The December Booklist

Twenty nineteen is done and dusted. As dusted as so many previously neglected areas of my home, after a couple of my December reads that I honestly think have completely changed the way that I think, and have been a catalyst to some changes and decisions I’ve made as I’ve moved into this new year.
December was busy—in that regular December kind of way, that sneaks up on you even when you think you’ve been organised and prepared. But also in a different kind of way. Because life is different now that I have a big grown-up job, and this alone affected the way we prepared for Christmas and the expectations I laid down around having and doing it all. It was different, but lovely.

I worked on Christmas Eve and New Years Eve and served library patrons, and wished them happy Christmases, and tracked down book titles they’d heard about, and extended due dates for the ones who’d be holidaying in January and wouldn’t be able to return their books on time. One of the things I love about the library is that it whirrs on; there is always someone available to help you photocopy, or chat with you about your latest read. In the crazy Christmas hustle, the library was like a refuge. I watched people walk through our doors and breath a deep sigh of relief; this was no busy shopping centre, and here there was no to-do list.

So, in all the working hours and Christmas preparations, I made sure to read a Christmas novel, and a few others in between. Here’s my December wrap-up:

The Christmas Party by Karen Swan
Irish countryside, long-held family feuds and multiple plot lines, all centred around Christmas? Yes please. I am a sucker for a good romance, even if it’s as predictable as my morning coffee. My morning coffee is no less enjoyable in its predictability, and neither is a romantic novel. And a Christmas one at that.
This was our bookclub choice for the month (and when I say our pick, I do really mean two of us who needed something lighthearted and Christmassy, after some heavy choices in the previous months!). I loved having this to look forward to curling up with after a long day at work!

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris
I think my favourite part of the book was the prologue, in which the author talks about meeting and spending time with the man whose story she wrote. Her friendship with the elderly gentleman grew over three years, in which he shared with her his story, in bits and pieces of memory. The end result is a beautiful, moving piece of historical fiction, about a Slovakian Jew in the infamous Auschwitz-Birkenau who meets the love of his life. I listened to this one on audio, and it was beautifully read. I will always be shocked and heartbroken over the treatment of human beings at that period of history—anything that reminds us of the evil we are capable of, and serves to then help to prevent further horrors, is a good thing.

Chasing Slow by Erin Loechner
This was another audiobook. Before the kids finished school, and as I was preparing the house and presents and ticking things off my to-do list, I’d put on my headphones and listen to Erin read me her book. I loved hearing her journey through excess, share her faith and her values, and question all the things I’ve questioned: what am I chasing? When will I arrive? Will this stuff ever make me happy?
”There are two ways to get enough: one is to continue to accumulate more and more. The other is to desire less.” (G. K. Chesterton)
This is more of a memoir than anything (with a few recipes along the way – I did actually go and make her better pasta recipe, with a creamy cashew sauce and zucchini noodles and it was delicious!) but I love the way she writes, her honesty with herself and her readers, and I was inspired to evaluate the things I cling onto too. Ultimately, this journey of slow is exactly that: a journey.

The Minimalist Home: A Room-By-Room Guide to a Decluttered, Refocused Life by Joshua Becker
This. There was this one week, prior to Christmas where I had a couple of days off and I was determined to use them well, and to sink my teeth into something I may otherwise not have time for before Christmas. The back room had been getting on my nerves prior to then, with the dusty blinds and windows, and it was a big job. I wanted another audiobook after I’d finished Chasing Slow, and I needed one that was available now, not in a few weeks. So this one came up as a recommended read. I wasn’t that excited about it to be honest, but because I was standing over a bucket of hot soapy water, and was about to spend the following four or five hours scrubbing blinds and windows until they shone, I tapped ‘borrow’ and set to it.
I was ridiculously inspired. This book is both incredibly practical (room by room, drawer by drawer, why do I need two vegetable peelers? ) and also inspires us to look at the underlying issues of why we keep so much, why we need to store, collect, display and hoard. This quote I scribbled in my journal in the days I was listening:
”Minimising forces us to confront our stuff, and our stuff forces us to confront ourselves”
The advantages to a minimalist lifestyle are actually profound. There is so much joy to be found in owning less. I 100% recommend this book (and, in fact, any of Becker’s resources) if you are looking to simplify your life in 2020.
This is only the beginning of a journey for me, but one that I’ve begun with decluttered kitchen drawers and sparkling windows.

Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas
This is probably my favourite Advent devotional ever. It has 45 readings, or chapters, each by a different author. There are readings by CS Lewis, Sylvia Plath, Henri Nouwen, Philip Yancey, TS Eliot, John Donne – I could go on. It’s literary and spiritual genius, that focuses on the significance of Christmas. This is a book that will be well-loved and dog-eared for many years to come.

So. Folks. I did it.
I read 45 books this year—5 more than my goal.
I shared each of them here on my blog with a mini review, which seems like a massive feat in itself for this not-great-at-finishing-things-I-start kinda girl.

We started a bookclub, and I fell in love with reading again, and now I work in a library.

Life.

What to read in 2020?

Follow me over on Goodreads and send inspiration, and let me know what your 2020 reading goals are?

xx

The November Booklist

I’ve recently (thanks to being a public library employee) discovered our free e-lending system.
It has been a game changer. We’re really intentional about what we sign up for—read: stingy, we’re stingy with the things we sign up for. I don’t want to be leaking money in areas that are not being used, or in areas that are unnecessary. For example, I refuse to pay for a gym membership when I much prefer pounding the pavement on actual pavement. (Daniel does however, have a gym membership because he uses it almost daily) We only have one tv streaming account, and our music streaming is a part of Daniel’s phone plan.
This year we downsized our phone plans, too. Anyway. The point is, why pay for downloadable e-resources when you can get them for free through our public libraries?!
Cue: BorrowBox or Libby (by OverDrive) or any number of the borrowing apps that will work when you sign up with your public library.
It’s changed my reading game. I can listen to audio books while I’m washing dishes or weeding the garden, or driving long distances. They’re not completely the same as cosying up with a paperback, but they serve their purpose all the same, and I am stoked to be able to access this stuff for free. Get a library card my friends.

Anyway. November was a good, albeit heavy, reading month. I’m looking forward to December’s Christmas novel to lighten it all up a bit more!

Here’s the November read list:

The Pearl Thief by Fiona McIntosh
”Oh, you must try one, my dear,” says an elderly woman stuffing her library card back into her purse with arthritic fingers and a twinkle in her eye. “They’re so well researched. All the stories are just lovely. I couldn’t put this one down.” It wasn’t the first of Fiona McIntosh’s titles that had crossed my path this month, they’re popular and I was intrigued. I popped this one aside, and rode home from work with it in my bike basket.
I wasn’t disappointed. It contained the right mix of popular fiction with historical facts, doing justice to the Holocaust and it’s survivors. I loved its straight-backed protagonist and the ending was perfect.

Boys Will Be Boys: Power, Patriarchy, and the Toxic Bonds of Mateship by Clementine Ford
I cannot even, with this one. I listened on Audio, and while Clem is very, very angry, by the end of the book it really isn’t difficult to see why. There was one moment, where I was driving down the freeway listening in horror to the absolute injustice of men who have committed horrific crimes against women and have not been given fair punishment. It seems that this book was a punch in my already-aching justice-loving feminist heart.
It needs to be read, far and wide.
I’ll write more about this. I will. Because I know I already lost 80% of you with the word feminist.
But, ladies, remember this: the feminist movement is what has given you your right to vote, to decide whether you’d like to have children or not and to decide whether you will work inside the home or out of it. It wasn’t that long ago that we weren’t given that autonomy, and we should be grateful.
*puts the feminist soapbox aside… for now*

Beloved by Toni Morrison
I know I’ve probably harped on a little about book club. Or maybe I haven’t harped on enough, because BOOK CLUB! My girl gang is a book club and this makes my bookish heart so happy.
We gathered again to talk about this book, our pick for the month. We ate pavlova and as I licked the last of the cream from my fork, and stared at a flickering candle on the coffee table, legs tucked underneath me in my corner of the couch, I got to hear what was loved, what was learned, and what was gained from Beloved. And share my thoughts too.
This book is a bit hectic. I don’t love ghosty stories, and if you’ve ever seen the movie (it has Oprah in it, by the way) you’ll know it’s a horror genre. Which the book doesn’t fully portray. What is horrific, however, is the way people of colour were treated in that period, and the pain inflicted on families and generations and women. I always love the historical aspects of books, love to learn about our pasts, about different time periods and other peoples. Toni Morrison is a master storyteller, and this book is a classic for a reason. But go in prepared for discomfort.

