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Did you know that April 23 is Shakespeare’s birthday? (Well, we think it might be. No records exist to nail down the exact date!)
It’s when we celebrate it, anyway. And I did a lot of Bard-related reading this month! I started by exploring the idea of a Shakespeare unit for my homeschool, but then I got sucked in and started reading more for my own enjoyment. (Don’t fear Shakespeare, my friends! He’s nice!)
I also wrapped up a few books that I started in honor of Middle Grade March.
Learn how to memorize Shakespeare from a Tony-winning playwright
You’ll love it if you want one simple strategy to instill a love of Shakespeare in your kids
Well, I did NOT expect to read through this whole book! I figured I’d skim it for the teaching tips and shelve it for future reference. NOPE. This was just TOO MUCH FUN. I read it cover to cover. I loved taking a close look at each passage—my inner English major was so happy—and why it’s worthy to commit to memory.
If you DO want to teach your children Shakespeare, then it’s important you know this book does NOT contain “curriculum.” No, no, no. Fie on that. It contains only one basic strategy for “teaching” Shakespeare: Memorize It. Ludwig walks you through 25 passages that he taught his kids to memorize. He explains how he did it so that we can do it too. Simple as that!
The real fun here IS Shakespeare. It’s reading his words, figuring out what they mean, and then just taking a bath in them because they are so delicious.
There’s also a pretty dope bibliography in the back.
The life and times of Shakespeare told in traditional picture book style
You’ll love it if you want to give your kids a robust intro to the Bard
This picture book focuses solely on Shakespeare and his work. You learn the little we know for sure about his life, but there’s also a lot of fun detail about stagecraft, theatergoing, costumes, scenery, and politics.
It’s dense with info but not too long, making it a great choice for a simple intro to the “man for all time.”
A meatier, reference-style children’s biography of Shakespeare and his times
You’ll love it if you want a longer look at this great poet
Here, you’ve got a much longer picture-book-style bio of William Shakespeare. The illustrations are more lifelike than the other two children’s biographies here, and there’s a lot more information that’s framed around questions that a young person might want to know, such as, “Why is Shakespeare so important? Why do we still read his works?”
One section of the book is devoted to summaries of his plays.
Two pairs of lovers and a group of everyday workmen enter a magical forest filled with fairies and fall in and out of their spells (and love).
You’ll love it if you want to read Shakespeare’s most accessible comedy
What a blast from the past. I played Helena in my high school production of this play, and it was such fun. This play is straight-up brilliant fun. The Arkangel audio version is A+.
This time around, I appreciate Bottom a lot more. (In high school, I thought he was just B-plot comic relief) He really is awesome actually. He’s at the bottom of the social ladder, yet when he becomes the paramour of the Queen of Faeries, he essentially remains who he is, wanting (not riches or power) but only oats and a back scratch. Yet, he longs for the glories of the stage and wants to play all the parts in the play because he’s confident that he can do them justice.
I’d also forgotten how the Pyramus and Thisbe play-within-the-play is an echo of Romeo and Juliet, and it reminds us of what happens when the “blocked love” of young people goes terribly tragic rather than comedic. Including it here, even in fun-making, reminds us of how easily things could’ve gone the other direction and (somehow) makes us happier at the end…happy that it was a good dream and not a nightmare.
Content Warnings: None, really, in the straight text, but you’re going to get some sexual innuendo in any type of production, film or theater.
You’ll love it if you love battle scenes, love scenes, and bittersweet endings
Battles. Lots of battles. The first part of this book details how the good guys defeat the bad guys. Then, Tolkien spent a long time explaining what happened to everybody, and it took forever for everyone to travel back home.
But nothing beats the segment where Sam and Frodo limp their way to Mount Doom with Gollum on their heels—and what happens after. That alone is worth the price of this book.
Four women high-tail it to Italy for a month in spring
You’ll love it if you enjoy introspective, meandering stories wrapped in Italian beauty
The first segment of this book is charming and relatable. Two women, Lotty and Rose, are toying with the idea of renting an Italian castle for a month in spring. They’ve had a long, dreary winter in London, and they’re both trapped in loveless marriages, and they need to get away, but…the GUILT. It was exquisite to watch them grapple with this and finally decide to take the plunge.
Once they get to the castle, there are two other ladies (a gorgeous heiress and a malcontent spinster) who share the castle with them, and then the book got slow for me. The plot kind of stalled and sputtered a bit for me…but what came through loud and clear is the transformative power of beauty to reawaken us to life. It makes us beautiful, so we act beautiful, and others treat us like we’re beautiful, and it’s a beautiful cycle that repeats to our benefit.
Content warnings: None. I was afraid that the women were going to have naughty affairs when they arrived in Italy, but they behaved like civilized humans.
Unlikely heroes perform hilarious, ill-advised acts, and we are kind of scared for them
You’ll love it if you like fairy-tale-esque books that break all the rules
In honor of Middle Grade March, I decided to give this magical tale a try. It was cute and funny, but it didn’t really capture me until the very end. Then, I sat up and said, “Hm! Interesting.” No spoilers, but I was glad that I stuck it out. This is the first book in a series, and it really can’t be read as a standalone with perfect satisfaction.
