Sunday, November 15, 2015

What I've been reading (November 2015)

It's a short list this month, folks, but the books that I did read packed a punch. First, I finished:

Shadows on the Rock by Willa Cather.  This novel, creating a year in the life of 17th century French settlers in Quebec City, was the first selection in Well-Read Mom's The Year of the Worker.  I tell you:  I would not have picked this out to read if I hadn't been pushed to do so by the reading group, but I am so glad I did.  It's quiet fortitude reminded me of last year's first book in The Year of the Spouse: Hannah Coulter.  Solid, charitable, and admirable characters and evocative writing, beautifully washed in a reverence for Catholicism, encouraged me to select another Cather novel to read.  (I was especially taken by the story of the recluse Jeanne Le Ber and how she lived behind the high altar of her church, with her bed pillow just inches from the Blessed Sacrament on the other side of a partition.)  An autumn read, for sure.

Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus by Sherry A. Weddell  This pick from my Spiritual Reading Plan was chock full of the bad news (the true state of mostly lay discipleship in the Roman Catholic church) and the good news (how to change things).  I was struck by so many figures (around 70% of people who join the church via RCIA leave after a year!), stories (someone looking for the horns on a Catholic's head!), and what we can do to drop our nets.  Honestly, I am still digesting this one, and if you're at all interested in the state of discipleship in Catholic churches, this book will be enlightening.

That's it for this month.  The only book I abandoned was All the Light We Cannot See, and I only abandoned it because I had to prioritize these two books.  I will try it again: don't fret!  Linking up, as always, with Modern Mrs. Darcy's Quick Lit.  Click over to see what all sorts of people are reading.

What are you reading?  Have you read either of these books?

Thursday, October 15, 2015

What I've been reading (September/October 2015)

You guys, I missed two months of Quick Lit!  I was in the middle of back-to-homeschool and house selling action, and I let posting go.  It's the first time I have missed the linkup.  That makes this month a little longer, which is fun.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo had some wisdom in it.  I like her idea of being surrounded by things that spark joy.  I mean, I certainly believe that form and function can harmonize.  Your dish drainer and laundry hamper don't have to be the cheapest and ugliest things you can find.  I'm with her on the idea of keeping what you love, not seeing what you can discard.  I asked myself that very question a year ago, here on the blog, about my childhood possessions.  Otherwise, this book didn't change my life, though if you go through your possessions and recognize in your being whether you really truly love something or you're just keeping it around out of fear/guilt/indecision AND you do this within a matter of days, you will change your life.

Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt made me want to write a novel for younger people.  That's how good he is at writing.  He makes you think you can do it, too.  I knew Doug Swieteck from The Wednesday Wars, and this book confirms the story one might have guessed about his background, which Schmidt illustrates deftly.  I thought the ending wrapped up a little too neatly, but Doug's growth through birds, drawing, working, and good friends shines throughout the book.  I'll definitely reread this one.

So You've Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson was a little scary.  I'm already cautious about what I post on the Internet, and this made me think I wasn't crazy for doing so.  Ronson looked up all these people who have made very public mistakes, gone through the wringer, and lived to tell about it.  He asked over and over: What was it like?  How did you recover?  Why did you come out on the other side of this strong while others are in hiding?  I also thought the whole topic spoke volumes about our propensity for sin, confession, and atonement.  The writing was witty and engaging, his eye so observant. Writing this reminds me to look up Ronson's other books and put them on my To Be Read list.

Girl at the End of the World: My Escape From Fundamentalism in Search of Faith with a Future by Elizabeth Esther was a heartbreaking, yet very readable, memoir about the pain of growing up in a fundamentalist cult and how she made her way out of it.  As a person with a newly developed devotion to the Virgin Mary, I was very moved by her role in Esther's reception into the Catholic Church:  "What if God is pursuing me through the gentle love of His Son's mother? What if, knowing that all masculine roads to God are blocked for me, Jesus has sent His mother to lead me back to Him?"  I'll surely read this one again someday and look forward to anything else Esther publishes.  (I read this book as part of my Spiritual Reading Plan.)  Kudos to her.

