books

What I’m Into: May 2016 Edition

Linking up with Leigh Kramer for the May edition of What I’m Into.

What I’m Reading:

I read so many good books this month!

How to Be an American Housewife by Margaret Dilloway. This was a our book club pick for May, part of my own effort to read more books by or about people of color. Shoko is a Japanese woman who married an American GI and moved to the US, a decision which left her estranged from her beloved brother. Fifty years later, Shoko wants to return to Japan to reconcile with her brother, but when her health prevents her from making the trip, she asks her daughter Sue to go in her place. This was a book that I found slightly better in theory than in execution, but I loved Shoko because she reminded me so much of the older Korean women I knew and the descriptions of the Japan made me miss Asia like crazy.

The Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander. This is a deeply moving though difficult book written by the poet, Elizabeth Alexander, after the sudden loss of her husband. While achingly sad in places, it is also a reflection on the blessings of love and what it means to live a full and meaningful life.

Landline by Rainbow Rowell. This was a fun chick lit read if you are willing to go along with things like a telephone that makes calls into the past. Georgie McCool is a television writer who has just been given the opportunity of a lifetime—to pitch her own TV show. The only problem is that getting the show ready means bailing on plans to spend Christmas in Omaha with her husband and daughters. Georgie and Neal love each other deeply, but it seems like they want different things. Georgie, desperate to fight for her marriage, places a late night phone call to Neal’s parents’ house to try to reconcile, only to find that she’s somehow managed to call back in time to before she and Neal were married. Maybe she can fix their problems before they even start?

Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan. I highly recommend listening to this on audiobook (which is what I did) because then it’s basically like listening to Jim Gaffigan do standup. If you don’t know who Gaffigan is, he’s a great comedian whose main schticks are his love of food and how he and his wife are Catholic and very fertile and therefore live in a two bedroom apartment in Manhattan with five children. This book is mostly about parenthood and it’s hilarious.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson. This is a new genre to me, a memoir-in-verse, about the author growing up as an African American in South Carolina and New York in the 1960s and 1970s. Written from her perspective as a child, an adult understanding of the larger social context gives weight to the innocent reflections, observations, and memories of a young girl trying to find her place in the world. I also highly recommend this on audio since it is written in free verse and you won’t get the same sense of rhythm reading it to yourself.

Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye. If you are a fan of Jane Eyre, or gothic novels in general, this book is for you. While this is not a retelling of Jane Eyre, it draws heavy inspiration from it with the main character admitting that her favorite book is Jane Eyre because she sees so many parallels to her own life. Jane Steele is also a sensitive orphan who loses her parents and her home and is sent to a terrible boarding school. As an adult she sees an opportunity to return to her childhood home when the new owner advertises for a governess for his ward. Cue the epic romance. Jane’s life mirrors Jane Eyre’s in many ways, but with one notable exception. Jane Steele is sort of a serial killer. I loved it!

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. This book. All the feels. I read the entire thing in one day. It is devastating and beautiful and everyone should read it. At 36, Paul Kalanithi has spent most of his life training to be a neurosurgeon/neuroscientist. Just as he is finishing up his last year of clinicals, he is diagnosed with lung cancer. Kalanithi writes about his own journey, his decision to pursue medicine and what made life meaningful to him and the ways that those feelings shifted or grew stronger in the light of his impending death. Kalanithi died in March 2015 with this book “unfinished” in his opinion, but I think it’s perfect just the way it is. It’s difficult, but beautiful. I think everyone should read this and Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal, which I wrote about a few months ago.

For more of what I’m reading or what’s on my To Read least, follow me on Goodreads.

What I’m Watching:

We’re still trying to get caught up on The Grinder and New Girl. I finished the last season of Call the Midwife (loved it) and have actually been watching a few episodes of the latest season of Bones which I used to watch, but haven’t in a while.

We went to see the new Captain America movie, which I liked much better than several of the recent Marvel movies. And today we unexpectedly had some time in the afternoon and decided to go see the new X-Men movie. Because I love X-Men. (OK, I actually just love James McAvoy. I can’t possibly be alone in this).

Jonathan is, for some unknown reason, unwilling to go see Me Before You with me when it comes this weekend. Possibly my description of it as, “Maybe the most I’ve ever cried while reading a book,” didn’t sell it to him. I might just take myself even though it will be embarrassing to sit in a theater alone and sob.

What I’m Eating:

I’ve suddenly become obsessed with guacamole. Like obsessed. One of my favorite dinners is guacamole on top of a turkey burger. So yum. Here’s my recipe in case you are wondering about it. It’s completely imprecise and easy and it works every time.

1 ripe avocado
1 roma tomato
1 Tbsp onion
Garlic powder
Cumin
Salt
Lime juice

Cut the avocado in cubes, mash it up a bit but leave some chunks. Finely dice the onion and mix in. Add some garlic powder (maybe ¼ tsp? ½ tsp? I just eyeball it). Add cumin (maybe 1 tsp? More than the garlic powder. The cumin is very important). Dice tomato and mix in. Add salt to taste. Add a squeeze of lime juice.

I don’t measure anything, I just say add a little at a time and taste it as you go til you figure out what you like! Then put it on everything.

What I’m Writing:

I managed to do one post in the middle of the chaos of this month about my new tattoo. I also had a few pieces published to Modernize including this one about how to achieve eco-friendly style, Industrial Style 101, and this most recent post about how to boost your curb appeal with a container garden.

What I’ve Been Up To:

Life has hit hard this month. I’ve barely had time to breathe.

First off, I was offered and did accept a position as the International Student Coordinator/ESL teacher at Hammond. This is a part-time, year-round position that begins tomorrow. Hurray!

Then, a few weeks ago, I was given the opportunity to take over the job of the Middle School Administrative Assistant. There was an unexpected vacancy and they needed someone to fill in for the last few weeks of school. I jumped in and spent a few frantic weeks scrambling around trying to help out in any way I could without any real training or knowledge of what was going on. It was one of the most stressful experiences of my life. This was adding a full-time job on top of all of my other tutoring and writing obligations and a few Fireflies baseball games I had already committed to work at, which basically meant that I didn’t see my husband for approximately three weeks.

There was a pretty traumatic event during my second week working at the school where someone was shot outside of my house in the middle of the night. This naturally cued all the panic attacks and led to some stress-filled days and sleepless nights. I’m mostly OK now, though I’ve made an appointment to see my doctor about some medication for getting through highly stressful times. It wreaks havoc on me emotionally and physically.

Other than working and panicking, we have had some fun things going on as well. We got to house/puppy sit for friends who have an adorable white Havanese puppy called Dobby. We drove to Spartanburg to have dinner with my second family, the Millers who were in town visiting my lifelong friend Leigh who lives there now. We had Mama Ginger’s homemade red beans and rice. It was like being home.

The next weekend I hosted a makeup party for some of my friends. This was basically just a party to talk about my new airbrush makeup kit project, recommend products, and talk through general do’s and don’ts. And I got to do a few of my friends’ makeup which is always fun. The whole event was fun for me since makeup is one of my favorite hobbies.

The following weekend my mom came into town for an epic 3-day visit. It was so great to see her and hang out. She treated me to a spa day complete with facials, massages, and a pedicure, and then completely shocked me by agreeing to the tattoo shop with me to get my new tattoo. (Read more about that here).

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Jonathan made me try out lots of cheesy showing-off-my-tat poses. Believe it or not, this is the best one.

I’m still loving my new tattoo, which is healing nicely. It was designed especially for me but my creative and amazing friend, Asharae Kroll, who recently had a book on handlettering published and is also offering an e-class handlettering very soon, so check it out! (Shamelss plugs one and all!)

