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July 2017 Reads (finally!)

I read a lot in July. My oldest was detasseling so I was going to bed at 8 PM and getting up at 4 AM which meant lots of early morning reading. July is also our quietest month for activities, in contrast to August, September and October which are by far the busiest.

I’m going to start with the light reads and progressively work toward the more scholarly stuff.

Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver sounded like a great summer read. The Poisonwood Bible is one of my all-time favorites. In contrast, I so wanted to love Animal, Vegetable, Miracle but ended up quitting it after about 20% – I loved the memoir part but detested the condescending preaching. Since this book was written earlier, I was hoping it would be more like the former and less like the latter. It was in the middle. There were fabulous scenes from the Appalachians which I loved, but the plot line was composed of three different environmentalists and their difficulties getting others to accept their obtuse beliefs. Two of them were pushing the idea that getting rid of “bad” things – be it wolves or spraying crops for insects and weeds – actually makes them more prolific. If that notion were true, extinction would be a non-issue. The scenery and other aspects of the plot were good enough for me to finish the book, but just barely. 1 star (ouch!)

The Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson was the last of the five Modern Mrs. Darcy book club picks for the summer and featured an author interview at the discussion. If you like lots of plot, this book is for you. I think lots of plot easily goes over the top and this book was not immune to that tendency. There was enough plot fodder in this book for at least six books which means lots of things happened but nothing was really given more than cursory treatment. The author interview was great, though. 3 stars

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles has gotten lots of acclaim and is a previous Modern Mrs. Darcy book club flight pick. I listened to the audio version on Overdrive. It reminded me a lot of Everyone Brave Is Forgiven where you have young adults wandering aimlessly as they to find their place in this world. I think The Great Gatsby or Rebecca do a much better job at this type of story. 3 stars.

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood is a gripping story about a neglected child who finally receives attention to some of her basic needs (think groceries, someone paying attention to how she is doing in school) from one of her father’s employees. Their relationship evolves as she grows up and then tragedy strikes. Very engrossing story that will challenge many notions behind laws purported to protect children. 5 stars

Truth and Beauty by Anne Patchett is the memoir of her friendship with Lucy Grealy whose face was disfigured due to cancer. Anne is sort of the dull steady person in the friendship while Lucy is very colorful. Having been that dull, steady person in friendships myself, I really enjoyed watching how the story unfolded from Anne’s perspective. 5 stars

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty was another fascinating non-fiction read. Caitlin works in a crematorium and gives a behind-the-scenes look and history of the funeral industry and how we deal with human remains in our society. The both is both interesting for its detail as well as its thoughtful reflection on the issues she brings up. 4 stars

Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts by Carol Tavris definitely lives up to its title (which I think rather clever). She starts out with the theory of cognitive dissonance (nothing new there) but takes it and applies it to many settings that make you think twice about the stories people tell – from stories told by therapists and social workers regarding abuse to police officers confidence that they have the right guy, and, of course, politicians. After reading this book, you will never see conflict in the same way again. 5 stars

Moonglow by Michael Chabon was one of three selections for One Book One Lincoln. The other two selections are Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi (which I own but haven’t yet read) and A Gentleman in Moscow (a previous Modern Mrs. Darcy book club selection which I intend to read). I reserved this right after they announced the titles and my turn came up in the library queue rather quickly (I suspect others thought it sounded the least interesting of the three as I did). It ended up being the only one of the three I managed to read, but I enjoyed it immensely. The memoir-style novel tells the story of his grandfather’s life as his grandfather talks in his last days while under the influence of drugs which make him spill details he had never shared. The plot line meanders as it would when the story came out in bits and pieces like that, but it is fascinating just the same. I voted it my favorite of the three – the winner is to be announced Labor Day weekend. 5 stars

The Thornbirds by Colleen McCullough was a selection of one of the book groups I’m a member of on Facebook. I’d heard of it and wanted to read it but just never had. I so loved this book! It is an epic saga of a family in Australia mainly during the first half of the 20th century. If I had to describe my ideal plot line, it would be a book like this where you get to know several characters in a family as events unfold over their lifespan. Heavy on character development but not without a good plot line, I can’t believe I didn’t discover this one earlier. 5 stars

Green Dolphin Street by Elizabeth Goudge is set in colonial Australia and tells the story of an imperfect marriage. William meets Marianne and Marguerite in England during their youth and then leaves to serve in the navy. He ends up in Australia and writes home to ask for the hand of one of the girls. The problem? He names the wrong girl. He marries her and they make the best of it, though she really is a tough woman to love. A very insightful look at the hard parts of marriage. This was a Well Read Mom summer selection. 5 stars

I finished The Two Towers, the second in the Lord of the Rings trilogy by J. R. R. Tolkien and another Well Read Mom selection. This is a re-read for me. I just detest that Gollam creature and his raspy “my precious” so I kind of dragged my feet on this one. I kept bracing myself for that, but there was a lot less of it than I remembered (or, I’m really in for it in the last book of the trilogy). More to come…

I began pre-reading Ambleside Online Year 9 with A History of the American People by Paul Johnson. Granted, I only read the first chapter which applies to the term I’m currently reading. None the less, it was a fascinating read. Between my own schooling and homeschooling my kids, I’ve studied enough American history over the years to notice subtle variations in how events are presented. This version is very readable but definitely made me do a double-take several times. I’m looking forward to reading it over the next several years.

