Monday, December 26, 2022

December Book Haul


I've been trying to find more fiction books that appeal to me---it's hard! Here's a look at everything I added to Mt. TBR in December. Half are fiction titles.

National Year Book and Encyclopedia, 1917. I found this book of facts and thought it would be fun to see what the nation was doing a little over 100 years ago. This volume contains all kinds of random facts about a time when the population of the US was 100 million and Jerusalem was a part of Turkey and was home to a mere 60,000 people. In this book, one can learn how to claim unoccupied public land under the nations homesteading laws---there was still land available in all states west of the Mississippi. There's also a section on how many books were published in the year prior, arranged by genres. The industry suffered an 80% set back since 1914 due to the "great European War".

The Templars by Piers Paul Read. My interests of late have turned toward the history of the Holy Land. I admit to knowing very little about this region and its timeline. Perhaps this will be an informative read? 

Sweet Expectation by Mary Ellen Taylor. Not my usual type of story but the cover looks cozy, the woman lives in an attic, and she discovers a box of hidden recipes and mementos. This could be fun!

The Gerbil Farmer's Daughter by Holly Robinson. This looks like a fun and humorous memoir about the woman's life with her eccentric father. We'll see...

The Works of Anne Bradstreet, edited by Jeannine Hensley. Anne Bradstreet (1612-1672) was a Puritan pilgrim to the new world, establishing herself in history as the first writer in the North American colonies to be published and the most well-known of the early American poets. Her husband and father were members of the founding committee of Harvard University. She was very well educated herself, boasting a home library of over 800 volumes. (Many were destroyed in a house fire that occurred, coincidentally, just two months before the Great Fire of London). 

The Woman with a Worm in Her Head by Pamela Nagami, M.D. I will read most interesting nonfiction, but I really have a thing for medical histories/mysteries. This one ought to be fun...and gross.

Memory's Ghost: The Strange Tale of Mr. M and the Nature of Memory by Philip J. Hilts. 
Ditto above.

The Boleyn Inheritance by Philippa Gregory. I've had several by this author in my possession, but always passed them on to others. I love reading about the history of the monarchy---but I'm picky about where the info comes from. Since this is such a well-known author on the subject, I decided to give her a try this time.

A Bride Most Begrudging by Deeanne Gist. This is my once-a-year attempt at reading Christian fiction. Of all the genres, this is one of the most difficult for me to enjoy because so much of it is contrived, preachy, and inconsistent with true set-apartness. I'd usually rather read something that is obviously worldly---at least everyone is being honest about the morality of the content. But I digress... I admit---the cover drew me in.

The Dress Lodger by Sheri Holman. Another one that drew me in with the cover. I honestly think I'll end up abandoning this one before I reach the end, but we'll see...

If I Were You by Joan Aiken. Looks like a fun take on the Prince and the Pauper story---with a neat vintage cover.

Self-Reliance and Other Essays by Ralph Waldo Emerson. Finally, in a nod to our new baby grandson, Emerson Wayne, I picked up this skinny volume to allow my mind to wander to transcendental utopias...

That's it for December. What great reads have you picked up lately?

Sunday, December 25, 2022

2023 Reading Challenges

Another new year is coming in and I've cleared the entire 2023 calendar for reading...

Yeah, I know, I said that last year…and the year before. But THIS YEAR I mean it. haha! Actually, this last year I got the reading in---it's the blogging about reading for which I crashed and burned. Maybe my opening line should read, "Another new year is coming in and I've committed to keeping my reading blog updated..." That's not as catchy, is it?

I've looked over several awesome reading challenges out there and have settled on those below. I've also really got to get moving on my Classics challenge as I've only got one year left!

This challenge takes place right here at Belle's Library. You may read any book published during or about the Victorian era (1837-1901). Use hashtag #2023VictorianReadingChallenge on social media.

I'm hosting this challenge for a second year. Read all the things you missed out on as a kid---or revisit some old favorites! Use hashtag #2023ChildrensBooksChallenge on social media.

The Alphabet Soup Challenge hosted by Escape with Dollycas. I've never done this one before! The goal is to try to read a book with a title that begins with each letter of the alphabet---except for Q, X, and Z can be used for the first letter of any word in the title. I'll keep track of my books for this challenge here: 2023 Alphabet Soup Challenge.

Another new to me challenge this year is the TBR Pile Challenge from Roof Beam Reader. With this challenge, we choose 12 books that have been on our TBR shelves for at least a year, plus two alternates. The goal is to read them and get them off the shelves! My list is here: TBR Pile Challenge. Use hashtag #TBRYear10 on social media.

