To everything there is a season and a time for every activity under the sun.... and for Modern Jo March blog, it is time to retire. I've been running this book blog for about 4 years now, first on one platform and then another. It started out as The Book Corner for 2 years, then re-branded, to be a bit more unique, to Modern Jo March for the last 2. Over the course of its existence, the blog has seen highs and lows. For 3 years, the blog was active and content heavy. This past year saw MJM pretty quiet with very few posts. That was partly due to my health, and partly due to general burnout.
At some point in 2019, I finally just let go of the "content, content, content" motto that we're all taught, and let it be. I took a step back and made the decision to just relax and have fun with this blog, instead of trying to make it something that I never intended it to be in the first place. Since that point, I've shifted my focus on other things (namely my health), and in the process, I've come to a realization.
2020 feels like it's going to be a significant year. It seems like it's going to be a big transition year for me. I've found my life (and career) going a different way, and while it is too soon to elaborate on that, it's not too soon to start the transition and paring down of things to fit this new chapter. I've come to learn that I can do a bunch of things sub-par, or a few things really well. Life is more of a juggle than a balance, and I've found that you need to be very mindful when choosing what to juggle and what to let drop. After a lot of reflection and weighing my priorities, I have decided that this blog is something I need to let drop. It isn't serving a big enough purpose for me to spend my energy on it at this time. To be honest, I've found it more of a chore than a creative outlet the last year or so. It was an easier decision than I thought it'd be.
Moving forward, I will still cover books over on Writing Just In Case, and even conduct an interview if the spirit moves me, but it will be for fun and not the main focus. Writing Just In Case is my personal blog, a catch-all for whatever I want to write about, and I like it that way. I plan to focus on Writing Just In Case, as well as my writing in general, and new endeavors. Juggling three things will be much easier and more attainable than my current situation. Have no fear though, Modern Jo March will not be removed/deleted, or at least not in the foreseeable future. All of its content will still be available under the "Archives" tab.
I'd like to thank the authors, editors, and others who have been guests on this blog over the last 4 years. I am privileged to call most of those featured on the blog friends. I thank you all for supporting me in this endeavor. I've learned a great deal through this blog. I walked away from many an interview having learned more about my craft and how to improve my skills, and for that I am forever grateful. I am indebted to those authors who were generous with their time and advice. Thank you.
~Modern Jo March
Serving Up Love: A Harvey House Brides Collection consists of four stories from four great authors. The perfect book to cozy up with on a cold November day. As a member of Karen Witemeyer's launch team, I obviously dug into her contribution, More Than A Pretty Face, first.
More Than A Pretty Face is the third book in Witemeyer's wonderful A Patchwork Family series, and follows Rosalind Kemp, whom readers were introduced to in the second book in the series, More Than Words Can Say. Rosalind leaves her hometown in Texas, trying to put a past indiscretion behind her. She becomes a Harvey Girl, working hard while keeping her head down, hoping one day to earn enough seniority to transfer west to California, far away enough to start a fresh life. Alas, Rosalind finds herself transferred back to Texas. She finds it increasingly hard to go unnoticed, especially when a good looking, very determined lawyer takes a special interest in her.
Caleb Durrington's mother is determined to marry him off to a nice, upstanding, young woman that she has picked out for him, but Caleb has other plans. He's been fascinated by Rosalind Kemp ever since he first laid eyes on her at the Harvey House. There's just one hitch, his charm doesn't seem to have the slightest effect on her, so he tries a different approach. He appeals to her mind. But just when things seem to be warming nicely between the two, Rosalind's past comes back to haunt her.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading Rosalind's story and getting to see how she, with the help of Caleb and other friends, confronts her past head on. This is a beautiful story of redemption and unconditional love. A must read for fans of Witemeyer's books, and readers looking for a good, clean, enjoyable story with a beautiful message woven throughout it.
I give it a 7/10.
*Note: I was given an Advanced Reader's Copy by the publisher for an honest review, which I've given. It's always a pleasure to read Karen Witemeyer's books!
Most of us, if not all, have a number of books that we go back to often. We re-read them over and over, enjoying them more with each read. They are books that comfort or captivate us, ones that touched or enriched us in some way. I know I have a few shelves dedicated to my favorite "re-reads".
