February Reading

Sorry to have been silent for a couple of weeks! Here’s what I have been up to:

Practical Magic Alice Hoffman, Is it wrong to like the prequel better? I felt like it made more sense, the characters were more developed, and that overall it was just more. Maybe it’s the evolution of the author?
Whispers in the Mist Lisa Alber, I enjoyed this mystery. Set in Ireland, it had enough mystery and suspense but it was not gruesome or violent. It’s the second of the County Clare Mysteries, so it dips into the characters from the first (which I haven’t read), but I didn’t feel like I was missing anything. I might not go back to read the first one, but I will definitely check out the next two in the series.
The Girl Who Drank the Moon Kelly Barnhill, I enjoyed it, but it was a bit too fantastical and strange. It was described as a coming-of-age middle grade fairy tale. The characters were interesting but it was slow, and not enough content that I think a 5th/6th grader would enjoy. I wanted to love it, but I don’t think this is one for me to share with the girls.
I am Malala Malala Yousafzai, My oldest had the student version in her 6th grade language arts syllabus, and this is one that I wanted to read along with her class so that we could discuss. It is a story I will never forget, and makes me appreciate just how priviledged I am to be a female born in America. Malala helped me understand the background of the Middle East conflict. While I have grown up with this conflict, it is very easy as Americans to turn a blind eye. It helped me understand how the world views America’s involvement in the continued conflict and just how much international aid and diplomacy are needed for progress. But I also understand that our efforts as world citizens might not bring about progress as quickly as we all want to see it because the problems are centuries old.
Uncommon Ground Tom Hanks, I had the audio version and enjoyed it but I didn’t finish before it expired. Tom does the narration, and his voice is perhaps more interesting than the stories. I might try this again once the popularity dies down. I wouldn’t wait in line for this one.
America’s Test Kitchen (A Cook’s Illustrated publication) I love these publications, so perhaps I should subscribe to Cook’s Illustrated or Cook’s Country. I follow them on Instagram, and I love learning the development of the recipe, from equipment testing to ingredient mistakes and tweaks.
Victuals Ronni Lundy, This was such an interesting cookbook and story from start to finish. I plan to buy this for my uncle’s birthday, because he loves cookbooks and will appreciate the Appalachian history and local flair. The photography is stunning, and these recipes feel like home.

My March stack is featured in the photo above… I can’t wait to share! Are you reading anything great that I should know about?



January Reading

I hit my reading goal this month, easily! I know there are many January-haters out there, and as much as I do not enjoy freezing temps, I love how much I can accomplish this month!

Drums of Autumn, Diana Gabaldon
Fourth in the Outlander series, this is set primarily in America before the American Revolution. Like the other Outlander books I’ve read, this installation in the series is exquisite in detail, romance and daring. And like the others, I always proclaim the last one I read to be the “best”. It’s just long, so carve out some time.

The Horse Dancer, Jojo Moyes
Let me preface this by saying I am a big fan of Jojo Moyes. But this one was slow. So slow in fact I had both the audio and digital version of this last fall, and never got past the first two chapters. But I persisted and borrowed a library copy and ended up loving it in the end. It is romantic in a realistic, modern way. Driving the story is Sarah, an orphaned teen, and her survival story.

Perfect Plates, John Waite
This is a perfect gift for a cookbook lover. The recipes are well-photographed and mostly simple, with known ingredients, yet he pulls together some very unique combinations. The Banana and Blueberry Dutch Baby Pancake is the perfect Saturday morning breakfast, and I’m bringing the Rye Soda Bread with Egg Butter to my next lunch meeting.

Gem & Dixie, Sara Zarr
This young adult selection certainly pulled at my heart. Gem & Dixie are neglected teens with a complicated family system. Both the mother and father do their fair share of loving these girls but yet they continually manipulate them for their own selfish gain due to their own flaws and addictions. My heart breaks for any adolescent that is robbed of the chance of adolescence. Her characterization and dialogue of the teens seem near perfect, and the book highlights the importance of the school support system in a vulnerable teen’s life (all the way from teachers, counselors, to even school cafeteria workers).

All Grown Up, Jamie Attenburg
Someone recommended this one as being funny. I don’t think funny would describe it well. It was ironically humorous at times, but I mostly found it depressive and narcissistic. The character’s lack of identity and struggle to find passion and purpose was insightful, but definitely not funny.