The two main characters, Xar and Wish, are very distinctive and loveable, with giant flaws that make them interesting. I wonder how this book connects to The Tempest and the Dream because the sprites and magical creatures have names that STRONGLY hail from those two Shakespeare plays.
The book is obviously crafted with a lot of thought. I love the idea that “stories always mean something, even if we’re not sure what.” That’s likely what the author was genuinely thinking as she felt her way through the writing process.
The major downside for me was the writing! For some reason, it was a little difficult to fully immerse myself in the short, choppy sentences. I felt that the story could’ve been better with a higher level of craft. Having said that, the low-ish reading level, the humor, and the illustrations are EXACTLY why I handed this to my teenage nephew.
Content Warnings: Best for ages 8+, due to the wickedness of the witches and some intense scenes.
You’ll love it if you enjoy emotional animal adventures in medieval times
I have a soft spot for Kate DiCamillo. I love the way she writes, and apparently, my boys do, too. This was a can-you-read-more-pleeeeeeease? kinda book.
The story is simple, but the telling makes it feel grand. An especially tiny mouse falls in love with a princess and vows to honor her. When dark forces put the princess in danger, the mouse steps up to save her. That’s just ONE of the plots. There are three nonlinear plots that weave together in the final section of the book.
There are symbols and allusions galore. Beautiful words like chiaroscuro, perfidy, and empathy. There’s a Narrator with a capital N, who addresses the reader directly, asks questions, defines the vocab, and mulls over the big themes.
Ultimately, this book is about the mix of light and darkness that we all have inside us, and it’s one of those classics that will appeal to kids over a wide span of years.
Content warnings: None, although there are some things that could affect the especially tenderhearted. Ex: Miggory Sow gets hit on the ear every day. Princess Pea’s mother dies.
You’ll love it if you’re reading these rabbity tales with your kids.
Before moving on to the third “big” Green Ember book, we’re going to fill in the blanks with these short novellas that provide backstory to the old tales and legends referenced by Picket and Heather and the rest in the main storyline.
It gives some of the origin story behind the royal crown and the actual Green Ember stone itself. It also explains where the famous phrase comes from, “My place beside you. My blood for yours. Till the Green Ember rises, or the end of the world!”
Adding to Your TBR?
Check out this handy digital TBR spreadsheet that you can pull up on your phone whenever you’re at the bookstore or library.
Click Command+F or CTRL+F to open a Find window. Then, enter keywords to search the page.
Or, just scroll and browse till something catches your eye!
I don’t have a page dedicated to each book. I review my books in monthly batches. So, when you click on one of these reviews, you’ll get whisked off to a page with a handful of reviews. Simply scroll down till you find the book you’re looking for.
Want to see all my book review posts ordered from newest to oldest? Here they are.
Since I read a LOT of fiction, I’ve subdivided this list into genres.
Is your TBR longer and more grizzled than Merlin’s beard?
Yep, I used to have a TBR like that, too! But now, I use this amazing TBR spreadsheet to keep everything in tidy order. Plus, since it’s a Google Sheet, I can pull it up on my phone when I’m at the bookstore or library. Or, if you want a TBR, book journal, and reading tracker rolled into one, then the Blissful Book Tracker Template is for you. Check ’em out! 👇
Small-town comings and goings brilliantly described
You’ll love it if you crave a story with subtext.
I FINISHED. The amazing thing about this book is how deeply the characters are drawn. Let’s pretend all the characters in this book are trees. At some point, each one is cut down by something—some tragedy or disappointment or twist of fate—and then, we look at the stump and examine the rings. Each ring-layer reveals an aspect of the inner person that wasn’t known or understood until the hewing down.
There’s no point in trying to describe the plot. But know this: George Eliot takes seemingly mundane things (and a few not-so mundane things) and makes them feel immense. And aren’t all the little dramas of our lives intensely dear to us as we’re living them in the moment? Don’t all the little choices we make add up to something of great significance?
Kitty must save her family from poverty by marrying money. Can she snag a husband before the repo men come callin’?
You’ll love it if you want a fun little escape from everyday life, Jane Austen-style
This is now my go-to recommendation for a feel-good, clean romance!!! Fast-paced, sweet, funny. This is the best kind of cupcake book! Kitty is a fortune hunter, yes, but she’s selling herself in marriage to save her sisters from poverty and disgrace, so we’re rooting for her. 😂
I listened to the audiobook narrated by Eleanor Tomlinson, the actress who played Demelza in Poldark, and she’s GREAT.
Content warnings: None, really. Everyone keeps their bloomers and pantaloons on. YAY!
An emotionally stressed female bodyguard is assigned to protect a hunky film star, and ANTICS.