There are a few books that I make a point of re-reading every year, among them are Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, Louis L'Amour's The Lonesome Gods, and Anne LaBastille's excellent series of memoirs, the Woodswoman series. Though I already have this practice in place, I've found myself re-reading even more books this year, so much so, I think it's safe to say that I've re-read books I've read in previous years more than I've read new books this year.
2019 has reminded me of the joy and benefits of re-reading good book. I've found that I take more away from a second or third reading. I've also learned that it is often beneficial to go back and re-read a book that you may have found wanting after the first read. Returning to a book later down the line will often find you reading it with new eyes and a new perspective. This tends to enhance your overall reading experience. What once seemed like a dull, lacking, or hard to grasp book, transforms into an enlightening, wonderful read.
I have found that timing is everything when it comes to certain books. You can pick up a great book, but if it's at the wrong time, it'll hinder your experience. Countless times, I have picked up a book and started to read, only to put it down because I just couldn't get into it. I've learned that when this happens, it doesn't necessarily mean that the book isn't right for you, just that the time isn't right. I've often returned to a book months or even a year or more later, only to find it an excellent or, at the very least, useful read.
While some people may advise you to get rid of that book that you never finished sitting on your shelf, I'd recommend holding on to it for a bit. You never know, by giving it another chance, you just might find a new favorite book. Give yourself a chance to discover the joy of re-reading. ;)
There has been a great deal of buzz around J. D. Vance's Hillbilly Elegy since its release in 2016, there's even a movie in development based on the book that will be directed by Ron Howard. I've had it on my radar for some time now, trying to get my hands on a copy, which proved hard due to it always being sold out around here. I finally found a copy in an indie Vermont bookstore recently, and read it fairly quickly.
Having grown up in/surrounded by the "hillbilly" culture, I found myself relating this book more than others of the same nature, often nodding my head at certain antidotes, stories, and descriptions. Hillbilly Elegy and Sarah Smarsh's Heartland are two books often compared to each other, as they seem to be two sides of the same coin, covering a similar culture but in different approaches and conclusions. I found Elegy the more relatable of the two myself.
While Heartland seems to lay blame on the government for the family's troubles, including teen pregnancies and such, Elegy distributes the blame fairly among its rightful owners. In Hillbilly Elegy, Vance acknowledges that a great deal of his family's (and the culture as a whole's) hardships were brought on or made worse by their own poor choices. While Vance does point out that there are ways the Government could do more to help, as well as social-economics having a role in the issues, he expertly gets down to the root of the issue through his own personal experience and antidotes.
Ultimately, the buck doesn't stop at the government or public education, instead you should trace it to the choices and failures on the people themselves. Can you really blame the government for your drug problems? Or your unplanned pregnancies? The answer is absolutely not. While the author isn't so bold as to suggest that he has a solid solution to a whole culture's hardships and struggles, he does suggest that it needs to start with better choices made by the people themselves.
Hillbilly Elegy is a well written, well informed memoir and a must read. I'd highly recommend it!
I give it an 8/10.
I am a fan of The Andy Griffith Show and all things Mayberry, so I couldn't pass up Daniel de Visé's Andy & Don: The Making of a Friendship and a Classic American T.V. Show when I stumbled upon it on Amazon. I was a bit leery at first, worried that this would read more like a tell-all than a balanced look at two professionals' careers and personal lives. I am here to say that there's no fear to be had. This is a well written, properly researched book written with the utmost respect for its subjects.
Andy & Don was written by Daniel de Visé, who was Don Knotts' brother-in-law, having married Don's third wife, Francey's sister. This is a man who knew Don Knotts personally and therefore worked hard to ensure that this book was done with the utmost respect. According to the Acknowledgments section, Visé spent a great deal of time and energy researching his subjects, as well as speaking to well over 50 of Andy & Don's family, friends, and those that they worked closely with. While the book covers Knotts' 81 and Andy's 86 years of life, it is a fast-paced and an enjoyable read.
Visé discussed both Don and Andy's backgrounds, strengths, and friendships, as well as their flaws, mistakes, and darker sides with grace and dignity, showing his audience that both men were as human as the rest of us. He called attention to conflicting stories and theories, such as the origins of "The Pickle Story" and who persuaded Don to take his Nervous Man to Steve Allen, and presented each theory clearly, not taking one side or the other.
