My Top 12 books include memoir, a literary thriller, middle grade, historical fiction, and even a graphic comic book (an unusual choice for me). Interestingly, only two of the twelve books were written by men.
My 2018 reading goal was 50. I made it to 40. Of the 40 books, nine were written by men, thirty-one by females. (What does this mean and does it matter? Do I need to diversify?) I keep track on Goodreads, which is super fun and a way to stay organized if you like that sort of thing. So here you go, my TOP 12:
Always looking for book recommendations so tell me your 2018 favorites! And do you have any 2019 goals? I’m determined to read more!
Here are some beloved items you may consider for the Christmas season:
For the convenient, cool and earth-friendly:
Bamboo Travel Utensils – To-Go Ware Utensil Set with Carrying Case. Yep! This is the gift I’m MOST EXCITED about giving this year! When I saw these bamboo utensils in their cute carrying case hanging off a colleagues backpack (thank you, Lynn!) I knew the perfect person to give them to: my earth-conscious missionary daughter who doesn’t need “stuff.” THESE. I want a set for the whole family (suggestion met with blank looks). What’s the big deal, you ask? LESS PLASTIC. Everywhere you go, you can whip out your bamboo utensils instead of using plastic disposable utensils that are cluttering up the oceans and forests and killing our cod. Just recently, missionary Cope-headed-toTaiwn asked me to send some chopsticks. This set COMES WITH CHOPSTICKS. I cannot get over the cleverness. (My son demonstrated what this might look like at the lunch table were he to pull out his bamboo fork. Obviously only the mature can handle the cleverness.)
Silpat Baking Mat: Thank you, Glenn and Kim! I adore these baking mats because: no more pan scrubbing!
For your HEALTH:
Garmin Forerunner Watch: It’s not inexpensive, but on the other hand, a total bargain. One of the best things I own. No matter where you walk or run, this watch tracks total time run, pace, mile splits, and heart rate. It’s a huge bargain if you look at it from a health perspective. Look for sales at Groupon.com, Amazon, and Garmin.com.
I have a lot of favorite “things” (like pens and paper!) but these are just a couple I’ve recently thought of. My kids have been doing a lot of “no-sugar” challenges and so for stockings, Santa and I are collaborating on Lara Bars (3-5 natural ingredients), nuts, seeds, paleo-friendly beef sticks, gum, dark(er) chocolate, and perhaps some Seed and Sky earrings.
And now for BOOKS! You can find past book recommendations HERE, but below are the ones I’m especially fond of for Christmas.
My daughter writes home about the great JOY she is finding in serving others. She left most of her world behind. I’ve been contemplating that idea and how freeing and appealing it sounds. I would like to follow that example of JOY and SERVICE this month. I know what our family needs most is not more stuff. So I’m looking for those moments of when we can do a little good and feel a little better (and yes, part of that can most definitely include presents!)
P.S. If you’d like to write Sister Cope Makechnie (Mǎ Jiěmeì) for Christmas, she can get email and mail:
If you want to send a real letter, she will be at the missionary training center ONLY until the end of December: Sister Cope Makechnie JAN01 TAIW-TCG 2005 N 900 E Unit 88 Provo UT 84602
I’m taking a 7-day social media hiatus which is really nothing, but in one day I could feel the difference: greater peace and time. I found myself putting the phone down instead of feeling bored and scrolling. It’s been a tumultuous and upsetting news cycle (what else is new?) and I need to find the good – which is not out “there.” It’s right here at home, making eye contact with my children, having a daily conversation with my husband, and pondering deeper scriptural texts. This Saturday and Sunday we are immersing in two full days of General Conference. This event ALWAYS makes me so HAPPY.
Himalayan Salt Deodorant. Okay, this sounds strange – it’s JUST SALT! But I have this thing about putting chemicals straight into my pores after showering and shaving, and salt just feels so…natural. It works quite well! I picked it for cheap (just a few dollars) at a boutique, but I’ve seen them all over the web.
Alert Caffeine Gum as a running aid. Let me clarify: ONLY AS A RUNNING AID. I’m a little neurotic about not getting addicted to substances, and so I don’t allow myself to chew this piece of 40mg of caffeinated gum (a small cup of coffee has about 60mg of caffeine) except for early morning runs. Way easier and better than gels and GUs and Shot Blocks that have all that other sugary junk in it. It makes me feel motivated, helping me run faster and farther. You can buy 100mg/caffeine gum, but that’s “military grade,” and again, we don’t need any more addictions! Tired in the afternoon? May I suggest a 10-minute nap?
