What I Read This Week

This week would have been a good reading week, even if all I finished was the first book on my list, What You Wish For. It was just such a good reading experience that I found myself excited for the read. Still, I read four books, and found them all very enjoyable!

Samantha Casey is a school librarian at a small private school in Texas. When her employer suddenly dies, the school board votes to bring in an outsider, Duncan Carpenter, as their new principal. Samantha knows Duncan from an earlier school that they both worked at, and feels like his sense of fun, whimsy and adventure are perfect for the non-traditional, creative vibe of the school. Only, when he gets there, he is not the same Duncan she remembers from working with him. Instead, he has turned into a tough, security-conscious, rule-abiding, douchebag employer that everyone at the school dreads having to deal with. Is the Duncan she knew still there? What made Duncan change? Can she bring that Old Duncan back?

This book was a truly delightful read, and could possibly make my top ten list for 2020. (It’s hard to say at this point because I have read a lot of really good books.) I immediately loved both Samantha and Duncan. They are both characters who have been through trauma, but they’re still fighting and attempting to move towards joy. We get to see a real clash in opinions and philosophies, and we get to see that both philosophies are motivated by genuine love and care for the children of the school. The side characters all sparkle, and I found reading this one a true joy. I felt empathy and found that parts of both main characters strongly appealed to me. That’s probably the best that I can hope for out of a romance.

Robert Parrish is a writer, and his inspiration to begin writing was a series of books that he and his father read together when he was a child. However, when asked about his inspiration, he always lies about the books he loved as a child. Why? His dishonesty is causing his relationships to fall apart, and he feels propelled to dive into his childhood and probe the books, their authors, and the mystery that he never solved as a child.

This book is one that makes me gush like a fangirl because I felt like it was so beautiful. There were layers of plot, and it made me feel truly nostalgic for the Trixie Belden books that were so integral to my youth. This is probably not a five-star book because it has a slow start. The first fifty pages or so are a little disjointed as new characters and perspectives are introduced. I decided to trust Lovett and not abandon the book, and I am glad that I did.

Lyssa is a busy at-home care nurse in London who is often traveling its busy streets caring for others. When she sees a 15-year-old boy fall victim to a hit-and-run accident, she begins to suffer post-traumatic stress from the incident. In an effort to help Lyssa recover, her hospital mandates that she change places for three months with Cormac, a nurse in a far away rural part of Scotland. As Cormac and Lyssa trade places, they find themselves having difficulty adjusting to each others’ lives, friends, and homes. They communicate with each other via text and email to help smooth their paths, commiserating over their shared experiences. . . .

This was a really good women’s fiction with just a touch of romance. I enjoyed both Cormac and Lyssa’s transitions into their new environments, and really found myself rooting for Lyssa in her journey of healing. The spark of romance also makes complete sense to me, and I really found it believable (for the most part). In my head, I kept comparing this to the town mouse and country mouse because their environments and experiences were so different.

This is the third of the Scottish bookshop series, but you don’t have to have read the first two to enjoy it. I’ve only read the first one, The Bookshop on the Corner, but I wouldn’t have needed it to have enjoyed this book. That said, I really did enjoy seeing the reappearance of characters from the first book in the series.

Ewan has been searching for Grace for twenty years. Grace and her brothers think Ewan wants to kill her. Instead, Ewan wants to love her. The Grace he finds is not the Grace he expects to find. Instead, the girl he used to know, has become a magnificent woman, a woman who is unsure that she can trust (or even wants) Ewan to be a part of her life.

This is the third of the Bareknuckle Bastard series, and this book is really a redemption story for Ewan (Duke Marwick). That was satisfying. It was also satisfying to see Dahlia as a business woman and to peek inside the business that she has built. This book also was open door and had some really smoking hot scenes. Loved that!

I would have liked to have seen a stronger moment of forgiveness from Grace to Ewan. I did like when Grace and her brothers really understood the pain that Ewan had been through and the sacrifices he had made for them. That was a powerful and very touching moment.

This book would be more meaningful if you read the first two of the series before this one, even though it does stand alone. I think you can appreciate the characters of Devil and Beast more after seeing their love stories, and I think you understand better why they are so against Ewan if you’ve read the first two books in the series.

October TBR

Thought I’d just take a quick peek at some of the books I have planned to read in October. I am trying to be a little more intentional in my reading so that I actually make my way through the books I own and break the cycle of continually wanting more.

The first place where I’m getting my TBR from is from reading challenges that I signed up for.

An Enchanted World

This month, I’m doing a challenge called “An Enchanted Word.” It comes from the Goodreads 2020 Reading Challenge Group, and this challenge has ten prompts based on various celebrations around the world that occur in the month of October. I’m going to list each prompt, and then I’m going to write some of the books I’ve pulled off my bookshelves or downloaded from my Kindle cloud to read along with the prompt.

Oktoberfest:

For this prompt, we’re allowed to read a book set in Central Europe, a book with a funfair/carnival, or with an enchanted castle/haunted house. Some of my possibilities are:

  • People of the Book–Geraldine Brooks
  • Saint Peter’s Fair–Ellis Peters
  • The Book of Speculation–Erika Syler
  • The Enchanted Castle–E. Nesbit
  • The Haunting of Hill House–Shirley Jackson

MassKara: 

For this prompt, we need to choose a book set in Southeast Asia or with a masked/cursed character:

  • The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down–Anne Fadiman
  • Daring and the Duke–Sarah MacLean (Completed 10/1/2020)
  • Homegoing–Yaa Gyasi

Mehregan:

This prompt needs a book set in the Middle East or featuring a magical potion or creature:

  • The Beekeeper of Aleppo–Christy Lefteri
  • Storm Front–Jim Butcher
  • The Golem and the Jinni–Helene Wecker

Mid-Autumn Festival:

For this prompt, readers should read a book set in East Asia, with a full moon on the cover or about werewolves/vampires:

  • Memoirs of a Geisha–Arthur Golden
  • Full Moon–Jim Butcher
  • Bitten–Kelly Armstrong
  • Fevre Dream–George R.R. Martin

Indigenous Peoples’ Day:

