Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Reading Challenge Up-Date ~ August 2015

Book Challenge @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

[Left: beach reading. Right: ChocLit Guild in the garden after sunset under the twinkle lights. Via Instagram.]

The Book Challenge Continues.

I had a slow first half of the month and made up for it by the end. I’m looking at my list, however, and wondering how many more I’ll be able to read by the end of the year. It probably would have helped if I had not added 20 books plus re-reads to the original list! I think I’m up to 49 completed this year. That number is high for me, but it does include several children’s books (and two adaptations of classics). There are 30 books left to complete the list, and obviously I won’t get all those read (particularly considering many are heavy or lengthy reads) in the next 17 weeks. I’ll have to roll them over onto next year’s list (which is already quite long!).

So many books, so little time.

Books read in August:

[Reviews below.]

Up next: The Iliad with Levi and Roman Roads.

And a few more curated thoughts on literature:

:: Re-imagining the Classics @ Veritas Press [This is a fantastic article. Go Read It!]

The genius of Homer, Austen, Tolkien, Dostoyevsky, Dante, Augustine, Milton, Shakespeare, Twain, O’Connor etc. was not born into them. They were readers before they were writers. Educator Charlotte Mason said in the nineteenth century:

“Now imagination does not descend, full grown, to take possession of an empty house; like every other power of the mind, it is the merest germ of a power to begin with, and grows by what it gets; and childhood, the age of faith, is the time for its nourishing. The children should have the joy of living in far lands, in other persons, in other times—a delightful double existence; and this joy they will find, for the most part, in their story books.”

:: Grim Tales @ First Things

"These are careful, concerned parents. But few seem equally concerned about the dangers of trivial stories and bad prose."

:: Close Reads #5: Go Set a Watchman @ CiRCE [I’m loving this new podcast and had fun listening to Tim, Angelina, and David talk about Go Set a Watchman.]

:: Read-Aloud Revival #28: Cultivating a Well-Trained Mind, Susan Wise Bauer [The Read-Aloud Revival Podcast is back!]

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)

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]


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)

*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.]

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)

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)

*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

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