My Read-the-Shelves Challenge for 2017

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I don’t make a lot of reading goals – I like to read what I want to read, when I want to read it. (Perhaps that’s a personality thing. I am an INFP.) I do make a GoodReads goal that I think is reachable, just for fun. (This year mine is 80 books.)

But after I read a whole lot of new releases last year, I decided to make a small goal this year of reading my shelves. Whether these are actual books on my actual bookshelf, or books I’ve bought for my Kindle, I’m trying to get through some of what I already have.

So far, I’m not doing so hot. I picked out 10 books to tackle in the first three months of 2017, and I’ve only read one of them so far. Maybe by posting them here, you will hold me accountable for reading them! (Or at least that will happen in my head.) Or you can convince me to give up on a title that’s not worth the time.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi – This is one I snuck in, because I bought it for my Kindle when it was on sale right after Christmas. And it’s the only one I’ve read so far. Review coming in my January book round-up.

Light a Penny Candle by Maeve Binchy – Why haven’t I read this yet? I have no idea. I think I read half of it at one point and then put it down for some reason. Binchy is one of my very favorite authors and I’ve had this book sitting on my shelf for years while I’ve read all of her other work as it’s come out. (While she was living and even now, posthumously.) This is the year I actually finish Penny Candle!

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova – This book has made it from my shelf to my parents’ and back to mine, and I don’t think any of us ever read it. But after hearing someone give it rave reviews on the WSIRN podcast, I am excited to dive in to this creepy thriller. I think it will be an excellent wintery read.

Boundaries with Kids by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend – I know I really need to read this, but I have to make myself read nonfiction. Also it scares me.

Rhinestone Jesus by Kristen Welch – Yep, this one kind of scares me too. But so does being complacent.

The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio by Terry Ryan – This true story has great reviews, has been made into a movie, and just sounds like plain fun. I picked it up in a thrift store a couple years back and I am ready to dig in.

Bittersweet by Shauna Niequist – I’ve read and loved Shauna’s other books Cold Tangerines and Bread & Wine; I don’t know why I’ve let this one sit on my Kindle for years unread. I just downloaded it on my phone to be my stuck-nursing or waiting-office read.

Notes from a Blue Bike by Tsh Oxenreider – Notice a theme here? I really like Christian living books. I WANT to read them, especially those by bloggers I’ve read/met/love. But I often push aside nonfiction for the new fiction I want to read. I really enjoy Tsh’s writing and philosophies, and I can’t believe I’ve let this one languish since (SHAME) June 3, 2014, according to my friend Mr. Amazon.

Emily of New Moon by L.M. Montgomery – I waited until I was 34 to read all the Anne of Green Gables books. What a travesty! I ADORED them, and so reading Emily is next on my list. I have the whole series on Kindle, but I will just put this one on the “by the end of March” list.

Harvest of Gold by Tessa Afshar – This is the follow-up to Afshar’s Harvest of Rubies, a fictional story about Nehemiah’s cousin Sarah, also a scribe. I ADORE Afshar’s books. This one has a 4.8/5 rating on Amazon so I am pretty sure it’s not going to disappoint me, either. (If you are at all into biblical retellings, check out her book Pearl in the Sand about Rahab. It’s so good. And it’s only $3.49 for Audible, which is kind of awesome!)

So those are my first 10 books on my Reading-the-Shelves challenge for this year. Anyone want to join me? Or do you have other reading challenges for yourself this year?

That Whole Advent Book Thing? It FLOPPED.

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By far, the most popular post on my site (in ten and a half years’ worth of writing!) is my list of Jesus-Centered books to use as a countdown to Christmas during Advent. We started this activity in 2012, when Libbie was a new 4-year-old and David turned 2 during Advent.

It has worked, faithfully, for our family every year. The kids got excited about unwrapping a book. They cuddled with us, sat, and for the most part, listened to the story. Even when Joshua was a baby (he was born in March 2013), we all enjoyed the tradition.

