Welcome to Round 21 of this little series I started of all the things in life I’m loving and learning lately! Here you’ll find everything from the books I’m currently reading to the products I’m loving to the shows I’m watching (which, spoiler alert–won’t be very many or very exciting, since I’m not a huge t.v. or movie watcher). If you want to check out past editions of the series, click here.
Note: There are affiliate links in this post, which means I may get a small percentage of any sale made at no extra cost to you.
Linking up with Steph and Jana today!
- Almost five weeks postpartum, and there’s still a LOT that’s far from being back to “normal.” The first thing to kick back in though? My baking urge. After so many weeks of being on bed rest and being unable to pretty much make anything, it felt wonderful to be back in the kitchen. In case you missed it, I recently shared our secret family recipe for fudge revel cookies (pictured above), and I’ve also been making chocolate chip cookies (of course) and cinnamon rolls (for Christmas morning, naturally). I also set a New Year’s resolution totally around cooking (of course I did), which has meant my baking/cooking *may* be getting a bit out of control lately. But I love it.
- Speaking of baking, I used some of the money I got for Christmas to buy myself The Baking Bible. And now, with the experience I’ve been having cooking my way through a whole cookbook, I *think* I just might take on the hare-brained idea of cooking my way through this one, as well. My husband’s not loving what all my baking is doing to his waistline, but I’m a baker who apparently can’t stop/won’t stop!
- My 19-month-old toddler is going a bit stir crazy being cooped up all the time, so we’re trying to cobble together enough snow gear that will fit him so he can join his sister outside for time in the snow. The only thing we don’t have in his size? Good snow gloves. Looks like it’s time to get us a (small) pair of these perfect toddler snow gloves!
Current and Recent Reads
My book list this time is a bit bonkers since I missed doing a LALL round-up last month (due to my just having given birth…a decent excuse!) AND because nursing a baby seems to make me go through books like crazy. This isn’t even all the books I’m reading or have started, but these are just the ones I’ve finished or intend to finish (since I’ve abandoned a couple…for now).
Here are the ones worth talking about:
The Dearly Beloved by Cara Wall
I’d heard this recent release compared to Wallace Stegner’s Crossing to Safety, which is one of my favorite novels of all time, so naturally I had to give this one a shot. This novel explores the interplay between two couples where the husbands are assigned to work together as co-pastors in the same ministering assignment and the wives are about as different as can be (as are the husbands). The plot largely centers around the development–both personal and interpersonal–between the four main characters, and while the story moves at a slower pace, the writing is well-done and the themes thought-provoking. The ending of this fell a bit flatter than the rest of the story for me and I didn’t like all the characters equally (some hardly at all), but all in all, I’m still thinking about this one weeks later, and I think parts of it will stay with me for a long time. It was also super interesting to read about faith and its different effects on and development in the various characters, especially because most contemporary fiction novels today don’t deal much with the deep exploration of faith and religious belief.
Restart by Gordon Korman
This middle grade novel was my book club’s final pick of 2019, and while it is relatively simplistic and you have to definitely suspend disbelief for a few things that weren’t realistic, it overall was a quick read with a good moral to the story and a happy ending. Basically, a young teenage boy falls off his roof and gets amnesia, so he can’t remember anything about his life from before. Trouble was, as he starts trying to piece things back together, he discovers that the boy he was before isn’t the boy that he wants to continue to be. This is a good pick about how bullying and mistreating others will only hurt you in the long run and about the importance of having good friends, and it’s a good one for sharing with the younger readers in your life.
Miles From Nowhere by Barbara Savage
This is a lesser-known pick from a couple decades back about the true story of a couple who had a goal to bike around the world…and did it. This is a compilation of their adventures, including the people they met along the way, the nicer (and not-so-nice places they visited), the effects on their personal selves and on their marriage, and a lot more. If you have a bit of wanderlust and dream of going on a crazy kind of travel-the-world adventure like they did, this is a great pick to live vicariously through.
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
This book is about a party that is thrown for a Japanese businessman, in which a world-famous opera singer comes and performs. Right after the performance, a rebel group bursts in and takes the entire group hostage. You wouldn’t think a book about opera and hostages would work, but somehow this does, and the story that unfolds between the hostages and their captors is pretty fascinating. My only real beef? The epilogue. If you give this one a try, just skip it altogether—it doesn’t do anything for the story. All in all, an enjoyable read that had me turning pages long into the night to find out what would happen next.
The First Forty Days by Heng Ou
This is a nonfiction book that’s a cross between a cookbook and a postpartum guide. Basically, the author advocates for today’s new mothers to bring back the ancient practices of focusing just as much on the new mother’s needs after the birth as on the baby, and she cites her own Chinese heritage as a great example of what to do. While some of the ideas were just not for me, this book was a great reminder that I need to take a much more proactive approach to taking care of myself postpartum, and that I need to allow a much longer grace period before I try and force myself back to normal levels of activity. Also, the broth recipes I tried from this? Incredible!
