Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Anne of Windy Poplars & Other Reviews (Snippets!)

This past month has been a busy blur! Mostly I've been occupied with a head cold which has led to this. However, the Christmas season is now upon us and more than anything I just want to sit down and blaze through a bunch of books and Christmas stories. So the paintbrush has been set down and I'm back to the books, many of which I have finished. My normal practice is to write up a review on each individual title but I fear if I tried to do that, I'd never catch up. So here's a snapshot of the books I've been reading of late.

I've lost count of the number of times I've read Anne of Windy Poplars but this was my choice for a November read. When I was younger, this was my least favorite of the Anne books. After all, there's no Gilbert and without Gilbert there's no tension. However, this is probably one of my favorite Anne books to read as an adult chiefly because, as it turns out, life is not all romance. There are jobs to do and circumstances to grow through and that's what Anne spends her time doing in Windy Poplars.

In this particular story we find Anne enduring a teaching job and learning to thrive in a small community which consists largely of the Pringle family. The Pringles didn't want her to be hired at the local all-girls high school as they had favored one of their own relatives for the job instead. Despite initially persecuting poor, dear Miss Shirley, she wins them over in her Anne-ish way and we make new friends alongside her in the journey.

My favorite quote from the read this time 'round comes out of a letter which Anne is writing to Gilbert in which she is describing her young neighbor, Elizabeth:

"I'm glad I don't live in Yesterday . . .  that Tomorrow is still a friend."

Yes and amen.

My yesterdays are full of beauty and joy and good times. They are also filled with real struggles, challenges and hardships. Some struggles were more difficult than others but God has been faithful and has seen us through. I wouldn't trade or change a single experience, friendship or joy. All the same, I'm glad that there is always Tomorrow ahead, full of new dreams and new hopes. Why the hope? Romans 15:13. I'll bank on that.


All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr came to me highly recommended by multiple friends and through #Bookstagram. As a result of the hype it was almost - but not quite - doomed to failure. Readers know how it goes when everyone around you begins to rave about a certain book and exclaims that you absolutely must make time to read it. The book is set upon a pedestal and the fear in reading it becomes that when you finally get around to it, you won't like it as much as you are "supposed" to. I'm afraid that's what happened to me with this one.

I enjoyed this book for two reasons in particular:

1. It is a work of historic fiction based on one of my favorite time periods in history: World War II.

2. The book travels through time, taking you to a period before the German occupation of France, through the occupation, and straight through to the end. I like books that move you all around the place. The only downside of that is that you really ought to read the book in just a few sittings so that you do not become confused by the characters or point in history.

The writing style is very short and choppy. Chapters are just a few pages long which has the benefit of allowing the reader to read it in snippets if they prefer (just note the danger of forgetfulness). The characters are very memorable and easy to empathize with. Doerr paints a picture of life in an occupied country in such a way that I am not likely to soon forget the atrocities of war. It really is quite the memorable book and I would recommend it without fanfare in hopes that other readers will enjoy it more than I did.

That's not really a stunning recommendation is it?  Hmm.


Lastly, I read The Gospel Comes With a House Key and this book really deserves a lot more than a snippet of a review. I have thoughts. I have words. They'll have to wait.

Review coming soon . . .

Friday, November 02, 2018

Aside from blogging . . .

I have a new little venture that I'm rather excited about because I have always wished to be a creative sort and pretty much assumed that I didn't have it in me.

If you've known me for any length of time whatsoever, you've most likely heard me say I'm not the crafty sort. I hate getting out crafts for the kids because of the mess I know is coming. But every once in a blue moon the kids will talk me 'round to the idea of pulling out some supplies. Lately my daughter has been begging me to do some painting with her. I don't paint. But whatever. I gave in and we pulled out the goods and sat down to doodle. What did I doodle? Book friends, of course! I got started with watercolors and kept at it and found it to be an incredibly enjoyable experience! My friends can't believe that I'm doing this and I frankly can't either but I started an Etsy shop which now contains a few faces and quotes which I believe will be familiar to some of you. (Wink.)

I'd be honored if you'd check out my Etsy shop here:

A Fine Quotation

You can follow along with new projects via Instagram (/#bookstagram) here: @AFineQuotation

You knew this gal would have to be included, didn't you?