My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises by Fredrik Backman
I needed a Fredrik Backman novel after Boys and Beloved!
Earlier this year I read Britt Marie Was Here and while this one didn’t quite captivate me as much (I got a bit tired of the imaginary world, I just wanted to go on with the story in the protagonists here and now) it was a reprieve from the heaviness, and lovely to curl up with in the evenings and make me smile. Everyone needs a granny like Elsa, and I think I want to be that kind of granny when I grow up too.

Next month I want to read at least two corny Christmas novels, and I’ve just borrowed Erin Loechner’s Chasing Slow to listen via BorrowBox.
What are you reading/hoping to read this month?

xx

The October Booklist

October was contentment.
I’ve been making my way though a devotional book this year that is a compilation of Henri Nouwen’s words, and this quote sums up the month for me:

‘Every time we decide to be grateful it will be easier to see now things to be grateful for’

There is so much to be grateful for.
Finding my feet as a Library Assistant, getting to know regular patrons and learning the way each of the libraries run took most of my time and energy this month—yet being surrounded by books never ceases to inspire me.
I often leave work loaded with books, often ones I’ve come across during the day that I’ve thought my kids would like, and go back for at the end of my shift.

My love of picture books has been renewed, and I took a stack home to renew my kids’ love for them, too. We sat, for a few nights in a row, reading a book or two and feasting on the illustrations.
Our very favourite is Oliver Jeffers’ Here We Are. His illustrations are incredible, but it’s the pure heart behind this one that makes it a firm favourite.

Other books I read in October:

An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith by Barbara Brown Taylor
Encountering God in our every day. Outside of the confines of a church building, outside traditions we’ve appropriated without thinking, outside of the typical formula of Christianity that I had implemented without thinking for too long—this book wasn’t anything I didn’t know, but it gave me the permission I didn’t know I needed, to see God in the places I was already finding Him, and realise that they had been spiritual practices all along.

Inspired : Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again by Rachel Held Evans
I love the way Evans creates narrative from Bible characters, and brings them to life. I loved learning some of the context of Bible times, and understanding the Jewish way of reading the Torah—entering into midrash, open to interpretation, entering into the story, wrestling with meaning.
I love that Evans gives voice to issues in the Bible I’ve been uncomfortable about, and makes it feel like it’s okay to question, without being berated for my ‘lack of faith’. Some of what I read I am still mulling over, unsure about, and need to do my own research on—but I think it’s important to read things that stretch us, confront our ideologies and expand our thinking.

The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe
This book is based on the true story of holocaust survivor Dita Kraus, who was charged with the role of secret librarian at 14 years old, in Auschwitz, after being sent from the Terezin ghetto in Prague. The library consisted of only eight books, but represent the will to keep learning and keep living, in the midst of unspeakable horrors. The afterword was my favourite part though, where the author recounts meeting with an aged Dita, and where her spunk and tenacity come alive.

Tell me, what have you been reading?

xx

The September Booklist

Oh September. You are sunnier days, and cool nights. You are wildflowers and storms and surprise sunburn.
You are all over the place, yet beat with a constant whisper of warmer days to come.
I started working in my city’s libraries. There are four across our sprawling suburbs, and each one with its quirks, demographics and shelving layouts.
It’s overwhelming.
Not the patrons, whom I love, and not the shelving, which I find cathartic – but the sheer, heaving, growing mass of reading material available. I am well read. I’ve been a reader since I was a little girl, reading out the children’s library in my own home town so that mum would have to drive me to the next suburb’s library. Despite this, despite me being familiar with so so many titles of books and authors, and having read a lot in my lifetime, there is still so many books to read.

