Read This, Not That: Under a Flaming Sky instead of Circus Fire

Read this not that Historical FiresCompelling history books are some of my favorites to read, and I’m especially partial to ones that tackle lesser-known events. I’m also not afraid of some gruesome details in my reads, so I didn’t hesitate to try Stewart O’Nan’s nonfiction title Circus Fire: A True Story of an American Tragedy.

Unfortunately, it ended up being a bit of a slow and ultimately I don’t think it was worth the reading time, unless you have some connection to that event which makes it more interesting for you in particular.

Instead, I’ll suggest Under a Flaming Sky: The Great Hinckley Firestorm of 1894 by Daniel James Brown. It’s much more engaging and readable. It is one I often pause before recommending because it isn’t appropriate for all readers (beware if you’re squeamish) but if that’s not an issue for you, it was excellent (as all of his books have been).

I’ve written about Under a Flaming Sky before, so if you’re thinking you remember me mentioning it you’re correct – I did, and then I also included it in my 31 Days of Great Nonfiction series in 2013. It’s an amazing book.

By contrast, Circus Fire is fine. It’s serviceable and you’ll learn about the fire in Hartford in 1944. There are heart-breaking details, but it’s never as compelling a read as Brown’s, and I constantly had to force myself to pick it up again and read more of it. I probably should have bailed on it before finishing, but I was interested in learning some of the outcomes and what eventually ended up happening to people in the years after the fire.

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Teaching from Rest by Sarah Mackenzie

Teaching from RestTeaching from Rest: A Homeschooler’s Guide to Unshakable Peace by Sarah Mackenzie

I wasn’t sure how I’d like this book – I kept hearing good things about it, but I’ve read Mackenzie’s blog before and have never cared for it that much (it’s beautiful, but I always end up wanting more from her posts). However, I am so glad that I gave the book a chance anyway – it was *so* encouraging and inspiring.

I don’t actually buy that many books for myself, instead relying on the library for the majority of my reading. This is a book that I borrowed but now want to own my own copy, so I can reread it regularly. It’s that encouraging.

It’s not a homeschooling treatise, or guide to curriculum. I actually disagree with her educational philosophy in some ways (I am not a Charlotte Mason devotee, and am nowhere near as laid-back about things as Mackenzie seems to be), but her focus on rest was very helpful.

The book is heavily faith-based, and includes numerous quotes from Catholic saints. If that’s an issue for you you likely would not appreciate the book.

Find the book: Print | Kindle | Goodreads

Publisher’s Description:
Those who have made the decision to homeschool their children have done so out of great love for their children and a desire to provide them an excellent education in the context of a warm, enriching home. Yet so many parents (mainly mothers) who have taken up this challenge find the enterprise often full of stress, worry, and anxiety. In this practical, faith-based, and inspirational book, Sarah Mackenzie addresses these questions directly, appealing to her own study of restful learning (scholé) and her struggle to bring restful learning to her children.

Book Details

Title: Teaching from Rest
Author: Sarah Mackenzie
Category: Nonfiction / Education
My Rating: 4.5 Stars

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Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman

Saving CeeCee HoneycuttSaving CeeCee Honeycutt: A Novel by Beth Hoffman

Charming and sweet story that was an ideal vacation read. It’s light enough that it fit well with my mood at the beach, but it has just barely enough depth to still be satisfying.

I can’t give it more than 3.5 Stars, no matter how perfect it was as a beach book, because of how it skirts around more meaty issues. Racism, child neglect, insanity, poverty, and death are all briefly addressed, but in a very superficial way. The wrap-it-all-up in a bow ending was enjoyable from an emotional standpoint, but intellectually I can acknowledge how unrealistic it all was.

Highly recommended, or not at all recommended, depending on what sort of book you’re looking for. The writing is lovely, and the occasional bits of humor had me chuckling. I’ll happily try another by Hoffman.