Upstairs at the White House: My Life with the First Ladies by J.B. West with Mary Lynn Kotz was a respectful and affectionate account of West's long career as Chief Usher of the White House.  He was present from FDR and Eleanor to Richard and Pat Nixon and shares everything from how the First Ladies preferred to address the duties of the day to how they liked to decorate their private rooms.  Something interesting of note: the White House staff doesn't get to go to Inauguration Day.  They are too busy coordinating the moving out of the last president to the moving in of the next!

Design Mom: How to Live with Kids: A Room-by-Room Guide by Gabrielle Stanley Blair was a lovely idea book for families.  Books like this are meant to be flipped through, but I read it page-by-page.  My heart was warmed by the acknowledgement of bedsharing, and I liked her assertion that your house is your house, and it is okay to refuse Buzz Lightyear bedsheets for aesthetic purposes.  (And, hey, those kind of sheets are usually so scratchy!)  Fun and beautiful, though I couldn't help thinking there were often still too many breakables in many of the photos.

The Life Intended by Kristin Harmel was just lovely.  It was on my radar (as so many books are) because of Modern Mrs. Darcy's mentions, but the deal was sealed when I found it available to download through my library alliance.  The book was explained in more than one place as the movies Sliding Doors and P.S. I Love You combined.  That is an apt description. However, if you are concerned it could be schmaltzy or overwrought, I am here to tell you it is neither of those things.  It was easy to read but not poorly written; it flowed so nicely.  It's also a really interesting look into the world of music therapy and being deaf/hard of hearing.  Loved it.


Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen
Happiness for Beginners by Katherine Center (I am sad this is on the abandoned list. I liked The Lost Husband and was hoping for another winner.)
Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown  (Abandoning this one felt ironic.)

What have YOU been reading?  Linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

What's missing from my list of books-read-in-2015

It was fun to put my thoughts together recently about the books I've read so far this year.  I noticed one large concern during the process:

I was struck by how little spiritual reading I'd done this year.  Granted, there are still six or so months left to 2015, but it was convicting to see so little related to my faith on the list.

Now, I've read some edifying online articles during this time but not enough books.  Fr. Roderick's Geekpriest was a sincerely enthusiastic memoir about his journey to the priesthood, use of new media, and Church teaching, wrapped up in geekery.  I also dipped my toe into The Secret Diary of Elisabeth Leseur: The Woman Whose Goodness Changed Her Husband from Atheist to Priest by Elisabeth Leseur.

But any books on deepening prayer? Scriptural study? Apologetics? (At least not straight up apologetics- lots of the memoirs have apologetics in them by way of explaining conversion stories.) Church history? Life of a saint?  No.

To rectify this, I've made a Spiritual Reading Plan.  (And it's not even Lent!)  I am going to:

purchase the latest Magnificat and begin morning and evening prayer with it. For the unfamiliar, morning and evening prayer isn't just one prayer in the morning and one in the evening.  It's a grouping of sacred hymns, Psalms, Scripture, and Canticles.  I'll read the other readings and offerings in the magazine as desired. (Try Magnificat for free!)  I could pray morning and evening prayer directly out of the Divine Office or find it online, but this is screen-free and seems more doable.

read Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus by Sherry A. Weddell.  Nancy at Reading Catholic named it the best book she'd read in 2013.  I've always remembered her review, and I'm ready to dive in.  This book has been talked about quite a bit in the Catholic world for the last couple of years.

read Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial? by Guy Consolmagno, SJ and Paul Mueller, SJ.  When I heard about this book on The Jennifer Fulwiler Show, I made a mental note of it and picked it up at the bookstore.  I've already started it, and it's very accessible.  I just have to choose to read something besides the fiction I've been escaping to while we prepare our house for market.  The authors' backgrounds are admirable: Br. Guy Consolmagno, SJ is a graduate of MIT, a Vatican astronomer, and a Jesuit brother.  Paul Mueller, SJ is a graduate of the University of Chicago, a Vatican Observatory research staff member, and a Jesuit priest.  I know I will finish this book wishing I'd read the rest of it sooner because faith and the cosmos is a subject I am currently nerding out on.

