Fiction I Read in 2017

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Last year I read some real duds when it came to fiction. I'm realizing my taste in fiction most often runs counter to "popular" in a lot of cases. Not always, but you won't find me loving Me Before You or The NightingaleBut this year there were a lot of hits! I'm glad to share them with you.

You already know of my love for Inspector Gamache. We'll start with him:

The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny****
How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny*****
The Long Way Home by Louise Penny***
The Nature of the Beast by Louise Penny*****
The Great Reckoning by Louise Penny*****
Glass Houses by Louise Penny*****

Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry****
Poignant is what comes to mind. I wrote more than one quote from this book. A fast read but thought-provokingly beautiful.

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly****
You know I loved this one. Check it out on audio if you like to listen to your books.

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah**1/2
I barely made it through until the end. It was just blah. Reading it right after Lilac Girls highlighted it's flaws. I felt like modern women were superimposed back into the W.W. II era. I had a hard time caring about the characters because they just didn't feel real. Lilac Girls was like a fine crafted award winning movie and this felt like a Hallmark version.

The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood****
This book got a lot of love and I wasn't so sure about it . . . until the end. Oh, the end! It was superb!

The Dry by Jane Harper****
A gritty Aussie murder mystery.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan****
Delightful on audio! Such a fun romp!

I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh****
Kept me guessing right until the end!

The Bronte Plot by Katherine Reay***
I wanted to like this book more than I did. I loved the literary references. But, it just didn't grab me. The dialogue wasn't very natural and I thought the characters made really big deals about small things which struck me as a plot device to keep it moving.

As a side note, I did love that the character worked for a design firm. It's been a long time since I've heard a reference to "Scalamandre." I used to work in a museum and we used their fabrics all the time. So there were some fun side aspects to the book.

Flight of Dreams by Ariel Lawhon****
It was more the history than the book that I enjoyed about this. It was slow to start but it did grab me in the end. I was captivated by the real people who were on the airship and watched the footage that was captured of it's destruction. It is truly amazing so many people actually survived.

The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson*****
Favorite stand-alone novel of the year! The audio version really was excellent!

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson****
Quirky, funny, and delightful. I'll read any thing Simonson writes!

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen*****
I listened to this like I'd never heard it before. Rosamund Pike was just a terrific narrator bringing out all the drama and comedy. A fun "reread."

Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart***
This was an interesting book, mainly due to the true events described. I looked up with interest the real Constance Kopp, who became the first female deputy sheriff. She defended her home against a man--a wealthy factory owner and his gang--who begins maliciously threatening her sisters by throwing rocks and shooting through their windows. The writing was a bit witty and the history was interesting. 

But something about it didn't quite do it for me. I'm not sure what, but I didn't LOVE it. I probably won't be reading the rest of the series.

What about you? What fiction did you enjoy last year? I'd love to add your recommendation to my ever-growing TBR list.

Me Too

I've known Ashleigh for a long time. She was one of my first "blog friends" back when I got started in this thing called blogging, and we've been able to meet in person twice. She was my editor when I contributed regularly for her website, Ungrind and now she's just published her second book, Braving Sorrow Together: The Transformative Power of Faith and Community When Life is Hard.

To go along with this new release (and it's so good--I'm still in the middle of reading it) Ashleigh is giving away a copy of her Ebook, Me Too: More Stories of Faith, Community, and Braving Sorrow Together to those who subscribe to her mailing list for weekly encouragement.

I was privileged to contribute my own story to this free download. In this companion publication to Ashleigh's new book, you'll discover the power of hope and community in the lives of those of us who've experienced divorce, infertility, caring for a loved one with Alzheimer's, and cancer, among other struggles and difficulties. 

If you or someone who know is experiencing sorrow in their life, I highly recommend Ashleigh's book and this companion Ebook.

As C. S. Lewis wrote, when "grief is great. Let us be good to one another."

Get your copy of Me Too here.

