Thursday, December 31, 2020

2020 Book List - Part Deux!

 Reading seemed to take on one of two roles in people's lives this year. 


#1. They couldn't concentrate and, therefore, couldn't finish a single book.


#2. It was the source of all life and peace and, therefore, they read every moment of the day.

I fell quite firmly into the second group!

My normal reading goal is 24 books a calendar year. At 2 books a month, that generally requires a bit of extra focus and planning to accomplish.

My 2019 Book List is HERE.

In 2020, it was music, reading and gardening that helped me survive the pandemonium of the pandemic. By July, I had already accomplished my goal of 24 books. When I knew I'd crash my goal, I created a Mid-Year Book List.

You can find my 2020 Mid-Year Book List HERE.

In the end, instead of my normal 24, I read 42 books!!!

So with no further adieu, here's the continuation of my 2020 reading adventure!

The Diary of Anne Frank

By Anne Frank

I have no idea why I didn't read this when I was younger, but I'm so glad I finally took the time to dig into it. I read a lot of WWII historical fiction, so reading Anne's words, written in real time, were horrifying and haunting. It was especially poignant to read it during a time of lockdown, when our current whole world is under siege. Very different circumstances, of course, but still some fascinating parallels. What a loss that we don't have a whole lifetime of Anne's writings. She was so gifted.

The Magna Book of Roses

By Mary Lawrence

I needed a tiny book to help reach my goal for the month, so I picked up this pretty tome. A mix of history, poetry, and general love of all things roses. 

Writing Down The Bones

By Natalie Goldberg

A classic and must read for all writers! I created a self-organized writing retreat for myself this summer, and reading this book was part of my daily routine. Short, practical chapters filled with advice and inspiration. If you're a writer, you need to read this book!

Clap When You Land

By Elizabeth Acevedo

A novel written in verse - how could that not be intriguing? After a plane crash, the worlds of two young women both fall apart and are mysteriously drawn together. Marketed as "young adult", but I really enjoyed both the story and the writing. I'm not into audiobooks, but apparently, this one is tremendously read by the author herself.

The Pull of the Stars

By Emma Donoghue

The Pull of the Stars tells the story of three days in a maternity ward during the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic. This is a perfect example of art-imitating-life-imitating-art. Donoghue (known for her amazing novel "Room") wrote this story long before any of us had heard of Covid-19. Props to the publishers for getting it out during this season. Very medical (be warned, oh ye of wobbly stomachs!) but incredibly written, heartbreaking, and poignant. 

What Alice Forgot

By Liane Moriarty

One of my favourite books this year! When Alice takes a tumble in spin class, she wakes up thinking she's 29 and happily engaged. The truth is: she has amnesia, she's 39, and life is very different in the "future." Story, characters, writing - I loved everything about this book! Couldn't put it down, but couldn't stop thinking about it either. My first Moriarty book. Won't be my last!

The Boy From The Woods

By  Harlan Coben

I don't think of myself as a thriller fan, though I loved The River earlier this year! The Boy From The Woods was fast-paced with great characters and a hooky storyline. It become my "just one more chapter" book, leading to several very late nights!


By Anjuli Paschall

I went through several months this year when I just couldn't concentrate on non-fiction. Stay lovingly welcomed me back to the genre. You can read my review HERE.

The Forgotten Home Child

By Genevieve Graham

Here's the power of great historical fiction: We learn about chapters of history not taught in schools, not glorified in parades, not written about by the "winners." From the mid 1800's to the mid 1900's, over 100,000 children were sent from United Kingdom to Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and South Africa. These children were orphaned, abandoned, or their families were too poor to care for them. The intentions were generally good, but the results often weren't. Many children were abused or bound in indentured servitude. The children who came to Canada literally helped build and farm our country, but I didn't learn about this in school, and I'm assuming you didn't either. Highly recommend as a great novel, but also as a critical piece of our nation's history.

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill

By Abbi Waxman

Earlier this year, I read and raved about The Garden of Small Beginnings, also by Abbi Waxman. Inspired by my ravings, my friend recommended the popular The Bookish Life of Nina Hill. I can't quite put my finger on it, but I loved Small Beginnings more. There's a lot to love about Nina Hill - fun characters, great writing, and lots of book love. But ultimately, I found the love story too obvious and, because I could tell how it would end, I couldn't invest in it.

