7 Books I’ve Read in the Past 7 Months

Despite the fact that I haven’t written about books since before Maeve was born, I have been reading since then! There was that lovely period of time right after she was born when I stayed in bed for awhile and Tom was home, so I got to read a lot while nursing/holding a sleepy newborn. Then followed some stretches of fussy baby waking up to the world, and far less reading, and then a bit of a crazy spring /summer, during which I was supposed to read Brothers K for book club (still working on it- halfway there!). But I’m confident that I’ll finally be able to get a lot more reading in, primarily because we moved Maeve’s crib into the nursery. So no more tiptoeing in the dark to get ready for bed, and worrying that every whisper and creak will wake her up, much less turning on a light.

Anyway, of the books I read, there were some hidden gems, some that were just ok, and a couple I won’t be rereading!

(All links are Amazon affiliate!)

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The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery

Where has this hidden gem been all my L.M.M.-obssessed girlhood??! This is a such a different story! Her heroine starts off as just the most awful, pitiful, mousy character, and her transformation is glorious. L.M. Montgomery shines, as she always does, in painting vivid characters, hysterical caricatures, fun plot twists, and glowing descriptions of a place that sounds heavenly. I started this shortly before having Maeve and finished it the night we brought her home. I highly recommend it, especially if you were a fangirl of Anne, Emily, Jane, Pat, and any other L.M. Montgomery series. Since the main character is just a bit older (late 20s) than most of Montgomery’s female protagonists, it especially makes great reading for a grown-up Anne fan.

Song of the Lark by Willa Cather

Willa Cather strikes again! This book is long-ish, but I had a lot of nursing sessions in late February through March! 😉 I particularly found it interesting because the main character is a plucky young girl from middle-of-nowhere Colorado who has an extraordinary singing voice and sets off to conquer the world of opera. Cather evidently did a lot of research for this one into the world of music, vocal performance, opera, etc. I really enjoyed the character development and Cather’s gift of making the settings come to life.

The End of the Affair by Graham Greene

I read this towards the end of college, and I remember being really struck and impressed by it and wanting Tom to read it as well. So Tom and I picked it up as our next read aloud during the winter and early spring. As you might guess from the title, it’s about an adulterous affair that has recently ended. The narrator is the man who carries on the affair, and the book moves back and forth between his memories/retelling of the entire affair; his present day depression since his lover, Sarah, has died; and Sarah’s journals that he is reading.

Let me just say that I had forgotten the intensity of this story! It explores deep and heavy issues, but it’s ultimately the story of Sarah’s response to a Greater Love than what she thinks she has with Maurice. That said, it was a much more difficult read as a married person and Greene does have some rather explicit descriptions of the affair. So it’s gritty at times, but Greene also does a really amazing job of diving into the emotions and thought processes of people who are hurting, searching, and ultimately seeking fulfillment in God. I still highly recommend it, though it isn’t exactly light and uplifting!

(Also, quick caveat: NEVER EVER watch the movie with Julianne Moore and Ralph Fiennes. It is complete trash and misses the entire point of the book. Ugh).

Helena by Evelyn Waugh

Ah, Waugh. Such a funny, witty, smart, and engaging writer. This is a short little novel, following St. Helen’s life and journey to find the Cross of Christ. He really does such a fun job showcasing the absurdity of so many key players and events in the Roman Empire at the time with lots of tongue-in-cheek dialogue, in a really British way. Also, he wrote that this book was his own favorite of all his works, so if you love Brideshead, you need to read this one.

Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy

This one I actually read in like, 9th grade, and promptly forgot it in its entirety. Upon re-reading it for summer book club, I’m not at all surprised. I mean, it’s Hardy. So yeah. It still was a bit ponderous to get through, even now. It was pretty good, though, once I got through all the sheep-herding explanations and demonstrations. I’m not a huge Hardy fan, but this is definitely better than his others. And then we watched the recent film adaptation with Carey Mulligan, and it was really well done: super faithful to the book, beautifully shot, and superbly acted. Bottom line: just watch it. You’ll get the story and skip all his Victorian rambling.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

I never would’ve picked this up had it not been for book club. I’m really, really not a fan of Romantic writers. This story was just so not my thing, and the writing style irked the heck out of me: framing devices within framing devices within framing devices (yeah, you’re confused, right?!), overly flowery language, moralizing, etc. No thanks! That’s about all I’ve got for this one, sorry…

A Room With a View by E.M Forster

I’m no great Forster fan either but this was for summer book club. It was ok, but Forster is clearly trying to push his ideology of progress and Romanticism: good! and tradition and moral values: bad! So that was annoying. But his characters were really funny and well done, and the lush Florentine backdrop is a pleasure to take in.