I have accumulated SO MANY Christmas books that now I have to choose 25 to wrap. I was definitely scrounging and thrift-store searching that first year! I probably have an extra 20 books (many of the ones that are more “Santa Christmasy”) that I put in a basket under the tree to be enjoyed any time.

This year, I cheerfully wrapped all the books I needed and set the pile in my bedroom. Before December even began, Joshua (3, nearing 4) took a few to his room and unwrapped them. I tried to convince a three-year-old who argues with me about every little thing that these were not presents for right now. I re-wrapped some books.

We started on a good note. Sure, David (who turned 6 on December 20) didn’t want to sit still and was often doing a wiggle dance and singing during the book reading. Or maybe Libbie (8) was in the bath or still doing homework. Or maybe Joshua went to bed and we did it without him.

We had several late nights where we just tossed the kids in bed when we got home. We had nights where we just forgot to open the book. We’ve gotten out of our real bedtime routine with everyone; we’ve always put the kids all to bed at the same time, but with Joshua not napping he’s often ready to go down for the night at 7. Oh, and we had a six-week-old baby when December began. So there was that, too! Many nights I was nursing, dealing with a fussy infant, or just in flat-out zombie mode.

This tradition – the one I was sure was going to be our thing, that my kids would want to pass on to their kids – felt like a total flop this year. 

I truly love to read to my kids. But reading to one child who asks incessant questions, one who is pretty much running laps around the living room, and one who may or may not be sitting on my head, while I also try to keep an eye on baby sister and oh gracious, now they are fighting because someone touched someone else PLEASE JUST GO TO BED RIGHT THIS SECOND.

So um, yeah. Now you know my feelings about that! Having four kids seems to be a new world I was not really expecting.

They read to themselves. I read to them individually as I can. But the whole pile on the couch and all of us read together thing? It just isn’t working right now.

Tonight, I took a deep breath. I told the older three they could color or play quietly while I read. And from my chair, while holding Hannah, I read them the prologue and first chapter of Begin, the first Growly Bear book that I have heard great things about as a read-aloud. And you know what? They did color. Joshua only talked once. Libbie moved closer to me so she could actually hear the story (and made me a note that said “Your the best mommy ever”) (I can forgive her your/you’re error because BEST MOMMY).

Things flop. We learn. Next year, who knows what the case will be? And even if they’re running laps around the room, at least I’m speaking Scripture to them through those Jesus-centered books, right? God’s Word will not return empty. Something will stick in their brains.

And next year, they’ll be 9, 7, 4, and 1. And things will be totally different. And I will wrap those dang books again and see what happens. 

My Favorite Reads of 2016

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In 2016, I’ve read 79 books (and will almost definitely finish the 80th before this week is out, I am about halfway through Hillbilly Elegy. Which, by the way, I think would have made this list if I’d read it before now. An excellent read!). I tried to narrow this list to 10, but I couldn’t bear to cut another book. So here are my top 11 books I read in 2016.

oneinamillionboywintersolsticeanne-series

Fiction

The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood – This tale of a young boy obsessed with world records and the elderly woman he befriends is unique, sweet, and memorable. (Full review.)

Winter Solstice by Rosamunde Pilcher – One of those books that made me want to read EVERYTHING by the author. Also, I’m kind of sad I didn’t read it around Christmas. A sad tragedy brings a motley cast of characters together for Christmas in Scotland. Adored it! (Full review.)

Anne of Green Gables series by LM Montgomery – What a treat to read these treasures for the first time as an adult! I loved living in Anne’s world for a while. (And the world of her children, too!) (Full review.)

Station_Eleven_CoverI'll Be YoursA Man Called Ove

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel – Something about this post-apocalyptic novel is so intense, haunting, and lovely at the same time. Probably my #1 read of the year and one I would recommend to everyone. (Full review.)

I’ll Be Yours by Jenny B. Jones – I am a total sucker for Jenny B. Jones, especially her hilarious yet adorable YA romances. Raced through this one. (Full review.)

