Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Reading Through History: The Star That Always Stays by Anna Rose Johnson (2022)

In 1914, when her divorced mother remarries, Norvia, a girl of Ojibwe descent, moves with her family from an island in Lake Michigan to the city, where she must hide her heritage and attempt to fit in with her new stepfamily. Using characters from literature as her models, Norvia strives to be a heroine while navigating family strife, friendships, her first year of high school, and her first crush. This novel is based on the author's own family history. 

This beautifully written middle grade novel has many things going for it. The characters feel real, the historical setting feels authentic, and the family dynamics, racial issues, and coming-of-age plot are handled well. The story reads like a classic novel about a girl growing up, and it has much in common with a lot of my vintage favorites, like Bright Island and the Betsy-Tacy series. The story also has a Christian flavor to it, with Scripture quoted throughout.  I really enjoyed listening to the audiobook. 

The only thing that made me uncomfortable with the novel is the fact that Norvia's mother abruptly turns her back on her Catholic faith. She is divorced, remarries outside the church, and then becomes a Presbyterian. While this is certainly a believable course of action, it felt strange that more wasn't made of it, especially when the Presbyterian characters go out of their way to express concern about the mother being a divorcee. It just didn't feel believable that there wasn't more angst surrounding the decision to remarry outside the church or to stop receiving the Eucharist. This is a small thing in the novel, but I was preoccupied with it the entire time I was reading. 

I don't read much newly-published middle grade these days, but this one was definitely worth picking up. The writing is lovely, and young readers will happily root for Norvia.  I hope to see more historical fiction from Anna Rose Johnson! 

I received a digital ARC of this book from the author via Edelweiss+ in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, September 11, 2022

Homeschool Update: July/August 2022

We have started the new school year, and I'll be posting about that at the end of this month, but in the meantime, here is a round-up of what we did during our summer session. 

Poetry & Art Appreciation 

We continued reading Talking to the Sun: An Illustrated Anthology of Poems for Young People selected and introduced by Kenneth Koch and Kate Farrell, and finished the entire book. 


The girls practiced singing most Friday nights this summer. 


M. diagrammed a sentence from Rex Barks every day all summer. C. started taking one sentence per day and identifying its parts of speech.


The girls watched all the remaining episodes of Eyewitness. 


M. continued working on history through the summer. She covered from 1865  to around 1900, using a variety of sources.   


Math also continued all summer. M. worked on Challenging Word Problems 3 and C. worked on Singapore Primary Mathematics 2B. E. learned to count to 100 on the soroban. 


M. drew illustrations of various historical figures to accompany narrations. All three girls made birthday cards for Daddy and for a friend with a summer birthday. M. also did lots of drawing on her own. 

Physical Education 

The girls went to the pool almost every week, took walks, rode bikes, and went to playgrounds.

Monday, September 5, 2022

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

My Month in Books

I decided that I wanted to start spending less time organizing my reading into categories for these posts so that I would have more time to give a little blurb about each one. So that's what I did this time. For anyone interested in seeing which books counted for what challenges, I keep lists on my challenges page.

I read 26 books in August: 

No Funny Business by Amanda Aksel (3 stars)
This romantic comedy started out strong, but I expected it to be funnier. I read this at the beginning of the month and have already forgotten the characters. 

The Roughest Draft by Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka (3 stars)
This is not a romantic comedy, regardless of what the cover suggests. That wasn't a problem for me, as I loved the writing style, but the behavior of the characters when one of them was married was too close to infidelity for me to feel comfortable. 

You're My I.T. by C.N. Holmberg (5 stars)
My mom friend who also loves books was reading this author's fantasy novels on Kindle Unlimited, and she stumbled across this nerdy romance series. This gave me serious Attachments vibes and I absolutely loved it. I'm planning to read the second one and I hope there might be more!

Royal Valentine by Jenn McKinlay (3 stars)
I love novellas and I sometimes love this author, so this was worth a shot. Unfortunately, it was pretty generic despite the cool setting (a literary museum) and if it had been longer I probably would have abandoned it. 

Mystery and Manners by Flannery O'Connor (5 stars)
I read this with my local book club, and absolutely loved it, both for Flannery's staunch defense of the faith and her writing advice. I also really enjoyed our book club discussion. 

