Last year I vowed to improve my reading life. It didn't work out as well as I would have liked. Fortunately there is a new year and another chance to improve.
- The Story of Holly and Ivy by Rumer Godden; illustrated by Barbara Cooney. A beautiful picture book. Cheating? This is a favorite Christmas read-aloud that we didn't get to till January 1.
- A Praying Life by Paul Miller. Comments here. The link is to Westminster Bookstore which is where I acquired this book. I buy as many books as I can from them, and I'd like other folks to do the same. They have very good prices, fast and cheap shipping, and wonderful employees. (And yes, I do receive a bit of compensation if you visit their site from here.)
- Animal Farm by George Orwell. I read this along with my son as part of his schoolwork. I must say I love having older kids to read and talk about great books with. The picture book days were fun, sure, but these days are so much better.
- The Iliad by Homer (tr. Fagles). Reading aloud to my kids as part of their schoolwork. Still going; it's lengthy and I can only read aloud so much in a day! Should be finished next week. The link is to Exodus Books, which is where I acquired this. It is my favorite homeschool store, located in Oregon, and I miss it so. But at least I can order online.
- The School of Night by Louis Bayard. Fiction, for me! This was sort of a historical thriller. It was good, not great; suspenseful, funny (not laugh-out-loud funny). Very blurry line between historical fact and fiction; I had to look up the time and method of Walter Raleigh's death to be sure I hadn't been wrong about it all these years. Some forehead-slapping moments when something was revealed that I should have seen coming.
Not such a great month, though I did exceed my stated goal of one fiction, one nonfiction. Still, I had hoped to do better. Uh, it was a short month, right?
- The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer. Comments here.
- Things that Cannot be Shaken: Holding Fast to Your Faith in a Relativistic World by J. Scott Olphint and Rod Mays. Still thinking about this one; I liked it but can't point to anything in particular that was good. Deserves a re-read.
- The Little Russian by Susan Sherman. An interesting though not compelling look at the life of a Jewish woman in "Little Russia" spanning the years before and after World War I. It would have been better if I'd been able to muster any sympathy for the main character.
- Heroes of the City of Man by Peter Leithart. I read only the portion pertaining to The Iliad. It is a masterpiece. I had my kids read it when we finished our read-aloud of the epic and they found it challenging but not difficult to read, and agreed that it enhanced their understanding of the story. I've had several of Leithart's books for years but have not really used them. I think I got them during a big buying spree at Exodus Books one day. We will be using Ascent to Love when we read Dante next year.
- I kept up with my daily Bible reading! That is not always so easy for me, particularly when I have other good books going.
- Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie. Fun read; I had my kids read it too; then we watched the movie. Enjoyable for all.
- True Grit by William Portis. I'd been thinking about getting this movie for the family; then saw a piece about what a wonderful book it is. I'd say it's a pretty good book. There are some great lines by the narrator (Mattie Ross, an old lady telling the story of her life as a 14-year-old girl out to avenge her father's death) which I wish I'd written down.
- Setting the Records Straight! by Lee Binz (TheHomeScholar). This is a wonderful, helpful, calming book for the homeschool mom who is nervous about high school. Credit, transcripts, course descriptions beautifully explained.
- A Train in Winter by Caroline Moorehead. The only book I finished this month! Nonfiction, it tells the stories of many French women who were arrested and send to prison and work camps for their efforts to resist the Nazis in World War II. Compelling reading.
- The Organized Heart by Staci Eastin. This small book is not an organizational how-to, but rather an exploration of why we can't seem to get organized. I have to admit it wasn't all that helpful to me - I really wanted it to be! But none of the causes of chaos the book addresses really fit me. I'm not a perfectionist, and I don't hold on to possessions. (Those are not the only problems she addresses.) I think some people might be helped by this book, but I am not one of them.
- Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys. The story of a family in Lithuania, deported to Siberia during Stalin's purges. I wanted so much to like this book too, but it didn't grab me the way I thought it should. The story is important - so much of World War II is devoted to the Holocaust, but there are other stories too.