read Arriving at Amen: Seven Catholic Prayers That Even I Can Offer by Leah Libresco.  I'm not a regular reader of Libresco's blog, Unequally Yoked, but I poked around it a little bit after I heard about her atheist-to-Catholic conversion in 2012.  (Her conversion was even featured on CNN!)  I found her so fascinating because it sounded like she thought her way to Catholicism.  That's a subject I'd like to read more about: if I went back to school, I'd study philosophy and theology.  This book is supposed to cover her conversion, as well as be an exploration of prayer from her unique perspective.

reread The Lamb's Supper: The Mass as Heaven on Earth by Scott Hahn.  I've read this book and want to revisit it to deepen my appreciation for the Eucharist and the Mass. Hahn's memoir Rome Sweet Home (co-written by his wife, Kimberly) was instrumental in my massive reversion to the Church several years ago.  After my reversion, I looked up what else Hahn had written and read this book.I'm looking forward to reexamining the link between Scripture and the Mass.

read Girl at the End of the World: My Escape from Fundamentalism in Search of Faith with a Future by Elizabeth Esther.  I read about this book at Modern Mrs. Darcy, and I've been wanting to read it ever since.  I find memoirs so helpful in understanding people from different backgrounds. I'm also choosing this book because I understand Esther converted to Catholicism, and as a Catholic, I enjoy learning about how people walk toward the faith.  I love conversion stories.  Looking forward.

Perhaps a little too low in the stack

Anything missing from your list of books read this year? What do you wish you'd read by now? Do you need a spiritual reading plan?  What are you reading for your faith right now?

What I've been reading (July 2015)

The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt.  Holling Hoodhood is a remarkable seventh grader.  He holds his own with a tough teacher, bullying, parental demands, rats, a first love, athletic competition, family drama, Shakespeare, and the backdrop of the Vietnam War.  If I went through what he did in the book, I'd be quaking in my boots and/or developing an ulcer.  Holling seems to handle it all with aplomb.  Or perhaps Mrs. Baker and their weekly Wednesday meeting is what holds him together? Charming, graceful, and full of smarts.  Like I said in my mid-year reading roundup, I was fondly recalling this book as soon as I finished it. One of my faves of the year so far.

Wish You Were Eyre (The Mother Daughter Book Club #6) by Heather Vogel Frederick.  Bits of Jane Eyre were all over the most recent release in this series, just like all the books before it.  Each book has homages to the fictional group's current book selection.  I wondered how Frederick would pay tribute to the mysterious third floor happenings of Thornfield Hall, and she did so in a clever way.  Megan's long-awaited trip to Paris Fashion Week is the highlight of this book. Fun.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart.  I kept reading this book to see what happened; so, I give the author credit for suspense.  I also appreciated the small nod to Wuthering Heights. However, I didn't really care about the story or the characters.  I didn't buy a crucial part of the plot, but teenagers (including my past teen self) can make really inane mistakes.  I can't recommend this one, though I'd take an island with houses for all my family members!

I feel like I am forgetting something this month!  Goodreads list, don't fail me now!

What did you read this month? Linking up as usual with Modern Mrs Darcy's Quick Lit Reviews.  Check out her post this month for loads of other chats about what people have been reading.

P.S. Want more bookish fun?  Check out what I read in June and my 2015 mid-year roundup of what I've been reading!

Monday, July 13, 2015

A mid-year reading roundup

I thought naming my five favorite books of 2014 was so fun, I decided to check in on my favorites mid-year as well.

Without further ado, I give you my top five favorite books of 2015 thus far, in no particular order and not necessarily published this year:

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. My goodness, this was a heck of a book.  I'd never read anything like this before.  As a fan of all things of the British Isles, being transported into the early eighteenth century Highlands was a wild ride.  This book is heavy on what we Catholics like to call the marital embrace (thank you, JP2 and your Theology of the Body), and that could be a deal breaker for some readers.  However, speaking of, I was pleased to see echoes of JP2's beautiful teachings in the story.  This is not just a romance though; it would be unfair to classify it as such.  It's part romance, fantasy, and historical fiction, all wrapped up in one. Capable, intelligent Claire and loyal, loving Jamie are at the center of this sweeping novel.  You won't be able to put it down.