Last Friday my friend Laura invited me to go to a paint bar with her and her sister. I really got in touch with my inner artist and painted this little masterpiece. I couldn’t understand why the people at the art bar didn’t ask if they could keep it to display for other customers. When I came home and showed Jonathan, he said, “Which way does it go?” but that’s OK, because we all know the best artists are the ones who aren’t appreciated in their time. 😉

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I’m obviously a visionary.

I spent most of this past weekend preparing for a business writing workshop I was supposed to teach this week, but we did sneak away on Sunday afternoon to meet up with Jonathan’s dad and sister in Charlotte. Kacy is doing in internship in Charlotte for the summer and Jonathan’s dad drove down to help her settle in. We were only able to see them for dinner, but we try to take advantage of any opportunity to see family now that we are in the same country. For now, anyway. 😉

We leave for our great European adventure on TUESDAY!!!! Not that I’m excited or anything. To be honest, things have been so busy that I haven’t really done any planning or packing or anything. Hopefully we’ll be able to make time this week to get everything set. We’ll celebrate our 6th wedding anniversary in Rome this year. How unbelievable is that?! (On several levels). I will do my best to take ALL THE PICTURES and post them here and on my Instagram account.

Header Image Credit: Weheartit.com

 

What I’m Into: March 2016 Edition

I freaking love spring. Even though my car is positively yellow with pollen and the temperature fluctuates from 48 to 85 in one day, I love it. I love the colors, I love the sunshine, I love the warmth. I love the long, light-filled evenings. Basically, I’m a fan. Linking up with Leigh Kramer for this post.

What I’m Reading:

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande. This book blew me away. Surgeon Atul Gawande explores what it might look like if we accepted the inevitability of our own mortality, and if doctors specifically focused not just on prolonging life at all costs, but on helping people die well. One of the most compelling parts was considering how the seriously ill might choose to live their remaining days if they accepted the limits of their lives instead of living through invasive procedure after procedure on the slim hope of buying more time later. (This doesn’t mean assisted suicide). I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it and have awkwardly worked it into dinner conversations with people who probably have no interest in discussing their own mortality, but what better mark of a great book than that you feel compelled to talk about it even in inappropriate contexts?

Scary Close: Dropping the Act and Finding True Intimacy by Donald Miller. I enjoyed this book about Miller’s own struggle to recognize the masks he hides behind and to recognize unhealthy and codependent tendencies. He is brutally honest about his own insecurities and the things he has used to cover them. This was a quick read and it made me think about how I conduct my own relationships.

Happiness for Beginners by Katherine Center. Thirty-two year old Helen Carpenter seeks to rediscover herself after a bad divorce by signing up for a 3-week intensive wilderness survival course. She isn’t counting on her annoying little brother’s annoying best friend tagging along (cue the romantic tension). This is basically Wild as a fiction book. It had some charming moments and I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t anything that will stay with me long-term.

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell. This is a YA fantasy book. I think it would have had more significance for me if I’d read Fangirl, but I haven’t. It’s a stand-alone story about a boy magician named Simon Snow. While there is the Harry Potter-esque set-up of a magical school and a boy who is destined to be the most powerful mage of all time, we pick up the story in Simon’s 8th and final year of school. There are passing references to fights with dragons and previous encounters with the insidious humdrum, but the reader is dropped into the middle of an ongoing story which makes the setting feel less stale. Each chapter is a first-person narrative from a different character’s perspective. I felt like Rowell was giving an intentional nod to all the conventions of YA magical school fantasy, then proceeding to turn those conventions on their heads. There is a mysterious headmaster, the Mage, but there are also gay vampires.  One fun element is that the system of magic spells is tied to common figures of speech, nursery rhymes, and even the lyrics to Bohemian Rhapsody, so phrases like, “Easy come, easy go,” have magical power.

Someday, Someday, Maybe by Lauren Graham (of Gilmore Girls and Parenthood fame). When 26-year-old Franny Banks moved to New York to become an actress, she set a deadline for herself. At the end of three years she would either be successful or give up and move on. Now that deadline is looming and Franny is frantically trying to navigate what she is and isn’t willing to do in pursuit of her dream. No great literature here, but it wasn’t poorly written and was a nice light read with a funny and charming protagonist.

Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt. I recently started a book club and this was our first pick. I LOVED this book and discussing it with others during book club made my appreciation of it even richer. It’s 1987, and 14-year-old June Elbus has just lost her uncle Finn, the person she loved most in the world, to AIDS. At Finn’s funeral, June sees a mysterious stranger who she later learns is Toby, her uncle’s secret lover. Unwilling and unable to completely let Finn go, June forges a secret friendship with Toby, the only person in the world who might just miss Finn more than she does. Through her friendship with Toby, June learns more about her own family, about compassion, and about what real love looks like.

I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman by Nora Ephron. This is a quick read that will make lots of women laugh (and maybe men too). While I’m not at the same life stage as Ephron was while writing this, I still enjoyed her humorous take on some of the more ridiculous aspects of what society expects of women.

Currently reading: Still Life by Louise Penny, The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah, Bringing up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman , and Night Driving by Addie Zierman. Follow me on Goodreads for more of what I’m reading.

What I’m Watching

I finally made it to the end of Revenge which I’ve been watching on Netflix on and off for more than a year. The finale was somewhat satisfying. I also watched all of the Full House reboot, Fuller House. I think this is largely for people who are nostalgic about the original show as many details as well as entire plot lines are updated versions of well known Full House episodes.It’s corny, but as someone who grew up on Full House, I still kind of loved it.

This month we enjoyed a weekend getaway to a cabin outside of Asheville. While we were there we watched The Intern and Burnt (which I always refer to as “Bradley Cooper, Chef”). I liked both of these movies a lot. We also made it to see Zootopia which was cute.

What I’m Listening To

I don’t miss an episode of Anne Bogel’s What Should I Read Next? podcast and find it great fun to listen to while I’m running – something I have been making a big effort to do more of. I’ve also gotten into a band called I am They who I first heard in my friend’s car. I think they’re from Nashville and I think their music is perfect for easy listening. Very peaceful.

What I’m Eating

I have been making a very serious effort to eat better, which for me means limiting starches and sugars and eating lots and lots of veggies and fruits and fish and some lean meats. This means I have no enticing pictures to share with you. Except. I did make this lemonade cake for Easter. Which is one of my all-time favorites.

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Follow me on Pinterest for more recipes!

What I’m Writing

As you probably know, I’ve been pretty MIA from blogging this month. It was an unintentional hiatus, but I’m glad that I took some time off. I was feeling a little burnt out and if you keep reading, you’ll see why. I did do some writing to apply for a summer writing fellowship I’ve heard great things about, but unfortunately I wasn’t accepted.

The two pieces I published on the blog this month were this one about my relationship with “Mr. Jones,” a homeless man who I give reading lessons to and this one about managing my anxiety. I also continued to submit one post each week to Modernize, but they are behind on their publishing schedule and don’t have anything new up yet.

What I’ve Been Up To:

March was actually kind of nuts. In the best way. The first weekend I drove up to the Charlotte area to visit my adorably preggo friend, Asharae. The next day I went to Spartanburg to visit one of my oldest and dearest friends who has a new boyfriend I felt the need to meet and pass judgment on.

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The following week, Jonathan’s parents and sister came to visit for a few days during Spring Break. I was not on spring break and had to work during the day, but it was still great to see them. We’ve been back in America for 7 months and we’ve seen Jonathan’s family four different times, which is amazing when we’d only seen them twice in the previous two years. My good friend (and college roommate) Taylor also came up from Charleston to visit for an afternoon.