And we’re off?, Dana Schwartz
The premise of this story is a teen artist is offered the opportunity to study abroad, but the mother decides to tag along at the last minute. This one is funny and a bit nightmarish, at least from the teenager’s perspective. She gets an opportunity of a lifetime for some self-discovery, and her broken mother decides to both physically and mentally anchor her. The mother seems less like a helicopter mom, and more just discouraging, pathetic and lost.

Pioneer Woman Cooks, Come and Get It!, Ree Drummond
These really are normal, delicious recipes for a busy life. The Overnight Muesli is easy and delicious, and the Sheet Pan Tofu and Grilled Cheese & Veggie are my new favorite lunch favorites. I’ve never made salmon before, but my daughter and I are going to try to cook the Honey Soy Salmon together the next opportunity. Not all of the recipes are perfectly healthy, but in this cookbook Ree makes healthy also look easy and tempting, a considerable feat.

Rules of Magic, Alice Hoffman
Rules of Magic is a prequel to Practical Magic (which I haven’t read or seen the movie, but I’m reading it next). I will be the millionth person to echo that you don’t have to read Practical Magic before reading this one, and it’s such a beauty that it can stand alone if you wish not to read how the family progresses, as hard as it might be to try. It’s the Owens sisters backstory set in 1950’s New England, and it’s masterful storytelling, capturing both the spirit of the time and the fantasy of magic. I’ve heard the audio version is outstanding, although I only had a library copy and was blown away. I loved it, and would put this on any must-read list.

A Letter to my Congregation, 2nd Edition, Ken Wilson
I believe that most Christians would agree that a defining issue for this generation of believers is the church’s path forward through embracing or excluding people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender. Whether you agree or disagree with the author’s conclusions, I found it was a worthy journey. I was especially moved by his discernment process of prayer, counseling and research, and the afterword he wrote for the second edition, a true “what happened next.” His generosity of spirit and openness touched me. He wrote, “I can appreciate anyone disagreeing [with] me because I have lived long enough to disagree with myself.” I hope I can approach my calling with such humility.

Have you read anything wonderful that you would recommend?


November and December Reading


The Widow by Fiona Barton, I really enjoyed The Child and this was recommended to me before I had ever heard of Fiona Barton during my mystery kick last year. But I have to confess, this one isn’t my cup of tea. I only read about 10% of this one, then read the last chapter. As a 10 of 10 on a gritty scale, my momma heart couldn’t take it.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by JK Rowling, loved it as much if not more than the last time I read it. I am having so much fun reading through this series again and catching details that I missed the first time around.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz. The ending gave me mixed feelings, but ultimately I’m glad I read it. It’s a delightful tale of friendship, but maybe teen and young adult gay & lesbian fiction just isn’t for me.

Sing Unburied Sing by Jesmyn Ward- Had this book not arrived in the gift subscription that my sister sent me for Christmas, I feel certain that I would not have read this. It is gritty and centers around poverty, racism, drugs, and the child neglect and despair that can be at the center of this encompassing epidemic. With that said, this book stretched me and beat me up, and crawled into my heart. This gritty story of loss and hope that truly toes the line between thriller and ghost story is poetically told from the view of a mother and her young son who has to grow up too fast. It won the National Book Award for Fiction and I would highly recommend this one.

Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel. I was so excited to learn that our library selected this author and this book as part of their “Big Read” community reading event for the purpose of bringing neighbors together to be more empathetic, more aware, and more engaged. The culmination of the reading event was a lecture and open discussion forum with Emily St. John Mandel, and it was particularly insightful. She spoke of her inspiration for this story and her writing process, both in general and the research involved in writing this specific story. I was especially intrigued because she has somehow managed to live a successful, creative life on a balanced 9-5 work schedule. And she signed my sister’s books, which delighted my sister immensely.

Turtles all the Way Down by John Green was exactly what I wanted it to be. While slow at first, John Green expertly weaves a tale of love and friendship around the mysterious disappearance of a local billionaire, through the eyes of an obsessive compulsive and anxious (and extremely loveable) teen. He just understands- all the feelings, the self-centeredness, the dialogue. John Green is a master of young adult fiction.


The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin- Set in the untamed Pacific Northwest at the turn of the twentieth century, the author captures both the time and place with stunning clarity. Two girls escaping a violent life come upon this orchardist, who after losing his own family, takes them under his care and they journey to ultimately build a new family. It’s a rocky and distrustful relationship, and will challenge any version of a traditional family, but their journey is beautifully told.

