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. 

What I Read: December 2016

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I’m almost surprised at how many books I finished in December, given the harried schedule I felt like we were keeping and having a new baby. But I keep my routine of a hot bath and book before bed most nights (SELF CARE for the win), and it keeps me reading most days. Plus several of these were easy, two-sittings kind-of reads.

The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick – In episode 40 of the What Should I Read Next Podcast, bookstore owner Holland Saltsman mentioned this book alongside The One-in-a-Million Boy and The Sparrow as favorites of hers. Since I love both of those latter two books, too, which are vastly different, and I thought the description sounded wonderful, I decided to pick up Arthur Pepper. 

Widower Arthur is fairly reminiscent of A Man Called Ove – he’s hiding from his neighbor, wondering what to do with the rest of his mundane life without his wife. But the stories diverge greatly. Arthur finds a charm bracelet that belonged to his late wife; he doesn’t remember ever seeing it nor does he understand where the charms came from. This book tells of his journey to discover the sources of the charms … and maybe some things about his wife he didn’t really want to know.

Although in some places his search just seems too easy and unrealistic, I liked the tale, especially his relationship with the neighbor and her son. It was sweet and fun, a little like Ove but maybe without the emotional pull being as high.

All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood by Jennifer Senior – I mentioned this book in my top 11 of 2016 post the other day. It takes a really interesting nonfiction book to catch my attention. This one is a parenting book that focuses on parents, not children. Senior tackles the question of how modern parenthood affects all kinds of parents with both research and her own firsthand observation of families. While she definitely finds that parents are stressed by the current definition of childhood and overscheduling, Senior isn’t judgmental at all. The whole book is easy to read, packed full of information, and a little too relatable for this mom.

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch – Dark Matter was a big hit among the women of the book discussion Facebook group I’m in. It came out in July, and was an Amazon Book of the Month. This is the kind of book where it’s better to know very little going in and simply experience it; let’s just say that Jason, the main character, is whisked away on a trip to the grocery store and wakes up in a realm that isn’t his. The physics of this premise definitely go over my head (and my husband, the mathematician who was a physics minor, says, “It’s bad physics, but it doesn’t really affect the book”), but I still enjoyed reading this thriller. It’s incredibly readable; I think it took me three days and my husband two days to finish. I wasn’t quite as enamored with the book as some of my bookish friends (like Amy Allen Clark, who listed it among her favorites of 2016), but enjoyed it as a quick, interesting read. I’m always up for something a little different.

The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon – I really loved Yoon’s 2015 book Everything Everything. It’s one of those books that I like even more the more I think about it. So I was super anxious to get my hands on The Sun Is Also a Star after it was released in November. In it, we meet Natasha, whose family is Jamaican and in the middle of an illegal immigration crisis, and Daniel, American-born of Korean parents, who is facing his future with confusion. These high-school students meet by chance, and the whole book takes place over the one day they spend together. Daniel’s poetic spirit and Natasha’s insistence on realism and science will both capture your heart. I loved it, and will quite happily read anything else Yoon writes.

My Name Is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout – This is not a book with a lot of plot. If you’re looking for something plot-driven, this is not going to be your book. But if you enjoy a good character study, you will probably delight in My Name Is Lucy Barton. Lucy, now in middle age, reflects on some weeks she spent in the hospital in the 80s. Through this reflection, we learn about her parents, her upbringing, her time raising her two daughters, and how these things influenced the rest of her life. Most poignant is her troubled relationship with her parents, coming to a head as her mother visits her in the hospital.

Strout does an amazing job really capturing a character. To me, this was well worth the short time it took to read.

Chains by Laurie Hale Anderson – I found this in the library while searching for something YA to read. And here’s the thing: I just don’t think it was the right time for me to read this book. My December brain was too frantic, and I just couldn’t give enough attention to this story. Isabel is a young slave girl during the beginnings of the American Revolution, sold from a kinder owner to an upperclass, Loyalist couple in New York City. The picture of slavery in NYC alongside the information about the Revolution was very interesting. The characters are vivid, and honestly, I would like to read the other two books in the series. I just need to wait until I have more brain space for them.

Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance – Strangely enough, once on Christmas Break I had plenty of brain space to dive into Vance’s 2016 memoir, extremely relevant to this election year. Vance grew up in Middletown, Ohio, pretty close to where my parents were born and raised. He tells the story of his grandparents, who left rural Kentucky for a better life in Ohio, but carried with them the “hillbilly” lifestyle. Growing up poor, with a single mother, among drug and alcohol abuse, Vance was destined to repeat the mistakes of those before him. And yet, Vance went to Ohio State and then Yale Law School and is a lawyer in California. How did he escape? What made it different? Can anything be done to help those in the same cycles of abuse, divorce, and poverty?

While his conclusions might not be especially hopeful, his story is powerful. I grew up middle-class with the knowledge I would always have meals, no one was going to hit me, and I was going to college. This election has, honestly, been really puzzling to me, as I know it has been to many. And this book did help me get a little clarity on how this all happened.

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I’m working on a few more books, but that’s what I finished this month. How about you?

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

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. 

Advent: Hope

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Advent wreath

It’s been a rough week in Chattanooga.

The bus wreck that killed six children has made national news. This accident happened not far from my own children’s school, in the school district where they also ride buses. My fearful daughter is having a difficult time grasping that tomorrow she will have to ride a bus again. Our community is grieving over what seems to be a senseless, preventable tragedy. I have personal connections to two of the girls who died, through friends and acquaintances.

And it just feels like the endcap on a rough year.

In January, I got pregnant. I’m certainly not unhappy about that – I never was, because I truly wanted a fourth child – but it was unplanned and surprising. And expensive, given our high-deductible insurance. It’s been a huge change for our family.

In April, we thought we were going to move to another apartment this summer. When that fell through, it was extremely upsetting for me. We were hoping to have a little extra space for our expanding family (and hard floors for our messy kids), and we had to go back to square one on fitting six people into this apartment. Again, it’s fine – but it was a road bump in the year.

And as we surged through these and other sad events, there was this crazy election. I don’t consider myself to be a very political person, but this election was enough to get me to cast a ballot. The results were, to me, somewhat baffling. I’ve cried. I’ve been perplexed. I’ve been scared for the future of our country and what I thought it was and what, apparently, it really is. (I certainly do not wish to have any political discussions here. So please don’t argue with me about politics, because that isn’t the point.)

And now, on this first Sunday of Advent, we are confronted with hope.

Advent wreath
source: rosalynlouise

I stared at the candles on our Advent wreath tonight. That one lone candle, burning, its friends unlit, waiting. We hope and we wait for the joy, peace, and love. And we wait for Christ.

There’s been a lot of waiting for me in 2016, between the election and a pregnancy and the pushing back of some dreams. Not all of it brought joy. But I think of the surge of emotions after Hannah was finally born, all 8 pounds and 5 ounces of baby, finally freed from my body and her own little person. Pure joy, bright like fire. All the hope fulfilled, as we saw her perfect form and tiny fingers and toes and everything doing what it was supposed to do.

I’m trying, desperately, to lean into hope right now in Advent. It’s not an easy parenting season for us; our kids are all reacting to the new baby in their own way. It’s a time of being needed in four places at once, of stuffing Hannah into her carseat again, of going to the grocery AGAIN. It’s waiting to see how we will adjust to life with four kids. It’s also much nursing, cuddling, loving, reading books, and relying on God’s strength instead of my weakness.

Hope refuses to buckle and instead believes we will find that new normal. It sees the promise of children grown to responsible adults instead of every speck on the carpet. It fills my heart and lets me lean into the everyday joys.

In Advent, I’m saying yes more. Because in Christ, God said yes to us in every possible way. The fulfillment of all hope.

 

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.