The next week I hosted the first meeting of the Badass Book Club where we discussed Tell the Wolves I’m Home. It was such a great evening and we had a great discussion. That weekend Jonathan and I went on a short getaway to Asheville, NC. We stayed in a cabin a little north of Asheville -actually it was the exact same cabin we stayed in on another getaway four years ago when we were living in Raleigh. It was such a sweet time and a great opportunity to relax and just hang out together. The view was beautiful and there was an awesome hot tub.

It was especially nice to get away because the following week I had to teach a two-day business writing workshop at a local company. This was my first experience doing anything like this and I was incredibly nervous and unsure about my materials, content, and presentation, but it went well and they have already asked me to come back and do the workshop again for a different group of employees.

That week was the week of Easter and part of my church’s Easter tradition is to celebrate the Seder (Passover) meal on Maundy Thursday. We do this in small groups in each other’s homes. I went to my friends Ben and Leslie’s house and celebrated with their family and another family from our church. We went through the traditional meal with all of the symbolism. Since there were six kids there, it was a little chaotic, but also a lot of fun.

On Easter Sunday we went to church and then shared a delicious Easter lunch with our friends Buffy and Ian and their kids (and Ian’s mom). Our dear friends Brandon and Christy happened to be passing through town that afternoon and Buffy and Ian kindly invited them to join us for lunch. We had a great afternoon eating yummy foods and enjoying each others’ company. Also, my mom sent me these Jasmine pajamas in the mail for Easter!

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This last week of March was supposed to be a bit slower-paced, but I found out on Monday that I would need to prepare and teach a demo class at the school I tutor at. This was part of the interview process for a 5th grade teaching position I am applying to for next school year. I spent most of this week in an adrenaline frenzy. I gave the lesson yesterday morning and it seemed to go well, though I don’t have my hopes up about the position since there are other candidates with better experience and qualifications. But, you never know until you try!

If you’ve stuck with me to the end, thank you so much for reading! I hope you are enjoying spring as much as I am and I would love to hear about what you’ve been into and up to this month!

What I’m Into: February 2016 Edition

 

The past few days have felt positively spring-like here in South Carolina and I am hopeful that it’s here to stay. As someone who is cold 95% of the time, even the mild winters we experience in the south can feel long to me, so I’m all about spring showing up. I’ve been struggling with my health a bit this month, and feeling generally tired and sluggish, and I think warmer weather might help with that as well. Linking up with Leigh Kramer to share what I’ve been into this month.

What I’m Reading:

Mr. Kiss and Tell (Veronica Mars #2) by Rob Thomas. This is the second Veronica Mars book in what I hope will be an ongoing series. As I said about the first one, if you are already a fan of Veronica Mars as a show and a movie, you will love these. If you aren’t familiar, you might still enjoy them just for the mystery-solving detective aspect, but some of the tone and the connection between the characters might be lost on you.

The Amber Spyglass by Phillip Pullman. This is the third book of Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. I read the first two books and I think half of this one several years ago. I was intrigued by the first two, but remember feeling like this one dragged. This time I listened to the audio version which is a dramatized reading almost like a radio play. Even with the great reading, it still felt a little long and plodding and much more heavy-handed than the other two in his criticisms of the church and of religion. Definitely not my favorite of the trilogy.

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven. This is another of those YA books that I wouldn’t give to my young teenager, but maybe to the right older teen. The really powerful thing about this book is that it is an honest and revealing portrayal of mental illness in teens that isn’t always talked about openly. Violet and Finch meet on a ledge of the school bell tower, both contemplating their own deaths. In meeting, they save each other, at least for the day, and their meeting leads to a friendship that helps and challenges each of them in different ways.

Stories I Only Tell My Friends by Rob Lowe. I am fairly recent Rob Lowe fan with most of my exposure to him coming from Parks and Recreation and his new show, The Grinder, so I enjoyed these stories about Rob Lowe’s show biz journey, starting as a teen heart throb in the 80’s If you’re not very interested in the movie and television industry then this might not be the book for you, but if you are interested in it or just like Rob Lowe in general than this is a fun and easy read.

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes. I’m a huge fan of The Princess Bride so I really enjoyed this book telling some of the behind-the-scenes stories about the making of the film and the people involve from Cary Elwes, who played Wesley. In particular, the stories about Andre the Giant, who played Fezzig in the movie, are funny and heartwarming.

In January I read about half of Sarah Bessey’s newest book, Out of Sorts, and fully intended to finish it this month, but I sort of lost momentum. It shouldn’t take too long once I pick it back up, but I’ve been distracted by other things. If you want to see what I’m reading and what I think of it, be sure to follow me on Goodreads!

What I’m Listening To:

I’ve been really enjoying Modern Mrs. Darcy’s new What Should I Read Next? podcast. This is a concept she used to do on her blog sometimes and has now converted into a podcast format where she invites a guest to answer three questions – name a book you love, a book you hate, and what you read most recently -and then gives three book recommendations based on that discussion. It’s lots of fun.

What I’m Watching:

I’m slowly working through the final season of Revenge on Netflix. Jonathan and I are trying (and sometimes failing) to stay current with Brooklyn Nine Nine, New Girl, and our new fave, The Grinder. To be honest, we’ve been busy and haven’t spent a ton of time watching shows together. We did see Hail, Caesar! at the theater this past weekend and we both enjoyed it even though the trailer is a bit misleading. Channing Tatum is hysterical in it.

What I’m Eating:

I went through about a 3-week period where I was eating Chinese takeout every Sunday evening. I just had to have it. The cashew chicken at Yummy Yummy II is bomb. I also made a ton of cookies and strawberry cream cheese muffins for the Bible Study retreat I went on at the beginning of the month. I use this bread recipe and just do muffins instead. I also add chocolate chunks because, why not? Follow me on Pinterest for more recipes.

What I’m Writing:

On the blog I wrote about mindfulness with this post on walks without destinations. I shared a spoken-word poem about love in honor of the 9 year anniversary of my husband and I becoming a couple. I shared Vol. 2 of What’s on my Bookshelf. And I wrote about my continual struggle to fully live in the present even as I look with expectation to the future.

For Modernize I wrote an article on ways to hide cords, cables and other eyesores and started a series of style 101 posts. So far I’ve tackled Minimalist Style and Rustic Style.

What I’ve Been Up To:

For such a short month, February has packed a punch. The first weekend of the month I went away for a women’s retreat with the women from my Bible study. We stayed in this amazing house at Lake Lure, NC, which is where Dirty Dancing was filmed. In fact, it was a very Dirty Dancing themed weekend, complete with my friend Buffy and I doing a lip sync dance to Time of My Life incorporating some signature moves from the movie. Besides all of the great fun, it was also a rich and meaningful time and a great opportunity to get away.

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I heart these people. I heart them hard.

The following week I subbed at the school I tutor at for the entire week, so that kept me pretty busy. That weekend was Valentine’s Day and we had an oh-so-romantic dinner of burgers and fried pickles after which I fell asleep. Epic romance.

The next week we had agreed to stay with some of our friends’ kids for five days while they were out of town. We moved into their house on Wednesday night and stayed with their 3 kids and 2 Saint Bernards until the following Monday. It was fun and tiring all at once and kind of a unique opportunity to imagine what life could look like for us in 15 years. I think Jonathan and I may have had slightly different experiences of it, but it was fun to do together.

What have you been up to and into?

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We took our temporary kids to see this giant tree. Cause we’re super fun like that.

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Our temporary dog was not as easily won over.

