Author Archives: Amy

March 2015 Nightstand

What's On Your NightstandYes, we still have a full week left in March, but today is What’s on Your Nightstand Tuesday at 5 Minutes for Books. (Am I the only one who would find it both more enjoyable and easier to remember if this happened on the last Tuesday of each month instead of the fourth?!?  Hint, hint. :-) )

Here’s what I’ve read and reviewed since last month’s Nightstand:

March’s headlines at the House of Hope have been these:  “Mama Has Been Very, Very Sick,” followed by “Recuperation Has Taken Longer Than Expected.”  I think I’ll always associate certain books with the Evil Twin Sister of the Flu that struck me down mid-March.  I am thankful for one thing among a few regarding The Sickness, though:  it gave me much-needed downtime, which in turn gave me a chance to get through a long book much more quickly than I ever would’ve been able on our normal schedule.  That book is All the Light We Cannot See, and I loved it.  Really, though, I haven’t read a book I didn’t enjoy this month.  Seeing as we still have a week left in the month (ahem), I’m calling it a great reading month, with The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer and Rufus M. by Eleanor Estes, as well as a few nonfiction titles I’m dabbling in, all still in the works.

Next month will be busy, with all of our weekly activities ending the third week of the month or so.  We’ll see how things go on the reading front.  I certainly don’t wish to be sick again, just to afford me more reading time–let me make that abundantly clear!  :-) Here are a few things I hope to get to:

  • A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken for my Birthday Project .
  • Pick back up with The Prince and the Pauper via audiobook and FINISH IT–Bad weather and sickness have totally derailed my walking out-of-doors (and, truth be told, my cooking indoors, which are the two times I listen to audiobooks).  However, I have a new lease on life this week because it is SPRING BREAK (!!!) and Steady Eddie is off work.  I have set a goal for myself to walk five miles this week, and I plan to spend those miles listening to this book.  :-)
  • Finish Quiet by Susan Cain for the TBR Pile Challenge.
  • Something (or things) for my own Newbery Through the Decades Challenge.  Come back next Wednesday, April 1, to find out what!

Beyond this, I can’t say.  I still like to leave a little wiggle room for whim reading.

As always, come back on Thursday to find out what I’ve been reading aloud!

What’s on Your Nightstand?

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The Middle Moffat by Eleanor Estes

The Middle Moffat by Eleanor Estes is Jane Moffat’s story.  It more or less picks up where The Moffats leaves off, only with the focus, again, being not on the family but on Jane, the middle Moffat.  she is the third child (and hence not the first–that would be Sylvie; and not the first son–that would be Joey; and not the baby–that would be Rufus).  The Moffats have recently moved from New Dollar Street to Ashbellows Place (both in Cranbury, CT), and it is from there that Jane acquires her first best friend and takes on Cranbury’s “oldest occupant” as her personal, if secret, responsibility.  The chapters in this fun book are episodic and thus would make a great read-aloud.  I laughed aloud numerous times while reading this happy gem of story.  My favorite chapter is the one in which all the Moffat children are involved in stage version of “The Three Bears” at their local parish house.  Mama, being an accomplished seamstress, makes all the bear costumes.  All is well until the head part of Jane’s costume turns up missing just before the play starts.  Jane solves her problem very practically, and when the missing head shows up in the middle of the play, the results are hilarious.  My second favorite chapter recounts Jane’s off-the-cuff joining of a local girls’ basketball team.  She ends up scoring quite a few baskets and being the court hotshot without even really knowing how to play the game.  Hilarious.   I love the Moffats so much because in them Eleanor Estes has seemingly effortlessly provided a window into the oft-inscrutable thought processes of children.  Who hasn’t wondered why a kid did what she did in a certain situation?  I  certainly have.  The Moffats provide the insight we adults usually just shake our heads over.

