On My Bookshelf {June 2012}

source: mandiehman on Instagram
Last month I mentioned that I was stuck in a bit of a reading slump, not really finding any books that felt like they were worth my time and attention in the past couple of months. Fortunately, I seem to be coming out of that slump by turning to the good ol’ classics (which are classics for good reason)!

It started a few weeks ago when I attended a Classical Conversations Parent Practicum. As I was in paging through the catalog and browsing the book tables, I realized there was a treasure trove of classic literature that I hadn’t read — or had only given half my attention to in junior high (I don’t remember reading any of the classics in high school — how sad it that?!).

I decided to start with a few autobiographies, which I’ll share below, and I also picked up Susan Wise Bauer’s The Well-Educated Mind. My original plan was to start with the list of novels, and I even bought Don Quixote and roped some friends into reading it with me, but I may switch to the biographies list after I get through that one, just because I really enjoy well-written biographies.

I also came across a new author that I love when I randomly picked a free Kindle book to read over the weekend (more on that below as well), which is why I keep “buying” those books even though most of them sit in my Amazon account unread.

Buying Used from Amazon

I’ve linked to the Kindle edition of most of the books below just for consistency, but I’ve actually found that the least expensive way to purchase books (for someone without access to a lot of great used bookstores or a good library system) is to buy used from Amazon whenever possible.

The hardcover edition of The Well-Educated Mind can be picked up for as low as $13 this way (and I really think it’s a book you want to hold and underline and refer back to time and time again), and some books are just a penny plus shipping, which brings them to $4 each.

Of course, many of the older classics are now part of the public domain, so you can actually get those free for the Kindle, which is obviously a better deal unless you want a hard copy for your home library!


  • In the Presence of My Enemies by Gracia Burnham
    Can you imagine being kidnapped by Muslim terrorists and held in the jungle for months? Even after reading this biography by Gracia Burnham, an American missionary living and serving in the Philippines, I have a hard time wrapping my head around all that she and her husband endured during the time they were held. With an honest look at her struggles of faith and the range of emotions she experienced, In the Presence of My Enemies is a detailed account of the terror — and joy — they experienced. A friend of mine referred to it as gripping, which is a fitting descriptor!
  • The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom
    I know I read this book when I was in school, but I’ve heard so much about it lately that I decided I needed to read it again, not to prepare for a paper or test but to really absorb the story. Like In the Presence of My Enemies, this is a gripping story — one that you can’t truly enjoy but still draws you in — as Corrie Ten Boom tells of the Nazi occupation of Holland and her family’s courageous involvement in hiding and transporting their Jewish neighbors. The book goes on to describe the time Corrie and her sister Betsy spent in concentration camps and their incredible faith during that time. This is truly an inspiring book that brings to mind my very favorite question when reading any story: how would I have responded in their situation?
  • Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass (FREE for the Kindle!)
    If you’ve followed my book lists for very long, you know that I tend to be drawn to southern historical fiction told from the perspective of slaves. I can’t fully explain why these stories draw me in, except that I am in awe of the strength and grace that it took to endure such horrific conditions and it makes me question the decisions I make and how I regard humanity.

    Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass is the true story of Frederick Douglass, who was born into slavery and later escaped. This narrative is truly horrifying, as Douglass recounts the cruelty he and other slaves endured at the hands of their masters. I literally gasped out loud several times will reading this short book, and there were many times that I simply had to set it aside to process what I’d read. Despite how hard it was to read — how much harder to live it? — I think this is a must read for all Americans, young and old.