A Man Called Ove by Fredrick Backman – I love it when a book lives up to its hype. This one totally did. Backman’s book is funny, sad, poignant, memorable, and all-around lovely. How does a man in his 30s write older curmudgeons so well?

janeeyresecretkeeper

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte – I read part of Jane Eyre in college, but it must not have been much because there was nothing I remembered in this volume. A classic for a reason, Eyre is a fascinating heroine and I think I could reread this and get all kinds of different things from it. (Full review.)

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton – I keep finding myself recommending this Kate Morton historical mystery to others. A great book to dive into, Morton opens with a family drama that continually flashes back to World War II era. One I stayed up late to finish. (Full review.)

Nonfiction

All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood by Jennifer Senior – Full review coming, as this was a December read for me. Senior’s study on modern parenting focuses on the parent, not the child. Reinforced my strongly held notion that we should only do at most one activity per child, and challenged me in some other areas. Just a really interesting read.

interruptedchoosejoybook

Interrupted by Jen Hatmaker – This was definitely a faith-stretching year for me. We left our church and found a new one that is a completely different space. Jen Hatmaker helped me  through that somewhat with this book and armed me with the knowledge that I wanted a Christianity that looked outside the walls of the church. I have not arrived, but I’m growing. Whatever your feelings on Hatmaker at present, I think this is great, stretching read for those who no longer feel OK with casual faith. (Full review.)

Choose Joy: Finding Hope and Purpose When Life Hurts by Sara Frankl and Mary Carver – I was on the launch team for this book, compiled by my good friend Mary from her late friend’s blog and writings. But my five-star review was not related to that; this is an excellent book, a book pushing the reader to truly live in faith and outside circumstances. Sara’s story is hard and heartbreaking, but her intense faith and optimism is inspiring. (Full review.)

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It was hard to cut out a few other favorites, but I think those are truly my top reads of the year. I’m excited that I will finish at least 80 books this year (plus I reread the seven Harry Potter novels – that counts, it’s just hard to count on GoodReads). What was your best read of 2016? What do you think I should read in 2017? I’m anxious to hear your answers!

What I Read: November 2016

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I fear that this is the year the Internet dictated what I would read. Is that a bad thing? I don’t know. What I do know is that I have read more new releases this year than ever before. (As quickly as the library could get them to me; I VERY rarely buy books, especially new.)

My lists this year have been very heavily influenced by Modern Mrs. Darcy and her podcast as well as a book-chatting community I am part of on Facebook.

It’s not necessarily bad. It’s just different. And I feel like I’m plowing through a lot of new releases and not reading the mountain of books already published that are on my TBR list. It’s fun to keep up with what’s new; but what’s new is not always the best. Just an interesting conundrum.

That said, here’s what I read in November: three new releases (two BRAND new and one from June) and one book my husband loves.

threebodyproblem

The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu – So, I’ve made it clear that my husband and I are pretty different in terms of interests: he’s a mathematician and I am a writer. He became obsessed with this trilogy this summer that starts with The Three-Body Problem. He wanted to read something by a Chinese author, and this series has been wildly popular in China. It was translated and released in the U.S. in late 2014 (and the third one this September). I knew from how he and his friends talked about it that the book was VERY math-and-sciencey. But he also was raving about the book. And I knew I’d have an easier time than most with the Chinese names (I studied Chinese for 7 years).

All that to say, I should have heeded the warnings that this one would be too mathy for me. The story is very interesting, but it’s VERY saturated with physics and other science stuff. Trying to read it while I had a brand-new baby was also not the best plan! I trudged through, and I don’t think I’ll attempt to read the second one, despite the fact that my husband insists it’s less technical. I think it’s a good book if you are into the sciences. It was just really NOT for me.

heartless

Heartless by Marissa Meyer – After loving the Lunar Chronicles so, so much, I will definitely read anything Marissa Meyer writes. This is an Alice in Wonderland retelling. I hadn’t really read anything about this book other than that, and I guess I was expecting it to be more of a modern retelling, like the Lunar Chronicles. (OK, those aren’t modern, they’re futuristic, but it feels like a modern age.) Heartless is framed in the original Alice setting: Victorian era, with talking animals, a vanishing Cheshire Cat, and dreams that become reality.