Whew, well, that’s that for the late winter/spring/summer! I’ve got some good stuff waiting in the wings, but would love any additional recommendations you can throw my way!

Linking up with Queen Kelly for Seven Quick Takes!

What I’m Reading

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As I write this, I am still pregnant. The nest has been nested, so it’s now a matter of getting my mind off of the fact that I am not in labor and have had no signs thereof. So let’s just chat about some of the books I’ve finished over the last two months or so.

The Accidental Empress by Allison Pataki

I’ve long been fascinated with the last few generations of the Habsburg dynasty, and Empress Sisi’s story is one of the most interesting, bizarre, and (not surprisingly) touched by tragedy. This historical novel goes through her initial meeting with Emperor Franz Josef, their early marriage, and its eventual demise. It was well done, overall, though the first quarter of the book I found a little plodding as it seemed to read like a movie script, describing every movement, action, glance, etc. But it picked up after awhile and gave a glimpse into just how crazy and often messed up life was as a royal in the Austro-Hungarian Empire at that time. I don’t envy Sisi’s lot in life one bit.

The Rule of St. Benedict by St. Benedict

Not sure how I hadn’t yet read this, but I’m glad I did. It’s really short and Benedict is super thorough, covering everything that could come up in monastic life: when to get up, how much to eat every day, what to do with disobedient monks, etc. It was kind of amazing to see how very much motherhood and abbot-hood have in common, and I found all of his advice to abbots to be completely applicable to parenting as well. I think anyone can read and relate to his rule on a personal level (although his chapter on the ins and outs of praying the Divine Office did leave my head spinning).

Mrs. Mike by Benedict and Nancy Freedman

This is one I read back in high school, but I really enjoyed re-reading as a wife and mom. It’s a fictionalized account of a real woman’s life who visits her uncle in the wilderness of Canada as a 16-year-old, and falls in love with and marries a Mounty just a few months later. Their life in the unforgiving climate of an extremely uninhabited part of Canada at the turn of the 20th century certainly puts things in perspective! No electricity or heat, weeks and weeks of travel via sled/dog teams to get from one post to another, no access to modern medicine, hardly any communication with the rest of the world, dealings with large Indian settlements, etc. Oh and the endless winters of -40° F. Just brr. We can do Mid-Atlantic winters with heat and SUVs and instant hot water. Anyway, the story is both sweet and gritty, as it follows the blossoming marriage of Kathy and Mike, as well as the tragedy and hardships they face together.

Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor

Tom and I read this together, and it was our first Flannery full-length novel. She’s a really gifted writer who can spin hilarious descriptions that will make you laugh out loud, followed by some super interesting insights. I will say, though, we were a bit over our heads with the weirdness of this work. We ended it and were like, “Uhhhh….so what was this supposed to be about??” We even tried looking up some essays and articles to help us out, but we need a professor or something. Anyone care to shed some light here? If I were to give a quick synopsis it would go something like this: a young soldier home from WWII struggles to accept the faith of his parents and decides to go to a small southern town to preach that there is no Christ and no church. He comes across several really bizarre characters and some really bizarre things happen to him. It’s hard to explain…again, if you’ve read it and have any thoughts, we would love to hear them!

Giants in the Earth by O.E. Rolvaag

This novel is kind of the immigrant version of Little House on the Prairie– with a lot more of the actual gritty, depressing details. A Norwegian family travels from Norway to the United States, eventually making their way westward to the uncharted Dakota Territories, to stake a claim on land and begin farming. They form a community with three other families, the closest human beings for about 90 miles around them. The book really gets into the heart of how the intense loneliness and desolation of the prairie affected many of the foreigners and pioneers who sought to make their home there– the main character’s wife basically suffers from deep depression and what ultimately seems like some sort of psychoses, due to the fact that she never really wanted to leave her homeland and is terrified of everything in the wilderness of their new life. It’s also a classic man vs. nature story, as the weather and the prairie itself often play a huge role and are written as entities out to destroy man. It’s a gripping tale of determination, survival, and the effects of the pioneer life on marriages, relationships, and communities.