I've done this one a few times in the past: The Historical Fiction Reading Challenge at The Intrepid Reader. Choose your era and go to town! I think I'll attempt the Ancient History Level at 25 historical fiction books. Use hashtag: #histficreadingchallenge on social media.

This is a set-it-yourself challenge that runs for 5 years. Commit to reading at least 50 classics in 5 years.  You can see my list here: The Classics Club.

Daughters of Promise runs the Brighter Winter Reading Program during the months of January and February. They offer a challenge sheet and prizes! Tag @brighterwinter and use hashtag #brighterwinter2023 on social media.

What great reading challenges have you discovered for 2023?

Monday, December 19, 2022

2023 TBR Pile Challenge #TBRYear10


Another new to me challenge this year is the TBR Pile Challenge from Roof Beam Reader. With this challenge, we choose 12 books that have been on our TBR shelves for at least a year, plus two alternates in case we need to abandon a horrible book. The goal is to read them and get them off the shelves! I really need this challenge---ha!
Use hashtag #TBRYear10 on social media.

I've chosen the 14 oldest TBRs on my shelf. Here are my choices:

2. A Nostalgic Almanac by Edna Hatlestad Hong, 16 years TBR 

3. A Handbook of Ancient History in Bible Light by Miller, 15 years TBR

4. Little House in the Ozarks by Laura Ingalls Wilder, 14 years TBR

5. The Bible as History by Werner Keller, 14 years TBR

6. My Heart's In the Lowlands by Liz Curtis Higgs, 13 years TBR

7. Children of the New Forest by Frederick Marryat, 13 years TBR

8. Celtic Christianity by Christopher Bamford, 13 years TBR

9. The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, 13 years TBR

10. Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell, 12 years TBR

11. Morte d'Arthur by Thomas Malory, 12 years TBR

12. The Voice of the Irish by Michael Staunton, 12 years TBR


1. St. Patrick of Ireland by Philip Freeman, 11 years TBR

2. Inside the Victorian Home by Judith Flanders, 11 years TBR

Others finished from Mt. TBR:

Celtic Monasticism by Kathleen Hughes and Ann Hamlin

2023 Alphabet Soup Challenge

Have you heard about The Alphabet Soup Challenge hosted by Escape With Dollycas? I came across this one earlier this year and thought it looked fun. The goal is to try to read a book with a title that begins with each letter of the alphabet---except for Q, X, and Z can be used for the first letter of any word in the title. I'll keep track of my books for this challenge here: 


G-- Golden Moments by Gail Golden
I-- In the Penal Colony by Franz Kafka
J-- The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen Flynn
N-- The Noel Diary by Richard Paul Evans
O-- Our Island Story by H.E. Marshall
T-- The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow

B-- Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
E--The Lifted Veil by George Eliot
G--Man of Shadow and Mist by Michelle Griep
H-- Daisy Miller by Henry James
O-- Animal Farm by George Orwell
T-- The Englishman Who Posted Himself by John Tingey
W-- Mudlark River by Simon Wilcox
Z-- The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruis Zafon

Monday, December 12, 2022

What Did I Read? November 2022

Hello friends! Hope you're happy and well and enjoying the cozy season! I read SOO many books last month---but mainly because I decided to revisit a childhood favorite, the Baby-Sitters Club series. My daughter has the first 50 or so books and I could read through one in just a couple hours. I did also manage to read other things too---ha! It was just a really great month of reading!

The Girl from Botany Bay by Carolly Erickson

from Amazon: "Veteran biographer Erickson focuses on Mary Broad, who was arrested for robbery in 1786 and transported in sordid conditions to the new penal colony in Australia. But the book is, more generally, a stark and fascinating account of what prisoners endured: in England, where harsh laws protected property in an era of unsettling social change; on board ship; and in the penal colonies themselves, where the convicts and their guards carved a bleak existence out of the inhospitable environment. Life was particularly harsh for women, who, in addition to the usual deprivations, also endured the threat of rape and the responsibilities and sorrows of raising children in dire conditions. Mary Broad, along with several male convicts and her own young children, made a daring escape in a small, stolen boat. Perhaps fortified by stories of the survivors of the Bounty, they sailed along the Australian coast and across open sea to the Dutch settlement of Kupang in Indonesia, where they enjoyed a few months of ease before their recapture. Despite Erickson's speculations, little can be known concretely about Mary as an individual. Her story draws in the reader, nonetheless, and Mary's brief moment of celebrity, when the escape and the well-timed intervention of the writer James Boswell earn her a royal pardon, provides a satisfying end to the unrelenting hardship of her life."