There are so many more being written, so many classics I haven’t heart of, so many titles I’m coming across that I must read, so many paperbacks with beautifully designed covers, so many new works of fiction I didn’t know about…

then there’s the horrifying knowledge that there is not, and nor will there ever be, enough lifespan to read all the books. So, I’ll plod along and read as many as I can in the time that I do have, finding patches of spring sunshine to distract me from this sad knowledge. And revel in the fact that I work in these spaces heaving with books, because actually – what a dream.

So here’s what I read this month:

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
This was our book club’s pick, and we have yet to meet and discuss. A patron happened to ask me to reserve this book for them recently (to whom I apologised, that I myself happened to have a copy at the time) because they’d heard an interview on ABC Radio with Min Jin Lee, and said the book sounds delightful. You can listen to the full interview here. The book is delightful.
It’s also a very long saga, that follows a dizzying array of characters across multiple generations—because of this I was never sure if I should be invested in a particular character because actually I may never hear of them again as the stories trailed on. What I did love was the history, the culture and reading in the stories the deep-rooted ways Koreans live. I wasn’t aware of some of the history between Japan and Korea, and I loved reading about the foods and jobs and relatives and customs of these fictional characters, trying to get ahead in Japan, after being forced to leave Korea.

The Princess Bride by William Goldman
You guys. I’ve never read this before.
Of course I’ve seen the movie. Of course I know all the pop-culture references that came from the movie. I actually have a very vivid memory of sitting on my Grandmother’s fold out couch, in her spare room at the back of her house, watching this movie for the first time. I would have been no more than five years old. I had a sore tummy, and I really wanted mum and dad to hurry up and get me, but I’m assuming that The Princess Bride kept me entertained well enough until they did.
Anyway. This book is hilarious and William Goldman is a genius.
I laughed out loud the entire time. It is satire at it’s finest, and Westly and Buttercup came alive for me again but with depth and humour and quiet mocking.
How is S. Morganstern not a real person and Florin not a real place and this story not a thousand years old? Goldman. Genius. Now I am off to watch the movie again.

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
Did you know that Elizabeth Gaskell was a friend of Charlotte Brontë? That she wrote Brontë’s biography, and was a novelist herself, who published novels in and about the Victorian era? Move over Jane Austen. I’m kidding of course, Austen wouldn’t move over for anyone. Gaskell though, has a similar style and if you are a fan of old Jane, and Charlotte and literature from the 1800’s, then you won’t be disappointed. Except maybe about the ending, because we all knew it was going to happen, but I needed more. If you’ve read it, you’ll understand. I was surprised how modern this book felt, considering it was published in 1854, and how strong a protagonist Margaret was. She was no weak Victorian heroine that’s for certain, and I loved her.

So that’s September wrapped up!

What are you reading?
Please have a conversation with me about The Princess Bride!
I need to talk about this.

xx

The August Booklist

Look, it’s been a big few months okay?
There have been some job changes over here in the H household, and I’ve felt all the transitions between seasons down deep in my bones—achey and slow.
Sometimes there’s just no brain space leftover for reading. I had two library books on my bedside for weeks, and I couldn’t pick them up. Back to the library they went.
For a little while, reading just felt hard you know?
I’ve eased myself in again, in the past couple of weeks and I’m glad I’ve reacquainted myself with this love.
Anyway. Being the low-reading month that it was, my August reads were as follows…

City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert.
This was our book club read for the month (I really, really must blog about book club soon. It makes me so happy), and my favourite pick of book club so far. It had me at New York City. Then it had me at 1940’s New York City. And although I’ve had a love-hate relationship across Gilbert’s works over the years, this work of fiction is stunning. Vivian Morris lands in NYC as a nineteen year old, come to live with her Aunt who owns the Lily Playhouse. Vivian is a talent with a sewing machine, and creates costumes for the show girls who work at the playhouse—and although her character as a whole is rather shallow, she’s still self-aware enough of her naiveté. And look, there is definitely some debauchery throughout the novel as Vivian discovers the world of the show girl, but it’s simultaneously light-hearted and profound.
A couple of my favourite quotes I noted down as I came across them (I’ve found it handy lately, to read with a notebook nearby for moments such as these!):

“Then my mercy swelled, and for just a moment I felt mercy for everyone who has ever gotten involved in an impossibly messy story. all those predicaments that we humans find ourselves in—predicaments that we never see coming, do not know how to handle, and then cannot fix.”

