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. 

Books We Both Love

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This week on the What Should I Read Next? podcast, Anne talked to a couple who wanted to read some books together and talk about them. It was a fun listen. And it made me think about those books that my husband and I have both loved.

I honestly never thought there would be books that Mr. V and I would have in common 10 or 15 years ago. (We started dating 15 years ago this fall! Holy moly!) Mr. V loves science fiction and fantasy. I used to read a lot more Christian fiction and chick lit, with a lot of memoirs and some contemporary fiction bestsellers thrown in. This is not to mention that Mr. V is a mathematician with science interests, and I was an English major with a travel bug.

But as we’ve aged, we’ve both broadened our horizons a little bit. I am no longer scared by scifi. We both read a thriller here and there. And if a book gets great buzz, no matter what it is, one of us will probably try reading it.

Here are some of the books that have hit the sweet spot as ones we both loved.

The Martian

The Martian by Andy Weir – I was a little more lost at some points than Mr. V (lots of math and science and botany …), but the overall story was so well-told that I could get over the science and love Mark’s tale about being the lone man left on Mars.

Wool by Hugh Howey

Wool by Hugh Howey – I probably never would have picked up this self-published, post-apocalyptic book; but Mr. V urged me to read just the first part (I think it’s only about 30 pages) and see if my mind wasn’t blown. It was. Here, a generation has grown up inside a silo, and people are sent outside only as the ultimate punishment. But things start to go bad … and the people of the silo have to decide how to continue on. Note: I did find that the second book in the trilogy, Shift, was a little too much for me, and I didn’t read the third, Dust. Mr. V did, and he liked them, but not as much as Wool. 


Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel – Mr. V read this closer to when it first came out in 2014; I just read it this June. My immediate reaction was to scold Mr. V for not making me read it IMMEDIATELY after he was finished. He told me it was good, but obviously didn’t tell me I would love it. Another post-apocalyptic story with vivid characters and several interesting plot lines. It will definitely be in my top books I read in 2016!


The Passage by Justin Cronin – Mr. V always says that the school librarian at the time pressed this book on him, telling him it was about “vampires, but not teenage vampires kissing.” I think it’s a pretty apt description. Really, The Passage is more about a science experiment gone wrong, and the humans struggling to survive in the aftermath. We both adored this gargantuan novel, although I was glad Mr. V warned me there was a short section about 150 pages in that would get a little boring, but the facts were necessary. If you can get through it, the rest is absolutely riveting.

[You can see the theme here. I read the books Mr. V tells me to. I have rarely read anything first and made him read it. See: exception below.]

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell – The Sparrow is one of the books I’m always recommending to people, because I think its themes of religion, sexuality, and language are so interesting set in this sci-fi story about interplanetary travel. I nagged Mr. V until he read it, too – probably the only time ever I’ve read a sci-fi book before him. He enjoyed it and went on to read the sequel, which I actually have not read.

Some other books we’ve both read and enjoyed:

How about you? Do you and your partner share any books? 

What I Read: May 2016 (Three New Releases)

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For some reason, May is usually a month where I read a ton. Well, this year that wasn’t so. Mostly because I am just slogging through Vanity Fair, which is 750 pages long and just not a quick read. I will conquer it! Here are the books I gave myself “VF Breaks” with this month.

I read three very new books (all of which were on my Spring Reading List).



The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater – I have some very mixed feelings about this final installment in the Raven Cycle books. I adore Maggie Stiefvater, and I had looked forward to reading this book for an entire year, after I finished the other three in rapid succession. I wonder if part of the issue was that it had just been too long since I read the others; I could have used a good reread to get me ready for this one, but I didn’t do that. (Too many new books! So little time!)

Much of this was so well-thought-out and interesting, but for me the issues with the “bad guys” fell very flat, and I just didn’t love the ending or what should have been the climax of the romantic tension of four books. (Trying not to spoil here! If you want to chat more about this one, I would love it. Email me or send me a Facebook message.) So in all, for me it was a solid 3-star book, but I didn’t LOOOOVE it like I’d hoped I would.


This Is Where the World Ends by Amy Zhang – Unfortunately, this was another book I’d hoped to love but really didn’t. I appreciate Zhang continues to tackle hard subjects about growing up, as she did in Falling into Place (my review here). Where the World Ends just didn’t connect with me quite in the same way. In it, we are presented with the alternating viewpoints (and also the present vs. the past narrative) of Micah and Janie, one-time next-door neighbors and friends who pretend their friendship doesn’t exist at school. Micah is trying to unroll the tragedy that’s blocked out parts of his memory – and meanwhile we hear the story that led up to it from Janie’s point-of-view and journal entries.


The Forgetting Time by Sharon Guskin – After hearing this book so highly praised by Amy from Mom Advice and Jessica Turner, I was really excited to jump into The Forgetting Time, Guskin’s debut novel. It is absolutely a page-turner — the first book in months I’ve read waiting for my daughter’s bus instead of listening to a podcast, because I COULD NOT PUT IT DOWN. I definitely read it all in under 24 hours. Reflecting back, I felt like there wasn’t a ton of character development, but that’s not really the point of the book. The unique subject matter of past lives and the way the story is unveiled makes for a great, quick read.


