Book Stacks: Volume 1

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Goodreads just emailed me congratulating me on my progress towards my 2018 reading goal, and I was surprised to see I had read 15 books already this year! Then I realized that I was about to finish two more, and that two others hadn't gotten counted... So 19 books so far! I figured we're a third of the way through the year, so it might be worth sharing what I've read (and what the kids have read) and enjoyed so far, because doing just one big summary at the end of the year means I won't remember anything I read at the beginning...

We'll see how frequent these "Book Stacks" posts become, but I think it'll be a good way to organize what we're reading! So without further adieu... Here's what we've read!

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A White Bird Flying: Sequel to A Lantern in Her Hand, I thought this was really lovely. I was worried because some reviews said it was not nearly as good as the first book, but I think that taking them as entirely separate books, they were both excellent. A White Bird Flying is much more about a "modern girl" (versus the pioneer homesteader who was her grandmother) and her struggles to reconcile the longing to do "something important" (become a professional author) which she feels she couldn't possibly accomplish if she were to marry and have a family. The struggle felt similar to Emily's struggle in LM Montgomery's Emily books, only Laura is a far less annoying character than Emily, and you mostly don't find yourself smacking her for being ridiculous (I did like the Emily books last year, but I felt like her troubles would have been eased had she just, you know, TALKED to people).

Verdict: Recommend!

The Seeds of America Trilogy: The big kids and I checked these out from the library and read them independently, then discussed together (I read the first two at the end of last year, finished the third in January). They were recommended by a trusted friend, and fit in perfectly with our Revolutionary War studies & trip to Williamsburg. All three books follow two main characters, former slaves who end up fighting on the side of the American army during the Revolutionary War. They're relatively tame in terms of brutality & gore, but good books for exploring the injustices of slavery and the discontent on the part of the slaves who chose to fight on the American side, despite the fact that their freedom would not necessarily be guaranteed afterwards.

Verdict: Recommend

Julie and Julia: After reading a whole bunch of food memoirs in 2017, I realized I had never picked this one up, despite wide acclaim. Blech. I should've skipped it. The author was crass, vulgar, unpleasant, obnoxious... There wasn't nearly enough talk about food, and far too much talk about what a profound pain in the rear the author was, despite her loving, patient husband.

Verdict: Skip. The movie was better.

The Wilder Life: I think Goodreads recommended this to me after I finished Julie and Julia, so I was worried it would end up being yet another crass depiction of someone's obsession with Laura Ingalls Wilder... It was actually pretty cute and enjoyable, and cured me of any real desire to visit all the "Laura" sites all over the country, since the author did a good job describing her visits and the decent amount of accompanying boredom.

Verdict: A quick read, worth getting from the library but not purchasing.

The Extraordinary Parents of St. Therese: My sister got this for me for Christmas in... 2016. It took me until the beginning of 2018 to finish it! Whoops! It's really not a long book, but I kept putting it down and forgetting about it. It's very, very good though. Quite affirming for parents who struggle with certain children under their care. Everybody mentions how Therese was actually quite a spoiled child, judging from her mother's writings. But really, her mother died when she was 4, and what 4-year-olds AREN'T a pain? It was Leonie with whom she really struggled, and reading about how she offered up her entire struggle with breast cancer that Leonie might be healed of her mental anguish was beautiful.

Verdict: Recommend

The Dirty Life: I didn't have high hopes for this one, but honestly I'm not super-picky about what I read on my Kindle, since I get most of those free from the library and I read more on my Kindle than hard copy books... It was really cute! City girl meets farm boy, falls in love, moves to an out-of-the-way farm in a small town and transforms it, feeding many people and dealing with farm hardships along the way. If you're the sort who likes to live vicariously through other people farming and homesteading, I think you'd enjoy this.

Verdict: Recommend

Understood Betsy: Cecilia and I read this for our own "Mother-Daughter Book Club" (a made-up concept whereby we both read the same book and talked about it. Very complicated.) and it was really, really lovely! I'd say it's a must-read for all young girls, actually. Elizabeth is brought up by her nervous aunt, who has to send her to live with relatives on a dirty old farm. Elizabeth transforms from a shy, overly-fearful child into sweet, caring, lovable Betsy.