The center point, and indeed the highlight, of this book is the deep, enduring friendship between Don Knotts and Andy Griffith. The author mapped this decades long friendship beautifully. Along the way, Visé shares behind-the-scenes stories and information from those involved with The Andy Griffith Show, along with the men's other projects. It was interesting to read how certain gags and bits from the show, such as the "memorizing of the lawman's code" or the "sitting on the porch" bits, were developed. The master comedic minds of Don Knotts and Andy Griffith shines bright.
I wasn't familiar with Don's overall body of work or the fact that he really was the more successful of the two. I always just naturally thought Andy was, due to his lead role on The Andy Griffith Show, as well as his higher profile (to me) overall. I walked away from this book with a new found respect for Don and his comedic talents, and for that, I thank Visé.
Overall, this is an excellently done book. Well written, thoroughly researched, respectful, and enjoyable.
I give it an 8/10.
This is a book that has been sitting on my shelf, waiting to be read since it released in 2017. It happens, something makes you buy the book with every intention of reading it immediately, but then you don't get to it and it's placed on a shelf, waiting until you find it again. I finally picked it up again recently, this time to read it!
There was a great deal of buzz and interest in Sarah Miller's Caroline, due to its appeal to fans of Laura Ingalls Wilder and the Little House books. The book is a sort of retelling of Wilder's Little House on the Prairie through the point of view of Caroline Ingalls (aka Ma in the Little House books). It's an interesting concept that opens the Little House world up to a broader audience, drawing in adults who may not have been able to relate to Wilder's children's books.
Being a longtime Little House and LIW fan, I was excited when I heard about Caroline's release and was quick to grab a copy for myself, even if I ended up not being quick with the reading of it. Flash forward 2 years later, I finally got around to reading it. I found Caroline an enjoyable read, helped by the fact that I was already familiar with the characters through LIW's Little House on the Prairie. It was interesting to see the story unfold through an adult's perspective and helped round out the original story.
As I said above, Caroline was an enjoyable read, though I will say it was a bit long on prose and spent a little too much time in the character's (Caroline) mind, rather than the story surrounding her. There were sections dedicated to particular activities and such that I felt were over done, drawn out, and took up a great deal of room that could have been devoted to other, more interesting details.
Miller seemed to zero in and focus on the act of Caroline breastfeeding the baby (Carrie) multiple times for long stretches. To be clear, I have absolutely no issue with breastfeeding, it is a beautiful act of feeding and nurturing your child, but in this case, it weighed the book down a great deal, so much so, it runs the risk of turning the reader off from the overall story. In fact, it seemed that the author had an odd interest in Caroline's breasts and body as a whole, to the point where there were sections of the book that I had to just skim over because it just got to be too much to wade through.
The only other big issue is that I would imagine it would be harder to get into this book if you were not already familiar with the characters originally created by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Part of this book's charm and selling point is the fact that it plays off of LIW's books, it's geared toward her fans. Miller doesn't spend a whole lot of time developing the characters herself, obviously relying on the fact that most readers have already read LIW's books, but that is indeed a dangerous tactic, for it can alienate new readers who have never read the original Little House books. To them, I would imagine the characters would seem a bit underdeveloped.
All in all, though, I would say that Caroline was a fairly enjoyable read, one for Little House fans to add to their reading repertoire, if not their shelves.
I give it a 5/10.
I came across Phaedra Patrick's The Library of Lost and Found through a recommendation on Amazon. I happen to love that feature on the site and have had an overwhelmingly positive experience with it, finding awesome books to add to my shelves. This was the rare occasion when it failed me.
I bought this book with great hopes of it continuing my streak of great bookish themed reads, unfortunately that wasn't the case. The Library of Lost and Found has a few big issues. Its pacing is far too slow and stilted, it makes for a less than enjoyable reading experience. There were several points in reading this book when I found myself seriously contemplating whether or not to just stop, which is something I rarely experience. I had a hard time getting into the story itself due to the lack of flow of the writing and structure.