Set The Stars Alight

By Amanda Dykes

One of my favourite books of the year!! You can read my review HERE.

The Blue Castle

By Lucy Maud Montgomery

I bought my first copy of The Blue Castle many, many years ago, probably on my first visit to Green Gables. I distinctly remember having it at our cabin in Ocean Pond, NL, and reading it on my top bunk. It's been long enough that, when I started reading it, I couldn't remember any of the story, which was a lovely way to rediscover it. Wonderful story, fabulous characters, and a great read for a fall afternoon.

Home Made Lovely

By Shannon Acheson

A decadent and well written decorating book! You can read my review HERE.

The Skin We're In

By Desmond Cole

A year of racism in Toronto, through the eyes of an activist and journalist. As Canadians, we like to view our country as not racist, as least, "we're not like America." Cole sets out to challenge that notion with true stories, engaging storytelling, and well researched facts. Each chapter is mini-essay, exploring different aspects of life for Canadians who are black, POC, Indigenous, or somehow marginalized because of race. I found myself feeling heartbroken, infuriated, provoked, inspired, and at times, completely uneasy. An important read and conversation for all Canadians.

Love Poems

By John Donne

I needed some more poetry on my list, so I ventured down to our local second hand bookstore. "Where's your poetry section?" "Go down the hall, past all the rooms, turn the corner, past all the other rooms, finally go in the back room, and then go into the back corner. You'll find the poetry there." I'm guessing poetry isn't the hot ticket item I thought it was! In that back section, I found piles of cheap, vintage poetry collections, including this beautiful book of John Donne love poems. Dreamy and decadent.

Nonsense Poems

By Lewis Carroll

My poetry hunt also uncovered this fun collection of nonsense poems by Lewis Carroll. Silly and imaginative, and most fun when read aloud!

The Nightingale

By Kristin Hannah

Another one of my favourites for 2020! A WWII historical fiction, set in Paris and rural France. Telling the story of two very different sisters who are challenged in every way by the Nazi occupation. Our characters are fictional, but inspired by real women of this era. Don't want to give any spoilers, but wow what a story, and so beautifully written!


By Christina Rossetti

Christina Rossetti wrote my all-time favourite Christmas carol: In The Bleak Midwinter. It was wonderful to discover this collection of selected verses and get a broader sense of her writing abilities. Her poems are spiritual, whimsical, lyrical, and romantic. Loved this little collection!

A Christmas Memory

By Truman Capote

A collection of three holiday stories by the great Truman Capote! A perfect Christmas read, filled with memory, nostalgia, and longing. Sentimental, but never sugar-coated. 

Something Worth Doing

By Jane Kirkpatrick

Historical novelization of an early American suffragist. You can read my review HERE.

Winter Solstice

By Rosamunde Pilcher

As I write this post, I'm almost finished this one! I plan to finish it by midnight on New Year's Eve. So if you've read it already, no spoilers please! It has a gentle pace that's been just perfect for the final days of a crazy year. Perfect when paired with a "restorative cup of tea." 

What a year of reading!

What did you read and love this year?

Please share in the comments below or on our Facebook page...

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Book Review: Something Worth Doing, by Jane Kirkpatrick

 My final book review of 2020!

I'm actually just finishing my final read of the year, so stay tuned:
in the next day or two I'll share my full 2020 Reading List. It's been a great year of reading!

I was excited when I saw Something Worth Doing on my list of potential review books. Jane Kirkpatrick has novelized the life of Abigail Scott Duniway - an early American suffragist. 

I love reading about life in the 1800's, especially when it explores women who either fought within or pushed against their very rigid roles. Something Worth Doing explores life in the western United States - a world of pioneers, family farms, and growing towns and cities. For those of us who read a lot of Victorian literature, this was a very different take on this era, and a fascinating world to explore.

Kirkpatrick has thoroughly researched her subject matter, both in terms of character, politics, and setting. Even though written in a novel form, there were times the book took on the feeling of an extraordinarily detailed essay, and that's where my concerns with the book developed. 