  • Something Beautiful for God by Malcolm Muggeridge
    I picked this book up expecting a biography of Mother Theresa that would give me insight into her work and faith and life. Unfortunately, what I got — because, as told by the author, Mother Theresa was simply not interested in having a biography written about her life — was more of a memoir as the author describes the time he spent with Mother Theresa in Calcutta and the impact she had on his life. To be honest, I really didn’t enjoy it at all, and it seems to me that a biography would have been more informative and put her on less of a pedestal than this book did, with sentences like, “There are few things I should rather do than please her,” referring to Mother Theresa. I may try her autobiography, A Simple Path, next, because I really would like to learn more about her work and experiences.
  • Up from Slavery by Booker T. Washington (also FREE for the Kindle!)
    It’s hard for me to wrap my head around how two autobiographies from former slaves could be so very different, although it’s clear that Frederick Douglass, who escaped slavery as an adult, and Booker T. Washington, who was freed through the Emancipation Proclamation as a young child, had vastly different experiences. But while Douglass’ biography is one that left me grieving for the things he endured, Washington’s is one of inspiration that I will probably read again and again and quote even more often! His view of education — and his desire to leave the world a better place — are inspiring, and it’s clear that he was wise well beyond his years, even as a young man.

I have begun everything with the idea that I could succeed, and I never had much patience with the multitudes of people who are always ready to explain why one cannot succeed.

~Booker T. Washington

Historical Fiction

  • Words Spoken True by Ann H. Gabhart
    Set in Louisville in the mid-1850s, against a backdrop of political unrest, this book is part romance, part suspense. Adriane Darcy is engaged to the son of a powerful politician after much urging from her father, despite her own reservations, when all she really wants to do is write for her father’s paper. In the meantime, she spends her time secretly investigating a serial killer who is striking the poor immigrant women in the city and trying to scoop Blake Garrett, the editor of the rival paper. This story started out slow, but I was hooked about halfway through on the mystery of “The River Slasher” and the budding romance between Blake and Adriane.
  • Amelia’s Last Secret (A Novella) by Eric Wilson
    I don’t typically read short stories or novellas because they never seem fully developed, but I was intrigued by the premise of this book as author Eric Wilson weaves together a story of what might have happened to Amelia Earhart in the hours and days surrounding her disappearance during her around-the-world flight. With plenty of fun factoids — from the time her husband spent in Bend, Oregon to the role that Native American code talkers played in World War II — this was a great suspense, even if it was on the short side!
  • Glamorous Illusions by Lisa T. Bergren
    This book wins my diamond-in-the-rough award for the month, maybe the year (if there was such an award!). After a fairly busy week and weekend, I picked it up Saturday night simply because I was looking for a light read so that I could zone out for a couple of hours, without any high expectations for the story itself. I was very pleasantly surprised by how much this story drew me in (so much so that when I finished I immediately went in search of the next story in the series, which sadly isn’t yet available).

    Cora Kensignton is blindsided by the news that the dad she’s always known, a humble Montana farmer, is not her biological father. She’s then whisked away by the father she never knew, a Montana copper-king, to take a European tour with her half-brothers and sisters. She fights to overcome their prejudice against her and discover who she truly is — a Diehl or a Kensington — as she tours London and France, with detailed descriptions of the rich history of both countries. No historical fiction is complete without a little romance, and she also finds herself falling for two very different men — a suave Frenchman and their humble tour guide. My only complaint about this book is that it seemed to end a little too abruptly, without any resolution of some of the most pressing questions that the book raises. I am glad to know there is more to the story coming, but I would have liked to have had a little more closure — even if it didn’t completely answer all of the questions — while I wait for the rest!

  • Breathe by Lisa T. Bergren
    Although the sequel to Glamorous Illusions isn’t yet available, I was excited to discover that I had a couple other of Lisa Bergren’s books on my Kindle. I picked up Breathe, and I was quickly hooked on the story, set in 19th century Colorado as one of the daughters of a publishing mogul seeks respite at a sanatorium for consumptives while her brother and sister set up a bookstore for their father in the quickly growing Colorado Springs. I love the historical details that Bergren includes in her books, and although this one seems a bit far-fetched, it included a great storyline, mystery and sweet romance. I finished it last night, and I was happy to actually find some closure at the end of this one, but I plan to pick up the remaining books in the series to read as well!