I found the main character of Martha to be too much of a "poor pitiful me" martyr when in reality, most of her problems were due to her not having backbone enough to stand up for herself and take charge of her own life. She spends most of the book bemoaning her life and feeling sorry for herself. One good thing that happened towards the end of the story was that Martha does finally take some charge and stand up for herself, but it still feels a bit weak.
Another issue is with the characters. The author spends a great deal of time developing some characters, who end up not having a major role in the overall book, and not enough time on the characters that do! Early on in the story, you get the feeling that a handful of characters are going to play a larger role only to find out fairly quickly that they don't and kind of just drop off. The two characters that could've used more developing and time spent on them were Siegfried and Owen. These two characters played, or rather should have had a larger role in Martha's life and as a result, in this book.... but they didn't.
Overall, the book meandered and floundered too much to be enjoyable. It was long on words and short on story development. I've read quite a few reviews of The Library of Lost and Found, to see if anyone else felt the way I did about the book, and found that a great deal of its readers agreed with me. I also learned that Patrick has published other books that were evidently far better than this one. Most of her readers made it clear that her other books were much better and that they were disappointed with this offering. So maybe this book is just a fluke, not a reflection of the author's capabilities. Either way, I'd pass on this one. I'll be giving my copy away.
I give it a 3/10.
I stumbled upon Amy Meyerson's The Bookshop of Yesterdays while browsing the new releases on Amazon. Starting in 2018, I wanted to make a point of adding new releases to my reading list, which up to that point was severely lacking new books. I've been extremely lucky in new book picks, I have yet to be disappointed, in fact, I'm usually delightfully surprised to have found a new favorite read. ;)
Released in May of this year, The Bookshop of Yesterdays is part mystery, part family drama, and all around a bookish soul's delight. An excellent debut from Meyerson, the book follows Miranda Brooks (I LOVE that her last name rhymes with "books") as she works through her troubled family history to reveal a long held secret. Growing up, Miranda loved her Uncle Billy and the adventures he'd take her on. Uncle Billy loved a good riddle and would often send Miranda on a scavenger hunt using books along the way. One night, there was a fight between Miranda's mother and Uncle Billy, causing Billy to break contact until his death.
Fast forward several years, Miranda is a history teacher living with her boyfriend when one fine day she receives a package. The arrival of the package and the news that Uncle Billy has passed away sends Miranda on one last scavenger hunt in order to solve the riddle and uncover a family secret that could change everything. Miranda makes new friends and works to save her Uncle's beloved bookshop along the way, with the book coming to a satisfying ending.
I was hooked into this story immediately and could not put it down. The characters were well-developed, unique, and interesting. The plot was absolutely fascinating, one that kept you turning the page. Meyerson does an excellent job hooking the reader and drawing them into solving the riddle. Around chapter 7, I had a hunch as to what one of the secrets the book was building towards revealing was going to be, and was pleasantly surprised to find out I was correct in my deduction. Though I will say, I had no idea how it would all fall into place. This is one of the best books I've read this year so far. I'd highly recommend it. There's a little something for everyone in it.
I give it an 8/10.
I stumbled upon Kendall Vanderslice's We Will Feast: Rethinking Dinner, Worship, and the Community of God through twitter recently, which proves that good things do happen on social media. ;) Released in May of this year, We Will Feast explores the practice of eating together as an act of Christian worship while featuring church communities, often referred to as "Table Churches", that are a part of the dinner-church movement.
I found this book enlightening, fascinating, and enriching. It has opened my eyes to a new way to experience worship. I am a member of a small, country Baptist church that puts on Fellowship meals regularly for the congregation (guests are also very welcome), but we've never combined worship AND sharing a meal. It has always been worship first, then share a meal together after. Don't get me wrong, I love my church, I love our services, and I love engaging in fellowship during the meal. I just found the act of worshiping WHILE eating super intriguing.
In We Will Feast Vanderslice explains, "The narrative arc of the gospel — from creation and its fall, to Christ's death and resurrection, to the building anticipation of a restored earth—is grounded in the act of eating. Meals end in death and meals offer new life." She continues to explore worship through meals, using biblical examples, the greatest one being Jesus Christ Himself. Jesus often used meals and the act of sharing food with people as a way to reach them, to teach them, and to worship with them.