My Review: This was a really interesting story about a subject I knew nothing about. Mary Broad, was arrested for robbery in 1786 and transported to the new penal colony in Australia. The story offers a reality check as to what prisoners endured during these times. Mary's story was probably a unique one, gaining her a bit of celebrity status documented in the few pieces of her history we have today. 

The stories of torture and abuse were very difficult to read. These events took place at the same time Jane Austen was writing about, yet they're totally different worlds…

Besides the irritating footnotes/endnotes, I really enjoyed reading through this. 

I also learned two new words: horripilating and hardihood.

Finally, what's an anti earthquake pill?? Is this some 18th century term for birth control?

Museum of the Missing by Simon Houpt

from Amazon: "There's nothing as tempting to a thief as a work of art, it would seem, but it wasn't always so. Although Houpt shows how stealing art has been a sport of rulers (notably Napoleon and Hitler) for centuries, he traces the current epidemic of art theft to the inflation of auction prices that began in 1958 and continues to this day. When houses like Sotheby's trumpet their sales records--$104 million for a Picasso!--what's a self-respecting art thief to do? In this brief and lively book, Houpt laments the transformation of art into an international commodity and sketches a series of quick portraits of famous latter-day art thieves and the intrepid detectives who try to catch them."

My Review: I really love reading about art history mysteries---I can't get enough! This book was super interesting and will be going straight into my permanent collection. I found myself looking up each work and notating in the book whether they'd been recovered since publication. Happily, I found quite a few that had! 

I was pretty disgusted with the way museums and governments refuse to give up obviously stolen property. The British handling of the art property of other nations, in particular, is despicable. I'm planning a trip in March and Selah really wants to see the Natural History Museum/V&A/etc. --- not so sure I'll enjoy it as much now as I have in the past. As the author points out, how many pieces in our museums are even the spoils of war? Quite the moral dilemma there...

Even though I'm always rooting for the good guys, I do have to admit several of the heists were pretty genius. The whole story surrounding the fictional Thomas Alcock collection was pretty impressive.

Great read---glad I took the time!

England in 1815 as Seen by a Young Boston Merchant by Joseph Ballard

My Review: I purchased this from Once Upon a Time Bookshop in Tontitown, Arkansas. This is number 474 of 525 copies printed in 1913, and seems to be a first edition, published by his descendants. It's a travel narrative of American merchant Ballard's time in England during the time of Waterloo and Jane Austen.

This fantastic journal gave me so many wonderful things to think about! I would have been finished much sooner except there were so many things I was inspired to research and read about.

It was interesting to think about the traffic in the seas in those days. Men boarding ships back and forth to exchange news and supplies...

Ballard references a lot of things that are now in our distant history: to him, the Royal Exchange (#2) looked dilapidated (burnt in 1838); he also mentioned the planned destruction and rebuilding of London bridge (happened in 1831).

So much of what he describes seeing can be seen today that I often found myself forgetting I was reading such an old journal. Then he’d mention something like stopping to change horses and I’d be snapped back into 1815.

I thought it was funny that he discussed traveling at 8.3 miles per hour—-“a velocity with which I desire never to travel again”. Ha!!

I loved reading about the mothers homeschooling their children from books in the art museum, the interesting origin of the panorama, and how the Bodleian carried 95,000 printed items---they now house over 13 million!

I'm very curious about the oatmeal bread hanging in sheets from the ceiling on page 23.

I thought it interesting to read his perspective of receiving news updates about the fate of Napoleon. (He was on the ship waiting to be taken to St. Helena at the time of his mention.) He was educated enough to realize this was a major historical event but had no idea how it would change the course of history. Very impactful. Very interesting to imagine him standing in places I’ve stood and probably will stand again…thinking thoughts…making plans…just as I do. I love history.

Greystone Secrets Series Books 1-3 by Margaret Peterson Haddix

from Amazon: "New York Times bestselling author Margaret Peterson Haddix takes readers on a thrilling adventure filled with mysteries and plot twists aplenty in this absorbing series about family and friendships. Perfect for fans of A Wrinkle in Time and The City of Ember!"

My Review for book one: The Strangers: I was super duper extremely pleasantly surprised with how much I totally loved this story!! 

The story has a sort of A Wrinkle in Time feel to it, without all the over-kids'-heads sciencey trippyness that I didn't even understand when I tried to reread it at 40. There's just enough science and sci-fi to make it fun---and I'm so glad it didn't contain the supernatural/magic elements that are so prevalent in almost every. single. book. one picks up these days. 

