Summer Reading 2018 – part 3

Meg’s list of some of her latest reads along with a few on her Summer To-Be-Read list. Includes both adult selections and some especially for kids. 

Screen Shot 2018-06-08 at 1.17.46 AMMeg’s Recent Reads:

The Mysterious Benedict Society, by Trenton Lee Stewart – The beginning of a fun series for kids – involving puzzles, mysteries, and lots of funny moments. Several of my school library kids have enjoyed this series and I also had several recommendations from friends. Now I’m glad to strongly recommend it for the rest of the kids. Strengths: themes of friendship, problem solving, thinking outside the box, and finding value in each person (even if they seem annoying or unhelpful on the surface). Weaknesses: possibly length for some kids persevering to the end — but I think the story is compelling enough for kids to want to push through.

Framed! (A T.O.A.S.T. Mystery #1)by James Ponti – Another great, exciting, fun adventure-mystery series for kids – this one features a 12-year-old boy named Florian Bates who has developed the Theory Of All Small Things (aka. noticing lots of tiny details in life in a very Sherlock-esque way). He’s been hired by the FBI as a covert operative. And while his adventures are dangerously thrilling, he also experiences lots of normal “kid stuff.” I really appreciated the perspective and balance of friendship (between a boy and girl, both 12 years old) and family (the parents are the smart ones – and there are consequences for disobedient choices, even done with good intentions). So lots of good stuff making this the perfect first choice for your kids’ summer reading. The second book is out now too and I’m prodding our library to get it in stock.

Prince Charles: The Passions and Paradoxes of an Improbable Life, by Sally Bedell Smith – A fascinating read overall. Of course, I’ve always been mildly enamored with the lives of the royals. But this book is more than an expanded, PEOPLE Magazine tell-all. It shows how all of these people we “know” through the media are humans with unique personalities and various sets of upbringings – and how all of those things have interplayed to shape them into who they are. The focus is obviously on Charles, but you also learn significant pieces of information about Diana, what it was like with her from the start, the role of Camilla in all of this (including her friendship and how, over the years she has been one of the few people to understand Charles and have any sway over this stubborn, doesn’t-want-anyone-contradicting-him prince). The author also traces William’s and Harry’s stories alongside – almost as a foil for Charles – yet showing how his treatment of his boys, which was so much more affectionate than the way his own father treated him, helped shape them into who they are.

To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee – I reread this recently for a book club meeting, and was struck anew how truly amazing it is. I’m sure others will disagree – but after this last read, it’s definitely my top pick for “The Great American Novel.” If you haven’t read it since you were forced to in high school, PLEASE do yourself the greatest service and read it again. I had so much fun annotating my own copy and marking Lee’s incredible wit, humor, irony, and fantastic metaphors. She’s truly a master.


Meg’s TBR List … so far:

The 49th Mystic, by Ted Dekker – I’ve only read one Dekker novel – and it both thrilled and horrified me. So far all of the marketing for this novel is that it’s his “greatest one ever,” and “if you never read another of his books, at least read this one,” etc. So since our library had it, I’m going to see if the marketing campaign rings true.

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, by Annie Dillard – My friend Sandy picked this out in our book club for our next read. It’s a Pulitzer-prize-winning nature journal/essays of sorts. From what I’ve read so far, she reminds me of Archibald Rutledge and Wendell Berry, both of whom I love. So I’m looking forward to browsing this one during some road trip time this next week.

The 39 Clues: The Dead of Night (#3), by Peter Lerangis – Apparently these books are all the rage with middle-grade students (esp. 4th-7th). So I picked up a few for our school library and am going to check them out. I’m almost done with this one, and so far, it’s been a quick read (and I haven’t wanted to put it down) and there’s been nothing objectionable (although for parents of younger readers: a few moments are a bit “threatening” involving potential torture and murder, and characters also share some of their teenage “angst” (e.g. “He was so gorgeous, but he also drove her crazy” etc. That’s about the worst of it.). Fairly harmless – esp. if it gets the kids reading.

All the Ever Afters, by Danielle Teller – Another one I saw on a book list somewhere (I have no idea where). So I know nothing about this other than it’s the “untold story of Cinderella’s Stepmother.”) It has the potential to be really intriguing (probably in the vein of the movie Maleficent) or just horribly shoddy and contrived. Hoping for a good report!

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If you haven’t yet, check out the rest of the Shabby Coat Book Club’s Summer Reading Lists – parts 1and 2. 


Summer Reads – Part 2

AB’s recent reads and what’s also on her booklist for the summer. 