You’ll love it if you want to inhale a cute romcom in one gulp
This book was like a romcom movie in my head—totally unbelievable but totally adorable and cheer-worthy. This is the kind of escapist, wish-fulfillment book that I’m often wary of…we can’t read a book like this and then be sad because Hollywood A-listers aren’t falling in love with our personalities. 😆 But, it’s a worthy beach read—tons of fun and very sweet. (Just make sure your disbelief is fully suspended.)
Content warnings: There’s PG-13 language with a few F-bombs. This was decidedly closed door, which I appreciated. There’s kissing and references to sex but nothing explicit is described.
A couple living on an isolated lighthouse island find a rowboat with a dead man and a baby inside.
You’ll love it if you’re craving a gorgeously crafted story with tons of moral layers.
I received this book as part of a Christmas book exchange—Hi Natalie!!!—and I knew that I wanted to savor it. Based on what I’d heard and the excellent taste of the giver, I knew I’d enjoy it!
This is the type of book that’ll rip your heart out if you allow it. It’s written with so much empathy for everyone. It forces you to see these people as people, to feel with them, even as you’re begging them, “No! Please don’t! Don’t do it!”
Content warnings: Miscarriage and adoption loss are two huge triggers for this book.
A father runs out to the store for some milk. What could go wrong?
You’ll love it if you want a lightning-quick, funny book to read aloud with your kids (ages 8+)
I read this in about 30 minutes one night. This is the kind of “pure fun” book that you can read for a good chuckle. Snap it closed, and you’re done. Personally, I prefer kids’ books with a little more there there.
Content warnings: It’s a weird book. You may love the weirdness or detest it. I decided to wait before sharing this one with my kids, just because I think the humor will fly over their heads.
A lonely lighthouse cat saves a dog, and they adopt mice.
You’ll love it if you enjoyed Brambly Hedge, the Heartwood Hotel, and other simple animal tales.
Super cute animal story and the first in this notable series by the wonderful Cynthia Rylant. My boys and I listened to this 45-minute audiobook in the car one day as we were running errands around town. It’s very gentle and sweet.
A spoiled, sickly teenage girl is restored to health and happiness with help from her eight cousins.
You’ll love it if you want a cross between The Secret Garden and Anne of Green Gables
Rose is prim and delicate, just like the flower she’s named after. When her father dies, she’s ultimately put in custody of her uncle, a cheerful sailor-doctor. (What do they call the doctor aboard a ship—is there a name for that job?) He quickly realizes that what Rose needs is plenty of time outdoors and lots of adventures with her eight cousins—a clan of rough-and-tumble boys ranging in age from 16 to 6.
This is just what you expect from Alcott. Lots of amazing parenting advice packaged in a sweet story. Yay.
FUN chapter books loaded with pictures and tons of homeschool potential
You’ll love it if you enjoyed Mercy Watson and want deeper, longer stories where the supporting cast take center stage
I’ve read these with my boys before, but we’re doing it again, just for fun. These chapter books are longer and more complex than the original Mercy Watson books. As a homeschool mom, I see lots of awesome potential for teaching vocabulary, theme, foreshadowing, and detail in a way that’s fun. These books are nothing if not funny!
Hot off the press! The latest installment is available for pre-order: Mercy Watson Is Missing. I’m going out on a limb here, but I think that hot buttered toast may play a pivotal role.
Auggie is a kid with a job—to care for the fantastic beasts living in the Fabled Stables
You’ll love it if you want a fun adventure story decorated with incredible full-color pictures
Honestly, the first book in this series didn’t capture me like I thought it would, but I absolutely loved the second (The Tattle-tail) and the third (Belly of the Beast). The amazing full-color illustrations in this series make it total eye-candy for kids!
Auxier said that his goal is to write a book series that’s equally enjoyed by young and older kids. Basically, he wants to write the ultimate family-pleasing read-aloud. And it’s a contender, for sure.
Memoir of an Iranian refugee as told (hilariously) by his adolescent self
You’ll love it if poop jokes make you laugh and the truth makes you cry
This ain’t your typical woe-is-me memoir. This book is crafted so beautifully and written with so much tenderness—I laughed, I cried, I loved it. Don’t expect a linear storyline. You’ll be a little disoriented at first, but please do give it a chance. I promise all the pieces will come together.
You’ll love it if you want a challenging story that’ll disinfect your soul
This tiny book is brilliant but extremely uncomfortable. I think most of us have more in common with the unremarkable and self-centered Ivan Illych than we’d care to admit. So, let’s heed the truth of Tolstoy’s cautionary tale. (Fun fact: The name Ivan Illych is the Russian version of John Doe.)
Content warnings: There’s passing mention of Ivan visiting a red-light district.
Alternating timelines chronicle the stories of a Jewish matchmaker in the early 1900s and her granddaughter in the 1990s
You’ll love it if you want to read something light and mildly romantic
I wanted to read this book because I’m interested in the role that matchmakers play in Jewish culture, especially in modern times. How do they make matches? How do they work with families? What’s the process? The fee? This book provided NO such sneak peek, sadly. It was cute, but not for me.
Content warnings: This book portrays a very worldly view of romantic love, so don’t expect much substance.
