Quick Lit: April 2016

I’m starting with the YA titles this month.

The Fourteenth Goldfish (Jennifer L. Holm): This book is a delight.  Ellie is your average 11 year-old whose grandfather is a mad scientist.  And yet, maybe he’s not mad.  We listened to Georgetta Perna’s lovely recording and enjoyed every minute, so much so that we fought over the CDs when we had to take 2 cars.  Highly recommended.

Product DetailsFlora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures (Kate DiCamillo):  DiCamillo’s highly illustrated novel may seem like an odd choice for an audiobook, but K.G. Campbell’s reading made me wish she read me all the comics my children bring to me.  Flora and Ulysses are an unlikely pair, but when I need a superhero, I’ll be calling them.  Highly recommended.

Product DetailsOne Plus One (Jojo Moyes): Like its characters, One Plus One is a hard sell.  Its narrators are a divorced cleaning lady/waitress, her odd math genius daughter and mascara-wearing stepson, and a tech developer accused of insider trading. It took me a bit, but knowing how much I’ve enjoyed all Moyes’ other titles, I persevered.   Once the pieces had come together, I was hooked.  There was only one moment when I had to put the book in the freezer.  Highly recommended.

Product DetailsThe Bronte Plot (Katherine Reay): I didn’t enjoy this one as much as I expected to.  Like Reay’s other offerings (here are my quick reviews for Lizzy and Jane and Dear Mr. Knightley), The Bronte Plot depends heavily on a literary background of the Brontes and Austen.  This time, however, it felt less like name dropping and more like dysfunction.  I was still rooting for Lucy, the troubled MC, but this time it was harder to find her among all the books and vases and tourist attractions.  Still recommended.

Quick Lit: March 2016

Over the past month, I read a whole bunch of books not fit to mention here.  Most I gave up on after 20-30 pages, but a few I finished, all the time hoping they would improve.  Ugh.  It was like eating an entrée at a restaurant and then wishing later I hadn’t.

Anyway, here are the ones I do recommend:

Product DetailsThe Heart of Racial Justice: How Soul Change Leads to Social Change (Brenda Salter-McNeil and Rick Richardson) is excellent.  Salter-McNeil and Richardson have been friends and (and were colleagues at Intervarsity for years), and their history together provides so much richness on this topic.  Each chapter has both theological truths about racism and personal experiences of it.  Every chapter made me think and examine my own life and thinking.  But what I appreciated most were the meditations and prayers at the ends of the chapters. My heart isn’t done with this book, and I am hoping to use this with a small group for future study together.  Highly recommended.

Product DetailsDon’t be deterred by the Dirty Dancing overtones in the title.  Time of My Life (Allison Winn Scotch) is a thoughtful exploration of where one woman’s marriage went wrong, and what she would do differently if she could do it all again.. It’s R rated but not gratuitously so.   I enjoyed it so much.

Product DetailsDear Mr. Knightley (Katherine Reay) is a books of letters from a graduate student to the benefactor who funds her graduate studies.  She is a great character, and the book doesn’t shy away from her challenges or the darkness in her past. I found the romance problematic and am not sure I loved the ending, but it was still a great vacation book, and one both my daughter and husband are enjoying, too.  (Here’s my review of Reay’s other book, Lizzy and Jane.)

Product DetailsKatherine Paterson’s The Day of the Pelican is a fantastic book about a family in Kosovo in the late 1990s.  I don’t want to spoil any of it for you, but the characters are well drawn, the ethnic conflict real without being graphic, and the conclusion is perfect without being easy.  This was a real aloud with the kids, and no one wanted it to end. Highly recommended.

Be sure to check out Modern Mrs. Darcy for a link up of other Quick Lit!


Beating the February Blues: Day 14

Welcome to a month of ideas to beat the February Blues!

Day 14: Read a book!
This is my monthly collection of quick reviews of the books I’ve been reading.

