Tag: fiction (page 1 of 11)

Rootless | Taylor Everett Brown

Not long ago, I was the proving ground for our family’s books. But now Lydia has reached an age where I can trust her to discern tricky themes and talk with me about them—and she reads much, much faster than I do. I can’t keep her waiting for every single book.

So when Taylor Everett Brown explained, in an email, how his passion as a Christian, parent, and writer converged as he wrote this book, I had no qualms about handing his book to Lydia first, with the stipulation that she tell me, in detail, how she liked it. The only question—and it was one that made me nervous—was whether this book was any good.

By way of an answer, Lydia read it through twice. She urged me to read it. With her endorsement, I read it and found that Taylor Everett Brown is not only a kindred spirit—he is also a promising storyteller.

Rootless, by Taylor Everett Brown | Little Book, Big Story

Rootless follows the journey of Everett and his friend Rrrwin, an Ent-like creature who suffers from a terminal root defect, as they travel through the country of Pateramor, on a quest to see all seven of the land’s forests before Rrrwin’s death. I will be perfectly honest and let you know that this book is self-published by a brand-new author, and there are areas where I am excited to see Taylor Brown grow as a writer. But I want to see him grow as a writer: the story itself is fascinating; his characters struggle with some genuine doubts and conflicts; and the forests, when they reach them, are incredibly inventive. Lydia and I both finished the book with the desire to read more about Pateramor, for surely, there is much, much more than forests to explore there.

Stay tuned!

I had the opportunity to interview Taylor Everett Brown and learn more about why he wrote Rootless and what it was like, and what we can expect from him in the future. Tune back in next week to read it.


Rootless: Adventures in the Seven Forests of Windfall
Taylor Everett Brown (2016)


Disclosure: I did receive a copy of this for review, but I was not obligated to review this book or compensated for my review in any way. I share this book with you because I love it, not because I was paid to do so.

Early Sunday Morning | Denene Millner

Some books tell about adventure. Some books tell about growth—the emotional kind or sometimes just the regular kind that happens in the garden (or sometimes both). And some books are about ordinary moments. There are no dragons; the tension is slight, just the recognizable tension we feel every day. These are stories that could maybe happen to us, but they don’t—at least, not in just the way they happen to the characters—and that difference makes these ordinary stories potent.

I may have four daughters, but they are not the Penderwicks.

My daughters may lose their front teeth, but they won’t do it in just the way Sal does on that one morning in Maine.

Early Sunday Morning, by Denene Millner | Little Book, Big Story

Early Sunday Morning is one of these stories. June is an African American girl, nervous about singing her first solo in the church choir. We get to walk with her through the weekend before it as her family tries, in their various ways, to encourage her and smooth her nerves.

Early Sunday Morning, by Denene Millner | Little Book, Big Story

It’s a beautiful, simple story that invites our family into the lives of another family and allows us to see how they speak to one another, what their church is like, how they spend their mornings. Vanessa Brantley-Newton’s illustrations add vibrant colors and texture to the story, enriching for us the glimpse of one loving family on one Sunday morning.

Early Sunday Morning, by Denene Millner | Little Book, Big Story

My favorite moment comes at the end—I won’t spoil it for you. It could happen, with slight differences, to another family, but the way it happens to June’s family draws us closer to them. And perhaps it helps us appreciate our own a bit more. Perhaps it helps us to love other families a bit better.


Early Sunday Morning
Denene Miller; Vanessa Brantley Newton (2017)

Gone-Away Lake | Elizabeth Enright

Every year it’s hard to narrow my list of “best books” down from fifty to ten, but this year was exceptionally hard. I wanted to tell you about Jewel, another novel I’ll reread years from now; I wanted to at least mention The Stars, by HA Rey; A Charlotte Mason Companion nearly made the cut. But no book came closer to being the eleventh title on my list of ten than this one. Only the realization that I could justify writing an entire post about it saved us all from a rapidly expanding list (because if I added an eleventh, why not a twelfth? Why not a twentieth? Who’s to stop me—but me?).

Gone-Away Lake, by Elizabeth Enright | Little Book, Big Story

And so, here is a book that rightly belongs among the best books I read last year. I found Gone-Away Lake on one of the Ambleside Online lists (more on those lists here); I reserved it from the library. When we picked it up, I skimmed the blurb on the back of the book, was immediately fascinated by the story’s premise—two kids find a ghost town among the marshes behind their house? Rad!—and asked Lydia to give me a turn with it when she finished.