For this prompt, read a book written by an indigenous author and/or featuring indigenous people:

  • Sabrina and Corina–Kali Fajardo-Anstine
  • Killers of the Flower Moon–David Grann

Felabration:

This prompt calls for reading a book set in Africa or the Caribbean or written by an African or Caribbean author:

  • Born a Crime–Trevor Noah
  • Next Year in Havana–Chanel Cleeton
  • Things Fall Apart–Chinua Achebe
  • Pride–Ibi Zoboi

Navaratri:

For this prompt, readers should read a book set in South Asia or featuring a Battle of Good Over Evil:

  • Interpreter of Maladies–Jhumpa Lahini
  • The Genesis of Good and Evil–Mark S. Smith

National Magic Week:

For this prompt, a book that has any kind of magic or enchanted setting will work:

  • Practical Magic–Alice Hoffman
  • Every Heart a Doorway–Seanan McGuire

Samhain:

This prompt requires either a book set in a Celtic country or a book that includes a bonfire:

  • 500 Miles From You–Jenny Colgan (completed 10/1/2020)
  • Into the Wild–Jon Krakauer

Dia de los Muertos:

In this prompt, readers should read a book set in Latin America or by a Latin American Author:

  • The House of Spirits–Isabel Allende
  • Love in the Time of Cholera–Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Serial Slayers

In this challenge, you are reading books in a series. However, none of the books that are first books in a series can be counted.  Here are my possibilities for that reading challenge:

  • Saint Peter’s Fair–Ellis Peters (Cadfael #4)
  • Daring and the Duke–Sarah MacLean (Bareknuckle Bastards #3) (Completed 10/1/2020)
  • Full Moon–Jim Butcher (Dresden #2)
  • 500 Miles From You–Jenny Colgan (Scottish Bookshop #3) (Completed 10/1/2020)

 

Of course, I’ll never read all these books in October. After all, I generally read at a pace of 15-16 books per month. However, these give me some good possibilities for reading. I also have a few books from the library that I don’t have here, as well as some just random books from my bookshelf I might find myself in the mood to read. No matter what, I think October is going to be a good reading month.

The September 2020 Wrap-Up

This Month was a really good reading month. I read a large quantity of books at sixteen books, and I felt like I read a high quality of books as well. I found several books that I would have classified as five-star books, and The 7-1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle will probably be on my top ten list at the end of the year. (What You Wish For stands at chance at being a top ten book as well.)

The Stats:

  • Books Read: 16
    • Library–4
    • Kindle–4
    • Hardcopy–8
    • Audio–
  • Re-Reads: 1
  • Goodreads Challenge Progress: 131/200 (17 books behind schedule)
  • New Books vs. Backlist:
    • New Books: 10
    • Backlist: 6

The Books:

I started this month with a horror novel.that was low on actual horror and high on mexican gothicatmosphere. Mexican Gothic is truly well-named as a gothic novel. It seems like a standard haunted house mystery at periods throughout the book, but ultimately the truth about what is going on is way stranger than a standard haunted house trope. This one really appealed to me in its gothic nature and atmosphere (Wuthering Heights was a favorite of mine as a teenager), but also has a strong lead character in Noemi, and I really appreciated reading about her.

The next book I read was one that was really buzzy when it first came out.  It was a Read all-adults-herewith Jenna and seemed to be all over Bookstagram. I love good family dramas, so I was looking forward to trying it out. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel like it was a “good” family drama. Instead, it was kind of blind. There were five or six competing characters, all dealing with major drama, but many of them were completely flat characters other than their “major drama.” I really only found one or two characters that I was interested in, and many of the storylines were either dropped or not worked well into the flow of the narrative. I was interested enough to keep turning pages to find out the ending (and to try and figure out why so many people loved it), but I was really disappointed.jesus and john wayne

The next book I read was Jesus and John Wayne. This book is a history of how evangelicalism became intertwined with Christian nationalism. For Du Mea, much of the centering of that history is through the embrace of a toxic masculinity that looks much more like movie star, John Wayne, than the biblical picture of Jesus Christ. This was a really good read. I felt like, at times, Du Mea was a little too negative about evangelicals, but her sources and history correspond well to other histories that I have read. I really struggle with books about evangelicalism because I come from an evangelical background, and I have struggled to separate the truly biblical from the cultural in my own faith. This was helpful.

all i ask

Next, I read All I Ask, a romance where two old friends reconnect in a romantic way thirteen years after loosing contact. The romance really does a great job of building, but around the 75 percent mark, the author makes a turn towards the melodramatic. It totally lost me when it did that. It ended up ruining what had been a good book in my eyes.

a rogue of one's own

The next book I read was a much better romance. A Rogue of One’s Own is the second in the League of Extraordinary Women series. Historical romances set in England and the women’s suffrage movement combine to make this one sparkle. I really enjoyed both the hero and heroine, and I think I enjoyed this one as much as I did the first one. Part of me wishes I had went back and re-read the first book in the series before I read this one, but I can always go back and re-read later. After all, a third book in the series is coming out next year.

stand up yumi chung

The next book I read was heavily influenced by the Currently Reading podcast. One of their hosts was raving about the middle grade novel Stand Up, Yumi Chung!, and later, when i went to the library with the kids, I saw it sitting on the shelf. After trying (and failing) to get my children to pick it up, I decided to pick it up myself. I found it to be a delightful story about an immigrant family, and one that I’m probably going to try to push on my children again later on. I had also forgotten that I enjoyed the simpler stories of friendship (without romance) that are so often a part of Middle Grades but get left way behind in YA fiction.

The WhydahNow that it’s September, I am having to read with an eye towards what my children are going to be reading for their school days. My 13-year-old is interested in pirates, so when I came across The Whydah, I picked it up. It tells the story of a pirate ship, a ship wreck, and the recovery of that ship almost 300 years later. There are informative sidebars about pirates, so there’s a great deal of learning to be had. My only complaint? Now, I want to visit the Whydah pirate museum to see the artifacts for myself, and it’s a 17 hour drive from my house. 

