Category: book reviews

Reading: January 2018

(a picture of my living room side table where I read every morning)


A new year and a new year of books. I entered January a little bit stressed about the reading plan ahead of me, but I’m feeling pretty good. There are times when my brain can’t seem to remember where I read something – the hazards of too many books going at a time I suppose. January was a great month and so far I’m excited about all the books ahead of me. Here’s where I’m at with them all.


Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks
I have been on the waiting list at the library for this book for at least 4 months. It’s a compilation of short stories and I’m about half way through it. I’ve never been a short story reader, but this is my second book of short stories that I’ve read in the past couple of months. I’ve found them to be a great thing to read right before bed. Just enough to calm me down before sleep, but over quick so I’m not tempted to stay up reading beyond. I’ve skipped a couple in this book so far that I wasn’t really getting into and there are a few so far I’ve really enjoyed. You can totally read this and hear Tom Hanks speaking in your ear.

12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You
This is for our mom’s book club with our co-op this quarter. I haven’t loved this one as much as The Shallows, but it has been good and refreshing to have a more biblical perspective and reminder of what our phones and all this constant access to technology is doing to us not just mentally, but also spiritually. I’m sure it’s going to make a great book club discussion.

The Princess and the Goblin by G. McDonald
Seriously love this book. I can’t believe it’s taken me so many years to finally read it. It’s so, so good.

A Touch of the Infinite: Studies in Music Appreciation with Charlotte Mason by. M.E.Hoyt
This has been amazingly helpful as I figure out how to incorporate music/composer studies into our Morning Times together. I’ve been a super failure when it comes to how to do this well and make it worth anything.

A Wind in the Door by L’Engle
This is the second in the Wrinkle in Time quintet and the chick and I have been reading it aloud at night. It’s beyond bizarre.

Seaman: The Dog Who Explored the West with Lewis and Clark
Still a great read – we are enjoying this as our biography for this term.


Pride and Prejudice by Austen
I hadn’t read this for a million years and it was our February selection for my other book club. Goodness it’s so good. Emma is my all time favorite, but I totally saw similarities between Elizabeth and Emma that made me smile. While Mr. Darcy is totally awesome, Mr. Knightly is still by guy.

Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life by T. Warren
If there was one book I could already highly recommend this year, it would be this one. I think it will almost end up being a yearly re-read, sort of like Humble Roots. It was beyond great and such a super book. I’m almost leaning towards doing a summer book discussion of it this year because I want to discuss it other so much.

Beauty and the Word by S. Caldecott
I’m glad I persevered through this book, there was a lot to glean from it, but there was also a lot that was over my head. It’s probably one that I honestly need to go back and do it’s own post for in order to really process through the things I jotted down as I was reading. This book made me feel smart and dumb all at the same time 🙂

Murder on the Orient Express by Christie
This was for my January book club and a reread for me; although I had totally forgotten the ending so it was a surprise again who did it.

What’s Next

My next book club read is Alias Grace by M. Atwood (which I just realized is a show, so I’m excited to start watching that after I’m done reading) and I’m getting ready to start that one. I’m also going to start Orthodoxy by Chesterton in the morning. I recently purchased Steven King’s book on writing and I was hoping to start that soon, but it might have to wait till this summer when my school pre-reading slows down a bit.

Reading: December 2017

I did this a little bit backwards – introducing my new book list for 2018, before compiling my last post of 2017. I honestly didn’t finish that many books this past month and I was just to excited to plan for the next year! Here’s a brief look at December and a quick highlight of my favorite books of 2017.


A Touch of the Infinite: Studies in Music Appreciation with Charlotte Mason – I’m honestly sort of pre-reading this to see if I want to buy it. It’s on loan from a friend and so far I’m thinking it would be a super helpful addition to my growing library.

A Wind in the Door – my daughter and I started this last night. It’s the second in the quartet of L’Engle’s time books. I’m quickly becoming a huge fan of her writing and I’m excited to read this one and hopefully work through the whole set this year.

Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life – This was a Christmas gift and one that had been on my list for a while. I’m attempting to read it super slowly and really sit with each chapter and journal through it. It’s so good though that I want to just keep reading.

