"As to moral courage, I have very rarely met with the two o'clock in the morning kind. I mean unprepared courage, that which is necessary on an unexpected occasion, and which, in spite of the most unforeseen events, leaves full freedom of judgement and decision."
Ah, two o'clock in the morning. We're old friends now. When I was young, and my first baby was born, I delighted in her midnight murmurings which meant I could wake up and stare at the astounding perfection of her features. A few years into mothering, with a backlog of missed sleep, it did indeed require a certain moral courage.
Luckily, by that point, I lived directly across the street from a Dominican monastery, where women of all ages awoke to pray throughout the night, without the alluring reward of baby snuggles. They were summoned by a bell and I by a baby's cry, but it was comforting to unite my own drowsy prayers with theirs on the mornings when my eyes simply didn't want to open. "O God, come to my assistance," I would pray (and still do), "Lord, make haste to help me."
In subsequent years, I've come to have a true appreciation for these early mornings of nursing and wakefulness. I wish I could say I always open my eyes with joy and alacrity every time… I don't. I'm middle aged now, and energy is in short supply. But once I do rustle up some motivation, I genuinely enjoy being awake while the rest of the household sleeps. I am glad for the time to speak and listen quietly with God. When I finish prayer, I enjoy reaching for a book (or my kindle, thanks to its backlit screen) and diving into stories while the baby nurses. It's another kind of two o'clock courage, I suppose, to open a book instead of scroll on a phone.
A few weeks ago, a friend asked my favorite question: "Do you have any books to recommend?" She needed some reading recommendations for her own two a.m. nursing sessions, and I was most happy to oblige. Since then, I've put some extra thought into this question… What makes for the best early morning reading during the early months of motherhood? Not just any book will suffice. It needs to be engaging, certainly, but also not require too much deep thinking. (I love a good, philosophical treatise…but not at two a.m.) For me, it can't deal with any terribly stressing topics--no child abductions or violent, traumatic deaths on this list. At that time of day, I tend to prefer character-centric works over plot-centric ones (although there are exceptions), but the pacing needs to skip along just as well as if it were a thriller.
Without further ado, then, my list of Best Books for Two O'Clock Nursing Sessions—or anytime you need some good, lighthearted, and brilliant stories in your life.
The Blue Castle is L. M. Montgomery's only "adult" novel—its main character is twenty-nine and there a couple more mature themes than her other books. It's funny and clever and heartwarming, and one of my two favorite books ever.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Excellent historical fiction that will definitely make you want to plan a trip to Guernsey.
While you're daydreaming about Guernsey… Green Dolphin Street, by Elizabeth Goudge, brings the nineteenth century version of the island to life in a thought-provoking and challenging book about the sisters and the power of the presence of God and the decision to love.
Daddy-Long-Legs, by Jean Webster, may technically be categorized as a children's or YA book, but its sweet romance, low stress, and epistolary style makes it a go-to recommendation for me to give anyone at all.
And if you love Daddy-Long-Legs, you should definitely give Katherine Ray's Dear Mr. Knightley a read! Her books (that I've read so far) are all delightful, with at least a touch of literary influence for you book nerds like me.
A recent (and wonderful) discovery for me was the writing of D. E. Stevenson. Her Miss Buncle's Book trilogy is lighthearted and hilarious, while still being very intelligent. I found the whole series, but the third book in general, full of sound advice for a good marriage. Bonus!
Maybe it's living in New England, but I will always love a good Revolutionary War story, and In Pieces, by Rhonda Ortiz fits that bill to a T. Romance, intrigue, beautiful dresses (the main character is a seamstress, and the descriptions are rich and historically accurate), philosophy, faith… This book has it all.
A Countess Below Stairs, by Eva Ibbotson is the perfect lighthearted read for those of you who binged Downton Abbey.
I love every word I've ever read by P. G. Wodehouse, but Lord Emsworth and Others is my favorite nighttime reading collection of his stories. I consider "A Crime Wave at Blandings" to be a perfect short story.
There are moments in my nights when my prayers are less like peaceful meditations and more like anxious raging. In those moments, I find the stories of The Little World of Don Camillo, by Giovanni Guareschi, particularly comforting. Even better than their steady humor is the beautiful relationship between God and the character Don Camillo portrayed in these stories. God is tender and patient and ready with a witty answer when needed. Don Camillo is imperfect but sincere. It's so good.
Are there any books you'd add to this list? What gets you through wakeful seasons of life with peace and poise—or at least general sanity?
All right, friends, get your pre-order buttons ready. Today I’m reviewing a soon-to-be-released middle grade book which jumped right onto my “Top 10” and “Better at least get a Newbery Honor” lists.
Here’s what the publisher had to say about Jacqueline Kelly’s The International House of Dereliction:
In this not-so-scary ghost story from Jacqueline Davies, bestselling author of the Lemonade War series, quirky, tool-wielding Alice Cannoli-Potchnik begins to repair the dilapidated mansion next door—only to discover the old house is home to ghosts, and they need mending, too!
Home is where the heart is. But can a house have a heart of its own.
Ten-year-old Alice is moving for the eleventh time.
She’s lived in so many houses, each more broken than the last, that home to Alice is nothing more than a place you fix and then a place you leave. After all, who needs a permanent home when you’re a whiz at fixing things
But when Alice arrives at her new home, she can’t take her eyes off the house next door, the stately dark house that hulked in the dimming light. The once-grand mansion, now dilapidated and condemned, beckons Alice; it's the perfect new repair job!
