Sunday, November 29, 2015


Rilla Grey @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

We went on our traditional after-Thanksgiving-dinner walk on Thursday. The sunshine was gorgeous, but the air was quite chilly!

Rilla was adorable as usual.

Rilla @ Mt. Hope ChroniclesShannon & Rilla @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

More pictures coming up!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Lord, behold our family here assembled.

Give Thanks @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

"Lord, behold our family here assembled. We thank Thee for this place in which we dwell; for the love that unites us; for the peace accorded us this day; for the hope with which we expect the morrow; for the health, the work, the food, and the bright skies, that make our lives delightful; for our friends in all parts of the earth, and our friendly helpers in this foreign isle. Let peace abound in our small company. Purge out of every heart the lurking grudge. Give us grace and strength to forbear and to persevere. Offenders, give us the grace to accept and to forgive offenders. Forgetful ourselves, help us to bear cheerfully the forgetfulness of others. Give us courage and gaiety and the quiet mind. Spare to us our friends, soften to us our enemies. Bless us, if it may be, in all our innocent endeavours. If it may not, give us the strength to encounter that which is to come, that we be brave in peril, constant in tribulation, temperate in wrath, and in all changes of fortune, and, down to the gates of death, loyal and loving one to another. As the clay to the potter, as the windmill to the wind, as children of their sire, we beseech of Thee this help and mercy for Christ’s sake." ~Robert Louis Stevenson

Family Here Assembled @ Mt. Hope Chronicles 

:: Being in Gratitude by Peter Leithart @ First Things

We are “called into life by the Word of God” (175), which is a word of grace. Thanks is the human answer to that word, gratias in response to grace. We have, Barth says, our “being in gratitude.”

:: A Blessing from the Supper of the Lamb by Pete Peterson @ The Rabbit Room [I’m adding this book to my Advent reading this year. Want to join me?]

“For all its greatness (trust me—I am the last man on earth to sell it short), the created order cries out for futher greatness still. The most splendid dinner, the most exquisite food, the most gratifying company, arouse more appetites than they satisfy. They do not slake man’s thirst for being; they whet it beyond all bounds. Dogs eat to give their bodies rest; man dines and sets his heart in motion. All tastes fade, of course, but not the taste for greatness they inspire; each love esacpes us, but not the longing it provokes for a better convivium, a higher session. We embrace the world in all its glorious solidity, yet it struggles in our very arms, declares itself a pilgrim world, and, through the lattices and windows of its nature, discloses cities more desirable still.” ~Robert Farrar Capon

Thanksgiving @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Christmas Reading

Christmas Reading @ Mt. Hope Chronicles
Yes, I realize it is the day before Thanksgiving. I’m so thankful for our relaxing Thanksgiving celebrations at my parents’ house just down the road. I’m making my traditional Orange Cream Souffle (mousse-like jell-o dessert) and baking Swedish Limpa (bread) today in preparation. I’m also taking pictures of my best friend’s kids this afternoon when we’ve finished with a few school lessons.

BUT, this is also the weekend for pulling all our Christmas books off the shelf! I cannot wait. I look forward to the Christmas books more than the decorating and music.

Last year I shared the following links:

I’ve shared many of my favorites in past posts:

I noticed with excitement that two of my favorite out-of-print Christmas books are available used on Amazon for reasonable prices right at this moment (they’ve often been available only at much higher prices!). Snatch them up before they’re gone!

This year I’ve added The Wee Christmas Cabin of Carn-na-ween to our collection since Ruth Sawyer is the author of two of my most favorite Christmas books. We’ll also be enjoying Christmas Day in the Morning by Pearl S. Buck (because, well, Pearl S. Buck), The Christmas Wish (the photography—oooohhh!), and Christmas Farm (perfect for reading the day we get our Christmas tree).

Last month I shared four Christmas books in my Book Detectives series: Tree of Cranes, Christmas Farm, The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree, and The Family Under the Bridge (which would make a wonderful chapter book read-aloud).

