Thursday, January 26, 2023

Homeschool Update: November/December 2022

Group Activities

We finished reading aloud Those Miller Girls, then listened to By the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness by Andrew Peterson and A Place to Hang the Moon by Kate Albus on audio. Before Christmas, I read aloud A Christmas Carol, and during the twelve days of Christmas, my husband read aloud This Way to Christmas by Ruth Sawyer. 

The girls continued to work on their poetry memorizations. We've been delayed in recording their videos, but hope to get these done in early 2023. 

For Advent, we did our daily Jesse Tree readings from The Jesse Tree by Eric and Suzan Sammons and we used ornaments printed from Catholic Sprouts and other online sources. We also used The Catholic All Year Prayer Companion for the O Antiphons and the Christmas Novena. 

We continued reading aloud from A Child's History of Art and finished all the chapters about paintings and watched the relevant Smart History videos. We also continued reading poetry from the Poetry for Young People series, and we finished the titles about Edna St. Vincent Millay and Shakespeare. 

The girls started singing lessons with How to Sing from the Great Courses. All three practiced piano and recorder daily. 

For music appreciation, they finished the third part of The Ring of Nibelung, then switched to Handel's Messiah for Christmas. 

We started working on pronouncing the words of the Credo in Latin and picking out some of the nouns.


History 

With E. I read aloud The Big Golden Book of Dinosaurs and The Golden Book of Cavemen and Prehistoric People.  

With C., I read aloud these sections from A Picturesque Tale of Progress

  • The Glory of the Byzantine Empire (Leo the Isaurian, the Defender of Christendom; The Height of Byzantine Glory; The Coming of the Turk)
  • The Crusades (The First Crusade; The Kingdom of Jerusalem; Later Crusades; The Children's Crusade; Results of the Crusades)
  • Europe After the Crusades (Knights and Troubadours; The Growth of Towns; The Great Gothic Cathedrals; The Heretics; St. Francis of Assisi and the Gray Friars; The Fall of Constantinople
  • United Christian Spain Expels the Moors (The Magnificence of the Moors; How Minstrels Sang the Story of the Cid; The Conquest of Granada)
  • The Development of the English Nation (Early Britain and the Coming of the Anglo-Saxons; The Anglo-Saxon Tale of Beowulf; Ireland Preserves Culture; King Alfred and the Coming of the Danes; The Norman Conquest; The Development of Parliament)
We also read aloud some sections in Rulers Of Britain by Peter Somerset Fry, and she read many supplementary books on her own: 

  • Walter Dragun's Town by Sheila Sancha
  • Cathedral by David Macaulay
  • The Duke and the Peasant by Wendy Beckett
  • Mosque by David Macaulay 
  • El Cid by Geraldine McCaughrean
  • Bayeux Tapestry by Norman Denny 
  • Magna Carta by Walter Hodges 
  • Good Masters, Sweet Ladies by Laura Amy Schlitz


M. continued moving through the twentieth century, finishing WWI and then focusing on the 1920s. She read: 

  • Guglielmo Marconi by Richard Tames 
  • Bring Out the Banners by Geoffrey Trease 
  • The Scopes Trial by Renee Graves
  • The Story of Albert Schweitzer by Anita Daniel
  • The Good Master by Kate Seredy
  • The Singing Tree by Kate Seredy
  • Homesick by Jean Fritz
  • Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze by Elizabeth Foreman Lewis
  • Winter of Spies by Gerard Whelan
  • Katie's War by Aubrey Flegg
  • The Story of Scotland Yard by Laurence Thompson 
  • The Story of the Secret Service by Ferdinand Kuhn
  • The Golden Pharaoh by Karl Bruckner 

She watched Inherit the Wind, Days that Shook the World, Men Who Built America, and a little bit of Century of Flight

Math 

M. finished the review sections in Singapore 4B, and she continued working on Challenging Word Problems 3, Life of Fred: Mineshaft (which she finished) and 6th grade math on Khan Academy.

C. continued working in Singapore 2B and Life of Fred: Dogs.  She also worked on 3rd grade math in Khan Academy. 

E. continued working with the soroban and did a few pages of Singapore 1A. 


English 

All three girls read independently throughout November and December. C. named the parts of speech in assigned sentences, and M. continued diagramming sentences in Rex Barks. 

M. finished a story called "Hildegarde" and C. finished writing "The Unicorn and the Wolves." 


Science 

C. and E. covered all the lessons in BFSU Volume 1 about energy and did some worksheets and watched some related videos from Crash Course Kids.

M. did these lessons in Middle School Chemistry: 

  • Changing State - Freezing
  • Changing State - Melting
  • What Is Density?
  • Finding Volume - The Water Displacement Model
  • Density of Water
  • Density - Sink or Float for Solids
  • Density - Sink or Float for Liquids
  • Temperature and Density
We finished our read-aloud of Romance of Chemistry.


Physical Education

While the weather stayed warm, the girls rode bikes as much as possible and played on the playground. They got a basketball for Christmas and had a little lesson on dribbling, passing, and shooting. 

Friday, January 6, 2023

2023 Reading and Writing Plans

Writer First, Reader Second 

I've been easing into this new year and getting a sense of what I really want to focus on before making too many plans. After several days of thinking it over, I've finally decided that what I really want to do this year is to think of myself as a writer first, and a reader second. This is a big shift toward a mentality I haven't had in 20 years, but I think it's necessary if I want to carve out time for writing projects and not feel guilty about it. 

There is no chance that I will not be reading this year. Given that I read 325 books last year in the midst of writing and submitting multiple pieces of fiction, I think it's safe to bet I will read at least 100 books in 2023 (which is my Goodreads goal) and that there will be weeks where I still read more than I write. But if there is a choice about where to put limited free time and energy? This year, writing will take the priority. 


Analog Tracking 

In the interest of freeing up time to write, one thing I'm doing differently this year is tracking all my reading and writing in my Bookworm Life planner that my sister gave me for my birthday. Instead of keeping graphic trackers on Instagram and text-based trackers on my blog, and also trying to keep up with both Goodreads and Storygraph, I'm going to focus on just the planner and Goodreads. I also want to start posting a weekly reading and writing update to Instagram. I follow a couple people who do that, and I really enjoy seeing what they share each week. I will keep monthly statistics for myself, and I will still wrap up each month here on the blog for An Open Book, though perhaps the posts will feature fewer books. 