AB’s Picks:

The Hero and the Crown, by Robin McKinley – If you’ve read Beauty, McKinley’s gorgeous retelling of Beauty and the Beast, you and/or your kids will certainly this enjoy Newberry Medal Winner, The Hero and the Crown. Full of powerful lessons about identity, strength, and true love, this novel features Aerin, the young daughter of the King of Damar. However, because most of her people suspect that her long-dead mother was a witch, Aerin does not receive the kind of adulation that the rest of the King’s house enjoys. She is strong and brave, as a result, and she wants to prove herself worthy of her father’s love and gain the respect of her people. In this quest for acceptance, she masters use of a plant that protects her from dragon fire and becomes the dragon slayer that her kingdom so desperately needs.

The Lighthouse, by PD James -Number 13 in the James’s Adam Dalgliesh mystery series provides the detective fiction lover with an intelligent and realistic mystery to solve. England’s exclusive Combe Island caters to the wealthy and prestigious, who just want to be left alone. The rules of anonymity are strictly enforced, but this world of relative peace and quiet falls apart when one of the residents is found hanging from the top deck of the lighthouse. Dalgleish and his team are called in to solve this most sensitive of crimes, and the reader is treated to detailed back stories for each character that give nothing away too soon. Some mature content in places, but nothing excessive.

The City of Ember, by Jeanne DuPrau –  Here’s another series perfect for the Young Adult dystopian fan (recommended for ages 8 and up). This coming-of-age fantasy follows the story of Lina and her sometimes-friend, Doon, who have grown up in Ember, which the narrator reveals was created two and a half centuries earlier in an effort to save the people of earth from catastrophic annihilation of their own making. The problem is that no one now remembers what the world used to be, and the underground city is dying. The generator that powers all the electricity is failing, and no one knows how to fix it. Lina and Doon are too curious and determined to wait around for something to be done, so they take matters into their own hands. This first in a series book explores the theme of honesty along with showing what amazing things can happen when one person asks the right questions.

Nothing Daunted, by Dorothy Wickenden –  Similar to the kind of story-telling found in Half-Broke Horses, which has become one of my favorites in recent years, Wickenden writes an engaging story based on letters she found that were written by her grandmother, detailing the wealthy young woman’s break from high society to chase adventure as a school teacher in wild Colorado during the first world war.

If you haven’t yet, check out Natalie’s picks for Summer 2018 here. 

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Summer Reads 2018

Whether you have a long list already or are looking for some inspiration, here are some of our recent reads along with a few TBR (to-be-read) books we’re looking forward to this summer. Today’s post features 5 of Natalie’s recent picks: 

Natalie’s Picks:

Half Magic, by Edward Eager – The perfect summer read-aloud for ages 7+. Four children discover a magic coin that grants wishes—but only by halves! The children get into several funny scrapes as they learn to use the coin. Even though there are three sisters and just one boy, this book appeals to all genders. My 7-year-old son and I had fun reading this together and imagining how we would use the coin.

Educated, by Tara Westover – A fast-paced, heart-wrenching, and inspiring memoir about a woman who grew up in rural Idaho. To say she had a difficult family life is an understatement. Despite her lack of a formal education, Tara enrolled in college, eventually obtaining a PhD from Cambridge. Westover is honest about the mental struggle and difficult choice between remaining with her family or making herself an educated outcast.

The Read-Aloud Family, by Sarah MacKenzie – Read this book midway through the summer when you need encouragement because your kids are stir crazy and complaining of boredom. You’ll want to pack up your kids and head to the library for some new reads. Sarah MacKenzie, the host of the Read-Aloud Revival podcast, inspires those new to the read-aloud lifestyle and gives a shot in the arm to those who’ve been reading aloud for years. MacKenzie doesn’t pour on the guilt if you haven’t been reading aloud. She gives practical steps to implementing reading aloud into your daily life. After you read this book, pick up The Reading Promise by Alice Ozma for more inspiration to begin or continue your read-aloud lifestyle.

The Widows of Malabar Hill, by Sujata Massey – A great beach read or a great read if you’re unable to travel this summer. The Widows of Malabar Hill is the debut novel in a mystery series set in 1920s India. Perveen Mistry is the first female lawyer in Bombay where women have very few rights – and even fewer depending on their religious community. Massey paints a fascinating picture of India’s landscape as well as the culture. (Note: The first 75 pages are a bit slower, but it picks up and quickly became an intriguing novel I couldn’t put down.)

A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles – This book has nearly a 5-star rating on Goodreads, and Kenneth Branagh will be starring in the movie version. Rostov is an aristocrat sentenced by the Bolsheviks to house arrest in a hotel. The world outside him turns as “his reduced circumstances provide him a doorway into a much larger world of emotional discovery.”

Stay tuned for more Summer Reads part 2 tomorrow … 

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The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg

Once you see everything as a bunch of habits, it’s like someone gave you a flashlight and a crowbar and you can get to work.