Louise Penny: The Beautiful Mystery (Inspector Gamache #8) Product Details

Hands down, this was my favorite read this month.  I’ve requested the first and second Inspector Gamache novels from the library, but apparently the line is long.  So I picked up this one from the shelf and jumped right in.  I showed up at my doctor’s office, and he was very concerned that I had begun reading in the middle.  Apart from advising me to eat right and exercise, he recommended I don’t read any further in the series without backing up to the beginning.

Set in an isolated Quebecois monastery where the monks sing like angels, The Beautiful Mystery is a compelling psychological drama  with layer upon layer of tension.  It was almost polyphonic, really.  Highly recommended.

Estelle Ryan: The Braque Connection (Genevieve Lenard #3) Product Details

I was undecided about this series after the second, but the third book sold me on it again.  I love art, I love heists, and I love mysteries, so The Genevieve Lenard books should be a no-brainer.  She is a unique narrator, though, because of her autism.  I love series which deepen our understanding of the characters, and Ryan’s books do that.  I will definitely read on in this series.

Peg Brantley: The Sacrifice Product Details

This is my first reading of Brantley, whose fiction is a little darker than my usual fare. But I really liked the protagonist of The Sacrifice, Mex Anderson, who is a former lawman, now simultaneously fighting both his own demons and those around him.  The characters are multidimensional, the writing compelling, and the story kept me wondering.  I’ll be starting her Aspen Falls series next.

Agatha Christie: The ABC Murders (audiobook by Blackstone Audio with John Moffatt)

Product Details

Agatha Christie: Murder on the Orient Express (audiobook read by Dan Stevens, HarperAudio)

Murder on the Orient Express

I wasn’t sure how the family would respond to Agatha Christie, but we’re at a funny stage where my older kids don’t want to repeat what they’ve listened to before, and my youngest still can’t handle a lot of complicated psychology.  Agatha Christie was complicated but not as graphic as a lot of what is out there.  These two CD books seemed to hit everyone’s sweet spot.

Andy Weir’s The Martian (audiobook read by RC Bray for Brilliance Audio) Product DetailsAlthough I loved both the book and the movie, this was another book I was unsure about listening to as a family.  The kids have loved it, and Sam and I argue about who gets to have the discs in our respective cars.  Somehow when I read it the first time, I must have blocked out much of the swearing.  Believe me, though, the kids notice it.  Highly recommended (with an advisory to listeners with sensitive ears.)

Be sure to check out Modern Mrs. Darcy for more Quick Lit!





Quick Lit: Jan 2015

Being Mortal (Atul Gawande)

Product Details

Gawande is surgeon who writes beautifully about what it means to be human. In Being Mortal, he reflects on how we have medicalized the processes of aging and dying and blends research with stories of people who have bucked the trend, or not.

I read Being Mortal as prep for my upcoming lecture on how we die, but this book is as much about living with frailty.  Highly recommended for anyone in a body.

The Hopper-Hill Family* (Ericka Castiglione)

Product Details

Piper is a contemporary seventh-grader whose life changes dramatically when her parents take in her three orphaned cousins.  I liked the tone of this book.  There’s no melodrama or over-the-top grief from Piper, who can’t really remember her aunt and uncle.  The good and bad of making such a drastic change to her family are realistically painted, and there are no goody-two-shoes heroes to make anything look easy.  Grief is real and hard, and there are no simple answers.  It’s just the kind of modern story that my daughter will enjoy.

The writing, however, repeatedly pulled me out of the story.  The action is in present tense, while the backstory is written in past tense.  I don’t think that will bother my daughter, who will enjoy Piper’s story, and I recommend this for MG/YA readers who like realism and contemporary characters.

The Gaugin Connection (Estelle Ryan) and The Dante Conspiracy (Estelle Ryan)

Product DetailsProduct Details

Genevieve Lenard is a specialist in body language and facial expression. She works for an insurance company (think: big art) as an analyst in their art recovery efforts.  She became an expert in these fields to help herself interact in a world full of neurotypical people. (In other words, she learned paralanguage to overcome the isolation of autism.)

The premise of this mystery series is great. Dr. Lenard is a unique narrator in a world of PIs who are trying to draw back from the world into their houseboats and Scotch.  The Gaugin Connection in an intriguing art-heist mystery in which you aren’t sure whom to trust, or how far it will all go.  It was good.

