Thursday, August 13, 2020

Fumbling Through Fantasy: Half Magic by Edward Eager (1954)

 Mark, Katherine, Jane, and Martha, the children of a single mother, find themselves entrusted with a lot of responsibility when they discover a magic coin that works by halves. Their mother unwittingly has the first adventure with the coin, during which she suddenly finds herself halfway home from visiting her aunt and uncle, but soon the children are making carefully calculated wishes that take them to far-flung points in time and space.

My husband and I listened to the full cast audiobook recording of this book on a car trip years ago, but I believe I slept through some of it and therefore didn’t add it to my Goodreads shelves because I hadn’t read the full story. This time around, I read the book aloud to my three oldest daughters (ages 2, 4, and 6) and enjoyed it much more. My intended audience was really the oldest two girls, and they both loved the idea of the magic coin and its tricky way of granting wishes. Each time we sat down to read, they were curious to know who was going to have a turn with the coin next and how they were going to use it. 

For me, the appeal was largely that, despite the magical elements, the story is grounded in reality. I have a hard time diving right into fantasy worlds, so I always appreciate it when an author begins in the real world and slowly introduces magic. I also thought it was a fun way to encourage my kids to think mathematically, and also a great excuse to introduce them to the legend of King Arthur, which figures heavily into one child’s adventure with the coin.

Half Magic will appeal to readers who like old-fashioned family stories, like Elizabeth Enright’s Melendys series or Eleanor Estes’s Moffats books, as well as to those who enjoy stories where magic enters the real world a la The Enchanted Castle by E. Nesbit. I plan to read aloud the sequel, Magic by the Lake, possibly during the upcoming school year.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Book Review: Family Grandstand by Carol Ryrie Brink (1952)

The Ridgeways, Susan, George, and Dumpling, live with their father, a college professor, and their mother, a mystery writer, in Midwest city, in a house very near to the university campus. A student named Dorothy helps out with the family’s housework, and Tommy Tokarynsi, the university’s star quarterback who is better known locally as Tommy Tucker, mows the family’s lawn. When Tommy’s grades begin to suffer to the point that he might not be allowed to play football anymore, the Ridgeway kids look for ways to solve the problem while also trying to convince their father to allow them to rent out parking spaces on their property during football games and working on figuring whether Dumpling is a child prodigy.

This book has old-fashioned charm similar to books like The Davenports are at Dinner by Alice Dalgliesh and Those Miller Girls! by Alberta Wilson Constant, with similar family dynamics to those depicted in the Anastasia Krupnik series by Lois Lowry. The characters are just quirky enough to feel believable, and the dialogue among the family members is really entertaining. There isn’t much of anything groundbreaking about this book, but anyone who enjoys football or dreams of living near a university will absolutely love it. This may not be as memorable as this author’s Caddie Woodlawn or Baby Island, but it’s a worthwhile read nonetheless. If you enjoy Family Grandstand, also look for the second book about the Ridgeways, Family Sabbatical.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Read-at-Home Mom Report: 2020 Challenges Check-In

Before the pandemic turned the world upside down, I had big plans for completing reading challenges in 2020. Though I have read a lot of books so far this year, I'm not sure that all of my challenges have been getting the attention they deserve. Today we'll find out. Here is how things are going with each challenge in which I am participating: 


A Year of Flannery O'Connor

The goal of this one is to read all of Flannery O'Connor's short stories in a single year. This started out as a project with a real-life friend who is also on Instagram. We decided to open it up to the wider bookstagram community and started out trying to run individual discussion groups. After a while, that felt burdensome so I switched us over to a dedicated account for Flannery O'Connor read-alongs where anyone could discuss the short stories. Unfortunately, my friend hasn't been able to keep up with the reading, and I am terrible at writing discussion questions, and the whole thing has not yet proven to be a huge success. I am typically good at running online groups but I am finding that I'm not really cut out to lead book discussions. 