Paddle-to-the-Sea by Holling C. Holling (5 stars)
I've read this before, but this was my kids' first time hearing it. They absolutely loved it. My almost-seven-year-old especially liked following Paddle's journey on the maps drawn in the margins.

The Attraction Distraction by Jenn McKinlay (3 stars)
I read Royal Valentine because I actually wanted to read this one and didn't want to go out of order. This one was marginally more enjoyable, and it even had a bit of a mystery plot (the author writes a cozy mystery series I love), but it still didn't quite pass the 3-star mark. 

All That it Takes by Nicole Deese (4 stars)
All That Really Matters, to which this book is a sequel, was one of my favorite books of 2021. This one was quite good as well, and it had some really strong pro-life themes which is rare and much appreciated. 

My Big Heart-Shaped Fail by Cindy Callaghan (4 stars)
The author sent me this tween romance novel for review, and it was really cute. So much of the characters' behavior rang true to my own middle school experience and it was a pleasant, quick read.  

Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh (5 stars)
I have been looking for a copy of this book after hearing Anne Bogel talk about it over a year ago. I finally find a nice little hardcover edition in New York in July and made it a priority to get it read before the end of summer. I loved the way the book is structured around the author mulling over different types of shells and I really enjoyed her reflections on women and the creative life.

Very Sincerely Yours by Kerry Winfrey (5 stars)
This was my favorite book of 2021 and it was my 29th re-read this year. I listened to the audiobook this time and just grinned through the whole thing. Such a delight. 

Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner (5 stars)
I got into a buddy read for this book on Instagram when a few of us in the World Full of Books group were talking about preferring Faulkner to Jane Austen. Reading this book felt like eavesdropping on a conversation. I didn't feel like I could get at the story directly, but I was able to absorb all the important points by letting the words wash over me. 

Swan for the Money by Donna Andrews (3 stars)
I have abandoned a lot of my cozy mystery series because I find that my interest generally just wanes after the initial book of any given series. But I still like these, and this one was fun. I have a bunch of paperbacks from later in the series, so I want to catch up and start getting through those. 

Write for Your Life by Anna Quindlen (4 stars)
This was an interesting look at how and why people write, with an emphasis on the benefits to the writer of putting down one's thoughts. It's a short audiobook and made for a very pleasant afternoon walk. 

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte (3 stars)
I read this in college, and I remember the professor saying it was important to pay attention to dogs in the story. I did that this time, and it didn't do much for me. I think Charlotte Bronte is my girl, not Emily. (This was my 30th book for my re-reading project.)

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh (5 stars)
This is my favorite book of all time, but I had yet to listen to the audiobook. It's the revised edition, but I'm realizing that may actually be my preferred edition, and Jeremy Irons does a phenomenal job as the narrator (as he also does acting the role of Charles Ryder in the miniseries.)

Minn of the Mississippi by Holling C. Holling (5 stars)
This Newbery Honor book was the follow-up read-aloud to Paddle-to-the-Sea, but my kids didn't like it nearly as much.   I thought the writing was lovely and found it a pleasure to read aloud, but we decided to take a break from Holling for a bit. 

Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler (5 stars)
I've been hanging onto this book all year waiting for the Goldberry challenge prompt of a book published the year I was born. It was worth the wait. No one writes about family like Anne Tyler. I have at least five more of her books on my TBR and I can't wait to read more.

Nicholas Carey by Ronald Welch (3 stars)
I'm still reading through this series with my husband and a friend. This one was better than the one that preceded it, but I didn't love like a few of the earlier ones.

An Occurence at Owl Creek Bridge by Ambrose Bierce (4 stars)
One of the ladies who did the Faulkner buddy read with me started a group for classic short stories. This was our first one. The ending was spoiled for me by Alfred Hitchcock Presents, but I still loved the writing and enjoyed the experience of reading it.

When He Was Wicked by Julia Quinn (3 stars)
I felt like checking in with the Bridgertons so I zipped through this story, which is about Eloise. These later books of the series just don't have quite the same magic as the first four, but this was entertaining even if I did feel like I had to fast-forward through more sex scenes than usual. 

Sold on Love by Kathleen Fuller (3 stars)
This Christian romance series is very sweet. I liked the first one best, but this third installment was better than book two.