She read it in an afternoon and assured me that I would love it, too, as she handed it over. She was right.

Gone-Away Lake, by Elizabeth Enright | Little Book, Big Story

Gone-Away Lake follows the story of Portia and her cousin Julian, who discover a ghost town, complete with two people who know the town’s story. As I read this book I realized that the only thing better than mysterious, abandoned houses is mysterious, abandoned houses—and the stories behind them. Gone-Away  Lake is warm and friendly and fun to read, and—oh joy!—it has a sequel that is equally lovely.


Gone-Away Lake
Elizabeth Enright (1957)

Best Books of 2017

This was a year of learning. Good portions of it were given to reading curriculum samples, blog posts, and books about homeschooling. But I also learned to tend flowers, to keep a nature journal, and I took to writing fiction.

Here is what you should know about me and writing fiction: in college, I played it safe and studied poetry and creative nonfiction*. I am glad I did, because creative nonfiction is what I do these days, both for this blog and for Deeply Rooted. Nonfiction seemed civilized: one could draw on one’s own life, one’s own actual experiences. Fiction seemed too much like the Wild West to me: people went there and died of starvation, or in a bar fight. There was too little structure, I thought, too few rules. No civilized folk to protest, “But it didn’t happen like that!” No sheriff.

But my last quarter of college, I needed to pad my schedule with a few extra classes, so along with Martial Arts 101, I took a fiction writing class. It was wild and a little terrifying at times. But I loved it. The air was clear and invigorating, the grueling travel to a story’s end worth the work.

And then I graduated.

Of all the books I read in 2017, I liked these 10 the best (book list) | Little Book, Big Story

Fifteen years later, I am trying out fiction again. I thought, maybe there’s no sheriff, but there are certainly good, established neighbors around who can teach me a thing or two about survival. I met a few of them this year through some essays on writing, and I read some stunning novels, truly beautiful books. I am now at work drafting some of those mediocre stories you have to write before you get to (here’s hoping) the good ones.

What I am getting at here is: I read a lot of fiction this year and a lot of books about writing it. I read a lot about the other things I’m learning to do, too. And in doing so I found some incredible books, at least fifty-percent of which I’ll read again (at least once). What a year!

The 10 Best Books I Read in 2017 | Little Book, Big Story

* I’m sure some could argue that there’s nothing particularly safe about either poetry or creative nonfiction, or that writing about your own life is infinitely more alarming that inventing lives to write about, but at nineteen, I preferred the known to the unknown. I knew my own life tolerably well, and I had written a lot of middling poetry and song lyrics. And so those genres seemed safest to me.

 

Middlemarch, by George Eliot

Middlemarch, by George Eliot | Little Book, Big Story

I started this book when Josie was small. I wanted a big novel, so I got a big novel, and I began to read. But—alas!—I grew painfully bored after a few chapters and, being sleep-deprived, found myself dozing off during passages that were probably important. I shelved Middlemarch with a sigh and thought, Not right now. But this summer I picked it up again, grew bored in the early chapters, dozed off during some important passages, and found myself wanting to quit around the same spot where I had dropped off before, but I pressed on, and I am so glad.

This book is beautiful, stunning, breathtaking—any number of adjectives apply to its slow development of character, perfect pacing, and fitting conclusion. A few chapters from the end I began to realize that Middlemarch would join the ranks of my favorite novels. By the end I wondered if it hadn’t topped the list.

Notes From the Tilt-a-Whirl, by ND Wilson

Notes From the Tilt-a-Whirl, by ND Wilson | Little Book, Big Story

I took Notes From the Tilt-a-Whirl with me on vacation last summer and proceeded to underline and dog ear it heavily—every other passage, it seems, is brilliant and brightly written. Wilson’s thoughts on this world, the wildness of it, were just right for reading on a cabin’s front porch overlooking a lake.

The Hidden Machinery, by Margot Livesey

 The Hidden Machinery, by Margot Livesey | Little Book, Big Story

We had a neighbor who kept the best-curated Little Free Library around. After a summer of supplying me with Wendell Berry, Flannery O’Connor and more (and I, in turn, kept it stocked PG Wodehouse, EB White and more), they moved and I mourned. Now it houses the usual department store crime novels and cast-off magazines (alas!).