Aragorn and company tackle Saruman, while Gollum leads Frodo and Sam to Mordor
You’ll love it if you’re craving a fantasy adventure written by a master craftsman
I will say it again: The Andy Serkis audio version is tremendous. I’ve only ever seen the LOTR movies, so I had no clue that this book is structured in two parts with parallel timelines. The first one follows Aragorn and his crew to Rohan and onto Helms Deep and then to Orthanc. The second part, which is far and away more intriguing, follows Frodo, Sam and Gollum to Mordor. These books are off the charts.
Content warnings: Wars and violence. Andy Serkis does that raspy/gurgly Gollum voice, which may creep out younger listeners.
You’ll love it if you want to grapple with some of the harder-to-understand aspects of Christianity
I read this book off and on during the Christmas season. It’s not exactly an advent book, but it examines the Christian belief that God took human form. Why did God choose to redeem the world THAT way? How should the incarnation affect us? I didn’t finish this one. It wasn’t bad at all, but there were a few things that struck me as woo-woo.
Content warnings: She briefly describes an icky incident in which an adult male molested her.
A free-spirited young girl from Barbados tries to survive in Puritanical New England with mixed results
You’ll love it if you want to read superior historical fiction (with more than a touch of romance)
I’m on a mission to read all of Elizabeth George Speare’s books because I never read ANY of them as a kid. I can definitely see why this is her most popular work. The plot is nice and tight, and all of the characters have virtues AND flaws that make them human. Preteen me would’ve loved the romance element—I was a big sucker for that stuff (and still am).
Content warnings: Some parents don’t like when a book is overly focused on romance, and this one definitely has its share, although it’s all tastefully displayed. There is a witch hunt, but no actual witchcraft is portrayed.
A young girl in the 1910s must figure out who she is, past, present, and future
You’ll love it if you’re a fan of Anne Shirley, Jo March, and the Penderwick sisters
Do you ever wish that a modern author would write lovely, wholesome books like Anne of Green Gables or Little Women? Do you also wish that authors would have the guts to point their young readers to The Truth? If you answered yes, then you MUST check out this debut middle-grade novel. I can’t wait to read more from Anna Rose!
It’s rabbits vs. wolves in this inspiring children’s fantasy
You’ll love it if you enjoyed Watership Down (or you’ve got kids who want an animal adventure with teeth)
I have a confession: I’m not a fan of animal protagonists. (I prefer people.) But I will say that this was a GREAT read-aloud for my boys, who thoroughly enjoyed the rabbity adventure. The first half of this book is too long and needs to be edited, but the second half really picks up. If you haven’t heard of S. D. Smith before, he’s hilarious and I dare you not to like him immediately.
Content warnings: There are some scary wolves and birds of prey that’ll be too much for the very, very young.
Will Jonathan meet bears on Hemlock Mountain, even though his mom says he won’t?
You’ll love it if you want a lightning-fast read-aloud for young kids
This is a great early chapter book that my 7-year-old is reading right now in homeschool. It’s a super-simple story with a slow build of suspense—will there actually be bears???—and a wonderfully fun climactic moment. This reminds me a lot of Robert Clyde Bulla’s kids’ novels.
Can young Ronnie help his elderly aunt keep the lighthouse working in winter?
You’ll love it if you want a highly discussable Christmas book to read with youngsters over the holidays
What a gorgeous kids’ Christmas book! Not only are there beautiful black-and-white illustrations throughout, but the story. It’s complex without being complicated. My boys’ll need to be older to appreciate this, but I was thoroughly charmed.
A young boy in Medieval times becomes a hero in spite of a physical handicap
You’ll love it if you want to empower a young man in your life with a tale of bravery
If you’ve got a kid who can’t get enough of knights, castles, or Ye Olde Britain, then this slim novel serves up a lot of historical flavor, and it has a wonderful message to boot. One day, young Robin, our protagonist, can no longer walk. Instead of wallowing in self-pity, he learns to find the next “door in the wall,” i.e. a way to pass through whatever barrier is stopping him from progressing in life. The first half of the book is somewhat slow, but the second half picks up, and the ending brings all the drama.
You’ll love it if you want your kids to get hooked on a chapter series that’s connected to the Bible
Remember the Magic Treehouse series? This is like the Christian version. A brother and sister time-travel back to Bible events. In this first book, they witness God create the world. They have a (somewhat silly) mission to complete. There are more books in the series with more missions. My opinion: just okay.
Content warnings: I wasn’t crazy about the mission the kids had to complete, which was to translate Hebrew writing on a scroll. It seemed like an arbitrary plot device and a little too derivative of Magic Treehouse. I don’t want my boys to think that God would ever leave them stranded up a creek without a paddle just because they couldn’t complete a random mission.
Book journal pages you can color
Love books AND colored pencils? Then these printable book journal pages are for YOU. I designed them to be cheerful and nostalgic. Pop your email into the box below, and I’ll send you the FREE printables.