This year I have added a few new books to our collection (of course!). I discovered a beautiful nativity story with pictures by Giotto. Giotto is one of the artists we are studying this year (cycle 1) with Classical Conversations. I’m adding this book (and possibly The Glorious Impossible by Madeleine L’Engle) to our other Christmas art books by Rembrandt (cycle 2), Grandma Moses (cycle 3), and Norman Rockwell (cycle 3).

I’ve also added two more wonderful picture books: The Trees of the Dancing Goats (a Hanukkah story by the delightful Patricia Polacco who wrote my favorite Christmas Tapestry) and Saint Francis and the Christmas Donkey (gorgeously illustrated by Robert Byrd).

Our Christmas chapter book read-aloud will be The Birds’ Christmas Carol.

I think our collection might last us all month!

Have you added to your Christmas book collection this year?

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Christmas Gift Ideas 2015

Christmas Gift Ideas @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

I’ll bet half of you are already finished with your Christmas shopping. Some of you enjoy leisurely shopping in festive stores all through the Christmas season. But some of you may be like me the week before Christmas: Hallelujah, Amazon Prime!! I rarely shop, and even rarer still is the leisurely shopping trip. I also have no place to store gifts prior to an occasion. So I’m all about two-day shipping the week of.

Every year, though, I come up with a few ideas ahead of time and share here on the blog. Some of these gift ideas are things we have enjoyed this past year, some are things I’m considering as gifts for my kids or loved-ones.

[All the Amazon links on my blog are affiliate links. I do receive a small commission whenever you go through any of my links and purchase items—any item (tires, vitamins, diapers, shoes) even if you do not purchase the item I linked! I am so thankful for those of you who choose to purchase through my blog. You have helped support Mt. Hope Chronicles (and my book addiction) over the past few years!]

What’s on your list?

:: Educational Stocking Stuffers ::

Ancient Egypt TOOB (I love all the TOOB collections—so many to choose from! They’re a perfect shape and size for stockings! Around the World, World Landmarks, Musical Instruments, Mystical Realms…)

Roman Playmobil Guys (My kids have played with Playmobil sets more than any other toy I’ve purchased for them and they hold up well! They’re the toys I’ll be saving for grandkids.)

Classical Historian’s Ancient History Go Fish (My boys enjoy the American History version and I’ll add the Medieval version to our collection next year.)

Professor Noggin’s Ancient Civilizations Trivia Card Game (Many others to choose from in this series including various history, science, and geography editions)

Timeline Historical Events Card Game

Math Wrap-Ups or Think Fun Math Dice

Story Cubes

Magnetic Poetry –Kid Genius Kit (I adore so many of these sets! Use in the car or on-to-go with a magnetic board or cookie sheet!)

:: Activities and Toys ::

Amazing Minecraft Math: Cool Math Activity Book (I can’t be the only one with Minecraft-obsessed children.)

Ralph Masiello’s Ancient Egypt Drawing Book (I love all of Masiello’s drawing books, especially the robot and dragon ones, but my boys have enjoyed this one as we’re studying Ancient Egypt.)

Illustration School: Let's Draw Happy People (This drawing book was a huge hit with the two young artists who received this book last year. It’s so sweet and fun! There are other books in the series.)

Ozobot Bit 2.0 (I think Russ and the boys are receiving this robot/coding toy this year.)

:: Games ::

7 Wonders (It took us a few times to get the hang of this one because it’s complicated to learn, but now it’s our favorite game to play!)

Forbidden Island (The boys are getting this one for Christmas.)

Catan Dice Game (A little bit Catan, a little bit Yatzee, great small package for an on-the-go game)

Ticket To Ride (The European version has been our overall favorite game this year. We need to add another version, maybe The Heart of Africa expansion.)

Gift Ideas, Games and More @ Mt. Hope Chronicles 

:: Movies ::

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (Only $4.75 right now; I’m adding this one to our family movie collection.)