The 7-1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is a very unconventional murder mystery. It has a littlevelyn hardcastlee more than a touch of science fiction embedded in it, and it’s really better to go into the plot blind. So, I won’t say anymore about plot here (even though I did in my weekly wrap-up). I will say this will probably be on my list of top ten books at the end of the year. Also, as soon as I finished it, I went back and purchased an audiobook copy for my husband because I thought he’d really like it too (and i wanted someone else to talk about it with!).

hemlock mountainThis also ended up being the perfect month to re-read a book with my younger two children. I had used The Bears on Hemlock Mountain when homeschooling my older two children, but never got around to using it with my younger two. It’s barely longer than a picture book, yet, it was a really fun read to have with my little two.  So glad that we got to visit it.

The next book I read was 15 Things Seminary Couldn’t Teach Me. Thisseminary couldn't teach collection of essays is aimed as pastors who learned a bunch of academic stuff in seminary but didn’t learn some of the practical aspects of ministry as an occupation. I am not called to pastoral ministry, but found the title appealing, so I found myself reading it. The advice is solid, but the formatting of the book, where each chapter devolves into numerical lists of advice, gives the book a feel of a series of blog articles. It’s really unappealing and I felt like it was beneath the intent of the book.

all the devilsThe next book was All the Devils are Here. This is the sixteenth book in Louise Penny’s Inspector Armand Gamache book, and it is so good. She takes the action away from Three Pines in this book and moves it to Paris,  This ends up being a great move as it allows her to spotlight Armand’s relationship with his son, Daniel, and to examine more of Armand’s family history. We also find out the corrupt people and organizations are not just endemic to Canada, but maybe just to mankind in general. I always admire how Penny expresses her thoughts and her interactions with other works of literature, paintings, etc. in her novels and this one was no exception. I missed the residents of Three Pines and Inspector Lacoste, but it was a really nice book, and it kind of shook up the series a little bit.

Next, I found Devolution on the library shelves. It’s been on my radar since it came outdevolution because the description sounded so “me.” I had also seen that it was an Amazon best book of the month. That always piques my interest a little bit. The hosts of the Currently Reading podcast both had read it and really liked it too, so I was excited to start reading it. There are very few things more satisfying than a good horror book, and this was a good horror book. It also had Bigfoot in it, and it has been a long time since I’ve read a book focused on Bigfoot. Also this book is told as an after-the-incident kind of report/”true crime” style story, and I love those kinds of faux documentary style books. It purports to be based on interviews and the diaries of a woman livening in a small, commune-type community. So much fun!!

59 memory laneNext, I picked up 59 Memory Lane as a 99 cent Kindle deal and decided to quickly put it into my rotation of reads.  I don’t really know how I pick the books that I end up reading.  It just seems to happen. This book is a little bit women’s fiction with both young and elderly main characters, a touch of romance, a touch of family drama, and a touch of magical realism. It was a fun read, definitely worth the 99 cents I paid for it, but perhaps not the most skilled novel I have ever read. I also felt like she left a lot of loose ends, and some of the ways she attempted to tie up plot lines left more to be desired. It’s not a perfect book, but it was sweet and I cared about the characters. In the end, that’s a big part of what I want from a book, so it was a successful book for me.

The next book I evaluated for the kids for school was Hiroshima. This Pulitzer prize winninhiroshimag piece of journalism follows the stories of six survivors of the atomic bomb at Hiroshima. The stories are varied, but they all paint a common picture of the hopelessness the people felt in the face of the tragedy. This book was a little dark and sometimes very descriptive of the physical effects of bomb. As a reader, I found that the names were both foreign and similar enough to be confusing. When I teach this to my teenagers, I am going to have my teens make a page with each character’s name on it and a running description to give them a little frame of reference.

what you wish forI went back to a favorite author for my next pick with What You Wish For. This is a romance/women’s lit pick that I got at the library. I had initially planned to purchase the book, but then several of my trusted reviewers gave the book fairly negative reviews, so I waited for it at the library. I wish I had went with my first impulse and purchased the book because I loved every minute of it. I may still purchase it to read again. My trusted reviewers who didn’t like it thought it was over the top and the characters were caricatures. There might be a little truth in it, but it was mostly joyful. It also reminded me that we can’t protect ourselves by locking ourselves away from everything that makes us fearful. Beautifully done book!

I knew, as soon as I could preorder it, that I would read Escaping Dreamland this fall. Charliescaping dreamlande Lovett just has a beautiful, wonderful way with words. This is a beautiful, nostalgic novel. It’s about the classic adventure type series that many of us read as children, and it’s about the inspiration for writing and creating stories.  It’s just a wonderful read. . . . It’s also a book you need to be patient with if you pick it up. The first 40-50 pages are slower paced and a little disjointed as we’re getting introduced to different perspectives and characters.

So, those are the books for this month. What have you been reading? Do you have any good books for my TBR for October?

The Books I Read This Week

This week was a really good reading week for me. I read a bunch of books and liked every one. I realized that I’m really happy with my reading month this month. I’m reading at a slower pace than I have the past three or four years, but I am really enjoying the books that I read. This week I read a new book in a series I’ve been seriously anticipating, a horror novel that caught my eye at the library, a gem I found on a list of Kindle deals, and a history book to prep for my kids schooling. So, let’s get started:

The first book I read this week is the sixteenth Inspector Armand Gamache novel. This book takes place during a trip to Paris. Armand and Reine-Marie are in Paris awaiting the birth of a new grandchild. In fact, the whole family is there, including Armand’s godfather Stephen. After a family dinner, Stephen is struck by a vehicle in a hit-and-run, something the police initially consider an accident despite the fact that Armand and Reine-Marie immediately confirm as intentional. The question: Who would intentionally attempt to kill Stephen? Why? The answer isn’t so simple since Stephen has made a lot of enemies in his life.

I’m more than a little biased, but this novel was perfection. It’s my favorite book that I have read in the series in a few books, and I loved that we got a picture of Armand’s relationship with his son, Daniel. This is a story where Gamache’s character is completely tangled up in the mystery, and those are probably my favorite mysteries in this collection.

I also loved that the book was set in Paris. I love the setting and characters of Three Pines, but sometimes those characters get to feel a little stale. (I especially get exhausted with her obsession with Clara Morrow.) Taking the characters out of their natural setting adds freshness into a formula that keeps it from getting stale. I really savored this book.

