Wednesday, February 17, 2016

My favorite book of 2015

It's February, and I'm finally declaring my favorite book of 2015.  I feel like everyone did this two months ago, but I wasn't ready to declare myself yet.

I think about this book often.  I think about the sheer joy I felt bouncing along with the author's words as his brave protagonist faced every day of tricky seventh grade.  I think about the quiet way he handled a moment of faith between two unlikely allies.  I think about rats.  I think about cream puffs.  I think about how I wanted to write just like this when I read it.  I think about Shakespeare and how I should give it another chance.  I think about tough teachers and all the big things we go through in school and life.  I think about how I felt a fondness for the book as soon as I finished it.

My favorite book of 2015 was The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt.  It wasn't published this year, but this year is when I read it.

I totally prefer this cover.

Runner-ups include:

Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt
Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
Shadows on the Rock by Willa Cather
The Life Intended by Kristin Harmel

You can check out how this compares to my mid-year reading roundup right here.

What was your favorite book of 2015, published then or earlier?

Monday, February 15, 2016

What I've been reading (February 2016)

It's double the fun today as I update the world wide web on just what exactly I've been reading since I posted in December.  Thank goodness for my Goodreads app, or I wouldn't know what I read.

Bread and Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table with Recipes by Shauna Niequist  I have fond memories of reading this book electronically as 3/5 of my family traipsed out to the Christmas tree farm fields to find a good one.  Little sis had fallen asleep en route to the farm; so, I stayed warm while I flicked my thumb on the iPhone, turning pages.  Niequist was warm-hearted, encouraging, and full of inspiration to let people in, both in heart and home.  Let your guard down, cook some food, ignore the dust bunnies, and enjoy your guests.

Coming Home for Christmas by Jenny Hale  I believe this was the first Christmas romance I found as we approached the big holiday and was certainly not the last.  I receive great joy from reading Christmas-themed books around the holidays, and this was a fun, easy read.  The protagonist finds work as a House Manager and more romance than she bargained for at such a job.  (I'd like to take this opportunity to clarify that when I read romance, it's not a bodice-ripper.  I have read those kinds of books here and there; so, please, don't read me as high and mighty or judgmental.  I just don't anymore.)

The Mistletoe Promise by Richard Paul Evans  I have a feeling that admitting to reading one (okay, maybe three) of his books will cause some readers to roll their eyes in bookish superiority, but I was delighted to read this book.  The premise?  Hard to believe.  The writing?  Sometimes cheesy.  But I still loved it.  I love a story about grace, mercy, and forgiveness.  It was set at Christmas time!  It was romantic!  It was gentlemanly!  I couldn't help it!  And it had a pretty cover that sucked me right in at the library!

The Mistletoe Inn by Richard Paul Evans  This book's jacket caught my eye because it was about writers and a writer's conference in wintery, Christmasy New England, and that's a winner, right there!  I could see the ending coming a mile away, but I really enjoyed the writerly setting with dashes of glamour and romance.

Promise Me by Richard Paul Evans  This is where my Christmas romance run started to sputter.  I didn't like the plot twist in this one at all, and I nearly abandoned it.  The book was an easy read, though, and I saw it through.  If you like Christmas book candy, be sure to read the others, but I don't really recommend this one.  However, I would like to commend Mr. Evans on his heroic male leads.

Winter Stroll by Elin Hilderbrand  I've seen Hilderbrand recommended many times at Modern Mrs Darcy; so, I thought I'd give her a whirl when I saw its lovely Christmas cover on the New Books shelves at the library (I really loaded up that day).  This book pulled me right in with all its talk about quaint inns and other fabulous places on Nantucket.  I loved the family drama, the national news anchorwoman character, and the actual idea of the Winter Stroll.  The Nantucket setting was so fabulously enchanting.  And come to find out, I accidentally read book two of a series!  Now, I need to interlibrary loan book one (Winter Street), but perhaps I should wait for Christmas 2016!  Or will the third book in the Winter series be out then?  And, hey, Hilderbrand fans: which summer book of hers should I try next?

A Very Nantucket Christmas: Two Holiday Novels by Nancy Thayer  I just could not quit the Christmas theme at this point.  Winter Stroll's Nantucket setting sent me searching for similarly themed books, and this one hit the spot (I was all over Google searching and reading about Nantucket at this point).  The stories were fine (middle aged newly married woman deals with selfish daughter-in-law and middle aged married couple sees their daughter get married on the island), not my favorites of all my Christmas themed books this year, and I found myself out of steam after this one.  Lost December by Richard Paul Evans went back to the library unread.  Maybe next Christmas, RPE.

For the Love by Jen Hatmaker   I happily received this for beautifully-covered book for Christmas, and it was a heartwarming, encouraging plea to be realistic about all the perceived pressures we ladies experience as daughters, mothers, wives, workers, church members, and just plain people.  I really appreciated that aspect of the book in particular.  We've gotten so out of hand with our expectations (or perhaps I should just speak for myself) with the advent of the internet and looking at everyone's lives on social media.  There was more to the book than this topic, but I recommend it mostly for that reason.  For the love, ladies, let's all dial it down, eh?  We are driving ourselves batty.