:: Music ::

The Hunts: Those Younger Days (By far my favorite album this year!)

Andrew Peterson: The Burning Edge of Dawn (This album was just released in October and it’s fantastic!)

:: Books ::

Boys in the Boat (This was one of my top favorites this year and has wide appeal. It’s a WWII-era non-fiction, hopeful narrative, underdog sports story. Everyone I know who has read it—teenagers, men, and women—has loved it!)

In Defense of Sanity (G. K. Chesterton has to be one of the most quotable writers of all time. This is a collection of his short essays—entertaining and brilliant.)

The Chosen (A serious modern classic and a fascinating look at Jewish culture. Levi and I loved this one this year.)

The Awakening of Miss Prim (Do you have a homeschool mom on your list? One who loves Classical education, charming French villages, and Jane Austen? This is the book for her. I reviewed it here.)

The Squire’s Tales (This is my own personal favorite series. Easy to read. Romantic. Strong male and female characters. Hilarious. Profound. And a little bit of cultural literacy. Boys love it. Girls love it. Moms love it. I don’t know what else to say about it.)

The Knight’s Tales (If you have kids on your list too young for The Squire’s Tales, start with this series.)

Dominic (This is one of my favorite children’s chapter books. Perfect for kids ages 4 to 90. Read some snippets here.)

A Nest is Noisy (This whole picture book series is gorgeous!! Each book can be a short read-aloud or provide hours of magic as a child pores over the details on each page.)

:: For Book Lovers ::

Personal Embosser (From the library of)

Personal Library Kit from Knock Knock (oh, I miss the days of checkout cards and date stamps!)

Punctuation Page Markers (fun!)

Shakespearean Insult Bandages

First Lines of Literature Mug and Novel Teas (individually tagged with literary quotes)

Reading Journal

:: For Jane Austen Fans ::

Jane Austen Bandages

Jane Austen Tattoos (we had so much fun with these at book club!)

Marrying Mr. Darcy Board Game

Magnetic Poetry—Pride & Poetry Kit (or other authors such as Shakespeare, Brothers Grimm, or Edgar Allan Poe)

Friday, November 20, 2015

Food for Thought ~ “gravy soaks in and grace shines through”

Don't Be Afraid @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

Photo by my mom, Cheri Dunbar


“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period…”

“I see a beautiful city and a brilliant people rising from this abyss, and, in their struggles to be truly free, in their triumphs and defeats, through long years to come, I see the evil of this time and of the previous time of which this is the natural birth, gradually making expiation for itself and wearing out.”

“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known.” ~Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities






"To know and to serve God, of course, is why we’re here, a clear truth, that, like the nose on your face, is near at hand and easily discernible but can make you dizzy if you try to focus on it hard. But a little faith will see you through. What else will do except faith in such a cynical, corrupt time? When the country goes temporarily to the dogs, cats must learn to be circumspect, walk on fences, sleep in trees, and have faith that all this woofing is not the last word.

"What is the last word, then? Gentleness is everywhere in daily life, a sign that faith rules through ordinary things: through cooking and small talk, through storytelling, making love, fishing, tending animals and sweet corn and flowers, through sports, music and books, raising kids — all the places where the gravy soaks in and grace shines through. Even in a time of elephantine vanity and greed, one never has to look far to see the campfires of gentle people.” ~Garrison Keillor, We Are Still Married: Stories & Letters 


:: From an ordinary life comes extraordinary lessons by Bob Welch @ The Register-Guard [so lovely]

And here’s the lesson that was reinforced for me: In a world where influence now explodes with the power of a sound bite or the speed of a tweet, never doubt the steady impact of a well-lived, other-oriented life. Consistency over time.

“With Jesus, the kingdom of heaven is found in the ordinary,” Shriver said. “Bread and wine from the kitchen counter, fair wages for the worker, caring for your neighbor.”