2020 Classics

This challenge started in May of 2019, and the goal was to read 20 classics by the end of 2020. As of the middle of July, I have reached the goal but I plan to keep counting until the end of the year. The classics I read for the challenge are: Middlemarch by George Eliot, The Red Pony by John Steinbeck, Gunnar's Daughter by Sigrid Undset, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather, The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving, Nutcracker and Mouse King and the Tale of the Nutcracker by E.T.A. Hoffman and Alexander Dumas, The Bridal Wreath by Sigrid Undset, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, The Mistress of Husaby by Sigrid Undset, The Cross by Sigrid Undset, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, Adam Bede by George Eliot, O Pioneers! by Willa Cather, Common Sense by Thomas Paine, Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, The Snow Goose by Paul Gallico, I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith, and Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky 

The Unread Shelf Project

Thanks in part to the pandemic, this has been my favorite challenge of the year so far. With the libraries closed, I read like mad from my unread shelf all during the spring, and now it has become habit for me to constantly have a book that I own on deck to read next. I have read 47 (!!!) of my unread titles so far this year and DNF'd or unhauled a bunch more. I've also read at least one book each month to fit the monthly challenges that go along with the project. 

The Modern Mrs. Darcy Challenge

My enthusiasm for the Modern Mrs. Darcy challenge and the What Should I Read Next podcast have waned a bit in 2020, and so, while I have completed all of the prompts for this challenge, it has largely been by accident. (I am also kind of disappointed in the MMD Summer Reading Guide this year. The lack of nonfiction was a bummer, and I have DNF'd a bunch of the selections.)  

Scholé Sisters 2020 5x5 Challenge

I loved this challenge idea, but it feels awkward doing it when I'm not really part of this community. My five categories I decided to read from were biographies and memoirs, Catholicism, books about books, Concord, Massachusetts and linguistics. Oddly enough, though I have 5 titles sitting in my house that have to do with Concord, this is the only category in which I have not yet read a single book! 

For the biography/memoir category, I've read five titles: My Own Two Feet by Beverly Cleary,  Lincoln: A Photobiography by Russell Freedman, The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule, A Circle of Quiet by Madeleine L'Engle, and A Girl Named Zippy by Haven Kimmel. 

For Catholicism, I've also read five:  Made This Way by Trent Horn and Leila Sales, Into the Deep: An Unlikely Catholic Conversion by Abigail Rine Favale, Giving Thanks and Letting Go by Danielle Bean, No Greater Love by Mother Teresa, and Rome Sweet Home by Scott Hahn and Kimberly Hahn. 

I've only read three books about books so far: For Reading Out Loud by Margaret Mary Kimmel, The Proof of the Pudding by Phyllis Fenner, and Books in Search of Children by Louise Seaman Bechtel. 

And I've read two linguistics books: The Mother Tongue by Bill Bryson and Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell. 


Catholic Reading Challenge: A Year of Short Stories

This reading challenge depends upon a podcast. I have not been into podcasts at all and never even started the challenge. 

Craving for Cozies

I have read 18 of the 25 cozies I plan to read this year. This isn't really a challenge for me to complete; I just like keeping track of them in the Facebook group and seeing what others are reading. 

Cathlit 2020

I added this challenge after my initial challenge post. I am not going to get to all ten of the categories, but I like the way the prompts expand my spiritual reading horizons. So far I've read a memoir by a Catholic (Into the Deep: An Unlikely Catholic Conversion by Abigail Rine Favale), a book by a Catholic novelist (Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset),  a book about a saint (St. Paul The Apostle by Mary Fabyan Windeatt), and a recently published Catholic book (Your Blue Flame by Jennifer Fulwiler). The other categories are: a spiritual classic (I think I'll probably read Revelations of Divine Love by Julian of Norwich), poetry by a Catholic, a book by a doctor of the church (this is the one I feel most certain I will not complete), a book about beauty (I have Leah Darrow's The Other Side of Beauty in mind for this one), a book about feasting,  and short stories by a Catholic (which I can check off at the end of the year when I finish Flannery's Complete Stories).

