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    Books & Reading

    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.

    This post contains affiliate links.

    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.

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  • Reply Alise Grant February 28, 2024 at 2:43 pm

    Ahhh poor Fanny! I love her because she is physically frail, but morally sturdy. She doesn’t depart from her personal set of ethics, even when it means risking tremendous discomfort for herself or the annoyance of her peers and guardians. She’s a worthy heroine, but I’ll admit she’s not particularly frisky compared to some other Jane Austen ladies.

    Do you think The Winter King would be a good read for an audience of 7-11 year olds?

    Also, THANK you for the idea of having multiple free reads for different sets of available kids! Brilliant! I’m feeling a bit silly that I never thought of it myself. 😀

    • Reply Brandy Vencel March 2, 2024 at 9:05 am

      Alise! I love your assessment of Fanny — and one of the big things I do appreciate about her is her consistently abiding by her conscience, even though when it’s unpopular with others.

      I would read The Winter King first yourself. I could see how some 7yo would find it a bit too scary, but my youngest would have RELISHED it because he loved scary. 😉

    • Reply Brandy Vencel March 2, 2024 at 9:05 am

      Ps. I miss you bunches!

  • Reply M'Lynn Kearney February 10, 2024 at 10:08 pm

    I will have to read The Perilous Gard again. Pope’s The Sherwood Ring is one of my favorites!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel February 13, 2024 at 8:24 am

      Ooh! I just saw that title yesterday when I was looking for more of her books. I hoped it was good! Thank you for the recommendation.

  • Reply Amy G February 10, 2024 at 8:21 am

    The Literary Life podcast did Mansfield Park…last year? Gave me huge new appreciation for Fanny (she represents Temperance!) and for that novel as a whole. <3

    • Reply Brandy Vencel February 13, 2024 at 8:31 am

      Interesting. I will have to re-read and see if I agree. It’s hard for me to get past her high level of self-awareness and navel-gazing. I was thinking that I need to reread A Jane Austen Education — I remember the chapter on MP gave me a bigger appreciation for it, but then I can’t remember now what it said. Alas, the book is still in a box somewhere. But someday!

  • Reply Rahime February 8, 2024 at 2:56 pm

    Last year I read Byzantium and then dived into the Albion series. I’d highly recommend it if you want more Lawhead, though it is completely different since it’s more fantasy.

    Your comments on Neverwhere make me feel validated in my choice to drop it after about an hour of the audiobook. I had heard such good things about it, but it was making me feel icky while reading, so I dropped it. I had second-guessed that choice a few times, but I think your comment about the “upside-down ethics” makes a lot of sense.

    I feel hard for the Sackett series after your recommendation—I think in 2022. Thank you! 😍

    • Reply Brandy Vencel February 8, 2024 at 3:02 pm

      Ooh! The Albion series! I have actually spent part of today looking at a long list of Lawhead works, pondering my next choice. I appreciate the recommendation!

      • Reply Tanya Stone February 28, 2024 at 3:49 am

        I second the Albion series. It was my first Lawhead over 20 years ago, and it’s absolutely beautiful. A bit more allegory going on, which comes around in the end. There was also a soundtrack to it believe it or not–someone I think named Jeff Johnston did music inspired by it. The Pendragon Cycle is a great take on the Arthurian legends, though I’d not recommend the final book (Grail), it wasn’t as good. And my boys, husband, and I all listened to the Bright Empires Series. It’s more sci-fi, dealing with multiverses and lines of energy, etc, but also hints of an Eden-like realm. THAT was interesting because in the final book some of Lawhead’s personal philosophy and theology comes out, and I’ll say we didn’t agree with most of it. But that was good because man, did we have some great talks! That aside we all completely loved it.
        Your L’Amour reading inspires me to pick them up again. When I was around 11, my mom came home from a yard sale and was so pleased with herself because she found a book for me. It was Jubal Sackett–I think the biggest book in the series. And I hated westerns of any kind at the time LOL. But I started and could not put it down. It was the first serious novel, judging by size and scope and depth, that I read. I never read all of the series, but I have quite a few on the shelf.
        I’ll be looking into the R. J. Anderson and Christine Cohen books. You mentioned they would be ok for children, so I’m guessing they don’t require censoring? I’m always looking for those lighter free reads and read aloud books for my two youngest. They are currently obsessed with the Green Ember and Ranger’s Apprentice series. (ages 12 and 14)

  • Reply Shawna February 6, 2024 at 12:26 pm

    I love The Perilous Guard! I don’t usually see people recommending it, so this was exciting to me! I have a copy just eisiting for some of my own children to become old enough to enjoy it with me (maybe when my oldest two are 12/13?)!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel February 7, 2024 at 9:15 am

      I love that you know this book! I can’t remember where I found it, but I’m so glad I did.

  • Reply Mandi W February 6, 2024 at 12:17 pm

    I once went a NYE murder mystery where a couple decided to censor the story and when we got to the detective sitting all down and explaining what happened, it made no sense. I’m not really sure why they even did it- it was about dr*gs but we were all grown adults there- no children at all.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel February 7, 2024 at 9:15 am

      Ha! I think we need a #censorshipfail hashtag!! 😉

  • Reply dawn February 6, 2024 at 8:05 am

    Sigh. Poor, maligned Fanny. MP is my favorite. Margaret loved the RJ Anderson first book – said she read it years ago a couple of times but hadn’t read the sequel.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel February 6, 2024 at 8:30 am

      Hahaha. I just can’t handle how seriously she takes herself. But of course, I love Emma and that is generally frowned upon as well!

      • Reply dawn February 6, 2024 at 8:36 am

        Fanny is the Austen heroine I most identify with, I’m glad you still love me LOL I do like Emma, too, though <3

        • Reply Brandy Vencel February 6, 2024 at 9:16 am

          That’s sort of funny because one of the things I love about Emma is that I acted somewhat like her when I was that age and it’s a relief to know you can grow up from the point in your life where you view your roommate as a project and try to get her a man. 😉 Or something.

  • Reply Sharron Cox February 6, 2024 at 8:04 am

    I think you can use a move like that as an excuse for just about anything for at lest 3-6 months! Lol
    Is there a recommended order for the L’Amour books? I’d love to read some of those.

  • Reply Nermari February 6, 2024 at 7:40 am

    We loved the RJ Anderson books! We may have stalked her on IG asking for another. 😅

  • Reply Jill Courser February 6, 2024 at 5:23 am

    I read Patrick years ago and really liked it, so now I am interested to read Byzantium! Have you read the Pendragon Cycle? I loved those…how would Byzantium compare with that?

    • Reply Brandy Vencel February 6, 2024 at 8:32 am

      I have NOT yet read the Pendragon Cycle. That is actually what I *meant* to read when I stumbled upon Byzantium instead. Since I can’t make the comparison myself, I would say that Byzantium feels super close to Patrick to me so perhaps however you thought Patrick compared to the series would give you an idea of what to expect. Maybe I should make the Pendragon Cycle a goal for this year!

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