Monday, June 1, 2015

Reading Round-Up ~ May 2015

BOOKS! @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

I hereby declare June’s blog theme: BOOKS!

I have a gazillion reviews and lists of various sorts to share.

I’ll admit it, though, I’ve been spending more time watching movies and tv shows than reading books in the past few weeks. Not quality stuff. On one end of the spectrum, I reverted to my teenage years and began watching When Calls the Heart (it turns out my middle son is a romantic at heart and won’t let me watch it without him; he now plans to be a Canadian Mountie when he grows up). This is the first time I have ever paid to watch a series on Amazon streaming (the first season is free on Netflix). On the other end of the spectrum, I’m slightly addicted to Beauty and the Beast (in the middle of season 2 on Netflix). Please don’t judge. I try to balance out these vices with quality flicks like Pride and Prejudice.

But let’s get back to books.

I stumbled upon an article today, and it said something to me, right where I am. The Essential Sadness of Art @ Goins, Writer challenged me once again to see art (including books) as something other than entertainment and escapism. This is not easy for me. Not. at. all.

From the article:
I hope you embrace the fact that you are a wonderful work in progress but still fragmented at the core. And I hope this compels you to make things the world has never seen. Things that are wonderful and true and, yes, even a little sad. Maybe in doing so, you’ll lead us into a deeper story.
I like easy. I like happy. I like neat and tidy. I don’t enjoy messy and heartbreaking. I want to enjoy. I want to escape reality—both of the world and of myself.

I’ve read several books this year that are messy and heartbreaking and even unpleasant. Discerning the art is difficult for me. Discerning value is difficult for me. But I will continue reading and thinking and feeling and growing. And I will continue to read a variety of books for a variety of purposes (one of which will still be for enjoyment and escape).

Here’s where I am in my reading so far. I’ve added a few short reviews and ratings, but I hope to add longer reviews and quotes this month. Also, these books are in no particular order and often the lines are blurred between novels, classics, and junk food.

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.]

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

*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. 3 1/2 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

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

*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 [in progress]


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

Paradise Lost (ChocLit Guild)

The Brothers Karamazov

The Lord of the Rings

Frankenstein [in progress]

No Name (Or something else by Wilkie Collins. ChocLit Guild)

Hamlet (CC Moms Book Club) [deep reading in progress]


The Iliad

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)

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)

The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris (ChocLit Guild)

The Hiding Place (CC Challenge B)

A Short History of Nearly Everything

Faith, Culture, and Education

The Pursuit of God (ChocLit Guild) [in progress]

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) [in progress]

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

*Just Walk Across the Room (ChocLit Guild)


*The Bronze Bow (CC Challenge A)

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

*A Tale of Two Cities (reading aloud) [in progress]

*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


Sarah M said...

Oh I haaaaated Catch 22. I do not like quitting books (confessions of an English major) but I quit that one and do not regret wasting any more time on it.
Your review of The Signature of All Things is leaving me intrigued. I couldn't finish it in the time I had it from the library, but I DO want to read it before it comes out as a BBC Masterpiece (did you hear?!) show. I got to about page 150ish or so before having to give it back. Her writing is SO good but I was sort of finding myself yawning along with it, too (and then being repulsed by it in parts also). Hmm.
Sarah M

Skeller said...

Adding a couple to my "re-read" list: Poisonwood Bible, GWTW (both of which I read not long out of college) & Great Gatsby (haven't read since high school). And Fikry & Crispin sound fun :-).

Heidi said...

Sarah M~ I was so determined to finish Catch-22 so I could say I had read it. If I was going to torture myself, I wanted to have something to show for it. Check that book off the list! I have absolutely *no* desire to watch The Signature of All Things. Seriously, I cannot even imagine! Blech.

Skeller~ It seems people either love or hate GWTW. (Maybe that's the mark of a good book? I dunno.) I'm likely to hate it, LOL! Maybe it's epic, but I don't foresee myself liking any of the characters, and I really need to like a character in order to like a book.

Skeller said...