The second book in the series, The Dante Connection, struggles with what many second-in-a-series books struggle with: going deeper instead of repeating what came before.  Additionally, Genevieve’s disability makes it difficult for her to show emotions, and so much of her internal world is narrated rather than demonstrated.  I wanted the character development to happen a little faster, a little more smoothly. I’m still trying to puzzle it out: is my frustration with the second book an intended part of Genevieve’s story, or a side effect of clumsy writing?  Just the fact that I’ve spent so much time wondering that makes me think it is intentional.

For more Quick Lit, check out Modern Mrs Darcy.

* I received this book as a request for a review, but the opinion expressed here is entirely my own.

Quick Lit: December 2015

This month gave me less reading time than I thought it would, and much of my planned reading was replaced with nursing care.  Nevertheless, I have some gems to tell you about.


The Best of Connie Willis (Connie Willis)

Product Details

If you’ve read my book reviews in the past, you know I am a huge Connie Willis fan.  This book had two new-to-me stories and many of my favorites, including “Even the Queen” and “All Seat on the Ground.”  I have several copies of “Even the Queen” but tend to lend them out, so it’s been a long time since I’ve read it.  (It was time.)

Willis’ stories span the gamut from hilarious to thought provoking to deeply touching.  This collection was a perfect hospital companion.

The Power of Habit (Charles Duhigg)

Product Details

I couldn’t put this book down.  The Power of Habit covers the cue-routine-reward cycle that defines habit, how we can change our habits as individuals, how habit can be exploited to build willpower, and how corporations exploit our habits for their benefit.  I found his research on Starbucks and Target as fascinating as his analysis of AA and a US Army major’s experiment in Kufa, Iraq.  I have several pages of notes I will be using in my own life, and I am hopeful this book will make me more helpful to my patients.  Highly recommended.

Make It Stick (Peter C. Brown)

Product Details

I picked this book off the “just returned” shelf at the library and have been making notes left and right. There are many theories about learning, and as a home schooler I feel so much pressure to “teach toward their learning styles” and avoid over-testing.  This little book goes through the evidence on both.  Surprise!  The studies refute much of the conventional wisdom about how we learn, including the benefits of learning that feels hard, and the benefits of frequent no-stakes testing.

As I read, I kept hearing Charlotte Mason in my head.  She wrote over 100 years ago and yet much of the modern research backs up what she found in her own experience. From Make It Stick: Rather than drilling a task over and over, we should interleave it with other subjects.  Or, as Charlotte Mason said: intersperse short lessons on a variety of topics instead of drilling one until mastery is achieved.  From Make It Stick: Practicing retrieval after a first reading is more effective at promoting recall than cramming or rereading.  Or, from Miss Mason: require a narration immediately to teach the habit of attention, and the reading will stay with the student.

Highly recommended, whether you teach others or are a life-long learner yourself.

My previous Quick Lit reviews can be found here: November, OctoberMay, April, March, February, January, December 2014.  For more Quick Lit, check out Modern Mrs Darcy.

Quick Lit: November 2015

Product Details

Lou is still heartbroken a year after her relationship with Will is over, and a freak accident and its aftermath are the fuel needed to restart her life.  I’ve been waiting for After You for so long!  (And then I handed it to Sam and had to wait for him to finish it before I could start.)  This is the sequel to Me Before You, and while the two have a different feel, Lou is such a great character I’d read another one about her in a heartbeat. Highly recommended.

Product Details

And then, because I was on a Moyes kick, I picked up The Girl You Left Behind.  It tells two stories in parallel: the story of Sophie, a feisty young woman whose life changes when her artist husband goes to war in 1914; and Liv Halston, a widow grappling with her loss.  Moyes paints loss so vividly, but she doesn’t leave her characters there, and her love stories are always multi-dimensional.  Also highly recommended.

Product Details

This is Birk’s third book about Terrence Reid.  The layers of this mystery kept going deeper and deeper.  I was wrong multiple times about who did it, and why.  I have been rooting for Reid and his wife for several books now, and Less than a Treason didn’t disappoint.  Great for fans of mystery and Christmas stories, especially ones in gorgeous Scottish castles.