Gracelaced: A Review

Gracelaced Ruth Chou Simons

I was excited to receive an advanced copy of Ruth Chou Simons' book, Gracelaced: Discovering Timeless Truths Through Seasons of the Heart. I eagerly sat down to read the first chapter, "Dwell" and it hit me right where I needed encouragement.

The scripture was from Psalm 91:1-2: 

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
    will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
    my God, in whom I trust.”

In that chapter Ruth asks, "What are the false shelters in your life?"

I immediately knew the one I was struggling with the most.

Over this past summer two of our children were diagnosed with learning disabilities. My emotions have been a mix of grief, relief, disappointment, as well as seeing a new path forward.

But what was also revealed to my heart was that I have a false shelter of education. 

Don't get me wrong, education is important. And I already knew I struggled with this in my own life. I'm aware I have a driving desire for productivity and accomplishment. This propelled me to be on the Dean's List every semester in college, to graduate magna cum laude, to enjoy a job in an academic institution, and to continue my creative pursuits after having children. Nothing is wrong with any of that! But my default is to feel "less than" when I'm not being productive.

I didn't think I'd put this on my kids. But I had. Even if only in my own mind. And this summer definitely revealed that I'd made a false shelter out of academic accomplishment. And it's been a good journey to let that go.

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I interviewed Ruth back in 2015 for my Women Who Create series. You can read that interview here. I have long been a fan of her writing and beautiful art work. So I was super excited to get ahold of an advanced copy to review. 

I wasn't sure exactly what to expect from the book. I knew it would be beautiful, but what would the content hold? I more than pleased to discover it is an exquisite book with 32 short devotional readings arranged by season.

Ruth encourages readers to become deeply rooted in God's faithful promises by:

resting in who He is
rehearsing the truth He says about you
responding in faith to those truths
remembering His provision to sustain you, time and time again

It's definitely a book I'm going to come back to again and again. Because I know my journey in getting rid of false shelters isn't over yet.

Gracedlaced Ruth Chou Simons

BOOK DETAILS

Ruth's book releases September 1, 2017 (this Friday!).

If you are interested, pre-order today and you can register to receive some wonderful pre-order goodies right here.

You can get your copy by going to gracelaced.com/gracelacedbook
Amazon book link http://amzn.to/2mWkp8N
Barnes and Noble: http://bit.ly/2u25odf
ChristianBook.com: http://bit.ly/2v5kH1F
Target: http://bit.ly/2u6wMpW

Ruth Chou Simons is an artist, writer, entrepreneur, and speaker. As creator of the popular GraceLaced online shoppe, blog and Instagram community, she shares scriptural truths daily through her hand painted artwork and words. Ruth and her husband, Troy, live in New Mexico and are grateful parents to six sons- their greatest adventure.

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What I'm Into Right Now (June 2017)

Summer is in full swing around here! The days have been pleasantly warm with not too much heat and humidity so often experienced here on the East Coast. We've been enjoying swimming lessons, playdates, and outdoor movies. Staying up late and lazy mornings are our summer vibe.

What i'm into right now by Danielle Ayers jones

Listening:
I listened to Clare Mackintosh's I Let You Go since my last post. Wow, what a ride--and the end! Totally implausible, but hey, the book was completely suspenseful and entertaining if you like a suspenseful crime thriller.

Otherwise, I'm just keeping up with my podcasts and totally excited for Constitutional to start up. I absolutely loved Presidential. In such a stressful election year it gave me such perspective and hope for the future. Also, it reminded me how far we've come as a nation and that there's certainly been more historically contentious campaigns than we just experienced, like this one. Basically, the podcast is a mini history of America through the lens of the American presidency. Super fascinating to this history buff! So I can't wait until Constitutional begins.

Reading:
I'm reading too many books right now! I finished up The Brontë Plot because I was looking for something fun and breezy, but it was a bit of a let down. I've moved onto the historical fiction tale of the Hidenburg in Flight of Dreams and the biography of Lucy Maud Montgomery: The Gift of Wings. I'm also reading Eighty Days, which is the story of Nellie Bly's race around the world but I'm seriously annoyed by the small font in this book, what was the designer/publisher thinking? Hopefully I can get used to it because I love Nellie Bly!