I think chances are good that I will complete most of these by the end of the year, but I do wish I felt more enthusiastic about them.  I think I'll need to be more selective about challenges next year.

Friday, August 7, 2020

Read-at-Home Mom Report: Revisiting My 2020 Reading Goals

As hard as it is to believe, 2020 is nearly two-thirds over. I have both been wanting to check in with my reading and blogging goals and putting off doing so, mostly because I didn't want to think about how the pandemic has rained on my reading parade. As it turns out, though, on the whole, being home much of the spring and summer has actually been a good thing for my reading life. So today I'll bring you up to date on how my reading goals for the year are progressing, and I'll do a separate post next week to check in on my challenges. 

My first goal for the year was to read 365 books for the Goodreads challenge. I meant for this to be a low number so that I might consider taking it a little bit easy, but then we went on lockdown and I read like a maniac to keep myself from constantly checking the news and fretting over when, if ever, my new babies would see the outside world. So, while I should only be around the 220 mark right now, my current total is 237. I'm not going to increase the goal, but it is extremely likely that I will surpass it. (I'm seriously considering setting myself a goal in 2021 that I am not allowed to exceed. I do sometimes think less reading is more.)

My next goal was to post something on Goodreads for every book read. I started out strong with this, then abandoned it during the twins' newborn phase and now I'm trying to play catch-up. I do actually want my Goodreads to be fairly complete for this year, so I'm going to keep at it. 

Goal number three was to take one day off from reading per week. I mostly did this in the very early part of the year, but once we were ordered to stay at home, I gave it up. I'm reading something every day and until life starts to look normal again (if it ever does), I'm not going to worry about it. 

The next goal, read one book per format at a time, went out the window pretty much right away. I'm just too much of a mood reader to be able to adhere to this kind of restriction. My thinking was that this goal would remind me to actually use the Kindle Fire I bought on Black Friday last year, but with the libraries closed, e-books have figured into my reading life even more heavily than normal and that hasn't been a problem. 

Blog more is the goal that makes me laugh the hardest. I keep making this resolution every year, and every year I blog less. I don't think I actually want to blog more; I just want to blog differently. Having a specific set of prompts or an ongoing project would probably help this be more of a success. 

I also planned to read 6 vintage middle grade novels from our shelves and I have done so already. I read: Francie on the Run by Hilda van Stockum, Up from Jericho Tel by E.L. Konigsburg, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor, Detectives in Togas by Henry Winterfeld,  The Dream Time by Henry Treece, and Owls in the Family by Farley Mowat. 

My last goal was to read 6 adult books that are at least 20 years old. (Not counting classics.) This has been the most fun to complete of all my goals and I might very well end up reading an additional six. The ones I've completed up to now are: The Inn at Lake Devine by Elinor Lipman, The Bird in the Tree by Elizabeth Goudge, A Share in Death by Deborah Crombie, Colony by Anne Rivers Siddons, Anatomy of a Murder by Robert Traver, and Outer Banks by Anne Rivers Siddons. 

The other two things on my list were more like rules than goals, and I think the policies of having  no monthly TBRs and participating in no open-ended read-a-thons have been good ones. I did make a TBR for a couple of challenges, and in neither case did I finish everything in the stack, so that solidifies the decision not to post them monthly. I have done a few read-a-thons with specific goals and that has been productive. 

All in all, in terms of the amount of reading I've been doing, this year hasn't been a waste at all. My reading challenges, on the other hand, may be another story. Check back next week to see how those are going.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Homeschool Progress Report: May/June 2020

Though we pretty much school all year round, taking breaks here and there as suits our family, we have been in a sort of winding down phase for the past couple of months as we get closer and closer to completing the first year of our history studies. History is the only subject where we stick to a specific timeline, and ending one year of study and starting the next is basically how we will mark the change from one school year to the next. All other subjects we take at whatever pace suits the learner, which is why M., age 6, is currently doing fourth grade math but can't yet tie her shoes and C, age 4, is working on addition facts but still needs to be reminded not to speak using baby talk. 