“I fell in love with him, and it made no sense for me to fall in love with him. We could not possibly have been more different. But maybe that’s where love grows best—in the deep space that exists between polarities.”

“All these years later, I felt like he was still trying to do that. Still trying to find a safe radius somewhere in the world. Someplace where he could stop burning.”

The Binding by Bridget Collins
I loved the concept of this book. It’s like nothing I’ve ever read before.
Set in nondescript medieval history, there exist craftsmen called bookbinders, who not only craft beautiful books with leather and gold, in their workshops, but have a gift of binding the book owners memories into them. Those who have experienced that which they’d rather forget seek out these bookbinders, who remove the memories, creating a book with them, and locking them safely away. They then are dangerous and secret, holding the scars of people who no longer remember that they’ve been bound. Magical realism at it’s finest.
The story follows farmer-boy Emmett and his lover, and while it is immersive fantasy and incredible storytelling, I couldn’t help but feel that it was lacking something I can’t quite put my finger on. Maybe I just wanted more of the history, the place in time… something. I felt that it took me on a path I wasn’t quite interested in, and there were other offshoots to the trail I would have preferred to wander down.
Still, if you go in without expectations (especially if you have expectations regarding the blurb, do not read the blurb) I think you’ll be glad you did.

That is all.

xx

The July Booklist

I’m finding that it’s getting harder to read non-fiction. It doesn’t hold my attention very well, and makes sitting down to read feel like a bit of a chore.
I can lose myself in a fictional world and can (and will!) easily read for hours, but know there are nuggets of gold in other books that are good for my spirit and soul growth. What to do?
Audiobooks. I’ve been listening to non-fiction via audio and it’s a game changer. I can listen while I run, or do the dishes, or drive. I think I retain more this way, and then I can save my sit-down-reading-time to indulge in a beautiful work of fiction.

I thought I had read more this month, but I guess that’s the beauty of keeping track—I’ll have to up my game next month!

So these are the books I read in July:

Circe by Madeline Miller
This was our bookclub pick. Apparently it made some waves and all the important and well-connected Instagram types were raving about it. And if Brene Brown raves, you know the rest of us want to see what the fuss is about. I didn’t quite get what the fuss was about with this one, and the jury was out on this one in bookclub too. Some of us loved it, some (me) not so much. If you like epic sagas and Greek mythology, then this is your jam. I was a little bit lost in the sprawling plot lines and flowery language. My book club associates did, however, help me to see the beauty in it; the heroine who discovers herself and the intelligent thoughts and messages throughout (Magic man-rapists into actual pigs? Nymphs and goddesses… yes, just a healthy sprinkling of feminism). It’s a re-telling of Greek mythology, which is interesting and slightly gripping… but the bulk is spent on an island with a rather naive immortal woman who did not have the depth of character I needed her to have. I did enjoy the immersive aspect of the novel though, there were some beautiful poetic lines in it that I loved.

The Last Arrow: Save Nothing for the Next Life by Erwin McManus
I’ll leave you with my favourite quotes:

“Life is a series of challenges, adventures, and yes, even battles. There will always be giants to subdue and dragons to slay. I have already decided to die with my sword in hand. There is more courage in us than danger ahead of us. You are strong enough for the battles ahead.”

“I do not believe anyone is born average, but I do believe that many of us choose to live a life of mediocrity. I think there are more of us than not who are in danger of disappearing into the abyss of the ordinary. The great tragedy in this, of course, is that there is nothing really ordinary about us. We might not be convinced of this, but our souls already know it’s true, which is why we find ourselves tormented when we choose lives beneath our capacities and callings.”

“Be ready when you get there. Don’t make the mistake of living your life waiting for good things to happen—make good things happen. Be faithful in the small things that do not matter to you as much and treat them with the same level of respect and importance as the big things connected to your hopes and dreams.”