Watching:
A new season of Grantchester is back on Masterpiece, so you know where I am on Sunday nights! Anyone ever try the books this series is based on?

Eating:
We went to a friend's for dinner and she made these. My kids couldn't get enough of them. And these are kids who usually won't eat potatoes at all! I made this for dessert. Ohmygoodness, creamy summer minty chocolate! And my new summer pasta salad is definitely this tortellini yumminess.

What are you into right now?

What I Read in 2016 (Non-fiction Edition)

I really enjoyed my non-fiction picks this year! So many good ones! I think my highlights were Roots & Sky, A Scandalous Freedom, Be Still My Soul, and Dead Wake.

It wasn't until I was putting this list together, however, that I realized I only read one narrative history the whole year (Dead Wake)! I found this surprising, given how much I love that sort of book. (Think Destiny of the Republic and The Immortal Life of Hennrietta Lacks.) So my non-fiction goal for next year will be to read more narrative history. I already have my first title waiting for me: Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland's History-Making Race Around the World.

But first, what I read last year:

Roots & Sky: A Journey Home in Four Seasons by Christie Purifoy*****
I just loved this book! A full review here.

Made for More: An Invitation to Live in God’s Image by Hannah Anderson****
A thought-provoking book about where we as women find our identity.

Humble Roots: How Humility Grounds and Nourishes the Soul by Hannah Anderson*****
I love that Hannah doesn't give us one more thing "to do." Instead, she reminds us of what we can become in Christ. It really is about identity. Instead of giving us an extra burden of needing to "put on humility" she offers the freedom to let Christ work in us. I wrote a full review over on Goodreads, so check it out!

Christ in the Chaos by Kimm Crandall****
"Jesus is not my example . . . He is my replacement," is one of the many great quotes I highlighted in this book. That said, I couldn't relate with the author constantly beating herself up. And the fact that she struggled in this way simply highlights the need for thinking of ourselves through the lens of the gospel and God's grace, not legalism. This is part of the story she's in process of sharing. I'd just say our starting places are different and I'm coming to this book from a place of already understanding God's grace in my daily life (although not completely or perfectly, of course!) thanks to the awesome teaching I get in my local church.

Show Your Work: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered by Austin Kleon****
A little book packed with inspiration for the creative person!

Wild in the Hollow by Amber Haines****
A beautifully written spiritual memoir.

Deconstructing Penguins: Parents, Kids, and the Bond of Reading by Lawrence Goldstone***
I read this in preparation for our homeschool kids book club this year, but it is great inspiration for reading with and discussing books with your kids.

The Satisfied Heart: 31 Days of Experiencing God's Love by Ruth Myers***** (devotional reread)
Ruth Myers begins the book by sharing how she's grown in the love of God through her life: in losing her husband to cancer on the mission field, single parenting two small children, and remarriage. Through it all, Ruth grows in understanding and resting in God's love. So by the time she gets to the 31 days of devotionals, you feel like you know she's sharing from a deep, well-tested place of faith in Christ. Ruth is a warm and engaging writer. She doesn't just demonstrate head-knowledge of God's love but experience too. And she wants her readers to experience the satisfaction and joy of God's love in their daily lives.

A Scandalous Freedom: The Radical Nature of the Gospel by Steve Brown*****
I highlighted and dogeared this book up! Like this quote: "The only people who get better are people who know that, if they never get better, God will love them anyway. God will not only love you if you don’t get better; he will teach you that getting better isn’t the issue. His love is the issue."

Refreshing, funny, thought-provoking. For the past several years I've been slowly peeling layers of subtle legalism off and gaining a deeper more faith-filled approach to my spiritual life. My pastor referenced this book several times in his sermon series on Grace and it is been a big help in exploring the topic further. 

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson***** (audiobook)
I was enthralled from beginning to end. I loved learning about all the passengers on the ship, Room 40, and all the details of early submarine warfare.

The Lifegiving Home: Creating a Place of Belonging and Becoming by Sally and Sarah Clarkson****
Inspiring book about the culture of home.

