What I Read: November and December 2017

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I’ve fallen a little behind here in blogging land, haven’t I? We had a wild holiday season (as is usually the case when you have many small children), and my grandma died on New Year’s Eve, so I packed up and went to Ohio for her funeral.

This week we’ve just been trying to get back in the swing of school and regular activities – just in time for the kids to be off for Martin Luther King Jr. day on Monday. Someday things might seem normal, right?

Here are the books I finished in November and December.

November

Little Girls Can Be Mean by Michelle Anthony and Reyna Lindert – There were some interesting tips and topics in this book, but nothing earth-shattering for me. I definitely need to be Observing my 9-year-old daughter a little more, and I’m really trying to ask her about her friends and their relationship without automatically giving advice.

The Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson – I kind of loved-but-hated Someone Else’s Love Story by Jackson when I read it in July this year. But there was nothing for me to hate in The Almost Sisters, and it will definitely be in my top 10 reads of 2017. (Which I am going to do. I swear. Even though it’s already January 11.)

Leia is the graphic novel artist heroine of this tale, and in the first few pages finds she’s been left a souvenir of a one-night stand at a comic-book convention: she’s pregnant with Batman’s baby. Before she can even tell her family, life implodes, and she heads to south Alabama with her niece in tow to help her ailing grandmother.

Just when you think you know what’s going on, something else falls out of the sky. Do yourself a favor – never read the book blurbs. Just plunge in and enjoy the ride, especially on this great novel. It addresses family, issues of race and the South, and just felt especially relevant right now. But not without Jackson’s signature fun style and humor. She reminds me a little of a racier Jenny B. Jones.

As of today (1/11/18), this book is still on sale for $1.99 for Kindle. Such a great deal and well worth it!

The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown – I love and am always inspired by Brown’s work in vulnerability and shame. Given my attitude the last week, I probably need to pick this up and read it again. One by one, Brown outlines the characteristics of a Wholehearted life that she’s found through much research and study. It was a quicker read for me than Daring Greatly (review here), but that might be because I was dashing to finish it for a book club.

Renegades by Marissa Meyer – I initially rated this five stars, but I’ve backed down to a four, mostly because it’s not as memorable to be as I would like a 5-star book to be. I love Marissa Meyer, and her writing gets me every time. This was fast-paced and fun, a world she built where Superheroes are the government and Nova is part of a villain league. Haunted by her past, Nova will do anything to get revenge … including infiltrating the enemy. This is the first in a two-book series, and I desperately want to know what happens! But I guess I’ll have to wait another year.

All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater – Stiefvater is another author I love, and I was so excited to read this new book from her. When I tried to read it in hardcover, though, it felt off to me. I lost interest and returned it to the library without getting past page 75. But a friend in a book group suggested it on audio, and I was delighted to find it available on Hoopla, which is my favorite app for audiobooks. (My library subscribes to it, so it’s free!) The book takes place among a Mexican family living in Colorado, so the narrator’s Spanish accent and pronunciation of the names and places was helpful for me. (I didn’t have to think so hard every time I came across the name Joaquin.) And although the story has a lot of set up, once it’s there it really gains interest. I didn’t adore it like I did The Raven Boys (review here), but it was a good listen if you’re looking for an audiobook.

December

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman – Here’s the thing about this book. It’s very well-written, and the setting (Australia post World War I) was very interesting. But I would not recommend it to anyone unless they especially enjoy having their heart wrenched and dragged through the dirt. I don’t sob at many books, but I certainly did – more than once – at this one. And I felt like the book was written explicitly to destroy the reader’s emotions. (Kinda like This Is Us?)

All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren – I’d been working on this Pulitzer Prize-winner since late October, and finally finished near the beginning of December. I found it to be very intriguing, quite different from any other classics I’ve read. I know nothing about Huey Long, the governor of Louisiana the political figure in this book is modeled after; heck, I know basically nothing about politics.

They study this book in AP English at the school where we live, so I expect to have many interesting conversations about it with the students and faculty!

Ginny Moon by Benjamin Ludwig – Ludwig’s debut novel could be called The Curious Case of Why Ginny Wants to Get Back to Her Birth Mother. Ginny is an autistic 13-year-old, living with her third set of “Forever Parents” but obsessed with getting back to her birth mother, even five years after she was removed from her. Her concern for her Baby Doll, left behind, baffles all of the adults around her. I felt like Ludwig did an excellent job helping us delve into the mind of Ginny and how she functioned. For me, a major Highly Sensitive Peron, I got very nervous about the book, though. There is high potential for super-sad disaster, and after reading The Light Between Oceans I was a little scared to keep reading. It made me nervous right up to the end, but I won’t forget Ginny soon. I listened to this on audio, and the narrator did an excellent job with it, too.

A Redbird Christmas by Fannie Flagg – Often at Christmas, I just want to read something light and Christmasy, and this definitely fit the bill. It’s kind of cheesy and predictable and absolutely lovely. Really a fun read and just what I needed after All the King’s Men.

I spent the rest of December re-reading Winter Solstice by Rosamunde Pilcher, and loved it all over again! (Review here.)

That’s more books than I thought I read! The two audiobooks certainly helped. What did you read over Christmas?

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

My Favorite Books of 2015

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I’ve had an interesting year in books. I read a lot I didn’t love; I abandoned quite a few books (four I can think of just in November and December!). Because of my “book club” with my best friend, I read more classics than I’ve read since college. I read a lot of books by authors I love. I read fantasy for pretty much the first time. I read the whole Bible.

Obviously the Bible doesn’t qualify for this list, because … it’s the Bible. I am so glad I finally read it cover to cover, but I can’t compare it to other books!

