Reading is one of my favorite pastimes. I enjoy long books, short books, novels, biographies, historical fiction, fantasy, nonfiction, and collections of folktales and short stories. I love to sit by the fire on cold days curled up with a good book. Here is the list of books I read this winter along with my thoughts about each one.
Written after the death of his son, this is a journal of the raw and transparent thoughts and laments of a grieving father. Many of his entries caused me to stop and think and grieve my own loss. The tears I shed while reading were healing tears. Wolterstorff continually points us to Christ as he allows us to walk through grief with him.
I’ve posted quotes from this book in my blog as well as on my personal and public social media pages. It took me months to get through, not because it’s bad – it’s a great book – but because of the honesty with which the author shares his pain and faith. This book would be helpful to all who grieve.
Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance
This is the story of the man behind SpaceX and Tesla, Elon Musk who had a hard childhood. He was born and raised in South Africa but escaped to the US via Canada as soon as he was able. Eventually he moved to California. Elon Musk has an amazing memory and can grasp the most complicated engineering tasks. But his interpersonal skills have a lot to be desired.
Reading of how he started and sold his first companies and went on to be one of the most powerful men in Silicon Valley was interesting. The author tells both sides of many conflicts along the way, making Musk out to be a lovable, brilliant jerk who seems to push through all obstacles to obtain his goals. I enjoyed the book and look forward to seeing what the future holds for Musk and his companies. (Note: The book does use a lot of curse words when quoting various people.)
Voyage to the Star Kingdom written by Anne Riley, illustrated by Amy Grimes
A terrible storm comes to the village, and the people pray to the Star King. One family – father, mother, and three daughters – is especially affected by the storm. The Star King hears their prayers, but does not answer as they would like. He asks to a of the daughters to go with Him to His kingdom.
My oldest daughter gave me this beautiful book for Christmas. It was a few weeks after the holidays before I read it. I loved the illustrations and I loved the story. It is a short, sweet story which brought me to tears.
If you are looking for a biblical account of heaven, this is not it. If you’ve lost a child, or any loved one, and want an easy read with lovely drawings in the form of an encouraging allegorical message, this may be the book you’re looking for. “Voyage to the Star Kingdom” reminds us that we have a loving King and our story doesn’t end with death. I’ll be buying copies to give away.
Wonder by R. J. Palacio
The movie of the same name is based on this book. I wanted to read it before I saw the movie, and I’m glad I did.
The endearing story of a family who clearly love one another and how they handle the day to day struggles of having a child who is different, this book is a must read.
Because of his facial deformities, Auggie Pullman has been homeschooled until now. His parents decided he should go to school for fifth grade. His classmates have a hard time getting past his facial deformities, but over time Auggie and a few of his classmates learn what true friends looks like.
We watched the movie a few weeks ago at home. Ron and I both cried. It’s a lovely movie. I hope you enjoy the book and the movie as much as I did.
Radium Girls by Kate Moore
In the early 1900’s radium was considered a modern marvel. Tonics were made from it. Doctors encouraged their patients to ingest it. And watch dials were painted with it. Young women were thrilled to be hired to be a painter at one of the radium companies. And then they started getting sick with mystery illnesses.
The stories of the women who worked in the watch factories is told in engaging prose. These women are much more than their illness, more than radium poisoning. We meet each women and learn about her family. We meet her children and learn about her personality. We learn how tough these women really were. And we learn how horrid some of the owners and managers of the companies were.
“Radium Girls” is a great book about a terrible tragedy, one that could have been prevented if leaders had been good and honest, but they were neither.
Stars in the Grass byAnn Marie Stewart
It was the first family vacation they’d taken in years. It was supposed to be fun. Now Joel was dead. And everything was falling apart. Would mom be ok? Would dad ever back to church? Or would half the family live at Miss Patti’s from now on?
I loved this book, though it tore at my heart strings. Reading the thoughts of a little girl whose brother had died caused many emotions as I thought of my children grieving their brother. Often in reading this I had to put the book down. I prayed for my kids. I wondered if they had experienced the same thoughts and emotions as Abby. I thanked God that my marriage had survived The Accident.
I wasn’t sure about reading yet another book where a child dies, but this was well written and encouraging. I’ll be reading it again in a few years.
Ella Enchanted byGail Carson Levine
Ella was given a “gift” when she was born. By a fairy. But it really wasn’t a gift; it was a curse. She was given the curse of Obedience. Any order she was given she had to obey, no matter who gave the order. As you might imagine, this could cause some serious problems!
