Category Archives: Five Star

‘The War I Finally Won’ by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley


(Age 9+)
This sequel to The War that Saved My Life, seamlessly continues the story of Ada and Jamie and Susan, suffering the shortages, constraints, and dangers of the war. After the frightful abuse Ada suffered as a child, a war within herself also continues to rage even though she has found a new family. Ada must fight to find out who she is so that she can learn to love and trust again, especially when things get complicated and an unwelcome visitor arrives.

These two YA novels are easy to read but also get at some very adult issues in a gentle manner, a quality that is often captured in a book narrated by a child. The child’s perspective softens the things that adults know to be complex and challenging. The warmth of the author and her love for horses is very evident in the books, as well as in this little youtube promo below. She has also written many other books for children and young adults: click here.

BTW, if you are noticing that I’m defaulting to reading series a lot during this pandemic, you would be correct. This is because it takes less energy to focus on a book when I already know some of the characters and the setting. Older books are easier to access with libraries closed and I am enjoying the sense of accomplishment by catching up. I highly recommend this reading strategy for those of you who are struggling with reading focus during this weird and troubling time in the world. Know that you are not alone–many people I know are ironically reading less, even though they may actually have more time!

‘The War that Saved My Life’ by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley


Age 9+

A disabled girl and her brother are evacuated from London to the English countryside during World War II. Nine-year-old Ada has never left her one-room flat. Her mother is too humiliated by Ada’s twisted foot to let her outside. So when her little brother Jamie is shipped out of London to escape the war, Ada doesn’t waste a minute—she sneaks out to join him.

This award winning Young Adult novel is a moving story of triumph against all the odds. Although it is set in WW 2 and deals with child abuse, it is a beautiful historical fiction about love, struggle, loss, belonging, courage, and new beginnings. It is unsentimental, suspenseful, and written in a simple style that is easy to read, yet will appeal to children and adults alike. It made me think of books by one of my favourite authors, Kate DiCamillo, who has a similar style and also writes books for children without ever talking down to them.

For those struggling to focus on reading in this pandemic, cross-over books like this (which are classified YA but are compelling for adults too) are a perfect choice. And there is a sequel called The War I Finally Won.

 

‘A Family is a Family is a Family’ by Sara O’Leary and Qin Leng


“Families are composed of love regardless of how they may be configured.”

When a teacher asks her students to describe their family, one child is worried about what to say because she suspects that her family is different. But as she listens to her classmates talk about who lives with them and loves them (one raised by a grandmother, another has two dads, one has many step-siblings, and another has a new baby in the family) she realises that diversity is a good thing!  This is a warm and whimsical look at many types of families, with soft art and gentle humour.

Some examples of the writing:
“There are lots of kids in our family. Mom and Dad just keep coming home with more.”
“Both my moms are terrible singers. And they both like to sing really loud.”
“I have more grandparents than anybody else I know.”
“One week Mom gets me. The next week Dad does. Fair’s fair.”
“Some of the kids were Dad’s when he met Mom. Some were Mom’s when she met Dad. Now we all belong to each other.”
“One of my dads is tall and one is short. They both give good hugs.”
“Someone asked my foster mother to point our her real children. She replied, ‘Oh, I don’t have any imaginary children, all my children are real!'”

‘Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life’ by Tish Harrison Warren

Everyone wants a revolution. No one wants to do the dishes”

I’ve always been a lover of the quotidian in life, the humble daily routines and regular chores–they are comforting even if they drive me crazy sometimes–with their “daily-ness.” But if we pay attention, we might see that a whole bunch of ordinary can suddenly result in extraordinary, and a whole bunch of seemingly everyday sorts of days can add up to a remarkable life!

“When suffering is sharp and profound, I expect and believe that God will meet me in its midst. But in the struggles of my average day I somehow feel I have a right to be annoyed.”

Jesus always used everyday examples and objects to teach about spiritual things, and that is what this book does, with chapter headings on things like making the bed, brushing teeth, eating leftovers, and losing keys. I loved how the author turns our eyes to the fact that everyday life can be seen as sacred practice.

This practical theology is perfect for people raising young children who simply don’t have the energy or time to carve out a ‘quiet time.’ Everyday chores and routines can be moments to reflect and remind. It is absolutely vital for everyone, but especially for parents with small children, to see all tasks as worship to God–a God who sees them, and loves them all the time.

‘Brené on Comparative Suffering, the 50/50 Myth, and Settling the Ball’


So this is a podcast, not a book, but listening to this was so hugely helpful for coping during the pandemic, that I felt compelled to share it. It’s worth 25 minutes of your time. She identifies tools and strategies for use when experiencing exhaustion and difficult emotions. Sound familiar?

From Brené: “We have collectively hit weary. This is especially true for the brave folks on the front lines of this pandemic and for the people who love and support them. And, it’s also true for all of us. In this episode, I talk about strategies for falling apart, staying connected and kind, and giving ourselves permission to feel hard things.”

On your favourite podcast app, subscribe to Unlocking Us by Brené Brown, and go to the episode for March 27 entitled: “Brené on Comparative Suffering, the 50/50 Myth, and Settling the Ball.” Subscribing to podcasts is free.

‘Yum and Yummer’ by Greta Podleski

Pandemic positivity–against all the odds, we are trying to find the good things in the midst of a frustrating tragic crisis, trying to be thankful, and calling attention to kindness–we ask ourselves, what are perhaps some small good things that will come of all this?