Verdict: Highly recommend

O Pioneers: FREE on Kindle, so worth the price for sure. I read Song of the Lark last year and really enjoyed it (even though it's not the first in Cather's Great Plains Trilogy, and I can't figure out what possessed me to read it first), so I thought I would try the rest of the books in the series. I enjoyed this one, but it felt rather short (because it was), and I longed for a little more closure. Alexandra's forgiveness at the end of the book was beautiful, but it felt like there could have been so much MORE of this book.

Verdict: Recommend

My Antonia: (I'm linking to this edition because the cover is really pretty, but I read it on Kindle) I was confused by the narrative at first, because she said at the beginning that it was a story written by a man. Then I remembered it was a book, and she was allowed to pretend that someone else had written it. Then I felt really dumb. In any case, I really enjoyed this one, seeing Antonia through the eyes of a good friend (who loved her from afar), and seeing the development of characters throughout their entire lives. I felt like there was a good amount of closure at the end of the book, which always makes me happy!

Verdict: Recommend

A Man Called Ove: I did NOT like this one at first, and couldn't understand why so many people had recommended it. It was incredibly slow to start, and Ove was not a very likable character. Throughout the series of flashbacks in the book, you come to understand and love Ove, and it was a really beautifully-told story by the end.

Verdict: Highly recommend

Parents and Children: I read this one for a homeschool book group, and was really glad I had a group of people to talk it through with. Charlotte Mason's writing is definitely not light, and I was confused in some sections but having experienced homeschoolers to talk me through things helped a lot. Overall it was really excellent, but mostly not worth reading if you're not open to exploring Mason's educational philosophy, since you'll probably get mired down in the language & references (which always make me feel highly uneducated!).

Verdict: Recommend for certain readers

Movie Shoes: This one felt very familiar, and then Cecilia pointed out that it's actually the same book as The Painted Garden (which is what I linked to), only a slightly later edition because they rebranded a lot of Noel Streatfeild's books once her first "Shoe" books soared in popularity. Very cute, obnoxious girl is transformed into NOT obnoxious girl when she finally finds success through sheer luck.

Verdict: Recommend (especially for children)

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie: I saw this recommended in a few places, so I figured I'd give it a try even though I'm not much for mysteries. It was fine, nice and clean, and a fun twist to have a precocious child being the one solving a lot of this. Not a must-read, but a fun series that I'll probably continue with because the library has it available on Overdrive.

Verdict: Recommend half-heartedly

A Red Herring Without Mustard: The third book in the Flavia de Luce series (first one is above). Again, not life-changing, but a fun read.

Verdict: Recommend half-heartedly

Death Comes for the Archbishop: This one is really, really beautiful. My only five-star review so far this year. Cather portrays the humanity of the bishop and his people so beautifully, the relationship between him and his priests, the struggles of the growing church in the American Southwest... Definitely my favorite of her books, and it's amazing to see how sympathetically she portrays Catholics, despite not having been one herself.

Verdict: Highly recommend

Digging In: I was wary, but it was free on Kindle and it was about gardening and none of my library holds were available so... I kind of had to try it? It was a quick read, cute, clean, fun, light. Unexpected widow grieves husband and finds surprise comfort in growing a giant garden in her suburban backyard. Makes friends, heals heart, finds romance.

Verdict: Fluffy but find

The Saturdays & The Four Story Mistake: This series is so cute!! I don't know how I never read it as a child - Cecilia and John Paul have read each of the four books in the series multiple times since we got them from the library, and I'm on the lookout for affordable used copies because they're lovely. Great sibling relationships, good clean fun, city living (and then country living when they move in the second book), and lighthearted lessons. These remind me a lot of Eleanor Estes' & Noel Streatfeild's books.

Verdict: GREAT read-aloud books, fun fiction worth owning

Right now I'm finishing up The Hidden Power of Kindness (highly recommend), Homegoing (am staying up WAY too late reading this, it's excellent), We Took to the Woods (fun read), and Stories of Grace (great little study!). What are YOU reading?

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