Monday, December 31, 2018

The Literary Best of 2018

For a sporadic blogger, I've been looking forward to looking back over my reading for 2018 and making this list of favorites! 2018 was a good reading year for me, helped along by many hours sitting on the benches at gymnastics as well as moving my phone to charge across the bedroom instead of using it as my alarm on my nightstand. After last year's post, I had some reading goals for 2018 and I think I improved in the areas that I wanted to. I read more over-all (91, up from 70), more non-fiction (14 versus last year's 8). (You can see the full list in my sidebar here).

One area where we have slipped has been read-alouds - 12 total for the year. That makes me sad, but it's where we are right now. My 15 year-old goes to school outside the home, and my 7th grader doesn't join us for read-aloud most of the time because of her schoolwork. Most of those books have been bedtime ones with Ethan at night and I'm so grateful that he and I still have that time together! He and I are actually participating in the Read-Aloud Revival's 31 day reading challenge in January - we each have to read to each other 10 minutes a day. He needs to build some fluidity in his reading and I need the help getting back into our routine!

All that said, here are some of my favorites from this year, in no particular order!

Come and Eat by Bri McKoy :: This was a surprise read that I ended up LOVING - I had been eyeing the book for a while, and when it was on sale on Kindle for a song, I snatched it up. I went into it thinking it was a cookbook/memoir type story, and while it does have some recipes in it, it's more about cultivating hospitality in your home and what that looked like for her and her husband. I loved it, and it has made me think about those that I want to invite to sit around our table in the coming year.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas :: This book was recommended to me by my 15 year old - her History/Geography teacher handed it off to her and she read it and said I HAD TO READ IT. (Emphasis hers). And then she wanted me to take her to see the movie. :) (Which I did!) This book was super outside my comfort zone but wow, I'm so glad I read it. This was an eye-opening look into the lives of inner city African Americans - something that I will never, ever experience or understand. The book was excellent (warning: there's a fair amount of language), and the movie was just as much so. So glad she pushed me to read this.

Renegades / Archenemies by Marissa Meyer :: A few years ago, I stumbled upon Marissa Meyer and her Lunar Chronicles and devoured that series. This is her newest YA series - teens with superpowers, good v. evil (but who is good and who is evil?), clean ... I love these books. Renegades is the first in the series and I've already read Archenemies (book 2) ... book 3 doesn't come out until late 2019!

The Ministry of Ordinary Places by Shannan Martin :: Another from my non-fiction stack from this year - I've read Shannan Martin's blog off and on for some time now, and this book was heart pulling in both good and hard ways. If you aren't familiar with her story (and I won't even try to do it justice), she and her husband left a comfortable lifestyle and beautiful farmhouse to move into the inner city area of Goshen, Indiana, and learned to love the neighbors around them right there in their hardest spots. A call to loving those around us where they are ... not where you want (or think) they should be.

The Wilderking Trilogy by Jonathan Rogers :: One of the read-aloud wins for us this year ... Ethan and I read this series aloud together and it was delightful. I was tipped on to this series by Sarah and she didn't give any spoilers away so I'm not going to either - other than it is allegorical and brilliant and I loved it so so much. Read this series (there's three, but I only could find photos of two), buy it as gifts, etc., etc.

The Read-Aloud Family by Sarah Mackenzie :: Even though it is getting harder and harder to read aloud with my crew I still 1000% (not a typo) believe in the power of connecting with my people through books. This book deserves a spot on your shelves and should be part of baby gifts as friends start their own families.

The Scent of Water by Elizabeth Goudge :: This languished on my shelf for far too long - English characters and countryside and delightful story to boot. I am making a plan to read more Elizabeth Goudge in 2019!