Longitude by David Sobel is a geography selection in year 9 of Ambleside Online. Sailors could use the stars to determine how far north and south they were, but when it came to east and west, they could easily be off by 50 or 60 miles which could mean missing their destination or crashing on a reef. This book tells the story of the various attempts to solve this problem and how they came to be accepted (it wasn’t straightforward as you might think). 5 stars

Are You a Liberal? Conservative? Or Confused? by Richard Maybury is the third book by this author included in the Ambleside Online curriculum. Easy to read and entertaining, it is also very thought provoking regardless of whether you agree with his views. Recommended reading for everyone. 5 stars

Days with Sir Roger de Coverley by Richard Steele was one of several literature selections for the first term of Ambleside Online Year 9 that I read this month. The narrator goes to visit Sir Roger de Coverley and accompanies him for several weeks and then writes about various aspects of his life, giving an intimate glimpse of life during the late 17th and early 18th century in England. Very short at only 27 pages but a treasure. 5 stars

Battle of the Books by Jonathan Swift is one of three books by this author studied during this term. This short piece is a rather comical view of the classics vs more current books. The same could be said today of books written in the last 20 years vs ones that have proven themselves over time. Very entertaining, more so depending on your familiarity with the great classics. 5 stars

While I see the relevance of Tale of a Tub by Jonathan Swift, I did not enjoy reading it. Prior to the invention of the press, only the very best was tediously copied and made into books, but once the press came along, it seemed anything was worth printing, be it good or bad. Swift poked fun at this by writing a book that is basically complete nonsense. Needless to say, I did NOT enjoy reading it. Usually I just do Ambleside Online as written, but I am actually on the fence as to whether to require my children to read this one. I about choked on it myself. 1 star (and yet at the same 5 stars for making a very good point – not a book I will soon forget)

The God Who Is There by Francis Shaeffer is a devotional for year 9 of Ambleside online. This work is a very intellectual take on 20th century thought and how it has affected Christianity and the challenges of evangelism in today’s intellectual climate. Not a light read but very insightful. Lots of fodder for thought. 5 stars

This weekend I participated in the #24in48 Readathon. Basically, it’s a challenge to read for 24 hours over 2 days (48 hours). There were even prizes. In fact, I won a doorprize during hour 27. When I told Steve about my plans at supper Friday evening, he told me I totally made it up just so I could have a quiet weekend. Then Joey and Caroline said they wanted to do it too, which made the weekend that much quieter.

People often wonder how bookworms find so much time to read. 24in48 was quite a challenge so I tracked not only how much I read but how I did it.


Ben is detaselling this month, and I have been the one to get up and drive him to the bus every morning. So my reading began around 4 a.m. Saturday with an audiobook. Steve was also leaving early to inspect fields, and he cooks breakfast before he leaves, which takes a bit longer. Thus my first reading chunk was the last 45 minutes of the audiobook Moonglow by Michael Chabon (finished it) and the beginning of The Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson. I listened to both via Overdrive which divides the book into files so you only know how much time you have left in the current file vs the entire book as with Audible. So I listened to the last file of Moonglow and the first file of The Almost Sisters for a total of 1:15.

At that point, I had a quiet house all to myself so I switched gears to deep reading per my usual morning routine. I’m currently working on Ambleside Online Year 9 (my oldest is in year 8 so I’m reading ahead). The Charlotte Mason approach to education emphasizes reading in small chunks and going through books slowly in order to digest them properly (vs inhaling them as can be done with lighter works). I read a chapter in The God Who Is There by Francis Shaeffer, a couple chapters in Are You a Liberal? Conservative? or Confused? by Richard Mayberry, and then a bit of Battle of the Books by Jonathan Swift. That took about 45 minutes.

I decided I was hungry and ready to make breakfast so I moved on to Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh, which I listened to on the Audible app on my iPhone with my bluetooth earbuds. I’m reading this along with the Close Reads podcast. I read the next chapter so I was ready to listen to the next podcast. But alas! the podcast had to wait until the #24in48 challenge was over. Another 45 minutes tallied.

After that it was time for a shower. I listened to Smoke Gets in Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty on the Audible app with the little speaker Steve brought home from one of his work conferences (the best gift ever!) while I dressed and made the bed.  That chapter took about 25 minutes, after which I stopped reading to blow dry my hair.

At this point, Joey and Caroline were up and eating breakfast so I returned to The Almost Sisters with my earbuds while they made pancakes. I had flute choir rehearsal at 9 a.m. Joey and Caroline (ages 10 and 7) had to go along, and since they were doing the challenge with me, we all listened to audiobooks in the car with headphones. It made for a very quiet ride. On the way to rehearsal, I finished one file of The Almost Sisters – another 60 minutes tallied – and switched back to Smoke Gets in Your Eyes. I popped my earbuds out right as I walked into the rehearsal room, and then I finished that chapter on the way home for another 30 minutes logged.

Now the only thing that might be worse than getting up at 4 a.m. to get your kid off for detasseling is having to keep checking Facebook to see when they are returning. Each field is different, so they come back at a different time every day, usually somewhere between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. I ate lunch and did some knitting and spinning while listening to three files from The Almost Sisters. Once the return time was posted, I removed my earbuds and read Green Dolphin Street by Elizabeth Goudge for 20 minutes, bringing up my total so far to 7 hours 35 minutes.

When I left to get Ben, I started another chapter in Smoke Gets in Your Eyes. One 25 minute chapter was perfect for driving to get him, waiting for him (return time is always approximate) and then driving back home. After that, I took advantage of a very quiet house to read Green Dolphin Street for an hour and twenty minutes.

At this point, I was starting to tire so I changed to something much lighter – Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts by Carol Tavris. Each chapter covers one type of error but has many examples, some of them quite humorous. The principles aren’t anything new – like cognitive dissonance – but thinking of them in light of current events makes for good reading. It would soon be time to start supper but it was still quiet so I squeezed in a short chapter from Minds More Awake by Anne White (definitely more serious) to add 15 more minutes to my tally before heading to the kitchen.