Reading Goals

In terms of reading goals, I'm trying to keep things simple and open-ended. I'm going back to the Unread Shelf Project this year, along with the Buzzword Reading Challenge and the Read Your Bookshelves Challenge. I'll also be reading along with Close Reads and the #WorldFullofBooks group on Instagram. All the prompts for these are on my challenges page for this year. I expect books for these challenges to comprise the bulk of my reading. 

I also want to be more intentional about reading with my eyes and not just always defaulting to audiobooks, and I'm planning to read more short stories as research for writing as well as for my own enjoyment. I'm also bringing TBRs back into my reading life in 2023, but instead of a monthly stack, I'm planning to pull out ten books per season and make a goal of reading those ten within a three-month span. 

Finally, along with Father Mike's wonderful podcast, I'll be reading The Catechism of the Catholic Church.


Writing Goals 

I think I'm starting a novel this year. 

I've been dragging my feet, trying to decide what I want to work on, and then I started the year by writing 800 words about two of my favorite characters that I've created and I realized that if I'm ever going to write a novel, this is the one I will write. I don't plan to start immediately, and I don't have any expectation that I will finish it this year, but it's probably going to happen. 

On top of that, I have a couple of other loose goals I want to work toward. I'd like to write one short story of a more substantial length during each quarter of the year, and I would like at least one of those to be a mystery. And I want to try to participate in Flash Fiction Magic every week, or at least enough weeks that I don't fall out of the habit.  Ideally, I will also submit to Spark and Havok again, and maybe to an anthology or two, but that will depend on the themes and the ideas that come to me. 

I am going to track my daily word count in my planner, but I don't have a target word count goal in mind. 

Read-at-Home Mom Report: December 2022 Wrap-Up

Books of the Year

If you like end-of-year favorites lists, don't miss my top 25 books of 2022


My Month in Books 

I read 44 books in December! 44! This is not at all a normal pace, even for me, and it will probably never happen again. I'm not going to be able to say much of anything about each book if I want to get this post done, so this month's wrap up is basically just a list, organized by star rating.


2 Stars

  • The Guilt Trip by Sandie Jones 


3 Stars

  • To Get to the Other Side by Kelly Ohlert 
  • The Other Family by Wendy Corsi Staub
  • Eight Winter Nights by Liz Maverick (Audible original)
  • Sun of York by Ronald Welch 
  • The Rewind by Allison Winn Scotch 
  • Merry Ex-Mas by Courtney Walsh
  • The Upside Down Christmas by Kate Forster (Audible original)
  • Resting Scrooge Face by Meghan Quinn 
  • The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis 


4 Stars

  • A Holly Jilly Christmas by Emma St. Clair 
  • Later On We'll Conspire by Kortney Keisel 
  • Let It Snow by Michelle Stimpson (Audible original)
  • Foster by Claire Keegan 
  • The Pursuit of the Pilfered Cheese by Haley Stewart 
  • The Curious Christmas Trail by Haley Stewart 
  • A Not-so-Holiday Paradise by Gracie Ruth Mitchell
  • A Newport Christmess by Jess Heileman 
  • Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris 
  • A Christmas Spark by Cindy Steel
  • This Year It Will Be Different by Maeve Binchy 
  • A Quiet Life by Ethan Joella 
  • Faking Christmas by Cindy Steel 
  • Evil Woman by Julie Mulhern 
  • Not a Happy Family by Shari Lapena 
  • Once Upon A Christmas Carol by Karen Schaler (Audible original)
  • Christmas Baggage by Deborah M. Hathaway
  • Rock Paper Scissors by Alice Feeney 
  • Look Closer by David Ellis
  • Find Me by Alafair Burke 
  • Musical Tables: Poems by Billy Collins 
  • The Vanderbeekers to the Rescue by Karina Yan Glaser
  • The Vanderbeekers Lost and Found by Karina Yan Glaser


5 Stars 

  • The Hero of This Book by Elizabeth McCracken 
  • A Child's Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas 
  • The Romance of Chemistry by Keith Gordon Irwin
  • Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan 
  • The Jesse Tree by Eric Sammons 
  • Twelve Great Books by Joseph Pearce 
  • Host for the Holidays by Martha Keyes 
  • A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens 
  • The Vanderbeekers Make A Wish by Karina Yan Glaser
  • The Vanderbeekers on the Road by Karina Yan Glaser 
  • A Jury of her Peers by Susan Glaspell 


As for the rest of the family's reading....


A. (girl, 2 years 9 months)

  • All Better, Baby by Sara Gillingham 
  • Santa Mouse Bakes Christmas Cookies by Michael Brown 
  • I'm a Little Snowman by Hannah Elliott 


R. (boy, 2 years, 9 months)

  • The Animals' Santa by Jan Brett
  • Countdown to Christmas by Roger Priddy
  • Bizzy Bear: Snow Sports by Benji Davies 


E. (girl, 5 years, 2 months)

  • A Very Mercy Christmas by Kate DiCamillo
  • Henry Huggins by Beverly Cleary
  • The School for Cats by Esther Averill 
  • Lulu and the Duck in the Park by Hilary McKay

C. (girl, 7 years, 3 months)

  • The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder 
  • Our Little Norman Cousin of Long Ago by Evaleen Stein 
  • Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! by Laura Amy Schlitz

M. (girl, 9 years, 1 month)

  • The Great Depression: An Interactive History Adventure by Michael Burgan
  • The Dust Bowl: An Interactive History Adventure by Allison Lassieur
  • Kathleen's Shaken Dreams by Tracy Leininger Craven
  • Kathleen's Unforgettable Winter by Tracy Leininger Craven 
  • Kathleen's Abiding Hope by Tracy Leininger Craven 
  • Leah's Pony by Elizabeth Friedrich 
  • Hannah and the Perfect Picture Pony by Sara Goodman Zimet 

My husband 

  • The Hounds of the Morrigan by Pat O'Shea
  • Sun of York by Ronald Welch
  • Pirates of Samarkand by Rita Ritchie 
  • Tom Whipple by Walter D. Edmonds
  • Emerson Lake & Palmer by Carl Palmer
  • Keith Emerson Classic Edition by Chris Welch


Up Next For Me 

I've had a slow start to the new year, but my current reads are Arabella by Georgette Heyer (paperback), The Rom-Com Agenda by Jayne Denker (digital ARC from Edelweiss+), and The Masterpiece by Fiona Davis (audio).  