The Mother Daughter Book Club Series by Heather Vogel Frederick.  I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy zipping through this bookish and girlish series.  It celebrates the bond between mothers and daughters, families, great books, and fellowship.  We read as creative Megan, writer Emma, athletic Cassidy, and all-around talented Jess grow through the ups and downs of sixth grade all the way to sixteen, one book club pick at a time.  One more book in the series due for publishing. What will be the final book club selection? Any guesses?

Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin.  Utterly readable, Better Than Before is a study of everyday habits and a natural extension of her Happiness books.  I liked the Happiness books more than this one, but that didn't stop me from nerding out over Rubin's insightful research into her topic. She uses a self-created Four Tendencies framework to organize the book.  I'm an Obliger.  This would explain why I often try to set up unique ways of gaining accountability when setting life goals, large and small. Take Rubin's quiz to find out what kind of person you are as it relates to habits: an Obliger, a Rebel, an Upholder, or a Questioner.  Also: I'm in the booooooook!

The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt.  This top-5-favorite-so-far selection is a scoop on my upcoming What I've been reading post.  I finished this book not too long ago, and it was such a relief to sink into the witty (but not too witty for its own good) writing, likable characters, and glimpse into adolescence during the Vietnam War era.  I don't claim to be a Shakespeare fan, but I very much appreciated how his plays were woven into the narrative of Holling Hoodhood's seventh grade year.  Can you feel fondness for a book right after you read it?  I did.

Geekpriest: Confessions of a New Media Pioneer by Fr. Roderick Vonhögen. I really enjoyed Fr. Roderick's story of coming into the priesthood and his determined and blessed usage of new media to evangelize the world.  His book is a study in how being the person God made you to be is all He wants.  Fans of Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, gaming, technology, and comics will enjoy this book.

UPDATE:  I figured out what's missing from this list.

What's in your top five so far this year? 

* Achieve the umlaut over the letter o by:
1) holding down alt + u
2) let go of the keys after you see highlighted quotation marks
3) type the letter o

At least, that's what happened on my MacBook Pro using Blogger.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

On encouraging creativity in your husband (or wife)

A Mother's Day treat to myself: new art supplies!

I have been feeling the pull (the very need, it seems) towards creative outlets for over a year now. I am creeping slowly towards more actual writing, reading encouraging books and blogs about creativity, and dreaming a little bigger.

I've always been creative.  I loved dramatic play and the arty extracurriculars as a kid.  I really loved the old, light blue typewriter I had as an older elementary student.  It was delightful hearing the click-clack of the keys as I typed.  Naming my characters was very nearly the best part of writing.

I lost sight of some of that creativity as I got older, figuring things out, being angsty in my twenties. (Wink.) Motherhood in my thirties, with all its beautiful, messy glory, has helped zero back in on what energizes me.

My husband is an artist.  He is trained in fine art and graphic design but seems to enjoy digital art and making costumes the most lately.  (Did you know people sculpt amazing costume pieces out of EVA foam?) He also sings really well.

We met at a community theater.  He was the main Nazi in Cabaret.  I was a Cabaret Patron, a fancy title for extra.  It has been easier for him to stay involved in theater as our children were born, and I have been okay with that thus far.

Nowadays, I'm at home, facilitating our homeschool and volunteering at church, and my husband works in design.

Lately, we've been having an ongoing discussion about how to encourage each other creatively.  We ask questions like this:

  • Could I get away to write once a week?
  • Should I blog more?
  • Shouldn't our next house have an art studio for you and an office for me?
  • What are our long-term creative goals?
  • What could we be doing every day to reach those?
  • How can we make sure we talk about this regularly?  (I think this might involve an early Friday evening happy hour and a snack.)
  • How can we make more time for you to work on costume pieces?
  • How can we meet our family's growing needs (and some wants) while leaving room for creative outlets?  
  • How can we observe and gently encourage our kids' emerging talents?
  • How can we discern for and allow the Holy Spirit to breathe life into our pursuits?  
  • Could we work on something together?