  • Illusion by Frank Peretti
    I’m not really sure what to say about this one. Although Frank Peretti is a prolific Christian author, his books are not among my favorite with their heavy imagery and focus on spiritual warfare. His latest book, Illusion, is more science fiction than allegory, exploring time travel, enduring faith and whether true love can stand the test of time, and I was intrigued by the description on Amazon and Amanda’s recommendation. It’s a well written story, and there’s no doubt that Peretti is a master storyteller, but it just wasn’t for me. Several times early on I was shocked to realize I had only read a fraction of the story, unable to comprehend how it might go on for another 150 pages! The story kept building, though, and while that was not necessarily a bad thing, I did find myself just wanting it to end rather than actually enjoying the intrigue.
  • Over the Edge by Brandilyn Collins
    I love Brandilyn Collins, and I was excited to pick up this Kindle freebie a couple of weeks ago! If I’d taken the time to read the description before I started reading it, I may have waited until after tick season to start reading this medical thriller which tells the story of a bitter man who seeks to teach the country’s leading Lyme disease “expert” a lesson by infecting his wife with a potent strain of the disease (and three coinfections) that leave her weak and unstable. It kept me guessing almost till the end, and Collins is an expert at drawing you into the emotions of her characters. In the wake of reading this, I view each and every tick that we remove from our daughters’ heads a little bit differently, and — living in the boonies of West Virginia after a mild winter — there are many!


  • What It Is Is Beautiful by Sarah Dunning Park
    Sarah Dunning Park, who I had the privilege of meeting on my trip to Williamsburg, writes poetry that is both accessible and poignant for every mother out there who’s wondered if she’s the only one who hears conflicting parenting advice in her head when trying to make a decision or struggles to be a “yes” mom. You can get a taste of her poetry each month as part of Simple Mom’s Weekend Links & Poetry post (be sure to read this retelling of Make Way for Ducklings), and the poems in this book are sure to resonate in your heart!
  • The Well-Educated Mind by Susan Wise Bauer
    I’ve always appreciated Susan Wise Bauer’s direct style, and this book is no exception. She lays out a simple plan for reading through the classics for any adult looking for an (almost) free classical education through great books. With a guide to reading based on the classical trivium, a list of questions to ask for various of genres and book recommendations to help you get started, this book really acts as the syllabus for a self-taught course that takes you through history and explores a variety of topics. What I love most is that this book makes the classics — many of which may feel intimidating to try to tackle and understand — accessible for anyone through a clear step-by-step process for reading and understanding them.
  • Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World by Michael Hyatt
    I wanted to love this book. I really did. And I thought, based on Part 1 — which got me excited and re-energized and ready to look for ways to add “wow” to the things that I do — that I would love it. Unfortunately, as an established blogger, the rest of the chapters didn’t include a whole lot of new information, so it was hard for me to keep reading in search of the little nuggets of wisdom that I might find. For a new blogger or someone looking to build a platform for a business or art, I think this is an incredibly valuable handbook, and — if I’m honest — I think it was worth the purchase price for me just for the section titled “Start with Wow.” But if you’re already established as a blogger or online personality, beware that you may not find a whole lot of new ideas to help you grow your brand.

I often get asked how I have time to read so much, and you can read my top strategies in the busy mom’s guide to finding time to read. I also recently came across this post about the benefits of reading fiction that I thought made some great points about why making time for reading is a worthwhile endeavor.

If you just want to start reading more and aren’t especially particular about what you read, one of my favorite sources for reading material is Amazon’s free Kindle books, which really allowed me to restart my reading habit without investing a lot of money in books. I’ve “purchased” more than 1,000 books for free over the last two years, and I’ve discovered more than a few authors and series that I love. Although I prefer to read on my Kindle Fire, Amazon offers free Kindle apps for your PC, Mac, iPhone, BlackBerry, Android or Windows 7 phone as well!

What great books have you read recently? What’s on your reading list for this summer?