Merry & Bright: 7 Splendid Seasonal Reads

Ready for reading that’s merry and bright? Here are seven uplifting, engaging reads to help celebrate the season with faith, hope, and love. In no particular order:

The Christmas Box. A perennial favorite from master storyteller Richard Paul Evans.

A young family moves in with a wealthy widow just before the holidays as caretakers. The father, Richard, is so engrossed in getting his fledgling  business off the ground that he is unaware of his misplaced piorities. Sensing this, the widow Mary Parkin is determined to not let Richard make the same mistake that haunts her past. Can she reach him before it’s too late?

A rich, warm tale of family, faith, and the brevity of life. Beautifully written.

The Homecoming. It’s Christmas Eve in the Blue Ridge Moutains of Virginia during the Depression.  Clay Spencer, patriarch of a large family, is overdue. While the Spencer clan anxiously awaits Clay’s homecoming,  the older son, Clay-boy, goes in search of his father. 

The novel that launched The Waltons.

Like The Christmas Box, I read this story every Christmas season.

Homespun Christmas.

Can love be kindled in the seemingly dying embers of this small logging town? Can the Christmas wishes of one young boy once again ignite the fires of optimism in the inhabitants of Hope? Will one Christmas centennial celebration change an inevitable outcome?

Four multi-published, award-winning authors present a heart-warming story of people working together for a common cause and finding love. Just fun. I can almost hear the sleigh bells!

 

Shepherds Abiding. The eighth Mitford novel provides a glimpse of the best present of all: one’s heart.

Father Tim discovers an old nativity scene in need of repair. Even though he’s not exactly the “artsy” type like his wife, Cynthia, he decides to undertake its restoration because he know how much she’ll love it. Through Father Tim’s journey, readers are treated to a seat at Mitford’s holiday table and a wonderful tale about the true Christmas spirit.

The Christmas Secret. A struggling young mother saves the life of a stranger and sets in motion a series of events that no one could’ve imagined as she navigates crushing defeat and disappointment on the way to hope, faith, and love. Warm, wonderful characters and a rich storyline.

Note: The timeline gets a little muddled as it skips back and forth between present and past. Also, the POV flips between first and third person and can get confusing. Still a cozy read for cold winter nights!

The Gift of the Magi. One of O. Henry’s most poignant and best-loved short stories. It’s Christmas and neither Mr. nor Mrs. Jim Dillingham can afford to buy the other a gift. Selfless sacrifices and an O. Henry ending ensue. A lovely read.

Because Easter begins with Christmas.

Honorable Mentions:

A Christmas Carol -Charles Dickens

How the Grinch Stole Christmas – Dr. Seuss

The Mistletoe Secret – Richard Paul Evans.

What are your seasonal favorites?

Advertisements

Just Wanted to Say “Thanks”!

Mom says it’s time to “count my blessings.” Not sure what that means exactly. But if it means I can swipe that last slice of roast turkey while everyone’s “counting,” I’m game! Besides. You know how moms are, right? 

Hope you enjoy our little video greeting from the Pacific Northwest. We’re calling it our “November Closeout Special.” Threw in a few scenes from some of our favorite places. Like Mount Rainier National Park. Not quite sure what “national park” means either. But it has great smells! Besides. You know how moms are.

If the video doesn’t play right, blame Mom, okay? You know how… oh, never mind!

5 Cool Authors for Cold Weather and Turkey Sandwiches

I was just a young pup last November, my first. Chewing on slippers. Dish towels. Wayward fingers. Learning Come. Down. Jump. Sit and Stay. Also how to jitterbug. That just kinda happened. I mean, who can listen to In the Mood sitting still?

Anyway. Now that I’m coming up on a year-and-a-half, I’m leaving all that baby stuff behind. Well, some of it. But I’ve gotten pretty good at chasing fallen leaves. Wearing that stupid red “doggie jacket” Mom insists on when the temperature drops below forty degrees. Swiping turkey sandwiches when no one’s lookin’.

