The stories we read

The Green Ember

For this months’ final post, I’ve read a book with the theme in its title. Convenient, hey? Enjoy this very brief review, and I look forward to sharing new things with you in the month of June!

Rabbit siblings Heather and Picket lived a peaceful life with their loving family.  Their father has always told them stories of intrigue, adventure, and betrayal, stories with fierce enemies and rabbit heroes of long ago. Their life is dumped upside down when wolves destroy their home and they are forced to flee. They begin to see that the substance of these tales are closer than they knew.

The Green Ember is S.D. Smith’s debut novel. There were many strengths. The way he introduces Heather and Picket in the beginning of the story illustrated their relationship beautifully. Their individual fears and struggles were well-written, and their character arcs were a pleasure to witness. Many of the action scenes were well-paced and even beautifully written.

I did find some portions of the story to contain more ‘tell’ than ‘show’. This is a story for middle school readers, who would have benefitted from less ‘tell’ I believe.

Overall, young (and not-so-young) readers will enjoy this story, finding much to identify with in the main characters and the challenges they face.

The next book in the series, Ember Falls, is available now. The Black Star of Kingston covers the stories that Heather and Picket grew up hearing from their father. It will be interesting to watch not only the story develop further, but Smith’s writing as well.  One thing is for sure-he has a wealth of imagination and storytelling to offer readers.

And so May draws to a close. What did you enjoy about the month? Have you read The Green Ember?

The stories we read

Comfort Reads


It comes as no surprise to have read little these past few months. The newborn stage is consuming and fleeting. I’ve had little energy for reading, both for myself and to my children, beyond the picture book at bedtime. But now that we’re already in the second quarter of 2017 (what!!??), I thought I’d share tentative reading lists for myself and my kids.

Books to read with my kids:

Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Including the author’s name almost seems unnecessary here, but maybe that’s just because I’m so familiar with this series. We read Little House in the Big Woods last year and we have yet to begin the next in the series. This is the year!

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling. (Another well-known name, if not more than the first). They enjoyed TSS so much last year. I’m looking forward to the next installment as much as they are!

-Others-wow, I really had a specific title in mind here, and now it’s gone. (ha) Well, I’m leaving the rest of this one open. I’d love to keep going in the Little House series. We’ll have to hunt down some more classics from the library because 2 or three novels is a nice start, but I’m hoping for more than that this year.

My list:

The Life-Changeing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. I really want to see what all the hype is about. Plus, with 4 kids, I’ve never been more invested in de-cluttering. Any help I can get is appreciated!

Middlemarch by George Eliot.  I picked up this book from our local used book store last fall. I’ve heard good things about this author and it’s been a while since I’ve read a classic.

Bittersweet by Shauna Niequist. A friend gave me this book of essays on this often puzzling and heart-rending quality of life. I’ve read the first essay and I love Niequist’s style-easy to read, but raw and real without being jaded or harsh. I’m looking forward to finishing it.

Rising Strong by Brené Brown. Pretty much anything by Brown has my attention! And, it was given to me by the above mentioned friend. Therefore I would be a fool not to read it.

It looks like I’m trying to read what’s already on my bookshelf this year. I’ll check back in a few months from now and let you know my progress. Also, I’m leaving room for ‘comfort reads’-familiar books that sort of rest my mind when I’m not able to invest in a new story. There will still be lots of picture books enjoyed with my children, but I hope to add at least 3 or 4 novels to their repertoire this year too.

What are you reading this year?

Comfort reads if I ever saw them!

The stories we read

January Reads…Sort Of

January started out with the arrival of our 4th little one, born hours before 2016 ended. We are so happy he’s here. 

Ah, those first 2 weeks of newborn bliss. “Bliss”is a rather complex word when used in conjunction with the postpartum period! However, it’s safe to say I read a lot. I was feeling  ambitious and began several books. Now I’m back on my feet and my ambition (and time for reading…and attention span…)has waned. This is the month of the unfinished book(s).