Fret not about my mentioning this project to you many times over on the blog. This is my introduction and you can track with me at other locations if you care to do so. Thanks for indulging me this brief moment. :)

Thursday, November 01, 2018

The Fairy Caravan, by Beatrix Potter

I had never heard of The Fairy Caravan before just a few months ago. I feel like I ought to have heard about it, but I hadn't. I've always associated Beatrix Potter with England but when our family was in Scotland, driving between locations, we passed by Birnam. We spotted a sign advertising the Beatrix Potter Exhibit which resulted in a quick exit into Birman and to the Birnman Arts Center where we learned all kinds of things about Potter than we never knew before! As it would seem, the Potter family spent summers in the Birman/Perthshire area. Two of her books were penned in this region, specifically The Tale of Peter Rabbit and The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher. The museum in Birman is small but cute and the kids enjoyed the stop. Mostly the exhibit featured posters sharing information about the Potter family but then they had a lovely play area for kids to dress up as Potter characters, color, and play at being old fashioned grocers. I wouldn't say that this is a Must See Attraction but we certainly didn't mind the pit stop! (UK pit stops are incredibly enjoyable, in our opinion! Ha!)

At any rate, inside the gift shop I came across one last copy of The Fairy Caravan. It's a Puffin Classic Edition - (which #bookstagramers will note as being supremely cute!) - and I feel in love with it immediately. Books are my souvenirs of choice when traveling and this seemed a fine thing to bring home. I had intentions of reading it while we traveled but that didn't happen. We read it at home instead, finishing it up this week.

The Fairy Caravan tells the story of Tuppeny the guinea pig who decides to leave town, home, and nagging wife to start a new life. He comes across a miniature traveling circus made up of a variety of different animals. These animals travel about unseen by human eyes because they have magic hayseeds which keep them hidden from view. They travel about the countryside, unawares, and put on performances for various other animals. They have all sorts of adventures in very Potter-y fine form.

We fell in love with the book instantly upon reading. The character of Paddy Pig, a jovial but somewhat crazy sound pig, quickly captured our hearts and we laughed at his antics and speeches. You know a book is going to be great when it induces laughter. However, I would say that although the book stayed cute and enjoyable for me, my younger kids were somewhat lost as the book continued on. The circus caravan stop to visit a herd of sheep and the sheep engage in some story telling of their own which, between the vocabulary and descriptions of Scottish landscapes and general practices of sheep herding, I sort of lost my readers. We pressed on through these passages, but they are frequent enough that I'd say this is a book worth saving until your kids are old enough to track with the descriptions of animal husbandry.

Do I regret reading A Fairy Caravan? Not at all. We found much to enjoy, despite a few chapters to slog through. It was fun and I'm glad to have become acquainted with this read. If you haven't heard of it, well, here's your introduction! If you are a Beatrix Potter fan, I've no doubt you'll want to find a copy of this story!

Links to other books we've read aloud together:

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

2018 Reads

I had a separate place I was keeping my reading list but I think I shall combine it with Reading to Know and keep things a bit more streamlined. This post will be updated throughout the year as I complete titles. If you see that a title has a link attached to it, note that it is linked to my review. If you do not see a link, it was a book that went un-reviewed. If you're curious as to what I thought of any of the titles, ask and I may see about writing up my thoughts. (No promises though! This is strictly A Maybe!) 

Lucy Maud Montgomery Reading Challenge

A Tangled Web
Anne of Windy Poplars


The Pursuit of Holiness, by Jerry Bridges
Virtous, by Nancy Wilson
Uncomfortable, by Brett McCracken
Brick by Brick: How LEGO Rewrote the Rules of Innovation and Conquered the Global Toy Industry, by David C. Robertson (not reviewed)
Laugh it Up! by Candace Payne
Closer Than a Sister, by Christina Fox
Loving the Little Years, by Rachel Jankovic (re-read)
The Bark of the Bog Owl, by Jonathan Rogers
A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles
The Blessing of Humility, by Jerry Bridges (re-read)
The Northern Lights: The True Story of the Man Who Unlocked the Secrets of the Aurora Borealis, by Lucy Jago (not reviewed)
The Royal Rabbits of London, by Santa Montefiore (not reviewed)
Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone, by R.K. Rowling (re-read)
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, by R.K. Rowling (re-read)
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, by R.K. Rowling (re-read)
When People are Big and God is Small, by Edward Welch
The Peace Maker, by Ken Sande
Uninvited, by Lysa TerKeurst
In Freedom's Cause, by G.A. Henty
Green Glass House, by Kate Milford
Ring of Bright Water, by Gavin Maxwell
The Rocks Remain, by Gavin Maxwell
Raven, Seek Thy Brother, by Gavin Maxwell
The Coral Island, by R.M. Ballantyne
Anne of Green Gables, My Daughter, and Me, by Lorilee Cracker
Tales of Mr. Pink-Whistle, by Enid Blyton
The Read-Aloud Family, by Sarah Mackenzie
Tom's Midnight Garden, by Philippa Pearce
Adventures of the Wishing Chair, by Enid Blyton
What Katy Did, by Susan Coolidge
What Katy Did at School, by Susan Coolidge
What Katy Did Next, by Susan Collidge
The Collectors, by Jacqueline West
Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley
The Gospel Comes With a House Key, by Rosaria Butterfield
All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr

Read Aloud w/ the Kids:

The Railroad Children, by E. Nesbit
Adventures Beyond Nutmouse Hall (Tumtum and Nutmeg Books 1-3), by Emily Bearn (re-read)
The Rose Cottage Tales (Tumtum and Nutmeg Books 4 - 6), by Emily Bearn (re-read)
Trouble at Rose Cottage (Tumtum and Nutmeg Book 7), by Emily Bearn
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis (re-read)
Scottish Fairy Tales, by Donald A. Mackenzie
Viking Tales, by Jennie Hall (re-read)
The Little Book of the Hidden People, by Alda Sigmundsdóttir
The Adventures of Hamish and Mirren, by Moira Miller
Along Came a Dog, by Meindert Dejong
The Door in the Wall, by Marguerite de Angeli

Monday, October 29, 2018

What Katy Did, by Susan Coolidge (The Katy Chronicles)

Have you all heard of #Bookstagram? It's Instagram, sure, but all about books, so it's awesome. A friend of mine introduced me to the Bookstagram community earlier this year and it has been a joy and a delight. (If you want to find me on Instagram, look for me at @1000lives_and_severalcupsoftea.) Bookstagram has opened up a whole new world of reading possibilities to me, mostly through beautiful pictures of beautiful books!

A few months ago several Bookstagramers posted their pictures of the The Katy Carr trilogy of books by Susan Coolidge. Specifically, they featured the editions published by Virago Modern Classics. I had never read the Katy books before but these editions looked so attractive to me that I felt compelled to read them. I picked up my own copies on Amazon and dove into them recently.

The first book in the series, What Katy Did, was first published in 1872 by Sarah Chauncey Woolsey who wrote under her pen name, Susan Coolidge. The character of Katy and her siblings are all based on Woolsey's family growing up. The story is set in Ohio in the mid 1860's and is a charming tale of small town America. Katy's father is a busy doctor and her mother passed away so the family is cared for by her father's sister, Izzy. When the book opens we find a mischievous young Katy who is full of life and vivacity. Aunt Izzy has her hands full trying to keep up with all of the shenanigans of her young nieces and nephews, particularly Katy!

Admittedly, this book got off to a slow start for me. The introduction to the family and characters was not exactly riveting. However, by the middle of the book it was clear that Coolidge was setting the stage for what was to come. Katy, like many young children, believes herself to be far wiser than her elders. In her prideful condition, she ends up disobeying a directive of her aunt which in turn leads to a significant injury to herself. The second half of the book really took flight as Katy learns patience, respect, and love for others while taking lessons in "the School of Pain." The great message of this book is that pain in life is God's tool to mold and make us more like Him. Told in a very gentle manner, Coolidge uses this story to inspire her readers to endure hardship, knowing that each struggle and trial we encounter in life serves a higher purpose. Even if we can't quite see or understand the importance or significance of our trials in the moment, we must trust and believe that God is good and has good things in mind for us. Pain certainly isn't easy and it isn't any fun; gratefully Coolidge doesn't pretend otherwise. Instead she shows how Katy grows and matures through the hard times which is exactly what happens to people when they put their faith in Christ.

Readers of the Katy books will quickly realize that Coolidge enjoys writing poetry. She wrote a piece on pain which is included in the story. I noted these few lines, in particular:

There are two Teachers in the school,
One has a gentle voice and low,
And smiles upon her scholars, as
She softly passes to and fro.
Her name is Love; tis very plain
She shuns the sharper teacher, Pain.
Or so I sometimes think; and then,
At other times, they meet and kiss,
And look so strangely like, that I
Am puzzled to tell how it is,
Or whence the change which makes it vain
To guess if it be Love or Pain.
~ Susan Coolidge

When in the midst of pain it's hard to appreciate it as being a lesson designed to better one's self. It is easy when in pain to feel angry and confused. I loved how Coolidge handled the subject in this "simple" story which kindly encourages the reader to stay grounded in their faith, to be patient, and to trust that there is a good, good plan at work. I think everyone needs this reminder in their lives from time to time. I certainly do. It's tempting to crumple up when one is being wounded in some way but it's a beautiful thing to bear the pain quietly, submitting to it as a great teacher. That's a hard challenge but a brilliant one.