GWTW - I loved it at age 21. And hated the movie for some of the changes & shortcuts it took. I might esteem it differently now. It'll be interesting to see :-}.

Sarah said...

Thank you for being honest Heidi about watching shows. I too contemplate my desire to escape when I click on Netflix. I notice that after busy seasons in particular when I am looking for some downtime (like after Christmas & the end of the school year). I enjoyed reading halfway thru The Signature of All Things & then I stopped when it made me feel yucky. The plot went downhill fast in my opinion. I don't have time for that.

Lori said...

The Signature of All Things was like a wreck I couldn't look away from. The writing was beautiful, but the whole plot was disturbing and depressing - kind of like Poisonwood Bible. LOVED the Merry Hall series! It just made me smile :-)

Windhover Farm said...

Thanks for posting reviews and ratings of all you're reading. Keep on!
I am sad you didn't love Godric. I will have to read it again now because it's been many, many years. Maybe now, as a mom of 4 rather than a theology grad student, I would receive it differently? My other fav. you have yet to read so I'm all ears when you review that.

Heidi said...

Windhover Farm~ I've had books that I loved in one season and not in another (which means I should re-read some now that I hated years ago! ;) ), and I've had books that I loved that other people hated, and I've hated lots of books that other people have loved. It's *astounding* to me how each person brings a part of themselves to every story. I need to re-read Godric and see if my initial impression holds up or not. I'd say the story has three parts: 1) Other people make life hell for Godric. 2) Godric makes life hell for other people. 3) Godric makes life hell for himself in order to exact his own redemption (and sleeps with his sister in the process). But I could have missed the point. ;)

Laura at By the Bushel said...

I just stumbled upon 'When Calls the Heart,' on Netflix, and realized I could look for episodes on Youtube, but can't get season 2/episode 6, so I think I'm going to need to buy. It has been refreshing, to see purity on a television show. My oldest son has too been watching.
I've been trying to start 'Watership Down'. Can't get 5 minutes of quiet, so far this summer. But last night I started 'Ruth' by Gaskill. Wow, had me at 'hello,' as they say. I can see many a dinnerless night for my family as I read through the 5 oclock hour. Ha! I'll be going back to finish looking through your list.
kids are reading 'The Bronze Bow,' (11 yo) and younger 8 yo, 'Stuart Little.' Here's to Summer!

prairiegirl said...

I agree with your review of Signature of All Things. I do love reading Elizabeth Gilbert's writing; I love having her playing of words float around in me for awhile, but I didn't like the story. Disturbing is exactly the word I would use for this story. I do not understand some of her writing choices, especially why she included one particular scene towards the end of the book. That scene was icky and, in my opinion, had no purpose to the story. I'm not sure if I will watch it on PBS, probably not.

Crunchyconmommy said...

Why those two particular Lord Peter Wimsey novels? There are many that is recommend before those: Murder Must Advertise, Unnatural Death, Strong Poison, Gaudy Night, The Nine Tailors...

Heidi said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one who felt that way about The Signature of All Things!

Laura~ I don't think episode 6 is out yet. :) I really enjoyed Ruth!!

Crunchyconmommy~ I'm a sequential sort of person, and Whose Body? and Clouds of Witness are the first two Peter Wimsey novels. :) I'd like to go on to read the rest.

Sander said...

While you're on the topic I would love to know if you have read Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Butterfield. I know you're probably not looking for suggestions, but since she is/was a CC mom I thought it was worth asking. It's a super quick read. Led Miss took me 2 years, Brothers K took me 3, but I read this book in a weekend. For what it's worth...

Sander said...

While you're on the topic I would love to know if you have read Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Butterfield. I know you're probably not looking for suggestions, but since she is/was a CC mom I thought it was worth asking. It's a super quick read. Led Miss took me 2 years, Brothers K took me 3, but I read this book in a weekend. For what it's worth...

Heidi said...

Meredith, Maggie, and Sander~ I've been wanting to read Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert for a while now, but I haven't gotten around to it. Need to put it higher on the list!! Thanks for the recommendation!