The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields
This Pulitzer Prize winner from the mid-90’s is right up my alley—a character-driven novel that focuses on a more “ordinary” protagonist, a story that is slow and meandering and follows her from birth to death, and some pretty fabulous writing to boot. I know books like this aren’t for everyone, but I love me a slow burn of a book about a relatable person. There were some weird things about this I didn’t love (like the back story of her and her second husband is just weird), but this is one I wouldn’t mind revisiting again in the future, and it’s still one I find myself thinking about.
Nurture Shock by Po Bronson
I have mixed feelings about parenting/child development books, but this is the kind of book I can handle for sure—it’s less of a “how-to” and more of a “this is what the current research shows.” Some of this I’d heard before (praising kids can seriously backfire), and some of this I hadn’t (like how to help siblings get along better). Definitely worth a read if you spend any amount of time regularly with kids. (Related Post: These Are the Books That Made Me a Better Parent)
The Gratitude Diaries by Janice Kaplan
So you might remember I started this months and months ago…but then it was due back at the library, and I didn’t have the time to finish it. So I figured I’d just put another hold on it and get it back in 3 weeks (when the other patron who was waiting for it returned it). Well, they must have lost it since the library ended up having to order a new copy of the book, which meant I ended up finishing this about six months after starting. This book is very much in the same vein as Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project—a woman takes a whole year to focus on researching one life value, in this case gratitude–and writes a monthly breakdown of how gratitude affects all the different areas of her life. Definitely a good reminder of the importance of consciously taking time to be thankful every day (and of all the positive benefits that come from it).
The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
Two Patchett titles in a month! This is her latest release, and I’ve got to say, the ending was MUCH better on this one than on Bel Canto (although Bel Canto wins on plot, hands down). This is a slower novel of a pair of siblings who must face the demons of their past after their father dies and they are kicked out of The Dutch House, which is where they grew up for almost all their childhood. This is a book about forgiveness and moving on and sometimes not realizing all the consequences of big events in your life until much, much later. Definitely gave me a lot to think about.
This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger
Can I tell you how fantastic it was to finish a 5-star fiction read this early in the year? Last year, only one book got that rating from me (We Were the Lucky Ones), so to finish one a week or so into 2020 seemed to bode well for how this reading year is going to go. This story of 4 orphans who escape from a Native American school is a Huck Finn-esque coming-of-age story with believable character development, evocative writing, and lots of heart. I can’t wait to get my hands on Ordinary Grace by this same author, which I’ve also heard great things about.
Animal Farm by George Orwell
Can you believe I’d never read this short classic? I think if I’d read this as a teen in school, I might not have appreciated it as much, but as it is, I thought this short story nevertheless packs a pretty powerful punch. This tale of a group of farm animals who rebel against their human owner and start running the place themselves is easy enough to understand, but I feel like you could spend ages discussing everything in this—I would have loved to read it in a college class.
Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L. Holm
This Newbery Award runner-up is about a girl who goes to stay with her aunt and cousins during the Great Depression when her mom’s employer won’t allow children to board with her. I’m about 40 pages away from finishing, and while it isn’t the most life-changing of middle grade books, it’s still been a fun read.
The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee
This is the one I’ve most recently started, and it’s a historical fiction novel about a Chinese girl who starts writing under the pseudonym Miss Sweetie for the local paper (I’m guessing around the 1950’s or early 1960’s, as the Jim Crow laws are still in effect.) When she starts using the column to challenge the local ideas about race and class, she faces fierce backlash and the threat of her identity being discovered. I’ve just barely started this one, but I think it will be one I enjoy.
On the Blog
Nine months later, my blog still isn’t syndicating with Bloglovin’ for some inexplicable reason, so the best place to subscribe for now is either the blog’s Facebook page or by filling out the form on the home page and getting posts sent directly to your inbox.
I took a couple months off sending out my exclusive monthly email letter, but I’m back in the game now! If you aren’t signed up for my email list yet, you can sign up for that here (AND get a free copy of my list of 25 books to add to your bucket list!).
Just for fun, here are some fun posts from the archives published in January:
One Year Ago: Some Reflections on Serving an 18-Month Mission in a Foreign Country
Two Years Ago: My Best Sources For Finding What to Read Next
Three Years Ago: Hi, I’m Torrie, and I WAS a Social Media Addict
Four Years Ago: Some of My Favorite Resources on Living Simply and Minimalism
Five Years Ago: How Week One Went of Our Spending Freeze
Six Years Ago: Stuff You Should Stop Assuming About English Teachers
Have you finished any books yet in the new year? Anything good?