When Cope found it in my drawer she gasped and said, “Mom! WHAT IS THIS? I feel like I’ve discovered steroids in the house.”
RX and Lara Bars. 3-5 ingredients in them and that’s it! (The carrot cake bar above has 9 ingredients but all are “natural” and words I can pronounce.)
Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan. Cope raced through the whole trilogy. I’m all set after Book #1. It was entertaining, and I adore reading of other cultures and languages, but I thought the book too long and lacking in substance (which might be just the thing you’re looking for!)
My friend Kate brought us the most beautiful bouquet of flowers “just because.” Patty sent my daughter a bouquet of flowers when she got her mission call Taiwan. Such a small – but big – gesture that makes me happy every time I enter the house. Happiness tip: Send the Flowers!
Two of my girls are using matching planners from BAM, because, like their mother, they cannot survive life for one day without a physical, hand-written calendar (Google calendar is great for sharing schedules, but I also gotta write!) It makes me a bit giddy to see them planning and organizing their lives. Check.
Also: these pens with the planner. Goodness, I love them.
Wasn’t I going to post books more often? Well, here you go – 8 books I read this summer and into fall as I try to hit 50 reads for the Goodreads Reading Challenge (I’ve always loved reading challenges 🙂 )
Love and Ruin by Paula McClain: Historical fiction. McClain (The Paris Wife) writes the story of Martha Gellhorn and her infamous relationship with Ernest Hemingway. Gellhorn was one of the first and most well-known female war correspondents. RESPECT.
Where There’s Hope by Elizabeth Smart: Nonfiction, adult. I took notes upon notes reading this book. We know Smart’s kidnapping story, but here she offers more: hope moving forward. I’ve become a huge fan of this woman, watching her take control of her life and empowering women of every age. One of the most powerful stories is her father bringing Elizabeth and her little sister into his study to practice, “screaming” after a woman cornered Elizabeth in the bathroom at church (after she was returned from the kidnapping she still didn’t know how to fight back!) Elizabeth froze, not knowing what to do or react. It’s wonderful to be polite and have manners when the occasion calls for it – but do our children (esp our girls!?) know how and when to scream and bite and kick when needed? Really great book.
Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine: Middle grade, fiction. Take it from Paige: the movie does not do this book justice! Read the book! My girls read it over and over and over, especially when they need to curl up with an old favorite. I loved it, too.
Where the Watermelons Grow by Cindy Baldwin: Middle grade, fiction. Baldwin makes a lovely debut with her middle grade read about Della, the ups and downs of family and farm life, and a mother’s mental illness. Really well done! Just thinking about this book makes my mouth water and my body break out into the damp sweat of summer (that’s a compliment – Cindy brings great voice and language to this story.)
Calypso by David Sedaris: Memoir, adult. I’ve never read memoirist Sedaris before. He’s really funny, even when writing about family tragedy. He’s also extremely irreverent. Geez. You read a sentence and think did he really just write THAT? But no doubt, I get what all the fuss is about. He’s a great writer and I want to learn from him.
Dear Martin by Nic Stone Young Adult, fiction. This was my freshman daughter’s summer reading. She read it fast and said, “you should read this.” I casually picked it up and couldn’t put it back down. Real, sad, important. Justyce, a young black scholar is trying to balance two worlds – his old neighborhood and an elite prep school. It’s present-day, but he writes letters to the great Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, trying to figure out his place in a racist America. Head’s up: language.
I ADORE a complex medical dilemma coupled with lots of family drama. And Genova is an actual neuroscientist – as well as a superb writer. Richard, the main character, is a brilliant and world-renowned pianist. He’s also a terrible family man. So what happens when you suddenly start noticing a funny weakness in your hand and are diagnosed with ALS? It’s the family who steps up. This hit very close to home as I lost a dear friend to this horrible disease. For me, an informative tear-jerker.
What do you know? Carrie Rubin is also a doctor in real life, and a superb writer. THE BONE CURSE is book #1 in an exciting new series: a medical thriller with a supernatural element! I also kindof know Carrie through the internet and it’s always so thrilling to see your writer friends pave the way and do it SO WELL! Great job, Carrie.
Oooh…this one was kindof a guilty pleasure (in the tamest of ways!) The moral of this story is: it’s time get stone-cold sober. At least for Cassandra Bowden, who woke up next to a dead man. Did she do it? SHE CAN’T REMEMBER! She really doesn’t think she has it in her, but…SHE CAN’T REMEMBER! After flying through this book (ha), I said to self: GO FIND ALL THE BOHJILIAN BOOKS NOW.