 

What’s On My Bookshelf Vol. 2

Back by popular demand, today’s post is the second installment of the What’s on My Bookshelf series. Picking up right where we left off last time with more books from our living room bookshelf. (Sorry for the long break between posts –since Jonathan and I both participate in these it takes a little more time to get them together).

The first few books on the shelf are Jonathan’s. (Anything Jonathan wrote will be in italics).

Gun, with Occasional Music (3.5 Stars) and Motherless Brooklyn  (4.5 Stars)are both offbeat, inventive literary mysteries by Jonathan Lethem (though Lethem doesn’t exclusively write mysteries). Gun, his first novel, is a blend of crime noir and science fiction, following a detective around futuristic Oakland as he investigates a murder and its subsequent cover up. It’s funny and engaging, plus it features a memorable turn by an evolved kangaroo-turned-gangster. Motherless Brooklyn is set in contemporary New York and narrated by a man named Lionel Essrog, who works for low-level mobster Frank Minna. When Minna is killed, Essrog has to figure out what happened while avoiding the blowback from others vying to fill the now empty seat of power. The twist, however, is that our 1st person narrator Lionel has Tourettes, so the narrative is unusually disjointed and often very funny.

Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann. This is one of those books that’s on both of our, “Been Meaning to Read That,” lists. Set in New York City in the 1970’s it tells the story of a community through the individual stories of people on all ends of the social spectrum, from monks, to prostitutes, to wealthy, grieving mothers who have lost their sons in the Vietnam war, to struggling artists, to teenage mothers.

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood (4 Stars) is the first in a post-apocalyptic trilogy about a world destroyed by environmental disasters and the greed of corporations. It flashes back and forth to moments before and after the apocalypse, following a character named Jimmy (known, in the future, only as Snowman) through his relationships with his genius friend Crake, and their mysterious friend and possible love-interest Oryx. This book was inventive, prescient, and remarkably frightening, especially in regards to our growing consumer culture and the belief that one should be able to buy a solution to every imaginable problem, plus the amorality of the corporations we then come to rely on. I found it very upsetting, which isn’t a ringing endorsement but does speak to how clear and affecting it is.

The Blind Assassin (4 Starsis a classic Margaret Atwood novel and one of my favorites of hers. The novel begins with Iris Chase reflecting on the apparent suicide of her sister Laura 45 years before when she drove off a bridge just 10 days after the end of WWII. What keeps this book from being a straightforward account of an old woman’s memories about her life is the introduction of The Blind Assassin, a science fiction novel written by Laura before she died. Atwood weaves together Iris’ reflections with the text of her sister’s novel as we try to piece together what really happened.

The Known World by Edward P. Jones. Similar to Let the Great World Spin, this is a book we both have every intention of reading someday. This Pulitzer Prize winning novel tells the story of Henry Townsend, a former slave who is now a farmer, and his relationship with William Robbins, the most powerful man in the county. After Townsend dies unexpectedly, his wife, Caldonia, struggles to hold onto all that he has built. This book is lauded for its straightforward look at the moral ambiguities of slavery. I suppose this is one of those books that feels weighty – worth the read, but also worth being in the right frame of mind to read it – which is why I haven’t picked it up yet. 

Room (4 Stars) by Emma Donoghue (which became a movie this year) is a story about a woman held captive for years by a man known only in the book as Old Nick, who keeps her locked in a shed in his backyard. It’s narrated by the woman’s five-year-old son Jack, who was born in the shed and has never left – the world, to him, is literally just their room. It’s a very moving story about the love between mother and son in horrible circumstances (plus man’s tremendous capacity for evil), though it also ends up, surprisingly, being a great deal about child development and growth. So much of the story centers on Jack’s struggles to grow and understand the world – his deeply warped perspective – given his unique and disturbing situation. 

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett (4 Stars) is a book I’ve owned for years but only actually read recently. It’s a beautiful book, though I understand criticisms of it trying to do too much. There’s a lot going on there. Dr. Marina Singh travels to the Amazon to investigate the death of a colleague who passed away under mysterious circumstances while researching an indigenous tribe whose women have the unique ability to continue reproducing up until they die.

The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht (4 Stars) is a book I’d like to reread someday. I remember thinking the language was beautiful and the story was inventive and I was wildly impressed by the fact that the author was receiving so much acclaim for it at the ripe old age of 26. (It was a finalist for the National Book Award). To boil it down, this is a book about how people respond to death. Natalia is a young doctor on a mission of mercy to provide immunizations to an orphanage in a remote town (in a country that’s never named but we assume is Croatia), but she has to deal with the people’s superstitions and with her own personal struggle to come to terms with the recent death of her grandfather, a renowned physician who died under mysterious circumstances. In desperation, she turns to the stories her grandfather told her as a little girl to make sense of his death. The strongest parts of this novel are the parts where she draws on folklore to recreate the stories of the deathless man and the tiger’s wife.

Hope you enjoyed this!

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A key to my rating system:

5 Stars: I loved this book, I had no problems with it, it’s one of my all-time favorite books and I recommend it.
4 Stars: I really, really liked this book. I had no major problems with it, but I’m not sure it’s one of my all-time favorites. I recommend it.
3 Stars: I enjoyed this book. There were maybe some things I didn’t like, but overall I liked it. OR it was really fun, but not something that stands out or will stick with me. I recommend it, but might have some disclaimers.
2 Stars: I didn’t like it but I feel bad giving it one star so I’m giving it two.
1 Star: I thought it was a terrible, terrible book and I wish I hadn’t wasted my time on it.

Disclaimer: This post contains Amazon Affiliate Links. If you click through to make a purchase I receive approximately $0.02 which goes to support this site.

 

What I’m Into: January 2016 Edition

For some reason January always feels like a long month to me. Maybe it’s because the time leading up to Christmas seems to go so quickly that when we get back to regular life it feels slower and more drawn out. I’m linking up with Leigh Kramer to share what I’ve been into these past 31 days.

What I’m Reading:

The Thousand Dollar Tan Line (Veronica Mars #1) by Rob Thomas. I actually read this entirely in December and finished it New Year’s Eve, but I’d already finished last month’s post at that point so I’m including it here. This was written by the creator of the Veronica Mars TV show and picks up right where the VM movie leaves off. If you are a fan of the show and the movie you will like this book. It’s very fun. 

A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg. This is a unique blend of memoir and food writing by the author of acclaimed food blog, Orangette. The book moves through significant moments in the author’s life as they connect with specific recipes, and each chapter ends with a recipe. It’s a fun, easy read that will make you want to cook.

Glitter and Glue, by Kelly Corrigan. I really enjoyed this one. I read Corrigan’s first memoir The Middle Place, last year and found it moving and funny and poignant. In this memoir Corrigan writes about her experience working as a nanny in Australia as a young 20-something. As she cares for two children who have lost their mother she finds herself emulating her own mother, someone she never got along with or appreciated much. I could especially relate because of my own years spent working as a nanny.

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson. I have no idea how to write about this book. The first thing I’ll say is that it’s marketed as a YA book and it is about teenagers and coming of age, but I would never give this book to my teenager. It is….intense. The best part of this book is probably the language which is vibrant and heavily imagistic. I love what this book had to say about art, why we create it and what makes it necessary. Noah and Jude are twins (Jude’s a girl, btw) who have always shared a special connection until some time in their 14th year, something breaks them apart. The story is told in alternating sections from Noah’s and Jude’s perspectives. Noah’s part of the story is told in the past, while Jude’s portions are told three years later. You get bits and flashes of what happened between them from each side until it all comes together in the end. Noah is strange and isolated, drawing constantly, misunderstood by his peers and desperately in love with the boy next door. Jude is rebellious and fiery, ready to crash and burn if that’s what it takes. Something tears them apart in a way that changes them completely, but they each only have half the story.