There are tremendous details about Abigail's family members - all her siblings, nieces, and nephews - and swaths of information about the family's home life. I would have liked some of those details sacrificed so we could learn more about Abigail's work and passion for the suffragette movement. Don't get me wrong - these things are explained, but I felt I came away knowing more about Abigail's domestic life than her fight for women's rights.

And then, we actually come to the real problem: Abigail herself. As portrayed in this book, Abigail is a pretty unlikable character. Given Kirkpatrick's extensive research, I have to believe her portrayal is accurate. I have no problem with an unlikable heroine, but at some point, a skilled storyteller always gives us a reason to empathize with such a heroine, such as through a broken past or a moment of redemption. We have no such moment with Abigail. 

She's heartless to her saint of a husband, abandons her dying daughter, and - even with lots of personal tragedy - is completely unsympathetic. I thought it might just be me, but a quick scan of reviews told me I wasn't the only one having this reaction.

I understand if Kirkpatrick wants to be historically accurate in her portrayal, but it does make it a much harder book to finish and enjoy.

So, I never like giving a middling review, but I can't give all my love to this one. 

If you're looking for a well researched book on an influential early American suffragist, with great details on domestic life of the era, Something Worth Doing is a great book to read.

If you're looking for a heroine to inspire you, a detailed look at the suffragist movement, and a real exploration of what it takes to choose passion over expectation, I would recommend looking elsewhere.  

Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

Tuesday, December 01, 2020

Book Review: Home Made Lovely, by Shannon Acheson

I love reviewing books, but as a Christian book reviewer (reviewer of Christian books?? Both apply....) I never thought I'd get this rare treat:

I'm reviewing a decorating book!

I loooove decorating! It's a passionate hobby of mine. I love creating beautiful, welcoming spaces that change with the season. So when I had the opportunity to review Home Made Lovely, I jumped at the chance.

Home Made Lovely approaches the art of home decor from three main angles:

#1. Let's make things beautiful and affordable.

#2. Let's create spaces that reflect you, your family, and how you want everyone to feel.

#3. Decorating is a spiritual art that can be both an expression and reflection of your faith.

Not just a picture book (although the pictures are lovely!), this is a decorating book that is meant to be read. Ideally, in a comfortable chair with a delicious hot beverage (very hygge!)

Shannon's writing is warm and effortless. I've never met her, but I imagine that meeting her in person might have the same energy. Her text is well researched and applicable, yet shared in a way that's invitational and encouraging. Even the experienced amateur will find lots of new ideas and practical tools within these pages. 

Chapter 3 - "As for Me and My House" - will be the deciding factor for many readers. Shannon makes no bones about her Christianity throughout the book, but this is the section where she really lays out faith as a basis for creating a beautiful and comfortable home. This isn't a chapter you'll find in many decorating books. Gerald and I held a house blessing when we moved here to St. Catharines, so I'm no stranger to the idea of weaving faith into your home. But for many this may be a new, or even unusual, approach to home decor. Some people may wonder if this should even be in a decorating book? Shannon handles that question beautifully in her intro to the chapter, where she gently explains her approach, without creating pressure to accept her point of view. If this idea speaks to you, you'll love the ideas and lists included in this chapter. If not, read on, because there's still a tonne you can get from this book!

I can't say enough about how much I loved reading devouring Home Made Lovely!

I've spent every day since April digging in my garden, so with the weather turning colder, this book came at just the right time. With each chapter, I had fresh visions of painting my bedroom, organizing my bathroom cupboard, and taking on a few special projects in our main living spaces. 

After turning the final page, I immediately visited Shannon's gorgeous website - HOME MADE LOVELY - and signed up for her newsletter. If you want a sneak peek of the book, you can even get a free chapter on her site.

If you're looking for some home inspiration this season, I recommend you brew something hot, grab a cozy blanket, and open your copy of Home Made Lovely! 

And Shannon, when this world becomes a safer place, you have a standing invitation to come visit my colourful, collected, personal Home Made Lovely. 

I'm serious! Come for a mug up! The kettle's always on :)

Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.