"Those who love you are not fooled by mistakes you have made or dark images you hold about yourself. They remember your beauty when you feel ugly; your wholeness when you are broken; your innocence when you feel guilty; and your purpose when you are confused.” ~Alan Cohen




:: Mom Thanks The Team Of Doctors And Emergency Responders Who Saved Her Son’s Life @ Little Things [I may have been sobbing at the end of this one.]




:: Are you killing yourself for nothing? by Donald Miller @ Storyline Blog [Why do we do this to ourselves? In health and exercise, in life, in homeschoolig—so many ways to apply this concept.]

The same technique can be used with all sorts of areas in our lives where we are defeating ourselves. The question is, what constitutes a satisfactory job? What do we really need to do to be a good father, a good employee, a good wife, a good teacher?

:: Hack the Facebook Algorithm for Spiritual Growth. @ Marc Alan Schleske [Not just about spiritual growth—some important ideas to consider here.]

When you were a kid, your mom probably told you that who you hang out with matters. Well, that’s still true. If you’re going to be on Facebook, you’re going to be hanging out with a lot of people and ideas. Those people and ideas are shaping who you are becoming.

:: I don’t get it. by Tresta @ Sharp Paynes

“I’m learning to expect questions I cannot answer – that’s easy; I just say that I can’t answer them. What is far more difficult is questions I would rather not answer.” ~ Madeleine L’Engle, A Circle of Quiet

So I am forever a novice and I can’t afford to be an expert in everything; but I also can’t afford to not be curious and sometimes, curious leads me down a path that just simply dead-ends.

I have to be alright with some mystery – that’s what makes God, God, and me, not God. What if we really could understand and explain and discern every curiosity, every difficult thing? With nothing left to learn, how would we spend this life?




:: This Is Your Brain on Exercise: Why Physical Exercise (Not Mental Games) Might Be the Best Way to Keep Your Mind Sharp @ Open Culture

Which is why we are trying to do this each day:

Because I have at least one of these children…





:: This Comedian Perfectly Captures the Way Moms Completely FREAK OUT When Company is Coming @ For Every Mom [Because laughter is the best medicine, and my kids have watched this comedy routine too many times to count—only it wasn’t quite as funny at the time.]

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Reading Challenge Update ~ September, October, November

Reading Challenge Update ~ September @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

 Derailed. That’s what happened to my reading the past couple months!

With the return to school lessons, the writing assignments due for CC Essentials tutors, tutoring, and my Book Detectives series, I’ve had much less free time. And when I do have free time, I don’t want to read! I will admit to watching 118 episodes of Hawaii Five-O. Yes, now you can think less of me. (grin)

Three of the books I did manage to read were only read because I had to discuss them on schedule (for CC Challenge B) with Levi and his friend McKinnon. But this means that I had deep discussions about the books with two 8th grade boys, and that added to the reading experience.

Clearly, I won’t complete this challenge list in 2015. And my 2016 challenge list is already a mile long!! I’ll see if I can finish strong this month.

Books read:

  • Little Britches (re-read)
  • Where the Red Fern Grows (first time ever reading this one and I loved it much more than I would have as a kid)
  • The Hiding Place (also my first time reading this one)
  • The Family Under the Bridge (I read this one for the first time for my Book Detectives series.)
  • The Book of the Dun Cow [I’m not sure how to categorize this one. It’s a little like Watership Down (one of my all-time favorites) but shorter, more poetic, more romantic, more theological, and more intense. It’s not a child’s cute or funny animal book. It’s a story about human nature (embodied in animals), leadership, and the epic battle between good and evil. Reading Watership Down, I was surprised to be so moved by the noble actions of rabbits. Who knew chickens could move me in the same way?! 4 1/2 stars.]

I also re-read Dominic (my favorite!), The 13 Clocks (so Gothic!), The Mystery of the Missing Lion, and gobs of picture books for my Book Detectives series.

