A Bringer of New Things

Musings on personal growth, books, motherhood, writing, and more.

Mind Cleanup (Books Read Lately)

Bookshelves by Giuseppe Crespi [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Bookshelves by Giuseppe Crespi [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I’m finally sitting down to do a “mind cleanup” post about what I’ve been reading and writing lately…which is not enough, I feel! Life has been busy these past several months, with the kittens, then an online summer course, and now something else that I’ll tell you about soon. But for now, here’s some of what I’ve been reading and thinking about since my last mind cleanup post.


YA Fiction

Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins

I have read The Hunger Games series so many times now that I thought I would try out another series by Collins. This book was definitely fun and well-written, but it lacked the gut-punching emotional pull of The Hunger Games. This Gregor series seems like it might be aimed at middle-grade boys, whom I think would very much enjoy it.

The Meaning of Maggie by Megan Jean Sovern

This was a very cute, engaging, and well-written novel about a gifted and enthusiastic young girl (whose personality I could really relate to–she adores school and learning) who has to deal with critical older sisters and watch her beloved father suffer from complications of multiple scleroris.

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

After seeing the relatively recent movie, I finally got around to reading the book, and of course I liked it very much. A classic.

Love, Stargirl by Jerry Spinnelli

A lovely follow-up to Spinnelli’s novel Stargirl, which I highly recommend. Both of these are sensitive, engaging, and sweet (but not sappy) YA novels.

Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer

A unique “magical realism” fantasy story with a twist at the end. Definitely worth the read.

Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella

A sweet and engaging novel about a young girl who struggles with an anxiety disorder after a traumatic event. I always appreciate sensitive portrayals of people facing a mental illness.

My Life the Musical by Maryrose Wood

A fun novel by the author of the Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series, which is beyond delightful. This novel was lots of fun too. Two young, enthusiastic teenagers are obsessed with a (fictional) Broadway musical written by a mysterious person whose identity is unknown…need I say more?

Children’s Fiction

These are actually all re-reads–I read and loved these books as a child. It’s been so fun to revisit them as an adult! They are awesome. Enough said.

My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankenweiler by E.L. Koningsburg

Black Beauty by Anna Sewell

P.S. Longer Letter Later by Ann M. Martin and Paula Danziger

Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Secret Pitch by Donald J. Sobol

Contemporary Fiction

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

This was a unique–and hefty!–fantasy novel, but I felt a little disappointed with it. I felt like it could have been better written, like the author was making everything up as he went along and was keeping certain things mysterious because he didn’t know the story of them yet himself. But maybe it was just me. Also, I had trouble knowing and sympathizing with the main character. Still, I’m glad I read it, and I did enjoy the imagination of the story’s basic premise of having the gods of legends and religions interact with humans in the modern world.

Can You Keep a Secret? by Sophie Kinsella

A super fun “chick lit” kind of novel that makes for a perfect beach book–and I actually did read it at the beach!

And some installments of the Haley Randolph mystery series that I enjoy so much:

Beach Bags and Burglaries by Dorothy Howell

Swag Bags and Swindlers by Dorothy Howell

Duffel Bags and Drownings by Dorothy Howell

Classic Fiction

The Children by Edith Wharton

This was another perfectly lovely Wharton novel, beautiful in its every turn of plot and phrase, filled with poignant insight into the personalities and thoughts of the characters.

Tender Is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald

I was unimpressed with this book, to be quite frank. The story did not move me, and reading it felt like way too much work. I felt like Fitzgerald was trying too hard to sound avant-garde and was also impressed with himself for it, and I wished he would just get out of the way and tell me a good story! (On the other hand, I absolutely loved The Great Gatsby and found both its poetic prose and the story itself very moving.)

I read Tender with a friend and we also read Villa America and Living Well Is the Best Revenge, both about the real-life couple whom Fitzgerald claimed inspired his story, though I think they really only inspired the story’s initial setting. Those were both interesting books (the first being fiction and the second nonfiction) and definitely shed a lot of light on Tender for me…but if anything, they may have increased my impatience with Fitzgerald’s ego as it came through in this book.

(re-read) Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

It seems to be an accidental plan of mine to always be reading a Jane Austen novel. 🙂 Currently I am re-reading Emma (at a very leisurely pace…it’s just always there beside my bed for when I don’t have anything else at hand to read).

Classic Mysteries

No spoilers or comments here except that I loved them all!

Cat Among the Pigeons by Agatha Christie

Lord Edgeware Dies by Agatha Christie

Dead Man’s Folly by Agatha Christie

The Secret of Chimneys by Agatha Christie

A Man Lay Dead by Ngaio Marsh


Au Paris: True Tales of an American Nanny in Paris by Rachel Spencer

I also try to always be reading a book about or set in France in order to absorb more of their leisure-embracing mindset. This book wasn’t life-changingly brilliant or anything, but it was a cute little read that served its purpose for me.