51Q4AwpPDkL._SY346_We want to be healthy, do well at work, and have positive relationships with family and friends. Every year, we resolve to do better and be better, and for a while we eat well, exercise, and work hard without social media distractions. But then…

Charles Duhigg describes this cycle as the habit loop. Our brain automates our actions, the positive and negative ones. So despite our strong desire to change, we’re fighting against an automatic process. Duhigg breaks this down into three-steps. First, there’s the cue, then the routine, and, finally, there is a reward.

Habits are powerful, but delicate. They can emerge outside our consciousness, or can be deliberately designed. They often occur without our permission, but can be reshaped by fiddling with their parts. They shape our lives far more than we realize—they are so strong, in fact, that they cause our brains to cling to them at the exclusion of all else, including common sense.

For example, at 2:00 pm every day, you feel bored and a little tired (this is the cue). Your routine is to grab a cookie and chat with some friends either in person or on social media. The reward is that you feel stimulated (via the sugar and conversation) and energetic. But maybe you’re trying to lose weight and want to cut out that cookie. You must change the routine. Are you actually hungry for food or for conversation or both? Changing the routine requires exploration into your routine, discovering if that routine provides the reward you’re subconsciously seeking.


Habit Flowchart

Duhigg backs up his explanations with fascinating research studies and examples from real-life habit conquerors. Instead of a dry scientific work, it’s a fast and enlightening read. Particularly interesting and disturbing is the example of how Target can (and has) determine(d) if a woman is pregnant before she’s even told her family. (Seriously. Read this one)

Knowing how our brains work is powerful. We can use the habit loop to implement what we know to be right, even in reactions to our coworkers and family members. Do you have a coworker or family member who drives you crazy? Do you react poorly to this person? You can’t change the cue, but you can change your routine.

The Power of Habit is not a self-help book per se but Duhigg does conclude with some concrete steps to figure out your particular cue, routine, and reward — and how to change the routine effectively. You must identify the routine, experiment with rewards, isolate the cue, and have a plan. Essentially, “Know Thyself.”

Purchase The Power of Habit.

Children’s Book Week – the Librarian reviews

by Meg

This week marks the 99th year of the National Children’s Book Week – and to celebrate, I thought I’d share what kids these days are reading and enjoying.

I got to fulfill one of my life-long dreams this year when I became the librarian for my children’s small school. Granted, it’s nothing glamorous. But once a week, I get to go into a room full of shelves of books (many of which I purchased this year) and try to inspire kids to “Read More!” – then watch their faces light up as they tell me all about the great book they just finished reading. That may not give everyone the warm fuzzies, but I love it.

Today – Library Day – I decided to survey each class and find out what their favorite books/series were from this past year. Each student got a chance to share. And honestly, my favorite part was hearing from certain kids who started out the year never wanting to check out or read ANY books. You’ll see below what made the difference for them. So if you’re a teacher or parent and you’re looking for some books for your kids (but don’t know how to get them reading), here is a  list of books submitted solely by kids.





  • The Harry Potter books (once one got started, they were all reading these – I couldn’t keep them on the shelves)
  • The Serafina books by Robert Beatty (see our reviews of them – also had these checked out every week).
  • Any and all of the Minecraft novels (NOTE: In my opinion, these aren’t the greatest books as far as writing goes; however, there were at least 5 or 6 boys in this class that wanted nothing to do with reading; but as soon as I got these, they started checking them out every week. I’ve gotten to where I will get this kind of stuff if it gets them reading. We now have 12 of these and many are checked out every week in all grades – 1st-6th) – this is just one of many sets.
  • The Red Rocks Mysteries by Jerry B. Jenkins & Chris Fabry – 15 total of these (might find sets on ebay), many of which were checked out weekly. The girls in particular would have “discussions” each week on who got to check out the next one in the series first.
  • Book Scavenger, by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman (a super-fun mystery – the most checked-out “new” book I got).
  • Jackie and Me, by Dan Gutman (for the kids into sports).
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WORLD BOOK DAY 2018 – 3 multi-cultural novels that are “out of this world”


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You Bring the Distant Near, by Mitali Perkins – (4/5 stars) I think I found this on a list of “New YA novels worth reading” and was intrigued by the multi-generational plotline involving a mother and daughters from India (Think classic traditional Indian mother with daughters trying to become more “American” –  one wants to be a feminist writer, the other an actress).  I’m assuming Perkins has a similar background/ancestry – she provided enough details to make this culturally enlightening for me while also expressing appreciation for other cultures (including English and American). Overall, it was an enjoyable story of love and family that I think would be perfect for both the adult and teen ages. A great one to check out at your local library. ~ Meg 

“There’s something about putting words on a page in private that makes me feel powerful in public.” — from You Bring the Distant Near


scotland44 Scotland Street Series, by Alexander McCall Smith – We’ve featured a few of McCall Smith’s novels before (including 44 Scotland Street), but since I’ve read 3 more in this series since January, I just wanted to put out another plug for what has become one of my favorite authors and series to read. AMS has such a unique way of blending philosophy and humor into his stories about everyday Scottish folk while easily working in all of the little places and traditions that make Scotland what it is. His human themes will resonate with most readers while still providing them a fun snapshot at this fascinating country. ~Natalie 

“The Scots’ language can do that—can effortlessly transform the mundane into the poetic, giving the dignity of profound truth to the most banal of observations, making even a weather report sound dramatic.” — from Bertie’s Guide to Life and Mothers by A.M.S.