One thing that comes immediately to my mind, is a resurgence in home cooking and baking. I’ve never understood when people say, “I never cook” because I wonder what they eat? But now that we are restricted in eating out, relying on basic grocery store items, and trying to keep ourselves and our kids busy, I believe that many people are rediscovering the joy of cooking simple meals at home with their families, and that is a good thing!

Years ago I posted on a hugely successful cookbook by two Canadian sisters called Looneyspoons. It is still one of my all time favourites because the recipes are easy, uncomplicated, reliable and nutritious. A couple of years ago I got the next book, this time by only one of the sisters, Greta (only because her sister was busy with other things). Yum and Yummer is every bit as good as Looneyspoons and also includes more plant based and gluten-free recipes, if those are your thing, but not exclusively so–there’s something for everyone in these cookbooks! Happy cooking and eating!

IMPORTANT NOTE: If you have a smart phone, there is a bar code on every page of this recipe book that will connect you with further online resources, videos, and even more recipes that you might like!!

‘American Dirt’ by Jeanine Cummins

Ok I’ll be honest. Reading hasn’t been all that easy for me lately. You’d think that with being stuck in the house and all, I’d be doing nothing but…but it doesn’t seem to work like that. However, American Dirt was the perfect book for such a time as this and I was lucky to get a ‘Skip the Line’ hold through Libby library app to read it because it’s very high profile right now for both good and bad reasons.

American Dirt is a compelling, easy to read story about migrants, (a crisis of another sort all together) so it’s been therapeutic, in a weird sort of way, to sink into the pages and escape into another reality. At its core this book is about good people in hard times with so many twists and turns that it was totally captivating. Lydia and her son Luca find themselves in an unimaginable nightmare of brutality and constant danger as they flee their home in Acapulco and seek to survive. The opening scene of this novel is unforgettable and their journey is harrowing.

Critics have created controversy in social media around the authenticity of the migrant experience in this book, seemingly making those who really enjoyed the book, rethink their experience of it, which seems a shame. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, and I stand solidly behind my own recommendation of it. I can’t comment on whether this book reflects truth or is the most definitive migrant story, but I do know that I found it compulsively readable and beautifully written. Again this is simply a story of good people in hard times trying to survive. Fiction is truth, even if it is not fact. Stories matter and gaining empathy for another person’s story brings perspective to our own.

What are you reading during this pandemic?

‘Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle’ by Emily and Amelia Nagoski

Top-notch advice from two sisters for women, although I think anyone could benefit from reading this. They explain why women experience stress differently from men. The book is about navigating stress, managing both external stressors as well as the internal effects of stress on the body.

This is a hugely important science-based approach to dealing with stress for women at any age or stage. It gives simple and sensible strategies towards feeling ‘enough’ and finding wellness. I found it refreshing and wise. The sisters even talk about gaslighting which also happens to be a topic in a recently released Dixie Chicks song…(obviously the singers are still not ‘ready to make nice’ but are highlighting and naming another important issue in pop culture. I’d not heard the term before, but encountered it twice in the same week. That’s how these things go.)

What I really liked about this book was the emphasis on the fact that we don’t have to wait for the world to change before we can begin to heal ourselves. And also, needing help and asking for help is normal and necessary, and is NOT a sign of weakness, but of strength.

‘When God Made the World’ by Matthew Paul Turner and illustrated by Gillian Gamble


“Among the stars and the planets and cosmic dust, God made a place for the story of us.”

Lyrical verse, warm evocative illustration, and creative narrative describe this new book by Matthew Paul Turner. What’s great about this picture book is the fresh perspective it offers about how all of us fit into the creation story. The dedication is in memory of Rachel Held Evans, a beloved and well respected young Christian writer who died from complications of the flu last year. When God Made the World has been endorsed and promoted by people like Amy Grant, Ann Voskamp, and Shauna Niequist.

In this book there are directives to help save and protect the planet, “Save a whale, hug a tree, protect every bee. Recycle, repurpose, reject apathy.” Included in passages that impart the wonder of creation and the diversity of humanity, are cute little phrases like: a warning against touching poison ivy and a reminder to drink more water in hot weather. The book ends on an open-ended note by saying that creation was just the beginning and how we live and how we love tells God’s story too! Children can glimpse the divine and celebrate the complexity of our world, but also think about the fact that they too are an intentional part of God’s very big story.

‘Crow Lake’ by Mary Lawson

What a beautiful family saga to sink into about four children suddenly orphaned, and drawn together by loss and love. The harsh realities of living in a remote and tiny farming community in Northern Ontario are the backdrop to this situation. The town is full of warmth and help and compassion for this family but the children are fiercely independent. Young Kate, the narrator of the story, worships her elder brother Matt, whose passionate interest in the natural world consoles and inspires her. The oldest brother Luke was a bored and sullen teenager but is transformed after the tragedy, turning from the family problem into the family solution. As an adult Kate struggles with a feeling of estrangement from her siblings, which she doesn’t quite understand and is borne of misunderstandings and resentments she didn’t even realise were there. Although this is a character driven novel, there is also a thrumming plot that moves the story steadily forward in effortless prose.

This was a reread, which is unusual for me, but I have to lead a book club meeting on it and I had read it so long ago (pre-log and pre-blog), that I decided to delve into it again and I’m so glad I did. I plan to also reread The Other Side of the Bridge. Lawson’s book Road Ends I read more recently, and was reviewed on this blog: click here.

I will repeat what I said in that review about the author: Lawson’s strength is in her ability to convey the nuance in complex family relationship using a very easy, economical writing style. Emotion is conveyed but it is never cloying. She makes me care about these people. I can relate to them. I long to understand them, I hurt for them, I cheer for them, I fear for them, and in the end I have a hard time letting them go.