Sometimes I just want to read something fun, a book I don’t have to wonder about. I don’t want to wonder if there will be grief or sadness or yet another person hurting? After reading a book like “Radium Girls” or “Faking Fine” I wanted a happy ending and an easy read. At times like this I reach for some of the books my kids read as part of their homeschool curriculum. “Ella Enchanted” is one of those books. I read it in one day and loved it!
Stolen Jesus by Jami America
“Stolen Jesus” is written by a blogger who had one blog post go viral. A million hits later she had a two book deal with Harvest House. This book was recommended by an online friend. I know women who adore the author and her sense of humor. Jami shares stories of her failures and foibles. She tells us how she obtained “Stolen Jesus” and her journey to find Real Jesus. She shares about 5th Grade Jesus, High School Jesus, Americanized Jesus, and all the other Jesuses she tried before coming face to face with Real Jesus. Sometimes she shares too much.
I enjoyed reading the author’s honesty about her views of Jesus, though her sense of humor didn’t really resonate with me. The author’s story caused me to think, which is a good thing. But this is not a book I’ll be buying copies of to give away.
The Kremlin Conspiracy by Joel Rosenberg
I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. And honestly, I loved it!
I’ve been a fan of Mr. Rosenberg’ writing for years and follow his blog in which he writes about world affairs. His writing is often featured by major news magazines. I read his first three novels when they came out years ago. I was excited to dive into his latest novel,and it didn’t disappoint.
A new president has taken power in Russia. He is determined to restore her to her former glory and power. He sees himself as the new Czar, all powerful and without limits. His son-in-law and close adviser isn’t so sure about this, but how can he stop his powerful father-in-law? Perhaps an American, former Marine and Secret Service agent, named Marcus Ryker can stop stop him. But how? And at what cost?
If you’re looking for great summer reading, pick this one up. You won’t be able to put it down.
Newberry Award Books
Winters are hard for me. It’s too cold and windy to ride my bike, and our property doesn’t need mowing yet. I seem to have an allergy to cypress; I’ve had a sinus headache that lasted for weeks. All this adds up to me getting discouraged and bummed out. Reading good books helps me get through the winter days.
This winter I decided to read some of the Newberry Award books. Many of these books were part of my childhood and our homeschool curriculum. Reading them is like visiting an old friend. I have dozens of them on a bookshelf – in order of the year they won the honor.
These books are written for elementary and middle school readers. I enjoy reading easy books from time to time. Especially when I’m a bit down. It feels good to finish a book in a day or two without having to deal with reading about death and violence and gratuitous sex.
A few of the older books are in the public domain and are available for free download through The Gutenberg Project. The Gutenberg Project has thousands of eBooks and audio books available online. All for free. Most public libraries have at least one copy of each Newberry Medal Winner and each Newberry Honor Winner, usually on a dedicated shelf marked clearly to make it easy to find.
I stared reading the earliest winners. Many of the oldest books I’d never read. Here are my thoughts on a few Newberry Award books and the years they won.
1923: The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting
The well-Loved stories of the doctor/naturalist who speaks to animals have been read by adults and children alike for close to a century. I enjoyed these stories when I was a kid and still do.
This eBook is available free from Amazon here. Reading it made me want to find the old version of the movie staring Rex Harrison.
(Note: Like many books written before 1950, there are a few instances of terms now considered offensive.)
1925: Tales from Silver Lands by Charles Finger
This is collection of nineteen folktales the author learned firsthand on his travels through Central and South America. Some of the folktales involve witches, magic, spells, and wizards, so if those bother you don’t read it.
I loved these stories. “A Tale of Three Tails” explains how the rat, rabbit, and deer got their tails. “The Magic Knot” tells the story of how a young man, a magic feather, and a magic knot saved a entire village from an evil bird.
Warning: Some were a bit dark and used terms now considered offensive. For example the author refers to native people as “Indians” regardless of where they live, and in one story a panther steps on a mouse nest killing all the baby mice. Another tells of killing three giants who gave been eating villagers. Some young children may be disturbed by such tales.
I enjoy reading folktales from other times and cultures. I doubt I would include the book in our elementary curriculum for homeschool, but I’m glad I read it. I’d probably include it a middle or high school course on world cultures, if I was still homeschooling.
1926: Shen of the Seaby Arthur Bowie Chrisman (Dutton)
This is another collection of folktales: Chinese stories for children. (And like many folktales some of these include demons, sorcery, and magic.)
The black silhouette illustrations remind me of many of the Chinese art pieces my grandparents had collected, as did stories of ivory and jade carvings.