Delicious! by Ruth Reichl. I really wanted to love this novel. It had so many things going for it – it’s by a famous food writer and it’s about a girl who works for a food magazine and hides a tragic secret in her past. There’s tons of cooking involved which I loved. And there’s a historical mystery involving long lost letters written during WWII. Like I said, it had fantastic elements, but I just never felt connected with the main character. She felt emotionally distant and I never really attached to her, even when she told her whole sad back story. I also sort of felt like the book was trying to do too many things – there was the historical aspect and the cooking element and a romance and the personal family drama and what felt like an excessive number of minor characters. It’s not a bad book, it just didn’t quite pull everything together for me.

Scarlet by Marissa Meyer. This is the second book in the Lunar Chronicles, a YA series that takes classic fairy tales and incorporates them into a futuristic story about a world where Earth is being ravaged by an incurable plague and the emperor is locked in a power struggle with Luna, the colony on the moon now populated by a race with special mind control powers. The first book had a Cinderella-type plot, except the Cinderella character was a cyborg. This book picks up where the first one left off, but incorporates a Red Riding Hood character complete with a wolf. I love re-imagined fairy tales, but I’m not usually into super futuristic settings. These books have charmed me anyway.

I’m also about halfway finished with Sarah Bessey’s Out of Sorts so that will be on next month’s review. Follow me on Goodreads for up-to-the-moment updates.

What I’m Watching:

This month I watched all of the Netflix original series Marvel’s Jessica Jones. I really liked it, but it is pretty dark for a superhero show. And more graphic than I expected it to be. So fair warning. I’m also nearing the end of the third season of Revenge on Netflix. I need to figure out a way to watch Downton Abbey before someone spoils it for me. Jonathan I have been watching Brooklyn Nine Nine and New Girl as they air, but we’ve also just discovered a love for The Grinder starring Rob Lowe and Fred Savage.

Jonathan went to see a few movies in theaters this month, but I opted out, both because these particular movies didn’t appeal to me all that much and also because I needed to take a little break from movie theaters which were triggering panic attacks. We did watch two movies at home, The Walk, which is about the man who tight-rope walked between the twin towers of the World Trade Center with no safety harness (he was loco) and The Scorch Trials, the second Maze Runner movie. The Walk was interesting if somewhat horrifying and Joseph Gordon Levitt is brilliant and does an impressive French accent, but Scorch Trials was underwhelming. For whatever reason I just can’t get into the Maze Runner trilogy the way I did with The Hunger Games or Divergent.

What I’m Eating:

In an effort to eat healthier, but not be completely bored by baked chicken and vegetables at every meal, I’ve been trying out some new recipes. (Follow me on Pinterest for more of what I’m eating). Here are a few of my favorites so far:

Moroccan Beef Stew (hint: only use 1 lemon!)

Spicy Italian Sausage and Sweet Potato Soup

Spicy Sausage Sweet Potato Soup 5 - Website

What I’m Writing:

My biggest writing news was a piece I had published by Marie Claire at the beginning of this month. I didn’t mention it here because unfortunately, they took the liberty of adding a title and deck to my article that completely misrepresent what I said and what it’s about. They did leave the body of the article intact though, so if you read it, just keep in mind that I didn’t write the title and deck.

On the blog this month I wrote about my One Word for 2016 and about my wicked case of FOBO (Fear of Being Ordinary). I wrote about mindfulness twice with my attempts to watch TV mindfully and to practice mindful eating. I wrote a guest post for my friend Kelsey’s blog about how I see makeup as a form of self-care. I started a new series I plan to continue sporadically showing you what’s on my bookshelf. And I shared what’s on my “To Don’t” list.

I’ve written a few more interior design pieces for Modernize too if you want to check them out:

A Beginner’s Guide to Accent Walls

4 Upsides to Downsizing

All Decked Out: 10 Ways to Take Your Deck from Plain to Polished

The Non-Artist’s Guide to Mixed Media Gallery Walls

2016 Kids’ Bedroom Trends

On the Internets:

I found so many great things on the internet over the past few months. Starting with this video of Adele doing Carpool Karaoke with James Corden. The whole video is great if you have time to watch it (I think Adele’s accent is so great because she looks like she’s so posh, but her accent betrays her. I love it.) At least watch for James Corden’s impressive harmonizing skills.

This article (with photos) about “What if Guys did Boudoir Photo Shoots?” cracked me up. And grossed me out a little.

This more serious article my sister sent me about Donald Trump and the Christian Obsession with Masculinity is fascinating. And disturbing.

And this really challenging piece from Ann Voskamp on How to Make Time & Space for the Life You Really Want.

And just to leave you on a light note, this music video Kristen Bell and Dax Shephard made of themselves is pretty great. Because they are the cutest couple living.

 

What I’ve Been Up To:

We did precisely nothing for New Year’s Eve (I was in bed at 10 I believe), but on New Year’s Day we went to our friends Lorien and Will’s house where we participated in the annual New Year’s Day 10-course Asian feast. We even had kimchi. It was like being home.

We spent our last weekend of vacation exploring downtown Greenville, a cute town about 1 1/2 hours drive from where we live.

The next week I started back at work tutoring and subbing while Jonathan enjoyed his last week of winter vacation. That weekend we had a blast hosting two sets of our closest friends who both live in the Charlotte area. We ate tons of food and took walks and played a million board games and rubbed Asharae’s baby bump in utter amazement at how she is growing a person while we all sit around doing nothing. It was excellent. They are our people and we love them! (But we didn’t take any pictures together. Fail).

I hit a bit of a slump mid-month and went through about a week where I just felt so down and so incredibly tired all the time that I did almost nothing except show up for my tutoring appointments and sleep. It feels like a lost week because the whole thing was kind of a fog. It sucked. But I’m feeling better now.

We finished our month with a quick trip to Raleigh to see friends and reminisce about when we used to live there. On Friday we stayed with our friends Jerusha and Nathaniel and their 5-month old daughter Edith who is a complete doll. On Saturday we met up with our friends Justin and Mary and their 3-month-old daughter Evelyn who has an awesome head of hair and is working hard on keeping her head up. And on Saturday night we stayed with my best friend and college roommate, Christina, and her new husband Andy who have been married for 4 whole months already!

We also had the chance to visit some of our old haunts like the lake where I did so much of my running when I was training for marathons and half marathons. Raleigh holds a special place in our hearts and it was great to visit again. Who knows, maybe we’ll end up living there again someday!

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I’ve run many a mile around this lake.

Ooh, also, I’ve gotten super into my planner. Like I take out scrapbooking materials and decorate it every week. Like a dork. It’s excellent. Right up there with adult coloring books.

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What have you been into and up to this month?

What I’m Into: December 2015 Edition

I’m linking up with Leigh Kramer for my final What I’m Into post of 2015! I thought I’d do a traditional monthly round-up for December and maybe do a highs & lows year-in-review type post sometime next week.

What I’m Reading:

Since today is the last day of 2015 I can officially say that my final count for the year was 66 books. Not too shabby. This month I read:

Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith (JK Rowling). Loved this third mystery in the Cormoran Strike series in which Strike’s assistant Robin receives the severed leg of a murdered woman in the mail and the pair must figure out both who the victim and who the murderer are. I thought it was entertaining and engaging and kept my guessing til the end. Be warned though, this one’s a bit grisly with some graphic descriptions of violence towards women so it might not be everyone’s cup of tea.