In any case, here is what we worked on in May and June. 

Math

M. (6 years, 7 months) has continued on with her usual math materials. On Khan Academy, she is now at the fourth grade level and working on adding fractions. In Xtra Math, she's memorizing multiplication and division facts. We started reading three chapters from the Life of Fred series each week (rather than just one) and finished both Edgewood and Farming. M. also completed the second part of Singapore Primary Mathematics 3A, and she is working on finishing the Intensive Practice book for 2B as a review of previous work. Before starting 3B, she is taking a break to strengthen her mental math skills with Mental Math Kids Can't Resist

C. (4 years, 9 months) is in second grade on Khan Academy. She is also practicing adding tens and ones using flashcards and the soroban. We are planning to start Life of Fred with her this summer to solidify her addition facts, as she tends to freeze up when they appear in her other work. The Fred series also really makes math seem fun, which is an idea she could afford to have reinforced. 

History

In history, M. has finally made it to Rome, and she is really enjoying it. We started out learning about the Roman Republic and took some time to read Hannibal by Joel Newsome. The writing was a little dense for first grade, but she likes a lot of detail so we just went with it. We also read Julius Caesar and the Roman Republic by Miriam Greenblatt, which provided not just information about Caesar, but also about daily living in the Republic. 

After this, we took a quick detour to Imperial China and studied the Qin and Han dynasties. We read National Geographic Investigates Ancient China and learned about the Terra Cotta warriors, which M. drew in detail to accompany a narration. We also read The Great Wall of China by Leonard Everett Fisher, which explained how and why the wall was built. We watched some video tours of the Great Wall on YouTube as well.   

After China, we picked up with the Romans again just as Augustus Caesar came to power. We read some selections from A Picturesque Tale of Progress: Conquests II, which helped familiarize M. with the names of the emperors. I then helped her organize them into a timeline and memorize a fact or two about the reign of each. After that, we spent some time on Pompeii. M. read The Buried City of Pompeii: What it was Like When Vesuvius Exploded by Shelley Tanaka independently and also talked to my mother-in-law, who has been there. Together we also read National Geographic Investigates Ancient Rome and watched some YouTube video tours of the ruins at Pompeii.  

Once we had all the names and dates sorted out, we finished out this section of our Roman studies with more general information using books like Science in Ancient Rome by Jacqueline Harris, One Day in Ancient Rome by G.B. Kirtland (this one is excellent), The Romans in the Days of the Empire by Shane Harris (also excellent), and the Art of Ancient Rome by Shirley Glubok. We threw in a historical fiction read-aloud too: Detectives in Togas by Henry Winterfeld. Grandma also sent a Toob of Roman figures and a Sticker History book about the Ancient Romans which made it possible for M. to act out much of what she learned each day 

At this point, we have two main topics left in first grade: Christianity and the Fall of Rome. We expect to finish no later than mid-August. 

Science 

In science, which I'm still combining for both M. and C., we took a long leisurely look at birds. We read most of the bird-themed picture books we own and then spent a couple of weeks reading about each species covered in Superlative Birds by Leslie Bulion.  We noticed birds on walks and used an app from Cornell to try to identify birds we heard by their calls. M. wrote a couple of bird reports and C. drew some scientifically inaccurate but very cute pictures of owls, cardinals, and blue jays. We also did a craft project where all three of my big girls made nests for fake cardinals I bought at Dollar Tree.

We also started reading a few questions each day from The Big Book of Tell Me Why, which covers all kinds of topics the girls ask about as well as many others they haven't thought of but find interesting. 

Memory Work

M. spent most of the spring memorizing "The Destruction of Sennacherib" by Lord Byron, which she performs beautifully. At the end of June, she just started working on her next poem, "If" by Rose Fyleman. Since we haven't been in the car much thanks to the pandemic, we haven't quizzed her as much on things like bodies of water, the countries of Europe, or the planets, but we will get back to it. 