Just Between You and Me by Jenny B. Jones – This is Jenny B. Jones’s only adult novel, and I finally asked my library to order it just so I could read it (and many others could enjoy it, too!). It was published in 2009, and I still remember my friend Mary’s rave review about it. And how could I not love something Jenny wrote? Everything I said about I’ll Be Yours last month pretty much applies here: Jenny writes gorgeous romance with real, solid, complex characters with issues other than the romantic plot. Our main character, Maggie, has returned to her hometown to help her dad with her niece, whose mom is nowhere to be found. While on this “sabbatical,” Maggie is faced with her feelings about family, God, her mother’s death, and old acquaintances from high school who know her as someone completely different. Another one I read in just a few hours, cover to cover.

In the last two months, I’ve also read the first three Harry Potter books (for the billionth or at least fifth time), and I’m excited my awesome friend Jessica at Quirky Bookworm is doing a #harrypotterthon2016 – a read-a-thon on a two month place for all the HP books, so I can fangirl along with friends.

So yep. All that and a lot of Vanity Fair. What have you been reading lately?

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

What I Read: February 2016

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Just four books in this short month (how did I do 10 last month? No clue!). Jane Eyre is pretty dense, though, so we’ll chalk it up to the classic.


The Martian by Andy Weir – You’ve probably already read The Martian, but I hadn’t until recently, even though it’s a book my husband loved and devoured. I rated it four stars on GoodReads, but for me it might be closer to a three star … but I was afraid Mr. V would come after me with a steak knife. (Not really. I promise.)

It’s a very well-written and researched book, exploring the what if of an astronaut stuck on Mars by himself. Is it possible he could survive? Obviously written by someone who understands science, Weir presents evidence that it’s possible and gives us an entertaining main character in Mark. Many reviews say there is a lack of character development, but I thought Mark was interesting and hilarious, while maybe a little shallow. My biggest surprise was that this book is really very funny. For me, it was hard to get through all the scientific explanations and potato planting – science was never my subject. But altogether, I am glad I finally dove in and read this book.


The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton – I’ve heard a lot of buzz about Kate Morton’s newest novel, The Lake House, but I’d never read anything by her. In The Secret Keeper, Morton unravels a family mystery in rural England, flashing back and forth between the present-day and World War II. Laurel returns home as her mother’s health declines, and she wants to know the truth about a traumatic childhood incident that changed her. Slowly and surely, she finds bits and pieces of evidence – and meanwhile, we find out the whole story through her mother’s point-of-view. It’s a pageturner, well-written with great characters, and now I will definitely track down some of Morton’s other books to dig into.


Stars Above by Marissa Meyer – I’m sure most of you are well aware of my obsession with the Lunar Chronicles by Meyer by now. They are so very good, and the last book in the series came out in November. But here, Meyer continued to delight her readers with a short story collection detailing some of the characters’ back stories and even a future event.

Short stories are never going to be my thing; I love the depth of novels. But since we already knew these characters, it worked. It was like a DVD Easter egg finding out bits and pieces about my beloved “friends.” I wouldn’t buy this one, but if you’ve read the Lunar Chronicles definitely check it out from the library.


Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte – Jane Eyre is a book I should have read in college; it was definitely assigned in my intro class for my English major, and I equally definitely only read a few bits and pieces from it. (Sorry, Dr. Hewett-Smith and my parents.) I tried to read everything in school, I swear, but there was a TON of reading to do!

Reading Jane Eyre made me almost wish I were back in school and could write an essay about it; I think I would explore the image of angels throughout the novels, or maybe the two families Jane finds herself as a part of. It’s a complex book with an intriguing female character; unlike some of the other heroines I’ve read about in 19th-century literature, Jane speaks her mind, has opinions, and follows through on her beliefs, even when it’s difficult. She isn’t just there to see how men react to her. Her first-person narration is believable and detailed without losing the reader.

I’m glad I read Jane Eyre, finally. I’m really glad I don’t have to write any more English essays.


That’s what I read in February. How about you?

Added to Quick Lit at Modern Mrs. Darcy

What I Read in January 2016

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Please take a deep breath and proceed with caution. I’m going to be as brief as I can about the TEN books I read in January. Hellooooo, winter hibernation!


The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo – I’m about a year behind on this book, but got it from the library Overdrive just in time for the new year. While Kondo is wayyyy woo-woo for even me (I’m fairly certain my possessions don’t think or need thanked), the basics are excellent and I’m starting to put them into practice.


Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen – This is the prequel to First Frost. I should have read it first, but I didn’t. That doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it, though. We were just back from Christmas travel, and I read this in one day, tired but happy to be back in the land of the Waverly family. Magical realism is one of my favorite genres, and Allen does it perfectly.


The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater – While I continue to eagerly anticipate the final book in Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle series (April! The anguish!), I am pretty much plowing through everything else she’s written. Which is a lot, considering she is just my age.

The Scorpio Races is a stand-alone fantasy work published in 2012. On the Island of Thisby (in the UK), Puck Connolly fights for the family she has left in the only way she can think of: racing in the legendary Scorpio Races. Did I mention that this island is known for having carnivorous water horses wash ashore every fall? That the people then try to tame enough to race?