Seaman: The Dog Who Explored the West with Lewis & Clark – this is one I’m reading along with my daughter this term

The Princess & the Goblin – another book I’m reading along with my daughter for school this term. It’s been on my to-read list for years, so I’m excited to finally be working through it.

The Mill and the Floss – this is a carry over from last year’s list and it’s a doozy so hopefully I can mange to get through it on top of all the other reading I need to do.

Pride & Prejudice – this is February’s book club book so I need to get started on it. It will be a re-read for me, but it’s been a million years since I read it


Ready, Player One – this one had been on my to-read list forever and since the movie is coming out, my son is interested in reading and seeing it. I liked it and enjoyed all the 80s references. I’m not a huge gamer, nor have I ever, so I wasn’t totally into all the video game stuff. It was a little bit scary to read after reading The Shallows and what the internet is doing to us for sure. I was frustrated by all the sexual parts they threw in there, because it really almost felt like the author was just trying to be edgy – even with the language too. I’m mostly fine with language in a book if it fits with the character and I just didn’t feel like it fit with the main character all that much. Overall it was pretty good.

The Moth Presents All These Wonders: True Stories about Facing the Unknown – I’m not one to read short stories, but I do appreciate The Moth Podcast so this was interesting. I’m not sure there are any of the stories that were life changing or I’ll remember. But it was a good before bed read.

An Echo of Murder by Anne Perry – I’m a longtime fan of Anne Perry and the last book of hers I read I really didn’t like. This one was much improved. Still not as good as she was years ago, but I guess when you’ve written like a million mystery books at some point you become pretty predictable.

Favorites of 2017

For Non-Fiction: I really loved The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains just for all the things it prompted me to consider in my life as I use the internet and as I live with a family of people who love it too. I also really enjoyed The Seamstress by Sarah Bernstein. It was a hard story to read, as it is a World War II story of concentration camps, but it was a portion of that history that was new to me.

For Fiction: I really enjoyed Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers for all the things I learned about Van Gogh and just how crazy he was. I also enjoyed
The Ocean at the End of the Lane as my first forray into Neil Gaiman. I’m excited to try and read more of his work this year if I can. I also really loved Swallows and Amazons – it reminded me a lot of all the running around my neighborhood I did as a child and really wished my kids had the same memories, but the world has just changed so much.

Reading: 2018 Book List

Last year I made an attempt to make a master to-read list and challenged myself to write every month about the books I was working through. I am super excited that I think I hit every month! My master list from last year is here and you can find all the posts for the year here. I’m also active on Goodreads so you can follow me there and see exactly what I’m reading.

Believe it or not, it’s the first day of 2018, so it’s time for a new list and this year I have a feeling is going to be a bigger challenge. I’m actually involved in a couple of book clubs, I’ve got gobs of pre-reading to keep up with for homeschooling and tons of personal reading I want to do too. Somehow I am going to have to figure out how to make more hours in the day appear. You might notice that some of these will be a carry over from 2017 and the books I’m reading for book clubs are marked with a *. Here’s my list for 2018.


The Mill on the Floss
This Must Be the Place
Half a Yellow Sun
America’s First Daughter
Station Eleven*
Lilac Girls
Jaybar Crow
Our Souls at Night
Pride and Prejudice*
Alias Grace*
The Book of Three*
David Copperfield*
The Good Earth*
God’s Smuggler*
Brave New World*
The Man Who Invented Christmas*

Non Fiction

In the Heart of the Sea*
The Hiding Place*
The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings: J.R.R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams by Zaleski
First Women: The Grace and Power of America’s Modern First Ladies by KA Brower
12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You*
Paradox of Choice
Great Possessions
Out of the Ashes by Esolen
Reading People by A. Bogel
The Story of Happy Marriage

Personal Growth

On the Shoulders of Hobbits
You Learn by Living by E. Roosevelt
Tending the Heart of Virtue
The Writing Life by A. Dillard
Beate Not the Poore Desk
Different: The Story of an Outside-the-Box Kid and the Mom Who Loved Him
Home Education by C. Mason