The House on Mango Street- Sandra Cisneros-No picture because I can’t find it. So typical. These short essays based on the author’s childhood are poignant and revealing. Cisneros writes of both the universal struggles of growing up and the specific difficulties faced as a minority. I’m always blown away by writers who convey a lot with few words, and she does not disappoint. Hopefully I can finish this one next month. Thank goodness I can renew missing books online…

1215: The Year of Magna Carta-Danny Danziger and John Gillingham-Ok, I mostly picked this one for its size and cover art. Yep. Oh, but I do like history too. The authors write wittily about all aspects of life surrounding and leading up to this critical document. I jumped around since the chapters are more topical than chronological. What I remember most is discovering what may be the root of longstanding British prejudice against the Irish. The British favored towns and cities over rural life, and when Prince John visited Ireland with Gerald de Barri, Barri wrote two books that furthered a wide-spread disdain for the Celts. 

You Are A Writer (So Start Acting Like One)-Jeff Goins-I actually finished this one! I chalk it up to 1) reading it on my phone via Kindle, because only one hand was needed, and 2) short, pithy content. The first part deals with common insecurities and hold-ups faced by all beginning writers. The second and third parts were incredibly practical and helpful for building a platform, brand, and more (not as yucky or scary as I always thought). I like that he often says, “I wish I’d known/done this years ago” because then I feel better about my progress as a writer! If you write, I recommend Goin’s book. When I can start applying the principles here in 6 months or so I’ll have to revisit this one.  

There you have it. One out of three is not the best, but there’s next month.

I take it back-I finished a second book this month:

Right before I chucked it through the return window.

My kids are fans of Junie B. Jones now. The writing is laugh out loud funny, but I’ll let my son read the next one himself. I need a break from first grade drama. 

Thirteenth century war and prejudice, anyone?

PS. I also finally got a copy of Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. It’s a much acclaimed book. Can I finish this one before I lose it or the library calls it home? We shall see…

library escapades · My life stories · The stories we read

Library Escapades: September/October

Here’s another post I wrote last  fall and shoved in the drafts folder. I’m finishing this one partly because my focus is on my novel right now-I should be finished with this draft by Thanksgiving (hooray!!). My notebook is filling up with blog post ideas I can’t wait to share with you soon, but in the meantime, enjoy this blast from the recent past.
Hello friends! I haven’t written a Library Escapade since January, so I thought it was high time for a book haul type post. This is nowhere near the amount of books we’ve borrowed! These are mostly from a single 15-minute dash into the library on a whim. Because, three kids. Dashes must be quick. And library, because, well, reading.

  1. The Brambly Hedge books

I’ve seen illustrations here and there, but my daughter found these and I’m pretty sure I was more excited. The illustrations!

Update: I wrote about these books here. It’s not all fun and illustrations…well, I think it’s fun. 🙂

2. The Illyrian Adventure

I’d read The Arkadians by Lloyd Alexander a few months ago. I haven’t finished this one yet, but it is proving to be a charming adventure tale. The determined, irrepressible heroine and and cultural richness are classic Alexander.

Update: I very much enjoyed The Arkadians. The setting is modeled after ancient Greece and her mythology. The Illyrian Adventure is the first time I’ve read a book by Alexander that was set in a more modern time. It had a bit of an Indiana Jones feel to it, with the fun difference of the female protagonist. It’s interesting that the story is told from her guardian’s perspective, and at times I found that annoying. But my respect for Alexander grows with every book of his I read-his ability to capture qualities of such various cultures is stunning. Couple that with his ability to express the universal human qualities we posses, and he is an author worth learning from. He’s one of my role models, for sure.

3. Roverandom

My friend at The Everyday Epic and I found this one by J.R.R. Tolkien a year or 2 ago, but we couldn’t check it out. (Different library system, who knew?) Alas, I did not finish this one before I had to return it this time either, and, frankly, I lost interest. (Shame!) I did enjoy the similarities between this one and his other works. One of the most obvious is the wizard who passes by the protagonist puppy early on and changes his life dramatically.

  • There you have it! Have you read any of these? Tell me what you thought of them, or similar books!
library escapades · The stories we read

Library Escapades August ’16 part II

It’s September! Thanks to Hermine (shouldn’t that be Hermione?), even here in the armpit of hell we’ve had cooler weather and it has been marvelous. We’ve enjoyed the park several times. I’m on the hunt for pumpkin and pumpkin recipes. I lit a fall candle. About a week and a half ago, actually. And I’m happy about it.