C. memorized "The Reason for the Pelican" and reviewed the four directions and the planets. 

E. really wants to have a poem to learn too, so she has been assigned "Wee Willie Winkie."

Reading And Writing

It's really hard to keep up with M.'s pleasure reading since she often reads at times when I have to be doing things with the other kids, but she's kept up the pace pretty well. I know she read Tik-Tok of Oz, which she loved, and at the end of June, she was working her way through The Enchanted Castle. Almost all of her assigned writing took the form of narrations, but I also find a fair amount of handwritten notes and signs around the house that show me she is also writing creatively sometimes for fun. 

C. also reads voraciously. She read the Penny books by Kevin Henkes, along with dozens of other easy readers from our shelves. She's also still really into Carolyn Haywood, and she has recently read Betsy and Mr. Kilpatrick and Eddie the Dog Holder. For fun, she also likes to pick up a Sophie Mouse book and read it in one sitting. She's much more willing to write her name on things than she was, and she's starting to ask how to spell things so she can label her drawings and write notes to her sisters. 

E., age 2 years, 8 months, is starting to show a lot of pre-reading behavior, like making up her own stories based on illustrations and memorizing large chunks of text. I've started singing the alphabet song with her to pave the way for reading skills a bit down the road. 

Health

We haven't done much of any serious health work, but explaining why we're all wearing masks when we go to stores and other places has been a health lesson of sorts. The twins' ever-developing abilities also serve as great talking points about human development. 

Music

Recorder and piano practice continue for both M. and C. We also listened to Classics for Kids episodes about Edvard Grieg, Dmitri Kabalevsky, Zoltán Kodály, Modest Mussorgsky, Georges Bizet, Giacomo Puccini, Gioachino Rossini, and William Grant Still. In June, we learned the hymn "All Ye Who Seek a Comfort Sure." Both M. and C. also musictheory.net to practice naming notes correctly. 

Catechism

Though Masses are available now, we haven't quite figured out how to handle going yet, so our catechism lessons have consisted mostly of watching Mass on the computer. We did attend a baptism for my and my husband's goddaughter which prompted lots of great discussion, and we  also frequently sing the hymns for the day on Aleteia.org. As June ended, I also wrote up some big prayer cards to hang by the dining room table so the girls can easily remember how to say the Morning Offering and Angelus. M. is also working on  memorizing the lesson in her Catechism about the theological virtues and gifts of the Holy Spirit. 

Art

M. had an art lesson with me and my husband about the color wheel, which included some pages from Just Look by Robert Cumming, the art text we have been reading for a couple of months, and some YouTube videos. My husband also hung a string across the dining room wall so now artwork can be displayed. The only major art project we did was to make a father's day card, but I did most of the work. Over the summer, I hope to allow the girls more freedom with art supplies. 

Physical Education

With no playground and no pool (they're allowed to be open, but are not open), our P.E. opportunities are more limited than they were last year. We did have one opportunity to run around at a park and we try to take walks and let the girls run on the deck as much as possible, but it's probably not enough. 

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Read-at-Home Kids Report: Spring 2020

For the purposes of tracking our reading, Spring ran from March 3 to June 2, which mostly corresponds to the time period during which we were ordered to stay home in the state of Maryland, and also to the first 11 weeks home with the twins. Lots of reading took place, but I can't promise that our record keeping was as impeccable as it had been during the fall and winter. For one thing, Miss Muffet took over writing down the titles for herself and Bo Peep for a good portion of the season, and I know she was not that meticulous about counting every book. For another, because we were home all the time, the girls were going through huge towering stacks of books every day and leaving them in piles around the house for me to write down, and on a few occasions I got fed up and shelved the books without recording them first. But I still have plenty of highlights to share. 