Just Another Love Song by Kerry Winfrey (3 stars)
I loved this book's dual timeline and all the 90s music references, but I didn't feel at all comfortable when the story asked me to basically root for a divorce and against a mom being with her child. 

The End of Summer by Rosamunde Pilcher (4 stars)
As much as I love Pilcher's long books, there is something so satisfying about these more compact romance novels. I enjoyed this one on a park bench while my kids played. 

Six Feet Deep Dish by Mindy Quigley (5 stars)
The writing in this new cozy mystery that I got from Netgalley is top-notch. I also loved the Chicagoland setting and the message at the end. 

Stay Awake by Megan Goldin (5 stars)
I had this from Netgalley but ended up listening to the audiobook in a single day. What a gripping story. 

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

A. (girl, 2 years, 5 months)
  • Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes by Mem Fox and Helen Oxenbury
  • Ten Little Babies by Gyo Fujikawa
  • Richard Scarry's Just Right Word Book
  • My First Seasons Library

R. (boy, 2 years, 5 months)
  • Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell
  • The Busy Little Squirrel by Nancy Tafuri
  • Into the Sand Castle by Cindy Jin
  • All About Alfie by Shirley Hughes
  • Fire Truck by Peter Sis
  • The Elephant and the Bad Baby by Elfrida Vipont and Raymond Briggs
  • Richard Scarry's First Little Learners Treasury 

E. (girl, 4 years, 10 months)
  • Sea Creatures Do Amazing Things by Arthur Myers
  • Birds Do the Strangest Things by Leonora Hornblow 
  • Hello, Star by Carolyn Haywood
  • Robert Rows the River by Carolyn Haywood
  • Penny and Peter by Carolyn Haywood

C (girl, 6 years, 11 months)
  • By the Shores of Silver Lake by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  • Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis
  • Deer Valley Girl by Lois Lenski 
  • King of the Dollhouse by Patricia Clapp
  • Our Little Macedonian Cousin of Long Ago by Julia Darrow Cowles
  • Muggie Maggie by Beverly Cleary

M (8 years, 9 months)
  • The Panama Canal by Bob Considine
  • The Boxer Rebellion by Irving Werstien
  • Dvora's journey by Marge Blain
  • The Wright Brothers by Russell Freedman
  • The Great Fire by Jim Murphy
  • Down The Colorado with Major Powell by James Ramsey Ullman
  • The Building of the First Transcontinental Railroad by Adele Nathan
  • The Copper Kings of Montana by Marian T. Place
  • Disaster at Johnstown: The Great Flood by Hildegarde Dolson
  • The Wound of Peter Waine by Leonard Wibberly
  • Blizzard by Jim Murphy
  • The Secret of Terror Castle by Robert Arthur
  • The Mystery of the Stuttering Parrot by Robert Arthur
  • Miss Pickerell Goes on a Dig by Dora Pantell
  • Miss Pickerell Goes Undersea by Ellen Macgregor
  • Nellie Bly, Reporter by Nina Brown Baker
  • The Alaska Gold Rush by Mary McNeer
  • The Panama Canal by Elizabeth Mann
  • Conquest of the North and South Poles by Russell Owen
  • Shaken Days by Marion Garthwaite 
  • Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders by Henry Castor
  • Klondike Gold by Alice Provensen
  • Andrew Carnegie and the Age of Steel by Katherine Binney Shippen 
  • Andrew Carnegie by Clara Ingram Judson
  • Theodore Roosevelt by Genevieve Foster
  • Bully for You, Teddy Roosevelt by Jean Fritz 
  • One Bad Thing About Father by F.N. Monjo 

My husband
  • Adventures of the Boy and the Monkey by Leon Garfield
  • Nicholas Carey by Ronald Welch
  • Red Pawns by Leonard Wibberley
  • The Last Battle by Leonard Wibberley
  • The Hidden Treasure of Glaston by Eleanore Jewett 

Up Next For Me

In September, I'm participating in a series challenge, and I'm also planning to read The Stand by Stephen King. We're starting our homeschool year, so other than that, I plan to just do some mood reading. 

I'm adding this post to the link-up for An Open Book at CatholicMom.com.