However, I must look back at August, because it was a month of so many good books that I just can’t pretend I found them any other time. There was one Monday where the Toddler and I ventured to Toddler Story Time at the Library, and afterwards, armed with a list from StarDance Press, I, to my great surprise and delight, tracked down a glorious stack of new reads. The only reason I stopped at four was because the Toddler was letting me know in no uncertain terms that it was time to go, and I didn’t have his stroller or a book bag. So we checked them out and left.

So far I’ve only read two. Dark Fire  by C.J. Sansom I read about on Diary of an Autodidact. I enjoyed it more than expected. It takes place in Tudor London, 1540, and the protagonist is a hunchback lawyer who is caught up in politics and schemes involving weapons of mass destruction. I love that the four humors are referenced often. The protagonist, Matthew Shardlake, is a melancholic, so I felt a sympathy for him. The book is fast-paced and rich in historic detail, as you would expect. Every time I came up for air, it was with a prayer of thanks for how far plumbing has come, and for the fact that I don’t live in a city, even a modern one. The characters are many and complex. Shardlake’s struggles, both internal and external, are well described and make him a well-rounded character.

The second book is The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper. I haven’t actually finished it yet. It is a little slow and I found it a little hard to get into, but it is replete with fantasy nuances and Celtic mythology that I am unfamiliar with. As an aspiring fantasy writer, I’m soaking up Cooper’s techniques and trope usage. I’d read a passage and think, “ahhh, I forgot/didn’t know you can do that!” This book is easily one to shelve for future mining.

The other books are The Runaway Princess by Kate Coombs, The Rope Trick by Lloyd Alexander, and Keeper of the Mist by Rachel Neumeier. That last one came in the mail from the library, along with a second copy of The Runaway Princess (I’d forgotten that I’d ordered that one-so one of my best friends took it home and is enjoying it.) I’m determined to finish The Dark is Rising before I start on the next. Otherwise I may not be trusted to finish what I started.

It’s a new month with the promise of fall and I’ve got a stack of books. Things are looking beautiful.

What are you reading this September, friends?


library escapades · The stories we read · The stories we share

Library Escapades, August ’16

This morning I took my two big kids to school. Everyone was excited, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only proud parent. It might be halfway through August (yay!!), and school is in session, but does that really mean summer reading is over? Not if you count the weather here:)

Anyway, the three of us, usually while the toddler was napping, had a good bit of reading out loud this summer, and I hope to continue into the school year. Here are the books we read so far.

Meet Addy by Connie Porter

I loved reading American Girl books when I was little, and I thought, what a great way to get some reading time and a little history in by sharing one of these books with my kids. These books are short, too, which is also a bonus when reading to young children. Meet Addy  was an appropriate introduction for my 5 & 7 year old to one of our nations’ most oppressive periods, particularly slavery, near the end of the Civil War. It is realistic but not too graphic.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling 

My son requested this one. At first I wasn’t sure-it’s really long, after all-but they both enjoyed it. It’s probably one of his favorites. There’s plenty of humor to keep their attention, and the details of the world of magic are enjoyable to re-readers and first timers alike. I won’t go in to too much detail with this one, but we did enjoy watching the movie once we finished this one (with a few parts fast-forwarded), and it even sparked a Harry Potter puppet show in our house.

The Book of Three by Alexander Lloyd

If you’re a fan of fantasy and Welsh mythology, you’ll enjoy this one. Maybe because we had just finished Harry Potter, my children weren’t quite into this one, so we stopped after a few chapters. I’ll try to pick it up next summer. So, we moved on instead to….

Kenny and the Dragon by Tony DiTerlizzi

My daughter snatched this off a display at the library, and it turned out to be an excellent last-minute choice. Easy and fun to read out loud, this apparently references Kenneth Grahame’s The Reluctant Dragon, which I now want to read. As a bonus, this book has a good sprinkling of DiTerlizzi’s illustrations throughout.

What did you read this summer?

The stories we read

I Saw Her in a Book

You know that feeling you get when you identify with a character? It can be many things-not the least of which is comforting. For, as it has been said many times, one of the reasons we read is to know we are not alone.

“Five minutes ago I was so miserable I was wishing I’d never been born and now I wouldn’t change places with an angel!”

…Anne (came) flying in from the yard, eyes shining, cheeks faintly flushed with pink, unbraided hair streaming behind her in a torrent of brightness.

I’m re-reading Anne of Green Gables. Many readers, myself included, have found some kind of kindred spirit within Anne, whether for her fiery temper, orphan’s struggles, luminous imagination, or some mix of those traits.