The Way of Life: Experiencing the Culture of Heaven on Earth by Bill Johnson
This was a refreshing look at church culture, at the way of Jesus, and the way it all should/could be.
This was wisdom. So much wisdom.

xx

The June Booklist

It was a cold month and I was tired.
Maybe it’s the working mum gig. It’s been an adjustment.
It probably also has something to do with the weather. It was too wet (the wettest Perth June on record, for 14 years actually) to do much, other than read.
If I’m not careful, I can use books the same way other people use Netflix. I’m a book binger.
Particularly with fiction.
In June I feel like I binged a lot. Which meant I stayed up too late to read ‘one more chapter’ and didn’t write, or run. I just read, and read some more.
I’m not going to feel sad about it. There are worse things to binge on.
And now we’re getting some sunny days I can ride my bike again… to the library… for more books… it’s a vicious cycle my friends.

Here’s my June list:

The Shepherd’s Hut by Tim Winton
Tim Winton is a literary genius. I loved the protagonist’s voice throughout this book—Jaxie’s voice is so raw, and some of the colloquialisms made me actually laugh out loud and read them again, and then out loud to my husband, who uses so much of the same teenage slang himself. Winton makes every day Aussie speech sound like poetry—poetry with a lot of profanity. With guts. Not to mention making the-middle-of-nowhere in Western Australia sound like somewhere you’d want to go. And then those hit-you-in-the-guts phrases that bring to life the struggles of humanity, of brokenness, and the reality of love. It’s uncomfortable, and brutal and heartbreaking, and hilarious. Also, it’s one of my book club reads—have I told you about my book club? A real life book club with wine and cheese and conversation and women in a room who are writers and want to get better at their craft, and talk literature and life and writing ohmyheart counting down the sleeps until our next book club night!

How’s Your Soul by Judah Smith
This one was an audiobook, and not a long one. I like Judah. He makes me laugh. His writing style is easy to read (listen to). Maybe too easy, for a topic that has the possibility of a lot of depth, but which I didn’t feel went as deep as it could have. There’s some beauty in its simplicity though—in knowing and accepting that outward indicators are not a sign of success, that the health of our soul is vitally important to the life God calls us to live. “Walking implies that our souls are experiencing steady, controlled progress. It means that we are moving forward. It means that rather than running for cover every time a threat appears, we are stable, we make good choices, and we have a positive outlook on the future. Steadily and surely, we are advancing.”

Written in My Own Heart’s Blood by Diana Gabaldon
I was saving this one, I really was. I wasn’t going to start it—it’s the last available book in the Outlander series. The author, as far as I know, is still writing the next one. So I was saving it, the way you save the biscuity base of the cheesecake for last because you know it’s the best bit. But then I rode to the library with Eden, and I accidentally wandered the ‘g’ in fiction, and locked eyes with this book. Before I could activate my self-control, and walk away, my hand had grabbed it off the shelf as fast as lightening and there was no going back. And then I remembered why I really should read these books on my Kindle – hashtag heavy.
And oh my heart I was not ready for it to end, and now I personally want to knock on Gabaldon’s door and tell her to hurry up with the next book please.

Wolfpack by Abby Wambach
Yes, yes and YES. Fem lit that makes me want to look around at my fellow females and smile a we’re-on-the-same-team smile. I love Abby’s insights into leadership, teamwork, feeling benched, cheering each other on. She has so much wisdom—I was nodding and hissing yesssssss through my teeth, and fist pumping throughout this entire book. This book is a win for sisterhood, for culture-changers and unity.

Still Lives by Maria Hummel
An easy fiction piece with a little bit of suspense, and a little bit of detective work. Another of Reese’s Book Club picks, which I think I have to start lowering my expectations of a little. Lately, it seems it’s been predominantly chick lit, very romcom/soapie style and it’s not my favourite. BUT when bingeing on books, fiction that is easy to read, a plot that was simple to follow and provided a dreamy escape into a world of art in Los Angeles, was just the thing. Also, my fantastic little local library is so great at ordering in books I request, and this was one of them. So grateful.

Done any book-bingeing lately? Any you’d care to recommend?

xx