Here’s a little taste of what makes The Middle Moffat so, so good.  This is from the chapter entitled “The Organ Recital” in which the Moffats are given an old parlor organ and Jane holds a recital:

Jane, too, remained silent and motionless.  Perhaps she was dreaming.  But a glance through her lashes out of the corner of her eye convinced her there really were lots and lots of ladies all over the place.  Organ recital!  Music!  Bach!  Words that no longer had any meaning for her raced through her head.  She finally raised her hands to the keyboard.  She began pumping hard and desperately with her feet, hoping it would be like Julius Sampson at Woolsey Hall when the first powerful notes shook the audience.  However, she was not really one bit surprised when she recognized the first few notes as those of “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee.”  Each note was accented by a breathless wheeze from the tired pedal.

The first few notes, though, were all anyone was destined to hear.  For, as Janey pumped down on the pedals with might and main, they gave one loud gasp, and then with a plaintive, whishing noise, like air going out of a rubber balloon, they slumped to the floor exhausted, defeated by a week of Rufus’s rapid one-foot pedaling, and by Janey’s own passionate outbursts.  Anyway, there they were, flat on the ground, and though Janey conscientiously dug at them with her toes to bring them up again, it was useless.  They would not rise again.  To tell the truth, Jane was really relieved.  However, she was too embarrassed to turn around.

“It’s broke,” she murmured.

“Oh, what a pity,” said Miss Buckle.  “We shall. . . ” But what Miss Buckle was going to say, no one ever knew.  All of a sudden from out of the open places over the sunken pedals fluttered a horde of moths.  They had been hatching for some time in the felt linings within the organ, and now they all took flight.  There seemed to be thousands of them.  The ladies screamed.  They covered their ears and held on to their heads, while the moths fluttered blindly about.  The oldest inhabitant just sat and beamed, blowing them out of his whiskers now and then.  Brud Pringle tottered around the room trying to catch them in his sticky hands.  Catherine-the-cat, with a gleam in her eye, leaped from chair to table pursuing the fluttering moths.  Jane didn’t know what to do.  She wished she had a butterfly net.  (38-9).

If that didn’t make you laugh, well, I think your sense of humor needs a tune-up.  :-)

newbery through the decadesI read The Middle Moffat for the Newbery Through the Decades Challenge here at Hope Is the Word.   The Middle Moffat was a 1943 honor book.  This makes the fifth book by Eleanor Estes I’ve read, the fourth I’ve reviewed:

It also made me once again think about this sort of book:  a book about ordinary children, often siblings, and their ordinary adventures.  I think I like these books best of all.  Here’s a list of ones we’ve enjoyed, linked to my reviews when possible.

Can you think of others?

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Undone by Michele Cushatt

I pre-ordered Undone:  A Story of Making Peace with an Unexpected Life by Michele Cushatt after Steady Eddie forwarded me an email from Michael Hyatt entitled “5 Lifelines for Finding Peace in Difficult Times.”  This email enumerates five principles Michele Cushatt elucidates in her memoir, and I thought, “Hmmm.  This sounds like something I’d like to read.”  So, on a whim I clicked over and preordered it for my Kindle.  (I also did it because Steady Eddie was leaving to go out of town on his fortieth birthday and I hadn’t even bought him a present.  I thought at least I could have a new book delivered to his Kindle app on his ipad while he was gone.)  I started reading it while I was laid up in bed with the Evil Twin Sister of the Flu which attacked me last Thursday (and from which I am still recovering), and I made short work of it.  What an engaging and encouraging read!  I was immediately taken in by Michele’s story.  She starts her memoir with “The Phone Call”–that November day when her world was rocked with a cancer diagnosis.  We then travel with her through countless surgeries and procedures and a couple more cancer diagnoses.  She discusses how through it all God has been faithful, how she has seen His hand even in all her fear and anxiety and confusion.  However, when the book grew the most interesting and compelling for me is when she shares parenting struggles.  She and her husband were almost through raising their three boys when God dropped a trio of preschool-aged siblings into their lives, and they became their foster parents.  Parenting these children (and their biological children, of course) has been no picnic, but they have continued to do it with faithfulness by God’s grace.  I was really encouraged by Michele’s story.  The longer I live, the more I realize that no one gets the life he or she necessarily wants.  Everybody’s life is “unexpected” in one way or another.  Michele shares with honesty and candor what happens when you keep showing up for life even when things aren’t what you expected.  This is a message I needed to hear.