Yes, it’s a satisfying, often eye-opening experience to identify with a character, and it can be no less so when a character shows the reader someone they know well in a clear light. This time, as I read of Anne’s escapades, her deep lows and soaring highs, I kept thinking to myself, “This is Emmie. Anne reminds me so much of my daughter.”

My daughter is five. She’s a deep feeler and a  vivid expresser of thoughts and emotions. She can talk til the cows come home (giving Anne a run for her money sometimes). She can fly off the handle under the right provocation (even though she doesn’t have red hair), but she is one of the most affectionate people I’ve ever met. She has a flair for making up names, gets her mind set on what she wants and is deeply disappointed when she doesn’t get it (if puff sleeves were in fashion today, she’d want them). She can go from the depths of despair to heights of delight in less time than it takes me to finish a sentence, and the other way around. Being her mother means I’ve found myself identifying more with Marilla Cuthbert these days. I get impatient when I call her to do something and her child’s brain wanders in a dozen different directions along the way; I get worn out by her talking and drained dry by her sudden highs and lows. I’ve also heard my own unknown or unvoiced thoughts spoken by this small person with a clarity that astonishes, and often, amuses me.

Re-reading Anne is like a gift of vision from a slightly different angle. I’m reminded to see Emmie more as she is, and less how I wish she would behave at that moment. To remember  that she is a person who sees the world differently, and that isn’t something to be overlooked or rushed to fit what’s convenient for me. To remember, too, that we do share so much in common, and how much wonder we both could miss if I tried to hurry her along.

I hope we can read Anne of Green Gables together some day. And I hope it’s every bit as comforting and illuminating for Emmie as it can be-for her highs and lows, strengths and weaknesses- a reminder that she is in good company.

The stories we read · The stories we share

10/10: Day 9

10 Blogs I love

I’m really excited to share these with you. The list is a good mix of various blog types. Without further ado:

  1. Shannan MartinWrites. Back when she was Flower Patch Farm Girl, I found Shannan’s blog. She shares about adoption, loving your neighbor, and finding beauty, humor and salsa in the not-so-pretty side of town. Funny and comfortable in the uncomfortable-a rare combination.
  2. Diary of an Autodidact. The author is a lawyer and family man who writes about the modesty culture, patriarchy, and politics, as well as some thorough book reviews. I couldn’t stop reading when I found it-the posts are addictive. Intelligent and informative.
  3. Simple Days. If you love every day life-type posts with some beautiful photography, you’ll love Erica’s blog. She also has a link to her fantastic cooking website on Simple Days as well.
  4. Minstrel of Grace. I found Erika’s blog through Instagram some time ago and adore the romantic, thoughtful quality of her posts. She also shares a satisfying amount of good photography. The word authentic might be a little overused today, but her journal-like posts are just that.
  5. Schwababywrites. She’s just getting started in the whole blogging gig, but you’ll want to keep an eye on this one. I’m not just saying this because we *might* be related-Schwabbabywrites has a lot to offer the world.
  6. Just A Jesus Follower. This woman’s love for Jesus and people is practical and real and hits me in the gut in the best possible way.What a breath of fresh air to find someone fearless, grounded, and compassionate!
  7. Spiritual Friendship. I’ve linked to this blog a few times, and I respect the writers here immensely. Their purpose is twofold: create a welcoming, safe place for people of the LGBQT community (of which the writers are a part), and equip the church to welcome, befriend, and disciple people of this community without assuming their background, story, or behavior. Sound implausible? I could write a lot more about them, but you’ll have to read it for yourself.
  8. MichMash: If you want more humorous, everyday life with a healthy sprinkling of books on the side, look no further. Another great blog (and person) I found through Instagram.
  9.  Lydia Center.Org. Their tagline says, “Advancing Reformed scholarship in the areas of gender, marital, and family ethics.” I do believe these areas need advancing, and quite a bit in this particular arena.
  10. The Book Review Directory. Love the mystery genre but don’t know which book to pick up next? Looking to branch into a different genre and don’t know where to look? Try The Book Review Directory. Book reviews, submitted by numerous writers, are organized by genre and easy to find. A bibliophile’s dream.

There you have it-a list of 10 blogs I recommend. Who’s on your top 10 list? Have you read any of these?