But before they moved, I found this gem: I knew nothing about the author, only that it was about writing novels, and so I grabbed it. Margot Livesey looks at how writers learn from great writers by reading their stories; she discusses Shakespeare and Flaubert in glorious detail. This is one of my best free library finds to date.

No Little women, by Aimee Byrd

No Little Women, by Aimee Byrd | Little Book, Big Story

Aimee Byrd’s vision of women in the church is a challenging and uncomfortably convicting one. She both points church leaders to Scripture passages that press us to revisit some of the habits we’ve settled into within the church, and she encourages women to be knowledgeable about Scripture and quick to spot false doctrine.

One of my favorite features of the book was a chapter in which Byrd quotes passages from well-known books marketed toward Christian women and trains readers to ask pointed questions of the text. I’m sure she’ll offend every reader at least once, but in a good way, a way that means she’s prodding at something that needs examination. It is worth noting, though, that she doesn’t do this just to rile people up: her arguments are firmly rooted in Scripture, and her concern is loving, if direct. This book gave me much to ponder.

The Scent of Water, by Elizabeth Goudge

 The Scent of Water, by Elizabeth Goudge | Little Book, Big Story

I read and adored Goudge’s Eliot Family Trilogy last year, but this book was even better. Imagine an LM Montgomery novel set in the English countryside, with an protagonist not in the dawn of life but in its twilight, and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what’s to love about The Scent of Water. I already look forward to rereading it.

Humble Roots, by Hannah Anderson

Humble Roots, by Hannah Anderson | Little Book, Big Story

In this graceful little book about humility, Hannah Anderson explores why it matters that we know our place as branches to Christ’s vine. She draws on stories from her community in rural Appalachia, and writes of plants and the rhythm of the garden in a way that reminds me of Lilias Trotter’s Parables from the Cross. I loved the way she framed the wisdom of this book within stories and linked it to the outside world.

The Laws Guide to Nature Journaling and Drawing, by John Muir Laws

The Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling, by John Muir Laws | Little Book, Big Story

When I realized that I wanted to teach the girls to keep nature journals, I also realized that I needed to keep one myself—the habit wouldn’t take if I didn’t. So I made myself a little bag of supplies, dug a tiny sketchbook out of my desk, and checked this book out from the library. In it, John Muir Laws explains the concepts behind keeping a nature journal, but he also discusses drawing and painting techniques, explores a number of different mediums, and quietly cracks jokes as he goes.

This quickly became a favorite book, not just because I was new to nature journaling and it was helpful, but because Laws describes  certain concepts so clearly that my art skills leveled up more in the few months I spent with this book than they had in the previous ten years. He’s a master at explaining complex techniques in a few short sentences, and the step-by-step drawings throughout this book are worth their weight in gold.

Mystery & Manners, by Flannery O’Connor

Mystery & Manners, Essays by Flannery O'Connor | Little Book, Big Story

Flannery O’Connor is adept at describing her own work and the work of a writer in a way that cuts to the heart of things. This won’t surprise you, if you’re familiar with her stories. She does cut right to the heart of things. But for a writer trying to write stories that aren’t entirely aimless or bland, O’Connor is a sharp-tongued, discerning, articulate teacher. I am still reading these essays and have been reading them slowly for months, but I feel confident ranking them here because I’ve yet to find one that didn’t send me to my notebook with some new thought to ponder.

Rebecca, by Daphne Du Maurier

Du Maurier’s eerie novel about a young wife haunted by her husband’s deceased first wife is perfect from start to finish. Du Maurier’s eye for detail brings a scene to life with the mention of one fallen moth, one forgotten corkscrew. And the twists and turns of the plot! Egad! This book, too, has joined my list of frequently revisited favorites. (I wasn’t able to photograph this one because I promptly pressed it upon a friend.)

Cut Flower Garden, by Erin Benzakein

Cut Flower Garden, by Erin Benzakein | Little Book, Big Story

This book is the reason we skipped squash this summer and planted row upon row of flowers. Benzakein runs Floret Farm, a small flower farm not far from where we live, where she grows and arranges gorgeous blooms. In this book, she gives tips on planting, tending, and harvesting her favorites, as well as some ideas for arranging the harvested flowers. Cut Flower Garden was a glorious spring read.