Here are a few quotes that resonated with me:

In a moment, cancer rewrote my life as a worst-case scenario.  I hated it.

But rather than savor the day with gratitude, I wanted a stockpile of reassurance about tomorrow.  In my fear of death, I almost missed life.

From the moment of my diagnosis, through the scans, blood tests, and surgeries, I sought to find my rest by building a place with a view.  I wanted to see into the future, to predict the outcome of my life and gain a sense of peace based on what I could see.  Simply, I wielded worry as a means to control.

A house on sand.

But rather than control my circumstances, my circumstances controlled me.  I focused on the view and, in the process, forgot about my foundation.

Thirty-three verses before Jesus’ story of the wise and foolish builders, he said words that held the key to saving me:  “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life?”

Boy, I sure tried.  Fooled by both panic and pain, I convinced myself that worry gave me a measure of control.  From morning until night, I attempted to worry myself into wholeness, as if preparing for the worst would guard me from any unwanted surprises.  I’d had enough of those.

Only it didn’t.  Worry, like cancer, consumes life, eating away at a person from the inside out.  It exaggerates the unknown and clouds the known until the worried person sees only the horror of what might be, rather than the beauty of what already is.

This is SO me.  Really–I could’ve written it.  I pray that I can take Michele’s lessons to heart and remember what she shares in Undone.  (Zondervan, 2015)

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All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

I’ve been laid low over the past 24 hours with some sort of “flu like illness” (Official Diagnosis), which I think was my body’s way of saying I needed to lie in bed for half the day and all night so I could finish this book.  :-)

You know I’ve been bowled over by a book when I resort to borrowing someone else’s summary of it.  This, from the author’s website:

Marie Laure lives with her father in Paris within walking distance of the Museum of Natural History where he works as the master of the locks (there are thousands of locks in the museum). When she is six, she goes blind, and her father builds her a model of their neighborhood, every house, every manhole, so she can memorize it with her fingers and navigate the real streets with her feet and cane. When the Germans occupy Paris, father and daughter flee to Saint-Malo on the Brittany coast, where Marie-Laure’s agoraphobic great uncle lives in a tall, narrow house by the sea wall.

In another world in Germany, an orphan boy, Werner, grows up with his younger sister, Jutta, both enchanted by a crude radio Werner finds. He becomes a master at building and fixing radios, a talent that wins him a place at an elite and brutal military academy and, ultimately, makes him a highly specialized tracker of the Resistance. Werner travels through the heart of Hitler Youth to the far-flung outskirts of Russia, and finally into Saint-Malo, where his path converges with Marie-Laure.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr is a rich, complex story.   It shifts backwards and forwards in time, and the narrative juggles back and forth among a few characters.  I’m always drawn in by World War II stories, but this one has a particular luminosity about it that grabbed me by the heart and didn’t let me go throughout its 500+ pages.  This luminosity comes about through the gorgeous prose and the beautiful characterization.  Threads of love and kindness and hope run through this story set in a nightmarishly bleak setting.  There are very few, if any, wasted words in this story; each description, each conversation is important and should be noticed.  The simple fact that one of the main characters of this story is blind makes the sensory details in it all the more powerful.

Well.  This is a book best experienced, I think.  I’ll just end with a few quotes that showcase what makes this book wonderful:

This from a description of Paris before the invasion:

From a certain angle, the spring seems so calm:  warm, tender, each night redolent and composed.  Adn yet everything radiates tension, as if the city has been built upon the skin of a balloon and someone is inflating it toward the breaking point.  (70)

As an employee of the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, Marie-Laure’s father has been given what might be a decoy diamond from the collection to transport out of Paris so it won’t be absconded by the Nazis.  However, he doesn’t know:   it  could be the real thing.

He scans the field.  Trees, sky, hay.  Darkness falling like velvet.  Already a few pale stars.  Marie-Laure breathes the measured breath of sleep.  Everyone should behave as if he carries the real thing.  The locksmith reties the stone inside the bag and slips it back into his rucksack.  He can feel its tiny weight there, as though he has slipped it inside his own mind:  a knot.  (90).