Emmy & Oliver by Robin Benway. Surprised by how much I loved Sing, Unburied, Sing, I went back to the National Book Awards to find more titles to read. My sister recommended Far from the Tree, and she had a copy, and told me she would send it to me. In the meantime, I went back through Robin Benway’s backlist and chose a couple to keep me busy until it arrived. Emmy & Oliver is a must read, with characters that are real and funny, and like me, you will be sorry this story has to end. These kids were best friends in elementary school when Oliver disappeared. He is found many years later, and Emmy and Oliver have to deal with the consequences of his disappearance on both of their lives, and ultimately discover their friendship again in the process. I loved the parents too. Just loved all of it.

Genuine Fraud by E Lockhart- I enjoyed We Were Liars and E. Lockhart’s twisty, trippy style of writing, and was excited when this popped up from my holds list at the library. It is written backwards in time, which can be confusing if you are the type to read multiple books at once. It’s a story of two girls, Jules and Imogen, but really just one girl with identity issues. I always think it’s a clever trick for the author to make you fall in love with truly unlikable characters. And I didn’t find it too confusing, because I couldn’t put this one down.

Audrey, Wait! By Robin Benway- This wasn’t as great as Emmy & Oliver, but a likeable story nonetheless. It’s cheery teen lit, unsurprising and sweet, and I enjoyed it.

That rounds out the 70 or so books I read in 2017. Mostly fiction, and pretty evenly divided between adult and young adult. It would be hard to rank my top five, but the one that most changed me was Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. I especially enjoyed Wonder by RJ Palacio and Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk, because I read them with my daughter. I enjoyed mysteries more than I had in years past especially I Found You by Lisa Jewell and The Lying Game by Ruth Ware. And I’m so excited to continue reading more of the Outlander series in 2018. I loved the quarterly book subscription and am excited to read those selections (although it will be hard to beat Sing, Unburied, Sing.)

Happy Reading!


October Reading (and November preview)

Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk (audio version on commutes with Sarah)… I know, you’re probably thinking, again? But I wanted to experience this one through Sarah’s eyes, and it was so beautiful the second time. The audio expired before we had a chance to finish the last chapter, so I checked out a library copy and finished it with her. We were both in tears by the end. She was mad at the ending at first, but we kept talking about it and she realized the beauty of the story. (Although she still says she would have changed the end.)

The Child by Fiona Barton, I loved this one and truly did not guess the ending. I listened to the audio version, and I have to admit, I wish the cast of voices were just a tad more unique. There are many characters and if you listen in short blips the way I do, it might take a minute to orient yourself in the story again. The characters were so real and I loved the way the story fit together ultimately. I would highly recommend this one.

The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett by Chelsea Sedoti was another one that I thought was a unique and beautiful story. Lizzie has a very unique imagination and family, (which isn’t celebrated in any high school peer group, anywhere) and uses it as an excuse to isolate herself. When a girl in town goes missing, Lizzie tests several theories of her disappearance and finds more about herself in the process. It’s mildly thrilling and I honestly didn’t guess the ending- although as it ended- I thought I should have known. Anyone who has imagined or actually dared to not “fit in” will identify with elements of Lizzie’s character. Great, quick read.

I also reread a couple of Harry Potter’s- Chamber of Secrets and Prisoner of Azkaban, because why not? It was the illustrated version of Chamber of Secrets, and it was wonderful to flip through with my 11-year old aspiring artist.

We listened to about half of The Castle in the Mist by Amy Ephron and I listened to about half of Modern Lovers by Emma Straub. We weren’t disappointed when those titles expired before we were finished. I might try Modern Lovers again in print.

I’m picking up the pace in November. The time change has curtailed our outside playtime after dinner, and we have taken several car trips, so I’m reading more. In the stack:
Beyond the Bright Sea Lauren Wolk
The Widow Fiona Barton
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire JK Rowling
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix JK Rowling (why stop now?)
Drums of Autumn Diana Gabaldon
Into the Water Paula Hawkins
Sing Unburied Sing Jesmyn Ward
Station Eleven Emily St. John Mandel (since I get to meet her!)
Turtles all the Way Down John Green
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe Benjamin Alire Saenz

What’s in your stack?

(Photo of the pup, because he’s my favorite reading buddy)


New Recipes

These colder days bring a renewed energy to get creative in the kitchen for me, but this energy is tempered by my kids -especially because they aren’t always open to new flavors.

Not sure if this resonates, but I need familiar ingredients that are filling- comfort food at its most basic! (eggs, potato, cheese, pork, pie dough), and it needs to be simple enough that it can be made on a weeknight. The kids love to help and I want to encourage it.

