Summer reading report, so far.

Now that my children are able to swim while I sit and read a book (joy!), this summer I’ve been able to do a lot more reading than I could in years past. Here are some of my summer reads to date:

Title
The Eyre Affair (Thursday Next #1)
The House at Rose Creek
The Secret Keeper
Blackmoore: A Proper Romance
The Lemon Grove: A Novel
A Timeless Romance Anthology: Spring Vacation Collection
Longing for Home: A Proper Romance
A Timeless Romance Anthology: Summer Wedding Collection
In His Hands: A Mother's Journey Through the Grief of Sudden Loss
The Kiss of a Stranger
Band of Sisters
House of Secrets (A Shandra Covington Mystery, #1)
A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life
Persuasion: A Latter-day Tale

Some of these I’ve blogged about already, and some of them I’m still going to tell you about a little later, but you can go to my Goodreads account if you’re at all interested in knowing my reviews of the books.

Today I want to tell you about Sarah Eden’s newest book, Longing for Home. Even though I’ve met Sarah briefly before and we have a long list of mutual friends, I had never read any of her books before this summer. I don’t want to dare say that I get tired of reading Jane Austen, because I love her books, but I wanted to read something similar to Austen rather than repeat my reading of her classics for the who-knows-how-many-really time. I knew that Eden’s books are Regency Romance, so I gave them a try, and found them to be quite delightful. You can see from the  book list above that I read several. When I got the chance to read Longing for Home, I was excited, but a little skeptical because it wasn’t even Regency. It was Wyoming in the 1800s and that sounded eerily Western to me, but I read it anyway and I really, really liked it. In fact, I think it may be my favorite of her books so far.  Here’s a description:

Though she was only a child during the darkest days of Ireland s Great Famine, Katie Macauley feels responsible for the loss of her family s land and the death of her sister. Now a woman grown, Katie has left Ireland for America and the promise of earning money enough to return home again and plead for her family s forgiveness. She arrives in Hope Springs, Wyoming Territory, a town sharply divided between the Americans who have settled there, with their deep hatred of the Irish, and the Irish immigrants who have come searching for a place to call home. Her arrival tips the precarious balance, and the feud erupts anew. Even in the midst of hatred and violence, however, Katie finds reason to hope. Two men, as different as they are intriguing, vie for her heart, turning her thoughts for the first time toward a future away from Ireland. Katie must now make the hardest decision of her life: stay and give her heart a chance at love, or return home and give her soul the possibility of peace.

 

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It really wasn’t a western at all, but I did learn a lot about some of the challenges of the immigrants and settlers. I really liked Katie’s spunk and determination, and her overall lack of self-pity when there was much she could have mourned. The story is a romance, which usually makes it quite predictable, but it was more than that too. She has competing suitors and some real challenges to face and I really didn’t know how it was all going to play out. I think Eden develops her male characters well, and this book is no exception. This was a great read and one I can easily recommend.

What’s been one of your favorite summer reads so far?

Books and Movies and prizes, oh my!

Let’s start with books.

I love doctrine. Here are two recent reads I got from Deseret Book, both written by current apostles:

21principles_detail 21 Principles: Divine Truths to Help you Live by the Spirit” by Elder Richard G. Scott. Elder Scott offers 21 principles distilled from his life experiences. These “concentrated truths” will help you understand more fully how to be guided by the Spirit. Elder Scott’s brief explanations open the way for your own discovery and exploration.  I really like this book. There are so many poignant quotes and thoughts and it’s a great, concentrated resource about what is and how to live a spirit-driven life.

OneDropTime5104405_detail“One Drop at a Time: A Message for Women” by Elder M. Russell Ballard.  Do you sometimes wonder if your little efforts could possibly make any difference at all? Consider a simple example from nature.

I would say this book is mostly a “gift book” because it’s short, decorative, and as far as I can tell, basically a lovely reprint of his recent talk “Be Anxiously Engaged.”

Other books: These are kind of random shares I wanted to pass along. When I was doing my own book signing for Covenant Motherhood at the BYU Bookstore during Women’s Conference, I got to share a table with Elyse of SixSistersStuff.com, who was selling their new cookbook. She was really nice and it was fun to get to know her a little, but I didn’t pick up the book because it was a cookbook and they scare me. SixSistersStuffNEW5097495_detail

Well just a week or two later, I won a copy of their cookbook as a door prize at an event I went to, and I have to confess, I’m pleasantly surprised. The recipes look like great family meals and the ingredient lists and instructions seem really simple. So I’ve decided I’m going to incorporate it into our summer plans by working with one child a night to make dinner. I think the recipes will be simple enough that they can join in and feel like they’re really being chefs.