Spiritual Growth

The Great Divorce*
Attentive Life by L. Ford
In the Name of Jesus and/or Love Henri, Letters on the Spiritual Life by H. Nouwen
Again by L. Tankersley
Orthodoxy by Chesterton
Liturgy of the Ordinary
The Lifegiving Table: Nurturing Faith through Feasting, One Meal at a Time

Reading: Some Notes on The Shallows

I recently finished reading the book The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains and drove my family crazy with quotes while I was reading it. This book is truly about what is happening physically to our brains while we live in a world that is more and more consumed with technology. I’m still not totally sure what to do with all the information that I read, but I thought starting here (typing on technology…ha!) might help.

1) “Technology” isn’t just screens and computers – society as a whole has been changing since the “technology” of even binding books was developed.
Carr starts out his book going through the history of the development of storytelling to scrolls to bookbinding. How even just moving from an oral tradition changed society and how we related to one another. For years, it was only a select few people who had access and ability to read scrolls and even the first books were a challenge. Then comes the printing press and things really begin to change.

If the experience of modern society shows us anything, it is that technolgoies aren’t merely aids to human activity, but also powerful forces acting to reshape that activity and it’s meaning. (Langdon Winner)

Carr breaks down technologies into four different categories; those that:
a. extend physical strength, dexterity, resilience (plow, needle, jet)
b. extend range/sensitivity of our senses (microscope, amplifier)
c. enables us to reshape nature to better serve us (birth control, GMO food, dams)
d. extend our mental powers (clock, typewriter, abacus)


I think the one thing I was reminded up continually is that I cannot just pigeon hole “technology” into one bad definition. These things from this list aren’t all bad and they aren’t all debilitating to our learning and thinking. In many ways, the afford us time to spend focusing on our own development.


2) Oddly enough, books were considered “bad” when they first came out.
Carr talks much about Socrates (whom I only read briefly in college and don’t pretend to fully understand) who seriously did not agree with reading books and writing things down. He really felt like moving from an oral tradition was detrimental to our brains. But others argued against that and I think I can agree that there’s no way that will ever be true.

Reading a book was a meditative act, but it didn’t involve a clearing of the mind. It involved a filling or replenishing of the mind. Readers disengaged their attention from the outward flow of passing stimuli in order to engage it more deeply with an inward flow of words, ideas and emotions.


Books supplement our memory – they don’t replace it. Carr brings up the idea of a Commonplace Book that was very popular before the turn of the century (and industrialization ruined us all). Erasums, Bacon and Rummel all told about how keeping this book that was a centerpiece of thoughts, quotes, poems and other things they were reading and learning about supplemented and encouraged greater depth of learning. I’ve fallen in love with the idea of a commonplace and I’ve got handfuls of notebooks started and scattered around the house filled with quotes and thoughts about the things I’m reading.

A person should digest or internalize what he learns and reflect rather than slavishly reproduce the desirable qualities of the model author. (E. Rummel)


I think this quote could go so many different ways when we think about the depth of our own learning and how the US educates right now. None of us are digesting anything.

3) So much noise is leading us to an inability to focus.

The contemplative mind is overwhelmed by the noisy world’s mechanical busyness.

Carr tells the story of Nathaniel Hawthorne who went into the countryside to reflect, walk and take in what was around him. As he sits he hears the clock tower striking, the movement of the mowers using their scythes and then while he is sitting in his reverie all of the sudden he hears the shrill whistle of the train approaching and then the power of the engine roaring by. I wonder what he would think of our world now? The ability to even find a spot where you couldn’t hear the mechanization of the world is virtually impossible. And this constant influx of noise (and information) sets our brains into this true inability to focus.

The more distracted we become, the less able we are to experience the subtlest, most distinctively human forms of empathy, compassion and other emotions.


4) Information overload (enough said).

Today more information is available to us than ever before, but there is less time to make use of it with any depth of reflection. Tomorrow the situation will be worse still.


5) Our ability to think and remember is shrinking.