Even though it’s cold and crisp outside, it’s not all bad. A neighbor’s cat, Sir Puddleglum, is staying indoors most of the time. (That’s not the orange tabby’s real name. I just call him that because it gets his goat. Or his cat nip. Whatever.)

Anyway again. Apple cider. Crunching leaves. Snoozing by the fireplace. Mom says fall is a great time to re-read some favorite authors. She showed me her list. I’m passing it on to you at no extra charge. (Don’t tell anyone.)

5 Cool Authors for Cold Weather (in no particular order):

1. Earl Hamner, Jr.

Hamner is best known as the creator, executive producer, and warm narrative voice of The Waltons. He wrote several books, including the autobiographical Spencer’s Mountain and The Homecoming. The latter inspired the movie of the same name. It became the pilot that launched The Waltons. You can almost hear the snow fall… G’night John Boy…

2. Jill Hucklesby

Never heard of her? Me neither. Until Mom swooped into the library and yanked Samphire Song off a shelf. The librarian said it was on the “weeding” (death) list. She felt sorry for it. Read it. Loved it. Said it’s brisk. Engaging. Beautifully written, with memorable characters. The story revolves around a young girl, Jodie, and her half-wild stallion, Samphire. Both are damaged. They inch their ways toward healing together.

3. John Eldredge

A multi-published author of best sellers like Wild at Heart, John is a Mom perennial favorite. He has a warm, cogent, and down-to-earth writing style.  Bonus points: I hear John’s a Dog Guy.

4. Richard Paul Evans

Mom says this guy is a prolific, award-winning author perhaps best known for The Christmas Box. Richard publishes a book every year, usually when temperatures start dropping. His latest, The Noel Diary, was released two days ago! Says Mom: Richard’s gentle, uplifting stories are a great choice for curl-up-near-the-fireplace reading!

5. Gary Paulsen

Looking for larger-than-life outdoor adventure told with a keen eye for detail and a gritty, spunky writing style? Gary Paulsen’s your guy, according to Mom.  His many books include The Hatchet series, Dogsong, Harris and Me,  Woodsong, and Winterdance.

Even Sir Puddleglum can’t complain about that.

Hey. You gonna to finish that turkey sandwich? Askin’ for a friend.

8 Fabulous Fiction Reads for Fall!

“Fall is in the air!” Mom announced the other day. I’m not sure what that means, exactly. But Mom is skipping merrily around the house, chirping about “fall colors,” “sweater weather” and “hot chocolate.” I’d be just as happy with a nice, thick New York steak. Whatever.

I figure it’s only a matter of time until Mom breaks out that stupid red and white polka-dot thingy she hauls me into whenever we go out in cold weather. Pay off: Coming home to cozy spot in front of a nice, warm fireplace.

Anyway, Mom says fall is a great time to grab a hot cuppa whatever and curl up next to a roaring fire with a good book! She’s got a list. Checked it twice. (I helped. The first list didn’t smell right.)

Here are some of Mom’s top fiction picks for the season. Mostly YA. In no particular order:

The Lost Letter – Jillian Cantor

Based on the work of the Austrian resistance to Nazi invaders via postage stamps (stamps!), this historical novel bridges two continents and 50 years. It spans 1938/39 Austria and 1989+ Southern California and Wales in two distinct, overlapping storylines.

The 1939 story follows a bittersweet romance between young Kristoff, an apprentice engraver, and master engraver Frederick Faber’s beautiful, audacious daughter, Elena.

Fast forward 50 years to a “nearly divorced” reporter “Kate the Great,” her philatelist (stamp collector) father, Ted, and a mysterious letter with a secret in its stamp. Unopened and unmailed, the letter is addressed to a woman in an Austrian town that no longer exists. Why?

This bittersweet story chronicles the indomitability of the human spirit, enduring hope, and ageless love. Riveting!

Legend – Marie Lu

Taut and engaging, with well-rounded characters and plenty “didn’t see that comin'” surprises.

The plot grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let go until the final Sydney Carton-ish pages. You may want to buckle up tight for this roller coaster ride. (And yes, Chian, Commander Jameson and a certain Republic captain are pond scum. Some orphans, Sitz fighters and brothers are not.)