The boys and I finished A Tale of Two Cities!! It took forever for me to read it aloud, but I’m so glad I did. What an epic. What a sob-fest ending. But, oh, how beautiful. It has to be the best ending of any book I’ve ever read. It’s still in my top 10.

I also read aloud Hamlet and The Tempest retold by Leon Garfield. The boys really enjoyed Hamlet.

Books in Progress:

  • Iliad [in progress, trying to read this one with Levi and the Roman Roads Western Culture Greeks DVDs]
  • Paradise Lost [in progress, just began for ChocLit Guild book club]
  • Hamlet [deep reading in progress with my ‘Schole Sisters’]


The 2015 Book List Challenge

[*Added to original list]


Lila: A Novel [I had a more difficult time getting into this novel than Robinson’s previous two novels in the series, but the story was greatly rewarding in the end. What a beautiful picture of grace the author masterfully paints. Marilynne Robinson is at the top of my list. 4 1/2 stars]

Hood [Hood is the first Stephen Lawhead book I’ve read. It is a retelling of the Robin Hood myth. It was well-told and entertaining, but not excellent. I’d like to try another series by Lawhead. 3 1/2 stars]

The Sunday Philosophy Club [This is from the author of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, which I very much enjoyed. Interesting in places, charming in places, and boring in quiet a few places. 3 stars.]

A Girl of The Limberlost (ChocLit Guild) [Sweet, safe, turn of the century romance novel by Gene Stratton-Porter, full of natural history. 3 1/2 stars]

The Brothers K

The Road

Dune [I tried to start it and just couldn’t get going. Maybe I’ll try again later this year.] [I found this article at The Guardian: Dune, 50 years on: how a science fiction novel changed the world. I guess it stays on the list…]

The Once and Future King

The Chosen [A fascinating look at Jewish culture in 1940s Brooklyn, New York, written by Chaim Potok. I was captivated. 4 1/2 stars]

Beloved [Toni Morrison has given us a tragic and graphic but exquisitely-written narrative that seeps the reader in the culture of slavery. Haunting. 4 1/2 stars]

The Book Thief [The narrator (death) and the writing style were very imaginative, picturesque, and poetic. I appreciated reading a book about WWII that gave a bit of insight into the daily life of average poor German citizens. Several characters were endearing. But Hans—I think I love him. Tough but beautiful ending.  4 1/2 stars]

*Whose Body? [Lord Peter Wimsey debuts in this detective novel by Dorothy Sayers. Slightly reminiscent of P.G. Wodehouse, but not nearly so silly, Whose Body? is the first of the series. I mostly read this one so that I could work my way up to Clouds of Witness. 4 stars]

Clouds of Witness

Catch-22 [This was a tough read for me, and I wished it had been about half as long. I cannot read 400+ pages of satirical nonsense before my head explodes. It gave me more to think about, however, as I was reading Unbroken since both books are about bombardiers during WWII. It is an important modern classic, but not at all enjoyable to read. 3 stars]

Lord of the Flies [Lord of the Flies was not cheerful, by any means, but not quite as grim or at least not as explicit as I was expecting. Important modern classic, not particularly enjoyable. 3 1/2 stars.]

The Great Gatsby [Quintessential Jazz Age and a cultural imperative. 4 1/2 stars.]

Invisible Man

The Return of the Native

The Poisonwood Bible: A Novel

The Grapes of Wrath


A Tree Grows in Brooklyn [A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was s.l.o.w. reading for me without much of a plot. It was beautifully written, though, and certainly felt like an authentic childhood and coming of age in Brooklyn at the beginning of the 1900s. Much of it reflected the author’s experience. I really began connecting with the story in chapter 39 (yes, that far in) when the main character, Francie, was discussing her writing with her English teacher. Their conversation (disagreement) about beauty and truth hit the mark. The author clearly saw beauty in her childhood experiences, even in the midst of poverty and hardship, and she wanted readers to experience her life vicariously. “It doesn’t take long to write things of which you know nothing. When you write of actual things, it takes longer, because you have to live them first.” It was honest (but not gritty) and often sad (yet hopeful). I’m thankful for the chance to walk in Francie’s shoes, even if it was a long walk. A classic. 4 1/2 stars]