Abandoned:  I tossed aside all sorts of books in my post-Christmas letdown, such as Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson (I really wanted to like that one), The Snow Queen by Michael Cunningham (I couldn't even care enough to see what was going on with the angel sighting), Surprised by Truth 2 by Patrick Madrid (just wasn't in the mood for conversion stories, which I usually love), and Giants in the Earth by O.E. Rølvaag.  I just finally called that one quits.  It was haunting me like Jacob Marley, and I said enough!  Back to the library you go.  I might not be able to show my face at the Well Read Mom meeting (haha!), but I can move onto what I really want to read without that book giving me a guilty conscience.

What about you?  Tell me about what you've been reading in the comments.  Any of these?  Linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy's Quick Lit for the monthly chit chat about what we've been reading.

P.S. More bookish fun from December and November!  Check out my favorite book of 2015!

Monday, January 4, 2016

Goal setting and checklists for the new year

With today being the first day back from the holidays, I am inspired to write through several goals I've been rolling around in my head.    

I've been very encouraged by Gretchen Rubin's books, and one of her quotations floats to the surface often:

"We manage what we monitor."

Many of the goals I have in mind have been goals in the past, but I am hoping that monitoring them and writing about them publicly will provide the accountability that this Obliger needs to make progress with truly desired goals.  It's easy to forget about these things in the everydayness of mom life.  A checklist in a high traffic area will keep my goals off the back burner!  Hopefully.  I did something similar to this when I was expecting my first child: eat my protein, do my exercises, et cetera, and I am proud to say it worked.

Take a reading break every day after lunch.  I have been doing this more often since it has really started to sink in that I need a break in the afternoon, too.  I may not be able to take a nap, but relaxing into a book is the next best thing.  It should coincide with my oldest's quiet time and the youngest's nap.

Be finished with school before lunch.  The day just flows more peacefully when we've started with school earlier and finish completely before lunch.  It's hard to restart school after a lunch break.  Someday, we will always have to restart after lunch and rest, but right now, the oldest is only in second grade.  Schoolwork can be done in a couple of hours.  If it's not, I need to reexamine what I we are doing.  This goal coincides nicely with the next one.

Start school at 9:00am.  Yeah, I know.  Homeschooling is nice because you don't have to have a schedule.  That's true.  But without outside accountability, I sometimes start later than I'd like.  Do I beat myself up for it?  No.  Do we still get work done?  Yeah.  I'd like a little more routine, and the kids do well with routine.  A few hard stops sprinkled throughout the day will help us out.  This looks like "this before that" not "reading at 9:00, writing at 9:15, math at 9:30."

Write for 30 minutes in the morning.  I don't know how this one's going to go, but I have to try and start somewhere.  I feel like I should say 60 minutes, but that seems like a lot.  Am I going to get up? Is my 2 year old going to get up with me? Anne Lamott wrote that you have to get your tush in the chair and just do it if you want to write; so, let's get this going.

Sit in stillness and pray for at least 5 minutes.  I used to do morning and evening prayer via the magazine Magnificat, but I fell off the wagon when I stopped purchasing the magazine.  I want to build up my intentional prayer life, but I am undecided about how to move forward.  This is a start.

Lights out at 10:00pm.  This means no reading, no iPhone, no laptop, and no Kindle.  No, no, no, no. And yes to more sleep!  I won't be able to get up for writing time if I don't go to bed at a decent time, not to mention I am a better mom when I sleep properly.

Put the iPhone down for the night no later than 9:00pm.  I feel like I should call this one even earlier, but let's be realistic.  If I put it down by 9:00pm, I would still have one hour of book reading before bed, and one hour of bed reading is like an oasis of time, is it not?  It's like time stretches in a thousand ways while my brain is locked into the words.  My being breathes again when I read a good book in bed after the kids are asleep (bless their souls).

Exercise for 30 minutes.  I don't know how to be specific about this one.  Walk outside?  I've tried that in the morning.  After rest time in the afternoon?  With a DVD?  Oh, gosh, I hate even writing about this!  But I know I need to do it for my mood, being inside a lot with the kids, and having the energy to work on these goals.  Still, I groan inwardly....I'll have to put a big star on the monitoring chart next to this one.  And highlight it.

Get at least 15 minutes of fresh air each day. Put on the big ugly coat and get outside! Throw hats and coats on the kids and get outside! Get out there before it gets dark! Game changer.

Wrestle with the middle child at least once a day.  That little dude's love language is physical touch for sure.  He loooooves to wrestle.

Read a book to the youngest child at least once a day.  Keep board books by the bed and read them to her before we nurse to sleep.  It is very easy for my oldest child to receive the most read aloud time with homeschool and all, and the middle child gets read aloud time at bedtime, at the least.  Little Miss Youngest misses out more than I'd like.