Product Details

This is my favorite Penderwicks book so far, which I didn’t expect because generally I am not a fan of adding in new characters after a book or two.  Jeanne Birdsall crafts a beautiful story arc, in which all secrets are told and all resolutions are exactly right, even if you couldn’t see how to get there on your own.  The Penderwicks in Spring was great, and I can’t wait for book #4.

Join Anne at Modern Mrs. Darcy for more Quick Literature.

Quick Lit: May 2015

The Port Chicago 50 by Steve Sheinkin

Product Details

I picked this up because we loved Sheinkin’s Bomb, and I wasn’t disappointed.   Sheinkin poured through recorded oral histories and court documents to compile the story of 50 convicted mutineers who were some of our country’s first civil rights pioneers.  Yet another piece of US history I didn’t learn in school, but Sheinkin’s book is fully accessible from middle grade readers up, and a is quick read.  Highly recommended.

Countdown by Deborah Wiles

Product Details

Countdown is the story of Franny Clapman, an eleven year-old in Maryland in October, 1962.  She likes reading, headbands, and mysteries.  She does not like bomb drills, not knowing what her older sister is up to, or how her best friend is treating her.  I liked Franny’s voice, and I kept turning pages on this one long after I should have been asleep.  It’s full of photographs and ad clips from 1962, which appeal to my daughter who is also reading the book. I loved Countdown’s vivid portrayal of the Cuban Missile Crisis as a part of Franny’s life, but I’m pretty sure my daughter won’t notice she’s reading history. She’ll just want to know what happens to Franny next. Highly recommended.

Ebola: The Natural and Human History of a Deadly Virus by David Quammen

Product Details

This slim book is excerpted from Quammen’s work Spillover and updated to include some of the preliminary information about the current outbreak of Ebola virus in west Africa.  I’ve been fascinated (and horrified) by Ebola since hearing about it in medical school, and Quammen’s history of it here is clear, concise and riveting.  Recommended.

Grandad, there’s a head on the Beach by Colin Cotterill

Grandad, There's a Head on the Beach: A Jimm Juree Mystery (Jimm Juree Mysteries Book 2)

I really like Cotterill’s Dr. Siri mysteries, so I gave the Jimm Juree series a try.  Jimm is a Thai journalist with a wacky family, and because of them, Grandad, There’s a Head on the Beach reads very much like a cozy at a second-rate Thai motel. The mystery turned out to hinge on an issue very close to my heart, and between gags, Cotterrill tells some truth. Recommended.

 The Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel and Bret Witter

Product Details

The book is a carefully crafted account of the effort to save the cultural record of Europe as the Allies liberated Europe from Hitler.  The first part of the book describes some of the key players in the fight and how they were uniquely skilled for the work.  The second two-thirds of the book paints the recovery of the artwork and the effort to save the cathedrals that both sides were ready to destroy.  Hitler’s Nero policy, which was a grown-up version of a two year-old’s “if I can’t have it, neither can they”, shocked me.

We see similar destruction going on right now under ISIS in Iraq, and in Syria.  Millenia-old buildings, art and documents are being intentionally destroyed by ISIS as they take control.  The war in Syria has demolished entire cities.  The question posed by The Monuments Men- is saving a work of art worth the price of a life?- is worth asking, and this book poses it well. Recommended.

(P.S. The movie is worth watching as well.  Here is a link to the plugged in review of it.  And Google has a virtual exhibit on the recovery of art in WWII, link here.)

 Connie Willis’s Blackout and All Clear

Product Details Product Details(For longer reviews of these books, click on their titles above.)

I am a fan of re-reading.  I don’t re-read every book, but those I love I revisit.  Without fail, I always see new things I didn’t see before.  In fact, one of the times I heard Ms. Willis in person, she recommended reading Agatha Christie books twice through back-to-back: the first time to see what she does, and the second to see how she does it.  These two books (one story, published in two volumes) are masterpieces of puzzle-making.  The three main characters are historians at Oxford University in 2060, where they use time travel for their historical research.  Except while each of the historians in is WWII, the time-travel net breaks down and they’re trapped.  Highly recommended.  But learn from my mistake.  Make sure you have access to All Clear before you finish Blackout.  Just sayin’. Highly recommended.