Because my calendar has been so busy over the last month or so, I’ve done quite a bit of reading for pleasure just as an escape. I love Jane Austen. That’s no shock to anyone who’s read my blog before. I’ve read some Austenesque knock-offs before, and I’ve enjoyed some of them. (Most just can’t measure up to the originals in that genre.) I had heard good things about Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson, so I picked it up and read it recently. In a day. I loved it. It’s probably the best modern-written, Regency-set one I’ve read. So if you’re like me and you’ve heard of it, but haven’t picked it up, you should. Oh, and it just won the best Romance novel of the year at the Whitney Awards last week.  (My friend, Melanie Jacobson, had two books that were finalists in that category because she’s crazy talented. If you like more contemporary, sassy romances, you need to check her stuff out, too.)

Edenbrooke_detailoriginal_cover_detailSecondChances_detail

Okay, moving on to movies.

Do you like movies that make you weep and thank your lucky stars that you were not a pioneer? Well, I was recently invited to meet the director and lead actor for the new film, Ephraim’s Rescue. Ephraim's-Rescue-Poster-1200pixels

I’m ashamed to say that I was almost wholly unfamiliar with the incredible story of Ephraim Hanks. I think this movie is going to be super powerful, so you know, bring your tissues. It opens in several Utah theaters on May 31.

And finally, prizes. At that movie preview/launch event, Deseret Book offered to let me give away to my own little blog-reading friends two tickets to see a pre-screening of Ephraim’s Rescue. How cool is that? There will be special screenings in St. George (5/25), Ogden (5/28), Logan (5/29), and Orem (5/29). If you’d like to win tickets to that very cool, exclusive event, leave a comment below. Update: I’ll do a drawing for this winner first thing this Saturday morning.  Make sure you leave a valid email address when you sign-in so that I can contact you right away and get you in touch with your tickets on time.

For the win: In the comments, tell me your favorite movie that makes you cry every time. (Please just don’t say “The Notebook.” I’ve never seen it, but people are always saying how it makes them cry, and for some reason, I have an aversion to sobbing while cheesy people are kissing in the rain.)  Ready? Go!

Some good LDS reads

If you like reading LDS literature but don’t know where to start, I have a few suggestions for you. When it comes to the religious genre, I tend to lean toward non-fiction (surprise, surprise). I also have friends who write LDS fiction, and I love them, and have enjoyed anything I’ve read from them, so if fiction is your thing, give Melanie Jacobson, Becca Wilhite, Sarah Eden (I don’t actually know her, we’ve just met once, but I just started reading her regency stuff, and I like it) and Annette Lyon a try.

Okay, so non-fiction. I tend to like stuff that is heavy on facts and doctrine. Not necessarily a heavy read, but I like to feel like it has substance, like it makes me smarter or better. Deseret Book gave me the opportunity to review some of their titles and these are the ones I picked.

DC_Ref_CompanionSM_detail

This book is a big book. As in 919 pages big. But it is awesome. If you have wanted a way to learn more about the broad spectrum of Church History, this is a really helpful reference. Written by about 100 talented contributors, it has maps, excellent photos, a 700-page enclyclopedia that explains pretty much any person or place or theme mentioned in the D&C, and a 150-page overview that includes the historical background and content summary for all 138 sections of the Doctrine and Covenants. It is a really great resource. A little pricey, but use one of those 25% off one item coupons and get it. It has been a really helpful study aid.

TheContinuousConversion_detail

The Continuous Conversion

by Brad Wilcox

The tagline of this book is: God Isn’t Just Proving Us, He’s Improving Us. This book is a good follow up to his first book, The Continuous Atonement, and explains more some of the principles he taught in his BYU devotional about grace. (I love grace, and I really liked that devotional. Link here.) Sometimes Brad Wilcox is a little too anecdotal for my taste, but he did use some good analogies to clarify the doctrinal principles. For example: “When a person is learning to play the piano, are the only two options performing at Carnegie Hall or quitting? Similarly, in mortality, are the only two choices being perfect or giving up?” The book focuses on the process of conversion and transformation.

ChooseHigherGround_detail

Choose Higher Ground

by Henry B. Eyring

Well, the best thing about this book is that President Eyring wrote it, of course. I suspect that many of these chapters are actually a collection of talks that he has given, but they are organized nicely into sections and themes that address the climb of discipleship and the safety that can be found on higher ground.  The book is divided into these sections: A Strong Foundation (my favorite), Personal Growth through Helping Others, Strength in Adversity, Power to Live a Consecrated Life, and Help for the Last Days (where among other things, he recommends looking for the Lord’s hand in our daily lives). You simply can’t go wrong by studying the teachings of a living prophet.