The next book I finished reading was the horror novel, Devolution. A small community was massacred by, as best as can be told, sasquatches in the days following a volcanic eruption at Mount Rainier. The story, told through the journals of one of the community residents, as well as interviews with park rangers and others, attempts to reconstruct what happened in the community and who was really doing the killing.

I love these faux documentary style books, and I love horror, so I was primed to really enjoy this book. The fact that it is a Bigfoot novel is really just something that makes it a little more exciting. There were times when I would have liked to have seen two journals of perspectives from inside the community, but this ended up being a really good book. Everything started out as a normal utopian commune type story, but as you guys know, communes always go bad in every kind of novel that they’re ever in.

This book needs a lot of trigger warnings. There’s gore and violence. There are monsters. There’s infighting within the community and banding together to deal with an outside threat. Such an interesting and fun read!

The next book I read, 59 Memory Lane, is a British women’s fiction novel that I picked up on kindle deals primarily because Ruth Hogan blurbed it. The premise is: May Roosevere is 110-years-old. She is a feisty old lady, and she intends to live to read 111. She has some secrets and needs some memories to do it. Her next door neighbor Julia has plenty of memories, in the form of family letters and love letters sent back and forth between her and her late husband. May and Julia have never been friends, but when they are paired together in a new “adopt-a-granny” program that their village establishes, life gives them a new chance to become friends.

The plot is much expansive and involves a good many more characters than I am describing here. Julia’s granddaughter is a main character. There’s a young widower that lives near Julia and May. There are other really interesting characters in the community. There’s a whole cast of past characters as well through the letters of Julia’s family and a mystery of a missing ring. There’s a touch of paranormal/magical realism. There is really just a lot going on.

This was a story that I didn’t think I’d get into at the beginning because I didn’t think it was as well written as some of the stuff I had read recently. However, as the story picked up, I really had a hard time putting it down. My only real complaint is that I felt like the story wrapped up too quickly. There were a lot of conclusions that could have been fleshed out more (especially in the historical mystery), and there were several plot lines that were left open. Upon finishing it, I found that there’s a brand-new sequel, and it looks like the main premise surrounds one of the mysteries I wanted more answers on, so I was kind of excited about, and I plan to read the sequel sometime in the next few months.

The last book I read this week is a book I read to preview for my teenagers for history. Hiroshima is a piece of journalism that follows six survivors of the atomic bomb in the weeks and months following the bombing. The author goes back forty years later and follows up to find out how each survivor ends up. At that point, some had passed away and others were still living, but all had had their lives marked forever by the bombing. This book also provides some perspective on what wartime and the time immediately after the war looked like in Japan, and how the Japanese handled the large number of damaged survivors.

This book was fascinating and heartbreaking. There are times when so much death and sickness is going on that it is hard to feel sympathy for any one death or injury when presented with it. Sometimes, I think the numbing happens to us to protect us from the emotional scarring of too much pain. The book is beautifully done, and emotive without ever being sentimental. Hersey definitely writes with a reporter’s eye.

As a teacher, I think both my son and daughter will appreciate this book. My daughter doesn’t like war or gore, but I think the emotive aspects of connecting with each of these people and their stories will really appeal to her. The most difficult aspect for my teens will probably be keeping track of each individual story. There are six stories and the names are difficult to remember. I plan to alleviate that pain by having them keep a running character description going for each of the main people in the book. I think that’s probably the most helpful way for them to attack it.

So, those are the books for this week. Have you read any of them? Do you have any good recommendations for me based on these books?

My current reads are Katherine Center’s What You Wish For, Jenny Colgan’s 500 Miles from You, and Charlie Lovett’s Escaping Dreamland. I’m more than a little excited about all of them, and I’m actually about 1/3 of the way through the Katherine Center book, so hopefully I’ll have all of them finished by next week’s wrap-up 🙂

What I Read This Week

There are so many books I want to read right now, and I find that I haven’t had a lot of time for reading. Too much work and responsibilities. Anyone else feel that way? Even with that, I somehow finished five books this week. Crazy, right?

Yumi Chung is a 12-year-old girl who belongs to a family of immigrants. Her parents own a Korean restaurant, and she goes to a private academic-prep school. Her 20-year-old sister is in her first year of medical school. It is safe to say that Yumi’s parents are serious about their children’s education. However, Yumi has a dream, and that dream is to be a stand-up comedian. One day, she’s leaving a morning study class that her parents have signed her up for, and she stumbles into a new comedy club where the club is hosting a summer camp for children who are interested in stand-up comedy. Yumi finds herself sitting in on the camp, and then trying to figure out what to say to her parents about her day . . . .

This is a sweet and quick middle-grades read. I had heard the book mentioned on two different podcasts in the same week, and I knew that I had to pick it up and try it out. I initially tried to push it onto one of my daughters, and I still think they would like it even more than I did. However, I enjoyed this quick and fun read, especially since I saw more of the Asian immigrant mindset and why academics are so important to these parents.

The Whydah: A Pirate Ship Feared, Wrecked, and Found examines a small corner of history. The ship sunk in the waters off Cape Cod during a storm in 1717, and was not rediscovered until the 1980s. Sandler tells the history the ship, the pirate who was its captain, and the history of the excavation of the ship, as well as the meaning of the discovery. Each chapter also contains sidebars giving readers information about the topics of the chapter. These sidebars dispel many common myths about pirates that have crept into our cultural milieu.

I found myself completely pulled into this little corner of history and read this book over a 24-hour period. It’s a book aimed at teens, and my teenagers will be using it for a few weeks for history, and I expect them to find it just as engaging as I did. I did think it was a little irritating that several pages of sidebars came in the middle of the chapters, and I worry that my children, especially my 13-year-old, might find it to be a little confusing.

Sebastian Bell awakens in the woods with no memories, only knowing someone has been killed, and having the name Anna on his lips. He soon realizes that he is at an estate called Blackheath and odd things are going on. Is Anna dead? Who is he? Why is he at Blackheath? There are many puzzles to solve, and of course, there’s his missing memory. He encounters a strange figure in a plague doctor costume who begins to fill in some of the gaps, but can Sebastian trust him?