Collection of real-life letters from Tolkien to his children
You’ll love it if you wish you could be pen pals with Santa Clause
This book is a collection of letters and drawings that Tolkien sent to his children each Christmas, starting in the ’20s and into the mid-’40s. For real. He writes pretending to be Father Christmas, telling them about the goings on at the North Pole (polar bears, snowmen, and even goblins). This was extra-merry on audio with sleigh bells ring-a-linging.
Content warnings: There are some goblins who try to take over the North Pole, but nothing scary. If your kids believe in Santa, they will still believe at the end of this book. 😉
You’ll love it if you want a complex plot and complex characters, richly rendered
I loved The Lincoln Highway, but I was hesitant to try this book because it sounded SO boring. And it might be boring to you—but I adored it. This is my kind of book. Simple plot + complex characters = 5 stars. You don’t need a degree in Russian history to enjoy it, either.
Content warnings: This is an adult book, and there is the normal stuff, but nothing gross.
You’ll love it if you’re a fan of Jane Eyre or gothic novels in general
A young bookish woman receives a mysterious handwritten letter from the most prolific and famous writer of her time. This writer has long evaded biographical questions from the press. But now, she’s ready to spill all her secrets, and she’s chosen an unknown, unpublished person to write what will surely be the biography of the century. Expect plenty of chills and a gothic atmosphere so thick you can cut it with a knife.
Content warnings: There is some major family dysfunction (including incest, rape, and self-harm) in the first third of the book, but thankfully this doesn’t persist into the middle and ending.
You’ll love it if you’re seeking iron-on-iron motherhood advice that’ll convict you as much as it’ll inspire you
I forced myself to listen to this on audio SLOWLY. One chapter a day max. It was a solid five-star read for me. Abbie basically says, “Here’s an issue that tempts us toward mediocre motherhood.” Then, she says, “Here are some scriptures that speak to this issue.” And then she offers sound, grounded advice that points us toward excellence in our chosen profession.
You’ll love it if you’ve tried “self-care” and “self-love” but it didn’t work as promised
This is a well-written, scripturally based argument for why a me-first mentality leads (eventually) to deep unhappiness and disillusionment. Instead, Jen Oshman offers a life that is Christ-centered and that leads (eventually) to deep joy and peace. This is a solid, brief primer on God-first living.
You’ll love it if you’re seeking a YA thriller with robust multicultural worldbuilding
This book wins major points for original worldbuilding and atmosphere. Major points. But, it’s not going on my list of favorite YA dystopian thrillers. Like many other novels in the genre, it stars Katniss Everdeen in different trappings. “The fate of the world hangs on an obscure, oppressed teenage girl…” you know the drill.
Content warnings: There is an attempted rape, murder, and violence. But it all stays within the realm of what you’d expect from YA. Surprisingly, there wasn’t much romance at all in this one and no sex.
You’ll love it if you’re in the mood for grit, humor, mystery, and LOADS of teenage male angst
I adored The Book Thief, so I had high expectations. Like The Book Thief, this was brimming with emotion and foul language. But the message at the heart is…solid gold. This book will appeal most to young males because it (rightly) reflects their maleness in a way that’ll (logically) feel a tad alien to a female reader.
Content warnings: Lots of violence and aggression. Rape occurs offstage. I’d recommend 16+ years at the very youngest.
You’ll love it if you prefer dystopias that are free from raunch and graphic violence
Every autumn, I get the itch to re-read a series (just for the comfy-ness of it). Last year, it was The Hunger Games. The year before, it was Harry Potter. This year, it was The Giver Quartet. I have so many memories reading The Giver as a young person. These books do venture into social and political issues, so I recommend that young people read these with guidance, if possible. (This is because there will be no earthly utopia unless Jesus Christ says so, and we can’t rely on systems to get us there.)
Messenger: A quick, easy read with a much stronger and cohesive message.
Son: A good series-ender, but much longer than it needed to be.
Book journal pages you can color
Love books AND colored pencils? Then these printable book journal pages are for YOU. I designed them to be cheerful and nostalgic. Pop your email into the box below, and I’ll send you the FREE printables.
It’s m’duty to tell you that this article contains affiliate links, which earn me commission at no extra cost to you. Here’s my disclosure policy.
It’s July, and that means the monsoons are sweeping over our desert mountains. It gets hot—very hot—and just when we think we can’t take it anymore, the sky growls and pops and (finally) showers blessed relief. There’s something beautiful about reading a book during a balmy rain.
This month, I want to tell you about two books that I didn’t finish and why. I also read a steamy (but clean) Regency romance as well as a classic travelogue and a beautifully crafted Christian exegesis.
Here’s where you can find me on Goodreads and The Storygraph. Connect with me so that I can see what you’re reading, too!
Now, onward to the reviews!
The Measure book review (DNF 50%)
By Nikki Erlick
Genre: Contemporary realistic fantasy
Format: Audible audiobook (thank goodness for free returns)
Mood: Worldly, exhausted, and stressed
You’ll love it if you want (yes want) to relive all the psychotic distress of the 2020 news cycle.