Marie-Laure and her father finally arrive in Saint Malo after days of chaotic travel across France with its attendant privations:

Eggs crack.  Butter pops in a hot pan.  Her father is telling an abridged story of their flight, train stations, fearful crowds, omitting the stop in Evreaux, but soon all of Marie-Laure’s attention is absorbed by the smells blooming around her:  egg, spinach, melting cheese.

An omelet arrives.  She positions her face over its steam.  “May I please have a fork?”

The old woman laughs:  a laugh Marie-Laure warms to immediately.   In an instant a fork is fitted into her hand.

The eggs taste like clouds.  Like spun gold.  Madame Manec says, “I think she likes it,” and laughs again.

A second omelet soon appears.  Now it is her father who eats quickly.  “How about peaches, dear?” murmurs Madame Manec, and Marie-Laure can hear a can opening, juice slopping into a bowl.  Seconds later, she’s eating wedges of wet sunlight. (121)

The author explains how he came to write the story.  Fascinating.

Highly, Highly Recommended.  (Scribner, 2014)

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The Fringe Hours by Jessica N. Turner

I’m not much of a bandwagon jumper, especially when it comes to books written by bloggers.  Somehow I figure that I’ve probably already read what they have to say if I’ve read their blogs much at all.  However, when Stephanie so graciously offered to let me borrow her Kindle copy of The Fringe Hours by The Mom Creative blogger Jessica N. Turner, I couldn’t say no.  Free, right?  :-) I was really pleasantly surprised at what I found within this little book.   I have been a sometimes-reader of The Mom Creative for the past few years, and honestly I always figured Jessica Turner to be one of those high-energy people who juggle 1,000,438 things at once with aplomb.  This book didn’t change my opinion of that.  However, reading it has given me a little insight into how she does it, as well as a few tips of how I could make the most of my “fringe hours,” too.  Mostly, though, I feel encouraged that all the little things that I enjoy doing but have to make time for are really worthwhile and not frivolous at all.  Her message is one of self-care that resonates with me a lot in this extremely busy season of life.  In fact, I’ve discovered that making time for creativity is vital to my well being, and when all else fails I’ll very purposefully add art into our school plans for the week.  While my “fringe hours” aren’t the same as hers, and honestly, getting into bed at an early enough hour to get up consistently two or two and a half hours before my children (like Jessica does) isn’t even a remote possibility right now, this book helped me realize that I’m already pretty good at this.  I mean, most readers are–we almost never go anywhere without a book, right?  Reading isn’t the only thing I do for enjoyment/refueling, though; it’s just the easiest one to accomplish in the fringes.

I thought it would be worth noting how I’ve spent my fringe hours this week, at least those that I can recall:

  • Every morning I’ve read while I blow dried my hair.  Sometimes I read the Bible; often I read something on my Kindle.  (This is when I’ve read much of The Fringe Hours.)
  • I did a SOAP Bible study on a verse one morning.
  • I read a chapter while waiting on my girls at piano lessons.
  • On Monday when we got home from CBS leaders council, I took about thirty minutes to lie down on my bed after I put Benny down for his nap.  I read a Psalm, read a book review and watched its accompanying video, and even closed my eyes for a few minutes.
  • I’ve read on my iPhone while sitting with my children who need “help” falling asleep at night.
  • I read before I go to sleep most nights.  Most of the time this is an actual book.
  • I have perused Stephanie’s links (and drooled over the art links!) at odd moments while I’m waiting on children to finish lessons or while I’m waiting in the car.

It hasn’t actually been a week conducive to enjoying the fringes; Steady Eddie has traveled this week, and we’ve had sleep issues.  Still, I’ve gotten a lot of enjoyment out of the few things I’ve done.

Many thanks to Stephanie for loaning me this book!  (Ain’t technology grand? :-) )  If you’re looking to find more hours in your day or to make time for what you enjoy, definitely check out this title.

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