If there is anything that worries me most and hits closest to home it’s what the internet has done to our memories. I can feel that personally. The more time I spend mindlessly gazing at the net or even just trying to remember something I read online or in actual print (or merely trying to focus on something I’m reading) the less I can remember and internalize. Carr goes into much detail about how our reading life is changing because of the net. We don’t read deeply anymore – all we do is skim, jump on hyperlinks and flit around from one spot to another. We breeze by headlines and then later struggle to have conversations or discussions with people because we can’t even fully understand what we’ve even read. Our ability to truly process through any information has diminished and that frightens me so much. As I watch myself and our culture try to argue and process through big ideas, but we only have surface level information, I worry what is this world going to be like in 50 years?

Every medium develops some cognitive skills at the expense of others. The use of the net has increased our visual-spatial skills, but our new strengths in visual-spatial intelligence go hand in hand with a weakening of our capacities for the kind of ‘deep processing’ that underpins mindful knowledge acquisition, inductive analysis, critical thinking, imagination and reflection.

When we outsource our memory to a machine, we also outsource a very important part of our intellect and even our identity.

Our memories as they are stored – retrieved – stored are reshaped and rewired in our brains. The brain that stored that memory is not the same brain that retrieves it later. The memory has to be updated to make sense. The memory in computers can be moved from one database to another and it always remains exactly the same.

Biological memory is alive. Computer memory is not.

The normal brain never reaches a point where it is full. The very act of remembering appears to modify the brain in a way that can make it easier to learn ideas and skills in the future (S. Crowell)


When we outsource all of our learning (be that academically or personally) we aren’t doing ourselves or our world any favors. The computer is not helping us in this way become smarter people. Having access to a wealth of information at our fingertips doesn’t make us smarter if we don’t actually ingest any of it. If all we are doing is just skimming over and then moving on, the computer will always be smarter than us.

I had thought the magic of the information ages was that it allowed us to know more, but then I realized the magic of the information age is that it allows us to know less. It provides us with external cognitive servants…we can burden these servants and liberate ourselves (D. Brooks)


6) The computer is becoming our brain.

Everything that human beings are doing to make it easier to operate computer networks is…making it easier for computer networks to operate human beings (G. Dyson)

When we outsource our memory to a machine, we also outsource a very important part of our intellect and even our identity.

As we externalize problem solving and other cognitive chores to computers, we reduce our brains ability to build stable knowledge structures that later can be applied to new situations. ‘The brighter the software, the dimmer the user.’


One thing about this book that really hit me about half way through was that it was published in 2010. In less than a decade since then, the world of technology has revamped our lives extravagantly. Just looking at all the devices that you can just sit in your house and talk to, and they answer you, freaks me out. I struggle with my wanting to just “google” something or even realizing that as a type a word into the search engine bar it pretty much already knows what I’m going to type.

This month of December I decided to take Instagram off my phone and I’m trying to just leave my phone somewhere and not constantly have it on me; just in case. I’ve realized by doing this how much time I waste looking at things and how much that shrinks my ability to focus. And the “fix” I want to have by just relaxing by mindlessly staring at pointless things. The distraction of constantly wanting to check email drives me mad (which even typing the word email made me check it!). I’ve also thought a lot about the articles I read online and how much I’m just skimming through them – and how that skimming carries over into the actual books I’m trying to read. I can truly tell you that my ability to “read deeply” has completely been altered by my reading habits online. I really don’t know at this point what other changes I hope and want to make personally (and also with our family), but it has greatly encouraged me to severely limit my time online.

…as we grow more accustomed to and dependent on our computers we will be tempted to entrust to them ‘tasks that demand wisdom’ (Weizenbaum)

November 2017: Reading List

I can’t even begin to wrap my head around the fact that it is the last month of 2017. This year has been probably the fastest year I’ve ever experienced. I don’t think I’ve really caught my breath all year and now it’s time to start thinking about a new one! I will say that of anything I’ve accomplished, staying on top of my reading list has been my proudest. I entered this year with the goal of keeping track of the books I’ve read and trying to start writing some reviews has been so awesome. I’m hoping to continue this next year and the years to come. So here goes the list for November.