Out of the Dust – Karen Hesse

Powerful and poignant, this award-winning story is set in the Oklahoma Dust Bowl of the Great Depression. The author’s masterful use of spare free verse propels this story right off the pages. You can almost taste the dust and hear Billie Jo’s piano.

The Secret Sky: A Novel of Forbidden Love in Afghanistan –  Atia Abawi

Cruelty. Kindness. Despair. Hope.  Menacing evil. Compassion and courage. Ancient rivalries and new wounds. This story them all. And when a Hazara girl, Fatima, and a Pashtun boy, Samiullah, fall in love in war-time Afghanistan, there’s hell to pay. Especially from self-righteous Rashid, Sami’s cousin.

A heart-breaking, haunting story of forbidden love, loyalty, betrayal and hope.

A Torch Against the Night – Sabaa Tahir

An escaped slave girl and a ruthless warrior of the Empire form an unlikely alliance as they run for their lives. Together, Laia and Elias hatch a daring rescue of Laia’s brother, an artist with an eye for detail. Led by Elias’s former best friend and newly minted Blood Shrike, Hellene, the Black Guard is hot on their heels. So is Elias’s mother, the ruthless, bloodthirsty Blackcliff Commandant. (She makes Lord Voldemort look like a piker.)

The second installment in the “Ember” series is a high octane read with plenty of room for a sequel. Brisk and compelling, the prose is as colorful as Mama Rila’s painted wagons, the plot twists as clever as a red-haired ally who may not be an ally after all. (Spoiler: the “torch” isn’t a What, but a Who. Don’t tell anyone.)

A gripping read from start to finish. You may want to stock up on bandaids. And tea with honey.

An Eagle in the Snow – Michael Morpugo

In a mountain tunnel outside London (1940),  a train waits out an attack from a German Messerschmidt 109. One car is occupied by a young boy, Barney, his Ma, and a mysterious “stranger” with matches. The boy and his Ma are fleeing the night’s bombing of Coventry which destroyed their home and killed Barney’s father.

To keep the frightened young boy’s mind off the suffocating darkness, the stranger unravels a tale about a fellow orphan, Billy Byron, and his experiences during the first world war. They include Byron’s merciful choice to allow a German corporal with a mustache to walk away from the end of the Battle of Marcoing as the WWI concludes. Byron is horrified when the corporal resurfaces years later as Der Fuhrer.

A classic What If? story.

Library of Lost Souls – Ransom Riggs

Library of Souls” serves up a fantastical smorgasborg of plucky heroes and heroines like Jacob and Emma, stubborn ymbrenes like Miss Peregrine, dastardly, double-crossing siblings (Caul and Bentham), and incredible  adventures amid a riveting plot peppered with alternate realities. It packs a wallop from start to finish. The prose is also top-notch, with enough dry humor and rapier wit to thaw the chilliest Yeth-faru or wake the worst ambro addict.

This may be the best book in the entire “Peculiar” series.

The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia – Candace Fleming

Almost Shakespeare-eque in its scope, depth, and sense of tragedy, this is a history that reads like a novel. Meticulously researched and thoroughly documented, this intriguing look at Russia’s last tsar and his family may be the definitive work on the subject.

Candace Fleming pierces the veil of mystery and secrecy surrounding the final, tragic fate of the Romanovs with primary source material, a generous amount of photos, and great dignity. If you want to better understand what happened to Russia’s last family dynasty and why, this book is for you.

What would you add?

***

Now if I can just remember where Mom stashed that steak. Hmmm.

Storytime and 1600+ Kinds of Beautiful  

Moms are a Special Kind of someone. Silent and strong. Mouthy and mushy. 1600+ kinds of beautiful. 

I know this is so because Mom says so.

Moms are sometimes sentimental. Like the other day. Mom, The Kid and me were walking home from the library. All of a sudden Mom gets all misty-eyed. Something about Fridays and Storytime at the library.