I’m trying to be as spoiler-free as I can be, but this is a hard book to talk about without giving out spoilers. Having said that, I really loved this book and considered it a fun puzzle. It is probably one of the best books I’ve read this year. If you like mysteries, and don’t mind a touch of sci-fi/supernatural, then you should really read this book.

Jonathan has heard that there are bears on Hemlock Mountain, but the adults in his life have told him that this idea is just “stuff and nonsense.” When his mother decides to send him on an errand that requires him going over Hemlock Mountain and back again, it takes all his courage to carry out the task. After all, there might be bears on Hemlock Mountain.

This is a fun little book that is really only a little more than a chapter book. I’ve read it multiple times because I read it to my older two children several times when they were younger. I’ve been going through my books, trying to figure out which children’s books I want to share with my younger two before they are too old to appreciate it. This was high on the list, so I shared it with them this week. It’s truly a charming read, and they were old enough to really talk about underlying themes of the book that I had not discovered on my last reading.

For those of us who have been to seminary, we have usually found it to be an illuminating, and sometimes overwhelming time. For those called to the pastoral ministry, many of the practical lessons of pastoring cannot be taught there. Teaching some of those practical things is the goal of 15 Things Seminary Couldn’t Teach Me. They cover topics such as, what to do when you can’t get a job, how to teach your children to love a church, how to discern when to accept a ministry change, and how to deal with conflict.

As I’m not called to pastoral ministry, I am not the primary audience for this book. However, there were several points of wisdom that I gleaned. I especially needed the chapter on fighting for your faith. There’s nothing like being in ministry to kill one’s faith (but that’s another story). One thing I hated about this book was that each chapter gave advice in list or bullet point format. It made the book feel tiresome and overwhelming, kind of like a list of self-help articles.

What I Read This Week

This week was a pretty good reading week. I had a lot of reading going on this week, and I finished a non-fiction book that I had been reading for a couple of weeks. That always makes for a good reading week.

Jesus and John Wayne is one of the books written in the aftermath of evangelical Christianity’s unprecedented support for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election. The fact that a group of people who always claimed to support men of character for the presidency would wholeheartedly embrace someone who is not a moral man in his election for the presidency is a symptom of a larger problem within evangelicalism.

Du Mez is writing as a historian attempting to figure out what went wrong. How did such a countercultural religious movement become so enmeshed with Christian nationalism that these evangelicals would disregard their candidate’s character? Du Mez’s interpretation of this issue is to find that the evangelical problem begins with and idolization of the masculinity of John Wayne instead of the masculinity of Christ. She points out how, since World War II, the Christian ideal image of a man and a strong military have led Christians into supporting leaders for their strength instead of their character.

As I reader, I have often wondered what went wrong in a world where so many of my friends would not only support a man of such low character but would champion him as a person of moral character. As a result, I have been on a journey of my own attempting to separate what real Christianity is from the cultural Christianity that I see around me. As such, Du Mez’s book is a helpful tool on that journey. There were things that filled me with nostalgia and things that filled me with horror. I realized that one of the things I will have to separate in my Christianity is biblical manhood and womanhood from the cultural vision of “biblical manhood and womanhood.” More reading is definitely necessary for me!

All I Ask begins with a prologue where Teagan watches her best friend get married. The thing he doesn’t know? She’s completely in love with him, even though she’s pregnant with another man’s baby. Through a series of events detailed in flashbacks in the book, Teagan and Derek lose touch. Thirteen years pass and Derek and his daughter are back in town. Will Derek and Teagan reconnect? Will they become friends again? Will more that friendship bloom?

This is a romance, so the answers to these questions are probably pretty self-evident. However, the road to happily ever after is not a smooth one for Teagan and Derek as they deal with the past, their daughters and the future. I truly enjoyed the first two-thirds of the book. At this point, however, the book takes a melodramatic turn as the author throws several “problems” in their way. I was less than impressed, and found that the melodrama really ruined the book for me. I wish the author had maintained the strong pace and storyline of the first two-thirds of the book.

Lucie is a spinster and a suffragette. She pulls together a consortium to purchase controlling interest in a London printing press so that she and her fellow suffragettes can publish a report that would bring light to the plight of married women as property of the men they marry. Unfortunately, at the same time Lucie is attempting to buy controlling interest in the press, an antagonist from her youth (who is a hopeless rogue) is buying up all the shares from other owners to have an equal interest in the press. And he wants to be very hands-on with his approval of content and the daily workings of the press. Sparks fly, and soon Tristan makes an offer that Lucie seriously begins to contemplate.

I have always loved historical romance, and A Rogue of One’s Own is a really good historical romance. It’s the second in the League of Extraordinary Women series, and it is as good or better than the first book. Tristan is a lovable rogue, and Lucie is exactly the strong, sympathetic character that I really enjoy reading about. It was smoking hot in places, but was really sweet. I look forward to the next one in the series. It’s too bad it doesn’t come out for a whole year.

A Couple of Slower-Paced Novels

This week was a slower reading week that the weeks that I have had recently. The reason for the slowness is that I read two slower-paced books. Have you ever done that? Felt like you’ve been reading and reading and never quite finished a book? Or maybe you’re looking for something just a little slower paced to read that you can relax yourself into it. In that case, I have two books for you.

Mexican Gothic is a book that is perhaps best classified as a horror novel. Noemi receives a letter from her newly-married cousin Catalina and this letter is jumbled, strange, and deeply disconcerting. Noemi finders herself immediately leaving Mexico City for the rural Mexican countryside to her cousin’s husband’s ancestral estate. When Noemi gets there, the atmosphere is creepy, the house and the family are unwelcoming, and Noemi feels deeply unwanted and out of place. She is often even barred from visiting with her cousin. She is demanding answers, but receiving none, trying to decide how best to help her cousin, and then, she begins having very strange dreams. . . .