What about you? Which books did you discover this year?

God Gave Us Family | Lisa Tawn Bergren

This isn’t technically a Christmas book, I know. But many of us are preparing to sleep on hide-a-beds in basements and fly red-eye flights cross country and pack wilting kids up for the fourth family engagement, so I thought maybe this might the right time for a little picture book moral support.

God Gave Us Family, by Lisa Tawn Bergren | Little Book, Big Story

Lisa Tawn Bergren—author of God Gave Us You, God Gave Us Easterand many other beautiful books—reminds us, in her new book God Gave Us Family, that family is a good gift in all its varying configurations. Through the curiosity of Little Wolf, she introduces us to a number of family shapes and connections, and she covers each one with gentleness and grace. This is not a book interested in showing what a family ought to look like, but in helping kids understand that many families just do look different without going into the reasons why.

I grew up with divorced parents, and so I appreciate the mention of the goose family whose father lives in another pond. The childlike way that Bergren addresses that, giving just enough information without delving into the specifics of marital difficulty, custody plans, or even the value of an intact home, was beautiful. I could imagine myself as a child finding comfort in that the same way I did when I read The Babysitter’s Club for the first time and learned that Kristy, too, had been through her parents’ divorce. I didn’t know that I would be grateful for that, but I am.

God Gave Us Family, by Lisa Tawn Bergren | Little Book, Big Story

We want our kids to be wise and grounded in the Word of God, rich in his Spirit, so that they can discern the thread of truth amid the knot of lies the world presents them with daily. That means talking to our kids about what a family ought to look like, how it is meant to function. It also means loving others well whatever their families look like, while still helping our kids put the wiring in place so that one day their own families, should they have them, might shine like lights in a dark and broken world.

But it’s important to see, too, that the children reading this book—whatever their constellation of relatives looks like—did not make the decisions that shaped their families. Some might expect Bergren to sermonize a bit on the beauty of God’s purpose for families (I thought I wanted her to, at first), but I’m glad she didn’t. Kids so often feel responsible for the shape of their family, as though they caused it to be what it is somehow or as though they’re the ones who must fix it: perhaps it would be a gift to them to show them that their family, too, is a family, and it is the one they have been given.

God Gave Us Family, by Lisa Tawn Bergren | Little Book, Big Story

Bergren and illustrator David Hohn do this beautifully, through the warm conversation of Little Wolf and his parents as they prepare for a family reunion. Little Wolf is candid about his thoughts on his own family (especially some frustrating younger cousins), and his parents gently show him, by contrasting their own family with those of their friends and neighbors, that his family is unique. It is something to be grateful for; it is a gift. And that message is itself a gift to young readers.

On a completely unrelated note

Phoebe turned four this week! Tomorrow we celebrate with a giant birthday donut and presents and probably a dance party.

I originally wanted to share with you one of the sweet, professional photos we had taken recently, one of just Phoebe, by herself, being Phoebe. But I couldn’t resist sharing this one instead, because that wrinkled nose, those big brown eyes, the evidence of a marker recently applied to her cheek, that big sister caught in the act of teaching her little sister how to climb up onto the forbidden window sill—that is Phoebe in a nutshell right now. Disarmingly sweet and often plotting something nefarious. We love her.

Sisters | Little Book, Big Story


God Gave Us Family
Lisa Tawn Bergren; David Hohn (2017)


Disclosure: I did receive a copy of this for review, but I was not obligated to review this book or compensated for my review in any way. I share this book with you because I love it, not because I was paid to do so.

The Gift of the Magi | O. Henry

I had read this story before but reading it this time, on the spongy brown carpet of the piano teachers’ house, within sight of a woodstove and warm with both Phoebe and Josie in my lap, I still sniffled. You have probably heard this story, too. It is an old one, frequently adapted and retold, but that frequent use serves only to polish it to a shine.

The Gift of the Magi tells the story of young Jim and Della Dillingham Young, newlyweds who face Christmas together with their savings scraped bare. Della wonders how she can possibly afford a gift for Jim, decides that she must find a way, and does it. But the story doesn’t end there, and it’s the final pages that make O. Henry’s work endure.

