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    Books & Reading

    The Afterthoughts Book Awards

    January 13, 2016 by Brandy Vencel

    I give these awards each year, and it’s always a bit difficult for me because first I have to figure out what I read. I usually start strong in terms of keeping a list at the bottom of the blog, but somewhere along the line I forget to write down a title here and there, and next thing I know the annual post requires a bit of detective work. No matter. It’s well worth it, tracking down and revisiting the new friends I make over the course of a year.

    My annual book awards are quite biased. To be in the running, a book, first of all, must be read — completely — by me. If I don’t read it, it’s not a contender. If I start to read it, but don’t finish (I can be a book flake at times), it’s also out of the running. And then, naturally, I have all this angst about my lists. Do I include books I read aloud to my children for fun? What about all the books I read aloud for school lessons? Pre-reading for school lessons? Does that count, too? It’s hard for me until I finally remember that whether I read it aloud or silently, whether I read it for fun because I “had to,” I read it. Therefore, it qualifies.

    I’m glad that’s over.

    Book Awards 2

    Best Read-Aloud(s)

    The Two Towers by JRR Tolkien
    The Return of the King by JRR Tolkien

    You didn’t think I could choose just one of them, did you? This is the third time I’ve read these books aloud, and it gets better every. single. time. It took five months. It was worth every second of every minute we spent on it.

    Best Short Stories

    How I love you, Father Brown! These were so much fun. I read them aloud to my husband some evenings, and he enjoyed them just as much as I did. Like pretty much everybody, I’m a Chesterton fan when it comes to his non-fiction, but he also shines in these little tales — I get the sense that he had great fun inventing them. But then again, he seemed to take joy in just about everything, didn’t he?

    Best Health Book

    Homeopathic Medicine at Home by Maesimund Panos and Jane Heimlich

    I read a number of books in the health category this year, which isn’t always the case. But, I was studying up. Anyhow, this is my personal favorite from the year’s collection, and while I read it through to the end, I find myself using it often as a reference.

    Best Young People’s

    Squanto by Feenie Ziner

    Written for juveniles, I found myself completely entranced by this book. Out of print, hard to find, and often extremely expensive, I paid a pretty penny for this book when I found it (though not nearly what it’s listed for on Amazon as I type), and I’m of the opinion that it was worth every cent. It’s a true living book — a charming read, and one to watch for at library sales and such.

    Best History

    The Birth of Britain by Winston Churchill

    It was really unfair to all the other history books on my list that I was reading Churchill. I mean: who can compete with him? (Answer: no one.) Not only is this book fantastically written, but I enjoyed his somewhat different perspective on certain stories from British history that I’ve read time and again. It’s amazing to me that Churchill could lead a nation and also write a four-volumes on its history. He reminds me of Teddy Roosevelt in that regard — some men are just more capable than others, I guess.

    Most Helpful

    The Art of Raising a Puppy by The Monks of New Skete

    I gave my husband a puppy this year. This book didn’t contain everything we needed to know … but it came close! I definitely feel like it helped us get our bearings — it starts with birth, so no dog is every too young for this book to be relevant.

    Book that Made Me Cry

    Joan of Arc by Mark Twain

    True story. I’ve always thought the story of Joan of Arc particularly tragic, though. This is my favorite Twain work so far, and I’ve read that he called it his best work. The years of research he put into this project really shines — even though it is technically historical fiction, readers come away knowing more about the history of Joan of Arc than they ever thought possible — and more personally attached to her, as well.

    Book that Made Me Laugh

    Funny enough (ha), Twain made me laugh as well as cry in 2015. I suppose he’s better known for his ability to provoke the former, though. I don’t know why I’d never read this book before — I’ve heard of it many times in the past. But somehow, it didn’t make it into the family library until this year. We read this one aloud, and we laughed together.

    Book that Changed My Perspective

    Nurture by Nature by Paul Tieger and Barbara Barron-Tieger

    I posted a review of this book here. I still love it. I’ve recommended it to anyone who will listen and lent it to a number of friends. It’s just. that. good. And helpful. Super helpful. I am slowly coming to terms with the fact that my children have a lot more feelings than I will ever have. And that’s okay.

    Book of the Year

    The Liberal Arts Tradition by Kevin Clark and Ravi Jain

    You’ve been waiting for this, amIright? Actually, you probably guessed it if you’ve been around here longer than two months. After all, I wrote a huge, months-long series all about it. If you’re super interested in classical education, this book is for you. (I’m super interested. This book was for me.) It’s still for me; I keep going over little parts of it, and of course I need to follow the footnote trail.

    What were your favorite books in 2015?