This book relies heavily on atmosphere. For much of the first half of the novel, nothing much truly happens. Noemi is in a gloomy house with strange rules, surrounded by unfriendly people, and having strange dreams. Unless the reader truly likes the character of Noemi, it’s going to be a bit of a push to read. Luckily for me, I really liked Noemi. Once the action starts in the second half of the book, the book becomes harder to put down, and I really ended up enjoying it. If you enjoyed books like Rebecca and Wuthering Heights, I think you’ll like the atmospheric feel of this one.

In All Adults Here, Astrid is the widowed mother of three adult children. Her relationships with these children are somewhat distant, and after seeing another townswoman get killed after being hit by a bus, Astrid realizes that she wants to tighten her bonds with her children and make some changes in how she’s living her life. At the same time, her youngest son, Nicky, sends his own teenage daughter, Cecelia, to live with Astrid after Cecelia experiences some trouble at school. In addition, Astrid’s daughter, Porter, and son, Elliot, are going through their own personal trials.

This one was really buzzy when it first came out. It was a Read with Jenna, and it was all over Bookstagram. The book is a family drama with a well-established author, and as I began the book, I found the characters to be rather quirky and interesting. Unfortunately, the charm kind of wore off and I plodded through this one. So many big issues are addressed–online pedophilia, artificial insemination, adultery, lesbianism, coming out transgender, parenting failures, sibling rivalry, friendship issues, bullying, and more. Yet, all are dealt with blithely, and in many cases, kind of unemotionally. This made it difficult to connect with the characters. Also, some of the plot lines are left either unfinished or not woven very well into the storyline. I think Straub might have just been over ambitious for a 350-page book. I could have easily read a whole book about each of these characters, and I think that, if I had, the stories as a whole would have been more impactful for me.

As an aside, I found Straub’s writing to be beautiful, and I copied several quotes into my notebook. This one is just an okay book from a very good writer.

Well, that’s all my reading for this week. What have you been reading?

The August 2020 Wrap-Up

This month was a really good reading month. I like to average between 15-18 books a month, so I was able to fall directed within my average this month, and that was good. More importantly, I really enjoyed most of the books I read. My favorite reads were probably the last two books in the Crazy Rich Asians trilogy, but there were lots of other winners for me this month.

The Stats:

  • Books Read: 16
    • Library–4
    • Kindle–3
    • Hardcopy–8
    • Audio–1
  • Re-Reads: 1
  • Goodreads Challenge Progress: 115/200 (18 books behind schedule)
  • New Books vs. Backlist:
    • New Books: 7
    • Backlist: 9

The Books:

little women

This audible listen was a re-read of a book I loved as a child. Listened with all four of my children at a pace of about three chapters a week over the past few months. All the children, boys and girls say this one is a winner.

As an adult, I felt that the book was a little preachy, but children’s tales often contain moral lessons, so I tried not to let that bother me too much. Once I did, I was able to relax and enjoy the story.  I really need to watch the new movie with the children now that we’ve finished the book.

china rich girlfriend

This is the second of the Crazy Rich Asians novels and it’s really fun. There are several new characters introduced as a large portion of this novel details Rachel’s biological father and how she gets to meet him along with her half-brother and his girlfriend. The Chinese world in this book is even more crazy than Nick’s world in the first book. There’s a side story about Kitty Pong attempting to fit into Asian high-society and another one about the implosion of Astrid’s marriage.  However, the spotlight here is on Rachel and her half-brother. The story is frothy, fun, and completely over-the-top.

boys and sex

A nonfiction winner for me, Boys and Sex is a narrative created by interviews with around 30 men in their late teens and early 20s.  They’re beginning to navigate sex, love, and relationships, and reading the book is, in some ways like watching a train crash. So many of these boys want to have relationships and can’t figure out how to get beyond the hookup. Others feel pressured into sexual activity they don’t want to prove their masculinity. There are very few mature, sexually aware men in this book.   It’s a tough but necessary conversation

As an ancient linguist, Hebrew for Life is a professional read to me.  It’s very practical and hands-on, filled with tips for practice and memorization as well as lists of resources for Printbuilding fluency. They also make the case for Aramaic, and that influenced me strongly as Aramaic is a language I have not got around to learning yet. It’s a great little book, but obviously is going to have a limited appeal.

The Lies That Bind is a book that isn’t sure what it wants to be. On one level it’s almost a frothy romance. On another level, it’s a tear-jerking 9/11 the lies that bindnovel and meditation on both unrequited love and loving someone you should not love. Then, there’s the whole thing with the terminally-ill twin brother.  I really wanted to find out how it ended, but at the same time the premise and story itself was completely ridiculous. It might have been a little soap-operatic.

Speaking of ridiculous premises, The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared has a completely ridiculous premise. After all, how many 100 year old man100-year-old men climb out the window of their nursing home, happen upon a suitcase with 50 million dollars in it, and in their backstory have interacted with the likes of Stalin, Truman, Mao, and de Gaulle? Not many, right? Especially not when traveling in the present with three other people and an elephant? And he’s so calm about everything that happens that it’s almost like it happens to someone else. I found myself compulsively flipping pages to find out how it ends, but I didn’t enjoy the read as much as I had hoped to.  I just didn’t feel like I had anyone to root for.

I next turned to a little fantasy with the classic middle-grade novel, The Phoenix and the the phoenix and the carpetCarpet. The four children in this book have a knack for getting into troublesome situations. When you add in a talking phoenix and a magical flying carpet, you’re really just asking for more trouble. This book was delightful in many ways, and I may find myself re-reading it in a few months as a read aloud with my two youngest children. I’ve owned this one since my older two were young, and it’s just been collecting dust in the garage, so it felt good to mark this one off my TBR list.

Graduate school and graduate school reads continue to play a significant role in my leading with cultural intelligencereading. Because I’m only going to grad school part-time, it does feel like I might be grad school forever though! The next book I finished this month, Leading with Cultural Intelligence, was for my required Intercultural Communications class. This book is business focused, describing the areas of cultural intelligence and how to increase one’s levels of cultural intelligence. The writing was engaging, but as my specialty is ancient languages rather than business, I admit that this book was not immediately applicable to me.  Still, I did receive several insights, and I think it was a helpful read.