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline :: My husband took me to see this movie earlier this year and it was a surprise hit with me. (I don't know why I was surprised - futuristic, young underdog wins, and 80s themes abounded!) Travis bought the audiobook for one of his many, many work trips this summer and since this was the summer of carpooling kids all the time, I started listening to it as well. It should be noted that there is more language than I like in this book and one chapter is extremely mature and could be skipped all together without detracting from the story. That said - this book was outstanding. This is one of those works of fiction that (even though it is not "Christian" material) that continually pointed me back to God because the incredible creativity of its author. I've not read anything else like it and it reminded me of how creates his people with such amazing creativity and ingenuity and what we create is a reflection of his Creation and creativity. I don't know if that makes sense, but it was a book that moved me to praise because of what he allows us to do ... and though I don't think I have it in me to write a Ready, Player, One, he has created me to be creative in His image and am I doing so?

All that to say, this was a GREAT book and an even greater life lesson out of it.

Book Girl by Sarah Clarkson :: I wasn't sure about putting this on my favorites list because it's a book about books, and I read it fairly late in the year. The author is Sarah Clarkson, daughter of my beloved Sally Clarkson, and I enjoyed reading her short essays on her reading history and I really enjoyed the book lists in the book. This book will be referenced many times over the next several months for inspiration for my own reading. While I do love me some juvenile and YA fiction, I'm inspired to also read a bit more for me v. all the reading / prereading I do for my kids. I'm looking at Dickens, Anna Karenina, and other authors to round me out a bit more in 2019.

The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street / The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden by Karina Van Glasser. My favorite juvenile series discovery of 2018! If you love the Penderwicks, All of a Kind Family, the children from The Saturdays ... basically any family whose children get into all sorts of adventures (and scrapes) sometimes (and sometimes not) through no fault of their own. :) We've flown through books 1 and 2 here - book 3 can't come fast enough!

Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome :: Nestled in this stack is another favorite - one that I read on my own after (again) having it sit on myself for far too long. I loved Swallows and Amazons and see this as becoming a fun read aloud with Ethan down the road. English children, adventures and scrapes (reminds me of the book just above!) and things always working out in the end. This is whole series, but I have managed to hold off on devouring the other 7-8 books or so that I understand are out there!

Lastly (and without a photo) are two books by Jen Wilkin worth mentioning worth your reading. This summer, I worked my way through her study of the first twelve chapters of Genesis, God of Creation. As someone who is pretty familiar with the book of Genesis, I loved her insight and perspective and came away with thoughts that fueled my planning for my home and my CC community for the fall of 2018. God is a God of order, of form and function, and creativity and we are in his image. Speaking of In His Image, that was the title of another book of Jen Wilkin's that was was excellent and worth adding to your stack. She walks through ten characteristics of our God that we are called to imitate (in contrast to her book from last year, None Like Him, where she explored ten attributes of God's that are his and his alone.) I recently heard somewhere that with the plethora of media we have available to us (podcasts, books, social media accounts, etc.) it is so easy to jump around and take little bits of insight from too many people. "Back in the day" you might have just a few authors that you follow, through their written work only, and you would revisit their works and let it settle in more and more with each reading (I think of people that have influenced me like this such as C.S. Lewis and Elisabeth Elliot). This is something that I'm trying to embrace more in the coming years, just because I follow someone on social media doesn't mean I need to buy and read their book - there are very few that I want to mindfully support financially and invest lots of my head and heart knowledge into. Jen Wilkin is just one of a very few current authors that I would call out that makes that cut for me. 

If you made it this far, thank you! What were some of your favorites for 2018? Anything I should add to my list for the coming year? 

And Happy New Year to you and yours. ❤

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Currently :: A Present Participle List

Shaking :: the cobwebs off my blog. I'm seriously rusty at writing but I miss it. Here's to a brief catch up list.

Hearing :: the cat investigate things underneath our Christmas tree. She is up to no good!

Seeing :: my calendar in front of me as I need to figure out what's going on next week. 'Tis the week before Christmas yet it's still a full one. I'm looking forward to the two weeks that come after when my calendar is blank!

