Wednesday, January 01, 2014
Books Read in 2013
In Sunshine and In Shadow (Mark Helprin)
This may be my favorite novel by this wonderful author. It's about an unlikely New York City romance between a wealthy blue-blood singer/actress and a young Jewish man returned from the war to find his father's leather goods factory on the verge of financial ruin. There is something exquisite on every page of this book, whether it's in a character description, a circumstance, a well-crafted metaphor or a poignant moment. Fresh and so beautiful.
A Red Herring Without Mustard
I Am Half-Sick of Shadows (Alan Bradley)
I have a soft spot for 11-year-old detective Flavia DeLuce, a smarty-pants chemist who lives on a British estate her father can't afford to keep up. Her private lab, inherited from a dead ancestor and located in an unheated wing of the huge old house, is the site of her precocious criminal investigations. Especially delightful read aloud by British reader Jayne Entwhistle.
The ABC Murders (Poirot)
And Then There Were None
At Bertram's Hotel (Miss Marple)
Murder at the Vicarage (Miss Marple)
Halloween Party (Miss Marple)
When I'm in a hurry at the library, I grab an Agatha Christie for my audio selection. They are so reliably enjoyable and well-written. We listened to And Then There Were None on a road trip--my favorite of the ones I read this year--and the kids (the younger three) were totally engaged and intrigued. We didn't quite finish before the trip ended, so we sat around in the living room and listened to the final CD for another hour after we got home. (Unheard of!) Then we had to go research on Wikipedia to find that there are multiple film versions, and we wanted to watch them all. (Hmmm, we should get going on that project!)
La's Orchestra Saves the World (Alexander McCall Smith)
Set during World War II, this is a delicate story about a young woman, forced by circumstances to leave London and move to the countryside, who does what she can to support the war effort; she raises vegetables, works for a chicken farmer, and starts an orchestra.
O. Henry's Complete Short Stories
I love short stories, and O. Henry is a master. Deft character development and a surprising climax are features of most of his delightful tales of love, family, life, death and villainry.
Oliver Twist (Charles Dickens)
This delightful classic is a nice length for kids. Listened to this (a second time) on a short road trip with the younger three kids and they really enjoyed it the characters and story.
By The Shores of Silver Lake, The Long Winter, Farmer Boy (Laura Ingalls Wilder)
We are slowly getting through the Little House series! We keep taking breaks to read other books. I enjoyed Farmer Boy more this time around. It was so interesting to see the contrast between his family and Laura's, especially the comparative wealth and variety of food and clothing options that a stable farming way of life could bring. Makes you realize how much poor Ma gave up to move all over the West with Pa, starting over again every few years.
Huckleberry Finn (Mark Twain)
I grabbed the audiobook of Tom Sawyer at the library because our theater group was performing the musical version. I ended up listening to most of it alone, and I decided to follow it up with Huck Finn, which I had not read since I was in junior high, when I didn't enjoy it a bit. I think I was just desperate for reading material at the time, and I was probably too young for it. It's more of a convoluted tale than Tom Sawyer, and a more serious work. Tom Sawyer is tighter, more light-hearted and a better read for younger kids, but there is more meat for discussion in Huckleberry Finn.
Redemption series (Redemption, Remember, Return, Rejoice, Return)
Firstborn series (Fame, Forgiven, Found, Family, Forever)
Sunrise series (Sunrise, Summer, Someday, Sunset)
When Joy Came To Stay
Obviously I was on a Karen Kingsbury kick here for awhile! I had read the Firstborn series before--it's about the director of a youth theater group patterned after the one my kids are involved in--and I had always meant to read the Redemption series, which came before. So I snapped it up when someone offered it to me, and then I had to re-read the Firstborn series and follow the characters on through the Sunrise series. These are moving stories about believable characters facing real-life tests of faith and family. I was not crazy about The Chance--seemed so contrived--but When Joy Came to Stay was a well-framed story about mental health issues (depression) and the power of transparency before God and man.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (Ian Fleming)
The three younger kids and I really enjoyed listening to this on a road trip. It was interesting to compare the book with the movie and discuss why the film makers made some variant choices in order to make a better movie than if they had stuck to the book.
The Art Thief (Noah Charney)
This audiobook was near the Agatha Christies in the library, and I took a chance on it because I enjoy art books and mysteries, and this was both. As a mystery it was just okay. But since the author is a professor of art history and an expert in art criminology, and he managed to lecture a good bit one way or another, I found it an interesting read about art, artists and art thieves.
The Little White Horse (Elizabeth Goudge)
For years I've had this little gem on my shelf and never read it! So glad I finally did. I can see why J.K. Rowling called it her favorite book that she read as a child. There was not much about the horse--to my slight disappointment, since I loved horse books as a child--but it's a most satisfying fairytale filled with wonderful characters, a castle, a cottage and more. Delightful; I can't wait for Chicklet to read it.
The House of Dies Drear (Virginia Hamilton)
Another road-trip audiobook. The younger three really liked this because of the ghostly hauntings and the mystery aspect; I thought the treatment of blacks in 1968 was well-described and thought-provoking. Educational and entertaining--a win-win.