The Signature of All Things [This is a brilliantly-told narrative, even if it took quite some time for the story to get going. (The beginning is interesting, but the first 13 chapters all seem to have the same pacing.) I have very strong feelings about this one, but it is a bit of a pendulum swing when I consider it. It disturbed me. I think I hated it. But maybe, if I read it again, I’d love it. Oddly, it reminded me in some ways of Till We Have Faces, which I didn’t hate. I don’t even know how to rate this one. 4 1/2 stars for the excellent writing. 2 stars for enjoyment.]

*Godric: A Novel [My feelings about Godric were similar to my feelings about The Signature of All Things, though I was more frustrated than disturbed and Godric wasn’t as long. I think I hated it, but maybe I’d love it if I re-read it so that I could understand it better, see more deeply. I suppose good writing is writing that makes you feel and think, in which case both books are excellent. I don’t know. But I hate hating books. It makes me feel shallow and imperceptive. Am I not intellectual enough to love books that aren’t enjoyable? I think I have to be prepared ahead of time for a tragic or graphic or dark story like I was for Beloved or Till We Have Faces. I also find it fascinating that stories can speak so differently to people. Again, it is true: no two people read the same book. 4 stars for the writing, 2 1/2 for the enjoyment.]

Merry Hall [I loved Down the Garden path by Beverly Nichols, and Merry Hall did not disappoint. It’s like P.G. Wodehouse in the garden. Quite hilarious. The little vignettes are somewhat unconnected, though, and there is no driving narrative, so I didn’t find myself needing to continue reading. 3 1/2 stars]

*Go Set a Watchman: A Novel by Harper Lee [Megan Tietz has already given a phenomenal thoughtful review on Sarah Bessey’s blog. This book is a completely different experience from To Kill a Mockingbird. It feels like a light read, somewhat rambling (though not unpleasantly) with flashbacks to Scout’s growing-up years, until at least two-thirds of the way through. And then a tornado hits for the last fifty pages. My emotions were all over the place and I was worried about how it was going to end. But the conclusion is incredible. Friends, we are all so human. Humility. Grace. Love. Hope. (P.S. I still love Atticus.) Also, this is more of an adult’s book than To Kill a Mockingbird. There is language, but it’s more about the age and transformation/conflict of Scout/Jean Louise. 4 1/2 stars.]

*Gone with the Wind (ChocLit Guild)

*The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry: A Novel [This is a charming and delightful modern novel. I needed something light after a run of several difficult novels. I liked this one in a way similar to The Rosie Project. Quirky. Modern. Not depressing. Not cheesy. Not squeaky clean, but not gritty. 3 1/2 stars]

*The Little Village School [Charming story. Sort of like Mitford, but centered around a school in England. 3 1/2 stars]

*The Awakening of Miss Prim [Review here. 5 stars for enjoyment.]


Pride and Prejudice (ChocLit Guild) [For years I have adored both the BBC movie version with Colin Firth as well as the newer movie version with Matthew Macfadyen, but I had never read the book! Now I can say that I’ve read it. But, honestly? It was delightful in the same way that the movies are delightful. (grin) Both movies retain so much of the story (particularly the longer BBC movie version) and the original dialogue, that I simply replayed the movies in my mind throughout my reading of the whole book. And then I wanted to watch the movies again. I’m not sure how to separate my love for them, so I’ll rate them together: 5 stars.]

Gulliver's Travels (An abridged re-telling) [I love this retelling and the illustrations are fantastic. A must for cultural literacy. 4 stars]

Moby Dick [I knew I wouldn’t end up reading this one this year (or ever), so I grabbed an excellent graphic novel version. This month a friend shared with me an interesting essay titled Why You Should Read Moby Dick by R.C. Sproul. I still don’t know if I’ll read the unabridged version, but I appreciated having some deep ideas to think about as I read the graphic novel.]

