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DSC_0010I’m a little late to the party with this post, what with major blog changes last month and major life changes this month, but I hope you’ll nevertheless enjoy these micro book reviews as much this year as in past years when I have been more prompt.

New for this year, I’ve divided up my list into two categories–things I’ve read for my own benefit or interest (what could be called “Mother Culture“) and others which have directly involved my children (sometimes for school and other times for what I suppose you could call our “Family Culture”).

Happy reading!

Personal Reading or Mother Culture

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Teaching From Rest by Sarah Mackenzie  I’ve had many friends in the homeschooling world read and recommend this book, so I thought I’d check it out. Teaching from Rest certainly lives up to its praise and its name. If homeschooling has become a chore or you feel caught in the educational rat-race, this book will be a game-changer. Sarah offers a gentle challenge to homeschool moms to re-evaluate our perspective and our curriculum so we can start from a place of resting in the Lord, see our children for who they are, simplify our to-do lists, and focus on what really matters. This is a book I’m quite likely to revisit.

Knowing God by J. I. Packer  This book is on my reread-it-every-few-years-until-I-die list. Packer manages to lead the reader on a tour de theology without getting weighed down by heartless intellectualism.  Quite the opposite, every turn along the path is a new opportunity to have your heart encouraged to adore, worship, and live for our great God.  Highly recommend, as usual.

The Lord of the Rings:  The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien Can’t go wrong with a little Tolkien on the list, now can we, precious? I think my favorite theme in this book is that of friendship.  As Frodo prepares to leave the Shire and the only world that he has ever known, he discovers that his closest friends are better to him than he had ever anticipated.

You can trust us to stick to you through thick and thin–to the bitter end. And you can trust us to keep any secret of yours–closer than you keep it yourself. But you cannot trust us to let you face trouble alone, and go off without a word. We are your friends, Frodo.

The fact that the book is essentially a story of one great, big backpacking trip is not lost on me either.  I’m just glad I don’t have to worry about Orcs when our family hits the trails!

Inheritance of Tears: Trusting the Lord of Life when Death Visits the Womb by Jessalyn Hutto  I met Jessalyn when she started attending the church I went to during our college years, and I got to know her better through fellowship, a missions trip, and many games of Ultimate Frisbee. I’ve followed her writing over the years and was quite excited to finally get my hands on her book. I have never experienced a miscarriage, but I have stared down the very real threat of stillbirth before my second child was thankfully born alive. Many times over I’ve wondered how different things would be had he not made it. On that level, I found this book incredibly, biblically encouraging.  

Despite my own experience, however, I really can’t identify with the pain that my sisters bear who have suffered a miscarriage or stillbirth. That’s the other reason I was drawn to Inheritance of Tears. Jessalyn shares not only truth-based encouragement, but also her own heart and experience through two miscarriages of her own—giving a window for others into the world of a suffering mother. If you have lost a child or know someone who has, I encourage you to check out Jessalyn’s offering of tenderness and truth.

Led by the Spirit by Jim Elliff  My husband read this short book this year and suggested I do the same.  How do we make decisions in our lives as Christians? We know we are to submit them to the Lord, to let Him lead, but how does that work? Led by the Spirit seeks to answer this question. If you’ve ever slogged through Decision Making and the Will of God, it might help to know that this book has much the same premise—proposing what Jim Elliff calls “sanctified reason”—but Led by the Spirit is far more succinct! And along with greater brevity comes, I believe, a greater balance between reasonable, scripture-based decision making and humble, prayerful dependence upon the Lord (if only for the way the subjects are proportioned).

The hazards of becoming a mere rationalist are obvious. You must be as vigilant to avoid running aground on that sandbar as you are of being swept over the waterfall of mysticism. The guided believer recognizes the decided value of appropriately relating to Christ and not just assuming, in a casual way, the blessing of God on his thinking. You need God.

For the Children’s Sake by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay  I read this book 2016 (and thus wrote a micro book review last year) and then again in 2017 with my local Schole Sisters group. For a great full-length review of For the Children’s Sake, check out this article by my friend Jessalyn (yes, the same one mentioned above).