Sunday, January 1, 2023

2022 Reading in Review

Stats

This year, for the second year in a row, I tracked only novels and children's chapter books (and some short stories and novellas for adults), no picture books or board books. I set my Goodreads goal arbitrarily at 52 knowing I would surpass it, but having no inkling that I would complete it more than six times over. In a lot of ways, this was an odd year, because I spent a lot of time walking the twins in the stroller to keep them from destroying the house. I was also able to increase my listening speed for most books to 3x, so there were weeks where I was completing more than one book a day. I don't expect to keep this pace in 2023. 

I averaged 27 books per month. My slowest reading month was June, in which I read 17 books. I read the most books (44) in December. 


I read 235 books for adults, 18 for teens and 72 written for children.

The adult books included: 18 literary fiction, 83 romance, 32 nonfiction, 43 mystery, 21 classics, 5 poetry collections, 5 plays, 5 fantasy, 7 historical fiction, 2 comics and graphic novels, 9 women's fiction and 5 general fiction. 

Among these 325 books, there were: 
  • at least 188 audiobooks, including 16 Audible originals
  • 5 short story collections 
  • 27 read-alouds with my kids 
  • 37 from my physical TBR
  • 13 from my digital TBR
  • 56 from Hoopla
  • 42 from Scribd 
  • 19 from Kindle Unlimited 
  • 27 review copies from publishers 
The breakdown of star ratings was as follows: 
  • 5 stars: 121 books
  • 4 stars: 108 books 
  • 3 stars: 83 books
  • 2 stars: 13 books
  • 1 star: 0 books 
 I marked 24 books as DNF. 


Goals Review 

Goal #1: Re-read 40 books before I turn 40. 
This was really fun and fairly easy to complete. I made it last right up until the week leading up to my birthday and got them all read. It was really interesting to see how my opinions of each book changed or didn't.  

Goal #2: Read 22 classics.
I did this relatively easily for the second year in a row, but after reading along with a lot of older Close Reads episodes (and some newer ones about classic books) I burned out a bit on classics, so for 2023, I'm not going to devote a specific goal to them. 

Goal #3: Read 6 historical fiction books.
This was really touch and go all year, but with the help of one middle grade title, I made it! I actually found a bunch of historical fiction I'm interested in through The Book Bumble podcast, and I have a feeling it will become one of my regular genres in 2023.

Goal #4: Try 12 new-to-me authors.
This wasn't a challenge, so I'm not sure why I bothered making it a goal. I think what I might do next year is what Krista from Books and Jams on YouTube does and choose a few authors to focus on in 2023 instead of leaving the goal so open-ended.

Goal #5: Finish 2 series.
I set this goal with some longer series in mind,  (Armand Gamache, Scarpetta, Mitford) but while I made progress on those, I ended up completing (or catching up to the most recently published title of) some shorter ones: 

  • Vanderbeekers series by Karina Yan Glaser
  • Maple Falls series by Kathleen Fuller
  • Bird Face series by Cynthia T. Toney
  • Aurora Teagarden series by Charlaine Harris
  • Library Lover's Mystery series by Jenn McKinlay

I also made huge progress on the Country Club Murders series, and the only one I have left just came out on audio this week, so I will probably read it to kick off the new year. 

Goal #6: Write something 4 days per week.
I mostly did this, but I don't think this goal will serve me well going forward. I'm working on figuring out what will motivate me to write in 2023 without becoming overwhelming. 


Challenges

I wound up participating fully in three challenges hosted elsewhere, and I created two challenges of my own for a total of five. 

I enjoyed the Goldberry Books Reading Challenge, but I didn't love some of the very snobby posts I read from other participants, and it made me feel like I had to choose books that were "good enough" for the Close Reads audience instead of what I wanted to read. I ended up reading: 

  • Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie
  • The End of the Affair by Graham Greene
  • 1984 by George Orwell
  • The Lightning Dreamer by Margarita Engle
  • Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
  • Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco
  • The Patron Saint of Second Chances by Christine Simon
  • Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler
  • Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr
  • The Clock Winder byAnne Tyler
  • The Long Loneliness by Dorothy Day
  • The Hero of this Book by by Elizabeth McCracken.
I haven't heard whether this challenge is happening in 2023, but if so, I think it's unlikely that I will participate.

I think the Buzzword Reading Challenge was my favorite because the prompts were so fun and open-ended so I could always find somethig to suit my mood. For this challenge I read:
  • The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill
  • As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
  • Biloxi Blues by Neil Simon
  • The Garden of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman
  • Up Island by Anne Rivers Siddons
  • All in Good Time by Carolyn Astfalk
  • How to Write a Mystery by Lee Child
  • Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh
  • Under the Lights by Abbi Glines
  • Sleeping Tiger by Rosamunde Pilcher
  • The Most Perfect Thing in the Universe by Tricia Springstubb
  • Eight Winter Nights by Liz Maverick
I am planning to join this one again in 2023. 

For the Read Your Bookshelf Challenge, I didn't always own a book that matched the prompt, so I did supplement with audiobooks and ebooks from the library. Here's what I read: 

  • The Other Side of Silence by Margaret Mahy
  • Must Love Books by Shauna Robinson
  • In Bloom by Fern Michaels
  • Thankful for Love by Kristen Ethridge
  • The Treehouse on Dog River Road by Catherine Drake 
  • Meet Me in the Margins by Melissa Ferguson
  • The Gilded Years by Karin Tanabe 
  • My Big Heart-Shaped Fail by Cindy Callaghan
  • Morse's Greatest Mystery and Other Stories by Colin Dexter
  • The Secret History by Donna Tartt
  • The Broken Spine by Dorothy St. James
  • Rock Paper Scissors by Alice Feeney
This challenge is doing something different in 2023, and I'm planning to join in again!