Family Read-Alouds

In the beginning of March just before the twins came, I read aloud All-of-a-Kind Family. I strongly suspected one of the twins was a boy (which ended up beng true) and I thought it would be fun to quickly read about an all-girl family while we still were one. Miss Muffet and Bo Peep both took to the characters immediately and months later, they still talk about the scene where Sarah refuses her soup at the dinner table and isn't allowed to partake of the other courses until she eats it. 

After we settled in a bit with the twins, I read aloud The Doll People Set Sail to finally finish out the Doll People series. Then my husband read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, I followed that up with Half Magic, and then he started June with Matilda by Roald Dahl.  The girls loved all of these - even two-year-old Jumping Joan! 

My husband also read quite a bit from his collection of old Cricket magazines. 

Little Miss Muffet (6 years, 6 months)

In addition to our reading for school, which I'll talk about more when I do my May/June progress report, Miss Muffet read a ton of books independently during these months of quarantine. Some of these books were intended to complement schoolwork, such as Tales of a Chinese Grandmother and You Can Write Chinese, Our Little Macedonian Cousin of Long Ago and Our Little Spartan Cousin of Long Ago. Others were just for fun: Five Little Peppers and How They Grew, the Dani series by Rose Lagercrantz, The Pope's Cat series by Jon M. Sweeney, Ralph S. Mouse by Beverly Cleary, Meg of Heron's Neck by Elizabeth Ladd, the Pippi Longstocking books, and Dr. Dolittle in the Moon by Hugh Lofting. She also revisited a lot of favorite picture books and ended up with over 280 titles on her reading log!

Little Bo Peep (4 years, 8 months)

Bo Peep recorded 363 books on her reading log during the spring, which, even if a lot of them wound up being duplicates, is still a really impressive number for a child who just learned to read. Looking at the titles on her list, it seems like she just read entire shelves and sets of books as she came upon them: the Poppleton series, all of my Children's Choice Book Club books from when I was a kid, Mr. Putter and Tabby books, a bunch of books illustrated by Maurice Sendak, others written by Charlotte Zolotow, and a few fairy tales. We also kept handing her more easy readers from our shelves and on Open Library: Amanda Pig books, Arnold Lobel (including Frog and Toad), the Dan Frontier series, Crosby Bonsall's mysteries, the Billy and Blaze series, and some I Can Read science titles. She also read a few titles in Carolyn Haywood's Betsy series. 

Little Jumping Joan (2 years, 7 months)

Jumping Joan still tends to cling really intensely to a small set of favorite books, so her reading log is always very short compared to her sisters'. This spring, she fell in love with We Help Mommy, Baby Dear, and The Poky Little Puppy. She loves to quote the parts of We Help Mommy about Martha seeing her face in the shiny glass of the washing machine and how Daddy is "very pleased" when Martha makes him a treat. In Baby Dear, she's fascinated by the new baby, and surely sees some of her own experiences with the twins reflected back to her. The Poky Little Puppy is just all about the desserts, especially rice pudding. Jumping Joan also started to enjoy the Gossie books, our collection of poetry by Mr. Rogers, a few stories from A Very Little Child's Book of Stories, Over and Over by Charlotte Zolotow, and Sarah's Room by Doris Orgel. 

Jack and Jill (2 months)

Books are still new to these little ones, but we're slowly introducing some good ones. Though they don't necessarily hear books together all the time, both have been exposed so far to Big Fat Hen by Keith Baker, Hat Socks Shoes published by Busy & Bright Baby, Hello Lamb and Goodnight Bear both by Jane Cabrera, and Black and White by Tana Hoban. They are also often the audience for read-alouds by their two oldest sisters, which most of the time everyone seems to enjoy. 

Poetry Picnics

I revived a tradition we started when Miss Muffet was a toddler and took the girls out on the deck for a few poetry picnics on nice days. The books we've read have included Gregory Griggs and Other Nursery Rhyme People by Arnold Lobel, Poems to Read Aloud to the Very Young by Josette Frank, and The Proper Way to Meet a Hedgehog by Paul B. Janeczko and Richard Jones. 