I simply loved What Katy Did so much that I immediately picked up What Katy Did at School because I wanted to find out what happened to Katy next!

Katy has recovered from her injury in this second story and her father has been persuaded that Katy and her younger sister, Clover, would do well to attend a girl's boarding school. Off the two sisters go on a new adventure to a fairly strictly run boarding school on the East Coast. While at school they make many friends and endure new challenges. Much of the book is playful and enjoyable but there is a main point and lesson to be learned in this sequel as well as in the first story of Katy. In the middle of the girls' school year, Katy and her sister are unjustly accused of doing something which they had not done. Their attempts at being believed are snubbed and they are ultimately thought the worse of by those in authority over them. The girls must grapple with how to handle this and they do so in a manner that modern day audiences would do well to learn. They take their unjust punishment quietly and peacefully and submit to it in so much as they can and then they determine to live it down. "Live it down!" becomes something of a battle cry to Katy as she determines to respond and act to these accusations in a right way. She doesn't accept the judgment but she has to live with it. Anyone who has ever been unjustly accused of something can appreciate this read. The way that Coolidge inspires and instructs her readers is, again, something quite brilliant! This book flew by for me and I read it in two sittings.

Yet again, I loved the story so much that I jumped straight into What Katy Did Next. I felt like I was cheating by jumping straight into this one. While What Katy Did was published in 1872, What Katy Did Next wasn't published until 1886. Coolidge mentions in the beginning of the story that this particular book was written in response to the request of Katy's many fans who begged to know what happened to Katy after she finished school. If What Katy Did Next was meant to appease, it certainly did so for me and I loved it every bit as much as I enjoyed the first.

I didn't find that What Katy Did Next had any particular moral standard or lesson to pass along. A friend mentioned to me that she thought this title dragged a bit. For my part, I enjoyed it because Katy spends the book traveling. She kicks off her European tour in England with talks of Scotland and since I've been to both places I was thrilled to visit them again with Katy as my companion. Clearly Coolidge had visited Europe before writing this book and I think she described things accurate and well. By the sounds of things, I'm not so sure she enjoyed England as much as she could have though; I think I enjoyed it more. (Ha!) This last title in the series was definitely written to appease the curiosity of readers of Katy. It scratched an itch and I appreciated it.

I did mark one passage, in particular, as standing out to me:

In my observation, grief can look like different things to different people and it would really behoove the lot of us humans if we'd come to recognize this. For some people, grief is a slow process of coming to grips. For others, they grapple with change more quickly and then pick up and move along. Pain and grief are tricky things and I don't think people use enough caution when encountering either. I'm not saying that there is a perfect way to approach someone who is suffering because there isn't. Sometimes you just have to be willing to try, fail, and/or compromise to stick together in the midst of hardship. That can be a scary thing! The comfort in the trying and the failing and the compromising is in knowing that God is perfect and able to perfectly meet each grief and bear it. We fail where He continually succeeds. There is grace in that belief - grace for each of us as we process life alongside one another in community.

To summarize my thoughts here, I'd say that if you haven't yet read the Katy books, I heartily recommend them. I'm not entirely sure how I missed them growing up, but I'm glad to have rectified the situation. I'll be pleased to introduce Katy to my daughters earlier on in their young lives so that they can enjoy knowing her longer.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

The Adventures of Hamish and Mirren, by Moira Miller

One of this blog's readers picked up on the fact that our family recently took a little vacation. For the past few years we've been blessed to make a trip out of the country. Last year we visited Prince Edward Island and this fall we went on holiday to Scotland. As always, before we travel I like to scrounge for books about the country we plan to visit and read up on it. I'm always looking for picture and chapter books to share with our kids and one of the ones I found this year was The Adventures of Hamish and Mirren: Magical Scottish Stories for Children, by Moira Miller. Whether or not you or your family is traveling to Scotland in actuality or not, I recommend this read. At the very least, you can transport yourself there via imagination!

The book opens with Hamish residing with his "old mother" on a farm by a loch on the west coast of Scotland. A Big Wind comes along and destroys Hamish's hay stacks and he heads off to chase it. His journeys take him to the home of Mirren and her father and sisters. The two fall in love and marry, after which he brings her back to live with his mother on the farm. The remainder of the book talks about their various adventures on the farm with an old and troublesome witch, some mischief loving wee folk, some noble seal people, and Hamish and Mirren's own growing family. It is a delicious book of magic and hilarity and it delighted us thoroughly.