My life stories · The stories we read

Stretching out and Filling in

You guys, I am no good at transitions. It’s a good thing that I keep experiencing minor ones to practice on. This week the heat has been fierce, tempers short, and the sun harsh. I keep remembering lush summer days in NC where I didn’t feel like I was suffocating, where the earth actually cooled in the pink evenings. But there were gloomy feelings in our dim apartment then, too, the stretch of awkwardness while we tried to reach the nooks and crannies of our temporary home and see how we fit there. It wasn’t until we sat on a tree-dotted hill a few weeks later that I breathed deeply and felt like I’d really come home. It has always been the mountains that have felt like home.

Here there are no cool evenings for sometime and tree-dotted hills are in short supply. I remind myself everyday that we will feel settled, I will make our house feel like our home, and that it’s normal for this to take a while. It will take a while. But the stretch of awkwardness will end too one day, probably when we aren’t looking.

Enter a children’s book we picked up from the library this week. It’s Clyde Watson’s and Wendy Watson’s  Valentine Foxes and it’s one of my kids’s favorites.

One of my favorite things about this book: the illustrations are of messy rooms and the chaos that comes with a horde of small kids. Kind of the stuff the makes me feel claustrophobic! Ironic, no? But the Watsons make it charming. At the end of the day, the floors may be a mess and a favorite blue bowl broken, the toddler might not nap and the kids may  will have meltdowns, but if there’s love, that’s really the best thing to hold on to. Gosh darn it, this is one of my favorite things about children’s books and one of the reasons I write: they remind the ordinary of its own charm.

So we’re no where near the mountains but thank God we aren’t moving again anytime soon. We’re nowhere near the mountains but there are glorious clouds and the sun seems less harsh than when we first arrived. 

This space still feels ill-fitted at times, but I can imagine that one day, when the air cools slightly (in like 20 months:) and we have pictures on the walls, when the windows are open and there’s a fall-scented candle burning in the kitchen, we’ll discover that we’ve stretched out and filled in our home. Chaos and all.


p.s. Did you know the Watsons are sisters? I think it’s so fun that they illustrated and wrote a book together. If you love the illustrations like I do, check out Wendy Watson’s website.


The stories we read · The stories we share

Cranford, Clash of Classes

I recently re-watched Cranford, the mini series based on Elizabeth Gaskill’s novels of similar names. Each time I watch it I enjoy it more. If you are a fan of 1840’s British dramas, or period dramas in general, you’ll enjoy this one. Now I haven’t read the book, so my remarks here are based solely on the series.

Cranford is a small English village, pastoral and happily isolated from the rumblings of change. Viewers follow the goings on in a year, most closely watching Miss Matty and Miss Deborah, two spinster sisters who take in a young woman named Mary Smith who is anxious to escape the wiles of her step mother, intent on marrying her off.

As always, look for the social lines and customs so clearly demarcated in British dramas. The lower classes are invisible or scorned. The upper classes are primarily isolated and out of touch. The middle classes have just enough material goods to keep them comfortable and lull their imaginations into puerile conditions, easily bursting out of control, with laughable and sometimes horrible results. When small calamities befall their community, however, they demonstrate their ability to step outside their daily lives. They are galvanized into action, if not for others outside their class, at least for those who live on their own streets.

Miss Deborah is one example of this clash of propriety and the exclusiveness of class and helping one’s fellow human being. She is principled and upright, a pillar of influence and morality in Cranford, a Type 1. Several times she is faced with the dilemma of choosing to help her fellow man (or woman) in an unusual way and retaining the propriety upon which she is steadfast. It really is hard for modern Americans to fully appreciate her difficulty without some understanding of British class rules. Miss Deborah is at times marked by inflexibility and dogmatism, to the detriment of those who could benefit from her good will and influence (yep, it’s the lower classes I’m talking about here, and there’s one scene that should be infuriating to anyone.). It is also her clear thinking and rational behavior that quells the rampaging imaginations of her neighbors, putting a stop to further harm.

There is a remarkable story line in which the upper and lower classes do mix closely. It is probably my favorite storyline in the whole series. I don’t want to give it away, but it is a story of mentorship and education, not love.

If you watch Cranford looking for something pastoral, like I did, you won’t be disappointed. You’ll also find a poignant story of the intertwining of the human race, and the impact our behavior has on those within our community, even on those we don’t often see are there.


Source of picture