Considering these possibilities has been invigorating and exciting.  I am curious what other couples do to encourage each other creatively, in a large and everyday sense.  Big dreams and practicalities.  Share in the comments, if you'd like!

Monday, June 15, 2015

What I've been reading (June 2015)

I've been reading a lot this month, but it's been pretty light reading with small, quick doses of one fine literature selection.

You might remember this huge stack on my dresser from last month.  I've been working my way through it.  First up was:

Shopaholic to the Stars by Sophie Kinsella.  I've giggled, chuckled, and been thoroughly amused by her other books, and I was excited to read this latest installment of Becky Bloomwood's adventures in shopping. (But why? I don't even like shopping that much.)  Except there wasn't a whole lot of shopping in this one.  I like to read what Becky puts together.  The focus was mostly on Tarquin and Suze (Suz-ee or Sooz, you think?) and Becky working a celebrity angle.  I finished it but didn't enjoy it as much as the others.  I was surprised by the ending, too.  It seemed like a ploy or trick. Next, I tried to read:

Dragonfly in Amber (Outlander #2) by Diana Gabaldon, but I abandoned it a little ways in.  I abandoned it in a "I'll likely come back to this but am just not in the mood for it right now" kind of way.  Not being able to pronounce words, places, and names drives me a little batty.  (Why didn't I look up how to pronounce Sassenach sooner?)  All of the French names were getting to me.  I enjoyed the beginning of the book (wow, a complete turnaround from the end of the first in this series!), but then, I decided that it was too much for right now.  I also abandoned the new Brooke Shields memoir about her mom a few pages in.  Then, I moved onto the fun...

Pies and Prejudice (The Mother-Daughter Book Club, #4) by Heather Vogel Frederick.  These books are too fun to read.  The author went all out for the ending of this one.  I guess you have to when your book is inspired by Pride and Prejudice!  There's a big dose of all things English, if that's your cup of tea.

I also read another Liane Moriarty book this month.  The Husband's Secret had a secret I just couldn't buy into, but I kept reading it because I wanted to see what happened with another plot in the story.  Moriarty can pull her reader in with a great narrative voice, but so much of this book wasn't believable.  The epilogue plain ticked me off.  Too much cheese.  To date, Big Little Lies is my favorite of this author's books.

Instead of grabbing another book off of my precarious stack, I found myself floating over to the Mother-Daughter Book Club books at my next fairly unnecessary library trip.  Home for the Holidays (book #5) made its way home with me and was quickly finished.  For being Becca's story, there wasn't much focus on her and her family's situation.  Still, I'm glad I read it, for now I want to read the Betsy-Tacy series, which Nancy at Reading Catholic often mentions!  They sound like books that I would love but never discovered as a kid.

Next to last this month was Austin Kleon's new Show Your Work!: 10 Ten Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered.  A very nice follow up to Steal Like an Artist (one of my top 5 favorites I read last year), this book is another shot in the arm for creatives.  I bought new art supplies and a Moleskin because of him.

Finally, I read Rainbow Rowell's Landline, which showcases her talent of writing dialogue.  She's like Moriarty in that her narrative voice is very strong.  The magical plot device almost made me ditch the book, but I really like her novels and wanted to see it through.  The main character's husband, Neal, seemed underdeveloped.  What was I supposed to learn about him?  I felt like he was supposed to gain some insight by the end, but it never really happened.  And why did Georgie love him so much?  What was their connection?  Much of this book didn't feel fully realized, but I'm glad I read it.  My favorite Rowell book is still Eleanor & Park, followed by Fangirl, and this is a distant third.

I also reached a milestone in my classic literature selection this month.  I hit 200 (out of 600+) digital pages on my Kindle app.  Whoo-hoo!  I think I can, I think I can......if I finish, I'll let myself watch the movie (again)!  I should be done by now, but I kept (keep!) picking up other books and sabotaging myself.

Tell me what you're reading in the comments.  Linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy's Quick Lit, as usual.  Click over there for more what-have-you-been-reading fun.