Reading with Grandma and Gran

One nice thing to come out of the changes brought about by the pandemic has been that the girls spend much more time with their grandmothers via Skype. One of the things we've been doing during these Skype dates is having the girls read to Gran and Grandma, and also having Grandma (my mom, who happens to have a lot of children's books on hand because she works with kids) read to them. My mom has read a variety of titles including Click Clack Surprise by Doreen Cronin, Bridget's Beret by Tom Lichtenheld, The Teddy Bears' Picnic by Michael Hague, The Horse with the Easter Bonnet by Jane Thayer, Miss Flora McFlimsey's May Day by Mariana, and some selections from The Poppy Seed Cakes by Margery Clark. Some of the books the girls have read aloud have included the You Read To Me, I'll Read to You series by Mary Ann Hoberman, I Really Want to See You Grandma by Taro Gomi, When Grandma Came by Jill Paton Walsh, Louie by Ezra Jack Keats, The Glass Mountain by Diane Wolkstein, and Something is Going to Happen by Charlotte Zolotow.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Feel-Good Reads for Times of Trouble

This March, just before our governor issued a stay-at-home order for the state of Maryland, I gave birth to twins. The first few weeks at home after that were an emotional rollercoaster. I had the usual postpartum baby blues, and on top of that, we were having to adjust daily to new rules about where we could go, what we could do, and which businesses could be open. The governor issued 35 executive orders in as many days, and it felt like we were mourning some new loss every single day. 

So, though I had been doing a lot more serious reading recently, I recognized that, for this season of my life, what I really needed were some light-hearted reads with guaranteed happy endings.  With the help of the Novelist database, an Instagram book club hosted by Janssen Bradshaw, and a few Goodreads lists, I actually found a good number of titles that managed not only to fulfill my need for cheerful books but my need for good writing as well. Here are the six feel-good books that have kept my reading life afloat during these months of staying at home. (Note: There are varying amounts of sexual content in these books, but none so integral to any plot that it can't be skipped if that is your preference as it is mine.)

Would Like to Meet book cover

Would Like to Meet by Rachel Winters (2019)

I had seen this book here and there on Instagram and I think possibly even in the grocery store, so it was one of the first ones I looked for when I started shifting into this new mode of light reading. The main character, Evie, works for a film agent who is having trouble getting a screenwriter to finish his romantic comedy script. Ezra, the writer, has writers block, largely because he doesn't believe people can fall in love like they do in the movies. Since her job is on the line, Evie makes a deal with Ezra. She will stage meet cutes to prove that falling in love is possible, and in exchange, he will turn in his script. The meet cutes Evie puts together are disastrous in various ways, but in the meantime, she grows closer to a sweet widowed dad and his little girl who don't necessarily approve of her bet, but seem to like her a lot otherwise. Though I didn't love some of the vulgar humor that snuck its way into this story, I laughed a lot when I was reading this book, and I was also caught by surprise by the way Evie's situation resolves itself. I was also surprised by the fact that I was so taken by a book set in England. In the past I've had trouble orienting myself to non-U.S. locations in contemporary books, but I'm definitely over that now!

Attachments book cover

Attachments by Rainbow Rowell (2011)

At the end of March, Janssen from Everyday Reading announced that her Instagram book club would be reading Attachments during April. I had been wanting to participate in one of her book clubs for a while, and since this book was available digitally from the library, I was able to join in. Attachments is the story of Lincoln, whose job (in 1999, when the book is set) is to monitor the emails of employees at a newspaper and send warnings to anyone who misuses the company email system for personal correspondence. Jennifer and Beth, employees of the newspaper and best friends, do in fact use their work emails to discuss their personal lives, which involve Jennifer's hesitancy about getting pregnant and Beth's frustration with her often emotionally unavailable boyfriend, among other things. Lincoln knows he should just warn them and move on, but he enjoys their emails so much that instead he keeps reading. And then he begins to fall in love with Beth. While I have liked every one of Rainbow Rowell's books that I have read, this is by far my favorite. I just loved everything about it - all of the characters, the dialogue, the surprising yet believable twists and turns of the plot, and, most of all, the way all the conflicts of the story are resolved. It's also very clever and funny.