I popped my earbuds back in and made supper while listening to Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, listening to a second chapter from the same while the kids cleaned the kitchen. That brought my total to 11 hours shortly before 7 p.m. I got ready for bed and read for an hour before turning out the light at 8 p.m. (a necessary hour when rising so early). Since it was quiet, I returned to heavier reading with a couple selections from Ambleside Online Year 9 – a couple chapters from History of English Literature by H. E. Marshall on my Kindle for a half hour followed by listening to a half hour chapter from How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler via Audible.

Stats for the first day: 12 hours with 12 books, of which 8 hours were logged listening to audiobooks. Top three books: The Almost Sisters (about 4 hours) followed by Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and Green Dolphin Street (about 2 hours each).


Once again I arose around 4 a.m. and started with an audiobook. I listened to half of a file from The Almost Sisters (30 min) but decided the reading was too light for that hour so switched Ambleside Online readings, beginning with How to Read a Book for about 15 minutes. Then I got really serious and listened to the headache-enducing Tale of a Tub by Jonathan Swift for 25 minutes. At that point, Ben was gone and Steve wasn’t working so he was still sleeping, meaning I had a quiet house to myself once again. I removed my earbuds and read Battle of the Books for 20 minutes, Minds More Awake for 15 minutes, and made another attempt at Tale of a Tub (this time on my Kindle) for 15 minutes.

I really am not enjoying Tale of a Tub. So I made a dramatic switch and read a 35-minute chapter of the highly entertaining Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me). Just one chapter provided lots of fodder for thought so I stopped and took a shower. I listened to Smoke Gets in Your Eyes while making and eating breakfast then stopped reading to dry my hair. After that, it was listening to The Almost Sisters during the chaos of everyone else eating breakfast and getting ready for church.

Once we returned home, I listened to Smoke Gets in Your Eyes while making and eating lunch. Then I listened to The Almost Sisters on my little speaker next to my spinning wheel while waiting for Ben. I picked Ben up, switched from spinning to plying then back to spinning. I made supper. I stopped listening during supper, at which point I knew I could take a 20 minute break and finish my 24 hours of reading by 8 p.m. while simultaneously finishing The Almost Sisters, which is exactly what I did.

Stats for the second day: 12 hours with 8 books, of which over 10 hours were logged listening to audiobooks. Top book was The Almost Sisters (almost 9 hours) with Smoke Gets in Your Eyes trailing far behind with just a little over an hour.

So how do I find time to read so many books every month? A few key observations.

I tackle the tough books first thing in the morning while I’m at my best (yup, morning person here). As the day progresses and my ability to focus wanes (both to fatigue and the amount of chaos in a home with three kids), I switch to lighter books. Even then, there are times when the house is quiet and I can read slower, deeper books like Green Dolphin Street. There are also times when I’m just tired and need something light and entertaining, such as Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me) [that title makes me laugh every time I see it]. I also read more serious books during the week and lighter books on the weekend just to keep things fresh.

I love reading books on my Kindle. I love that I have all my books at my fingertips which means I don’t have to remember where I left a book, much less get up to retrieve it. I love that I can just close it and it remembers right where I stopped (which can lead to problems when reading hard copies…). I love that I can read in bed without doing acrobatics to hold the book open so I can see it. And I so love that it tells much how much time I have left in a chapter (this really helps me stay focused rather than counting – and recounting – how many more pages are left in the chapter and calculating – and re-calculating – how much more time it should take to finish).

My Kindle also tells me how much time I have left in a book (not just the current chapter) as well as how long the typical reader spends reading a given book. I’ve learned that it takes me about 80% as long as the typical reader to read a book while audiobooks take 2 to 3 times as long to listen to as to read. Therefore I only listen to audiobooks which I think make a book better than it would be if I just read it myself. It goes without saying that I do not bump up the speed on audiobooks just to get through them. It’s about the journey, not the destination. Also, if I really want to pay attention to a book or if it is particularly challenging, the perfect combination is often audiobook with spinning or knitting.

Audiobooks make it possible for me to read when I otherwise couldn’t be reading, thus greatly extending my reading time. Audiobooks (and podcasts) are great during mundane tasks such as cooking, driving, doing things around the house, exercising, and even running errands. For this challenge, had I not had audiobooks, I might have read for 8 hours a day but that would have been about it.

Some books are better read fast, others are better read slow; some books I read over the course of a month, others I’ll read in a couple of days. Sometimes I just get tired of one book and want to read something else. I usually have 4-6 more challenging slow reads that I hit first thing in the morning. Then I have 1 or 2 lighter books/quick reads I can pick up at other times. I have at least two audiobooks going at any time – one more serious and one lighter. I keep a short list of books in each category that I might want to read next, but the decision of what to read next is always made on a whim.

I also set aside regular time for reading. Normally I get up at 5:30 a.m. in order to read for an hour while it is quiet and I am fresh. When I am home in the evening, I usually read for an hour before bed; even if I’m out for the evening, I still read for 10-15 minutes before turning out the light as it helps me wind down. On average, I listen to about 10 hours of audiobooks per week. I often listen to audiobooks while I make supper, and then I read after supper while trying not to hover while the kids clean up the kitchen. I listen to audiobooks while I knit or spin. Sometimes I even listen while running errands (and if the kids are with me, they listen, too). The key is knowing where books fit well into my day and making good use of those times.

What I don’t do? Watch tv. At all. Nothing against it – just not my cuppa. Nor do I read just one book at a time and complain that I’m too tired to read or can’t concentrate (hello! try a different book). When I leave the house, I always have my Kindle with me and my iPhone and my earbuds. I have good sources ideas of what to read next so I rarely come across a book I don’t like or struggle to finish. Though I tend to read more serious books, I read across a wide spectrum of books – everything from classics to history, biography, science, business, and literary fiction (with a few Westerns, mysteries and thrillers thrown in).