Paradise Lost (ChocLit Guild) [In progress]

The Brothers Karamazov

The Lord of the Rings

Frankenstein [in progress]

The Law and the Lady (Or any book by Wilkie Collins. ChocLit Guild) [Gripping Gothic mystery by the author of The Woman in White and The Moonstone. Wilkie Collins was a contemporary of Dickens and he creates quite the Dickensian character, Miserrimus Dexter, for this novel. My attention was captured from the first chapter and I couldn’t put it down. Entertaining and satisfying. 4 1/2 stars]

Hamlet (CC Moms Book Club) [deep reading in progress] [I read aloud the retelling of Hamlet by Leon Garfield. The boys loved it.]


The Iliad [in progress]

The Odyssey

Children’s and YA Novels

The Door in the Wall (CC Challenge A) [A wonderful coming of age story set in Medieval times. 4 stars]

A Gathering of Days (CC Challenge A) [This was my least favorite of all the Challenge A literature selections. Somewhat boring and forced. I didn’t care for the journal-style writing. 2 1/2 stars]

Crispin: The Cross of Lead (CC Challenge A) [This was my favorite of the Challenge A literature selections. I ended up purchasing the other two books in the trilogy as well as several others by the author. Another great coming of age story set in Medieval times. 4 stars]

Where the Red Fern Grows (CC Challenge B) [I had avoided this book all my life because I don’t enjoy animal books, much less sad animal books, but maybe I was finally mature enough to appreciate this one. Wonderful. 4 stars]

*A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park [This was an excellent read about a boy from war-torn Sudan. Highly recommended for adults as well as children (though it may be a little much for very young or sensitive children). This will be one of my favorite books this year. 4 1/2 stars.]

*In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson by Bette Bao Lord [This is a darling book about a little girl who moves from China to New York in the year 1947. It is a well-written simple chapter book. I would have given it four stars if it hadn’t been for two short events in the book that I did not care for. First (and this is a nit-picky complaint), a bully at school gives her two black eyes while swearing at her, and the words are bleeped out in asterisks. Shirley refuses to tell her parents what happened because she knows the bully would take it out on her. Her resolve not to tattle is rewarded by the bully becoming her friend the next day. Second, Shirley’s next friend tells her that she wants to show her something and swears Shirley to secrecy. The girls sneak into the friend’s dad’s office (he’s a psychiatrist) and the friend shows her a book (presumably a medical book) with pictures of naked people. Shirley pretends enthusiasm, but has no desire to look at the book. The story takes only a couple pages, but it begins with “Only one aspect of her friendship with Emily would have displeased her mother, but she was not likely to find it out, and so Shirley did not trouble herself too much over it.” It was this second event that just didn’t sit well with me, partly because the rest of the book is wonderful for 8-11 year olds. 3 stars.]

*Escape From Mr. Lemoncello’s Library [Put Charlie and the Chocolate Factory together with Chasing Vermeer and Hunger Games (without the grit), add the Dewey Decimal System, board games and puzzles, trivia, and a gazillion book and author references and you get the middle grade adventure Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library. I thought it was great fun, and my boys loved it. The prose is very simple and modern, but the novel definitely sends the message that learning and reading can be quite exciting. 3 1/2 stars]

*Dominic [Dominic has to be one of my favorite children's chapter books ever. Philosophical, adventurous, charming, and hilarious for children and adults alike. The high level of vocabulary makes this book a fantastic read-aloud. If I had to use as few words as possible to describe this book, 'joie de vivre' sums it up nicely. "The boar began crying again. Not out of sorrow this time, but out of excruciating joy. 'How can I ever, ever in this world, not to mention the next, and disregardless of unforeseen contingencies, adequately thank you!' he said. 'I can't even begin, let alone work up a proper preamble to a beginning, to tell you how unendurably happy you've made me. But I'll try...'" 5 stars.]