Accidental SaintsI love Nadia Bolz-Weber and am often inspired by her straightforward, candid take on matters of faith. Having said that, this book did feel a little less substantial than her previous book, Pastrix. I loved her take on how God uses all kinds of people, even those who are furthest from him. The book is more or less a series of anecdotes that illustrate this premise.

Shopaholic to the Stars by Sophie Kinsella. I have a soft spot for Kinsella’s Shopaholic books as far as fluff fiction goes, but this one was a disappointment, even for what it was. Maybe I’m just outgrowing Becky and find her airheaded-ness more annoying than funny, but I didn’t finish this book with the typical feel-good feeling of her other books.

For the Love by Jen Hatmaker. This was a fun, funny read that left almost no lasting impression on me. My main beef with this book is that, while Hatmaker is a funny writer, each individual chapter seemed to have nothing to do with any other chapter, and while the subtitle was “Fighting for grace in a world of impossible standards” I found the book barely touched on this theme. To be frank, while this book was fun to read, it felt self-indulgent and it would be difficult for me to tell you what the point was.

Killing Monica by Candace Bushnell. I listened to this as an audiobook because I wanted something light and easy to listen to. I didn’t have high expectations, but this book was still a waste of time. It was going along well enough – nothing memorable, but mildly entertaining – until the ending which was so stupid it sort of ruined the whole thing. Don’t recommend.

After You by JoJo Moyes. This book was a sequel to Moyes’ famous Me Before You, picking up a year after the end of the previous book. It was satisfying in a way to see where Louisa ends up and it’s not a bad book (though I found myself a bit disappointed in Louisa’s life choices) but it’s nowhere near as impactful as Me Before You.

Girls in White Dresses by Jennifer Close. I’m not sure how to describe this book. In some ways it’s a coming-of-age type story about a group of friends moving into adulthood. While the writing was technically sound, I just couldn’t connect with any of the characters. This book is described in reviews as “wickedly funny,” but I mostly thought it was sad and painted a rather bleak depiction of adulthood, marriage, and family life. Having said that, it was a quick read and I flew right through it.

Paul Among the People: The Apostle Paul Reinterpreted and Reimagined in his Own Time by Sarah Ruden. Jonathan got this book for Christmas and we read it together on the drive back from Louisiana. I thought this book was incredibly interesting, especially since I am one of those blasphemous Christians who tends to think of Paul as an arrogant jerk. Ruden, a Harvard-educated classics expert, examines the writings of Paul against contemporary Greek and Roman writings, using these to build a cultural context and audience for Paul’s letters. Ruden’s careful research reveals a different Paul than the one we think we know – especially when it comes to his teachings on women, marriage, slavery, and homosexuality.

Currently reading: The Thousand Dollar Tan Line (Veronica Mars #1) by Rob Thomas, A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg, Delicious! By Ruth Reichl, and Washing the Dead by Michelle Brafman. For an up-to-date list of what I’m reading and what I think of it, follow me on Goodreads.

What I’m Watching:

On TV I’m nearly current with How to Get Away with Murder, Fresh Off the BoatThe Mindy Project, and Brooklyn Nine Nine. On Netflix I picked up Revenge again, a show I started a long time ago and took a long break from for unknown reasons.

In theaters this month we and everyone else  went to see the new Star Wars movie (I have no strong opinions on this since I didn’t really grow up watching Star Wars. I enjoy Star Wars now, but I don’t have the kind of childhood nostalgia that makes people feel super opinionated about it). We also saw Joy the day after Christmas which I enjoyed a lot, though it could have stood to have some more Bradley Cooper in it. (But you could say that about everything).

What I’m Listening To:

The new season of Serial has started up. I’m not quite caught up on the episodes that have come out since I listened to the first one while driving back from a friend’s house late at night and was dozing off for most of it. (Jonathan was driving, not me!) I’m not as immediately captivated as I was by the previous season, but I’m willing to give it a shot!

What I’m Writing:

 

Yesterday I put up the final post for my 52 Weeks of Adventure. I can’t believe I made it through the whole year without missing any posts. It’s been a fun way to mark my days and to keep challenging myself to see life as a grand adventure, even though I no longer live abroad and my day-to-day life feels so much more ordinary. I wrote my adventures for weeks 48, 49, 50, 51, and 52.

I wrote a heartfelt post about things I’m appreciating about being Anglican(ish). I wrote a piece about Mary and women and the incarnation for Christians for Biblical Equality that was picked up by Scot McKnight(!) and republished on his Jesus Creed blog. I hit 10,000 subscribers and did a big giveaway (which is closed now, sorry). I gave out some superlatives on all those books I read in 2016. And I reflected on my year of wholeheartedness and shared my new(est) ink.

Apart from blogging I was keeping busy doing some freelance web content for a marketing company, but they’ve now hired a full-time copywriter so that well seems to have dried up. One of the downsides to freelancing is that there’s very little job security, so I’ll be back to looking for new freelance opportunities over the next few weeks.

I’m planning a guest post for my friend Kelsey’s blog this month and maybe, possibly, potentially an exciting piece for an international magazine, but I don’t want to say too much cause it’s not set in stone.

What I’ve Been Up To:

December is always jam-packed for the holidays, but also because my birthday falls at the beginning of December, it really feels like non-stop celebration from Thanksgiving onward. I celebrated my 28th birthday with a visit from my best friend and her husband who live in Raleigh a few hours away.

We visited friends in Charlotte for a Christmas feast and cookie decorating party. I had work doing tutoring, writing, and proctoring exams (though not full-time) right up until December 23rd during which Jonathan’s family came to town to visit and we ate too much yummy food and took family pictures together. Right after his family left, we drove down to Louisiana to spend a week with my family and we’ve only just gotten back from that trip. Its been full, but it’s been beautiful.

I hope you all have a lovely New Year’s Eve. Stay tuned for tomorrow when I reveal my One Word for 2016!

And the Winners Are…

Hope you are all having a lovely Christmas with family and friends! Ours has been lovely despite being 80 degrees with 100% humidity and bouts of heavy rain in Louisiana. Feels like we are in a rainforest.:)

This is just a quick post to announce the winners of the giveaway (!) My sister Anni drew the names out of a bowl, so the results are completely unbiased. 😉

Drumroll please….

The fiction prize pack winner is Paige Nguyen. You will be receiving copies of The Way of Kings, Peace Like a River, and Station Eleven.

The nonfiction prize back winner is Ben de Wachter (בנימין). You will be receiving copies of An Altar in the World, Searching for Sunday, and Pastrix. (And don’t worry, these are all female authors but they aren’t geared towards women specifically).

To claim your prize please send me an email (lily.e.dunn at gmail.com) or Facebook message with an address I can send them to!

Congratulations to the two winners and thank you to everyone who participated and to everyone who is part of this community.

Merry Christmas!

 

2015 Book Superlatives

For those of you who have been missing my Book Chat posts (which are coming back in the new year in some form!) here is a post for you. I decided to look over all of the books I read for the first time in 2015 and hand out some superlatives. Don’t forget to follow me on Goodreads for up-to-date info on what I’m reading and for my reviews. Drumroll please….

Best Literary Read

Station ElevenStation Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. One of the books I’m including in my 10,000 subscriber giveaway, this book is hauntingly beautiful. It tells the story of a Hollywood star and the people connected to him (though sometimes only by a slender thread) before, during, and after the collapse of civilization. It’s eerie and post-apocalyptic, riveting and elegiac, moving and insightful. I’m not normally drawn to post-apocalyptic stories, but I’m so glad I read this one as its become one of my favorites. This one also wins the award for Most Beautiful Prose.