Bottom line: There is no single strategy for reading a lot. It’s just a matter of figuring out what works best for you and making a point to do it.

June 2017 Reads

Another whirlwind month of reading.

Modern Mrs. Darcy has two reading challenges going on this year: Reading for Fun and Reading for Growth. Nevermind the specifics of the challenges – those two categories are a great way to represent the type of reading I do.

Let’s begin with reading for fun.

I read five selections from the Modern Mrs. Darcy 2017 Summer Reading Guide in June, four of which are being discussed by her Book Club. The first was The Dry by Jane Harper which I listened to on audio. Set in Australia in a small town in the desert (hence the title), a man kills his family and then himself. Or so it appears. His best friend from childhood comes back for the funeral and gets wrapped up in re-investigating what happened alongside the local sheriff. Small town politics and history that is never forgotten but not really spoken of either shape this story into a fascinating tale. 5 stars

Beartown by Fredrick Backman is a great pairing with Missoula by Jon Krakauer which I read last month. The novel is a bit slow at the beginning as Backman develops the characters but the time is well spent. This particular plot revolves around a hockey team, but you need not be a hockey fan or even a sports fan to understand. Backman’s account really looks at the issue from all sides. Well done. Must-read. The audio version is excellent. 5 stars

Hourglass: Time, Memory, Marriage by Dani Shapiro is rather short but very satisfying. It is a memoir that focuses more on reflection and less on plot. The audio is read by the author. One of those books that you just want to live in if you could. I loved it. 5 stars

Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham is a YA novel about the 1921 riot/massacre in Tulsa, OK with a parallel contemporary storyline. It is very plot-driven and like many YA books, it tries to incorporate all the things. If you want an exciting book that can be read in an afternoon, this may do the trick. I would have preferred more depth and fewer plot lines. 2 stars

Anything Is Possible by Elizabeth Strout has generated lots complaining in the MMD Book Club (they just cannot get into the book…), but I loved it. It is a collection of loosely connected short stories. The vignettes give glimpses into life in the town where Lucy Barton (of My Name Is Lucy Barton by the same author) grew up. “Anything is possible” really sums it up. If you think your neighbors are “colorful,” this book will make them seem perhaps a bit more normal than you may have thought. 4 stars

The Homesman by Glendon Swarthout was selected by the Waverly Community Library as the next book group read so I picked it up thinking I might get to know more people in my small town by joining the local book club. It is a Western and much lighter reading than I normally choose. It is also historical fiction, which isn’t my favorite. I told Steve that you can always tell when you’re reading historical fiction vs books written closer to the time in which they are set – historical fiction always has lots of bathroom talk while books written by people who lived in those times never even acknowledge the existence of an outhouse. But I digress. I hope I enjoy the discussion more than I enjoyed the book. 1 star

Now, the reading for growth side of my reading life.

The New World [Vol. III of History of the English Speaking Peoples] by Winston S. Churchill is the history spine for year 8 of the curriculum we use (Ambleside Online). I listened to the last two-thirds of the book this month. I love Churchill’s description of English history and the audio version on Audible is excellent. British history makes American history three-dimensional. You cannot really understand the New World unless you first get to know the Old. 5 stars

A King Condemned: The Trial and Execution of Charles I by C. V. Wedgewood takes a closer look at the weeks leading up to the execution of Charles I by Oliver Cromwell and company. If you’ve ever been part of an organization where there was a controversial change of leadership with lots of turmoil, this book will resonate. Meticulously researched yet very readable, this is a great leadership book, though you will not find it in the Business section of your local bookstore. This book is one of the history readings for year 8 of Ambleside Online. 5 stars

History of King Charles II of England by Jacob Abbott is a free read for year 8 of Ambleside Online. That means it isn’t assigned but is considered well worth your time. It is more about the personal history of King Charles rather than a history of the England at the time. It talks about where he was and what he did as his father, Charles I, was fighting the civil war in England which led to his execution. Charles II tried to take the throne after his father’s death but failed and continued to live in exile until after Cromwell’s death. Once he became king, we’ll just say he got along with Parliament better than his father and lived a fairly peaceful life. This is more along the lines of what I consider a good weekend read. 5 stars

Till We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis was the Well Read Mom selection last spring that I bailed on. I had started it, then we had company for about a week, and I was unable to get back into it when I picked it back up. So I started it again and listened to one chapter a day during my morning reading time. It is said to be a reworking of the myth of Cupid and Psyche, but it isn’t about the myth directly. The main character is Psyche’s sister who tells about Psyche as she grows up and then disappears, what happens after she is gone, and then how she learns about what really happened to her sister. If you like literature, this one is not to be missed. 5 stars

The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis is another Well Read Mom selection from last spring that I skimmed and wanted to revisit. So I listened to one letter per day during my morning reading time and once again enjoyed it immensely. 5 stars

The Holy War by John Bunyan is a tale about the imaginary city of Mansoul and how the evil Diabolus captures it and then loses it back to Emmanuel. Allegorical in the same way as Pilgrim’s Progress (written by the same author), it is interesting to see how little Christianity and human nature have changed over the centuries. Also, very interesting as a “book flight” selection to The Screwtape Letters. It is one of the literature selections for year 8 of Ambleside Online. 5 stars

Out of the Silent Planet by C. S. Lewis is another free read from year 8 of our curriculum. I’m not a fan of sci-fi. Steve will occasionally watch sci-fi old enough to be in black-and-white on TV, and I will see part of it if I happen to pass through and stop for a minute to chat while it’s on. He often makes fun of it because it is so simple (sci-fi seems to become outdated very quickly). This book definitely fits in that category. Now that I’ve read it for the story, I’d love to go back and re-read it to see more of the symbolism. There are two more books in the series; I may read them first and then go back. For now, 4 stars.

Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck. Oh, how I loved this book! If I were to plan my dream vacation, this would be it. Get in the car, stay off the interstate and get to know the country better. Stop to read the historic markers and eat in local cafes. A couple years ago when the kids and I were in Oklahoma for a family reunion, I took the scenic route back – literally driving all the roads between there and home that had those little dots that Randy McNally uses to indicate “scenic” highways. It was so fun to travel for the pleasure of traveling rather than being trapped in the car just so we could get somewhere. I’d love to do a similar trip through New England or along the Lewis and Clark Trail. 5 stars


May 2017 Reads

This month’s list is so long it’s rather embarrassing. With all the summer reading guides coming out in May, I buckled down and finished several books that had been on my nightstand forever (along with several new finds, of course). Now the discipline is over – let the summer reading party begin!

The first book I finished in May was Strangers in their Own Land by Arlie Russel Hochschild. A Berkley sociology professor travels to Louisiana to try to understand why people would “vote against their own interest.” I grew up with conservatives and am a conservative myself, and quite honestly, I felt like a stranger reading this book. No conservative I know thinks the kind of pollution described by Hochschild is okay. That’s not why conservatives don’t like the EPA. I could go on and on about so many things like that in this book, but I won’t. If you’re a conservative and are interested in a glimpse as to how liberals misunderstand conservatives, this book is for you. If you’re a liberal trying to understand conservatives, look elsewhere.

I listened to the audio version of The Forgetting Time by Sharon Guskin, one of the MMD Book Club selections last summer. It’s the story of a single mother with a boy who poses very mysterious behavior and the doctor who tries to help them. The story intertwines with another family and the unsolved disappearance of their young son. Well written, the twists and turns of the story really pull on your heartstrings.

Jon Krakauer’s Missoula: Rape and Justice in a Small College Town was recommended by Laura Tremain of the Sorta Awesome podcast. This was a heavy book, and my husband had to listen to me talk about it. A lot. I’ve had very unpleasant discussions with people who view this issue differently than I do so I will just say this: I think that just as there is first degree murder (premeditated), second degree murder (intentional but not premeditated) and manslaughter (not intentional but the result of irresponsible actions), there also ought to be different levels of rape as defined by the justice system.

Kon-Tiki by Thor Heyerdahl is one of the books in our curriculum that I pre-read. It’s the story of several guys who build a wooden raft in Peru and sail it to the Pacific islands. The theory is that the people on those islands came there from Peru on similar crafts. The book tells how they learned of the design and built it as well as fascinating accounts of the sea life they observed while at sea. If you like true adventure tales, this is a great read.

Before We Visit the Goddess by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is another MMD Book Club selection from last summer. I’m not good with Indian names so I listened to the audio version which had multiple narrators and was very well done. It is a multi-generational story that includes immigration. It seems like a bunch of disjointed pieces but they all come together splendidly at the end. Highly recommended.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson was the May MMD Book Club flight selection and a Newberry winner I’ve long wanted to read. It is written in verse and the audiobook (which I listened to) is read by the author. The book contains brief vignettes of growing up black in the 1960’s and 1970’s, giving firsthand glimpses of Jim Crow and the Civil Rights movement. Some found it slow and gave up, but I enjoyed it. Short but well done.

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren is a memoir written by a scientist beginning with jobs she worked while she was in school and continuing through her years as a professor. There are some quirky characters in this book. I’ve been exposed to some of this in real life through scientists I know and having worked in the biotech industry. This book makes me smile just thinking about it. I don’t doubt for a minute that the tales she tells are true.

Anything Is Possible by Elizabeth Strout is one of the MMD 2017 Summer Book Club reads. In anticipation of reading it, I snagged a copy of My Name is Lucy Barton as I hear Lucy makes an appearance in Strout’s newest book. This book was written in prose but otherwise very similar to Brown Girl Dreaming in that it gave small glimpses into someone’s life – in this case, the relationship between a mother and daughter. I love books about family relationships so this was a hit for me.

I had to wait several months to read Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance (a la library hold queues). The story of a Yale educated lawyer with deep roots in rural Kentucky, it is popular because people are reading it to try and understand how Trump got elected. I don’t know that it answers many questions in that regard, but it is a great corollary to Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates which I listened to last fall.  If you’re interested in issues of race and experiences of the disadvantaged, I highly recommend reading both.

Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist has been on my nightstand since January. I adored this book. If you’re old enough to understand why people in their 40’s crash their cars for no reason or give up alcohol or faint from lack of sleep and break their cheekbone on their desk and stuff like that (aka they were trying to do too much), this book is the doctor’s prescription. Written from a Christian perspective, it is especially helpful with overcommitments at church and in other areas where you really feel guilty for even thinking of saying no – you’re not just letting down your kids but your faith and everyone else, too.

Napoleon’s Buttons by Penny Le Couteur was another pre-read for school. It looks at discoveries in chemistry from a scientific as well as a historical point of view. You would never think simple molecules could bring about major changes in world history, but they did. Fascinating stuff.

At Home in the World by Tsh Oxenreider tells the tale of their family’s trip around the world one year. They sold their house, put everything in storage, and traveled with three kids through China, Australia, Africa, Europe and more. I’ve traveled some and while I really like sleeping in my own bed, I will admit this did make me want to see a few things. I’ve always wanted to travel Europe more than I had a chance to during the semester I studied abroad. Oxenreider’s descriptions of New Zealand piqued my interest, too.