Five Children and It (E. Nesbit)
Another one of those children's classics that I've owned and never read until now. What if you could be granted a new wish every morning, one that would disappear at sundown? And what if things kept going wrong with your wish? Clever, funny, thought-provoking and very enjoyable.
An Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfield Jamison
This is the autobiography of a clinical psychiatrist who specializes in the treatment of bipolar disorder, who has the disorder herself. Informative, intriguing and sympathetic.
7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess (Jen Hatmaker)
Nonfiction has to be pretty entertaining for me to get through a whole book. I do fine with articles, but it takes me years to finish nonfiction full-length books. I read this one in record time, though, because the author--a pastor's wife and popular speaker and blogger--is hilarious, and the topic really resonated with my own philosophy (which I am just beginning to articulate and apply to more and more things in my life) that "less is more." She picked seven areas to limit, for a month at a time. She gave herself only seven food choices, allowed herself only seven clothing items, only spent money in seven stores, fasted from seven media types, gave away seven things a day for a month, adopted seven "green" habits to reduce waste in her life, and mutinied against stress by observing seven "sacred pauses" a day (basically praying the liturgical hours). Entertaining and thought-provoking.
Though Mountains Fall (Dale Cramer)
This is the sequel to Paradise Valley (which I read last year) about an Amish community that forms in Mexico, loosely based on the author's own family history. I enjoyed both as audiobooks, something to listen to while cooking.
Spy for the Night Riders (Dave and Neta Jackson)
The Trailblazer books feature famous Christian historical figures. This one was written from the perspective of a young student/clerk of Martin Luther's, who accompanies him to the Diet of Worms where he was accused of heresy, and is with him on the return journey when Luther was apprehended by friends and whisked away to live in safety at Wartburg Castle, where he translated the New Testament into German. It was quite exciting, with every chapter ending in a cliff hanger which had B8 and Chicket begging me to keep reading, and it dovetailed nicely with our history studies of the Middle Ages for Classical Conversations, which included mention of the Protestant Reformation. We own a lot of the Trailblazer series, but the older kids never ate them up. I think it's because I never read them aloud and it seems that is the best way to enjoy them!
The Screwtape Letters (C.S. Lewis)
I've read this, I've listened to the radio drama, but the best way to experience The Screwtape Letters is to listen to John Cleese read them. (I have it on cassette tapes, but I just googled and discovered it's on YouTube now!) I think this is one of Lewis' finest books, giving such perspective on the role of the church, God's love for his creation, His plan for mankind, resisting the devil and recognizing his machinations, even re-casting death's role in life--all with such clever humor and logic! A remarkable book.
The Whipping Boy (Sid Fleischman)
Listened to this children's book with just Chicklet in the car, somehow--oh, it was driving back and forth to Hercules rehearsals, while B14 preferred to listen to his iPod. She loved this story of a spoiled prince and his scrappy whipping boy who end up running away from the palace and living on the streets, where the prince finally learns to behave like one. It was a nice addition to our history studies of the Middle Ages this year.
Pullman Car Hiawatha (Thornton Wilder)
This one-act play really impressed me. I'd love to direct it somehow, somewhere. Our Town has always been a play that deeply moves me, and PCH seems like a precursor to Our Town, with seeds of ideas that Wilder developed more fully in later plays. It takes place on a train traveling across the Midwest. One of the passengers dies, and then in Wilder's magical realistic way, we pull back and see the event from a geographical, theological, cosmological, meteorological perspective represented by characters like a farmhand in Ohio, a hobo living under a bridge that the train passes over, and the planets.
Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines (Clyde Fitch)
This three-act play was in the same anthology of American playwrights as Pullman Car Hiawatha, and I thought it a fine little light-hearted Victorian romantic comedy.
Entwined (Heather Dixon)
This audiobook was on last year's list too; I thought Chicklet and B14 might enjoy it in the car, as we traveled for the holidays, and they did. It's a well-embellished retelling of the fairy tale of The Twelve Dancing Princesses, with a lot of other interesting characters besides the princesses. (I have a dream project in mind based on this book--I think it would make a great musical for our youth theater group!)
Sister Wendy's Book of Meditations (Wendy Beckett)
Sister Wendy, art critic and Catholic nun, meditates on the themes of Silence, Love, Joy, and Peace, illustrated by a beautiful piece of artwork on each page. This book has taught me how to appreciate abstract art more than I ever could have on my own, and the meditations always settle me into a place of peace and joy.
Though I can't say I read any of them entirely, I also read, on something close to a daily basis, the Bible, Jesus Calling, the Divine Hours, Reader's Digest, and The Week (the magazine), plus many articles and blog posts recommended by Papa Rooster and my Facebook friends.
The kids and I did a lot of reading together as well, and I am working on another post covering our explorations of the Middle Ages and other topics covered in our Classical Conversations curriculum this school year.
Overall, it was a good year of reading! For more book lists, visit Semicolon's special edition year-end booklist round-up!