 “Do you remember how we used to walk over to the library every week for Storytime when you were a little kid?” she says to my brother. He’s the youngest. I have three other brothers older than him. “How did you get to be 18 so fast?”she asks.

The Kid smiles and says, “One day at a time.” 

They’re both lugging home a bag full of books. YA books. Adventure books. Science fiction/fantasy books. Biographies. Historical fiction. Authors like Kristin Cashore. Rick Yancey. Laini Taylor. Rick Riordan. Max Lucado.

I’m investigating recent evidence of a Lhasa Apso. They’re taking in the ‘fall colors.’ Tip-toeing down Memory Lane. Seems like 20 years of kids and weekly Storytimes at the library is a lot of ground to cover.

“I remember when you kind of lost interest in Storytime,” Mom says to The Kid. 

Still looking for that Lhasa Apso. Wait. Is that pizza I smell? With sausage?

“You were around six years old” recalls Mom.  “You wanted longer stories with more words. You wanted to roam the library shelves and select books yourself.”

“I still do” says The Kid. 

Besides the library, Mom read aloud to my bros every day. For at least an hour. More if it was a good story. Like Treasure Island. Swiss Family Robinson. The  Three Musketeers. The Count of Monte Cristo. A Tale of Two Cities or The Last of the Mohicans. Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel. Make Way for Ducklings.

The whole family was practically on a first name basis with Jim Trelease.  Rarely went anywhere without his Read Aloud Handbook. Serious PAwesome!

I know this is so because a Mom says it is. That, and our house is crammed with books. All. Over. The. Place.

Anyway, The Kid still visits the library regularly. He loves that place. He loves books and reading. Maybe there’s something to this Storytime thing? And 1601 kinds of beautiful?

Do I smell pepperoni? 

Visit our sister site at: Hiker Babe. Making the most of your trail miles, one step at a time.

Steaks, Reads, & Rascals

My humans were doing the backyard barbecue thing the other day. Something about “summer’s last hurrah.”

They plopped four delicious “New York steaks” on the grill. Yes, four. Clearly that meant one each for Mom and Dad. One for The Kid. One for me. Right?

Rather than waiting for my hunk of happiness to fall off the grill, I figured I’d just hop right up and help myself. No sense standing on ceremony, right? So I didn’t.

Speaking of which, I thought “fall” was something you do. Apparently that’s not always the case. For example. Mom says “fall” is her favorite season. Something about leaves changing. “Crisp.” Curling up by the fireplace with a cup of hot cocoa and a good book. 

I get that. In fact, I know a couple good books that are just right for this “fall” thing: Winterdance: the Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod and Puppies, Dogs, and Blue Northers. Both are by Gary Paulsen  He’s a great adventure/outdoorsy writer. Also a pretty cool dog dude, according to Mom.

Winterdance is non-fiction. It was published in 1994. It’s the inspiration for the Disney movie, Snow Dogs. 

Puppies, Dogs, and Blue Northers celebrates Gary’s lead dog and longtime companion, Cookie. “Paulsen takes readers inside the kennel as Cookie’s last litter of pups grow and learn to pull sleds across the snowy frontier.”

Sounds like a couple of good “hot cocoa” and “fall” books to me. Whatever that means.

Back to the steaks. Thick, delectable, delicious steaks. How was I supposed to know Uncle Jimmy is “coming over later”?

By the way. Just what, exactly, is a “little rascal”? Askin’ for a friend.


Steak photo credit

Libraries and The ‘Dog Days’ of Summer

What do humans mean when they say ‘dog days of summer’? That I can better hang my nose out the car window on warmish days? That it’s too hot to do anything except lie in the shade and dream about kibble and surfing? Something related to Sirius, the ‘dog star’?

‘Dog star,’ huh? I kinda like the sound of that.

Wait. Kid on a bicycle going by.

Now. Where was I? Oh, yeah ‘Dog days.’ We’ve had several this summer. Temperatures ticked up to the mid and upper nineties. That may not sound like much to you Phoenix or Las Vegas types. But in  western Washington, that’s as rare as a smart cat. It’s so rare in fact, that most houses don’t have air conditioning. Pontoons, maybe. But not A/C.