(And as I mentioned before, this book was also very appropriate as a blizzard/winter-weather read, as their 7 month winters of daily blizzards with little fuel and food once again put our life into perspective. Electricity and heat FTW).

All links to Amazon are affiliate, meaning if you click through and purchase something, we might get a couple cents at no cost to you!

7 Things That Are Making Winter Bearable!

We aren’t really huge fans of the sub-freezing temperatures and arctic winds this time of year (though I hear there are some people that actually prefer this weather…??). Mostly because said weather makes it nigh on impossible to get the kids out of the house, and then there are very few places to actually go once we’ve done that.

But there are some things that definitely make winter bearable, even pleasant, and it’s nice to sing praises once in a while instead of griping. Also, we have electricity, heat, and plenty of food, so…everything else is just gravy.

1. These leggings. I initially bought them with a Nordstrom gift card intending them to be for comfy postpartum wear. Then I tried them on and realized that they actually worked really, really well as maternity pants/leggings and are incredibly comfortable. Probably wear them like 3 times a week, when I want to feel slightly less like a bum than yoga pants. They are very thick and sturdy, really more

I initially bought them with a Nordstrom gift card intending them to be for comfy postpartum wear. Then I tried them on and realized that they actually worked really, really well as maternity pants/leggings and are incredibly comfortable.  I probably wear them at least 3 times a week, when I want to feel slightly less like a bum than yoga pants. They are very thick and sturdy, really more ponte pants than leggings which I love. Sadly, the charcoal gray that I have seem to be out of stock but I’m sure the black would be great too and I highly recommend them for maternity and non-maternity wear.

2. The girls finally playing well together and entertaining each other for pretty long periods of time.

It’s taken many months, but it seems like Lucy not only tolerates Lena’s existence but actually enjoys being with her and playing/interacting with her for long periods of time. Not only is it totally adorable when Lucy exclaims things like, “Come on, Layns! Let’s go to a casplore*!” and Lena responds super enthusiastically, “YEAH!”; but it also gives me time to do stuff around the house, and I know their companionship will be clutch when the baby is here.

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*[explore, in its noun form, of course]

3. Homemade body butter.

I made this recipe (minus cocoa powder and peppermint, and just some orange essential oil instead), which I’ve used before. It’s super soft and creamy (a little oily because it’s made with a lot of oil, so you just have to be careful to let it dry before, you know, putting your shirt back over your huge pregnant belly). It feels great on my dry, dry winter skin, which Lena sadly seems to have inherited. She looooves asking for “ocean” and smearing it all over herself as well.

4. Stuff that helps me look more awake/alive and motivates me to get dressed and somewhat groomed for the day:

-This under-eye concealer which is pretty cheap and happens to work better than any of the many, many concealers I have tried since high school. You take your under-eye concealer seriously when you have crazy dark circles permanently, no matter how much sleep and hydration you get and this stuff works

Leave-in conditioner/detangler. This smells really refreshing and I can basically spritz it on and let my hair air dry with pretty great success. In tandem with my beloved dry shampoo, and a handy-dandy new curling wand, second-day hair and dry winter hair aren’t quite so bad.

5. Prenatal yoga.

I bought a Groupon deal for a local prenatal yoga studio when I suddenly realized that I’d entered the third trimester and my main form of exercise consisted of hauling toddlers in and out of car seats. I have NO success with doing free online yoga videos or DVDs, because 1) toddlers like to climb on mom in child’s pose or down dog and 2) I can’t stay focused or motivated if it’s not a real class I have paid for and have to leave the house to attend. So it’s been really nice to have a class to go to every week or so and I know my lower back thanks me.

6. Great books to curl up with that make you realize your winter could be so.much.worse.

I just finished reading two books which take place in barren, sub-sub-zero winters and thought, “Thank God. I will never have to experience the winters of Northern Canada or the plains of Minnesota in the late 18th/early 19th centuries.” I’ll post some book reviews soon but both Mrs. Mike and Giants in the Earth happened to be perfect frigid winter reads.

7. An amazing husband who lets me sleep in every weekend or snow day morning. Enough said.

Linking up with Seven Quick Takes at Kelly’s AND with Modern Mrs. Darcy and her link-up on Things that are saving my life this winter!

 

2016 Reading List

2016 Reading List

I’m kind of excited to have a list already laid out for myself so that when I finish one book I won’t go for days and weeks wondering, “Ugh, what can I read next?!” as I typically do. Now it’s all here and hopefully, I can get it all done!

