Saturday, December 30, 2023

Brighter Winter Recommendations

I love sharing books. Yesterday my sister and a friend were at my house discussing the Brighter Winter Reading Challenges. Both went home with a stack of books. 

If you live near me, please come on over. Nothing is more fun than talking about books while prerusing book shelves. But for those who don't live near me, here are some book recommendations for the various Brighter Winter Reading Challenges.

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Books set in the continent of Africa

A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park (middle grade)

West With the Night by Beryl Markham (classic memior)

The No. 1 Ladies Detective Series by Alexander McCall Smith (fiction, also an author who uses three names)

Cry the Beloved Country by Alan Paton (classic)

Books that center around a bookstore

84, Charing Cross Road by Helena Hanff (classic nonfiction)

The Last Bookshop in London by Madeline Martin (fiction)

The Printed Letter Bookshop by Katherine Reay (fiction)

Parnassus on Wheels by Christopher Morley (classic fiction)

Books that feature a teacher or education

Dangerous Minds by LouAnne Johnson(nonfiction)

Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt (middle grade)

A Year of Miss Agnes by Kirkpatrick Hill (middle grade)

American Classics

My Antonia by Willa Cather

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Newbery Awards or Honor chapter books

The Giver by Lois Lowry

Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor (an author who uses three names)

A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park (an author who uses three names)

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien

Sing Down the Moon by Scott O'Dell

Gone-Away Lake by Elizabeth Enright

(And so many more. You can find the complete list online. My library has a special shelf with Newbery books.)

A book  which has a family unit of 4+ children as the main characters

Many children's classics depict large families. I plan to read a book to my girls for this challenge. Some examples . . .

Melendy family - Elizabeth Enright

Moffat family - Elanor Estes

Ingalls family - Laura Ingalls Wilder

All-of-a-Kind Family - Sydney Taylor

There are many other books that would fit this category - even classics such as Pride and Prejudice or Little Women.

Book by an Anabaptist author

The easiest way to find a book for this challenge is to go to the CAM Books or Christian Light websites.

Or look up self-published authors such as Emily Steiner, Dorcas Smucker, or Katrina Hoover Lee. If I hadn't just read A Fragile Heritage, I'd pick it.

What books do you recommend for these categories? I'm sure I missed some great ones!

Friday, December 29, 2023

Choosing Books for the Brighter Winter Reading Challenge

Since the winter of 2020, I've been enjoying the Brighter Winter Reading Challenge. The beginning of this challenge coincided with my first year as a widow, when I was reading much more, since I didn't have Ed to talk to in the evenings. 

I love that Brighter Winter stretches my reading into new genres, gives my reading focus, and allows me to share reading with friends. This is the fifth year and by now it is a highlight of my winter. 

You can find more information about Brighter Winter Reading Challenge on their website, but briefly, this free reading challenge gives you a grid for January and February. You record the books you read for each challenge and qualify for drawings for prizes.

The day that Brighter Winter shared the reading grids, I printed them off and began choosing books. I begin filling in the grid with a pencil. When I read the book, I'll record it in pen.

Over the years, I've worked out a system for choosing books for Brighter Winter. This may sound rather obsessive, but I definently read more if I put some thought into my reading goals, so maybe you will get ideas for choosing your next book, even if you don't participate in Brighter Winter.

1. First I considered my reading goals for this winter. For me this includes reading unread books already on my shelves, participating in a book club, and prereading books for my children.

2. Next I looked through the shelf of unread books in my room. I started by pulling books off that shelf that would fit one or more of the Brighter Winter categories. (You can use the same book twice to check off the categories for Brighter Winter so I always like to find books that can fit two categories.)

3. Then I looked through the audiobooks that I saved in Everand (used to be named Scribd - you can try it for free) and picked ones that would fit in the categories. I like to choose one or two audiobooks each month of the challenge, depending on their length.

4. Next I checked my TBR list for any other books I've been hoping to read. I have a gift card to Thriftbooks that I can use to purchase any books that I would like to add.

5. Since my goal is to preread some new books for my children, I checked my library for some Newberry, Calacott, and Coretta Scott King awards. If I put a hold on them now, they will be waiting the next time I'm at the library.

6. And last, but maybe best, I ask friends for suggestions. What are good books that include teachers? Or adoption? Book conversations are The Best and talking about books is one of my favorite parts of Brighter Winter. Several years ago, some of my friends who are all participating in Brighter Winter, formed a Whatsapp group so that we could discuss our reading. It has been a fun way to get some more book suggestions.