My big personal challenge was to re-read 40 books before I turned 40 in mid-November. These are the titles I chose: 

  1. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  2. A Separate Peace by John Knowles
  3. The Rainmaker by John Grisham
  4. A is for Alibi by Sue Grafton 
  5. The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje
  6. Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor
  7. Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate Dicamillo
  8. When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead 
  9. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
  10. T-backs, Tee shirts, COAT, and Suit by E.L. Konigsburg
  11. The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman
  12. Stupid Fast by Geoff Herbach
  13. A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry
  14. 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
  15. Nothing But the Truth by Avi
  16. Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells
  17. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
  18. That Summer by Sarah Dessen
  19. Empire Falls by Richard Russo
  20. Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes
  21. Life Among the Savages by Shirley Jackson  
  22. On Writing by Stephen King 
  23. The Tenth Justice by Brad Meltzer 
  24. Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger 
  25. The Library Book by Susan Orlean 
  26. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
  27. The Professor's House by Willa Cather 
  28. One More Thing by B.J. Novak
  29. Very Sincerely Yours by Kerry Winfrey
  30. Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
  31. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte 
  32. The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien
  33. Attachments by Rainbow Rowell
  34. Every Soul a Star by Wendy Mass
  35. There's a Girl in my Hammerlock by Jerry Spinelli
  36. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving 
  37. Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury 
  38. Book Girl by Sally Clarkson
  39. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens 
  40. The Rose Round by Meriol Trevor
My other personal challenge was a collection of different categories of books I wanted to read from. I read: 
  • 3 Book of the Month books
    1. Bomb Shelter by Mary Laura Philpott
    2. Part of Your World by Abby Jimenez 
    3. The Cartographers by Peng Shepherd 
  • 3 books about reading and/or writing
    1. Three Simple Lines: A Writer's Pilgrimage into the Heart and Homeland of Haiku by Natalie Goldberg
    2. Dear Reader by Cathy Rentzenbrink 
    3. Word by Word by Anne Lamott 
  • 3 Catholic books
    1. The End of the Affair by Graham Greene
    2. The Moviegoer by Walker Percy
    3. Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor
  • 3 books in the same series
    1. The Scarpetta Factor by Patricia Cornwell
    2. Port Mortuary by Patricia Cornwell
    3. Red Mist by Patricia Cornwell
  • 3 Newbery medal winners
    1. The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill
    2. Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George
    3. Amos Fortune Free Man by Elizabeth Yates 
  • 3 books under 200 pages.
    1. I Can't Complain by Elinor Lipman
    2. Alexa, What is There to Know About Love? by Brian Bilston
    3. The Seven Last Words by Fulton Sheen
  • 3 books published in 2022
    1. Made in Manhattan by Lauren Layne
    2. Must Love Books by Shauna Robinson
    3. Looking for Leroy by Melody Carlson 
  • 1 book over 500 pages
    1. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell 
I'm still working on my plans for 2023, but I expect to have them up in a day or two! 

Thursday, December 29, 2022

Read-at-Home Mom's Top 25 Books of 2022

I read a ridiculous number of books in 2022 (320+ and still counting...), thanks largely to audiobooks at high speeds and long stroller walks with the twins, especially in the past few months. Though I will keep reading to the end of the year, I don't have anything on my TBR that I expect to like more than the titles I've already selected as my top 25 of the year. So it's time to reveal my favorites list. I haven't ranked these at all, but I sorted them into categories. Books marked with a * were published in 2022. 


Nonfiction

Though I usually enjoy what I choose to pick up, I don't read a ton of nonfiction compared with other genres, so it's a little surprising that there are four nonfiction titles on this list. 


This Beautiful Truth by Sarah Clarkson is the author's beautiful reflection on how God has accompanied her during the darkness of her struggles with mental illness. It's written mainly as a memoir, and the author talks a lot about beloved works of literature that have been influential in her journey. Though Clarkson is not Catholic, this book complements Catholic teaching on suffering quite well, and I so appreciate the hope this book offers to those struggling through their own seasons of darkness.  

Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr caught my interest first because the author is the father of twins, and this book is about the author's life in Rome during their infancy. I read it in September, when the Goldberry Reading Challenge theme was travel books, and I could not get over how beautiful the language is. I don't read WWII historical fiction, so I'm unlikely to read Doerr's novel, All the Light We Cannot See, so I was glad to have this opportunity to get a taste of his writing.  I plan to read some of his short stories in 2023, and maybe Cloud Cuckoo Land at some point. 

Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose by Flannery O'Connor is the book to read whether you like Flannery's fiction or not. The essays in this collection provide invaluable insight into Flannery's creative vision and illuminate her fiction in a way nothing else can. They're also really thought-provoking in general, and there is a lot to think and talk about even for readers who have dismissed her fiction as too dark. My book club read this, and though it didn't change anyone's opinion on the author, it did make for a great conversation. 

*Twelve Great Books by Joseph Pearce is a collection of essays by a Catholic convert who writes and speaks about literature, and especially about Shakespeare. Included are four Shakespeare plays along with novels such as Wuthering Heights, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and Brideshead Revisited. In each essay, Pearce explains the Christian interpretation of each of the great books and pokes holes in the secular readings of them that have been promoted by many colleges and universities in recent years. This book was a major source of healing for me in my journey as a recovering English major. Absolutely everyone who loves literature should read it.  I will have a full review at Catholic Mom in early January. 


Romance

I read a lot of romance in 2022, largely because that's also what I've been writing. There were a lot of good ones published this year, and the backlist titles I picked up were great too. It was hard to narrow it down, which is why there are 8 books in this category. 

Eight Perfect Hours

All in Good Time by Carolyn Astfalk is the story of a widow falling in love again. It's filled with realistic descriptions of life with kids and very believable human reactions to the pitfalls and difficulties of life. I found this to be a real page-turner and couldn't put it down until I reached the happy ending. 

*The Bodyguard by Katherine Center is one of the few books I stayed up late to finish this year. It's a romance between a famous guy and his female bodyguard. To avoid letting his family know she's a bodyguard, they invent a fake relationship that, of course, eventually becomes real. As she always does, Center adds some high stakes and serious issues to this love story. 

