What We Read in 2017

Saturday, January 6, 2018

I read decent amount of books in 2017, and I'm glad that I have my Goodreads account to keep track of most of them! I definitely wouldn't remember which ones fell in which year otherwise... I won't dwell too much on the books that I thought were fairly "meh," but there's ONE book that I gave a one star rating, so I'll let you know which one that was! Opinions differ, obviously. But if you're looking for book recommendations for 2018, here are some that I liked and some that the kids liked.

My favorites:

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I Capture the Castle - This started off so stilted that I found it a bit hard to get into, but it makes sense - the author is writing from the perspective of a 17-year-old who has just begun to keep a journal, and plans to become a better writer. Her writing obviously improves throughout the book, and it is so charming and ends just exactly how you would like it to! Cassandra lives in an old castle with her widowed father, ethereal and artistic stepmother, flighty but beautiful older sister, clever younger  brother, and their "hired boy." One day the new owners of the castle show up, and the boring country life they were living changes to one with hope for digging themselves out of the drudgery! It's a fairly light read, humorous, with mild romance of the sweetest type.

An Everlasting Meal - I loved this book. It made me stop and think so much about how I cook, how I use the food we have, how I repurpose leftovers and save disastrous meals from utter destruction. I wish I had read this 10 years ago when I was just beginning to learn how to REALLY cook! I've seen complaints about the author's prose, but I was neither enamored of nor annoyed by her writing style. She wrote about food in such a way that I was inspired to change parts of how I prepare meals, and it's all very logical and doable. The only thing I don't understand is how she can't bake bread. HOW is that possible???

In This House of Brede - Fair warning, this book might make you want to enter the convent. And you may spend a little bit of time inwardly lamenting the noise around you... But that's really the only drawback to this lovely (and long!) book by Rumer Godden. I've mentioned my love for her writing, but I had mostly stuck to shorter books, so I thought this would be a good place to start. YES. Beautiful writing, realistic characters, compelling themes. I think this would be an excellent read for Lent if you're looking for fiction to accompany your spiritual reading.

A Lantern in Her Hand - I was looking for something Hannah Coulter-ish and saw this recommended by many of my friends whose literary tastes intersect with mine. It was exactly what I was looking to read! A pioneer family with a matriarch who pines for higher achievements but finds satisfaction and peace in raising her family, living on the land, and seeing her children achieve what she dreamed of as a girl. I'm currently reading the sequel and really enjoying that one as well

My Life in France - I was on a "food memoirs" kick and got this from the library, never having known much about Julia Child aside from the whole "French Chef" thing. It was really delightful! Her voice is so energetic, the anecdotes hilarious, the food talk mouthwatering... A quick read, and quite a fun one! Afterward I read her biography by another author and couldn't even finish it, it was so different and so disappointing.

Bringing it to the Table - I love Wendell Berry. I will read ANYTHING he writes. Unfortunately, our library doesn't have much of his writings, so I have to buy them all... And none of them are ever reasonably priced used! Which is to say, if you'd like to lend me your Wendell Berry collection, I will be eternally grateful. Anyway, this is, as one can tell from the cover, a series of essays on farming and food. It's a collection from the past thirty years, and it's a great way to learn a little more about farming, logging, and local food economy. Be prepared to make some changes in your buying and eating habits after reading!

The Blue Castle - I was very disappointed by this book at first... It seemed miserable and slow, and as though nothing good would ever happen. Then all of a sudden things took a turn, then another turn, and it ended up so sweet and wonderful and perfect! Definitely light reading, a fun little romance. I read it while on an L.M. Montgomery kick and am glad I did! (I also read all the Emily books and I confess, I might like her more than Anne...)

Both The Blue Castle and the Emily books are less than $1 on Kindle if you're looking for cheap, good reads!


Caroline - I love the Little House books, as do all the kids. So I had high hopes for this one, but was pretty disappointed. Now, I think part of that disappointment was that the author was very clearly trying to make this an "adult" book, with love scenes and marital relations and all that. I just don't need to read about that. Another part of it is that I just really didn't enjoy how it changed my vision of Ma Ingalls compared to how Laura portrayed her in the Little House books. Is Caroline more human than Ma? Yes. Definitely. And that's probably a plus for many readers. But I preferred the calm, patient, stoic, strong Ma to the worried, grumbling, unhappily submitting Caroline. I did come into a new understanding of Ma's vitriol against the American Indians where they settled (which isn't to say that it was appropriate, but having years and years of reminders of massacres and being left on the open prairie all day with little girls and a baby certainly inspires fear), and enjoyed her take on the Mary vs. Laura personality conflict (when she inwardly laments Mary being so prissy and self-centered). I'm glad I didn't buy this one.

The kids read all day, every day, so I asked some of their favorites:

Igraine the Brave - I still haven't actually read this one, but I really enjoy Cornelia Funke's books, so I picked it up used and then it sat on a bookshelf not being read for MONTHS. Then one day I sat down and pretended to read it, and left it on the table. Immediately one of the kids snapped it up and for WEEKS Mary Claire, Cecilia, and John Paul read it over and over to themselves!

The Mysterious Benedict Society - Multiple friends recommended these books, so I picked one up a the used bookstore to pre-pread... Then immediately got the rest from the library! They're exciting, CLEAN, entertaining, and perfect for my too-smart-for-his-own-good 8-year-old who loves puzzles and codes more than anything else. I enjoyed them all, and John Paul really, really loved them (Cecilia was not interested in them, but I think she will be in a year or so).

The Wingfeather Saga - This was another one that many other recommended, so I got the first one to pre-read. It was a slow starter, and seemed like it was going to be a fairly silly book... Until the plot totally changed and everything got MUCH MORE INTENSE. There are silly elements throughout all four books in the series, and a fair amount of intensity (Cecilia insisted on reading them all even after they gave her nightmares...), but the most beautiful depiction of sacrifice at the end. I really enjoyed these, as did John Paul and Cecilia.

Anna Hibiscus - I wasn't sure how we'd feel about this book, since "beginner" chapter books are rarely favorites around here... But it is SO CUTE. I'm going to get them all for the twins eventually - Amazon has them used, or you can find an Usborne seller (I know a few of you readers sell them, so drop a link in the comments!) and get them new. Anna lives on a compound in Africa with her mother, her father, her twin baby brothers, and her entire extended family! She loves it, but her mother is longing for the days when she lived in Canada and had a quiet house to herself. So the family goes on vacation WITHOUT the uncles and aunties and cousins and everyone else. Pretty soon they realize that trying to get through life on their own is difficult and no fun at all! I love the positive messages in the book, and it's a great length for young readers.

That's just some of the books we've read this year - are there any that you're excited to go read now? Any books you'd like to recommend? I'm sure I'll run out of ideas on my list soon!

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