Next, I read a novel that was almost perfect for me. The Love Story of Missy Carmichael is the love story of missy carmichaela story set in the lovable curmudgeon genre. Seventy-nine-year-old Missy is struggling and lonely. Then, a chain of events in the park set off some interactions that culminate in new friendships and fresh experiences. She also begins to repair some broken and dysfunctional relationships that already existed in her life.  She approaches her whole life with a better understanding and healing. . . . There are also some super sad and bittersweet moments, and I found myself reading the ending of the book in the bathroom, having to set aside the book at times because I was ugly crying and the tears were coming so fast that I couldn’t read.

I knew as soon as I read China Rich Girlfriend that I would very quickly follow it with Rich People Problems. This third book in the Crazy Rich Asians trilogy is the perfect rich people problemsending to the story. Everyone’s storyline is wrapped up, and all the questions that a reader might have are answered. I read this a little more slowly than I often like to read books, mostly because I wanted to savor it. I didn’t want it to end.  Then, I finally got to a place 3/4 of the way through, and I just had to read the rest of the book really quickly. If you like over-the-top, satirical, family drama, this is a great trilogy for you. It’s frothy enough to never be depressing. There’s romantic comedy. There are all these family relationships. It’s just great!!

Next was my second Agatha Christie novel of the year, The ABC Murders. Reading this ABC Murdersone, I know why it’s such a beloved novel. It’s a great snapshot of Christie’s famous Hercule Poirot. The mystery is interesting, and I might be the only one, but I totally didn’t get the answer to the mystery. I was super close, but wasn’t right in my answer.  This was such an enjoyable book that I’m going to recommend it for my teenagers for their literature reads.

The next book I read was The Pull of the Stars. Set in a maternity ward in Dublin during the pull of the starsthe 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, this book is short, but covers a lot of ground. I found myself feeling a little brokenhearted because there was a lot of death in this one. There was also a little romance, discussion of World War I, and a lot of birthing babies. This is a really beautiful book, and it takes place over the course of three very long days within the hospital from the point-of-view of a 30 year old nurse.

I finished my homeschool science study from spring and summer with my 9 and 10-year-mammalsold children. We used Memoria Press’s curriculum, and the spine was one of their books The World of Mammals. The book had a workbook and another book that came with it to use in mammals study.  It went through each group of mammals in an organized fashion, ending with seven lessons on primates. I don’t think I’ve ever studied either primates or whales so closely, so I learned a good amount from this book.  I alternate science and social studies with my little two, so now we’re doing US geography, focusing on memorizing states and capitals.

As we finished up mammals, I decided to do just a little more in-depth studies on whales what is a whaleby reading What is a Whale? to the children. This was actually a really nice entry in a series by Bobbie Kalman, where she goes in depth into different types of whales. Since I didn’t know much about whales, this was a great addition to our mammal studies.

The next book I read was part self-help and part memoir. Afraid of All afraid of all the thingsthe Things begins with a girl that is fearless until she realizes that bad things can happen in life. In this case, the bad thing is her parents divorce. Following her parents’ divorce and her mom’s subsequent remarriage, Hiltibidal finds herself wracked with new, and often paranoid, anxieties. These anxieties follow her throughout life, changing and morphing as she grows into adulthood. As an adult, she discusses how life experiences and her growing relationship with Jesus have helped her to approach life with less fear. As I have been someone who struggles with generalized anxiety disorder, I found many parts of her book to be relatable, some to be quite helpful, and others to be a little too preachy.

The next book I read is one of the books I’ve been more excited about recently. I read Sally Clarkson’s new book, Awaking Wonder. This book sets a vision for what you’re AwakenWonder_mck.inddtrying to awaken in your homeschooled child, as well as paining broad strokes for how to get there. Gentle, beautiful, unapologetically Christian. Clarkson’s books always remind me why we do what we do here at home, so I’m delighted to have gotten to read this book this month as we start a new “school year” here at home.

What I Read This Week

This was another fairly big reading week. Although, I have to admit that all the books I read were fairly short, and two of them were related to my younger children’s schooling. Still, this week and last week have been monster reading weeks when I look back at my reading this year. Here are the books.

the pull of the stars

After spending all spring and summer hearing about a pandemic, what type of book could be more welcome than a book about a pandemic? The Pull of the Stars is a historical fiction, set during the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic. Donoghue’s book takes place over the course of three days in a flu-gripped maternity ward in Dublin, Ireland. Women are pregnant, give birth to babies, and have the flu. Some even die of the flu. The story is told from the perspective of the nurse who is heading the daytime shift of this little flu/maternity ward, and features thoughts about the Great War, British rule of Ireland, the flu, and even a little romance.

This was a really enjoyable (and quick) read. It was like having a little close-up shot on one nurse’s life in the days nearing the end of World War I and the first fall of the Spanish flu pandemic. Donoghue packs a lot in, and the narrator leaves these three days completely changed as a person. In addition, I really enjoyed reading about medical care and the birthing of babies 100 years ago.

mammals

The next book I finished was The World of Mammals from Memoria Press. (Pictured is the accompanying study guide). This was a very serviceable spine to a semester study on mammals that my children (who were 4th and 3rd grade). The book features 30 2-page spreads, upon which are pictures and text detailing information about each subgroup of mammals. Sometimes these subgroups span multiple lessons (For example, there are seven lessons on primates). It’s not really a book that one would choose to just purchase though unless they were using the curriculum.

what is a whale

What is a Whale? goes in depth on a large and (to my children) largely unknown topic–the whale group of mammals. This groups covers whales, porpoises, and dolphins, as well as a few other varied whale species. Each page brings further depth to the subject of whales, and it is perfectly written for an upper-elementary school aged audience. If you have children in your life that are into science, Bobbie Kalman’s books could make a nice addition to their personal libraries.

afraid of all the things

Feat has played a huge role in Scarlet Hiltibidal’s life, and she shares many of her fears over the course of this book, starting with how fear entered her life during her parents’ divorce when she was a young child. Hiltibidal not only chronicles her fears, the shares how her Christian faith has transformed her to the place where she is not nearly as fearful as she once was. This doesn’t mean she’s cured, but she’s made good progress in her journey.