Watching :: movies! As you have probably seen, several companies came out with monthly movie passes - buy a pass and you can see X number of movies a week in the theater. This summer, T and I each got a movie pass through our AMC theater and it has been so fun. We don't go to the movies every week (there's not enough good stuff out there for that, for sure!), but we have enjoyed going more often and getting nicer and reserved seats like Imax, Dolby surround sound, and dine-in seating - seriously spoiled with that one! This past Thursday, we went to see the new Peter Jackson movie, Mortal Engines, on opening night in IMAX with the reclining seats. It's been a great investment in date nights for us!

Reading :: it's been a good year of reading - five and half hours a week of gymnastics will do that for you! I made my list last week of the top 10-ish books I've read this year and would love to figure out when to blog it. It's on the to-do list! Currently, I'm reading Glass Sword by Victoria Aveyard. It's the second book in the Red Queen series (YA dystopian novels are my thing right now apparently) and I'm enjoying it. I read the first book a couple years ago, but didn't love it enough to finish the series. Not sure what's different this time, but I've made it to book two!

Educating :: three out of the four kids at home this year. This fall, for the first time, we have put one of our kids into public school and has taken some getting used to! It has been a great change for our oldest for many reasons and she is settling into 9th grade and has survived her first semester and enjoyed it. I miss having all my kids at home with me, but it's been a good step (for her and me!) We're taking the other kids a year (or a semester) at a time and seeing what they need - isn't that what we as parents do about everything. No kid is the same, and that becomes even more apparent as they get older and you really start to see how they learn differently. There's such a stigma in the homeschool community when you do something like this with one of your kids and I haven't loved that.

Planning :: to work on my power sheets this weekend. The last several years have been "ugh" for lack of a better word. Power sheets aren't the answer to my problem, but I'm looking forward to using them as a tool to help me process some things that have been going on and move in a different direction in the future. (It's vague, I know).

Creating :: not much. This is first year that I've haven't diligently worked on a Project Life album and I miss it! I have worn out two little selphy photo printers and decided that this year I would use the Project Life app to make our family scrapbook pages. It's a great app, but it's not for me! It's too hard for me to sit and create scrapbook photos on my phone without my eyes crossing. :) I love writing out the journaling cards and printing my photos, so I'm hoping to get back to in 2019.

Here's to a quick catch up and moving on. Happy December!

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

January Reads

January ended up being a pretty decent reading month for me, all things considered. It turns out that the first month of the year is one of the busiest for the person who is a director of a Classical Conversations community. It's time to re-register families for the coming year, hold informational meetings, figure out how to fill out 1099s for the first time, and the list goes on. I've been sticking to a pretty strict to-do list and just checking off the next thing. That said, the majority of the stack above are read-alouds - that's where most of my reading time ended up taking place. Personally, I read a couple books on my Kindle and one fairly good-sized series which was fantastic and a great way to end the month.

To recap our read-alouds, the two books leaning to the left in the photo above were actually December's read-alouds. They were all I finished in December (besides the big Bible reading project that I'm nearing the end of) and I never got a monthly wrap up for that month written. We finished Mr. Popper's Penguins and By the Great Horn Spoon this month. Mr. Popper's was a HUGE hit with my 7 year old. We read the book, we saw the play at our local children's theater, and he has the audiobook loaded on an ancient iPad and has listened to it several times. It's fun to look back and now and see when I had last read that book aloud (before he was born), so the 7 year cycle of repeating books is working out pretty good for me!

We also finished Sid Fleischman's By the Great Horn Spoon which tied more into the American History memory work that we are doing in CC this year. I admit, I wasn't sure about this book when it started. However, it did pick up about halfway through the book and by the end we were to the "just one more chapter, please!" and finished it up rather quickly. It was a great story as far as describing what it might have looked like for someone heading out to try their hand during the great gold rush.