Eliza5070605_detail

Eliza: The Life and Faith of Eliza R. Snow

by Karen Lynn Davidson, Jill Mulvay Derr

I don’t know a lot about Eliza R. Snow except that she was an early Relief Society president and that she is responsible for one of my favorite quotes about womanhood: “Tell the sisters to go forth and discharge their duties, in humility and faithfulness and the Spirit of God will rest upon them and they will be blest in their labors. Let them seek for wisdom instead of power and they will have all the power they have wisdom to exercise.” Well, this book about her is informative and insightful, but it is also lovely. The pages and photos and artwork make it just a really pretty book. I really like this up-close look at a woman who lived a life of holiness and sacrifice and service.

FollowProphets52FHE_detail

If you know me at all, you know I love living prophets. Rebecca Irvine created an easy way to teach your children about the lives and inspirational stories from the prophets of the Restoration, from Joseph Smith up until President Monson. The fifteen chapters (for each of the fifteen prophets) all include 3-4 weeks worth of FHE lessons you could use, complete with printables, stories, music suggestions, activities and even additional references for further study. This is a really practical and easy way to teach about our modern prophets.

Beginning_of_Better_Days_detail

Another recent favorite that is only recent to me because I was too distracted when it came out is The Beginning of Better Days. It is a really cool treatise of all the things the prophet Joseph Smith taught about womanhood, mixed with beautiful commentary by Sheri Dew and Virginia Pearce. If you haven’t read that one yet, it’s worth your time.

Do you have any favorites to add to the list?  [Pay no attention to this subliminal shameless plug about reading my own book, Covenant Motherhood, here. Come on, it's like my own child. I couldn't ignore it. :)] What are some good LDS reads that you’ve found particularly inspirational or educational lately?

Book Babble

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Let’s talk about books, shall we?

Books I’m reading:  Right now I’m reading We Were Not Alone: How an LDS Family Survived WWII Berlin and Life of Pi (my book club’s pick for the month).

Books I recently read:  I, Juan de Pareja.  Loved it.  It’s supposedly for children (Newberry Award Winner), but it’s all about Velazquez and Spanish art history, so I really liked it.  (Did you know I lived in Madrid for 3 summers as a young adult?  Sigh, I miss it.)  And Precious Bane.  Oh my goodness, what a beautiful book.  It’s one of those genius books that should have been really famous, but is still largely undiscovered.  There’s one scene that’s kind of PG-13ish, but even with all my book prudishness, the writing and character’s thoughts were so compelling that I just loved it.

Books on my list:  Remember Melanie?  Well, she writes “LDS chick lit,” which I never read.  Except I’ve read all of Melanie’s because I really like her.  And I have to admit that when I read her books, I automatically feel transported to age 24, and I love her sassy protagonists and witty dialogue.  She has a new one that just came out called Twitterpated and I need to get my hands on it.  It’s about a girl whose roommate dares to sign her up (without permission) on an online dating site.  Mayhem ensues.  And probably romance.  Should be a fun read.  Check it out.  I think they’re giving away a copy here.  Yay, Melanie!

Books I’m writing:  I’m writing a book.  That still blows my mind.  It’s about how motherhood is a reflection of all the different roles and missions of the Savior’s ministry.  My goal is to have it finished by May, and published next year.  Start saving up spare change so you can buy it in 2013.  Then when I send a query letter to publishers, I can say, “I already have 23 people lined up to read this book.”  I’m sure that will be the critical selling point. :)

The other book that I contributed to (and incidentally, so did Melanie), Tell Me Who I Am, is available on Amazon now.  I’ve decided I’m officially famous if I’m listed as an author at Amazon.com.  Don’t tell me if I’m wrong.

Books you’re reading:  How about you?  Have you read anything lately that you think the rest of us should read? Do tell.

Unloading.