- The Distant Hours by Kate Morton. I had rejected this book once, but picked it up again based on Sarah's review. (Actually, I got this again after reading her review of The Forgotten Garden which I had also rejected. But this was available at the library that very day, while there was a queue for the other.) Other than the slightly-annoying first person narration, I enjoyed this gothic-y story and am glad I picked it back up!
- The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton. Another highly-satisfying book by Kate Morton. The story is complex, the narrative jumps through time with abandon but it is so well-done it is never hard to follow. Watch for the mention of Frances Hodgson Burnett, author of The Secret Garden.
- A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly. I was attracted to this book by its setting: The Adirondack Mountain region of New York. Long ago, before I was 10 years old, my family camped in those mountains many times, and though I don't really remember those trips, I have always been fascinated by the region. It's a coming-of-age story, about a poor young farm girl who longs to go to the city and become a writer. I enjoyed it, though at times I had an uneasy feeling that it was going to turn into something like The Awakening which is on my list of worst novels ever. It didn't get quite that far. This is considered a Young Adult book. "Young Adult" is a broad term. My 13-year-old browses the YA section now, and this book (among many others) is not for her. Some of the incidents and language are just a bit too adult. Maybe for a 17-year-old.
- The Brother Gardeners by Andrea Wulf. I'll be looking for more books by this author. I never knew that the "English Garden" full of color was mainly the product of plant imports. John Bartram of Philadelphia figures heavily in this book, which annoys me only because I've been here five years and have never made it to visit Bartram's Garden, a park on his old estate. It's a fascinating look at plant importation and the people who dedicated their lives to botany. Lots of fun information: I never knew that at the time of the famous mutiny, the Bounty was carrying a load of plants from the south seas to England!
- 1984 by George Orwell. What can I say about this book? I previewed it for my boy, but I think I'll put it off for another year.
- Summer World by Bernd Heinrich. More beautiful natural science essays from this biologist.
- A Beautiful Blue Death by Charles Finch. A Victorian mystery. Have to admit I picked this one up based on the title and cover picture. At first I thought I liked it, but as it went on I lost interest and ended up skimming the last few chapters. The pace was very leisurely.
- Atonement by Ian McEwan. I would give part one of this book 4 stars. It was gripping and the characters were well-drawn. But parts two and three seemed disconnected from the first part, and the resolution was really lacking. I never got the "atonement" part. Maybe I am unsophisticated.
- 1066: The Year of the Conquest by David Howarth. This is a terrific overview of the events leading up to the Norman Conquest. It's a nice popular history book - not a scholarly work - but it describes the events of the year in a clear, readable, and understandable way.
- People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks. Mixed feelings on this one. It was a great story - read it in one day, though that day consisted of me sitting on airplanes and in airports for 9+ hours. It kept my interest. I won't summarize the story here because that information is easy enough to find.
- Teach Your Children Well by Madeline Levine, PhD. Comments here.
- The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey. Comments here.
- The Nine Tailors by Dorothy Sayers. A read-aloud with my kids, for fun. My first Dorothy Sayers!
- Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte. A re-read, inspired by my reading of The Flight of Gemma Hardy in October. (I think I started reading this in October but finished in early December.) It is a truly wonderful book, and really I should not ever again read something "inspired" by it, because though Gemma Hardy was a fun and good book, it just can't compare. Of course that is how books become classics
- The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkein. A re-read, part of our homeschool this year.
- The Monk in the Garden by Robin Marantz Henig. An interesting overview of the life and work of Gregor Mendel. I came across it in the "recommended reading" list in the Great Courses lecture series "Biology: The Science of Life" which my son is watching this year. I did this as a read-aloud with both kids.
- A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens. This is a family read-aloud every year. This year we listened to Jim Dale's audiobook in the car on the way home from our Thanksgiving trip to see the grandparents. Great story, of course, with great narration!
- The Bible. I did manage a complete reading this year. It was hard. I'm glad I did it, and I'll do it again, but not next year.