One of the things I enjoy about folk tales is learning the ways other cultures may express things. For example, in “How Wise Were the Men” the storyteller says, “These men gathered, and wagged their beards much.” One of the men says, “Do you fellows live in a well?” Meaning the don’t know much of the world. I could image a group of white haired Chinese men discussing the problem at Two Roads Meeting Village. (And I love the name of that village!)
If you, too, enjoy folktales from around the world, check this book out from your local library. Or better yet, get a copy for your home library.
1929: The Trumpeter of Krakow by Eric P. Kelly (Macmillan)
Fleeing the Tartans after being warned, a family of three ends up homeless in Krakow. They have almost nothing left, except a pumpkin the father would not sell even for its weight in gold.
Pan Andrew must reach the King and give him an important message along with pumpkin, but treachery is all around. How can he accomplish this task with others trying to kill him and take his treasure?
The Trumpeter of Krakow is a great adventure tale. It was adored in both Poland and American when it first came out and is still read by school children around the world. I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed this story; it’s not just for school children.
1963: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
His children miss him terribly. They haven’t heard from their father, Mr. Murray, in over a year. They don’t know where he is; they know only that he was doing something classified. Then, on a stormy night, a strange woman appears, and things finally start to happen.
This is the first of the Time series by L’Engle, and some of my kids loved it when they were younger. It’s been years since I read it. A Wrinkle in Time is full of magical happenings and surprises. I understand why some of my children liked it, but it’s not one of my favorites.
1996: The Midwife’s Apprentice by Karen Cushman
Beetle isn’t sure how old she is or who her parents were, though she must have had parents. She doesn’t even know her name. The midwife calls her Beetle because she found her in the dung pile, dug in like a dung beetle. Medical knowledge passed from women to woman along with superstition and herbal remedies made up much of what midwives used to help women of the day. Beetle becomes the midwife’s apprentice, made to do all kinds of tasks and trying to learn all she can. Is she really too daft to learn much of anything? Is she truly worthless? Or will she be something someday?
This book has been on our shelf for years, and I’m not planning to give my copy away anytime soon. It’s a well-written, delightful tale of medieval times. A thin book, I read it in a day and enjoyed every page. My only complaint is that it is written for young readers; I’d like to have longer version written for older readers. I’d like to know the rest of the story.
This study covers chapters 24-36. It starts with Issac marrying Leah, then Rachel. We see how God works to make him wealthy. We also the issues that come up when man doesn’t follow God’s ways. We read about trickery and deception. Chapter 34 tells the story of sexual assault and how Dinah’s brother take revenge.
This study is only four weeks, but it’s full of important lessons about marriage, parenting, obedience, and trusting God. Studying these familiar stories line by line, verse by verse opens our eyes to truth we hadn’t seen before.
This four week study covers the last chapters of Genesis. We see how Jacob’s favoritism of Joseph affects the whole family. We follow Joseph into a pit then slavery in Egypt then see him become the second most powerful man in the nation. Through it all God is with him. One of my favorite parts of this study is in Lesson Two; we look at the character traits of God.
I also like that this study takes the student step by step into inductive study. If you’ve never done a Precept Study, this is a great one to start with.
This is the 40-Minute study we went through in one weekend in Grand Forks, North Dakota, in January. I worked through the study once on my own then led the ladies at the base chapel through it. You can read my posts about the weekend here and here.
I learned a great deal through this study, so I decided to go through it with my Monday evening class. One of the many things I like about these studies is that anyone can lead them; everything you need to know to lead is in the book. I knew I would be out of town in April, and with these studies the gals in the class could take turns leading while I was gone.
“Living a Life of True Worship” takes us through passages in Exodus which describe the tabernacle Moses built. It then takes the reader to passages in the New Testament to learn how each item in the tabernacle represents Jesus, who is our High Priest. I’d not studied the way He fulfills each part of the tabernacle, and I found the study fascinating! I recommend it for all believers.
Our pastor taught a series on the Holy Spirit and we looked at the gifts in Sunday School. We have been a part of charismatic churches over the years and have seen gifts in operation. Sometimes appropriately and sometimes folks were a bit out of order. It’s been a while since I looked at what Scripture says, so I wanted to study it. This six lesson study does a good job of covering what the gifts are and why they are given. It takes the reader through passages that make clear who gives the gifts and what we are to do with them without taking a stand on denominational doctrine. If you are interested in learning about spiritual gifts, this study is good place to start.
I began this study more than a year ago then got busy with other things. I decided to finish it in early March. Blessings or curses? What will you choose? God lays out the choices clearly for His people as He instructs them regarding the Promised Land and how they are to deal with those living in the land. This eight week study has application for our lives today as we each decide who we will serve.