I hardly blogged at all over the last couple of weeks because I was just enjoying the down time of the holidays.  It really was down time– lots of laziness and mellow family “recreation.”  So nice.  But there are a handful of things that I would have blogged about if I felt like blogging, and I need to just unload them all… you know, get it out of my system.  So without further ado, a pile of miniature blog-posts:

  1. I gave my blog a makeover.  I felt like I needed to just simplify it and downplay all the diaper and baby imagery.  I have a complex because my blog title is Diapers and Divinity, and with the exception of one child in nighttime pull-ups, I’m actually now beyond the diaper stage.  I still like the title because the blog is still about the balance between the dirty side of motherhood and the divine side, but anyway, I’m letting the diapers go.  I feel old.  And free.  Ha!
  2. I also gave my hair a makeover.  I had like 6-inch roots, so thanks to a gift-certificate from my mother-in-law, I went and got it cut and highlighted.  I’m growing it out longer again, at least until summertime.  We’ll see.
  3. I took the kids and we went and got our portraits done as a Christmas gift for Matt.  I was overdue getting them done anyway, so it seemed like a good idea.  I don’t want to make you jealous or anything, but I’m afraid my children are just handsomer than all the rest in the world.  So sorry.
  4. Despite their handsomeness, they leave on lights EVERYwhere.  Matt is thinking about changing out all their light switches for those timer knobs that they sometimes use in hotel bathrooms for heat lamps.  Would that be weird?
  5. Natalie calls her pinky finger her “girl finger.”  She says all the rest are boys.  ??
  6. I gave a talk in church yesterday.  I think it went okay, but I forgot half the papers I was going to use and I still took too much time.  I get a little mad at myself for having zero grasp on the gift of brevity.  I did, however, really enjoy preparing and studying for the talk.  I wish I did a better job of studying the gospel that thoroughly even when I don’t have an assignment.
  7. I made a simple new years resolution.  I’ll just cut and paste from Facebook since I’m lazy:  “My New Year’s resolution this year: *Be Nicer*. Seriously. The stuff that bugs me is probably not going to go away, so I just need to get over it and be nicer. (Bite tongue, curb sarcasm, manage anger.) Funny, my mom used to always tell me “Stephanie, be nice,” and I would roll my eyes at her. Now, I’m pushing 40, and I think I’m finally starting to get it.”
  8. Along those same lines, for Family Home Evening last night, we came up with a family goal/motto for this year.  After discussing being nice to each other, showing respect, no yelling/arguing, etc., we adopted this line from the primary song “I’m trying to be like Jesus”:  “Try To Show Kindness in All That You Do.”  Anybody want to make me some cool graphic-designy thing that I can hang up on my wall?  Anyway, we’re going to work on that.
  9. I’ve been invited to speak at a fireside in a couple weeks in a random ward where I don’t know anyone.  The bishop would like me to speak to the young women and the women about modesty.  I’ve been thinking about it for a while and I feel like I know the general direction I’d like to go, but if anyone has any great thoughts or talks/articles to pass along, please do.
  10. This year I got down of my high horse a little bit and actually consented to let Santa bring my children a Wii for Christmas.  It was the only gift he brought for all three.  I have always been sort of an anti-video-game poster-mom, but lots of points won me over for some reason.  It was a bit of a gaming free-for-all over Christmas break, but today it was back to school, back to rules, back to chores, etc.  We’ve always had a system in place where they have to finish their chores before school if they want 30 min. of media time after school.  I have to say that having the Wii sitting in our family room made them pretty anxious to get their chores done this morning.  I honestly don’t mind all the active games like sports and singing/dancing, etc., so hopefully it will all be okay as long as I stick to my guns about time limits and what’s appropriate and what’s not.
  11. We also played some fun new games over the break.  The kids got Apples to Apples Jr., and they really like that.  We got a card game called Clue Suspect, and I’m pretty much unbeatable.  :)  We played a fun game called Telestrations with extended family, and we still need to try out a game Clark got in his stocking called Sorry Revenge.  I did splurge right before Christmas and bought a game table I’ve had my eye on for the last year at a local consignment store.  Despite temporarily suffering buyer’s remorse (even though it was cheap), it’s been fun to have.
  12. Here’s the one problem with a Kindle.  You start a book and you don’t have a good sense of how long it really is.  I started The Count of Monte Cristo a week or so ago, and I have been reading and reading and reading, and my little progress tab only showed me at about 33% done.  I really liked that first third of the book, but after reading and reading some more (like almost all the way to 50%) and starting to like it a little less, I began to wonder.  Well, I looked it up on amazon to see how long the real book is, and it turns out that the unabridged version I’m reading is (depending on the publication) between 1200-1600 pages long!  Sweet mercy.  So according to my calculations, I’ve probably read about 700 pages so far.  Someone please tell me it’s worth it to finish it, because right now I’m feeling like I’m in quicksand– in too deep to get out.  And since I’ve spent all that time invested in reading it, it’s like I have to finish it just on principle alone.
  13. I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and New Year, I really do.  Post-vacation transition is hard and a little depressing, so let’s make the best of it, shall we?

Dump complete.  Carry on.