Book Club:

Postpartum/Other Fiction:

(Mostly lighter stuff that I can read while nursing, and some I may listen to on Librivox).

Fiction Read-Alouds with Tom:

As you can tell, I really love Greene and am super excited to reread these with Tom (who hasn’t read them yet).

Spiritual:

Non-Fiction:

What are you reading this year? I’m always up for recommendations!

(Disclosure: the links here are affiliate, meaning if you click through them and purchase anything on Amazon, I will get a couple cents at no charge to you!)

Five Favorite Books and Apps for Praying (when you’re short on time)

Time in adoration or silent prayer is definitely a luxury in this stage of life. It was always so easy to just stop by an adoration chapel after work or schedule a weekly holy hour when I was single and before the kids were born. Now, it’s a pretty heroic effort to even bring the girls to a daily mass on my own (my general strategy is: camp out in the back, because that is where you’ll end up in .2 seconds anyway, and decide who needs to be chased after most immediately. Then thank the Lord that daily mass is 25 minutes long and wish that Sunday mass could be the same!). Still, there are a couple of tools that I really like for fitting in prayers on a (mostly) daily basis, more than just the usual desperate cries to heaven for divine assistance to get through the dayFive Favorite Books and Appsfor Praying(Photo Credit: Inside St Francis Xavier Cathedral via photopin (license))

Blessed is She

This is a wonderful email ministry that sends you the daily readings, accompanied by a short reflection. It’s the easiest way to get in the daily readings.

Small Steps for Catholic Moms by Danielle Bean and Elizabeth Foss

Each day’s short saint quote, reflection, and call to action take about 3 minutes to read. A great little shot of inspiration to the day!

Magnificat App (and the printed version, too)

I’ve had a subscription to the monthly missal on and off in the past, and I really love it. Daily readings, reflection, morning and night prayer, saints. The app is great too, and if one of you has the print subscription, you can use their email/account on multiple devices. It’s also a very visually beautiful app, much like the print version.

Handbook of Prayers ed. by James Socias

This is a really great prayer book that has all the basics, the parts of the Mass, a ton of different devotions, novenas, etc, etc!  I have not yet plumbed its depths. But what I do love are the two pages that have the morning offering and about 5 other really short prayers that are perfect for starting the day. A bonus is that many of the prayers are also in Latin across from the English.

Catholic Short Prayers app

I just downloaded the Lite version, which is limited, obviously, but still has quite a number of old-school short aspirations, or really quick little prayers to say (and I do mean quick, like, “Jesus, save!” or “Come, Holy Spirit.” and a few other slightly longer ones). The full version also allows you to set reminders and alarms to say prayers.

What are your favorite books, apps, etc, for quick prayers or meditations?

Linking up at Jenna’s for Five Favorites!

Affiliate Disclosure: The Amazon links are affiliate, meaning I get a tiny percentage if you click through my link and then buy something on Amazon. Our savings account thanks you!

What I’m Reading

It’s been awhile since my last quick review of recent reads…oops. Let’s hope I can remember what I read/what they were about/who I liked ’em…

Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Biography by Laura Ingalls Wilder

I’ve gotta say first off that I only had to wait a couple weeks on the wait list at our small, local (city) library. I’m currently still about #180 (not kidding!) on our county system.

Anyway, it’s the worth the wait, because this book is fascinating and absolutely gripping. Sounds weird, when it’s an annotated biography of a girl growing up in the late 1800s midwest, but it just is. If I could always learn about history like this, I’m convinced I’d remember 95% more of it than I normally do. I actually haven’t read The Little House series in oh, about 18 years, but remember enough of the series for this to be even more interesting, since there are many aspects in the novel that are based on real events, but fictionalized, either lightly or heavily. This is the real story, and who doesn’t love getting that? The footnotes are right on the page, and are extensive, which normally I find irritating, but these were so useful and helpful in fleshing out the historical context for Laura’s narrative.

Highly recommend for lovers of American history, and The Little House series.

Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry

This one’s been on my To-Read List for ages. I’m so glad I finally had the chance to read it. It is beautifully written, and Berry does a masterful job taking on the character and voice of a woman, reminiscing about her entire life in her old age. There were many passages that actually reminded me of The Little House on the Prairie, since Hannah was growing up on a farm, and she and her family had to work really hard to make their living on the land. The book explores relationships, loss, the ties of family and place, living and working the land, and growing up in a rapidly changing world.