Well, this book had one of the most intriguing hooks I’d ever encountered. But the execution was just, well, sad.
The hook: On a random day, everyone in the world who is 22 years or older wakes up to find a wooden box with their name on it and a strange inscription that reads something like “inside is the measure of your life.” Open the box, and there’s a piece of gauzy fabric. Lift that, and you see a string. The string’s length corresponds to how long you’re going to live, from the day you’re born to the day you die.
The arrival of these boxes, of course, changes a LOT of things for a LOT of people. Some people open their boxes, and some don’t. Some people make huge life-changing decisions based on the length of their strings. The people who have short strings are soon labeled as a quasi-underclass, and they are stereotyped and feared by the long-stringers.
This is all quite interesting, and this setup…painting the world as a tinderbox with a lit match inching toward it...it’s a thrilling idea.
The characters were bad. I did not love them. I barely cared about them. The characters were like little puppets. They were lifeless wooden dolls acting the way that the author wanted them to act to serve the story’s messaging. (This story lacked meaning but was jam-packed with messaging, most of which was too trite for me to bear.)
If the characters had been real, then I might’ve kept reading in spite of the messaging, but I just couldn’t go on. The inciting incident was SO good. It could’ve been the start of a really wonderful story, and maybe things perk up in the second half, but I didn’t have the stomach to stick around.
Content warnings: Two of the main characters are in a lesbian relationship. There’s a shooting at a hospital and at a rally. Not sure what goes down in the second half.
It Ends With Us book review (DNF 33%)
By Colleen Hoover
Genre: Contemporary romance
Format: Library paperback
Mood: Emotional, sexy, disillusioned
You’ll love it if you’ve got a gnarly craving for an angsty romance.
For some reason—Verity, I suspect—Colleen Hoover’s books have blown up this past year! She’s, like, skyrocketed to fame. Her backlist is selling like there’s no tomorrow. So, naturally, I’m curious.
I tried reading Verity for the second time last month and had to put it down at the 25 percent mark. I got a little further with this one, but I just can’t justify spending time on it. Too raunchy and lusty for my tender little soul.
This book is what I consider mommy porn. It’s a book that your average, everyday mom can read in public and nobody bats an eyelash, yet the book contains explicit sex scenes (and seems to exist primarily for these scenes).
Content warnings: Lots of sex and swears. Also, the protagonist’s father is verbally and physically abusive. There is a teen boy who is homeless.
The Cheat Sheet book review
By Sarah Adams
Genre: Contemporary romance
Format: Kindle ebook
Mood: Frothy, fun, silly, steamy
You’ll love it if you want to read something so sweet it’ll give you cavities.
Kindle said, “This ebook is only $1.99!” So, I impulse-bought it, knowing beforehand that it’s a sassy closed-door romance about two best friends who become lovers. There’s also a fake relationship. And dual POVs. Okay, Amazon, I’ll give it a try!
I read it in three days flat, and it was exactly like watching a PG-13 romcom from the early 2000s. It’s full of witty dialogue, and steamy romance, and it had me literally laughing out loud. Netflix or Hulu could take this book and adapt it to the screen with minimal effort—it reads just like a movie, with adorable banter and with adorable banter and screenplay-ready episodes fully loaded.
I’m gonna call this “Hallmark meets MTV with a dash of Sports Center.” Weird, I know
Now, this book is cute as all get-out, BUT it’s pure escapism—the fluffy, wish-fulfillment kind. It was a total cupcake, and too much of this kinda thing can’t be good for me.
But what about just a liiiiiittle every now and then? Honestly, the tension between what I can read and what I really should avoid is a sleeping bear that I’m currently poking at with my proverbial stick. You can bet I’ll letcha know how it’s going.
Content warnings: This book brings the steam, but without true substance to go along with it. There are makeout and bedroom scenes that are on the PG-13 side of things, but it does not depict the entire sexual act (i.e. fade to black). It does depict one of the characters having a panic attack.
Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers book review
By Dane C. Ortlund
Genre: Christian exegesis
Format: Library audiobook
Mood: Lyrical, unhurried, deep
You’ll love it if you secretly say to yourself, “If Jesus really knew me, I don’t think he’d love me.”
How do you describe the heart of Jesus Christ? This book takes a deep look at scripture in an attempt to find out. The conclusion is that the heart of Jesus draws near to sinners and sufferers. We don’t have to be perfectly righteous and content in order to be near the heart of God.
Often, we feel like we’re pestering Jesus with our constant needs, our constant backsliding, our constant selfishness. How can he possibly have a soft heart toward us when we’re so pathetic? Or, we think, yes, Jesus loves me, except THAT part of me. (No, he loves that part too.) Or, yes, Jesus wants a relationship with me, but if he gets too close, he has to hold his nose. (No, Jesus doesn’t just tolerate us in his family, he fervently wants us to be part of his family.)
Here are a few other things that resonated with me:
Jesus looks at our sin like a parent looks at cancer that’s afflicting his child. Just because the child has cancer doesn’t mean he stops loving his child. He hates the cancer and wants it gone, but he never hates his child.