This book is getting all the rave reviews for good reason. I LOVED it. I could not put it down. In the same vein as THE GLASS CASTLE: a family, a brilliant but mentally ill father, a child with no formal schooling who is schooled in survival and using her own smarts. After listening to the audiobook, my dad commented, “I knew a few people like that in Idaho.” Wide eyes.
After reading EDUCATED, I must have been on a survivalist kick, which is what Hannah’s written. The setting is the wild, beautiful, and dangerous Alaska. I enjoyed this book, but the mother’s horrible enabling DROVE ME CRAZY the entire book. Obviously I lack empathy. Or something.
This book is pretty astounding in its writing and its research. Bohjalian is really really good. I have so much more respect for what midwives do – and what they risk. A medical thriller with lots of family drama and ethical questions that are terribly hard to answer – right up my ally! A GREAT READ. Jodi Picoult fans will love Bohjalian (but you probably already knew that.) Also, he’s lives in Vermont! Think he’d mind if I knocked on his door?
YAY FOR DEBUT AUTHORS! I’ve known Melissa for years. How fun it was to both have debut books in June. This was a very sweet, yet realistic look at child homelessness. Sad, but hopeful. I loved all of the images of trees, throughout. Themes of hardship, sisterhood, and home run through this novel. Melissa has more books on the way and I look forward to more from this huge talent!
This book was not at all what I expected – in a really fun and surprising way! There’s this boy who doesn’t know where he is. What’s his name? Where are all the people? Why won’t his inner bully leave him be? With only one character throughout, Clark does a fantastic job of keeping the reader engaged. It’s somewhat heartbreaking but somewhat not…I don’t know. I’ll be thinking of this book for a long time. “Once upon a time there was a boy…” So good!
Okay, that’s it for me. What’s kept you up at night? Do tell! I love hearing what you’re reading and yes – I’m ready for a new book!
In honor of kids everywhere, I’m back with one of my favorite posts: Real Quotes from Real Kids. They say the best things. I give them credit for every funny thing you think I’ve ever said and since it’s Children’s Book Week, it’s only fair to out my darlings as they’ve inspired every book I’ve written and am in the process of writing.
Here are some latest gems:
1. “Mom, I don’t know that I have an hour a week to schedule you in.” (when asked if we could possibly spend some time together.)
2. “I’m NEVER going to dye my hair! (condescending look my way) Anyway, it’s good to look old in my future profession.” (medieval history.) (hmmm…wonder who that was?)
3. “If I ever run an orphanage we’re going to have fun! And I’ll have Daddy cook!”
4. “I’m marking my territory.” (In response to strewing clothes and personal items allllll over the house.)
5. “When I’m at the pinnacle of success, I’m buying myself a Rolex.”
6. “How do you NOT KNOW HOW TO MAKE NACHOS??!!!? It’s a LIFE SKILL!”
7. “WAIT! Don’t leave me at my darkest hour!” (bedtime stalling tactics)
8. “Take the book away! The temptation is just too great!” (more bedtime stalling tactics)
9. “Mommy, (great worried brow) can you get pneumonia from an ice pack?”
10. “Mom. We’re not there yet.” (when asked to reveal love life secrets.)
11. “I loved your book, Mom…I’m just sad I didn’t get my own personal dedication.” (but they did in the acknowledgements!)
The secret to great writing? I think it’s eavesdropping on the children 🙂 Everything is copy.
Books! Podcasts! Shows and Songs! Here’s what I’ve been loving the last three months.
First: BOOKS. Got book goals? I keep track using a notebook (and pink ball point pen) and the Goodreads Reading Challenge. Haven’t signed up? It’s free, easy, and a great way to track books.
Here’s what I’ve read (and liked!) since January:
1. Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes: An inspirational kick-in-the-pants guide to what happens when you say YES to more opportunities. A bold account from a minority woman in show business, self-described introvert, writer (creator of hit shows Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal), and single mother. I went back and forth between, “I need to say yes to more,” and “This is exhausting. Can I have a nap?” But no doubt about it: Shonda Rhimes is a FORCE.
3. IQ by Joe Ide: The lovely literary agent, Zoe Sandler, sent me IQ and the follow-up, RIGHTEOUS, as she also represents Joe Ide. What I liked: A Sherlock Holmes in the hood mystery, and a needed diverse teen figure in literature. What was hard: the language. Like, it ain’t for the faint in heart. I’m kinda faint.
4. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng: This one is getting all the feels, and for good reason. I’m a sucker for a great family drama, and Celeste Ng can articulate the great nuances in family life SO WELL.