Eight Perfect Hours by Lia Louis was one of my first books of 2022, but it has stuck with me all year long. It's an emotional story about love and fate, set during winter, and I distinctly remember gasping out loud on my afternoon walk listening to the audiobook when a certain reveal happened. I typically don't like books that rely heavily on coincidence, but this was a wonderful exception.

*Part of Your World by Abby Jimenez involves two different worlds: the fast-paced urban hospital where the heroine works and the cozy small town that is home to the hero. It was so satisfying seeing the heroine walk away from her abusive ex and I fell in love with the small town. I think this is the best book I've read by this author. 

I listened to *By Any Other Name by Lauren Kate on a whim and completely fell in love with the premise and the characters. The heroine, Lanie, is a romance editor and she has recently been assigned to work with her all-time favorite author, a famous but reclusive writer of bestsellers. When her favorite author turns out to be a man, and not a woman as everyone believes, Lanie questions everything, including her relationship with her boyfriend and her possible growing attraction to the author. This was a really sweet and heartwarming love story.

*Kit McBride Gets a Wife by Amy Barry is a historical romance set in the American West and starring three characters: Kit, a single man, his teenage sister, Junebug who advertises on his behalf for a mail-order bride, and Irish maid Maddy, who through a comedy of errors, ends up responding to the ad. The characters' voices were so enjoyable, and I loved that I could be immersed in a historical setting without being bogged down with any of the sad storylines so often included in historical books.

*Host for the Holidays by Martha Keyes is one of the seven titles in the Christmas Escape series, which is a set of Christmas-themed standalones written by seven different romcom authors. This one - set in Paris, and starring lovable, memorable characters - was my favorite. I wish this author wrote more contemporary romance, but I will definitely check out her historicals. 

Snow in April by Rosamunde Pilcher is a very subtle love story, filled with lots of domestic details, which is what I love in this author's books.  I read this one in April, and it was the perfect reading experience. 


Classics

I read a bunch of classics this year, but since I don't count re-reads when I make my favorites lists, most of them don't appear here. The three I've selected were first-time reads that blew me away. 

As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner was the second book Close Reads covered in 2022, and I loved it instantly. Something about Faulkner's stream-of-consciousness style really resonates with me and I felt strong empathy- or at least a sense of understanding - for each character. I am now a Faulkner fan for life. 

The End of the Affair by Graham Greene was covered on Close Reads in the past, and I went back to listen and read along. This was my first time reading this author,  and I absolutely loved his writing. I also read The Power and the Glory and found that much harder to enjoy,  but this book was pretty straightforward and really relatable to the average modern person.  I suggested it to my book club and we will be reading it together in 2023. 

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell is my mom's favorite book, so I read it in May when the Goldberry Reading Challenge prompt focused on the favorites of mothers. I expected this lengthy tale to take me weeks, but reading along with the audiobook, it took me only days. What a page turner! I know this book has its critics, but I found it so engaging and interesting. 


Other Fiction

The rest of the books I read this year are an eclectic mix of different brands of fiction.  

Jacket Weather by Mike Capite is a love story set in New York City about ten years ago. I love the author's portrayal of New York, and the line-by-line writing was really beautiful and I wanted to highlight so much of it. I read this back in February, and it has remained near the top of my list all year. 

A Little Hope by Ethan Joella was featured on The Book Bumble, my new favorite bookish podcast. At its center is a couple, the husband half of which is undergoing cancer treatment. This couple has relationships outside of the home with others in their community, and the novel explores all the moments of hopefulness these characters experience alongside the pain of everyday life. The writing in this one is beautiful, too, and it really gave me a greater sense of the beauty of the human experience. 

Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler is one of three books by this author that I read this year and every single one received five stars. It was hard to choose a favorite, but I think I liked the characters in this one slightly more than the ones in French Braid and The Clock Winder, and it has stuck with me a bit more. I love Anne Tyler and plan to read all of her books. 

The *Patron Saint of Second Chances by Christine Simon surprised me by being a very Catholic story. Set in Italy, it's the story of a town that needs new pipes before it loses all access to water. Self appointed mayor Signor Speranza decides to bring money into the town by pretending a famous celebrity is planning to film a movie there. The colorful characters and quirky plot made for such an entertaining audiobook, and I loved the references to the church and that there was a priest in the story. 

I found a copy of In the Woods by Tana French in a Little Free Library and grabbed it based on the many glowing reviews I'd heard of this series. I was immediately drawn into the world of this story and into the author's writing style, and I savored the book, reading every word with my eyes instead of defaulting to the audiobook. I now own the whole series thanks to my mom and they are on my 2023 TBR.


*The Cartographers by Peng Shepherd was in the Modern Mrs. Darcy summer reading guide this year. I was skeptical because the recommendations in that guide have been decreasing in quality over the past few years, but this was a delight. It's best to go into it with minimal background information, but it involves libraries,  maps, and family secrets. 

I read The Stand by Stephen King in September when #WorldFullofBooks was reading big books. I had already seen the 90s miniseries so I knew the story, but I loved experiencing the full novel. I listened to the audiobook, which was very well done. This book really isn't that scary. It's more fantasy than horror and there are very strong spiritual elements, which I especially liked.

Home to Holly Springs by Jan Karon was the next book I needed to read when I stalled out on the Mitford series. It took me forever to get to it because there was no audio available,  but when I learned the audiobook that does exist isn't narrated by John McDonough I gave in and read it with my eyes. It was so, so good. One of my favorite fictional tropes is when characters return to their childhood homes and this one delivered all the angst and nostalgia associated with that. This is possibly the best written book of the series. 

*Scattered Showers by Rainbow Rowell is a short story collection. Most of the stories are romance and a bunch are set at Christmas or New Year's. I skipped one story - the one set in the universe of the author's gay romance/fantasy series - but all the others were nearly perfect pieces of writing. I learned so much about writing from reading this book and listening to it was a highlight of the weeks leading up to Christmas. I'd like to listen to some of the Christmas ones again next year.