Choosing books for Brighter Winter is so much fun! I'll change my mind lots of times, pulling books on and off the shelves, switching one for another. I'll have at least one long book gab session with my sister Charity and probably send her home with an armload of books. Likely I'll take books to church to lend to others doing the Brighter Winter Challenge. To me, sharing and talking about books is as fun as reading books.

And when January 1st rolls around, I'll be so excited to start reading that I will likely wake up early to start on the stack.

If you haven't signed up for Brighter Winter Reading Challenge, you still can.

If you are doing the Brighter Winter Challenge, how do you choose your books? Which category excites you the most? I hope to share some Brighter Winter reading suggestions in a future post.

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

Brownie Batter Dip

Dips are so fun for quick gatherings. My daughter has been making this one for us. We all love it. and I usually have the ingredients on hand. This is a dip for those who'd rather lick the bowl than eat the baked brownie. 

We usually serve it with apple slices, but pretzels and Teddy Grahams are great, too. 

Brownie Batter Dip

1 pack (8 oz) cream cheese, softened

1/4 cup butter, softened

2 cups confectioners' sugar

1/3 cup baking cocoa

1/4 cup milk

2 tablespoons of brown sugar

1 tsp vanilla

Optional: 1/4 cup mini M&Ms

Dippers: apple slices, pretzels, Teddy Grahams

In a large bowl, beat cream cheese and butter until smooth. Beat in confectioners' sugar, cocoa, milk, brown sugar, and vanilla until smooth. Sprink with M&Ms if desired. Serve with dippers of your choice.

Monday, December 11, 2023

Sisters Fall Reading Challenge

Sisters' Fall Reading Challenge 

We both enjoyed so many great books this fall. I'm never sure if it is because I happend to find great books or if I was simply in the mood to enjoy reading more this fall than sometimes. But whatever the reason, I've loved reading the past few months. Here is a glimpse of our reading this fall (and a photo shoot at the local library where we both grew up prerusing the shelves.)

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1. Read a biography. 

Charity - The Wright Brothers by David McCulloulgh 

While reading this book, I thought “Did I actually learn about the Wrights in school?” As always McCullough dug deep and gives an incredible story of the men who were determined to fly. I found this story engaging and learned a host of information that I won’t be forgetting for a long time.

Gina - The Bridge of Love by Grace Nies Fletcher

As a young man,  Merrell Vories asked to be sent to a difficult place of service where Jesus' name was not known. In 1908, he moved to a small town in Japan to serve as an English-language teacher. He spent the rest of his life in Japan, teaching the way of Christ, marrying a young  woman from a noble family,  becoming a Japanese citizen, and suffering during Word War 2. The Bridge of Love shares the inspiring story of Merrell and his wife and what God can do with two lives committed to Him. After reading their story, Merrel's hymn, "Let There Be Light, Lord God of Hosts" has more meaning.

2. Read a book set in England. 

Charity - Towers in the Mist by Elizabeth Goudge

Set in Oxford during the 1500s, I enjoyed this historical fiction of a time period I rarely read about. The story is based around the happenings in the university at Oxford, the Leigh family, and a boy from the street that wants to learn. 

Gina - The Two Mrs. Abbotts by D.E. Stevenson

I've been on a huge Stevenson kick the past few months. Her books are so cozy and cheerful. The Two Mrs. Abbotts is the third in the Miss Buncle series, but Miss Buncle doesn't play a main role in this book. Instead we get to learn to know her friends in Wandlebury as they experience the challenges of World War 2. I checked the publication date and found that this book was written and published during World War 2. To me it read like historical fiction, but to the author and the first readers, it was their reality. I'm certain that those readers found it just as warm and delightful as I did.

3. Read a book with a subtitle.

As an author and musician, Peterson loves creating beauty. This book is full of hope and inspired me to fully embrace the beauty in a world of darkness. I found myself with a list of books, poems, and songs to enjoy after finishing this book.

How do I relate to God? Does fear force me to try to control God? Do I attempt to manipulate God by my religious activity? I didn't agree with every word of this book, but it made me think deeply and realize anew how much God desires a relationship with His people. It inspired me love God more, and I'll be rereading this book.