We’ll be reading this for my in-person book club in August, and I’m looking forward to hearing what everyone else has to say about it, and finding out how well the feel-good novel works as a discussion vehicle.

Find the book: Print | Kindle | Audible | Goodreads

Publisher’s Description:
Steel Magnolias meets The Help in Beth Hoffman’s New York Times bestselling Southern debut novel, Saving CeeCee Honeycutt

Twelve-year-old CeeCee Honeycutt is in trouble. For years, she has been the caretaker of her mother, Camille, the town’s tiara-wearing, lipstick-smeared laughingstock, a woman who is trapped in her long-ago moment of glory as the 1951 Vidalia Onion Queen of Georgia. When tragedy strikes, Tootie Caldwell, CeeCee’s long-lost great-aunt, comes to the rescue and whisks her away to Savannah. There, CeeCee is catapulted into a perfumed world of prosperity and Southern eccentricity—one that appears to be run entirely by strong, wacky women. From the exotic Miz Thelma Rae Goodpepper, who bathes in her backyard bathtub and uses garden slugs as her secret weapons; to Tootie’s all-knowing housekeeper, Oletta Jones; to Violene Hobbs, who entertains a local police officer in her canary-yellow peignoir, the women of Gaston Street keep CeeCee entertained and enthralled for an entire summer.

A timeless coming of age novel set in the 1960s, Saving CeeCee Honeycutt explores the indomitable strengths of female friendship, and charts the journey of an unforgettable girl who loses one mother, but finds many others in the storybook city of Savannah. As Kristin Hannah, author of Fly Away, says, Beth Hoffman’s sparkling debut is “packed full of Southern charm, strong women, wacky humor, and good old-fashioned heart.”

Book Details

Title: Saving CeeCee Honeycutt: A Novel
Author: Beth Hoffman
Category: Historical Fiction
My Rating: 3.5 Stars

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A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute

A Town Like AliceA Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute

The sum of this book is greater than its parts: it shouldn’t be a 4-star read for me, considering several weaknesses that would normally drop it to a 3-star rating at best. But my overall feelings for the book remain higher, so 4 stars it is.

The framework is clunky at times – the attorney narrating the story, with more details and insight than seems likely. The second half of the book should have been tedious, with the specifics of starting businesses and developing the town. It could have been a sappy, unbelievable romance. Instead it’s a sweet story of survival, resilience, hard work, devotion, and love.

A heads-up that the language reflects when it was written, and there are some racist and sexist terms used (and attitudes shown). It’s jarring at times, but assuming you can overlook that, I’d recommend the book anyway.

If you do read it, be sure and read the end pages – Shute based Jean’s trek around Malaysia on actual events, although he changed the country. I’m glad he gave those amazing women some attention by using their story as part of his novel.

It’s been available on Kindle for $2.99 for months now, so I’m guessing that’s the regular price. I bought it for myself and think it’s definitely worth grabbing for that great deal.

Find the book: Print | Kindle | Audible | Goodreads

Publisher’s Description:
Nevil Shute’s most beloved novel, a tale of love and war, follows its enterprising heroine from the Malayan jungle during World War II to the rugged Australian outback.

Jean Paget, a young Englishwoman living in Malaya, is captured by the invading Japanese and forced on a brutal seven-month death march with dozens of other women and children. A few years after the war, Jean is back in England, the nightmare behind her. However, an unexpected inheritance inspires her to return to Malaya to give something back to the villagers who saved her life. Jean’s travels leads her to a desolate Australian outpost called Willstown, where she finds a challenge that will draw on all the resourcefulness and spirit that carried her through her war-time ordeals.

Book Details

Title: A Town Like Alice
Author: Nevil Shute
Category: Fiction
My Rating: 4 Stars

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Out of Darkness

Out of DarknessOut of Darkness: My Story of Finding True Light and Liberation by Stormie Omartian

Hard to read at times, because the subject matter is so heart-rending. Omartian had a horrific childhood and it’s amazing to read her story and realize what she overcame.