The Gift of the Magi, by O. Henry | Little Book, Big Story

Not all editions of this book are equal, though: the one I read while Lydia and Sarah took lessons was an adaptation. It was sweet in its own way, but when I ordered this copy, unabridged, I realized how much the other edition had left out and how dramatically Jim and Della’s story had been reduced in editing. This version contains the full text, complete with some grand words–mendicancy, parsimony, meretricious, to name a few–but PJ Lynch’s illustrations are so rich and nuanced that I found my girls were still able to keep up with the story (with perhaps a helpful nudge here and there).

The Gift of the Magi, by O. Henry | Little Book, Big Story

But though the language is beautiful and the illustrations, too, the prettiest piece of this story is Henry’s depiction of love. We talked for a while afterward of how nice it is to be loved the way that Della loves Jim and Jim loves Della, and how we would like to love others that way. For as often as I try to exhort my children to love one another sacrificially, it is beautiful to see loving sacrifice lived out in the lives of the Dillingham Youngs, though O. Henry does not moralize much about it. He tells us a great story with a bit of a twist, and lets us do the rest.


The Gift of the Magi
O. Henry, PJ Lynch
(Original story: 1905; Illustrated edition: 2008)

The Littlest Watchman | Scott James

The Christmas aisle in Costco is our reward. When we’ve made it halfway through the store and no one has cried, complained, or punched anyone else, we steer the cart through the Christmas aisle and ogle at the display. Life-sized, lit-up snowmen; nativity sets the size of our dining table; swag draped along the shelf like glittery, green boa constrictors: Costco does nothing small, and they’ve had it all set up since October. But at our house, the season stays closed until the first day of Advent. Then, I tell the girls already clamoring for Christmas music, then we’ll bring out A Slugs & Bugs Christmas. Then we’ll string some lights.

But I’m breaking my own rule here today, because you really need to know about this book before Advent begins. If I do it any justice at all, you’ll want it in your hands before the season opens.

The Littlest Watchman, by Scott James | Little Book, Big Story

The Littlest Watchman is the newest book by Scott James, creator of our beloved Easter devotional Mission Accomplished. In it, he introduces Benjamin, the youngest in a family of “Watchmen,” whose job it is to sit by a stump outside Bethlehem and watch for the new growth that heralds the Messiah’s arrival.

The Littlest Watchman, by Scott James | Little Book, Big Story

But before you wrinkle your brow and think, Wait a minute. I don’t remember that part of the nativity story, let me say that I wondered the same thing. I was apprehensive at first about the idea of introducing a new character (and an entirely new way of marking the Messiah’s coming) to kids, especially younger kids who are still learning the story of Jesus’ birth. I was about halfway into the book before my brow unfurrowed and I realized what James was up to: the Watchmen give young readers a clear picture of the people of Israel waiting and waiting, for hundreds of years, for the Messiah to come.

The Littlest Watchman, by Scott James | Little Book, Big Story

The Christmas story begins not in the manger but all the way back in Genesis 1, and there is a lot of history supporting the story of Jesus’ birth. James uses the Watchmen, who pass the probably very boring role of sitting and watching a dead stump down from father to son for generations, to give readers a sense of how long the Israelites had waited for the coming of the Messiah. Benjamin’s frustration with waiting provides a gentle insight into why some of the Israelites had stopped watching.

In an afterword (“You Can Join the Watch”), James explains very clearly that the “Watchmen in this story were not real, but the events Benjamin saw on the shepherd’s hill were.” Some children may find this harder to grasp than others, so please use your discernment there. I can already see this book inspiring some rich conversation among my girls when we read it together (on the first day of Advent and no sooner!).

The Littlest Watchman, by Scott James | Little Book, Big Story

Also worth noting!

The Good Book Company (if you made it all the way to end of last week’s exhaustive post, that name may sound familiar) also offers an Advent calendar and devotional that coordinates with The Little Watchmen. We obviously haven’t used ours yet, so I can’t give it a full review, but it looks promising and beautiful. If you want to use it as a Jesse tree, you can actually tear the flaps off the calendar as you open them and hang them on your tree! Brilliant.

The Littlest Watchman, by Scott James | Little Book, Big Story


The Littlest Watchman
Scott James, Geraldine Rodriguez (2017)


Disclosure: I did receive a copy of this for review, but I was not obligated to review this book or compensated for my review in any way. I share this book with you because I love it, not because I was paid to do so.