There are other things on my goal list, but these are the ones that seem easiest to monitor via the checklist strategy.  (Gretchen has a free blank 31 day printable for your goals, if you're interested. I had to print mine at 90% to get it all on one page.)  I begin today, Monday the 4th.

Has the new year inspired you to zone in on your goals?  Please share in the comments on the what and the how!  Happy 2016!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

What I've been reading - December 2015

Hello, readers!  It's time to check out what I've been reading again, and as always, I am linking up to Modern Mrs. Darcy's Quick Lit linkup.  Be sure to check out all the other readers to get more short and sweet book reviews.

Ida Elisabeth by Sigrid Undset was the Well Read Mom selection of the month.  I would never have picked up this book without WRM (I probably would've tried Kristin Lavransdatter first), and I am mostly glad I read it. Set in 1930s Norway, protagonist Ida Elisabeth slugs through a difficult family life with the seeming toughness of a bull.  The gal doesn't give up. She hangs on, experiences tremendous growing pains, and learns the meaning of self-sacrifice.  One fellow WRM remarked at our meeting that Ida Elisabeth's life was like purgatory on earth.  I concurred.  I can appreciate where the book went, how it ended, and what I took from it, but I can't say I actually recommend it.  At least, not in the way I recommend last month's Well Read Mom selection, Shadows on the Rock. Maybe something was lost in translation.

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert was a fun, jaunty read from a warm, encouraging author.  I read a large print edition so it was a particularly big experience!  Ha!  But, no, I really appreciated this book from its surprising account of where a book idea went when Gilbert didn't follow through on the inspiration to her insider look at what people tell themselves when they want to create but feel all the feels of fear.  I'll probably read this again, and I'll probably want my own copy someday.

Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt was my next (quick) read, and it was a departure from the beloved style of The Wednesday Wars and Okay for Now.  The core of this book was handled more seriously, whereas Wednesday and Okay used humor to work through their heavy subjects. So, it was a quieter book, more simple, but it still had some of that Schmidt wisdom slid in there for us to take in.  Evocative.  Don't miss it if you're a Schmidt fan, but it's not my favorite of his so far because I didn't completely buy into the ending.  (I'm still so inspired by you, Mr. Schmidt!)

Better Nate Than Ever by Tim Federle was my last read of the month.  I saw it suggested on Goodreads, and I loved the whole Broadway fan aspect of the novel.  Nate's super-ultra-mega awareness and energy levels as he sneaks to NYC for an audition about wore me out within the first few chapters (and read a little forced), but there were times I laughed out loud, too.  I mean, I cackled near the end of the book when Nate is asked if he likes waffles and Federle writes the following to express the obviousness of Nate's answer: "I want to say, "Is Christine Daae's high note pre-recorded in Phantom?", but it seems too early in the day for that kind of insider stuff."  And I loved Nate's actual audition.  So, for anyone who lives and breathes musical theater, I imagine you would have affection for this book.  Some parents will want to preview.

I have very nearly abandoned The Expats by Chris Pavone.  Should I give it a few more pages?  I sense it could be getting more exciting soon, but I would just like it to go ahead and get more exciting.

What have you been reading lately?

Sunday, November 29, 2015

2 books to add to your kid's Advent book list

Happy first week of Advent to you!

Before I publish this year's Advent Book Countdown list (check out the 2014, 2013, and 2012 lists), I wanted to share two books that I decided to add to our collection.

I used to buy less cautiously.  I got excited by all the book lists online and bought picture books at full price.  Now, I interlibrary loan books and try them out for a season before committing.  And if I commit to buying the book, I search for it in used condition first.  

Brigid's Cloak: An Ancient Irish Story by Bryce Milligan was suggested by Catholic Mosaic author, Cay Gibson for St. Brigid's feast day (February 1), and I quickly realized it needed to be added to our Advent selections.  The illustrations are beautiful.  I was unfamiliar with this story prior to Brigid's feast day; so, I was pleased to find another book of such quality to add happily to our Advent collection.

Saint Francis Celebrates Christmas by Mary Caswell Walsh was discovered after a friend named her Advent baby after St. Francis in an effort to honor what season she was born.  Did you know St. Francis created the first (live!) Christmas manger scene and is the inspiration for the ones we put in our homes and churches?  I didn't until a few years ago.  This book is a keeper and a terrific addition to an Advent book list.  It costs a small fortune used and new on Amazon right now, but you might find it in bookstores.  I unexpectedly found my brand new copy at my local Catholic goods store.  

I also bought a new book about Our Lady of Guadalupe and another one about St. Francis and the nativity scene, but they aren't vetted yet.  Next, I need to sift through the St. Stephen/King Wencelas books.  We've enjoyed many of them, but we haven't purchased any yet!

Did you add any new books to your Advent collection this year?

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!