The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien I had read previously, but Well Read Mom is doing Fellowship of the Ring as their June selection and I wanted to re-read it as a prequel to that. I own the books, but having listened to the audiobooks narrated by Rob Inglis, I just couldn’t get into the pages and had to return to the audio (yes, Inglis makes the books that much better!). I listened to The Fellowship of the Ring over Memorial Day weekend and intend to finish the Lord of the Rings trilogy over the summer.

Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson was the main selection for the MMD Book Club in May. It is the story of a black girl who attends a private school across town on scholarship and gets accepted into a mentoring program. Oh, my! There were so many things that happened to this dear girl that reminded me of my own experiences in high school – not getting selected for trips I really wanted to go on, getting into big trouble for trite things, the challenge of making friends when you attend a big school and don’t know a soul, etc. I’ve also participated in mentoring programs and have seen both the good and bad sides of those ventures. This book stirred up lots of feelings. A great book for understanding not only the black experience but the human experience as well. Strongly recommended.

Galileo’s Daughter by Dava Sobel is yet another pre-read for school. It is a biography of Galileo written largely from the perspective of letters he received from his daughter who was a nun (unfortunately, his letters to her were destroyed after her death). This gives the perspective of seeing him not just as a scientist and public figure but as father and caretaker of his family as well. I cannot fathom thinking through the math he did to figure out the orbits of the planets and such. And the controversy he faced for those ideas – wow! A very personal look at a very great man.

If you’re interested in an entertaining read about how people don’t get enough sleep these days, The Sleep Revolution by Ariana Huffington might interest you. If you actually want to sleep better at night, your time will likely be spent better elsewhere. I did pick up on one helpful reminder: you sleep better if you exercise. I’ve never had more energy when I exercise (which they always preach), but I have started exercising again and have noticed that I do, indeed, sleep better. So time well spent, I guess.

And last but not least, I started At Home in Mitford by Jan Karon a couple years when I checked it out of the library on a whim. I had to return it before I finished it, and then every time I went to the library, all copies were checked out. I finally snagged a used copy but still didn’t get around to finishing it. It’s a good clean read that feels like a Hallmark mini-series. It took me a bit to get to know the characters again, but I finished it (finally). At the right time and the right place, I’ll probably read more in the series. But right now, I have too many other good things in my reading queue.

Coming up in June:

  • The Dry by Jane Harper {MMD summer book club selection}
  • Hourglass: Time, Memory, Marriage by Dani Shapiro {from the MMD Summer Reading Guide}
  • Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham {another MMD summer book club selection}
  • A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (after months on the library waitlist!!)

April 2017 Reads

April was a tough month for reading. We had family in town for about a week, which puts a squeeze on reading time. Then Holy Week with lots of extra musical performances at various services. My reading for school (which I don’t talk about much here since the books are read over months, not days) suffered the most. But the last couple weekends of April were quiet which allowed some catch-up time on lighter reads.

Streets of Laredo by Larry McMurty is the first book I finished. Another epic saga and follow-up to Lonesome Dove (a favorite in January), it was great read for when I had family in town and couldn’t focus on more serious stuff or getting to know new characters in a new book. It wasn’t quite as good as Lonesome Dove, but I still intend to read the last two books in the series at some point.

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Ron Jonson is a relatively short book (especially after Streets of Laredo) about the hazards of the internet and those who have lost their livelihood over seemingly inconsequential statements that went viral. Jonson compared it to the public shaming of the 19th century – public floggings or the wearing of the scarlet letter A. While I’ve had my bad moments in forums where people misinterpreted what I said and attacked me like hornets (I simply left those forums – I don’t need to spend time with people like that), I haven’t done anything on the scale of the instances Jonson recounted. That said, I had only heard of one of the stories he told. This book was definitely interesting – I wished at the end it had been a bit longer.

I read Miss Jane by Brad Watson in one sitting at the public library in Grand Island. The boys had an all day class at the Stuhr Museum so Caroline and I went to the library. It’s a great library, but we cannot check out any books (it is over 90 miles from our home) so what we read must be read there. Our lunch was a little late, but I finished Miss Jane before we left (I feared it might be checked out or disappear while we were at lunch). This book ran along similar veins to A Piece of the World where the main character has a physical deformity before there were means of fixing such things and how they dealt with their malady and the life they were able to lead on account of or in spite of it. A well-written, satisfying read.

The Wife, the Maid and the Mistress by Ariel Lawhon was the main selection for the Modern Mrs. Darcy book club in April. I started it (and loved it!) before company came, then it languished until after Easter. I loved the characters in this book and immensely enjoyed learning about their various situations and relationships to Judge Crater. I am not keen on how the author “solved” the mystery at the end, but that detracted only a little from the book as a whole.

I started reading Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson a couple months ago on my phone as my when-distracted read. Then I saw someone online mention that the audiobook was really good so I checked it out on Overdrive. Let me put it this way – the audio greatly improved on a really good thing. It’s not a heavy read (think: great listen while at the grocery store or driving around town running errands). A couple years ago I read Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir (also by Jenny Lawson) and loved Victor’s reaction to things she’d do or say. This book was more of the same and once again, fun to read.

I found What It Is Like to Go to War by Karl Marlantes on Audible Prime Channels. It wasn’t what I was expecting. Yes, there were stories about what it is like to go to war (Marlantes served in Vietnam). However, the book is a very thoughtful reflection on the ethics of war and how we prepare our young people to serve as well as the challenges they face when they come home and how we can best support them. A great read for anyone who has gone to war or knows someone who has gone to war or has a child who may go to war or whose spouse may go to war. It was also a great way to process many of the things I’ve read in other books like Unbroken (Hillenbrand) or Everyone Brave is Forgiven (Cleave).

Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns was another find on Audible Prime Channels. I’d seen it recommended, and I’d read reviews where some loved it and some hated it. The audiobook was great. Sadly, Audible removed it from their Prime Channels before I had finished it. I had asked previously if that might happen if I had listened to books on their channels and been assured that they would give me the book so I could finish it. So when it disappeared, I contacted customer service. They gave me a $17 credit I could use to buy anything I wanted. Even though I was using a credit, I hated to buy a book I’d mostly listened to so I used the money to buy something else. I had the book on my Kindle so I read a couple chapters there. Let me just say that reading it on my Kindle helped me understand the people who didn’t like it. The charm was lost. I found the audio on Hoopla and finished it there. Great audiobook. Perfect summer read (if you’re looking for those…).

I finally go around to starting one of the Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club flight selections the third weekend of the month – The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton. I had a hard time getting into it. The writing style got under my skin. I felt like I was being told over and over that there was great suspense without actually feeling it through the story. I pressed on, though, because I trusted my source. Once I got about 40% through the book, the writing didn’t bother me anymore and I enjoyed all the different storylines as they intersected. Anne (of Modern Mrs. Darcy) had said that it was a mystery with a very surprising twist at the end. I was pretty sure I had it figured out. Even when there were 20 pages left, I was positive I had it figured out. Then the author really did turn the story completely upside down and all the pieces fit splendidly. Oh, what fun it was rethinking the story and fitting them all together! And talk about a major book hangover! This was a good one!

We actually went to Grand Island for classes at the Stuhr Museum three times during April. The first visit is when I read Miss Jane. When we got back from our late lunch, I perused the fiction section, reading a few pages of books I’d seen but hadn’t read. [Have I mentioned that the collection at the Grand Island Library is phenomenal? They have the really good classics (that Lincoln so often discards) mixed in with really good new stuff. Fabulous library.] One of the books I picked up was A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler. I’ve never read anything by her before but that book cover always catches my eye. I liked what I read so I checked it out electronically when I got home. Oh, it was a glorious read! There is nothing better than a good family drama. I loved how she developed the characters and brought everything together. I loved Commonwealth (Patchett) for similar reasons, but I would say this was much better. I will definitely be reading more Anne Tyler.

I’ve dabbled in Book of the Month selections before. This month I put a library hold on The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel and was patiently waiting for my turn when I saw the book on the shelf with the new reads at the Grand Island Public Library. The class we were there for that day was a short one, but I managed to read half the book before we left. My turn in the library queue came on April 29th so I checked it out immediately and finished it. Being an introvert, I often long to get away and not talk to anyone for a while. This guy did that for 27 years. He lived as a hermit and stole various essentials from cabins and campgrounds in order to survive. The story begins with their capturing him and goes from there as they learn about his life of solitude and how he survived. Quite the tale.

The Art of War by Sun Tzu was mentioned in passing in The Stranger in the Woods (something about where he choose to have his campsite, if I remember correctly). It’s a short book, only 67 minutes of audio on Audible Prime Channels. Reviews talk about how it applies well to working in corporate America, but I read it mostly in terms of survival after reading The Stranger in the Woods. We study quite a bit of history in school – it also stimulated connections along those lines. Interesting little book. One I’m sure can be read again and again.

On the last day of the month, I finally got to the other book flight selection for the Modern Mrs. Darcy book club – The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey. I’d read it previously but over the course of twelve weeks (as scheduled in year 7 of Ambleside Online, the curriculum we use for school). It was fun to revisit it in a single sitting and compare what I thought about it with each approach.

I also finished Everything That Rises Must Converge by Flannery O’Connor which I read along with the Close Reads Podcast from Circe Institute. I wasn’t freaked out by O’Connor as some people were in the Facebook discussion group. I found her commentary pointing out the absurd on racism and religion in the South during the first half of the 20th century quite fascinating. Where it resounded with me the most, however, was in terms of how people treat each other today when discussing politics. You have people with holier-than-thou attitudes telling others how it should be and what is good for them. I’d love to see someone write some O’Connor-esque stories about that!

What I failed to read this month was Till We All Have Faces by C. S. Lewis. I mention it only because it was the Well Read Mom selection for April. I started out the month listening to a chapter a day and was bopping right along just fine until company came and all the things that go along with Easter. I tried listening to a couple chapters after Easter, but I just could not wrap my mind back around it. I’ve heard it is quite good. I may revisit it during the Tour de Fleece in July when I’m spending lots of time at the spinning wheel, a venue where I’ve successfully read several tough books I might not have read otherwise. [The Tour de Fleece is a challenge spinners do during the Tour de France – spinning on days the cyclers ride, doing challenges on the challenge days, and resting on days off.]

March 2017 Reads

I kicked off March with the main Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club selection A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline. The book is inspired by Christina’s World, a picture by Andrew Whyeth and attempts to tell what might be the story of the woman in the painting. It was well researched historical fiction, though the conversation between Christina and her school teacher about the poetry of Emily Dickinson was a bit…shall I say, contemporary. I honestly wasn’t sure whether I liked the book or not until I got to the ending which wrapped everything up splendidly so much that I decided I did like it.

The three book flights for the same book club were all good but not exactly compelling.

The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes starts off as a World War II story which I enjoyed. Then it completely changes gears and skips to the current century where there is a fight over a painting that played a pivotal role in the first part of the book. I just couldn’t buy into Liv’s attachment to the painting, much less her attachment to the guy trying to take it from her. And though the ending was a valiant effort, it didn’t redeem it as with A Piece of the World. Oh well.

Steal Like and Artist by Austin Kleon is something I would have devoured when I was in my 20’s but now, not so much. It’s a very short book and very inspirational if living like an artist is your thing.

Finally, The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley is a YA novel about children evacuated from London during World War II. Ada and her brother have a horrid English mother and have to lie in order to be evacuated with everyone else. The woman who becomes their guardian is as changed by them as they are by her. Ada and Christina (of A Piece of the World) both have disabilities but their responses to their lot in life are very different, making these two books play off each other well. Of the three book flight selections, this was my favorite.