As Alice begins to restore the House to its former splendor, she senses strange presences. Is there a heartbeat coming from the House’s walls? Is someone looking at her? Soon she realizes she’s not alone. Three ghosts have been watching, and they need Alice’s help to solve their unfinished business.
Will Alice be able to unravel the mysteries of the House and find her forever home ... before it’s too late.
Quirky is the right word! I loved Alice and her eccentric Cannoli-Potchnik family. I loved the lighthearted touch with the ghosts. I love the crazy, old house, and the interesting neighbors. It’s all very eccentric and quirky and lighthearted—and yet. The International House of Dereliction is somehow the most believable portrayal of homeschooling I’ve recently come across in a work of fiction. Alice’s education is clearly well-rounded, but she has immense amounts of freedom to pursue her passions. She repairs the International House by herself, and quite capably—and if this sounds unbelievable to you, I invite you to meet some ten-year-old homeschoolers. Admittedly, I only know a couple who’d be capable of home repair (I do have a few nephews who probably could have accomplished this when they were ten), but I know many who have achieved incredible levels of proficiency at the things they are passionate about.
I’m not saying all homeschoolers are like this. Guess what? There’s some totally average and completely below average homeschoolers, too—just like students you’d find in school. But what makes me excited is to finally see this side of homeschooling represented in a work of fiction. It feels like for many years we’ve been bombarded in fiction with the idea that homeschoolers need to be saved from their social ineptitude by a timely entrance into public school. Are there socially inept homeschoolers? Sure. Are they the majority? Let’s just say I know more homeschoolers who can capably put up drywall at age ten than homeschoolers who are socially inept.
I won’t devote all my review to the positive homeschooling rep, much as I could. But Jacqueline Davies deserves mention of her spectacular characterization, her deftly-handled descriptions, and her perfectly-timed and developed humor. I will never use this comparison lightly: at moments, the humor reminded me of P. G. Wodehouse. And I really can’t give any higher praise.
The International House of Dereliction releases in July, but is available for pre-order now. Be sure to add it to your TBR lists!
For more Marvelous Middle Grade Monday recommendations, check out Greg's blog at Always in the Middle!
As a mother of eight, it has been hard at times to know what to prioritize for my children. The older I get, the more I see the evidence that St. Paul was right: whatever is true… whatever is honorable… whatever is pure… whatever is lovely… think on these things. Instead of focusing on the evil and injustice in the world, we look closely at the good and the fair fighting against it. Instead of simply deploring ugliness, we look deeply at beauty.
Keeping that in mind, there's little better to share with my children than stories of the saints: real-life heroes, pointing with their vastly different lives to goodness and truth and beauty. I'm so excited for the recent renaissance of excellent saint stories and picture books for children, and Light of the Saints, by Cory Heimann, illustrated by Tricia Dugat, is a perfect example. No dry and yawn-inducing text here, but lively stories with interactive illustrations that bring them even more to life.
In some ways, you really need to experience this book for yourself to truly appreciate it, but the concept itself sells it: on every other page, a "hidden" illustration appears when you shine a flashlight through the other side. I love this for the sheer creativity, but even more so because it works so appropriately for a book of saint stories, to show that God's activity in their lives is often secret and hidden until it shines gloriously through.
I was kindly sent a copy of this book by the publisher to review (it's the first book from Word on Fire's new children's imprint, Spark!), but as it happened, I already had a copy of my own—so I'd love to pass it on to one of you to share with your children! To enter, just leave a comment telling me who your favorite saint is. I'll choose a random winner next Thursday. (I can ship only to the U.S., but you international readers are welcome to share your favorite saints with us anyway—just let me know you're not officially entering!)
I have such an exciting announcement today, about three of my favorite things: books, community, and good, old-fashioned life. My friend Anna Rose Johnson and I are co-hosting a Vintage Kidlit Summer! We each plan to read twelve vintage books over the course of the summer (from May 27 through August 12), and to share about them each week on our blogs and Instagram. Want to join us?
Each week has its own category—I'm pretty excited about "Moody and Mysterious" and "Big Family Stories," personally. We even threw in a week for picture books, in case the idea of reading twelve novels this summer seemed unattainable for those with busy lives. All you have to do to take part is to choose a book from the week's category to read, then share it with the rest of us—anything from full blog posts to comments on our blogs to Instagram posts or stories (you can use the hashtag #vintagekidlitsummer over there) is perfect. One of my favorite parts of reading is the way it can bring people together, and I'm hoping this summer challenge can build up a community here—as Anne Shirley would say: "the race that knows Joseph."
You're free to choose your own favorites, of course, but in the next couple weeks, Anna Rose and I will be rolling out a fun list of our recommendations for each category, so maybe you'll discover something new to you. We're also planning giveaways for participants throughout the summer, so this could be a great chance to build up your vintage book collections!
And reading challenge or no, be sure to check out Anna Rose's blog—I absolutely love her dives into vintage literature and her family history/background posts about her lovely middle grade novel, The Star that Always Stays (which would make a great choice for that last category!).
Are you in? Let me know some of your favorite vintage books in the comments!
Hi! I'm Faith. I blog about books and creativity, family and faith. Welcome!