6. The Woman in the Window by AJ Finn: As a huge “Rear Window” Hitchcock fan, I dove right into this psychological thriller. Does she see what she thinks she sees – or is Anna crazy? A satisfying page-turner.
7. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion: A stunning, unflinching account of Joan Didion’s husband’s death, daughter’s illness, and navigating the world without them. Sad, but heartbreakingly readable. I loved this.
9. A Deadly Wandering by Matt Richtel: Have a phone? Do your children have phones? Do they drive? Read this RIGHT NOW. So sad, so scary. DON’T TOUCH YOUR PHONE WHILE DRIVING. Your brain cannot pay attention to more than one thing at a time. Think you’re the exception? You’re not.
10. How We Die by Sherwin B. Nuland: Nuland writes that most people don’t die with “dignity.” Calm and descriptive, Dr. Nuland breaks death down from the point of view of the body. Fascinating – and also disconcerting. I kinda thought it wouldn’t happen to me. It will. I’ve been thinking about my coronary arteries a lot more.
11. Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast: I DO NOT enjoy graphic novels. I LOVED this one. NYTimes Bestselling cartoonist, Roz Chast, wrote a memoir about her parents aging and dying (what’s up with my reading choices?). Honest, funny, poignant. It’s so so good. Highly recommended!
12. The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant: I’ve finally read Anita Diamant! All the girls and the cousins and the moms in my family raved about this book until I finally read. A good coming-of-age novel about a Jewish immigrant becoming a woman in 1900 America.
In an attempt to resurrect my foul mood regarding the month of January, let’s reflect on our best friend, BOOKS. Do you keep track of what you read? I wish I’d done it my whole life. It’s fascinating to know what I pick up next and see what kind of trends are trending in my brain…
Of course I have my trusty journal with pink uni-ball pen, but last year I also began keeping track through the Goodreads challenge. My goal was 50 books. I read 33. For 2018, I again put 50 as my goal again because I’m unrealistically optimistic and gosh darn it, there are BOOKS TO READ (and less People.com stories to scroll through. am I right?)
Friend Annie, has an app, and has the ambitious goal of 52 books (one a week!) Do you have a goal?
Let’s get really nerdy for a moment. Of the 33 books I read, here’s a breakdown, with my favorite book for each category (SO HARD to decide!):
Interestingly, of the nine memoir/inspirational reads, only 2 were male authors (Clayton Christenson and Eben Alexander.) Memoir is dominated by female authors, which makes me wonder if men are writing their stories down…
It’s very obvious that I’m drawn to stories with family drama. Favorites will make me laugh AND cry. ALL of the books read this year were realistic fiction or nonfiction. I read no fantasy, speculative, or dystopian. As for my children? Nobody but me and Gregor likes realistic fiction all that much. Does this mean I lack imagination??? But even as a child, I disliked it. Judy Blume couldn’t get write fast enough for me!
I only read one book with one of my children: Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh by Robert C. O’Brien. This makes me kind of sad as daily reading with a child dominated much of my activity in earlier years. I’m determined to find books to read with Brynne and Paige this year (Brynne is reading The Help right now, on my suggestion.)
Since we’re breaking down the entertainment, here were a few other 2017 Favorites:
TV Shows: Mercy Street (LOVE), John Adams, Chicago PD, Blue Bloods, Hart of Dixie (so cheesey, but that Lemon!), The Crown, Poldark, Victoria, This is Us, The Good Doctor, Turn.
Geez, I could get a lot more reading done with all that time the above, ahem…
Movies: Wonder, Darkest Hour, Dunkirk, and The Greatest Showman (although historically suspect, I loved the acting and the music is tremendous!)
Podcasts: Happier with Gretchen Rubin, Helping Writers Become Authors with K.M. Weilland, Modern Love by the New York Times, and the 10-Minute Writer’s Workshop.
Whew! That’s fun. Okay, your turn. What do I have to get to this year???
I am so very very grateful. It’s been a long haul, which I will tell you all about, but for now, let’s just admire the jacket cover art (which I’ve grown to adore.)
That’s Guinevere St. Clair on top of the tractor. Jimmy and Micah are down below wondering what the heck Gwyn is doing. Also: it’s midnight.
I just love these kids (they are very real to me!) and I hope you will love them too.
The book is being released by Simon and Schuster on June 12, 2018, but you can pre-order now and make my day, and when I see you I will give you a big kiss! Or at least a hug. Not your thing? My undying gratitude.
I’ve read that when you ask people to pre-order your book, you should offer them a *Bonus “thank you” gift. Well, here’s what I’ve got: my heart and soul, years of my life, tears, toiling, and my greatest wish – a story that I hope you will never forget 🙂