This is a chapter book with easy-to-breeze-through chapters. ear-marks this book as being best suited for readers for grades 1-2 which is silly. This book is tremendous fun for a person at any age and I wouldn't get stuck on their labeling system. We read through a handful of Scottish fairy tale chapter books in preparation for travels and this one was our absolute favorite. It is good, clean innocent fun; it is not remotely dark or scary. This book was published by a Scottish book publisher called Kelpies which is worth looking into as they have a slew of titles worth checking out!  The Adventures of Hamish and Mirren makes for a terrific read-aloud and bonus points to anyone who can read it with a Scottish accent. (I stumbled and fell but it was still great fun to try in the privacy of my own home.)

In conclusion I'll share a few random pictures that we took on our visit to the Isle of Skye which lies off the coast of the mainland. We stayed a week in a thatched cottage next to the Fairy Glen.  (Yes, it was just as magical as it sounds.) The beauty of Fairy Glen defied imagination and the photos do not remotely do the place justice. It was my favorite spot in all of Scotland and I bet you can guess why when you see these images.

Again, whether or not you ever manage a trip to Scotland, you can escape there with the help of Hamish and Mirren and we highly recommend that you do! This book is sure to engage the reader and provide a lovely time.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley

I've read Frankenstein before but I can't find the proof of it on my blog (which is weird). This is a book I avoided during my growing up years because I believed it to be spooky, scary, and therefore most likely evil. It wasn't until I was an adult and heard my friend talking about how much she loved this book that I thought perhaps I was being too harsh. After all, it's a classic and classics are terrifically good for you as we all know. What was I missing? I decided to find out.

I read Frankenstein and ended up loving it. It was not a scary read at all! Perhaps for its time it was terrifying but in today's day and age it really isn't. There are scarier things out in this world than a strange looking, overgrown persons. I found this read to be thought-provoking and full of great discussion about morality and ethics in science and medicine in particular. Reading it removed my prejudices towards "classic horror stories" and I mentally re-labeled it into my "most surprising books" category. Fast-forward to this past September wherein my family and I were traveling in Scotland. We visited a place which was planning to host an event in celebration of the 200th Anniversary of Frankenstein and I decided that I really needed to squeeze this story into my October reads in honor of its birthday and so I have done.

Frankenstein is a fast read at a mere 200(ish) pages. If you read 50 pages a day it'll be done in short order. I liked the story all over again and was very grateful for my faulty memory which caused me to forget the end. (Yes, I forget books easily. Hence I am a proponent of blogging or else I'll forget the details of a story and why I liked or disliked it.) The positive benefits to having forgotten how the story concluded, exactly, was that I was on the edge of my seat begging my children to please let me finish the final 20 pages before we ate lunch. (My family is very obliging at times. It also helps if one reads fast.) The story was thrilling, thoughtful, well-told and thoroughly engaging all over again. Hail to my bad memory! It can be a real treat sometimes!

There's very little I could add to a discussion about this classic work so I won't really delve into the particulars here. (It's more fun for me to have long discussion over books that are new and have less things said about them.) I'll merely take a moment to exhort anyone who has felt scared off of this book due to Hollywood or any other reason to re-consider it. My oldest turns 12 tomorrow and I think he's completely ready to tackle this book in all of its particulars. He is a discerning reader and can engage with the arguments. The questions raised in this book are chiefly over who has the power and authority to give life and who can (or should) take it away. What gives someone the right to create at all, let alone create life? And what duties do we have as creator beings to rip life away? Is there a moral law or standard by which we should hold ourselves to when answering these questions? Or do we simply rely on emotions to determine what types of beings should be permitted to exist on this planet Earth? All of these questions and more are explored within the pages of Frankenstein and they are questions that have the world's attention right at this moment in time.

I would highly recommend this read for a book club discussion. I think it would be grand fun (although perhaps testy at times!) to sift and sort through these questions. If you're feeling skittish about the book because you do not see yourself as a "horror" lover, I'd strongly suggest you put that label aside. If you scare easily, read it in daylight just to be safe. Also, search for a copy with decent cover art to help you get past your worries. I took the picture in this post of my copy at night (because I wanted to play around with candles) and I think it makes the book look spookier than it actually is. This artwork lends itself well to the story, but look at it in daylight if you're unnerved at all.

I'm really glad to have taken the time to read Frankentstein again and would encourage the more conservative parent not to dismiss this book outright. It's spot on for discussing current events and the value of human life in general. Don't be quick to steer kids away from the read. It's a valuable story and entertaining to boot!
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