The writing is fine, but more serviceable than spellbinding. If you’re familiar with her books such as The Power of a Praying Wife (and all the other related titles) it’s inspiring to learn how she developed into the woman of prayer she became.

If you’re not a believer, I don’t think the book would be as interesting to you. It also helps if you’re familiar with her writing or musical career. I had no idea of her musical abilities and hadn’t heard of her husband Michael Omartian (that probably says more about my obliviousness than anything else).

She’s got a previous memoir, Stormie, but I never read that and can’t say how this one differs from it.

Recommended for those who have liked her other books, or those who looking for a story of transformation and redemption.

Find the book: Print | Kindle | Goodreads

Publisher’s Description:
Stormie Omartian tells her compelling story of a childhood marred by physical and emotional abuse that eventually led her into the occult, drugs, and tragic relationships.

Finding herself overwhelmed by fear and on the verge of suicide, she shares the turning point that changed her life and reveals the healing process that brought freedom and wholeness beyond what she ever imagined.

In this poignant drama, there is help and hope for anyone who has been scarred by the past or feels imprisoned by deep emotional needs. It is a glorious story of how God can bring life out of death, life out of darkness.

Book Details

Title: Out of Darkness: My Story of Finding True Light and Liberation
Author: Stormie Omartian
Category: Nonfiction / Memoir
My Rating: 3 Stars

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for a review. I was not required to write a positive review and all opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for supporting The Deliberate Reader!

Find the Good by Heather Lende

Find the GoodFind the Good: Unexpected Life Lessons from a Small-Town Obituary WriterFind the Good: Unexpected Life Lessons from a Small-Town Obituary Writer by Heather Lende by Heather Lende

I really liked the focus in Lende’s latest book – it could so easily have been a depressing read (and some of the stories did bring tears to my eyes), but it’s not. It’s touching and heart-warming, and encouraging. It’s also really easy to read in small snippets of time so if you’re in a stage of life where you don’t have much time to devote to concentrated reading this may help you satisfy your bookish needs.

Part memoir, part essay collection, it’s not exactly either. But it’s an enjoyable and easy read, and perfectly fit my reading mood one afternoon.

Find the book: Print | Kindle | Audible | Goodreads

Publisher’s Description:
As the obituary writer in a spectacularly beautiful but often dangerous spit of land in Alaska, Heather Lende knows something about last words and lives well lived. Now she’s distilled what she’s learned about how to live a more exhilarating and meaningful life into three words: find the good. It’s that simple–and that hard.

Quirky and profound, individual and universal, Find the Good offers up short chapters that help us unlearn the habit–and it is a habit–of seeing only the negatives. Lende reminds us that we can choose to see any event–starting a new job or being laid off from an old one, getting married or getting divorced–as an opportunity to find the good. As she says, “We are all writing our own obituary every day by how we live. The best news is that there’s still time for additions and revisions before it goes to press.”

Ever since Algonquin published her first book, the New York Times bestseller If You Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name, Heather Lende has been praised for her storytelling talent and her plainspoken wisdom. The Los Angeles Times called her “part Annie Dillard, part Anne Lamott,” and that comparison has never been more apt as she gives us a fresh, positive perspective from which to view our relationships, our obligations, our priorities, our community, and our world.

An antidote to the cynicism and self-centeredness that we are bombarded with every day in the news, in our politics, and even at times in ourselves, Find the Good helps us rediscover what’s right with the world.

Book Details

Title: Find the Good: Unexpected Life Lessons from a Small-Town Obituary WriterFind the Good: Unexpected Life Lessons from a Small-Town Obituary Writer by Heather Lende
Author: Heather Lende
Category: Nonfiction / Memoir / Essays
My Rating: 3 Stars

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The Kite Fighters (and a linkup)

The Kite FightersMarch and April’s theme for our online family book club is Korea, and March’s book is Linda Sue Park’s wonderful novel The Kite FightersThe Kite Fighters by Linda Sue Park.

