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    The Official 2023 Afterthoughts Read Aloud List

    February 5, 2024 by Brandy Vencel

    I usually publish this annual post in January. Alas, it is February. How long do you think I can blame the lateness of my posts on my recent move to Texas?? I think I will try to milk this as long as possible!

    This post contains what it sounds like: a list of the books we read aloud in 2023. Please note that “we” means myself, my husband, and the three children we still have at home. At the beginning of 2023, they were 14, 16, and 17. You need to take that into account when shopping from this list — I am not recommending these books for 8-year-olds, though some of them, I’m sure, would be fine. I’m selecting books for teens and it shows! You will have to use your discretion.

    Another thing to note is that when I read aloud, I often censor. I omit most curse words (even though I don’t censor them in movies) because they don’t need to hear those words in their mother’s voice. Also, I skip or … get creative … ahem … with anything too sexual. That sort of censorship is a call you have to make on your own — it really depends on the child and whether you think the content will cause them to stumble, and then comparing that to how much needs to be included because it is pertinent.

    Case in point: I once censored too much. I figured that the main character in a book messing around with premarital sex wasn’t pertinent to the plot. It didn’t seem so at the time. Imagine everyone’s surprise when at the end of the book the main character shows back up in the same location and discovers he has a child.


    And also, Oops.

    Word to the wise: censorship is a delicate thing and best done when you know the whole book and not just the current chapter. We had a good laugh about it, though, so all was not lost.

    I highly recommend reading aloud to your teenagers, but in order to build a habit you will likely need to have multiple books going for the various groupings available to you. Right now, no one has a job or activities (due to our aforementioned move to Texas), so we only have two books going — one with Dad and one with just the four of us. But when people have work and other activities, we have as many books going as we need to make sure that reading aloud isn’t stopped just because someone isn’t home.

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    On to the list!

    Ourselves: Our Bodies and Souls by Charlotte Mason

    I have mentioned before about how I absolutely love reading Miss Mason’s book, Ourselves, with each of my teenagers individually. We have so many good talks because of it! If you want to give your teenagers a bit of insight into human nature and right living, this is the book I recommend for the classically educated. The language might be difficult for a student who isn’t as well read, but then again, it might be worth the struggle because there is so much goodness in it!

    Byzantium by Stephen R. Lawhead

    This book is out of print, but you should find yourself a copy. It is an absolute masterpiece — a work of art! I am in love with it. Yes, I had to do a bit of censoring. No matter — it was still fantastic. It’s an epic journey and a spiritual transformation all in one. Beautifully and vibrantly told — I highly recommend it.

    To the Far Blue Mountains by Louis L’Amour

    We’ve been reading our way through Louis L’Amour’s Sacketts series and this list will reflect that. I haven’t met a Sackett book I haven’t liked. They’re so good. One thing many people don’t know is that Louis L’Amour did a lot of research — not just reading very old books, but seeking out very old people in these obscure American regions and talking with them, getting the old stories to retell and inspire before their knowledge passed away with them. His books give a unique insight into why America is the way it is.

    The Impossible First by Colin O’Brady

    This book is O’Brady’s autobiographical memoir recounting his adventures while crossing Antarctica alone on skis, pulling a sled weighing almost 400 pounds. Admittedly, we all cringed in a few places. The Biblical advice to let another’s mouth praise you often comes to mind when I read memoirs. Ahem. With that said, it was still an interesting tale of perseverance and strategy, and the kids enjoyed it.

    Patrick by Stephen R. Lawhead

    The only thing wrong with this book is that we made the mistake of reading Lawhead’s Byzantium first and everything pales in comparison! With that said, Patrick is reminiscent of Byzantium in many ways — it offers similar adventure and a similar spiritual transformation. It’s also shorter, so much more manageable in size than Byzantium. I love both the books but I believe they are best read in reverse order of how we did it.

    The Warrior’s Path by Louis L’Amour

    Yet another Sacketts series book, this one has a pirate adventure flavor to it.

    A Pocket Full of Murder by RJ Anderson

    This book was by a new-to-us author and unexpectedly delightful. The fantasy world Anderson built, the way her rules for magic work, her plot and character development — it all coalesced into a book we looked forward to reading a bit of everyday. I wish we had discovered Anderson sooner — my children would have enjoyed these books when they were younger (11 or 12) as well.

    A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

    Truly, this is a book to sit quietly and think about. I had never read it before — I had no clue it was about the French Revolution! I can’t think of a book that better drives home the folly of crowning Reason a King. The book is tragic, but a very worthy read.