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill book cover

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman (2019)

I discovered this book well before the pandemic, but the holds list for the ebook was so long that my turn didn't come up until April. As it turned out, though, it was worth the wait!  Nina Hill is an anxious introvert who likes her own schedule (which includes ample reading time) and prefers her own company. When the father she never met dies, she suddenly inherits an entire family of relatives she previously knew nothing about, which feels completely overwhelming. On top of that, she also meets a man, Tom, who seems like he might be perfect for her, but who also might reject her if she knew about her anxiety. As Nina grapples with these new connections, she starts figuring out how to open up her world a bit more to people who might make it a better place. I really loved the tone and voice of this book. Nina is unlike any other fictional character I have encountered and I was drawn both to what happens in the story and to the style in which it is written. 

Well Met book cover

Well Met by Jen de Luca (2019)

This debut novel caught my attention because it is set at a Renaissance Faire. The heroine, Emily, has moved to a small town to help her much older sister in the aftermath of a serious injury. Her sister's teenage daughter has taken a job working for a local Renaissance Faire, but in order to be allowed to participate, she needs to have an adult join the cast along with her. Emily does so somewhat reluctantly, and she begins to question her decision even more upon meeting Simon, who runs the Faire. He comes across as stern and difficult, and seems to especially dislike Emily's penchant for suggesting new ideas. When Emily learns Simon's history with the Faire, however, she realizes there is much more to him than meets the eye. The characters, dialogue, and setting in this book are amazingly well-done. There is some seriously graphic sex in the book that took me by total surprise when I was listening to the audiobook, but that is mostly contained to chapter 16 and can be skipped without losing a single relevant plot detail. Had this book not been so well-written and so engaging in every other aspect, I would have abandoned it over the sex scene, but on the whole, I'm glad I didn't, and I'm planning to read the forthcoming sequels, Well Played and Well Matched.

I Owe You One book cover

I Owe You One by Sophie Kinsella (2019)

Since childhood, I have always gravitated toward books with warm families at their centers. In this book, main character Fixie Farr runs a shop with her widow mother, social climber brother, and free spirit sister. Though Fixie is known in the family for being the one to fix things, she often has trouble voicing her opinions in the face of her siblings' strong personalities. When their mother takes a much-needed vacation to recover from a heart problem, however, Fixie finds that her brother and sister are both so wrapped up in themselves they don't recognize what is actually important to the shop. As Fixie struggles to keep the business afloat, she also deals with her feelings for two other men: her ex-boyfriend, Ryan, who has recently returned home after failing to make a go of it in Hollywood, and Sebastian, the handsome stranger who slips her an IOU for a favor after she saves his laptop during a fluke roof collapse at a cafe. I like this book because it's not just a romance, but a story of a character coming into her own and deciding what she wants, on all levels. I have never read Sophie Kinsella before, but I thought this was great and would read more. 

41150382

Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center (2019)

Cassie Hanwell is a successful and talented firefighter in Texas. On the night she receives an award, however, the honor is given by a man with whom she has an ugly history, and when he makes unwanted physical contact with her, she defends herself beautifully by knocking him over the head. Unfortunately, though her female captain understands the situation, she can't allow Cassie to stay on after displaying such unbecoming behavior. In desperation, Cassie agrees to be reassigned, and she requests a position in a firehouse near her estranged mother's house in Massachusetts, so that she can also fulfill her mom's request for help with some medical problems. Cassie knows her new firehouse is not especially happy about having a female firefighter join their ranks, and she plans to keep her head down and stay out of trouble. Unfortunately, though, on her first day, she meets the rookie and notices an attraction right away. It's not until tragedy strikes, however, that she realizes just how much he means to her. I really like Center's writing style and the way the story involves all the details of life as a firefighter. The story is also a real page-turner, and really keeps you guessing at how a happy ending will come about.