Most of us have read the Bible, so we know that Jesus did this, but reading this in Vanderslice's words and the way she presents the information, it hit me differently this time. It stuck with me. I've never thought about sharing meals in this way before. The author features roughly 10 groups/churches, their backstories, and how their methods of worshiping using food. I love the intentionality of these groups and churches to create an atmosphere of community, fellowship, and belonging over a meal. They bring together people of different races, economic status, orientations, and creeds, who most likely wouldn't have become friends had it not been for the sharing of these special meals.
I found that chapters one, two, five, six, and ten really spoke to me and enriched me in one way or another. If you flip through my copy of the book, you'll find underlines, stars, and notes in those chapters, but make no mistake, the whole book is a treasure. We Will Feast is the first book I've read this year that truly moved me and opened my mind in a profound way. No doubt it'll make my end of the year list!
All to say, I'd highly recommend this book. I'll definitely be buying copies to give out as gifts this year. ;)
I give it a 9/10.
In case you haven't noticed, I've been pretty silent on the blog front, particularly when it comes to Modern Jo March. I've already published a post discussing some of the reasons why MJM has been dark for most of this year, but I wanted to take some time and discuss the other reason now.
I have been suffering from chronic migraines for about 2 or 3 years now that have been progressively getting worse. As part of the treatment and attempts to relieve and reduce them, I was told to limit my screen time, because obviously staring at a screen for long periods of time isn't good for you (in more ways than one). As a result, the last several months has found me putting down the kindle and other devices, and picking up physical books, and it's actually been really great!
As a book blogger, beta reader, and proofreader, I am often sent far more digital copies of books than physical ones, with good reason, digital copies are easier and cheaper to share for authors and publishers. The problem I've come up against is the fact that in order to read and review, or read and give feedback, I find myself spending a lot of time staring at my kindle screen (or laptop, depending on what kind of work each book requires of me). That's not good for my brain and is a prominent trigger for my migraines.
So what to do?
As of February, I started cutting back on my screen time all around, not only putting down my kindle, but also cutting back on my time scrolling through social media and staring at screens as a whole. I have requested a physical copy when I can, explaining my issues with migraines, while cutting back on the digital copies I accept. This has done two things for me: 1) I am much better (and pickier) at choosing the books (digital copies) that I cover, as I only have a limited amount of screen time to devote to them these days (and a limited budget to buy physical copies!), and 2) I've also gotten much better at making the most of my screen time.
As a freelance writer and blogger, I do have to maintain not only a social media presence (though it's not a large one), but also keep up the content for both my blogs. I've learned to use social media management platforms (I use Hootsuite and Buffer) which helps me cut down my daily screen time as they allow me to schedule posts in bulk for the week as well as see all of my social feeds in one place (organized into columns). They've been a huge help!
NOTE: A few other helpful things for me are to check the time whenever I open an App to be more mindful about how much time I spend on it (I only allow myself about 5 minutes at a time on my socials) and to dim my screens when I do use my devices. Both have made a huge difference in my migraine frequency.
While navigating this journey to better brain health, I have come to learn a few things. I realized that I tend to retain a book better when I'm looking at a physical page, rather than a screen. For some reason, I have a much better, deeper experience with books when I'm reading physical copies as opposed to digital. This doesn't surprise me too much, as I have always preferred physical books to digital anyway, I just didn't realize how much more I got out of a physical book versus a digital.
I've also learned how much more productive I can be when I cut out time spent on social media and scrolling the internet. It's truly a marvel the amount of work you can get done when you're not tied to a device. ;) Also, it's amazing how much happier I am when I don't spend a lot of time staring at a screen!
These days, my screen time is about 85% devoted to writing, researching for my books and projects, the upkeep of my website and blogs, and freelance work for other authors. It's a simpler and more organized way to conduct your day, and I for one am happy with the outcome.
Who knew migraines could end up being helpful?! ;) (But make no mistake, they are also a really trying and painful aspect of life)
I would challenge others to be more mindful of your screen time and how it impacts your life. I believe you'll be surprised. ;)
Liz Austin. Bibliophile. Writer. Book hoarder. I would rather be reading....