*The Hero of this Book by Elizabeth McCracken is the book that upset this list! I'm not going to reveal the title that got booted to keep the list at 25, but this one made such an impression I couldn't make my list without it. Classified as a novel and written like a memoir, this book features a narrator telling the story of her mother's life and death and the last trip the narrator and mother took together. There are also lots of comments about the writing life. I loved that it wasn't fully clear what was fact and what was fiction, and the writing was just so good. I've added everything else by this author to my list on Scribd.


Bonus: Top 5 Children's Books 

The Golden Name Day

It used to be that my entire favorites list was nothing but children's books. These days, most of my kids' books are re-reads of titles I pre-approved for my kids years ago and am now sharing with them, but there are always a few new ones. Here are five new favorites I discovered this year: 

The Golden Name Day by Jennie D Lindquist is the story of Nancy, a young girl who goes to live with family friends, Grandma and Grandpa Benson,  while her mother recovers from an illness. The Benson family is Swedish, so Grandma and Grandpa and their grandchildren celebrate name days, but the almanac doesn't list a day for Nancy's name. Throughout the book, everyone looks for ways to give Nancy an authentic name day celebration. I read this aloud to my girls, who have some Swedish ancestry on my husband's side, and they loved it. We also enjoyed the sequel, The Little Silver House. (Purple House Press has recently republished The Golden Name Day with some minor revisions. It's impossible to get used, so the revised edition is probably better than nothing.)

Amos Fortune, Free Man by Elizabeth Yates was another read-aloud with the girls, to coincide with my oldest daughter reading about slavery in her history studies. This book is so beautifully written and it made the subject matter accessible even to my daughter who was four when we read it. This book complemented another wonderful book, Carvers' George by Florence Crannell Means, which made me realize what an amazing man George Washington Carver was. Both of these men kept such hope in the face of darkness and adversity, and Carver, especially, made so many contributions to science.

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett is a book I attempted to read multiple times as a kid without ever making it past the first chapter. I decided to read it aloud to my girls this year, and I just absolutely loved it. It's a beautiful story of overcoming grief and finding hope, and my kids loved it just as much as I did.

A Place to Hang the Moon by Kate Albus was one of my reads for the #WorldFullofBooks library theme, and it ended up being a great Christmas audiobook for my kids as well. It's the heartwarming tale of three children who pose as evacuees from London during WWII in the hopes that someone will adopt them. (The audiobook has a hideous cover, but that says nothing about the content.)

My oldest daughter and I read The Romance of Chemistry by Keith Gordon Irwin together during these first few months of the school year. She didn't like it (too much history, not enough science, apparently) but I was utterly fascinated by how little we knew about chemistry just 200 years ago compared to what we know now. I learned so much and wished I had read a book like this when I was in high school and about to flunk chemistry.

So, there they are, my favorites of 2022. Have you read any of these?  Do we have any in common? Let me know in the comments!  

Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Read-at-Home Mom Report: November 2022 Wrap-Up

My Month in Books

I read a ton of books in November. This is largely due to Audible's Black Friday deal whose promise of a coupon got me to sign up for four months of Audible and Premium Plus and gave me access to a bunch of very short Audible originals. I'll start this wrap-up with those and then dive into the rest of the books I read. 


Audible Originals


Quite a few of these surprised me with how good they are. These are all the 4 and 5-star Audible originals I listened to. 


  • Snow Day by Julie Lipson (5 stars)
    This was a really cute romance short story about a couple that meets while traveling. The way the story is structured really helped me organize my thoughts about a project I've been working on. 
  • You Can Thank Me Later by Kelly Harms (4 stars)
    This one is a heartfelt family story set over a series of Thanksgivings. I really liked the characters and though some parts were a little dramatic, I enjoyed the story too. 
  • For Love or Music by Julie Lipson (4 stars)
    This romance involved an established couple briefly driven apart by their ambitions when they both qualify for a prestigious music competition. 
  • The Best Worst Christmas by Kate Forster (4 stars)
    This author's writing reminds me a bit of Rosamunde Pilcher, only with an Australian connection and slightly more spice. This was a really entertaining listen and it made me laugh out loud a few times. 


  • A Tail as Old as Time by Elle Hay (4 stars)
    As I am currently writing a story about a magical dog in response to a specific submission call, I enjoyed this animal-themed romance. It gave me some good inspiration for managing the animal at the heart of my own work. 
  • The Christmas Pawdcast by Emily March (4 stars)
    This one involves both an animal (a pregnant cat) and a true crime podcaster. It was equal parts sweet and serious. 
  • Home Shopped Holiday by John Burd (4 stars)
    This was a You've Got Mail style story involving a home shopping channel. I really enjoyed it, though I did sometimes have trouble telling some of the character voices apart. 
  • The Secret History of Christmas by Bill Bryson (4 stars)
    This quick nonfiction exploration of the ways Western culture has celebrated Christmas over time was very interesting and informative. I learned quite a few new things about Christmas customs. 
The rest of these were not as memorable, and they all got three stars. 
  • Better than a Box of Chocolates by Emily March (3 stars)
  • The Christmas Pact by Vi Keeland (3 stars)
  • The Wedding Proposal by John Swansiger (3 stars)
  • One of Those Flings by Lauren Blakely (3 stars)


Middle Grade


Middle grade books are starting to creep back into my repertoire again and I'm fine with that. They are really fun to zip through on audio.

  • A Place to Hang the Moon by Kate Albus (5 stars)
    I've been meaning to read this all year and I finally got to it in November thanks to #WorldFullofBooks which had a library theme for the month. This was such a heartwarming story, and I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it, given the WWII setting. 
  • The Rose Round by Meriol Trevor (5 stars)
    This was my last reread of the 40 Rereads Before 40 Project. I still love it. Reading it again has inspired me to plan to prioritize Meriol Trevor in the first quarter of 2023. 
  • Those Miller Girls! by Alberta Wilson Constant (5 stars)
    This was a reread, but not for my project. I read this aloud to my girls, and they really loved it.
  • The Library of Ever by Alexander Zeno (3 stars)
    I picked this audiobook at random on Scribd because it was about a library, and random ended up being the main word I would use to describe it. It was entertaining, but there was no real rhyme or reason to the story. It was just a string of unrelated events.
  • Tank Commander by Ronald Welch (3 stars)
    There is a lot of detail about WWI in this book, and I just couldn't stomach it. It was well-written, but just too much for me. 
  • The Most Perfect Thing in the Universe by Tricia Springstubb (3 stars)
    I love some of this author's earlier books, but this one was just okay. I am uncomfortable with the book's message that it's okay for a mom to neglect her kids for a good cause.  I'm also disturbed that this is not the only recent contemporary middle grade novel I've read that has this message. 