King Lear by William Shakespeare

King Lear (2008) Poster

Halfway through my reading, I realized that I had never read (or seen) this play before.  The names were familiar, but that was about it.  The whole time, I couldn’t decide if Lear had dementia or was just so used to the sycophancy that surrounded him as king that his expectations had become ridiculous.  I suppose that was one of Shakespeare’s points.

Every time I read Shakespeare, I realize how bare the script is.  It’s just dialogue, [Enter] and [Exeunt]. There aren’t liner notes full of the psychology of the characters.  Because of that, each character is open to interpretation, which is so true to life.  I can only infer meaning from the actions of those around me. Thank goodness I’m not an egotistical king with a kingdom to dispose of.

For more Quick Lit, check out Mrs. Darcy.

Quick Lit: April 2015


Product Details Bomb: The Race of Build-and Steal- the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon (Steve Sheinkin): This is a fantastic YA non-fiction book that held everyone’s interest.  It handled The Manhattan Project and all the spying that went with it in fascinating detail.  We listened to it on CD.

Busman’s Honeymoon (Dorothy Sayers): This mystery follows Gaudy Night (one of my all-time favorite books) and completes the train of thought developed begun there.  What does marriage look like?  How do we blend two lives without one person disappearing under the other?

Product DetailsThe Screwtape Letters (C.S. Lewis): I’ve been listening to the recording by Joss Ackland, whose chuckle perfectly fits “your affectionate uncle, Screwtape.”  Lewis’s keen observation of human nature is only matched by his ability to prescribe the antidote.  I’ve been listening to it as I make dinner each night, and then I go to dinner chastened by my own sin and amazed by Lewis’s insight.

Product DetailsNumber the Stars (Lois Lowry) is such a beautiful picture of human courage.  This time through, I’ve been struck by the idea of how it’s easier to be brave when we don’t have all the pieces of the puzzle before us (thank you, Uncle Henrik).  My kids wanted to read it again as soon as we finished– that’s a recommendation for you!

Product Details The Endless Steppe (Esther Hautzig).  Obviously we’re on a WWII jag around here.  I read Hautzig’s book of Siberian exile as a child, and it stuck with me.  Reading it today, Esther’s story is just as vivid and universal as it was to me thirty years ago. Hautzig doesn’t minimizes the horror of war or exile and still manages to write a story full of hope.

Most of this is school reading, which seems odd to me given that we had Spring Break a few weeks ago. I had a kindle full of books (and a few in my bag, too) and managed to touch none of it. But that’s how things are right now: everything that has to get done right now is getting done, but that’s all I can manage.

What are you reading?

Check out Modern Mrs. Darcy for more Quick Lit!

Quick Lit: March

Product DetailsThe Road from Home by David Kherdian.  This book is an account of a young woman’s life during the Armenian Genocide.  The story reads like a novel and would have flown by if my children hadn’t kept asking me to take a break because it was so sad. Veron, the main character, grows from pampered eldest daughter into a resilient survivor, and then into a young woman wanting to determine her own future.  There is kindness here, and bravery. Worth the read for the character and for the story, not to mention for the history.

Product DetailsFirst Cut by Mary Birk.  The second book in the Terrence Reid series, this thriller is broader in scope than the first.  Reid’s character deepens, and the relationship between Reid and his wife flows at the same dramatic pace as the story.  Read it with the lights on, though– it’s scary.

Product DetailsProduct DetailsAt Risk and The Front by Patricia Cornwell.  These two are the start of a second series by Cornwell, and although I don’t like the characters as much as I like Kay Scarpetta, the narrative is fresh and immediate.  The books are much shorter, and– so far– free of the serial killers that bogged down the later Scarpetta books.  I liked them.

