished it but would hesitate to recommend it. There are too many other books in the genre that would get my endorsement before this one.
Coal River I have not read any books about this time period or geographical setting, so I learned quite a lot about the history and tragedy of the coal mining industry in the United State while finishing this book. I must say, I figured out the “twist” pretty early on so when the author had her big reveal at the end of the story, the surprise was lost on me but I still enjoyed reading it.
The Other Wes Moore I picked up this book while we were at my parent’s house and I needed a break from Mischling. The author chose a clever way to tell yet another story of injustice, poverty, and the will to survive. It would definitely be a read-alike for this book.
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This year I’ve taken my reading obsession public and joined Modern Mrs. Darcy’s annual Reading Challenge. And because I’m a crazy-book-obsessed-aholic, of course I decided to do both lists: Reading for Fun and Reading for Growth. It’s the first time I’ve ever systematically thought through what I will read throughout a year. But I have a secret weapon: instead of using the list to determine what books I’ll read, I first went to the books I have on my For Later ‘shelf’ on my library’s website and reverse engineered them to fit all the categories in the Challenge. Sneaky? Perhaps. Gets me through my To-Be-Read list? Absolutely. And that’s what it’s all about, right?
I’ll share more about my complete selections for the Reading Challenge in another post (as well as how I’ve finally taken the Bullet Journal plunge!) but for now, here is what I’ve been reading to kick off 2017.
The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brusker Bradley
I don’t usually read YA novels but I picked up this book without knowing that it fell in that category (it’s one of my favorite generes, after all). Of course, I quickly realized what I was reading thanks to the writing style and the giant Newberry Award medal on the front cover (ha!). The story kept my attention but it had slightly too much implausibility for me to truly give myself over to it. For a young reader wanting to learn about World War 2, this book would be a great place to start.
The Shape of Mercy: A Novel by Susa Meissner
I was first introduced to Meissner’s work through this other book which I really enjoyed, so when I saw the Challenge category of “three books by the same author” I thought she would be a good candidate for that slot. This book won all sorts of awards and it was a quick read with some deeper themes. It did seem, at time, like the author tried a bit too hard to write beyond light fiction and make the book be more meaningful. I did like reading about a time and place in history that I haven’t spent much time exploring.
This month I’m helping lead a fitness challenge for our organization and one of the requirements is to read a book about nutrition, exercise, accountability, or community (four factors that contribute to a healthy lifestyle). I choose QBQ! because I had started reading it last year and didn’t finish and because it’s super short (115 pages!). Don’t be fooled by the brevity of the book – it addresses personal accountability head on and doesn’t leave much room to hide. I love that it presents a simple formula to practice personal accountability through the questions we ask ourselves. Simple, short, but powerful.
The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton
This book is one of Morton’s first works and it shows. The story kept me engaged but seemed to drag on at times. It reminded me of all those nightly news shows that take five minutes’ worth of information and drag it out to fill a 45 minute time slot. I like how each chapter switches points of view and places in history (Beatriz Williams uses the same technique and I’m a big fan of her books) and I figured out the signature “twist” earlier than I have in her other books. At 552 pages it’s a commitment but it reads quickly thanks to a fast-paced story that keeps you wanting more.
Heartbreaking. Triumphant. Tragic. Victorious. All those words and more. I’ve read so many books about World War 2, both fiction and non-fiction, but I never fail to be impacted by reading another person’s account of their struggle to survive (or to save others) during those awful years. Set in Poland during the height of the Nazi Occupation, Mazzeo tells the impossible true story of one woman who helped save over 2,500 children from the Jewish ghetto. Unbelievably believable. Read it.
A Mother’s Reckoning by Sue Kelbold
This book was one of my “bonus picks” from my interview on What Should I Read Next. I finagled as many extra recommendations out of Anne as I could. 🙂 Since one of my “Three Books You Love” was about the Columbine tragedy, it’s no wonder I resonated with this book as soon as she mentioned it on the podcast. I was completely unprepared, however, for what this book really held. Told in first person, this memoir/tell-all//rallying cry can basically be summed up in two questions: “How did this happen?” and “How did I not know this was going to happen?” Klebold lays herself bare as she examines the days leading up to the tragedy, her son’s role in the shooting, his suicide, and the aftermath that haunts her still to this day. She has become an advocate for mental health and writes boldly about the need for education and awareness. Highly, highly recommended.
Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel
Completely outside my reading “box,” this book was pleasantly enjoyable to read. It’s written as a series of interviews, diary entries, and conversations, all centered around the discovery of enormous, metallic, robotic body parts of some sort of being that are hidden all over Earth. I don’t usually like epistolary books but the story was actually enhanced by this writing style as it helped me stay detached as a reader, much like the detachment between the robot and the scientist who were working to discover its purpose. I enjoyed it more than I thought it would, but the last chapter? Grr. I immediately went to Google and searched “What happens in the last chapter of Sleeping Giants?” To say it’s a cliffhanger would be a gross understatement. Good move on the part of the author. Awful news for the reader….but apparently there’s a sequel so all hope is not lost.
Unashamed by Christine Caine
Every once and awhile I’ll give one of these types of books a try – Christian, self-help, spiritual memoir. As with most books that fall in this category, the first third has some great insights, the second third starts waning, and by the final pages I’m just wanting to be done already. I did like some of Caine’s comments about the power of shame and how it is at the root of so much pain and rejection in our lives. More than anything, though, reading this book made me want to revisit Brené Brown’s works and read the works of a true expert on this topic.
How about you? What books have you been reading lately? Do you have any plans for your 2017 reading journey?
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Our first day back at homeschool after the Christmas and New Year’s break. Madison had a cough so she stayed home from preschool (which also started back up today). Leah went to campus with Scott around 8:30 AM so she could attend her toddler’s class. We settled into school about an hour ahead of schedule which meant Hunter did a ton of school work today. It also gave me a glimpse of what homeschooling two kids could be like if we decide to go that route when Madison graduates preschool.
Along with his core curriculum (reading, phonics, math, Bible, history, world studies), Hunter chose to study birds of prey a few weeks ago for his current lapbook. Today’s topic was skeletons. Quite fascinating, if a bit morbid. 🙂 This final picture makes my heart sing…when they like each other, they really like each other.
Boy, do I love Christmas. If my parents did anything right in raising us kids (and they did a lot of things right – they’re amazing!) I’d have to say imparting a love of Christmas would rank right up there at the top. From hunting for the perfect Christmas tree to cookie sheets full of gingerbread and sugar cookie men decorated with all colors of frosting to Christmas music on repeat (often all year long) to the yearly viewing of It’s a Wonderful Life, Christmas was one of the most special times of year when I was a child.
It went beyond the gifts to embrace feelings of warmth, creativity, imagination, and generosity. My mom was known to hunt through summer garage sales for Christmas presents, wrap them in July or August, and have a sizable pile of gifts by early September stashed away in her bedroom. I thought all moms prepared for Christmas like that until a friend came over one day when I was in high school and couldn’t stop commenting on all the Christmas presents. Already wrapped. In summer. It started to dawn on my that maybe my family did Christmas just a little bit different than everyone else. Because my mom shopped so early in the season (technically ‘the season’ hadn’t even started when she shopped!) we often ended up with wall-to-wall presents, three or four deep surrounding the tree on Christmas morning. Growing up in a family of five kids helped – even if we only received a few gifts each it looked like Santa’s entire sleigh had unloaded in our living room.
One of the best ways I know to get myself in the Christmas spirit is to curl up with a book that transports me right into the middle of that most festive time of year. While names like Narnia or Dickens might be a the top of some people’s lists for a holiday read, I recently came across two books that might be lesser known but still left me with a longing for all things calm and bright.
When I first read the title and subtitle of this book, I’m pretty sure I did a double take. Jazz? Santa? Con man? What is this book and why have I not read it before? This true crime narrative takes you on a journey through turn of the century New York and one man’s attempt at playing Santa Claus for an entire city. The author is a distant relative of the main character, a do-gooder turned con-man who stirs up the Christmas spirit through an entire city only to see his empire come crashing down around him. It also traces some of the history of Christmas as we celebrate it today and how this slice of history helped solidify some of our present day traditions.
Recently I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts and heard this book mentioned as they were discussing A Christmas Carol. Arguably one of the best known works of literature about Christmas in history, this book about the book (it’s true – I read books about books…so much so I actually have a list of favorites just in this category alone!) tells the story of how Dickens came to write such a timeless classic. I’m currently about halfway through it and I’ve learned so much about him as an author and this period of history in England. It’s also warming me up to possibly revisit this era of literature. If you listened to my recent interview on WSIRN’s podcast, you know that a bad encounter with Dickens a freshman English class in high school turned me off to all things Victorian when it comes to books, but I think it’s time to give this era another chance. Dickens did, after all, help my favorite holiday be what it is today. Without him, where would I be? Haha! 🙂
What about you? Have you come across any books that put you in the Christmas spirit that other people might not know about?