Jesus is our mediator (continually acting as our lifeline to the Father, going before us day in and day out) and our advocate (clearing our name after we sin bigly and repent sincerely). This imagery helps me think of what Jesus is doing for me right NOW. It takes the cross and brings it to this present moment.
Jesus experienced the full range of human emotion WITHOUT the filter of sin to dull the highs and the lows. That’s why he’s the perfect empathizer. He felt ALL the emotions with more clarity and force than we ever will. If anyone knows what we’re feeling, it’s him.
A huge strength of this book is Ortlund’s beautiful prose. He’s a great writer! This book could’ve been dry and intellectual, but it’s filled with imagery and (no surprise) heart.
Content warnings: Ortlund is Calvinist, so that’s good to know because this naturally affects his commentary. I’m not Calvinist, but I found a lot to take away nonetheless.
The Matrimonial Advertisement book review
By Mimi Matthews
Genre: Regency romance
Format: Audible audiobook
Mood: Mysterious, romantic, on the slow burner
You’ll love it if you’re craving a soap-opera version of Jane Austen.
It’s a Regency romance! (Roll the Rs.) Rrrregency rrrrromance! Yes, that’s it. That’s how I feel about this book. It’s kinda silly and kinda great. When I think of “Regency romance” I think of Jane Austen but with more soapy social drama and at least one bout of fisticuffs. This book delivered on both counts.
Honestly, I thought this book was decently well written, but my expectations were low. It was crafted with more historical care, better characterization, and more believable plotting than Edenbrooke (IMO).
What’s the story about? Well, for reasons unknown to us at the outset, Helena has traveled far from home to answer a newspaper advertisement for a bride. She meets the man, a Byronic hunk with a shrouded past, and they agree to go ahead with the marriage, despite the fact that they’re both obviously hiding things.
The less you know going into the story, the better.
The romance was very steamy but most definitely closed door, which is how I prefer things. No explicit bedroom scenes here. And it was like a 5 out of 10 on the Cheese-O-Meter. Some cheese but not so much that I was rolling my eyes. I was caught up in the story, which was dramatic but reasonably so, and this allowed me to enjoy the romance without getting distracted by too many “oh puh-leeeze” moments.
Content warnings: Some spoilers in this section. Helena was nearly strangled by her uncle and has bruises. She was subjected to “treatments” at a mental facility that amount to torture. Her mother suffered from post-pardum depression, but it isn’t discussed in detail.
Travels with Charley: In Search of America book review
By John Steinbeck
Genre: Travel (historical)
Mood: Lively, ironically funny, introspective
You’ll love it if you’re itching to jump in a camper and tour the great U S of A (1960s-style).
John Steinbeck is a masterful writer. I’d forgotten. The man writes beautifully, and this travelogue is worth a read for the sheer enjoyment of his prose.
Travels with Charley is the true story of how John Steinbeck wanted to see America. So, he outfitted his truck with a camper of sorts, and he set off on a grand tour of the U S of A. His travel companion? An intelligent blue-gray poodle named Charley (born and raised in France and therefore very discerning, although prone to bladder infections).
Steinbeck had traveled the globe, but he’d never made a concerted effort to look closely at America. He wanted to learn about America. What makes America itself? What are Americans like? Is it possible to characterize this vast, diverse nation?
He starts in the late summer of 1960 at Sag Harbor, New York, where he lives. He drives up to the fingertips of Maine, and then back down, across no-nonsense New England and then the Mideast (Ohio is very friendly) and up through Michigan and over through Wisconsin, the Dakotas, and Montana, which stole his heart.
He makes it clear to Seattle, which isn’t what it once was, he says. He then heads south (through San Francisco “the City”) to his beloved Salinas Valley in California (a prophet is always rejected in his own country).
He speeds across Arizona and New Mexico (which exist in spite of themselves) but spends Thanksgiving in Texas at a millionaire’s ranch. Then, with trepidation, he enters the south, which is bowstring-tight with racial tension. Then, he makes a mad dash north to get home for Christmas.
Steinbeck doesn’t presume to have really “learned” anything in a general sense. What good are generalities when you’re talking about a land so wide-ranging as the U.S.? But, he has a wonderful way of retelling his encounters with people along the way. Individual people that he met at singular moments in time. He captures those moments, and that’s the stuff the book is made of. Brief roadside episodes. Sounds boring, right? NO. It’s not about the stories as much as how Steinbeck tells them.
Steinbeck is no fool. He didn’t just randomly slap this book together. He carefully selected the stories he’d tell, and I’m sure he had his reasons for each. But, his telling is so personal and relatable that I didn’t feel like he was lecturing or putting anything over on me. I think he was genuinely trying to understand his country because he LOVES it, despite all its shortcomings. And that warms my little newsfeed-shriveled heart.
“I do know this—the big and mysterious America is bigger than I thought. And more mysterious.”