The Winternight Trilogy, by Katherine Arden – We reviewed the first novel in this (soon-to-be) trilogy last year after all reading The Bear and the Nightingale. I was intrigued about Russian culture, particularly the people’s value system and their fairy/folk tales. This is an era and setting I know practically nothing about – a stark but enthralling portrait of 14th century Russia. But Arden’s ability to take a very old folk story and put it to paper in this way was inspiring. I know Meg had some drawbacks about the way the second novel (The Girl in the Tower) developed, so it’ll be interesting to see how Arden concludes this series. ~ AB

“Solovey will take me to the ends of the earth if I ask it. I am going into the world, Alyosha. I will be no one’s bride, neither of man nor of God. I am going to Kiev and Sarai and Tsargrad, and I will look upon the sun on the sea.” — from The Bear and the Nightingale

Even So, Joy

Dying is not a word that should describe anyone’s six-month-old child.

But that’s the word Lesa Brackbill heard when her daughter Tori was diagnosed with51bFflu5E5L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_ Krabbe leukodystrophy, a disease that progressively damages the nervous system, resulting in death. Lesa and her husband Brennan were overjoyed when Tori was born, especially after struggling with infertility. Tori’s first several months went smoothly until she began missing milestones and struggling to eat. After a misdiagnosis of reflux followed by extensive testing, Lesa and Brennan received the devastating news that Tori was indeed dying.

During the time before Tori’s diagnosis, her story began spreading on social media. And after her diagnosis, thousands began following Lesa’s blog and Tori’s Facebook page. Supportive strangers from around the world, friends, and family donated money, held fundraisers, and prayed fervently for Tori. I became one of those following Tori’s story because of a mutual acquaintance, and in fact, the Brackbills were living in my hometown at the time.

It was a mental battle like none other, one that took months to overcome. Why is it that we fight the hardest against the things we cannot change, even when we know that God is ultimately in control?

Lesa updated her blog regularly, opening up about her faith in Jesus Christ and the struggle to hope continually that God would heal Tori while accepting that may not be his will. On March 27, 2016, Tori Brackbill went to be with Jesus, now fully healed and free from Krabbe. Not long after Tori’s home-going, Lesa began writing a book detailing Tori’s short, but influential, life, Even So, Joy.

How can parents have joy when their child is dying? How can they even carry on in daily life? Lesa answers these questions and more in her book. She and Brennan cultivated and fought for an attitude of gratitude:

We had so much to be thankful for despite the looming threat of death that was constantly present.

The time for mourning and grieving would come. Eventually. Until then, it was a time for joy, for laughter, for dancing, for life, and for love.

The Brackbills created a bucket list for Tori that included everything from mother-daughter pedicures to visiting the Grand Canyon. Lesa kept Tori’s followers updated with pictures and blog posts. Lesa details some of these adventures in the book. They chose to live despite the shadow of death because they know the One who conquered death:

We will always love our girl, and we will never be the same. But how can we not praise the One who made her, who so perfectly orchestrated her entire life and even her death?

Even So, Joy is not only the story of Tori’s life and death, but it’s also a primer on surviving and even thriving during loss and intense grief. Lesa offers valuable insight into caring for the caregiver(s) including what to say, what not to say, what to give, and when to give. Lesa spent most of her days holding Tori, and even something like a cup of coffee was a welcome gift. She also details specific steps she and her husband took to maintain and strengthen their relationship.

My main interest in reading Even So, Joy was Lesa and Brennan’s life after Tori was healed in heaven. How had it changed them? How did they feel? Instead of retreating, Lesa and Brennan have embraced their lives while looking forward to the day they’re reunited with Tori.

The depth of my love for my daughter is not measured by the number of tears I have cried, but rather by the life I choose to live in her absence. I choose to live a life of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and grace (Galatians 5:22). She deserves all of that, and more.

Joy isn’t always obvious; sometimes you have to fight for it, sometimes you have to search for it, but the journey toward a joy-filled life—especially when it seems impossible—is always worth it.

Purchase Even So, Joy

Reviewed by Natalie