I was not new to Park, but hadn’t read this particular title until pre-reading it for the book club. What a lovely story it was, and I learned quite a bit about historic Korean culture.

While I did not read this book with my kids (I think they’ll do better with it in another couple of years), I absolutely do plan to read it to them eventually. Although if we stick with Sonlight for our homeschool curriculum, it is scheduled in the year focused on the Eastern Hemisphere, so the kids would definitely read it then!

If you read The Kite FightersThe Kite Fighters by Linda Sue Park, either for yourself, or with your family, what did you think of it? And if you wrote a post about it, please add it to our linkup! Any posts will automatically show up on the joint linkup, hosted by Moira (Hearth and Homefront) and Jessica (Quirky Bookworm). Add your post once from any one of our sites, and it will automatically appear in the linkup on their blogs.


Link-up Guidelines:

1. Share a post about reading this book or one of the themed picture books. Entries completely unrelated to this theme or linked to your homepage may be deleted.

2. Link back to one of the host’s posts.

3. The linkup will be open until the end of the month.

4. Please visit the person’s blog who linked up directly before you and leave them a comment.

5. By linking up, you’re granting us permission to use and/or repost photographs or comments from your linked post.

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Next month we continue with Korea, and we’ll be discussing When My Name Was KeokoWhen My Name Was Keoko by Linda Sue Park. I hope you can join us!

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Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

RebeccaRebeccaRebecca by Daphne Du Maurier by Daphne Du Maurier

My in-person book club’s March pick, and we picked it to go along with our annual tea party.

Maybe not quite as perfect a book for a tea party as some of our other choices (like The Road from Coorain, or The Secret Keeper), but any book with a British setting still feels appropriate for the tea party. 🙂

I’d read Rebecca years ago – in high school, or perhaps right after I graduated. While I expected that I’d have forgotten most of it, I didn’t find that to be the case, and almost all of the book was familiar. The advantage of that was it let me see how du Maurier structured the book and set up the surprises. The disadvantage was that I wasn’t surprised by any of the reveals, and I didn’t feel compelled to read the last chapter or two when I ran out of time before book club. Yes, that’s right. I didn’t read the very end in my book, and instead went online and found spoilers to confirm that what I thought I remembered is what happened.

Rebecca makes for a good discussion book – there’s a lot to chat about and debate. Where it gets slightly tedious is the nameless main character – constantly calling her “the main character” or “the second Mrs. DeWinter” got tiring, and eventually we started referring to her as nameless. Certainly not a reason to skip discussing the book, but it wasn’t anything I had anticipated.

While I wish I could say that I loved the book, I didn’t. I enjoyed the writing (so beautiful and atmospheric!), and her characterizations include some standouts. However, I was also so annoyed with some of the plotting that it detracted from the overall enjoyment of the book. I do think it works so well as a discussion book though, that I’d still highly recommend it for that purpose. Even if you’re not reading it for a book club, I still think it a worthwhile choice for general cultural literacy. Maybe you’ll be a bigger fan than I was of it, but even if you’re not, some books are worth reading.

Find the book: Print | Kindle | Audible | Goodreads

Publisher’s Description:
“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again . . .”

The novel begins in Monte Carlo, where our heroine is swept off her feet by the dashing widower Maxim de Winter and his sudden proposal of marriage. Orphaned and working as a lady’s maid, she can barely believe her luck. It is only when they arrive at his massive country estate that she realizes how large a shadow his late wife will cast over their lives–presenting her with a lingering evil that threatens to destroy their marriage from beyond the grave.

First published in 1938, this classic gothic novel is such a compelling read that it won the Anthony Award for Best Novel of the Century.