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    30 Comments

  • Reply Claire January 18, 2016 at 9:31 pm

    I read a short bio of Churchill the other day, which mentioned that he wrote the History of the English Speaking Peoples while in a political hiatus/exile.
    Also, did you know he said, “History will be kind to me – because I intend to write it” – lol

  • Reply Ann-Marie January 13, 2016 at 2:49 pm

    Oh I always love your book recommendations and have read many books based on your bookshelf at the bottom of the blog 🙂
    I loved The Liberal Arts Tradition and enjoyed your posts on it as well. I am currently finishing up the Narnia series with my oldest and was thinking of moving on to Tolkien with him. Would one begin with the three that you mention, or should I begin with The Hobbit? Also what did you enjoy best about it? I have heard many say that either you really, really love it or you really do not enjoy it much at all.
    Would love to hear your thoughts, Brandy! As always, thanks for the recommendations 😀

    • Reply Brandy Vencel January 16, 2016 at 10:54 am

      If it were me, I’d begin with The Hobbit. I read that to my kids the year before we did the trilogy aloud.

      I think that IF you dislike fantasy, you will probably dislike Tolkien because his is another world, much like Narnia is another world. But I love it — the whole thing — the world he’s imagined, the nobility, the adventure, all of it. ♥

  • Reply Mrs. H January 13, 2016 at 12:16 pm

    My favorites from 2015 were, in no particular order :

    Meet the Austins
    To Kill a Mockingbird
    All the Light We Cannot See
    For the Love
    the Lunar Chronicles

    • Reply Brandy Vencel January 16, 2016 at 10:55 am

      I have never heard of the Lunar Chronicles — tell me about them!

      • Reply Claire January 18, 2016 at 9:18 pm

        Oh, I’m not the only one glamoured by the Lunar Chronicles! I’m waiting on the last one from the library right now, and can’t stop wondering how it will all work out.

        • Reply Claire January 18, 2016 at 9:21 pm

          Actually, they’d probably be your style, too, Brandy, being somewhat within the ‘young adult post-apocolyptic dystopian’ realm. (Earth is postapocolyptic, Luna is dystopian) – they are sci-fi loosely based on fairy tales.

          • Brandy Vencel January 20, 2016 at 9:10 am

            I DO like dystopian. 🙂 I will check them out!

  • Reply Karen @ The Simply Blog January 13, 2016 at 11:20 am

    Goodness, I read quite a few children’s literature books and it would be hard to pick a favorite. Understood Betsy was really good. I also enjoyed The Tale of Despereaux. As far as non-fiction goes, hands down two books are my top favorites: Teaching from Rest by Sarah Mackenzie and The Reading Promise by Alice Ozma. LOVED The Reading Promise. In fact, I’m planning to read it again this year as part of the reading challenge I’m participating in (Modern Mrs. Darcy 2016 Reading Challenge). So, looking forward to reading that again. And Teaching from Rest is so practical and encouraging that it’s one I think you could read more than once and continued to be inspired and encouraged by it.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel January 16, 2016 at 10:55 am

      It sort of feels like picking a favorite child doesn’t it? Sometimes I invent extra categories just so one doesn’t feel left out. 😉

      The Reading Promise has been on my list…you are causing me to move it up. 🙂

  • Reply Nelleke Plouffe January 13, 2016 at 10:03 am

    Thank you for this list. I want every one of them (well, except for the puppy one…with four little boys I’m not ready for a puppy at this stage in my life…). Like you, (and thanks to your recommendation) I found Nurture By Nature changed my perspective completely this year. In particular, it made me much more understanding and appreciative towards a close relative who is very different from me. 🙂 On the other hand, I’ve found myself almost excusing people’s sin on the grounds that “it’s just their personality” which is perhaps not helpful at all. It was definitely great food for thought.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel January 16, 2016 at 10:56 am

      I highly recommend avoiding a puppy for some time to come. It is too much like having a newborn. 🙂

      I know what you mean about excusing the sin. I have tried to use it more in the vein of revealing inborn weakness and knowing what we’re going to have to work with the child on.

  • Reply Lauren January 13, 2016 at 9:18 am

    I also loved Squanto so much and felt it was worth every penny. (Although I was lucky and found it cheaply under the title “Dark Pilgrim” instead of “Squanto”.

    A few favorites from this year were The Keeper of the Bees, The Awakening of Miss Prim, The Pleasures of Counting, and also the Liberal Arts Tradition.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel January 16, 2016 at 10:57 am

      I haven’t heard of The Pleasures of Counting — tell us more! 🙂

  • Reply Sara McD January 13, 2016 at 9:08 am

    I’ve been working through Joan of Arc for almost a couple of months now. Now that I’m nearing the end of the second part I have to MAKE myself read it – just a chapter or two a night – because I hate what I know is coming.

    I’m making/revising my TBR list and you’ve got me all excited now! 🙂

    • Reply Brandy Vencel January 16, 2016 at 10:58 am

      I totally know what you mean. I felt that same dread. It was awful, and it didn’t help that I knew — in fact, it might have made it worse!

      I love TBR lists. 🙂

  • Reply Ashley January 13, 2016 at 7:50 am

    So many great books! Twain’s Joan of Arc is amazing; I read that on a whim one year. I can still recall passages!

    The Liberal Arts Tradition is such a great read! I just pick it up and read from it.