Fastest Read

eleanor and parkEleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell. This book is just pretty adorable. A love story for the ages, but with real characters in real and difficult situations. Eleanor is the wrong size with the wrong hair and the wrong clothes and most definitely the wrong family. But to Park, she is the magic that holds the sky up. They know it’s destined for disaster. But they also know the real thing when they see it. I was utterly enchanted and read the whole thing in two days. 

Most Fun

51hy+GbenKL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling). I generally think good mysteries make for fun reads. This one was particularly fun to me because Jonathan and I read it aloud to each other during our long drive to and from Ohio for Thanksgiving. This is the third in Galbraith’s Cormoran Strike mystery series and is my personal favorite. The story begins when Strike’s assistant Robin receives a mysterious package containing a woman’s severed leg. Strike can immediately think of four men from his past who might have had something to do with it. Unraveling the mystery is great fun, though I will warn you that there are some particularly gruesome descriptions of violence towards women that you may want to be aware of if you are sensitive to that type of content. 

Most Surprising

CinderCinder (The Lunar Chronicles) by Marissa Meyer. This unique twist on the Cinderella story t’s set in a futuristic world where androids are essential to daily life and the moon has been colonized and become the home of a new species known as Lunars. It involves a cyborg/mechanic Cinderella, a handsome prince, and the search for a cure for the plague pandemic that is wiping out Earth’s population. This is not the sort of book I would normally gravitate towards, but it was so fresh and clever and well-done that I was completely enchanted.

Best Fantasy Trilogy

MistbornThe Mistborn trilogy by Brandon Sanderson. After finishing my beloved Way of Kings and Words of Radiance I needed more Sanderson in my life so I dove into his well-known Mistborn trilogy. He’s actually written a set of trilogies that all involve the Mistborn world, but I only read the first one which includes Mistborn, The Well of Ascension, and The Hero of Ages. I think Sanderson might be my favorite fantasy writer. His characters are complex and compelling and his world-building is top-notch.

Most Likely to Make You Ugly Cry

The Middle PlaceTo be honest, most of the books on this entire list made me ugly cry at some point, but that’s just me. As the category winner I will chose. The Middle Place by Kelly Corrigan. This is a memoir about being in the middle place between being a child and being a parent. Corrigan, a mother of 2, is diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 36. As she goes through treatment, she relies heavily on her father who has always made her feel like the most important person in the world. When her father is diagnosed with cancer himself a few months after she is, Corrigan must deal with what it means to move from being the cared-for child to being the caretaker, for her children, for herself, and for her father. It’s very moving.

Book I Wish I’d Written

searching for sundaySearching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church by Rachel Held Evans. My experience with my faith and with the church over the past decade resonates deeply with Evans’ own experiences, and Evans writes poignantly about some of the conclusions I’m also coming to about what it looks like for me to still be a Christian and still participate in the Church in spite of those things. This book is one you can win in my 10,000 subscribers giveaway!

Most Atmospheric

51irgNzUDAL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_The Lake House by Kate Morton. If there is one thing Kate Morton does well, it is setting. Whenever I take a break from one of her novels I always feel slightly disoriented because I could swear I’ve just been somewhere in the English countryside. This was a more recent read for me, but long-anticipated. Morton fans will not be disappointed in The Lake House which hits all the notes we expect in a Morton novel – an unsolved mystery involving an old house in the English countryside, movement between the past and the present, and shocking family secrets. The ending is satisfying, if maybe a bit too neat, and the writing is irreproachable.

Most Over-Hyped

the life changing magic of tidying upThe Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. So many people were losing their minds over this book and I just was not impressed. I did pick up a few helpful tips, but overall I found the book to be incredibly repetitive and also pretty weird. While I like to personify my possessions and talk to inanimate objects as much as the next girl, Kondo takes it to another level. She suggests thanking your belongings before getting rid of them and goes so far as to give this advice about storing your out-of-season clothes, “Let them know you care and look forward to wearing them when they are next in season. This kind of ‘communication’ helps your clothes stay vibrant and keeps your relationship with them alive longer.” Too much, Marie. A little too much. Also, I can’t “only keep things which give me joy.” My vacuum cleaner gives me no joy, but still I must keep it. It’s really not as simple as she wants it to be.

Best YA Book{s}

Daughter of smoke and boneDaughter of Smoke and Bone Trilogy by Laini Taylor. So I confess that I’ve only read two of the three books in this trilogy, but that’s only because right as I finished the second one I got an influx of books I’d put on hold at the library and they all had to read within a few weeks. I will absolutely read the third one ASAP. Because they are intense and incredible. I read the first half of the first one and was like, “Eh…I guess it’s all right. I’ll finish it.” And by the time I got to the end I was like. “Holy hell. I get it.” And the whole second book got better and better. This is a fantasy trilogy, though it is somewhat set in our world. “Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love and dared to imagine a world free of bloodshed and war.”

GrishaThe Grisha trilogy by Leigh Bardugo. Alina Starkov is nobody – an orphaned refugee whose never been noticed. Until her best friend’s life is threatened and a dormant power is awakened in her unlike an the world has ever seen. Alina is immediately taken into the Grisha court to study and train under the most powerful Grisha of all, The Darkling. Together he says they can destroy the Shadow Fold that threatens their country. Together they can remake the world. But nothing is as it seems and Alina must learn to see things that have long been hidden, even the things inside her own heart. This trilogy is so brilliant it kills me a little.

Best Books About Faith

Altar in the WorldAn Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor. This book is part of my 10,000 subscriber giveaway. This book rejects the divisions so many Christians are intent on making between the secular and the sacred. It made me feel so grounded in my body and to this earth. I especially loved the practical disciplines she suggested for making the world a place of worship. Things as simple as taking a walk or working with your hands, or being still and resting. The thing I loved most about this book was walking away feeling that a simple life could be good and honest and holy and true when so often I feel the drive to be more and do more, even from the church.

 

Accidental SaintsAccidental Saints: Finding God in all the Wrong People by Nadia Bolz-Weber. I just love Nadia Bolz-Weber and I loved the overall message of this book – that God can and does show up in the most unexpected places and works through people. I don’t think this was a good as her first book as it’s mostly stories illustrating the same basic point, but I still really liked it.

Most Inspiring

Big magicBig Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert. If you are a creator of some sort, I think this book has value for you. This book explores the paradoxes of the creative life – that creating art is vital to our humanity, and also completely inessential to human existence. That we should commit ourselves seriously to our creative work, and we should always remember that life and death do not hinge on what we do creatively. Most of all, it reminds the reader of why a creative life is a worthwhile life even if you never receive any kind of recognition for your work. Every time I read a section of this book I felt inspired to complete a project or to put myself out there creatively.

Funniest Book

why not meWhy Not Me? by Mindy Kaling.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I believe Mindy Kaling is my spirit animal. I think she is smart, fun, and funny and I would love to be her friend. Therefore, I loved this book which I read with her voice in my head.

Most Unique

41HRculXpcL._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgSmoke Gets in Your Eyes and Other Lesson from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty.  This book of essays about Doughty’s experience as a young woman working in a crematorium was fascinating. In spite of some frank descriptions, she manages to avoid sensationalism and instead brings up questions about the way we as a society treat death and whether there might be a better way. 

Most Disappointing

31e+Y+unwyL._BO1,204,203,200_.jpgNever Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. This is a sort of dystopian novel along the lines of The Giver but set at an exclusive boarding school in England. Even though there is a first person narrator, I felt disconnected from her and from the other characters to the extent that I didn’t really care that much what happened to them. There was also a moment towards the end that is set up as though it’s a big reveal, but I personally didn’t find the information surprising as I’d assumed it all along. I also found it irritating how extremely non-curious the characters were about the world and their role in it. I know this book is pretty highly acclaimed, but for me it was just OK.