Content warnings: Steinbeck visits New Orleans and witnesses a group of women (surrounded by news crews and a crowd of gawkers) who are loudly and obscenely protesting the desegregation of schools. This is an important part of the book, but it could be disturbing for some.
The Witches book review
By Roald Dahl
Genre: Children’s realistic fantasy
Format: Paperback (and audiobook)
Mood: Comedic and tongue-in-cheek
You’ll love it if you want to give your kids the creeps (in the good ol’ campfire-ghost-story kinda way).
I still have my tattered childhood copy of The Witches, and it was this copy that got the attention of my 5- and 7-year-olds. Witches? Oooooooh. What’s it about?!
It’s been ages since I’ve read this book, and it is one of the weirder Dahl stories…I know, they’re ALL weird, but this one is extra weird.
What’s the point of this book? To laugh over a silly story, maybe. To get that fun-creepy tingle up your spine at the thought of witches living among us. I dunno. But it held the same appeal for my kids as it did for young me.
Our narrator is a young British boy who is never actually named (truly!). He is tragically orphaned and then put in the care of his beloved Grandmamma, who is a Norweigian witch expert. She’s a great storyteller, and she loves the topic of witches. They are REAL. And they HATE children. It’s very important that a child knows how to spot a witch to avoid getting squelched. Witches look just like nice ladies, you know.
Well, our intrepid narrator DOES come in contact with witches, and thank goodness he has his Grandmamma by his side. The book relies on a lot of slapstick humor and adventure-type scenes to keep things interesting.
I read about half of the book aloud, and the other half we listened to the audiobook narrated by Miranda Richardson. The voice she does for the Grand High Witch was a little hard to understand at times.
Content warnings: If you suspect that the idea of “witches hiding in plain sight” might freak your kids out, then pass on this for now. The Grand High Witch kills a witch by melting her with her eyes. Kids are repeatedly threatened with death.
The Whipping Boy book review
By Sid Fleischman
Genre: Children’s historical fiction
Mood: Funny, adventurous, and heartwarming
You’ll love it if you need a read-aloud that’s a morality tale wrapped in a romp.
My 5- and 7-year-old boys were NOT into this book much at all. It’s not a complicated story, but it was a little over their heads, and this surprised me!
I, on the other hand, thought this book was great. It’s not the end-all, be-all in children’s literature, but I loved the morality tale it presents.
We’ve got two main characters, Prince Brat, a terribly spoiled royal child. Then, we’ve got Jemmy, his whipping boy. Whenever Prince Brat gets in trouble, Jemmy gets a whipping (because it’s against the law to lay a hand on a princely hide.) Of course, this is terribly unjust, and kids can see that right away.
In the dead of night, Prince Brat decides to run away because he’s “bored.” He commands Jemmy to go with him. They are terrible runaways and get kidnapped immediately by two highwaymen who stink of garlic. They meet a girl with a dancing bear and a potato seller and a rat catcher, and it’s all good fun in medieval times.
There’s a hearty moral takeaway and plenty of vocabulary words tucked into the narrative and strong historical flavor. But it’s mostly a growing-up / unlikely friendship story that I think will appeal to my boys when they’re a tad older. 😉
Content warnings: As the title suggests, our two protagonists take a few beatings. There are also two (rather silly) highwaymen who kidnap the boys and threaten them.
Sarah, Plain and Tall book review
By Patricia MacLachlan
Genre: Children’s historical fiction
Mood: Sweet, understated
You’ll love it if you want a tender, emotional read-aloud (that’s super-short).
A beautifully bare-bones story that kids can relate to. Anna and her younger brother Caleb live on the prairie with their father. Their mother died giving birth to Caleb, but now Papa has decided to advertise for a wife. He gets a response from Sarah, who describes herself as plain and tall. The children desperately hope that she’ll fill the void in their home. Will she?
In addition to dealing with the loss of a parent, this book also presses into the topic of “moving away,” and might be a cathartic read for kids who are struggling with a move. Sarah was born and raised in Maine on the coast, so moving to the prairie is a big change for her.
Patricia MacLachlan is known for tackling tough topics in a way that kids can understand…and she does it in a way that isn’t too terribly sad. In fact, the narrative focuses primarily on hope for a happy future (versus the grief of the past). Her writing style is stripped of anything superfluous, so it leaves lots of room for discussions with kids.
I was surprised by how closely this book sticks to the children’s POV. We get hints as to what’s going on in the minds of the adults, but it’s very surface-level. (MacLachlan leaves all the adult issues to the imaginations of the parents who are reading this to their kids, haha.)
The kids are primarily concerned with whether or not Sarah will stay with them. Or will she miss her home by the sea in Maine too much and return there? Are they “enough” for her? Does she like them? Could she love them? This is so simple and straightforward. As adults, we realize just how fraught and complex this scenario would be for Papa and Sarah, but this book centers squarely on how the kids’ experience.
Content warnings: The children’s mother died in childbirth, and this is a central element of the plot. It may be sad for very sensitive kids. Anna has the image of her mother’s coffin being carried away in a wagon.