I felt iffy about it at first, but as the story went on grew enchanted with the main character, Catherine. Her story is fun, romantic, and heartbreaking. If you like a taste of fantasy or fairy-tale retellings, I think you will love this one.

brindedcat

Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d by Alan Bradley – This is the eighth book in the Flavia de Luce series by Bradley. I am still amazed at his ability to write about a 12-year-old British girl in the 1950s when he is a modern-day man in Canada! I was glad to have Flavia returned to her home and sisters at Buckshaw in England for this new mystery. It was a good one, with a cliffhanger at the end. I don’t consider myself much of a mystery series reader, but I will stick with this one til the end!

allthemissinggirls

All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda – This thriller has received a good bit of hype since its June release. What really stands out is the format: the narration is in reverse order, from Day 15 to Day 1. The main character and narrator, Nicolette, has returned to her small hometown to help sell her dad’s house; he is in a care facility with the beginnings of Alzheimer’s or dementia (it’s unclear). But Nic is immediately plunged into the past as history repeats itself: her young neighbor goes missing, just like Nic’s best friend did 10 years prior.

As the days go backward, your mind will be fumbling for answers and trying to remember what happens in the future. It is an intriguing format and an interesting story with a multifaceted main character.

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What did you read in November? I have been working my way through a big old stack of library holds and I’ve already finished two books in December! (More 2016 releases … I can’t seem to help myself.)

This post will be added to Quick Lit at Modern Mrs. Darcy. 

What I Read: October 2016

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Oh hey, remember me? I am still here. I had this baby of mine on October 17th, and it turns out having four kids is a whole lot of work. 😉 I haven’t done much except hold her. But you’ll forgive me, right? She’s pretty darn cute.

Meet our Hannah Katherine. She was born 10/17/16 at 3 p.m. on the nose, and was 8 pounds 5 ounces.

Hannah Hannah headband 4 kids

And so even though it’s November 14th 17th, I want to share about my October reads!

commonwealth

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett – I read Patchett’s Bel Canto in 2014 (review here), and it’s been one I have reflected on often. I like books that are character studies, and she does that well. In Commonwealth, Patchett tells the tale of two families, joined and broken by marriages and divorces. The story reflects on a childhood tragedy, the children’s times together, and follows them through to mid-life. The characters are vivid and not easy to forget, and I find Patchett utterly readable. I’d like to tackle State of Wonder next, but I’ve heard the ending can be very off-putting. Should I read it?

beforethefall

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley – Before the Fall was released in May, and has been a bestseller and Amazon book of the month. It’s touted as a thriller, but it doesn’t read like one, in my opinion. There is a mystery: a plane crashes, and there are two survivors: an unknown artist friend and a little boy. The mystery unfolds as the artist and police try to figure out what happened on the flight. Was it an accident? Is the artist hiding something?

It’s a quick-paced novel with interesting characters, and I enjoyed the quick read. I found the ending very disappointing, though, after the build-up of the novel. (And many others have said the same.)

myantonia

My Antonia by Willa Cather – I’ve slacked off a little bit on the one-classic-a-month route lately – an exhausted pregnancy and a crazy summer for my reading buddy will do that for you. But I did finish My Antonia, finally, in October. It’s a short read, one that tells the tale of a young boy who moves in with his grandparents in Nebraska after his parents die. At the same time, a family of Bohemians move nearby, including Antonia, a girl a few years his senior and utterly fascinating to young Jim. Cather describes Jim’s upbringing and young adulthood, always intertwining with Antonia’s story. It’s a beautiful narrative, although a little slow for the modern reader, maybe. I’d like to listen to the audio version now to truly soak in Cather’s writing.

britt-marie-was-here

Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman – Backman’s 2016 novel gives us another grumpy, older protagonist in the vein of A Man Called Ove: Britt-Marie is a compulsive cleaner who bullies her way into a job in the tiny town of Borg, Sweden after she is confronted with her husband’s infidelity (which she knew about) and he leaves her for the other woman. Fiercely insistent on her ways, meal times, and structure, Britt-Marie is astounded by the people of Borg, and finds herself entwined in not only the town and people, but the youth soccer league. Backman writes older people so well, and he has got the curmudgeon nailed. This one didn’t speak to me quite like Ove did, but it’s still a good read. You can’t help but smile at the transformation of Britt-Marie.