Product DetailsBlack Notice by Patricia Cornwell.  I’ve been reading the Scarpetta books completely out of order, and this one caught me completely off-guard, as at the beginning of the book one of the characters I really liked was dead.  I kept waiting for Scarpetta to discover it was all a ruse or mistake, and that never happened, which I think was part of the point.  The grief was very real.  Cornwell does forensics so well, to the point that the dead speak, and this one was exceptionally vivid.

Product DetailsThe Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place by Maryrose Wood.  This book came recommended to me as “Jane Eyre without Mr. Rochester.”  And as far one could describe Jane Eyre as a book about a young governess thrust into a house with secrets, that’s accurate. Unlike Jane Eyre, this is a YA or MG read-aloud without much emotional depth, and the end didn’t satisfy me.  None of the questions posed were answered.  My children, however, asked to begin the sequel immediately, which we’ve done.  I have to give a shout to the illustrator- the drawings had a whimsy entirely suited to the book.

Product DetailsWhat the Bride Didn’t Know by Kelly Hunter.  This is the third book of Hunter’s I’ve read, and they are all true to a traditional romance formula. Beyond that, though, her characters are fresh and bold, with real issues and backstories she paints so well.  Her dialogue is brilliant, and I always come away feeling like I know the people I’ve just been reading about.

Quick Lit: February

Product DetailsThe Seville Communion (Arturo Perez-Reverte) is a heady whodunit, set in a Seville so vivid I could taste it.  I stayed up late reading this one, but it left me flat the end.  His male characters, from the former fake lawyer who dropped ash on his white suits to the many priests who peopled the mystery, were well-drawn and complex, but I found the women lacking in depth.  They all had backstories quirks, but they didn’t come together for me.  And I’m over the underlying theme of intellect makes faith impossible.  I will look for another by this author, though. He writes so well.

Product DetailsMatthew Inman is also known as The Oatmeal.  He writes about the inner battles he fights with his self-esteem and self-control and self-destruction as they are embodied in a giant, potato-shaped blob that tries to defeat him in all areas of life.  And instead of fighting and losing and despairing and lying on the couch and eating another bag of Cheetos, he choses to outrun his demons.  This is a delightful, crass, highly-illustrated romp through my psyche.  Loved it.

Product DetailsI’m late to the Seabiscuit party, I know, but I’m a huge fan of Laura Hillenbrand after reading UnbrokenSeabiscuit is also extraordinary.  Somehow Hillenbrand manages to capture all those little details from real life that make long ago times and places come alive.  It also had short sections that made this easy to continue with despite the many interruptions of my day.  I’m determined not to miss her next book.

Product DetailsShauna Niequist’s Bread and Wine, a love letter to life around the table is exactly that.  Each section read like a letter, and her love of people and food and friendship came through.  Her essay about becoming able to rejoice with those who rejoice and to weep with those who weep had me weeping on the couch.  Loved it.

Product DetailsI enjoyed the relationships in this novel of complicated family dynamics.  I’m not sure I bought Lizzy’s identity as a high-powered chef in NYC, but what do I know.  I’ve never been one.  I’ll look for another from Katherine Reay.

Product DetailsMarcus Samuelsson’s Off Duty: The Recipes I Cook at Home was a blast of a read– it made me not only want to eat, but want to cook.  Between his and Niequist’s encouragement to make recipes my own, I’m full of newfound passion for cooking.

Product DetailsI devoured Patricia Cornwall’s Red Mist like candy… late at night and in the bath.  The forensics were fascinating, and the novel pulled me along like an undertow.  I really like reading books with strong protagonists, in which the women aren’t all victims and pawns, and the Kay Scarpetta books suit me well.

Product DetailsI’m not a huge fan of paranormal stories (I like my Sci-Fi with a heavy dose of Sci), but I’m glad I read The Telepath Chronicles.  It’s an anthology of paranormal stories, including one by a writer I really enjoy, E.E. Giorgi (of Gene Cards, see review from November).  It’s hard to describe the story without giving spoilers, but I’ll say that she weaves together beautifully the threads of grief, despair, wonder and hope.  As a whole, the stories were thought provoking and good reads.

And P.S. Mary Birk’s Mermaids of Bodega Bay (which I reviewed a few months ago) is a free Kindle unlimited download right now!