Be Still My Soul by Elisabeth Elliot*****
After reading so much contemporary Christian non-fiction Elliot's book felt very fresh. Her writing style is so simple and straight forward yet profound and wise. She is more down-to-earth than I remembered from my teenage days. I highlighted so much to go back and reread and remember. 

A Very Present Help by Amy Carmichael*** (devotional reread)

*This post contains affiliate links.

What I Read in 2016 (Fiction Edition)

Pour yourself something hot and let's talk books. It's that time of year when I do my round up of all the books I've read in the past twelve months. First I'll be sharing my fiction reads and I hope you'll share at least one favorite fiction read with me in the comments section!

The mystery/detective genre takes center stage this year. The Louise Penny series about Inspector Gamache were my favorite books this year. Her ability to probe the complicated motives of the human heart are insightful and dare I say, deep, while weaving a fantastic whodunit. The other winner was Robinson's Lila. I love her writing but I also struggle with it. Lila is my favorite of all her novels. As much as I love historical fiction I didn't find a title I loved this year in that category. I read several but none amazed me. 

What was your favorite fiction in 2016?

The Speckled Band by Arthur Conan Doyle***
My first Sherlock! 

The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny****
A Rule Against Murder by Louise Penny****
The Brutal Telling by Louise Penny****
Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny*****
A Trick of the Light by Louise Penny*****

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie****
Good to the last twist! And the movie was fabulous!

The Truth According to Us by Annie Barrows*** (audiobook)
Having loved The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society I was excited to read Barrow's newest novel. This novel, however, was very different. The details were so convincing I could almost feel myself on Jottie's front porch with the sweltering summer heat with iced tea in hand. Barrows explores the lives of three women: Layla, Jottie, and Willa and their relationship with Felix, a man who controls through manipulation and lies. Barrow's characters and their motives are complex and muli-layered. She explores what forgiveness looks like within a family, between sisters and brothers, father and daughter.

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin*** (audiobook)
I liked this book, then I didn't and almost didn't renew it, then I did like it again. I stalled in the middle, but I'm happy I kept pressing on. In the end I got teary eyed and I loved all the literary references.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee****
I was glad I reread this as an adult. I think it was even more beautiful through my grown-up eyes than when I read it as a young teen. 

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes**
Sorry to the many people who loved this book but I can't see why. It didn't squeeze one bit of emotion from me (which I would have welcomed) and I was so glad when it was done. I thought the writing did not do justice to the topic it tackled (it seemed almost flippant) and the characters didn't resonate with me personally or even seem that real to me. Least favorite book of the year.

The Madwoman Upstairs by Catherine Lowell***
A fun literary romp.

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley***
I didn't love this book. I wanted to. The designer in me adores the cover more than the story. The plot was interesting, but it didn't grab me. I almost didn't feel like finishing it, although I did really want to find out what ACTUALLY did happen on the plane. I think it was the writing itself I didn't love. 

I did appreciate how the author uses the narrative to critique news media/outlets and how our society craves the sensational and often wrecks the lives of people without good reason--just for a juicy story that isn't even true. One of the main characters, Scott, survives the "fall" of the disastrous plane crash and makes it to shore. But can he survive the aftermath? The twisting of the story? The illegal media tactics? I think this is the question "Before the Fall" wants us to grapple with the most. 

Lila by Marilynne Robinson****
This is the first Marilynne Robinson book I've listened to on audio and it definitely helped me get through it. I always struggle with her books. They are so not your typical type of novel. Hardly novels at all, really. The reader was excellent and I have to say I liked this story the best. It had more of a narrative arc than her others, if I can remember correctly. I was really beautiful writing (of course) and I enjoyed finally getting Lila's own thoughts and back story.

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield****
This book reminded me of a darker version of a Kate Morton novel. At first, I wasn't sure if I was going to like it. There's definitely some disturbing material, but thankfully, the author doesn't delve into the gory details. Also, the twin theme was hard for me at times, given that I'm a "twin mom." However, the story kept me riveted and I read it quickly. It has a crazy twist at the end I did not see coming. All in all, it had a satisfying ending.