Thankfully, the library does. Have A/C, that is.  So Mom went there a lot, especially during the ‘dog days of summer.’ I’m not crazy about the place. Only service animals are allowed inside. So whenever we walked there – the book place is about 10 minutes away by paw – I’d have to sit outside with one of my brothers or…

Is that the neighbor’s cat?

… or they’d take me for a walk while Mom scooped up some new books. I don’t know why she has to take so long.

Anyway, here’s what I learned about libraries during the ‘dog days of summer’:

  •  The front lawn has lots of nice shade.
  • People say ‘hi’ to me when they go in or out. I cannot jump on them. Cannot, cannot, canno… ugh!
  • The library manager, Mary, has a Cairn Terrier. His name is Max.
  • Libraries have ‘computers’ inside that my humans can use for free.
  • It’s okay to talk in the library. Just don’t bark.
  • Writers are readers.
  • ‘Stacks’ mean ‘books.’ Books are things some humans love. They say they can’t live without them. That reading is like breathing. Like eating. I don’t quite understand this.
  • Some people don’t do this reading thing enough. If they did, they would be better people, says Mom. Smarter. More well-rounded. Creative and thoughtful. They’d probably throw a Frisbee better, too.

I may like libraries after all. Even during the ‘dog days of summer.’

Turning a Corner  

It’s official. This blog is under New Management. Well, maybe “Management” isn’t the right word. Let me explain.

My name is Kimber. At least I think it’s Kimber. My humans – Mom, Dad, and four brothers, two of whom still live at home – sometimes use other names. Kimmi. Good girl. Hey Babe. 

Anyway, I was born on June 22, 2016. I’m a Golden Retriever/Black Lab/Border Collie mix. Mom says that means I’m super friendly, super smart, and super hyper. Whatever that means. I’m just me. 

Wait. Did the Powder Puff just saunter past? That’s what my humans sometimes call the neighbor’s dog. At least I think she’s a dog. It’s hard to tell under all that fur.

As I was saying, Mom says I’m a rescue dog. I’m not sure what that means either. But it sounds good when she says it. I joined my family in August of last year. We live on the Olympic Peninsula. We go on long walks and hikes, explore the Cascades, and play football, Frisbee and other games and activities when it’s not raining. It rains here a lot. Dad says that’s one reason why this place is called “The Evergreen State.”

Do I smell bacon?

False alarm. Beef jerky.

So, I guess you could say this blog is under new “dog-agement.” It will focus on adventures in writing, reading, and life in the rural hinterlands of western Washington. Narrated by me. Why me? Because Mom says I’m a “natural.” And that I’m way smarter than she is. I’m not sure what that means, either. But I like the way it sounds when she says it. 

See you again soon!

Perks!

Are you a book lover? Do you skip meals in order to “finish the next chapter”? Do you await your favorite author’s next release like a kid counting down to Christmas? Is a trip to the library a grand adventure?

I am rarely as content as when I’m neck-deep in a good story. Or even a mediocre one. I’ve never read “competitively” or to win prizes. I just love books. And I love to read. 

But every once in awhile it’s nice to get a little perk. Call it a reading bonus. 

I was delighted to get a phone call from my local library yesterday saying I’d won not one but two prizes in conjunction with this year’s Adult Summer Reading Program: an Amazon gift card and a book bag filled with goodies. I ambled over to the library today to pick up my prizes, pictured above.

The book bag is sturdy and zippered.  I can use it to haul checkouts and returns to and from the library, which I usually walk to. The bag was filled with some pretty cool stuff, including note cards, chocolate, a mini metallic notebook, and a giant coffee mug (for curling up with a good book). And who can resist Ghirardelli’s Intense Dark? Also four brand new hard book backs I haven’t yet read! The $25 gift card arrives next week.

 I read 136 audio and hard copy books in 92 days for this summer’s Adult Reading Program. Re-reading old favorites and discovering new ones was “prize” enough. But it still feels like Christmas.

Know what I mean?