Sean Kendrick, meanwhile, has won the last three races with his capall uisce (water horse), Corr. Only it’s not his horse; it belongs to the farm where he’s all but enslaved due to his orphan status. He longs of freedom from it and the owner’s son, the aptly nicknamed Mutt.

I found Stiefvater’s voice just as intriguing as in the Raven Cycle books. Here again, she takes a legend and runs with it and makes it her own. I did feel like the first half of the book dragged a little and I wasn’t as invested in it. Really, I wanted the romance, which she writes so wonderfully. This book is chaste, yet the electricity between Puck and Sean is kind of amazing.

So in all, I really liked but didn’t love it. Still, I will read anything Stiefvater has written. Even if it’s way outside what I normally read. Because she is awesome.


Choose Joy by Sara Frankl and Mary Carver – While I didn’t “know” Sara Frankl while she was alive, I certainly had heard of her and her struggles through (in)courage and some friends. I was so thankful to finally read her words, put together my her (and my) friend, Mary Carver. Choose Joy is a compilation of Sara’s blogging interspersed with explanation from Mary. Over the course of her chronic pain and debilitating illness, Sara kept her eyes on God. I think Sara understood God more than most, drawing near to Him in and through her pain.

Her words gave me much to dwell on in my own faith-journey, and I am sure I will come back to them often. Choose Joy was a beautiful, quick read that I won’t be quick to forget. (This book was sent to me by the publisher.)


Shadows of the Hidden by Anne Riley – I think after the heavy of Choose Joy, I needed something lighter. I dug into Shadows of the Hidden quickly. At first I was sure I was going to abandon it, but (as another Amazon reviewer said) “it sneaks up on you.” I am just not a big fantasy reader, and the framework for this novel was a little creepy and weird. But as you get to know the main character, Natalie, and the quirky Liam, the novel becomes quickly engrossing. It was a big change from my norm, and a fun YA read.


The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith – Based on the two books of Smith’s I’ve read, I will say her books are kind of like watching a chick flick. They read very quickly – for me, one or two sittings. There’s romance. They are fun. Nothing deep or sticking, but entertaining. In this one, two teens connect why flying from the U.S. to England for various endeavors.


The Beggar King and the Secret of Happiness by Joel ben Izzy – Recounting a trying time in his life, professional storyteller ben Izzy parallels his story to some of the tales he’s told or heard. The short autobiography is a reflection on learning about one’s own story, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. This has been on my physical bookshelf for years; I am hitting myself for not reading it until now.


The Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian – I have to preface this by saying that I adore Chris Bohjalian. He is not afraid to tackle any tough subject. He interacts with his readers on Twitter and Instagram, consistently and kindly. But man, his books are a wild ride. This one approaches the topic of sex slavery: a wealthy man throws a bachelor’s party for his brother, and everything goes wrong. This book should have a warning label for graphic sexual scenes and language. But the story itself, told alternately from the best man and one of the sex slaves, is solid and horrifying. It’s not a beach read. It will make you think. It will make you shudder. I recommend considering your emotional state before you read this (or any) Bohjalian novel. (I still have nightmares about The Night Strangers.)


Columbine by Dave Cullen – As I look at this and The Guest Room, it’s becoming fairly apparent why my depression has been slightly out-of-control the last couple weeks. I think I am pretty affected by what I read. Only happy books for awhile!

Columbine is Cullen’s 2009 work detailing how things really happened before and after the 1999 school shooting that left 13 dead in Colorado. Going back and forth between the years leading up to the massacre and the aftermath of the investigations, lawsuits, and healing, Cullen reveals police cover-ups, journalism missteps, and how the public clung to what they wanted to. He unveils the journals and videos left behind by the shooters, showing how they didn’t snap, but planned this for over a year, with their real plan being a much larger-scale killing.

Laura recommended this on the Sorta Awesome podcast. I probably never would have read it otherwise. But I was a 16-year-old junior in high school when this happened, and so I was very affected by the situation and its aftermath. I prayed and I read She Said Yes and I was scared to go to my school. So to read this truth was very difficult but also fascinating.


Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon – In Yoon’s debut novel, protagonist Madeline lives in a bubble. Her house is air-locked, anyone who comes in has to go through decontamination, and she takes all her classes online through Skype. Diagnosed with a disease that means she’s allergic to everything, she hasn’t left home since she was a baby. Newly 18, Madeline is mostly content. But then Olly moves in next door. They develop a strange friendship, and suddenly Madeline wants everything she can’t have. This is a really sweet, shocking, and wild story, very reminiscent of The Fault in Our Stars. The best part is the illustrations, charts, “Spoiler Book Reviews,” definitions, and other creative illustrations throughout the book, contributed by David Yoon, Nicola’s husband.

I just listened to Nicola Yoon interviewed on the First Draft podcast, and it was really interesting, whether you’ve read the book or not. Yoon talks about her background in finance, her Jamaican childhood, and being a voracious reader.

So what did you read in January? Do you cozy up and devour books in the winter, like I do?

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