Humility: The Beauty of Holiness by Andrew Murray  Mystie Winckler recommended this book while I was taking a run through of her Art of Homeschooling course. Humility was free for Kindle (and still is!), so I jumped right in. Murray is a bit mystical at times and apparently really likes the word “secret” (which makes for a few statements that seem a bit over-the-top), but it would be a shame to allow those rather minor differences in word choice and emphasis to overshadow Murray’s incredibly edifying–and truly humbling–message.  I loved reading this highly-quotable book and will likely come back to revisit it again in the future.  Here’s just one quote that I find particularly poignant at this time in my life:

He prays for humility, at times very seriously; but in his secret heart, he prays more, if not in word, then in wish, to be kept from the very things that will make him humble.

Yep.  That’s me all too often.

Twelfth Night, or What You Will, by William Shakespeare When I’m able to keep up, or when it aligns with the direction my reading ought to be going anyway, I have loved reading along with and listening to the Circe Institute’s Close Reads podcast. I wish I could join in on every book, but alas, in 2017 Twelfth Night was the only “close read” on my list.
I listened to this dramatic reading available on Librivox (the voices were all fairly well done, with the exception of one character’s voice seeming a bit out of place). Duke Orsino thinks he loves Olivia, who thinks she needs to mourn her brother’s death for the next seven years (a task which leaves no room for romance, says she). While these two sink deeper in their own delusions, other characters weave their way into the web of romance (or lack thereof)—and some of them in disguise! While I loved the language and the humor of the social and romantic twists and turns of the play, the podcast really brought so much more to light for me, including the significance of the upside-down ridiculousness that features so strongly throughout. Some of my favorite lines from the play came from the rather witty fool:

Wit, an’t be thy will, put me into good fooling!
Those wits, that think they have thee, do very oft
prove fools; and I, that am sure I lack thee, may
pass for a wise man: for what says Quinapalus?
‘Better a witty fool, than a foolish wit.’

I suppose I could nearly add The Taming of the Shrew to my list since we saw the play at an open-air performance this summer. It was our boys’ first experience with Shakespeare, and boy was it memorable—from the popcorn, balloon animals, and face painting before the show, to the live cracking of a whip on stage. But…you tell me. Does watching a Shakespeare play count on my reading list???

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If I be waspish, best beware my sting!

With the Kids, or Family Culture

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Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ by Lew Wallace  My family and I listened to a Librivox recording of this book on a road trip in early 2017. Ben Hur is a tale of historical fiction in the time of Christ. Lew Wallace put a lot of research into his descriptions of places, beliefs, and customs of the time, and this shines through his narrative. Part one provides an in-depth introduction to three desert travelers following a star. Finally in part two we meet the title character and begin to follow his life story as it weaves in and (more of the time) out of the biblical accounts of the life of Christ. While there is a bias toward a fair-skinned, light-haired Madonna and Messiah, much of the historical world-building is an incredible help for those eager to get a sense of the cultural climate that Jesus entered into. It’s also an incredibly moving and faith-building story, though I will leave it at that so as to avoid any spoilers. Suffice it to say, the recent movie rendition, though it was fun to watch, didn’t do it justice.

Five Little Peppers and How They Grew by Margaret Sidney  This was another lovely road trip listen-through. I never read about the Pepper family growing up, so this was my first introduction to the joy-filled but impoverished home of Mrs. Pepper and her five children.  There’s work to be done, fun and adventures to be had, and trials to overcome.  My kids really enjoyed this story (and so did I).

The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner  Road trip listening strikes again.  I DO remember reading this as a kid, so it was fun to experience it again with my boys.  Four as-good-as-orphaned children are trying to get away from what they suspect to be a bad situation when they find an abandoned boxcar in the woods and decide to make it their home.  This book was a good introductory survival story, despite the fact that every subsequent book in the series falls in the mystery genre (but my eight-year-old has no complaints!).