Gretchen Rubin selects three books every month in her book club, one of which I read in January and loved. This month, her selection Ten Years in the Tub by Nick Hornby caught my eye. It was a perfect “phone read” – something light and funny that doesn’t require focus and can easily be read on the go. Every month he lists the books he bought and the books he read and then casually chats about his reading life for the month. Even if he was talking about a book I hadn’t heard of or a subject I wasn’t familiar with, the way he talked about things made this read thoroughly pleasurable with many a laugh-out-loud comment.

On whim one weekend, I went and checked out a couple books from the library that Hornby had mentioned. On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan is about the wedding night of a couple in the age where such things were not discussed and the difficulties that ensued. Very literal – very well done. Fun Home: A Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel is a graphic memoir about her relationship with her father, which sounds innocent enough, except that it revolves around her coming out as a lesbian in college and learning in retrospect that her father was a gay pedophile, even though he was married and never “came out” as gay himself. I think I would have enjoyed this more as a traditional memoir – as a graphic novel it was too choppy and concise for my tastes. I read both books in a single afternoon and returned them to the library the next day as they were things I didn’t want lying around the house for my children to stumble upon and peruse.

Along sort of the same lines, All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg was a March Book of the Month selection. It started out interesting as it was about a single woman surrounded by married people, which was the story of my life when I lived in Maryland for four years before moving to Nebraska where I met my husband and lived happily ever after. Other than having too much adult content for my tastes (certainly not the life I lived when I was single), the book was good. It’s an easy read, which I needed at the end of the month as I was trying [unsuccessfully] to adjust to my progressive lenses (my main difficulty with them being reading, sadly).

Back to more serious stuff.

A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy by Sue Klebod is a powerful book written by one of the mother’s of the Columbine killers. Tragedies like that are painful enough without thinking about what the families of the perpetrator’s go through. Sue does an excellent job of telling her story and grappling with what happened. She focuses a lot on the suicide aspect of it (Eric wanted to kill and didn’t mind dying if that’s what it came down to whereas Dylan, Sue’s son, wanted to die and didn’t mind killing if that’s what he had to do in order to die). Columbine by David Cullen (read last month) was good, but if I were to choose one of the two to read, I’d pick this one hands down. All mothers should read this book – Sue lends so much insight into mental health, especially during the teen years. Her tale is gripping and she examines the issues from all sides. Very well done. Don’t shy away from this one.

H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald as an audiobook read by the author is available for free on Audible for those with Amazon Prime. It’s a quiet book, one good for relaxing when things are calm (aka not good for distraction when things are crazy as it tends to meander and you can easily get lost). She talks a lot about training her hawk and T. H. White, author of The Once and Future King and The Goshawk. The latter book was the guide map for MacDonald’s obsession with hawks, which served as her lifeline as she dealt with her father’s death. That said, hawks play a role in The Once and Future King of which I’ve read parts (and did not like) – this book made me more forgiving toward that book and perhaps willing to give it another chance.

I’ve wanted to read Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee ever since I listened to the Close Reads podcast episode where they argued passionately over whether or not Atticus is a racist. This book has been highly controversial, but I loved it. Scout has moved away and comes home to visit where she is essentially an outsider who wants to set everyone straight. The question is, do they need to be set straight? Are they really what she makes them out to be? Serious questions that are very relevant to our time. Highly recommended. The audiobook read by Reese Witherspoon is fantastic.

I also finally got around to reading (make that, listening to) Everyone Brave Is Forgiven by Chris Cleave. This is another of the many works of historical fiction set in World War II floating around these days. Not my favorite but still pretty high on the list. It’s worth reading just for the clever lines sprinkled generously throughout the book. The plot is rather weak, and I struggled to like the characters – they all (save Alastair) seemed too flippant about the war. Or perhaps sincere but rather naive. They certainly weren’t practical the like main characters in other WWII books. But then Mary almost dies and I was shocked at how upset I was, so I guess I cared more about the characters than I thought. Word has it Cleave is working on a sequel – not sure whether or not I’ll read it when it comes out.

I finally finished Simply Tuesday by Emily P. Freeman. I like the idea of this book far more than I liked the actual book. It’s full of overgeneralization and meanderings, minus the overly flowery language of Ann Voskamp (One Thousand Gifts). At the end of each chapter, Freeman has a prayer and I would read it and think, “Really? That’s what that chapter was about? Really?” I’m also still (slowly) reading Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist from this same genre, but I think I like it a lot more. It may be a while before you hear my final opinion of it, though.

The Screwtape Letters was the selection for the Well Read Mom this month. I’ve read it previously and loved it. This time, not so much. I was trying to read it with those dreadful progressive lenses and my comprehension was dismal. Thankfully, I got quite proficient at discussing and writing papers on books I hadn’t read while I was in school so I shouldn’t be making a complete fool of myself when our group meets to discuss it.

I wrapped up the month with a serious winner – Born a Crime by Trevor Noah. I listened to the audio version (salvation when your vision is compromised). He speaks several languages and it’s much easier to listen to him rattle off those lines than try to try and weed through them myself. If you need something entertaining to keep you awake on a long drive or to get your mind off other things, this book is perfect.

I know it sounds like I read A LOT this month, but so many were short, easy reads that left me with a feeling reminiscent of a sugar high. In part it was because I needed light reads for my desperate attempt to adjust to progressive lenses since my comprehension was so dismal while trying to focus and find that ever illusive sweet spot. I’ve gone back to wearing my old glasses for now and hope to enjoy more serious reads during the month of April. Let’s just say I now have a whole new appreciation for why kids with poor vision struggle in school.

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