Sounds Like Me by Sara Bareilles

Sara Bareilles is my absolute favorite musical artist these days. I enjoyed reading her collection of personal essays–actually, I listened to it as an audiobook, read by Sara herself–but I will admit that it did quite not live up to my hopes, based on the deep, original, and insightful songs lyrics she writes. I think she is just a true songwriter in that she expresses herself best in song.

Yes, Please! by Amy Poehler

This was another book of personal essays by another celebrity favorite of mine, and it, by contrast, quite exceeded my expectations. In so many places I felt like Amy was talking directly to me and encouraging me, even while she made me laugh. This was also an author-read audiobook, and I hope to go back and read it visually at some point to extract some great quotes that went by me too fast in the audiobook format.

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Short Meditations by Susan Gregg

I picked this book up somewhere years ago and finally got around to reading it–and practicing most of the meditations in it. Depending on your definition, they aren’t exactly “meditations” but rather “visualizations,” with thoughtful teachings added in, most of which I found helpful (but not all). Using this book to practice meditation/visualization regularly has had a dramatic influence on my life for the better! Maybe I will talk about this more in another post sometime.

Living Well Is the Best Revenge by Calvin Tomkins

I mentioned this book above, under Tender Is the Night. It’s really only useful if you’re interested in learning more about Gerald and Sara Murphy, the real-life couple upon whom Fitzgerald claimed to have based his story Tender Is the Night, and who were friends with a lot of the famous expats artists from that time period (the post-WWI “Lost Generation”).

Currently reading

Bleak House by Charles Dickens

Whose Body? by Dorothy Sayers

A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

(re-reading) The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith

(re-reading) Emma by Jane Austen

The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality by André Comte-Sponville

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott


Well, you’ll be happy to know (I hope!) that what I’ve been working on most recently is building up a little queue of blog post drafts. Since I haven’t been posting here as much this year, I have been storing up lots of thoughts and things to say! So, stay tuned!

I’ve also revived my efforts on the memoir I’ve been trying to write for years now–my story of growing up as a radically fundamentalist Christian, even graduating from a Bible college, and then going through a crisis of faith (as well as episodes of severe depression) and having to separate myself from all my friends and family and strike out on my own to make a new life for myself. It’s been hard to find the right way to tell my story, but I feel like I’ve finally hit on a great structure and voice for it now. My writers’ group loved the first chapter (and said it was light years better than my previous attempts), so that was encouraging!

The novels I’m gradually writing have been on the back burner, but I like knowing that they’re still there for whenever I can get back to them. My mind still works on them at times.

Other Learning

The online course I took this summer was called “American Diversity in Film.” It was really interesting and also fun, since it involved lots of writing. 🙂 The main focus of the course was to study how various minority groups have been portrayed in American film. It definitely opened my eyes to common stereotypes, prejudices, and other injustices I had never noticed before!

Why did I take this course, you ask? I am gradually working on a second bachelor’s degree (because my first one is from a Bible college and is not regionally accredited, so it doesn’t count as a legitimate degree in most formal contexts–and in my mind) from West Virginia University (because, as a full-blooded West Virginian, where else would I want to go? 🙂 ). I now have over 50 credits from a mix of online WVU courses, transfer credits from past educational forays before I settled down back home in Charleston, and CLEP tests. (I love CLEP tests! They are so fun, and you can get 3 credits for less than $100!!!)

I am pursuing a Regent’s degree, which is a way to get college credit for things you’ve learned from life experiences (it’s “portfolio credit” or, technically, “Curriculum Equivalent Credit”). I just need to write up a whole bunch more portfolio narratives and gather supporting documentation before I can submit them all at once. It might take me a few more years to finish–and then I will have a real degree, and I can do whatever I want! I may not actually want to do anything different than what I’m doing right now (working as an insurance agent and writing in my few precious customer-free minutes), but I like to think that I could. I could get a graduate degree, maybe work in education…anything! (Well, okay, maybe not anything…but you know what I mean.)

So that’s the cleanup of my mind, for now. As I said, I will have more posts coming soon. And one of them will contain some big news! With that little teaser, I will close and say I hope you all are well. Happy reading, writing, and learning!


5 comments on “Mind Cleanup (Books Read Lately)

  1. Stefanie
    August 18, 2016

    wow! You have been really busy!


    • Sarrah J. Woods
      August 19, 2016

      Yeah, the online summer course was a little intense, because it crammed a semester’s worth of stuff into 6 weeks. I don’t think I’ll be trying that again any time soon!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Sarah Brentyn
    August 19, 2016

    I love this: “Mind Cleanup”. 😀 And I can’t believe how many books/authors I’ve read that you’ve mentioned here. I’m writing the rest down because clearly you have good taste. We should swap book recommendations.

    Suppose I’ll wait for the “big news”…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sarrah J. Woods
      August 23, 2016

      Awesome! I would love to know more about which books/authors in particular you share my affection for! And I would likewise be open to book recommendations from you, anytime. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Great Stories Are Magic | A Bringer of New Things

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This entry was posted on August 16, 2016 by in Mind Cleanups and tagged , , , , .
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