Heidi by Johanna Spyri  Yep, we listened to this one in the van, too. Seeing a pattern?  We did a fair amount of traveling with my husband for work this year.  Heidi is the classic story of the impact a cheerful little girl can have, both to soften hard hearts and strengthen the weak.  While there are some explicit lessons on learning to trust God will answer prayers in His time and for the best, which contributed to good discussion with our children, there is also in the background an immersive experience of the Alps in all their beauty, grandeur, and health-inducing fresh, open air.  The story of Heidi refreshes the soul with cheerfulness, hope in God, and the mesmerizing beauty of His creation.

Flowers are made to bloom in the sun and not to be shut up in an apron.

The Great Big Treasury of Beatrix Potter  Finally, here’s one I read aloud to the kids (for probably the third time).  Most people are familiar with The Tale of Peter Rabbit (though don’t count on modern video interpretations to give you the original story).  Have you heard of simple-minded Jemima Puddle-Duck?  Of cunning and conniving Mr. Tod?  Rude Squirrel Nutkin?  Tom Kitten?  Timmy Tiptoes?  The stories and their characters are a lot of fun, and Beatrix Potter’s illustrations are lovely.

Arkansas Autumn by Tim Ernst  This fall I gathered a grand collection of seasonal books from our local library, including this gem. Tim Ernst is an avid hiker and the foremost nature photographer in Arkansas.  We enjoyed gawking at all of his beautiful fall pictures, reading about where and how they were taken, and guessing at the types of leaves featured close-up throughout the book (answers were in the back of the book).
As an added bonus, we got to meet Mr. Ernst at a presentation he gave this fall.

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If you love nature photography in general, and if you love outdoor adventures in Arkansas in particular, you ought to check out the many photography collections and guidebooks Tim Ernst has published.  Our family loves them.

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson  Christmastime calls for its own kind of reading.  I’m pretty sure I watched the movie based on this book as a kid, but this was, to my knowledge, the first time I’d read it for myself (and out loud to the boys).  I bawled my eyes out through the entire last chapter.  This is a beautiful story of the hardest of childhood hearts being softened by an honest encounter with Jesus.  We’ll be adding it to our read-every-Christmas list for sure.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens  Here’s another classic Christmas book that will stay in the rotation for many years to come. I’m sorry to say that I had never read Dickens’ ghostly Christmas tale before this year, either!  I didn’t care much for Dickens when I was in school, but I came to appreciate his humor and style in A Christmas Carol and hope to give his other works another try.  I think I’ll be able to “get” them now.

It is a fair, even-handed, noble adjustment of things, that while there is infection in disease and sorrow, there is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humour.

We also watched the Muppet Christmas Carol to, you know, make sure we had a well-rounded experience with Mr. Scrouge.  😉

Hallelujah: A Journey Through Advent with Handel’s Messiah edited by Cindy Rollins  I snatched up this Advent guide with birthday money I received in November. Our family doesn’t have many long-established Christmas traditions of our own, and our kids are old enough now that it seemed like a good time to explore some different options.  I never grew up celebrating Advent, so Hallelujah provided both a focused tradition (listening to and meditating on Handel’s Messiah and the scriptures it was based upon) and some background information on the season from several different perspectives.  Our family does not feel compelled to follow any church calendar and we do not attend a liturgical church, but still we found great value and encouragement in these pages for making more of the Christmas season than we have in the past.
While we unfortunately were unable to keep up with the devotions toward the end of the season due to a bout with the flu, we have this resource and some experience now in making much of Christ in our anticipation of His coming, and I think these will serve us well in years to come.

A Tree in the Trail by Holling C. Holling This was me trying to keep up with at least a small amount of my eight-year-old’s reading.  We have read Holling’s Paddle to the Sea several times over as an enjoyable way to learn about the Great Lakes.  A Tree in the Trail traces the history and ways of life on the Santa Fe Trail by following the life, death, and repurposing of one special tree.  Native American mysticism is present in the story, but it’s a good opportunity to discuss what other people believe.  I enjoyed having a window into a part of the country and a time in US history with which I am less familiar.

There are many other books that I read this past year, but these are the ones I actually finished… Sometimes I think I start more books than is good for me.  At any rate, I’ve got a good start for 2018.

What did you read in 2017?  What are you reading now?  I’d love to hear about it!