The Awakening of Miss Prim by Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera***
An interesting book that reminded me of Chocolat in terms of the small town moralistic element. It's definitely a story with a message. Almost a fable? It was unique and delightful and thought-provoking but at times too preachy for me.

Jane of Lantern Hill by L. M. Montgomery****
A reread because I couldn't remember this story and I was craving the comfort of Montgomery's world and words. Never disappoints. 

Green Dolphin Country by Elizabeth Goudge**** 
This book centers around the relationship of two very different sisters and their love for one man and what seems like a chance mistake that changes all their lives. It was rich, deep, and epic. Marianne, who kind of comes across as the main protagonist is smart, determined, brave, manipulative, and selfish. She reminds me a lot of Scarlett O'Hara. Yet she grows, matures, and changes. There are times you definitely don't like her, but in the end I think I was really want her to succeed at life.

My main issue with this book was it was long. It is an epic tome that could hold it's own as a door stopper. I love Elizabeth Goudge (The Little White Horse) but it took me over a year to read. Granted, there were places I majorly stalled and put it down for a month or two. But it really did have just too much detail in some places I felt like were not important to the story. 

*This post contains affiliate links.

Hamilton {for kids}

I have found that my kids' interest often mirror my own. Even if but for a brief period.

So, it shouldn't have surprised me when I started listening to the Broadway blockbuster, Hamilton that they too would find the story interesting.

"Who was Alexander Hamilton?" and "What is dueling?" became some common questions in our house.

But, unless you want to explain to your kids what the Reynolds Pamphlet was all about (ahem) one might want to find a kid-friendlier version of history than the musical--until they're a bit older.

So off to the library I went to check out these wonderful picture books:

Duel! Burr and Hamilton's Deadly War of Words and Aaron and Alexander: The Most Famous Duel in American History. Both books have delightful illustrations and detail the almost ironically parallel lives that Hamilton and Burr lived. Duel! also does a good job of explaining that both men could have made different/better choices than dueling, should they have wished. It wasn't something they had to do. It also gives a short history of dueling in America and talks about other famous Americans who dueled (Andrew Jackson) or almost dueled (Abraham Lincoln).

So if your kids have caught Hamilton fever too, check out these books out!

Note: This post contains affiliate links.

Celebrate Advent with Sacred Holidays

Less chaos, More Jesus. Would that be awesome this Christmas?

I think so. Even as I type this post I'm shocked by the fact that in 18 days, Advent begins.

18 days!?! 

This autumn season is going by like a swish of the leaves.

Every year I like to have some Advent themed book or study to go through. In previous years I read Ann Voskamp's The Greatest Gift and last year I used She Reads Truth's study.

This year I had the joy to participate in writing for Sacred Holidays' Advent study, He Is: The Attributes of God. They have studies designed specifically for women, families, teen girls, and men (I contributed to the family study). Each study focuses on the same attribute each day, allowing friends, co-workers, churches, families, and communities to gather around The One we are celebrating at Christmas--Jesus!

If you are looking for an Advent-specific devotional this year, I recommend previewing these studies over at Sacred Holidays' shop.

And to guarantee the study arrives for Advent, you must order before November17th!

Don't forget to use the promo code WELCOMEBACK to get 10% off your order.

I hope you'll join me in studying God's character this Advent season.

What I'm Into Right Now (October 2016)

I'm excited to share what I've been loving lately. I really have two months of goodness to share, since we skipped September. Hard to believe it was peach season when I last posted what was making me happy. Since then we've picked apples and made sauce, crisps, and cakes. Now that season too, is almost past and I'm celebrating pumpkins!

Listening:

I've been working my way through last year's conference sessions from Allume. I had wanted to attend a writer's conference this year but it did not work out, so I purchased the audio and have been gaining a lot of insight. So far I've enjoyed Brian Dixon's practical session about email list building, Jamie Ivey's podcast session, Kristin Kill's discussion of brand relationships, and Amber Haine's talk on Writing the Invisible.