I am going to search through these cookbooks that are new at my library for inspiration to try to get some ideas for next month. Tonight, we scrapped the idea on my calendar in favor of breakfast for dinner, which is so comforting on this chilly and damp day!




September Reading

September was a light reading month for me. Sometimes my attention drifts and centers around crafting or cooking, rather than reading in all my spare moments, but this month it was more centered around rest. So a little laziness and giving ourselves a little mental break is necessary sometimes too!

Here’s what I did read:

  • Code Name Verity Elizabeth Wein, centers around two young women fighting for the Allied cause in WWII. When Verity is captured by the Gestapo, the novel details her imprisonment and rescue as details of the friendship are revealed. It’s one you won’t want to put down, and I would recommend for both teen and adult readers.
  • Storm Donna Jo Napoli, gave a different perspective on the Noah’s Ark story that Christians everywhere are so familiar with. I stumbled on it while checking out some Noah’s Ark books for the girls (I like to check out companion books to what the kids are studying in Sunday School and regular school). Originally I thought Sarah might like it, but in my opinion it’s better suited for an older teen reader. A stowaway on the ark who battles the storm, with the loss and seclusion that comes with her situation, looks in on Noah and his family and their purpose.
  • All the Bright Places Jennifer Nevin, was a tough read about a teen battling bi-polar disease. I struggled because I recognized early on the problem, and while I know some cases of bi-polar are not so obvious, I just could not believe that any of the adult characters could not have intervened. I hope and pray that my eyes are open for my kids and their friends.
  • Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them JK Rowling, I listened to the audio version, which was really interesting, but I would think the illustrated version would also be truly awesome.
  • Rump Liesl Shurtliff, was a school commute audiobook, and it was good but didn’t capture our hearts enough to finish before it was returned. I asked Sarah if she wanted me to check it out again so we could finish and she wasn’t interested.

2 other wonderful read-y things to note:
My sister’s Christmas gift to me arrived and I am blown away. It’s the quarterly book box from The Strand. So many goodies including Sing, Unburied, Sing which I am starting tonight! If you have someone on your Christmas list that loves books, this would be an excellent choice.

Emily St. John Mandel is doing a meet and greet in November due to our Library’s hosting a group read of her novel (and a favorite of mine!) Station Eleven. I am so excited to attend and report back. (And hopefully get my sister’s copy of Station Eleven signed- she loves her as much as I do.


August Reading

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by JK Rowling was both familiar and different. Reading in a screenplay format was interesting (Shakespeare in high school and a bit of theatre in college is all I can remember ever reading) but the characters were so familiar that I had to make myself set it down or else I would devour it in hours. (Fantastic Beasts came up on my library hold list this week and after that I am tempted to reread the series again. I caught part of the movie version of Deathly Hallows this past weekend and that only stoked the flame.)

Voyager by Diana Gabaldon was my favorite so far of the Outlander series. I’ve needed to pace myself with this series but it is an excellent escape. This one follows Jamie and Claire over to the Caribbean and America, and sets me up to be really anxious of what might happen to Claire’s daughter in the next book. Can’t wait.

Present over Perfect by Shauna Niequist was an audiobook I had on loan that I didn’t get the chance to finish. It was engaging, but not enough to win out the backlog of podcasts. Maybe another time, because family balance is certainly something relevant for me.

The Lying Game by Ruth Ware is even better than her first two thrillers. After reading The Woman in Cabin 10, I preordered this one and it did not disappoint. She kept me on the hook because HELLO, FIND A SOMEONE YOU TRUST TO WATCH THE BABY!!! The baby has very little to do with the plot, but it certainly keeps you invested in the scene.

Mrs. Fletcher by Tom Perrotta was racy and truly laugh-out-loud funny. Mrs. Fletcher is embarrassing and such an awkwardly funny read. Highly recommend if you liked The Election, or ironic, situational comedy in general. (I confess, I only saw the movie version of Election, but now I want to read that one as well as his others).

I listened to both The Nightbird by Alice Hoffman and Moo by Sharon Creech with my 11 year old daughter on the school commute this month too. Nightbird was an instant favorite. She asked to listen to the end of the book one night before bed because she couldn’t wait until the morning. Moo grew on us, and she loved sympathizing with Moo for the “unreasonable” actions of her parents (her and her brother were volunteered by their parents to help at a local farm). Both excellent for 11 year old girls who like a strong female heroine.

Tell me, what should I read next?