4. Choose a Bible character, study his or her life, and draw a time line of their life.

Charity - David

I wanted to choose a character that I could spend a lot of time on. David’s life is packed full of action. Though I knew his story well, I was blown away by how much happened to him from a young man until old age. Studying David’s life made me realize the importance of prayer before making decisions. It was also beautiful to see how God fulfills his promise to David through the our king Jesus. 

Gina - Peter

Peter has always been my favorite apostle, but I never read through the Gospels and Acts just looking at Peter. I also read Peter's letters in a couple different versions. Knowing the facts of Peter's life and his eventual martydom, put perspective on his words to the church.

Did you read any extra good books this fall?

Saturday, December 2, 2023

Sisters' December Reading

Charity and I don't plan to post reading challenges for winter. But we thought we'd share a few book recommendations for December in case you want some book ideas. 

(We are looking forward to the Brighter Winter Reading Challenge in January and February. Registration is open now.) 

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Children's Christmas Picture Books

Charity -  The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski

I grew up with a few very special Christmas books. This treasure is beautifully illustrated and the story is about redemption, simple acts of kindness, and the hope in Jesus. Mr. Toomey is grumpy and keeps to himself ever since he has lived on the edge of the village. What no one understands is that once his life was filled with laughter. The widow and her son have something to offer that might bring the light back into his eyes. I can’t wait for my little boy to be old enough to call this book part of Christmas. 

Gina - Christmas Day in the Morning by Pearl  S. Buck

A young boy wants to give his dad a special gift, and what would be better than doing the barn chores for him? I'm not sure I've ever read this to my children without getting a catch in my throat at the love between parent and child.

Middle-grade Christmas Books

Charity - Jack and Jill by Louisa May Alcott

This isn’t exactly a Christmas book, but it opens with snow and sledding and so I always thing of it as warm, cozy, and Christmasy. The subtitle calls it a village story and it is just that. A story about a group of friends and what happens in their lives as they become young men and women. I loved this story as a girl and I’m thinking about dipping back into it this month. Alcott often has lovely Christmas scenes in her stories so many of them are great December reading options.

Gina - Turkey for Christmas by Marjuerite de Angeli

I love the warmth of de Angeli's books and Turkey for Christmas is a short book that I read aloud nearly every Christmas. Maybe it is so special because it is a story of her own childhood, and the difficult winter when money was tight because of her sister's hospital bills. Bess didn't think it possible to have Christmas without turkey, but if they bought a turkey, there would be no money for presents. 

Adult Christmas Books

Charity - Christmas Stories by Charles Dickens

Most of us are very familiar with A Christmas Carol, but did you know that Dickens wrote five Christmas novellas? My goal is to read the last two this Christmas. If you reread Dickens' well known novel or try one of his lesser known novellas, I’m quite certain he won’t disappoint! 

Gina - A Symphony in Sand by Calvin Miller 

This book is hard to categorize. Is it an allegory? Poetry? Fantasy? Miller rewrites the Christmas story in free verse allegorical form and makes me think of this familiar story in a new way. It has been several years since I read it, and I'm looking forward to a reread. 

Cozy Books

Charity - The Mitford Series by Jan Karon

I’ve been rereading a few of Karon’s cozy novels and loving every moment of it! Not only does she have one book that is dedicated to just Christmas, but most of her books have a chapter or two about Christmas.  Set in the fictional town of Mitford, South Carolina,  Father Tim is a rather average Episcopal priest, except that he is surrounded by interesting happenings and hilarious people. This is my favorite series when I need a light, comfortable book to read.

Since reading Turner's newest book, I've been longing to reread her whole series. Most are set somewhere around Derby, North Carolina and, though each one is about a different character, they manage to meet other characters from other books. Turner's books aren't just a cozy read, they make me think. I wrote a review of the series quite a few years ago.

And for the new year...

Goal Setting/Organizing Books

Charity - The Lazy Genius Kitchen by Kendra Adachi

I read this book soon after setting up my own kitchen. The author walks you through the different parts of your kitchen and habits and gives tips on the best way to organize, plan meals, and decide what is important to you. I also enjoyed the beauty of the graphics which made it a pleasure to read. 

Gina - Living Forward by Michael Hyatt and Daniel Harkavy

I read this book last year and am considering a reread. It helped me consider what I want my future to look like and what habits I need to build today to become the person I want to be. In some ways, losing Ed has made me cynical about planning for the future because I know plans can colapse with a dignosis. But on the other hand, I've learned how brief life can be and how I want to use each day wisely.

Do you have books that you enjoy rereading in December? Are you setting goals for your winter reading?


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