Young Adult


YA is also creeping back into my repertoire, largely because I'm finding YA books to be helpful crash courses in plotting. 


  • The Christmas Clash by Suzanne Park (4 stars)
    I had an e-audio ARC of this book from Netgalley, but ended up missing my chance to listen to it and getting it from Hoopla instead. This was a good one to read in November because it starts earlier in the falla and ends with Christmas. I loved the mall setting and the conflict of the feuding restaurants. 
  • Tessa and Weston: The Best Christmas Ever by Abbie Emmons (3 stars)
    I didn't like this book nearly as much as the first one, but it was enjoyable. I think it's hard to write a sequel to a romance that involves the same couple so I thought that was an interesting choice and enjoyed seeing how the author pulled it off.  

Short Stories



  • Scattered Showers by Rainbow Rowell (5 stars)
    This short story collection actually includes quite a few Christmas stories, which was a nice surprise. These are some of the best written romance short stories I've ever heard, and I wished there were more. I did skip one story, as it came from the author's fantasy series that I don't read. 
  • Beyond the Woods: A Supernatural Anthology by Jessica Thompson (4 stars)
    I received an ARC of this collection from the publisher and thought there was a lot of variation in quality among the stories, the book as a whole was very enjoyable. My favorite story was a retelling, "Frankenstein's Snowman."  

Romance


November was a really good month for romance. I had four 5-star romance reads. 


  • By Any Other Name by Lauren Kate (5 stars)
    This bookish romance about a male author who secretly writes books under a female pseudonym was so well written and the audiobook narrators were excellent too. 
  • Authentically Izzy by Pepper Basham (5 stars)
    This very gentle epistolary Christian romance about a budding  long-distance relationship between a librarian and a bookseller was a cozy delight. I want to read more from this author.
  • Kit McBride Gets a Wife by Amy Barry (5 stars)
    This historical romance stars a cowboy, a maid mistaken as a mail order bride and a meddling teenage girl. I loved these characters, and I loved that this was a light and humorous historical setting. 
  • Lovelight Farms by B.K. Borison (5 stars)
    This was a bit spicier than I wanted, but the writing was otherwise excellent. I loved the characters.
The rest of the romances I read were not as good: 
  • A Snowy Little Christmas by Fern Michaels (3 stars)
  • The Spanish Love Deception by Elena Armas (2 stars)
  • All I Want for Christmas by Maggie Knox (2 stars)

Mystery & Miscellaneous



  • The Last to Vanish by Megan Miranda (3 stars)
    This was probably my least favorite book by this author, but it was still an entertaining read. 
  • The Broken Spine by Dorothy St. James (3 stars)
    This is another title I picked up for the #WorldFullofBooks library theme. I enjoyed it, but it wasn't quite as good as the books in the Library Lovers mystery series by Jenn McKinlay.
  • The Long Loneliness by Dorothy Day (4 stars)
    This was my local book club's November pick. I enjoyed the audiobook and we had a very interesting discussion. 
  • A Little Hope by Ethan Joella (5 stars)
    I heard about this on the Book Bumble podcast, which I saw recommended on Instagram. I normally wouldn't seek out a book about cancer and grief, but I'm glad I made an exception because I loved the characters and the writing in this book. I appreciated that the story leads the reader to look for hope again and again. 
  • For Better or For Worse: The Complete Library, Vol. 1: 1979-1982 by Lynn Johnston (5 stars)
    I found out that this series of comic strip collections is on Kindle Unlimited! I loved these when I was a teenager, and I'm looking forward to reading them all through eventually.
  • The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles (4 stars)
    I don't often read historical fiction, but Book Bumble made this sound so good I couldn't resist. It ended up being very interesting, and it's made me want to try more historical novels.

As for the rest of the family's reading...


M. (girl, 9 years old )
  • The Scopes Trial by Renee Graves
  • The Story of Albert Schweitzer by Anita Daniel
  • The Good Master by Kate Seredy
  • The Singing Tree by Kate Seredy
  • Homesick by Jean Fritz
  • Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze by Elizabeth Foreman Lewis
  • Winter of Spies by Gerard Whelan
  • Katie's War by Aubrey Flegg
  • The Story of Scotland Yard by Laurence Thompson 
  • The Story of the Secret Service by Ferdinand Kuhn
  • Guglielmo Marconi by Richard Tames
  • The Secret of Skeleton Island by Robert Arthur 
  • The Mystery of the Fiery Eye by Robert Arthur 

C. (girl, 7 years, 2 months)
  • Freddy and Mr. Camphor by Walter Brooks 
  • Luttrell Village by Sheila Sancha 
  • Castle Diary by Richard Platt
  • The Adventures of the Wishing Chair by Enid Blyton 

E. (girl, 5 years, 1 month)
  • Viking Adventure by Clyde Robert Bulla 
  • The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary

R. (boy, 2 years, 8 months) & A. (girl, 2 years, 8 months)
  • Cars and Trucks and Things That Go by Richard Scarry 
  • Ten Little Babies by Gyo Fujikawa
  • The Three Billy Goats Gruff
  • The Three Little Pigs 
*My husband didn't finish any books 


Up Next For Me

I have a stack of Christmas books calling my name, including Talk Santa To Me by Linda Urban and This Year it Will Be Different by Maeve Binchy, as well as many Christmas romances on Kindle Unlimited. 

Saturday, November 26, 2022

13 New Picture Books for Christmas 2022

Christmas book shopping season is upon us! I have received a number of new Christmas picture books for review in the past few months, and I want to share a rundown of those new titles today. 

First up, some board books. 