Highly recommend if you love The Little House series, Willa Cather novels, Kristin Lavransdatter, and American history.

The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home by Susan Wise Bauer

Just a little fun reading to prep for homeschooling in about 2.5 years…ha! This is a hefty tome, and a great resource. I read most of the beginning chapters which focus on what classical education is, as well the first couple chapters on teaching the early years. This will be a one I’m sure I will buy aw we really start planning in earnest. There are good book-lists, and tons and tons of resources listed as well.

Teaching Montessori in the Home: The Preschool Years by Elizabeth Hainstock

I borrowed this as an e-book and read it in about 45 minutes, so it’s not a heavyweight, and it is slightly dated. But there were some good ideas and step-by-step guides for doing Montessori-esque activities with your preschooler at home. There are also some pages in the back that you can copy and use to make worksheets, activities, etc. It’s a good book if you want to add a little low-key structure to your preschooler’s day without going crazy (many of the activities center around normal, day-to-day household chores and activities).

The Greengage Summer by Rumer Godden

I guess I was on a Godden kick this summer. This novel wasn’t nearly as good as all her others I’ve read, and I definitely didn’t fly through it. It’s a coming-of-age story (never my favorite genre) of a young English girl, who is spending the summer in a French seaside hotel. I didn’t really like any of the characters, the ending was extremely dissatisfying, and there were copious passages of untranslated French dialogue that were tough even to figure out via context. Annoying.

I’d love to hear what you’ve been reading, or if you’ve ready any of the books here!

Stars, Stripes, and Edelweiss: Book Review

In what now feels like another lifetime, I once spent a semester living and studying in Europe. The ubiquitous semester abroad. It took place, in my case, in a tiny Austrian mountain town, and we lived and went to classes in a 14th century Carthusian monastery. As you can imagine, some of my best college memories and closest friendships were forged there. I also learned an immense deal about myself as I traveled almost every weekend to a different country, soaked up wisdom from the humanities professors there, and experience the universality of the Catholic Church as well as the profoundly individual love of God for me.

My dear friend Mary shows off our digs

My dear friend Mary shows off our digs

The waterfall just down the road from our campus in Gaming

The waterfall just down the road from our campus in Gaming (ignore my terrible fashion choices)

Beer at the Hofbrauhaus in München

Beer at the Hofbrauhaus in München

So, when my former Student Life Director of the study abroad program and his wife, Mark and Niki Kalpakgian, wrote a book about their time working and living in Austria, I couldn’t wait to read it. I got to know them and their boys well while I lived there, and loved having the connection to a young family amidst all the flux of travel and being in a foreign country. When Niki sent me a copy of the book so I could review it, I pretty much devoured it.

The stories in the book not only brought back countless memories from my time there (like sorting our trash into multiple bins each week and the idiosyncrasies of the little village grocery store), but I also learned many things about Gaming and Austria that I had never known in my short time there, especially the Advent and Christmas traditions which I didn’t experience in the spring semester.

Mark and Niki take the reader on their crazy adventure of leaving their comfortable, suburban life, and learning how to live and thrive in a very different culture. They include snippets of the local and national history, the personality of the Austrian people, illustrated with hilarious anecdotes, and highlight many of the differences between the United States and Austria (particularly a small, rural community like Gaming). I loved reading about their experience with the local public school, the village doctor. They describe the sense of community in the little town, how the neighbors look out for each other, the storekeepers guarantee all their products and replace them when something goes wrong, and how everyone participates in the holiday customs that have been around for centuries. And there are plenty of downright hilarious accounts of their cultural “education”: learning about the local spa and its very naked patrons, how they received a note after the first day of school, because they sent their snacks in plastic baggies, rather than the eco-friendly plastic boxes all the other kids had, and getting cited by the local police because the university students were riding bikes on the sidewalk.

Their stories definitely open your eyes to how differently other countries handle things, from school and child-rearing, to medical care and trash collection. Living abroad is a fantastic way to help you both appreciate your own homeland, as well as see what could be done better there.  The only complaint I had about the book was the frequent jumping from one tense to another, sometimes within the same sentence. Most of the time, though, it didn’t detract from the stories themselves, which were told with humor and vivid detail.

If you have lived or dream of living abroad, this book will inspire you. You’ll also enjoy it if you just love travel, adventure, and learning about new cultures.

Their book is available on Amazon!