Seaman: The Dog Who Explored the West with Lewis and Clark by G.L. Karwoski
This one I am pre-reading for my chick. I don’t know a lot about Lewis and Clark, other than the fact that my dad is obsessed with them and I have been to their last spot out in Oregon. I thought that this book would be more like the dog “talking” about the explorers, but really it’s a biography of their dog Seaman. He’s the focus, but there is plenty of other action going on that tells the story of their journey. So far, so good.

The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by N. Carr
This book is beyond fascinating to me. It really is the story of what is happening to our brains because of our time on screens. It starts out with a history lesson really going all the way back to how just the mere fact of moving from an oral tradition, to scrolls, to a codex (otherwise known as a bound book), to a society that had access to printed material because of the printing press and all the way up till now. All of these changes in “technological” advances changed how our society related with each other and with knowledge. Then enters the computer and the smartphone and google. I’m about 3 chapters from the end and I almost want to read it again because I’m sure there’s a million things I’ve missed. This book has definitely explained how I know I’ve changed in my ability to focus on things and while it doesn’t make me want to throw my computer or phone away, it definitely encourages me to take way more time to step away and pursue knowledge and learning in other ways too.

Johnny Tremain by E. Forbes
The chick and I are reading this at night and it’s eh. I swear it’s the book on every American History reading list and always with rave reviews. It’s been a good story, but her writing style is not my favorite. I can’t put my finger on it, but there’s something about it that I’m not loving. It could just be that this is not a great read aloud. We are just about done with it, but so far the chick has really enjoyed it.

Beauty in the Word by S. Caldecott
Still reading this one and I’ve sort of stepped away for a few weeks, so I need to pick it up again.

Home Education by C. Mason
I’m putting this one on my list, but I honestly haven’t picked it up much in the last months. I feel like my head just can’t focus on it right now.


Ross Poldark (Poldark #1) by. W. Graham (AUDIO)
This is the first adult audio fiction book I’ve ever listened to all the way through. I’ve watched the first 2 seasons of the PBS show and love, love them. A friend recommended the audio books to me and this one was awesome. The show follows the books so well, with just enough additional stuff to make it absolutely perfect. It’s truly the best story and honestly I think I love it more that Downton Abbey (the t.v. show at least). The story is filled with such awesome characters and the development of them is perfectly done. You’ve got the ones you love and the ones you hate and all the things that happen between them is filled with just enough drama to make the whole story so perfect you never want it to end. Which thankfully, there are like a million books in this series so it’s going to take me forever to get through them. I’m in line for book 2 on Libby Audio so I can’t wait to start it.

An Echo of Murder by A. Perry
I’ve been reading Anne Perry since I was in my 20s and I’m always eager to read one of her mysteries. This is book #23 in her series about William Monk, which is probably my favorite of her series, but I really feel like her writing is getting tired. This one had so many weird plot changes and gaps that was sort of frustrating. The development of the story was sort of haphazard in some ways and there were a handful of things that just didn’t connect very well. She’s developed the characters of Monk and his wife Hester so well that it’s a joy to read about them, but all the extraneous things that happen around them just didn’t connect. Then the ending was super quick and strange. Totally not a believable thing, because of the lack of development. I think that if she had taken that part and just moved it back a few chapters and developed it more, this book would have been rescued from a so-so read.

Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers by D. Hellingman
This is actually a young adult book, but it was so good. It’s based off the letters that the brothers wrote to each other and much of the book was written in quotes” from these letters. This book was absolutely fascinating. I loved it and honestly I learned so much that I had no idea. Did you know that Paul Gauguin is sort of historically who is “accused” of cutting off Vincent’s ear? Not himself? And Vincent was absolutely bonkers. I’m not 100% sure how much of this was liberty and how much was truth, but the story overall was excellent.

The Awakening of Mrs. Prim by N. S. Fenollera
This book was honestly just weird. I liked it and couldn’t put it down, but it was almost like I was mesmerized by the whole thing. It was a little bit slow and had some parts that were just a little off.

What’s Next?

I’m not sure what I’m reading next. I’m hoping to take the break from school to catch up on some of these I haven’t read. I need to figure out what fiction (aka: before bed book) I want to start next. I also have a stack of pre-reading I need to start on for next semester for both kids.