Christmas Street by Jonathan Emmett and Ingela P. Arrhenius (Nosy Crow, 10/4/22) is a companion book to 2019's Alphabet Street. Just like the original book, this one pulls out horizontally to form a 3-D street, and little readers can open and close various flaps to reveal festive pictures of items beginning with each letter of the alphabet. The street is populated by animals dressed in human clothing and many of the figures are parent/child pairs. While the alliterative phrases on each panel (i.e. "delicious drinks" and "lamps & lanterns") are pretty obvious, the fact that this book feels like a toy is really appealing to toddlers. My 2-year-old son, R., will receive this book from St. Nicholas on December 6th.

Santa Mouse Bakes Christmas Cookies (Little Simon, 10/4/22) is a board book starring the character from Michael Brown's original Santa Mouse book, which a high school friend introduced to me when I was a teenager but which was not part of my family Christmas traditions growing up. Rhyming text and adorably sweet illustrations tell the story of Santa Mouse baking cookies with the help of a diverse group of elves so that Santa and the reindeer have something to eat on Christmas Eve. St. Nicholas will give this book to my 2-year-old daughter, A. 

I'm a Little Snowman written by Hannah Elliott and illustrated by Anna Daviscourt (Little Simon, 9/13/22) is a companion book to I'm a Little Pumpkin. In rhyming text that can be sung to the tune of "I'm a Little Teapot" various snowmen (and a snowgal) introduce themselves and cheer for the start of winter. The lyrics could have used a bit more polish, as they are awkward to sing at times, but the artwork is very kid-friendly and cheerful, and the colors evoke all the smells and sensations of the winter season. I might put this in A's stocking on Christmas Eve.

Bizzy Bear: Snow Sports (Candlewick, 8/23/22) is a board book by Benji Davies with some interactive components for little hands to slide and pull. The text seems to be based on the classic children's rhume, "Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, Turn Around" and the illustrations shows Bizzy and his animal friends skiing and snowboarding. R. loves books with sliding elements, so this will most likely appear under the tree with his name on it. 

Now, for the picture books.

First is a new version of 'Twas the Night Before Christmas (Candlewick, 9/13/22) illustrated by Matt Tavares. This book is illustrated entirely in black and white pencil drawings and it has a timeless, classic feel. The use of light and shadow in the pictures is very striking and though none of the illustrations necessarily introduce anything new to the story, neither do they try to update or alter it in any way. We tend to rotate the versions of this book we read each year, so this one might get a turn this year if my kids don't request another favorite version.

Another book with a classic feel is a reprint from 1987: Tomie dePaola's Book of Christmas Carols (Simon & Schuster, 10/25/22). In terms of the actual music, there isn't really anything in this book that can't be readily found in any standard book of Christmas songs, but of course the artwork, complete with several fold-out illustrations is utterly charming. I do wish the songs themselves included all of their verses, but otherwise this is an appealing volume that will look lovely on our shelf next to dePaola's Joy to the World.

I'm thrilled to finally see a Christmas book starring Mercy Watson. A follow-up to A Piglet Named Mercy, A Very Mercy Christmas (Candlewick, 9/27/22) sees Stella Endicott and Mercy the pig trying to recruit neighbors to go caroling with them. Most of the beloved characters from the original Mercy Watson series make an appearance and the writing is both funny and poignant. There is also a Mercy ornament included at the back of the book, which can be punched out and hung on the family Christmas tree. My 5-year-old daughter, E., has been wanting a Mercy Christmas story for years, so this book will be her St. Nicholas day gift. 

Raymond Arroyo also has a new Christmas book this year: The Wise Men Who Found Christmas (Sophia Institute Press, 10/11/22). In this book, Arroyo restores the wise men to their proper historical context and tells their true story without any of the embellishments that have been added over time. I was fortunate enough to review a digital copy of this book for Catholic Mom, and after the book was published, Sophia Institute Press kindly sent me a finished hardcover. The artwork is very colorful and fills each and every page to the edges. The story is told from an interesting surprise point of view that gives the book a very kid-friendly feel. This will join The Spider Who Saved Christmas on our Christmas shelf.

Through the North Pole Snow written by Polly Faber and illustrated by Richard Jones (Candlewick, 11/8/22) follows a little fox through the snow to Santa's house. The fox stays all year, through all of Santa's Christmas preparations and finally learns what all the work was leading up to. This is a very cozy and gentle read with engaging collage-style pictures. This book seems a bit young for my bigger girls, so it will either go under the tree for one of the three littles or just go directly on our Christmas shelf.

The Magic of a Small Town Christmas (Aladdin, 10/18/22) is another very cozy book. Written by Megan Alexander, who produces a TV show called Small Town Christmas, and illustrated by Hiroe Nakata, this book depicts a variety of scenes that one might witness in a small town at Christmastime. The text rhymes awkwardly and has some rhythmic problems, but the pictures evoke all the nostalgia for me. My kids have never been in a small town for Christmas, so I like that this can give them a taste of that experience. This book also reminds me a lot of Cold Snap by Eileen Spinelli and Marjorie Price, which has been a big favorite with my kids for a number of years.

The last few picture books are winter-themed but do not explicitly involve Christmas.

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening illustrated by P.J. Lynch (Candlewick, 11/8/22) is a bit of a new take on Robert Frost's poem in that it depicts the speaker as a young woman. Since there is no gender specified in the original poem and because the tone and substance of the poem are not altered at all, I don't have a problem with this new interpretation. The muted greens of the illustrations and the use of perspective give the book a strong visual appeal, and I like that the young woman wears braids. St. Nicholas is bringing this to my poetry lover, C., age 7.

Frindleswylde by Natalia and Lauren O'Hara (Candlewick, 11/8/22) is a fairy-tale style story about a Jack-Frost-like creature who brings winter to the woods where Cora and her grandmother live. When Cora stumbles into his underground home, Frindleswylde gives her three impossible tasks to complete before he will let her go. This book is a bit more wordy than the average picture book and is best suited for a slightly older reader. The mixed media illustrations really capture the season of winter, and they are unique compared to the pictures in most of the other books I've mentioned. I think St. Nicholas will bring this book to my 9-year-old.

Finally, Snow Horses: A First Night Story written by Patricia Maclachlan and illustrated by Micha Archer is a new year story depicting one town's annual celebration of the first night of the year in which sleigh rides play an important role. The text is written in free verse and the collage and ink illustrations have a folk art feel on some pages. The book is very gentle and quiet, and it would make a lovely bedtime read-aloud.