    The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope

    Another new-to-us author, this title was so intriguing. Set in the time of Queen Mary (not yet nicknamed Bloody Mary, but you can feel that it’s getting close), this tale of adventure includes a run-in with a secretive group of fairy folk who turn out to be pagans whose power has not yet been broken by the reign of Christ. I’ve heard the book is a retelling of an old legend — regardless, it’s a surprising take on fairy culture. I think you’d enjoy it.

    Jubal Sackett by Louis L’Amour

    One of my favorite Sackett novels so far, in this one L’Amour is at his best. Jubal Sackett is an intriguing character, as are his interactions with the various Indian tribes he encounters. This book touches on what happens when cultures foreign to each other collide. More interestingly, it retells one of the old stories claiming that there were mammoths here much later than anyone acknowledges, and also hints at some of L’Amour’s own theories on the geographical movement of ancient people groups.

    A Little Taste of Poison by RJ Anderson

    This book is a sequel to the Anderson book I mentioned above, and everything I praised about the first book is present in the second. Anderson’s books are so much fun. I wish she had written more books set in this magical world she created.

    His Last Bow by Arthur Conan Doyle

    We’ve been reading through the Sherlock Holmes canon for a while now. This was the only title in the series we read this year. It was so good! But of course, we adore Sherlock Holmes. It’s not really one book, but more a collection of shorter stories about Holmes.

    Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

    I don’t know exactly what to say about this book except that we read it. I am unsure whether I would recommend it. I suspect we could have spent the time more fruitfully on something else. I get the impression that Gaiman’s sense of ethics is somewhat upside down. The world he created in this book is interesting, but totally creepy. It’s not written for children, and I’m not convinced it’s good reading for adults. My goal was to expose my children to a completely different type of writing from what they were familiar with, and I succeeded. So there’s that.

    The Winter King by Christine Cohen

    This book reminded me so much of CS Lewis’ Till We Have Faces for some reason. It’s not the plot — this book is not a retelling of the Cupid and Psyche myth. But the feel is there somehow, like Cohen was drawing from Lewis’ atmosphere when she was writing. Also, there is a sort of twist at the end. It isn’t as dramatic as Lewis, but it’s also written for children. Like all good children’s books, even those of us who aren’t children enjoyed it.

    Leadership and Self-Deception by The Arbinger Institute

    This book is not well-written, so consider yourself warned. I wasn’t reading it for the artistry, though. I thought it would offer an interesting opportunity to talk with my kids about leadership and relationships … and it did.

    Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

    This is my least-favorite Austen title, but I am sure glad I read it again. I have a much deeper appreciation for it than I did before. The heroine, Fanny Price, is one I find unlikeable. She’s too serious, too quiet. I’ve been jokingly calling her the Low-Energy Heroine ever since we read it. With that said, what I appreciate about the book is the awakening of Fanny’s uncle and guardian, Sir Thomas Bertram, all that he realizes about parenting. You have to wait until the end of it, but it’s so good.

    Ride the River by Louis L’Amour

    This was the last book we finished before our big move, another Sacketts novel. It was so much fun.

    Books & Reading, Mother's Education

    The 2024 Afterthoughts Book Awards

    January 26, 2024 by Brandy Vencel

    This past year was wild. I’m surprised I finished as many books as I did! (As usual, the book awards only includes books I read on my own. I’ll create another list that contains all our read alouds from this year, so stay tuned.) Somehow, in the midst of scoping out a new town in a new state, selling a house, and buying a house, I still got through 23 books. (Thank the Lord for audio books!). Reading keeps me Continue Reading…

    Books & Reading, Mother's Education

    The Fall 2023 Mother Culture Reading List (Plus Fall Reading Habit Trackers!!)

    September 20, 2023 by Brandy Vencel

    I don’t know about you, but I always have to figure out how to fit in my reading this time of year. It’s not that I can’t do it — it’s just that I can’t do it the way I’ve been doing it when there were no school lessons and very little football practice. This time of year isn’t actually busier, but it’s different, and I have to strategize with my calendar to make things work. A habit tracker helps Continue Reading…

    Educational Philosophy, Home Education

    Introducing the New Spanish Edition of Swedish Drill Revisited!!

    September 6, 2023 by Dawn Duran

    I am thrilled to announce that Calistenia Sueca Version Revisida is now available! Born out of a desire to provide more Charlotte Mason resources for the Spanish-speaking community, I hope this version of Swedish Drill RevisitedTM will allow more families to effectively implement Swedish Drill in their homes. I’d like to share a little family history with you that explains my interest in bringing this project to fruition. My husband grew up in a Spanish-speaking home in a Texas border town. Laredo is one Continue Reading…