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Hi, bookish friends! If you’re coming over from Modern Mrs. Darcy’s website and podcast, welcome! If you’re wandering over from somewhere else, it’s great to have you, too. Thanks for stopping by my blog and staying awhile.
I’m Jamie. Here’s my family:
We live in Tijuana, Mexico, and apparently family photos are our jam (ha!). My husband and I met here but are both from the Pacific Northwest (we traded the NW corner of one country for another). Hunter was born in 2010, Madison followed in 2012, and Leah came along in 2014.
Here are some of my favorite posts, but please click around and see what you can find:
Three Books I Love (and then some) WSIRN fans will feel right at home
Kindergarten, here we come! Our first days of homeschooling.
It’s almost summer When I freaked out and thought my kids was learning nothing.
Swing When my heart broke wide open for my little girl.
The Hardest Day of My [Parenting] Life When I came face to face with how much I couldn’t do.
When Being a Bad Mom Makes You a Better Mom When doing those things you think ruin your kids might actually save your sanity.
It takes a year Feeling like “me” again.
Leave a comment and let me know a bit about yourself – where you’re from, what you’re reading, if your team won this weekend (we’re Lions fans. Eek). Thanks again for visiting and I hope you find your way back soon.
We love our library.
We love Christmas.
So when I read this post about using books as a countdown to Christmas, I had an “aha!” moment. Why not combine our two loves and have a Library Christmas Book Advent?
Quick sidenote: I know that the term “advent” is often used a way to look forward to the Christmas festivities. I also know that the original meaning of “advent,” historically, is a deliberate and though-filled practice of preparing hearts and minds for the coming Christchild. In this post, I use “advent” as a way to build excitement for Christmas day, but I also understand the reverence that these weeks leading up to December 25th (and beyond) hold for many Christians. We embrace both – yes, and.
A quick internet search of ‘best children’s Christmas books’ gave me more than enough options (also, this website is a great resource for quality, classic Christmas book and toy ideas) so I hopped over to my library’s website to reserve as many as I could. I tried to choose only books that had no holds on them so they would be ready as soon as possible. Soon there were a handful waiting for us and I was giddy to break out the tape and scissors to wrap them up in the shiny new Christmas paper and stash them under the tree.
Our dining room table turned into a makeshift gift wrapping station as the kids splashed in their nightly shower. I wrapped as fast as I could. Never was I so happy that books have perfectly square corners!
The kids couldn’t believe it when they came downstairs – presents to open before Christmas?!?! It was like Christmas morning…but even better because it was going to happen every night until Christmas (and I loved it because it was free – libraries for the win!). We already have a rotation for who chooses the bedtime story, so it was Hunter’s turn to pick a book. He carefully selected the one he wanted and they raced up to bed to open it. It was I Spy Christmas and the kids loved looking through each page and trying to find all the hidden items. Each night since then (minus two nights when we ran out of books and had to choose from our own Christmas books stash), the kids have loved choosing a ‘present’ and opening it at bedtime. Plusalso, it makes the bedtime routine go by relatively smoothly as they are all looking forwards to what’s underneath that shimmering wrapping paper.
I could see this tradition being one that we revisit each holiday season. Here are some tips that have helped me choose good Christmas books for our advent countdown:
- Choose books with top-notch illustrations. Especially if you’ll be reading at night time, pictures that draw kids in and capture their imaginations are just what you want.
- Choose books that go easy on dialogue or text. Our kids are 6, 4, and 2 years old, and too many words mean too many wiggles, pinches, or elbow-jabs when trying to patiently wait to turn the page (what is it with turning the page? it’s like some crowning achievement that each kid grapples for on a nightly basis, as if it puts them one level above their siblings for a fleeting moment). Some of the best books do have a lot of text, so feel free to abbreviate or summarize.
- Choose books of different sizes. Strictly for aesthetic reasons, a pile of colorfully wrapped gifts under the tree just looks nice when they are all different shapes.
- Choose vintage titles when possible. There’s something about those 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s classics that evoke the perfect feelings of nostalgia. Isn’t that what Christmas time is all about?
- Choose books that tell the real Christmas story. Sure, snowmen and elves and gingerbread houses are great (and we love all those aspects of the holidays!) but these nightly books are a perfect opportunity to reconnect with the One Gift that changed all of humanity and history.
Here are some of the books that we’ve read so far, as well as some that are waiting at the library to be added to our pile:
Honestly, I might love this advent countdown as much as the kids do. Maybe next year I can make a bookish advent for me, too? I could live with pretty presents like these ones leading me night-by-night through the Christmas season. A girl can dream, right?