Here are the books I really loved reading in 2015.

Favorite Nonfiction of 2015

Nonfiction

  • Being Mortal by Atul Gawande – Probably my very favorite book of 2015. I read Gawande’s book Better years ago when it was released, and remembered him as an exquisite writer. I was not disappointed by Being Mortal. So well-researched, interesting, and important.  (Full review.)
  • It Was Me All Along by Andie Mitchell – Food blogger Mitchell chronicles growing up with food issues, quirky parents, and finding her way to a reasonable relationship with food. This book hit home for me, and I love Mitchell’s authentic voice (here and on her blog). (Full review.)
  • Daring Greatly by Brene Brown – When this book wasn’t making me have a mental breakdown, I enjoyed reading it. In any way, I found it striking and well worth the read. (Full review.)
  • Atlas Girl by Emily Wierenga – Wierenga’s narrative of her young-adult life is rife with grief, caretaking, and eating disorders. Through all this, her faith struggle is relatable and poignant. (Full review.)
  • Real Church by Larry Crabb – At a time when we were really struggling with decisions about our church home, Crabb helped me through my emotions about church and ideals. I put this book into our interim pastor’s hand and although I don’t totally agree with it, I think it could be recommended reading for every Christian. (Full review.)
  • Honorable mentions: Anchored by Kayla Aimee, A Grief Observed by CS Lewis, When Did I Get Like This? by Amy Wilson

Favorite Fiction of 2015

Fiction

  • Winter by Marissa Meyer – I was so happy with this conclusion to the Lunar Chronicles. Meyer is brilliant, and I will read anything else she writes. (Full review.)
  • Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour by Morgan Matson – This was my 2015 feel-good but not in an overly sappy way YA book. Matson could have made this really cliché and awful, but the book reads so well and I was invested in the characters. A great winter break read if you’re looking for one still (and even better for summer reading – I think it was on the Modern Mrs. Darcy summer reading guide for 2015). (Full review.)
  • Lizzy & Jane by Katherine Reay – I rated Dear Mr. Knightley higher on GoodReads at the time (I read these almost one after another), but Lizzy & Jane is the book I find myself recommending and recalling often. I love that it’s a sister story with strained relationships that they really try to conquer for the sake of family. I loved the food, too, of course, which is probably what put this one over the edge for me! I cannot resist reading about yummy food. (Full review.)
  • Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier – I was captivated by this story, especially in the second half, and understand why it’s such an enduring tale. (Full review.)
  • Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese – I’d seen this book on many must-read lists, but didn’t tackle it until this year. It’s definitely worth the time investment: a chronicle of the life of twins Marion and Shiva, as they grow up without parents in a hospital in Ethiopia. (Full review.)
  • Honorable mentions: All the classics I read this year (The Woman in White, Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Cold Comfort Farm, Wives and Daughters), plus The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate diCamillo, The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater, and We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas.

So what were some of your favorite reads of the year?

Your Art Is Not You.

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The Art of Daring

I am reading the book Daring Greatly by Brené Brown, and I read this passage tonight. It’s kind of long, but please read the whole thing here.

You’ve designed a product or written an article or created a piece of art that you want to share with a group of friends. Sharing something that you’ve created is a vulnerable but essential part of engaged and Wholehearted living. It’s the epitome of daring greatly. But because of how you were raised or how you approach the world, you’ve knowingly or unknowingly attached your self-worth to how your product or art is received. In simple terms, if they love it, you’re worthy; if they don’t, you’re worthless.

One of two things happens at this point in the process:

1. Once you realize that your self-worth is hitched to what you’ve produced or created, it’s unlikely that you’ll share it, or if you do, you’ll strip away a layer or two of the juiciest creativity and innovation to make the revealing less risky. There’s too much on the line to just put your wildest creations out there.

2. If you do share it in its most creative form and the reception doesn’t meet your expectations, you’re crushed. Your offering is no good and you’re no good. The chances of soliciting feedback, reengaging, and going back to the drawing board are slim. You shut down. Shame tells you that you shouldn’t have even tried. Shame tells you that you’re not good enough and you should have known better.

If you’re wondering what happens if you attach your self-worth to your art or your product and people love it, let me answer that from personal and professional experience. You’re in even deeper trouble.

 

Whoah, did this ever hit home for me.

Want to hear something that qualifies as very vulnerable for me? I’ve sold a grand total of 7 copies of my devotional, Parenting Parables.

Is it maybe because I gave it away to all my friends? Perhaps.

But you know what? I’m OK with it. If I had published the devotional on my 30th birthday, as I had planned, and it had only sold a handful-and-a-half of copies, I would have been up there in #2. I would have been CRUSHED.

Am I still, a little? Maybe. But my okay-ness with the situation shows me how I’ve changed in the last three years. God has worked on my heart so much during this time. I poured my heart into this devotional. But I was able to offer it to Him, not anyone else. It’s my sacrifice of praise. It was something I felt like He called me to do, and I did it.

Maybe it will really touch one of those seven people. Maybe it won’t.

But it has no effect on my being Enough. I am Enough because God says so. Not because of my Art. Not because of anything I do. Not because I read my Bible or brush my teeth or teach Sunday School or wear the right jeans.

I am Enough because He lives in me. And oh, the feeling of knowing that – the fact that nothing I could do would make me any more in His sight – it is warmth. Comfort. Cry-worthy.

So I’m baring myself again, telling you the truth, and hoping that you know: you are Enough. You, who write a blog that you think no one reads. You, who paint what no one sees. You, who want to be on the stage. Every one of you. Enough.