    Okay, so really I just love this list! Like all of it…I’m woefully behind on my health reading, so I’m interested in that book. Oh, that Nurture by Nature has been great to read through.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel January 13, 2016 at 8:56 am

      Ashley, I keep meaning to ask you about Awakening Wonder. I noticed you are reading it. Have you written about it yet? I am woefully behind on my blog reading right now… 🙁

  • Reply Anna January 13, 2016 at 7:22 am

    This post made me realize that I had forgotten to include The Birth of Britain on my 2015 booklist – that’s what happens when you forget to use the proper tag in Goodreads. 😉
    I have mixed feelings about Joan of Arc – I think my Protestant – or maybe post-enlightenment – worldview doesn’t know what to make of her visions and voices. And I really disliked that boasting fellow (can’t remember his name). It is a story that makes you WONDER, though, which is good. 🙂
    Wish I could find Squanto a reasonable price for my Year 3 student!
    I posted about a few of my favorite 2015 reads here: http://www.littledropsofwater.net/wednesdays-with-words-books-read-in-2015/

    • Reply Brandy Vencel January 13, 2016 at 8:59 am

      Joan of Arc has always fascinated me for that reason — in the modern world, I think we’d say she had really high dopamine levels {because this wasn’t a single vision, but a life long thing}, and yet her visions and voices were true. I think I actually like her more because I can’t figure her out — because she doesn’t fit the mold in so many ways.

      On Squanto: I know that at one point AO tried to see if they could arrange for it to come back into publication, but there are so many books like this — copyright orphans. 🙁

  • Reply Julie Zilkie January 13, 2016 at 6:38 am

    Just ordered Prince and the Pauper. I have not heard of that one! Thanks for the recommendation and for continuing to give me reasons to add to my library. We are building another book shelf this year to keep up with my love of all things literary!

    Oh, and thanks for the tip on the KISS grammar the other day. I can’t say I ever put AK together with answer key. Slightly embarrassed! Thanks for your grace. 🙂

  • Reply Sharron January 13, 2016 at 5:09 am

    Looks great! I haven’t read any of these yet. I’ve been wandering what you know/think about essential oils. I do not mean which brand is more pure and blah, blah, but just in general. I’ve used homeopathic products some and have seen the benefits, but I honestly don’t know much about them.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel January 13, 2016 at 6:46 am

      Homeopathy and essential oils are basically opposite approaches. Homeopathic remedies, on the one hand, are diluted until all that is left is essentially the electromagnetic signature. It wasn’t until the invention of the electron microscope that anyone was able to discover that it was an early form of nano-medicine — that there are nanoparticles present in the remedies.

      Essential oils, on the other hand, are highly concentrated. They are the ultimate in mega-dosing — I remember reading once that it takes 60,000 roses to make a single ounce of rose essential oil. I don’t want to say that they aren’t effective, because I know too many people who say they are, but they make me nervous.

      So really, my preference for homeopathy is very personal — I’m more comfortable with a medicine that is so diluted that some people think it couldn’t possibly work. 🙂 I continue to use it because I’ve experienced success with it, but I know many people who swear by essential oils who could say the same thing. 🙂

      • Reply Sharron January 13, 2016 at 11:46 am

        Thanks! Very interesting!

      • Reply Amber January 13, 2016 at 1:45 pm

        Essential oils make me nervous too. I’ll use a little in cleaning solutions, but that’s it. I’m really fascinated by homeopathics though. I took a reading course online over a decade ago but have fallen away from it. The cost and difficulty of finding the right remedy were both big obstacles for me, and as my family size increased I seemed to lose the brain space to consider such things. It is something I’ve considered studying up on again though.

        I really liked your wrap-up, and I’m so glad I’m not the only one with does-this-belong-on-my-reading-list angst each year. Off the cuff, I think some of my favorite books were Birth of Britain (oh my, I love reading Churchill!), The Daisy Chain by Charlotte Yonge (did not want that book to end), and I, Juan de Paraja (a quiet but throughly excellent book – and even though it could have been written with an agenda, it wasn’t – a solid, beautiful, lovely read aloud).

        • Reply Brandy Vencel January 16, 2016 at 11:00 am

          A group of friends and I took a class from Joette Calabrese, and probably the nicest part about that was that I received a certification that allowed me an account with a homeopathic pharmacy — cheaper, easier, etc. etc. I recommend her blog, if you’re interested, Amber.

          And: The Daisy Chain! Another I’ve been meaning to purchase someday soon…I adore your list. ♥

          • Amber January 19, 2016 at 9:56 pm

            Thanks, Brandy! I just signed up for Joette’s blog and newsletter today. I’ve been having some great conversations with Hayley about homeopathy – I’m very excited to be learning more about it!

            The Daisy Chain was such a lovely book. There’s a lot of characters (I love that it is about such a big family) but Yonge does such a good job giving them all distinct, vivid, and living personalities. My daughter read the book too and we had some wonderful conversations about the characters and decisions. I think it will be one that will be a touchpoint for us for years to come.

          • Brandy Vencel January 20, 2016 at 9:11 am

            You will love Joette, Amber. She’s a wealth of information, but she also makes me laugh. She’s spunky. 🙂

            The Daisy Chain. I totally need to read it!

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