Book Details

Title: RebeccaRebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
Author: Daphne Du Maurier
Category: Fiction / Classic
My Rating: 3.5 Stars

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Previously on The Deliberate Reader

One year ago: Cooking the Book: ANZAC Biscuits

A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park

A Single ShardA Single ShardA Single Shard by Linda Sue Park by Linda Sue Park

I read this when I was pre-reading/re-reading books for the family book club’s Korea theme. Ultimately I recommended we select When My Name Was Keoko as the middle grade/teen book, feeling that it gave a better balance to our pairing, but want to still encourage anyone interested in children’s literature or historical fiction to give this one a try – it’s fantastic.

Park’s writing is so beautiful, but the characterizations and themes of her novel are what make A Single Shard such a standout to me. While it’s not the right fit for me to read to my children (yet), I’m looking forward to introducing them to it when they’re older and able to appreciate the story.

And if you’re able to read the book and not feel an overwhelming urge to do some searching online for celadon pottery, you’ve got more restraint than I do. I had to go looking for some images of the pottery described in the book – such beautiful work!

Find the book: Print | Kindle | Audible | Goodreads

Publisher’s Description:
In this Newbery Medal-winning book set in 12th century Korea, Tree-ear, a 13-year-old orphan, lives under a bridge in Ch’ulp’o, a potters’ village famed for delicate celadon ware. He has become fascinated with the potter’s craft; he wants nothing more than to watch master potter Min at work, and he dreams of making a pot of his own someday. When Min takes Tree-ear on as his helper, Tree-ear is elated — until he finds obstacles in his path: the backbreaking labor of digging and hauling clay, Min’s irascible temper, and his own ignorance. But Tree-ear is determined to prove himself — even if it means taking a long, solitary journey on foot to present Min’s work in the hope of a royal commission . . . even if it means arriving at the royal court with nothing to show but a single celadon shard.

Book Details

Title: A Single ShardA Single Shard by Linda Sue Park
Author: Linda Sue Park
Category: Juvenile Fiction
My Rating: 4.5 Stars

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Born Round by Frank Bruni

Born RoundBorn Round: A Story of Family, Food and a Ferocious AppetiteBorn Round: A Story of Family, Food and a Ferocious Appetite by Frank Bruni by Frank Bruni

An inconsistent read – while the writing is always fine, the story itself sags in places. I enjoyed the traditional memoir aspects – the family stories, his time as a journalist on the Presidential campaign trail, working in Rome, and of course as the restaurant critic for the New York Times. Unfortunately, one of the key themes of the book is tracing his food issues, and while those may be important to him, they end up being less interesting to me as a reader and contributes to an overall feeling of lifelessness. He’s had some amazing experiences – where are the amazing stories about them?

In many ways though, Bruni’s book mostly suffers by comparisons – there are so many fantastic food memoirs out there, and his, while ok, isn’t as great as other possibilities. While it’s not that *his* story itself has been told before, the themes he addresses at his best have been, and in books that are stronger and more enjoyable to read.

If you’re particularly interested in his story, or in aspects of it, this isn’t meant to dissuade you from reading it, more of a caution that as you prioritize your reading time, I’d probably put other ones as higher options unless you have compelling reasons for boosting Bruni’s book.

Find the book: Print | Kindle | Audible | Goodreads

Publisher’s Description:
The New York Times restaurant critic’s heartbreaking and hilarious account of how he learned to love food just enough

Frank Bruni was born round. Round as in stout, chubby, and always hungry. His relationship with eating was difficult and his struggle with it began early. When named the restaurant critic for The New York Times in 2004, he knew he would be performing one of the most watched tasks in the epicurean universe. And with food his friend and enemy both, his jitters focused primarily on whether he’d finally made some sense of that relationship. A captivating story of his unpredictable journalistic odyssey as well as his lifelong love-hate affair with food, Born Round will speak to everyone who’s ever had to rein in an appetite to avoid letting out a waistband.

Book Details

Title: Born Round: A Story of Family, Food and a Ferocious AppetiteBorn Round: A Story of Family, Food and a Ferocious Appetite by Frank Bruni
Author: Frank Bruni
Category: Nonfiction / Memoir
My Rating: 3.5 Stars

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