In January, we finished The Prairie Thief by Melissa Wiley and Little House on the Prairie (and who all should know who that author is). :) The Prairie Thief was a just-for-fun read and requested by my 10yo girl - since she is the one that I seem to have the hardest time engaging with a read-aloud, I obliged her and we all enjoyed this one. (Again, this was another re-read, last enjoyed in 2012, so the girls would have been 4 and 5ish, and the boy not quite 2).

Little House on the Prairie was as reread for Natalie, who remembers it the first time we read it and has since read the series on her own at least once. Betsy didn't remember this at all ... and I have to say, I pick up different things every time that I go through the series, and especially the farther along I get into parenting. What a hard life it would have been to travel with three little girls with her husband to build a home literally from the ground up. And to read aloud Ma's feelings towards their Native American neighbors was not exactly pleasant, but we did have some good conversations about it. 

The last read aloud worth mentioning is The Hobbit which the boy and I read before bed off-and-on in December and January. It doesn't even need to be said how great a book The Hobbit is, but I might argue it's an even better read-aloud. So, so good.

On my Kindle this month, I read two books: The Boneshaker by Kate Milford and Lost and Found: Losing Religion and Finding Grace by Kendra Fletcher. I had such high hopes for The Boneshaker after I read Milford's Greenglass House books. As you might predict from the cover alone, it was a little creepy and I didn't love it. Lost and Found was a book that I've had on my wish list for years, and was able to buy for a steal as a Kindle version. I used to read Kendra's blog (Preschoolers and Peace) years ago when my girls where tiny. A year-ish ago she wrote this deeper work about her and her husband's shift in faith through some deep trials in their family and how they were drawn deeper to Jesus and from a works/checklist based faith. Her testimony in this book spoke to me, and I'm thankful I finally got the chance to read it.

The rest of the month was completely taken up with Brandon Mull's Beyonders series. Last summer I fell hard for his Fablehaven series, and decided to try this series featuring an older protagonist. I loved this series just as much! Where the main character in Fablehaven is a young teen girl and her younger brother, this series is focused on Jason, about 15, and how he becomes embroiled in Lyrian. He takes on a cause that he has no tie to because it's the right thing to do and becomes the unlikely hero of the tale and one well worth recommending. While I handed Fablehaven immediately off to my 12 year old, (and I'll be recommending the Beyonders to her as well), I'm excited about this series with a male hero for Ethan when he gets older.

Happy reading. :)

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Reading Anne in January

It's been a tradition for several years now, that my friend Carrie over at Reading to Know hosts an L.M. Montgomery reading challenge every January. I think I've participated almost every year ... some years I'm reading on my own, and a couple of those years, the kids and I have worked through a read-aloud together.

I'm hoping to pick up something by LMM this month and join in the challenge ... but I'm having major indecision on what to pick. So far I've:

  • reread the Emily series (2011)
  • Story Girl and The Golden Road (2012)
  • Jane of Lantern Hill (with the girls and my personal favorite for a LMM read-aloud with kids) and Rilla of Ingleside (2013)
  • The Blue Castle, Pat of Silver Bush and Mistress Pat (2014) ... Mistress Pat has one of my favorite literary quotes ever and I always forget how much I love those two books.
  • The Story Girl and The Golden Road again, this time as a read-aloud (2015). The summer of 2015, I also did a re-read of the whole Anne series for the first time in FOREVER.
  • Anne of Green Gables, read aloud with the girls (2016)
I would love to do another read-aloud with my munchkins but with a 7 year old boy in the group, I don't think Anne is up his alley. (I do think he would love Jane of Lantern Hill! That's just a good, all-round fun story). I am would love a reread of Emily, but I'm also not sure I want to dive deep into a series right now when I have an imposing stack of things on my to-be-read list. 

I think I'm leaning toward A Tangled Web to start with and we'll see what happens after that. Classic LMM with quirky family characters that I remember being quite humorous. Based on my GoodReads account, I haven't marked that I've read in since I've started logging books there (2006), so I can also justify that it's time for a reread. :)