*The Book of the Dun Cow [I’m not sure how to categorize this one. It’s a little like Watership Down (one of my all-time favorites) but shorter, more poetic, more romantic, more theological, and more intense. It’s not a child’s animal book. It’s a story about human nature (embodied in animals), leadership, and the epic battle between good and evil. Reading Watership Down, I was surprised to be so moved by the noble actions of rabbits. Who knew chickens could move me in the same way?! 4 1/2 stars.]

Junk Food

*Highland Fling [So fun. So easy to read. So not edifying in any way. (grin) 3 stars]

*Paradise Fields [I enjoy this author, but this was probably my least favorite book of hers. 2 stars]

*Undetected  [Tom Clancy meets Grace Livingston Hill. Well-researched and interesting details about sonar. Squeaky-clean and positive Christian romance. Not painfully written. Probably just a tad (ha!) unrealistic and idealistic. If I were willing to be totally honest, I would tell you that this genre is smack-dab in the middle of my comfort zone and the easiest, most enjoyable thing for me to read. But I don’t want to admit that. (wry grin) 3 stars]

*Attachments [Chick lit set in 1999. 3 stars]



Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption (ChocLit Guild) [Excellent story. I loved reading about Zamperini’s life and all the non-fiction facts and stories that are woven together to create Unbroken. It is a heartbreaking narrative in (many) places, but ends with such redemption and grace. I felt like the writing was a bit forced in places, as if the author was trying too hard, but otherwise it was fantastic. 4 stars]

*The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics (ChocLit Guild) [Outstanding. The author deftly weaves multiple stories into one cohesive whole: the Pacific Northwest, logging, mining, the building of the Hoover Dam, the Depression, the Dust Bowl, the history of rowing, the construction of rowing shells, Hitler’s rise to power in Germany, the 1936 Berlin Olympics, the intimate life story of Joe Rantz (and details of the lives of several other men), and the 1936 U.S. Olympic rowing team from the University of Washington. 4 1/2 stars.]

*84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff [A charming collection of correspondence between a New York writer and a bookshop in London from 1949-1969. 3 1/2 stars]

The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris (ChocLit Guild)

The Hiding Place (CC Challenge B) [An incredible, moving true story. 4 stars.]

A Short History of Nearly Everything

Faith, Culture, and Education

The Pursuit of God (ChocLit Guild)

Beauty Will Save the World: Recovering the Human in an Ideological Age (CiRCE Conference)

Norms and Nobility: A Treatise on Education (CiRCE Conference) [in progress]

Leisure: The Basis of Culture

The Soul of Science (CC Parent Practicum)

Wisdom & Wonder: Common Grace in Science & Art (CC Parent Practicum)

Honey for a Teen's Heart [Detailed review here. 4 1/2 stars]

Invitation to the Classics: A Guide to Books You've Always Wanted to Read [Excellent companion to the classics. I’ve read the introduction and will read the entries for each classic as I finish the classic itself. The entries include information about the author and the historical context as well as issues to explore within each book. Written from a Christian worldview.]

*Just Walk Across the Room (ChocLit Guild)

*The Conversation: Challenging Your Student with a Classical Education by Leigh A. Bortins (third in trilogy) [Excellent. 4 stars for the trilogy.]

*Teaching from Rest [Short, encouraging, and often profound. 4 stars.]


*The Bronze Bow (CC Challenge A)

*The Phantom Tollbooth (CC Challenge B)

*Little Britches (CC Challenge B) [A must read for all ages. 5 stars.]

*The Question (CC Moms Book Club) [deep reading in progress]

*A Tale of Two Cities (read aloud) [Epic. Redemptive. Incredible. In my top ten all-time favorites. 5 stars.]

*The Catcher in the Rye [in progress]

*Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll [audio book/read aloud in progress]

*Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie (read aloud)

*Heidi by Johanna Spyri