What have you been reading lately? 

This will be linked to Quick Lit at Modern Mrs. Darcy.

What I Read: September 2016

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I feel like I need to disclose that this was not a stellar reading month for me. Maybe I am just grouchy and third-trimester pregnant (11 days to go and counting!), but I didn’t love anything I read in September. So if you only want to hear about books I adore … try July or August.

midair

Midair by Kodi Scheer – I really needed a brain break while reading Dorian Gray (see below), and this was the book I had chosen for my Kindle First free pick in July. It’s a YA novel about a group of four girls who travel to Paris. Narrator Nessa has recently lost her brother and, in her mind, any scope of the future when fellow traveler Kat cheated off her ACT – and Nessa got the blame. She recklessly throws herself into this trip, provoking the other girls, planning her suicide from the Eiffel Tower.

I read the book in two sittings because it was a simple read, but I don’t really recommend it. Nessa’s character goes back and forth between her 17-year-old and older self, reflecting on how the outcome changed her and affects her as a parent. But the whole thing reads melodramatic.

doriangray

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde – This is a short but intense classic by Oscar Wilde, whose work I’ve always enjoyed. As I’ve read more and more classics over the last year, I’m finding that maybe I am too modern of a reader: many classics are full of very long, philosophical passages that just don’t keep my attention. This is one of those. The action in the novel is wonderful and intriguing, and parts of the dialogue were engaging, but one character goes into very long diatribes that didn’t do anything for me. Altogether I am glad I read this one, but it’s not anything I would revisit.

homemadelife

A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg – A few of my friends were horrified when I went ahead and read Delancey before A Homemade Life, given that it put them out of chronological order. C’est la vie and what comes in from the library holds, y’all. (Review of Delancey is here.) More than a year later, I finally got around to this one, Wizenberg’s first book. It’s regaled as a book about her father and Molly’s reaction to his death, but I really didn’t feel like that encompasses what’s here. Really, it’s a collection of essays about growing-up moments and beloved foods and family members.

I confess I really didn’t love it any more than I did Delancey, which was somewhat disappointing. While Wizenberg is engaging and her recipes are to die for, she is kind of dry for me and I really didn’t need to read about her “intimate” life, either. (Trying to keep the spammers at bay, here.)

millersvalley

Miller’s Valley by Anna Quindlen – Quindlen is a favorite author of mine, but I was so lackluster about this, her latest book. I probably wouldn’t have even finished it except that I heard Anne talking about it on What Should I Read Next when I was in the middle, and that gave me enough push to keep going. It’s the history of a family who lives in an ever-flooding valley. Mimi tells her family’s story as she grows from a child to a medical student. It is crisp and the writing is good, but nothing captured me about this book at all. (It makes me sad to write that, because really, I LOVE Anna Quindlen.)

lilacgirls

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly – Bringing true history to life, Martha Hall Kelly follows three women from the onset of World War II until many years past its end: Caroline, a New York socialite and “old maid” with a passion for all things French; Kasia, a Polish teenager; and Herta, a young German doctor. Their lives intersect in different times during the passing of the years as we hear three very different stories from these three women. While the history itself is riveting, I felt the writing was almost journalistic and the narrative dragged on. Jessica Turner had recommended this as being great in audio, and I wish I had listened to her on that. It’s an interesting read but not as engrossing as I had hoped.

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Oh people. I feel like this is such a bummer of a month! I swear I don’t hate everything I read. I read Commonwealth by Ann Patchett in October already, and it was a much better one for me! Currently I’m storming through Before the Fall by Noah Hawley, too.

What have you read lately?

Linking up with Quick Lit at Modern Mrs. Darcy