I have had a struggle with anxiety for much of my life, and while my faith has not miraculously healed me, it has made things more bearable and hopeful. I enjoyed Hiltibidal’s book as I laughed along with her stories and I remembered how God has brought me through some of the things I have been anxious about. I did find Hiltibidal a little preachy at times, but overall this was a good book for an anxious person.

AwakenWonder_mck.indd

Awaking Wonder is a book that discusses education and a parent’s role in helping their children to become curious about the world and willing to learn. The author, Sally Clarkson, paints with a broad brush, concentrating on her philosophy of education rather than putting too much detail into the mechanics of learning. Clarkson concentrates on homeschooling, and on her success in graduating all four of her children successfully as proof of how her methods and philosophy can work.

This is not my first Clarkson books, as I consider Clarkson to be a huge influence on my parenting style and philosophy. While our homeschool does not look exactly like theirs, I can look around at our homeschooling and see the influence her writing has had. This book is a welcome addition to that and is a book I would consider sharing with someone who was thinking about beginning to homeschool. Clarkson says that her writing would also be applicable to people who had children in public school or private school. However, she provides no real guidance for those parents, so this may feel completely inapplicable to those parents.

So, those are this week’s books. I plan to be back on the blog at the middle of the week to share my August wrap-up. Until then, I hope everyone has a great reading week!

What I Read This Week

This week was one of those monster reading weeks where I read and read and then was surprised to reach the end of the week and find that I read five books this week! I was really surprised because I was so busy with grad school stuff and homeschooling my kids that I did not expect to read so much.  Here’s what I read:

the phoenix and the carpet

The Phoenix and the Carpet is the second book in the Five Children series. This series focuses on four older siblings (and one baby brother) who are constantly finding themselves in a state of trouble and misadventure. In this book, their mother buys a new carpet for their nursery floor. They find an egg wrapped up in the the carpet. One day, the egg accidentally ends up in the fireplace, and a phoenix is reborn. He tells them the carpet is a magic one, which gives three wishes daily, and they end up using the carpet and consulting with the phoenix to go on many adventures.

This book is a mild portal fantasy, where the action is never too thrilling, but it makes for an interesting read anyway. This is written for children, and I think I will probably hand it over to my own children in the hopes that they enjoy the adventures and want to make up their own adventures.

The only real discordant note for modern readers is that, at one point, the children are transported to an island, and they keep referring to the natives of that island as “savages.” it’s fairly normal for the time, but doesn’t age well for our culture.

leading with cultural intelligence

My grad school class that just ended is a class on intercultural communication, and Leading with Cultural Intelligence was one of the required reads. Livermore uses this book to explain the importance of cultural intelligence, and how to go one’s cultural intelligence. He divides cultural intelligence into four components: CQ Drive, CQ Knowledge, CQ Strategy, and CQ Action. After defining these components, the remainder of the book is an exploration of each component along with action points on how to grow this component.

This is heavily a business book, and as an academic, I doubt I would have read it had I not been required to. Between the book and the the Cultural Intelligence Center’s accompanying quiz I was able to pinpoint some of my weaker areas and strategize how best to become more culturally intelligent. I suspect that I’ll find it helpful.

the love story of missy carmichael

The next book I read, The Love Story of Missy Carmichael, is in the genre of lovable curmudgeons. Missy is lonely. Her husband is gone; her son lives in Australia; her daughter is not speaking to her. She decides to go to the park for a park event, just so she’ll have news to report to her son via email. She passes out at the park and is helped by a young woman, her friend, and her son. This young woman, Angela, and her older friend, Sylvie, decide to befriend Missy. The rest of the book is told in alternating chapters between past and present as the reader sees how Angela and Sylvie’s attempts go, and how Missy got to be so lonely in the first place.

Missy really resonates with me on a couple of levels. I think she might, like me, be an enneagram 5. There are times when she seems self-pitying and when her trouble seems of her own making, and there are other times when she worries over being a burden and fearing getting to close to others. She’s a mass of contradictions, and I think most people can relate to her complicated experiences and feelings.

Towards the end, this book gets a little emotional, and I admit that I cried through several chapters.  Actually, I had a big ugly cry at some point with it. Still, it ends in a place of happiness and hope, and I am glad for that.

rich people problems

Rich People Problems is the third book in the Crazy Rich Asian series. It focuses on Nick’s grandmother being sick, and as she’s dying, relatives are flocking there to say good-bye. Of course, the don’t just want to say good-bye. They’re all very concerned about who might get Su Yi’s large fortune when she’s gone. Nick is unconcerned about the fortune, but he desperately wants to make amends and reconcile with the grandmother he loves and has been mad at so long. On the other hand, Eddie is completely obsessed with the fortune, believing he’s going to be a rich man in just a few days.

There are two important side plots going on at the same time. First, Astrid’s still in divorce proceedings, and Michael has been vicious, attempting to smear her name, as well as Charlie Wu’s name across the press. Astrid and Charlie’s story still hangs in the balance. The second is Kitty Pong’s story also continues. She is now Jack Bing’s wife, and so jealous of his daughter Colette that she can’t stand it. She spends the entire book trying to find her place in society and attempting to find ways to one-up Colette.

This is really a great ending to the trilogy. Readers learn so much about Su Yi and what made her who she was. They also get to be in the room when the will is read and see the family’s reactions. The second half of the book nicely ties up all the loose ends and  gives a picture of where everyone’s story ends.

ABC Murders

The ABC Murders is the thirteenth Hercule Poirot mystery and my second Agatha Christie novel of the year. It all begins when Poirot begins receiving letters. These letters include a city and a date. These cities and dates become the map for a murder spree . . . and ABC order murder spree as the killer begins in Andover, killing a woman with the last name A. He then continues working his way through the alphabet, taunting Poirot as he goes with a new letter each month.

This is masterfully done. I really enjoyed the mystery, and I really enjoyed seeing Poirot’s working relationships with the other detectives and police officers throughout the novel. I also admit that I was a little fooled by Christie. I was close to who the murderer was, but not quite there when the murderer was revealed. I always love a mystery where I don’t get the murderer right. I plan to read more Christie soon.

So, that’s it for my reading this week. What have you guys been reading?