Like most books written for kids by someone who hasn't had kids at home on a daily basis, at least for quite awhile, the characters suffer from shifts in intellectual and vocabulary maturity---but most of these were still somewhat believable for all but the youngest character. With no "he's a weird genius like Charles Wallace" explanations to cover for this, I had to just pretend he was really 12 instead of eight.

One element that really surprised me and argued against my normal bias against today's literature offers for children and young adults, was the stance the author took relating to the government. This story is fantastic in that it shows kids the possibility and consequences of a government that lies to its citizens with technology and fake news. It's quite the opposite of the indoctrination prevalent today. Genius---and I hope it was done on purpose.

One of my favorite pieces of dialogue is this (paraphrased):

Joe: "We've had to operate in such secrecy---it's hasn't been safe for anyone to know more than one or two contacts."

Finn: "So there could be lots of people here who are secretly on our side! They just need to know it's safe to unite!"

This is literally what I've been saying about all of the crazy that's gone on in our world the last few years. It's the loudest voices that seem to be the majority---but what if they just have the ability (in this case, technology) to drown out the real majority?

Great book! While I have three children in the recommended age range of 8-12, I decided it was only my 13 year old and older that I felt comfortable with reading this right now. I felt like the emotions the children showed about being without their mother would really upset my younger kids---and the sci-fi towards the end would be over their heads. 

My Review for book two: The Deceivers: I'm really enjoying this series! This book moved a little more slowly for me than book #1 did, but I still loved it. As a plus, the characters, especially Finn, act a little more believable to their ages.

I'm really wondering about the political point of view of this author---it's actually ironic, seeing as that's the series' big question: What side are you on? The thoughts presented here are refreshing in the face of all the media propaganda we deal with in the US.

This story continues on with that "something in the air to control emotions and actions" element—-makes me think of chem trails.

Another point that stuck out to me was the idea that it was illegal to tell the truth if it made the leaders look bad. I believe this is important for preparing kids for what is here and is to come with world politics and agendas. 

I'm really hooked on this author---must find more! (Starting book three of the series asap!)

ETA: I'm seeing a couple reviews that express disappointment in the lying that goes on in this series---maybe that children would think lying is ok. I think it's important to note that the Bible shows us how lying to save a life is not the same as bearing a false witness according to Exodus 20. Rahab is a good example of a Biblical figure who lied to save a life.

My Review for book three: The Messengers: I definitely didn't like this one as much as the first two---there just seemed to be a lot of melodrama, repetitiveness of people's thoughts and motives, and just a little too much stretching of reality (kids fighting adults...slow motion bad guys so fifty things can happen in 30 seconds, etc.)

Still, I feel like these books are important as, like I said in previous reviews, they give kids a look into the idea that the govt. might not actually have your best interests in mind. 

 I hope kids can see how the brainwashing scenes in this story parallels to today. Watching the enemies of the state being terminated on TV, the kids thought: “they deserve what they get for not complying”. That attitude is prevalent these last few years with people who think mandates are their saviors.

Once the kids could break away from the brainwashing and look around them, they'd think: “wait, there isn’t the kind of danger like they say…” I found myself coming to that realization several times over the last couple years. When I found myself living in fear about what was going on around me, I'd think about what actually has affected me. Not much.

Also, had to laugh at one of the kids talking about the "old fashioned calculator". Yikes. Like hearing your high school songs on the oldies station...

My 13 year old daughter is reading the series. I'm sure I'll hold on to it for my other kids. I don't know who thinks an 8 year old is going to get these stories but maybe my 8 year olds have just been more innocent than the average??

The Baby-Sitters Club Series by Ann M. Martin, Books 1-10, plus the 1st Super Special

I first read these as a 9-11 year old in grade school. The babysitters were my best friends and influenced my behavior, thoughts, and understandings profoundly. Since my 11 year old daughter is now obsessed, I thought I'd read through them again and see what I think as a now 43 year old mom of nine. 

I have to say I am actually super irritated with the amount of immature behavior that goes on in these books---just goes to show I wasn't a super mature 10 year old, I guess. Ha! The babysitters are all 12 and 13 and they're just pretty petty sometimes. At other times, they're given much more responsibility than I can imagine giving my young teens now---but maybe these really were different times. 

I'm really enjoying the nostalgia of it all, though. I'm finding that even I am forgetting some things about the 80s. Like when the girls said they needed to look over their tape collection before a party, my first thought was "Scotch tape". Haha!

What's everyone else been reading?