Along with the rest of the world--or at least the U.S.--I've been swept away by the musical Hamilton. Just wow! It's awesome. I don't think a musical has moved me this much since Les Miserables. It takes a bit to get into the music, at least for me. I'm not hip hop listener in general so it took me a minute to find my bearings, so to speak. It was so unexpected. But I just love that Hamilton makes the Founding Fathers come to life! It so easy to forget how they fought and argued and even hated each other at times. When you read the history books and just get the highlight version of their life of just the positive side it's easy to forget the conflict of personalities and politics that went on. And even more amazing our country has survived when so many fledgling nations don't. 

Watching:

To continue the Hamilton theme Hamilton's America was fabulous! You can stream it live on your mobile devices or cast it onto your TV. Just watch it.

Reading:

I just finished reading Jane of Lantern Hill. I read it when I was a preteen and didn't really remember it at all so I bought it to add to my L. M. Montgomery collection. I literally had been craving Montgomery's writing. I needed some cozy comfort reading as we headed into autumn, and to me, Montgomery, although wonderful anytime, is particularly delightful in autumn. Anyone else feel that way?

We're reading North! Or Be Eaten together as a family and have also just started From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.

I've also started a unique "devotional" book of sorts called At the Still Point: A Literary Guide to Prayer in Ordinary Time. I am really liking it. It is unlike anything I've read before and it suits my personality perfectly. Besides scripture readings, each week there is an opening and closing prayer and then literary readings from poetry and prose. I adored the introduction alone and highlighted it up. Like this quote: "God is at work, not only in overtly spiritual things--devotionals and memoirs, liturgies and hymns--but also in the imaginative lives of God's people, in their subcreative worlds (as J. R. R. Tolkien put it), in their carefully crafted turns of phrase."

Eating:

I made these when we went camping last month. So tasty! And you could grill them or do them over a fire. This One Skillet Sausage and White Bean Gnoochi was a perfect fall meal and I made this Pumpkin Delight to take to a recent large gathering.

Now your turn. What are you into right now? What do you consider "comfort reading"?

A Fresh New Look and a Giveaway!

Hello friends!

It's almost been two months since I've shared in this space and I've missed interacting with you all!

Even though my blog has been quiet, I've been hard at work behind the scenes. For the past year I've had security issues with my website and I decided to switch my platform from Wordpress to Squarespace. It took a lot of work and time, but in the end, I'm glad I did. Once I got over the learning curve, the switch to using Squarespace has been so easy. And I also hope the switch will serve you--my readers--better as well. Thanks for your patience with me as I work through and solve these technical issues.

So, to celebrate a fresh new start, I'm giving away two recently published books!

The first is Roots and Sky: A Journey Home in Four Seasons by Christie Purifoy. I loved her book and reviewed it here if you want to find out more! 

The second book is Humble Roots: How Humility Grounds and Nourishes the Soul by Hannah Anderson. I first was introduced to Hannah's writing when I read, Made For More: An Invitation to Live in God's Image. At their core, both books are actually about finding our identity in Christ. The first books is more about our personhood, this second is about humility, as the title indicates.

Hannah turns to nature as both an illustration and a metaphor to uncover what it means to live humble. She reminds us that "Jesus comes to bring us freedom and rest. But this rest is contingent on something. We must come to Him. We must take His yoke. We must learn of Him."

Hannah explains that Jesus' humility will fundamentally change us. He is not a model for us to live out good behavior in our own strength. He is the very source of our life. Living humble will have an impact in our lives only in so far as we allow Christ to work in our lives. Only then can we experience the real freedom and change that humility brings: freedom from self-condemnation, from having to know it all and instead be willing to learn, and freedom from emotionally manipulating others by letting the Holy Spirit do his work.

The subtitle states that humility "nourishes the soul" and I think Hannah's book does just that. It is rich, thought-provoking, and filled with grace.

Now, how to win these two lovelies?

The giveaway will be happening over on my Instagram account. So, pop over and enter to win!