Worst Book

51qX2vnFnNL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_-1A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness. I don’t really want to waste space on this ridiculous book, but I will summarize by saying this book was like Twilight for adults, was excessively long, and infuriating. And it’s not well-written. People think that using excessive detailed descriptions makes something well-written. It doesn’t. Don’t waste your time.

Honorable Mentions (books I really enjoyed but don’t have a superlative for)

51Hpr8+w9KL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_After You by JoJo Moyes. The sequel to Moyes’ highly acclaimed Me Before You (right up there with The Fault in Our Stars for most ugly-crying episodes while reading) picks up with Louisa Clarke about a year after we left her. I liked this book because it felt like an honest portrayal of what someone in her situation would be going through, and while I got frustrated with Louisa sometimes, I still wanted to know how it all turned out.

 

last anniversaryThe Last Anniversary by Liane Moriarty. I’m just a huge fan of Moriarty’s. I think all of her books are clever and fun. Sophie Honeywell is 39, unmarried, and starting to wonder if she’s missed her opportunity to have a family when she unexpectedly inherits a house from her ex-boyfriend’s Great Aunt Connie – the woman who discovered the Munro baby. This book revolves around the secret of the Munro baby – a (fictional) famous unsolved mystery where the Munro couple mysteriously disappeared from their home with the tea kettle whistling and a warm cake fresh from the oven leaving their 2 week old baby behind. The story takes place far in the future and is centered on the family who raised the baby (now a grandmother herself) and her children and grandchildren who run a family business that capitalizes on the unsolved mystery of the Munro baby.

Leaving ChurchLeaving Church by Barbara Brown Taylor. Taylor’s story of her call to the Episcopalian priesthood and later her decision to leave the priesthood and become a professor was full of beautiful thoughts about how the world and the church need not be enemies – separate entities that are necessarily opposed to one another. She writes beautifully about the ways she encountered God and grace outside of the church as well as inside it.

I’ve read 63 books so far this year and anticipate finishing 2 -3 more before the end of the year. Click here for a full list of everything I read this year.

Also, don’t forget that my 10,000 subscriber book giveaway is still open until Wednesday. Check out the submission rules here and may the odds be ever in your favor!

10,000 Followers Giveaway!

Yesterday something kind of amazing happened. This blog hit 10,000 followers. To some of you that may seem like a lot and to others it may seem like a little, but to me it is almost incomprehensible and completely humbling, especially since the majority of these followers have come within the last year. I know that not everyone who follows my blog reads every post, but I am still overwhelmed by how many people at some point clicked that “Follow” button to show a measure of support.

When I first started this blog almost five years ago, I was right out of college working as a full-time nanny and needed a creative outlet to keep me writing. I wrote sporadically and without much focus and only about five people even knew about my blog because I didn’t share my posts on social media or even tell my friends about them. As I moved into a season of wrestling with my faith, I started to explore some of my questions, my doubts, and my revelations through blogging. I occasionally shared these posts on Facebook, but my audience was still very small.

After moving to Korea, I had a wealth of strange and interesting life experiences to write about and process through. At the same time, I discovered the spiritual memoir genre and found that blogging about my faith helped me sort through my jumbled thoughts and feelings. I started to connect with other bloggers who wrote about similar topics – what it looks like when the faith you grew up with doesn’t quite fit anymore and how faith can change and grow over time. I had opportunities to guest post and invited others to share on my blog. As I grew into this community, I became more serious about blogging as a means of working out my own story and my own faith while connecting with other people. I sought to present my authentic self with my questions and doubts and problems, and hoped that through my vulnerability others could identify with me and feel less alone.  I started to hear from readers who told me that these little essays meant something to them and I started making real life friends with people who read my words.

I know that some of my you came here to read about my travel experiences, some came to read book reviews and recommendations, and some came to read about my faith-wrestling, but all of you have made my life richer and made my moments of vulnerability worth it.

To help express my gratitude to those of you who have joined me on this journey, I’m hosting a little giveaway. There will be two winners and those winners will each receive a book pack with 3 of my favorite books. One set is nonfiction books and the other is fiction. (It was SO HARD to choose just 3 books for each!)

The nonfiction book pack includes: Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans, Pastrix by Nadia Bolz Weber, and An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor.

The fiction book pack includes: Peace Like a River by Lief Enger, Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, and The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson.

The rules are simple.

  1. You must be a follower or subscriber to this blog. (If you are not a follower all you have to do is scroll to the top of the page and look underneath the picture of a younger and svelter me with the little bio. There is a button right under that that says, “Click here if you’re awesome!” Click that button. All this means is that you will be notified when I post something new. )
  2. You must EITHER “like” my Facebook page, which I will link here. (Literally just click the “like” button) OR follow me on Twitter @lilyellyn. If you don’t have Facebook or Twitter just tell me that in the comment you leave.
  3. Finally, leave a comment below telling me either how you found this blog and why you started following OR what your favorite post has been. Be sure to include whether you are more interested in the fiction or nonfiction book pack if you have a preference.

This giveaway is open internationally so anyone can enter.Submissions are open for 1 week and will close on Wednesday, December 23rd at 11:59 PM EST. There is only one entry per person. At the end of the submission period I will collect the names of everyone who submitted and draw two names randomly. I will announce the winners here in a blog post on Christmas Day so be sure the check back.

You guys are seriously the best. Thank you for being a part of my life.

Giveaway banner image credit via StephanieHowell.com

What I’m Into: November 2015 Edition

The holiday season is officially here! I wish I had endless resources for Christmas decorating, but we usually just put up the tree and call it a day. Although our new place actually has a fireplace mantle that would be perfect for stockings…then again, our cats will probably think dangling stockings are toys just waiting to be knocked down. We already play an annual game where every morning we guess how many ornaments they knocked off the tree while we were sleeping. I believe the record stands at six.

I’m linking up with Leigh Kramer to share what I’ve been up to in the month of November.

What I’m Reading:

Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris. I continued my Sedaris kick with this one. I think I liked Me Talk Pretty One Day better, but I enjoyed this one too. As I’ve said before, Sedaris is a strange guy, but amusing and I feel like I learn a lot about writing from the way he paces his essays and the balance between narrative and exposition in them. And he grew up in Raleigh so I like hearing him describe places I have fond memories of.

Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert. I think I’m more a fan of Liz Gilbert as a person than I am of her as a writer (although The Signature of All Things was pretty good). I listened to this as an audiobook which she read herself and I think that made a huge difference in how approachable and interesting it was. It’s a nonfiction book that’s partially about her coming to terms with the institution of marriage and partially about the historical significance of marriage (in the Western world). The most interesting parts to me had to do with her research on marriage as not being the inherently Christian concept it’s often made out to be and also the tremendously depressing data on how the age of a couple when they marry dramatically influences their chances of staying together. (The younger people marry, the more likely they are to get divorced) and how men’s quality of life improves dramatically after marriage while women’s quality of life is significantly worse. I don’t think this is an amazing book, but I found some of it interesting.

The Lake House by Kate Morton. If you are a fan of Morton’s previous books you will probably like this one. She stays in her wheelhouse with this mystery which involves an old house in the English countryside, family secrets, and movement between the past and present as the reader and the characters try to solve the mystery of what happened to Theo Edevane, who disappeared when he was two years old. I found the ending to be a bit contrived, but was nevertheless charmed by the book.

In the Valley of the Shadow Light has Dawned by Stephanie Ebert. I wrote a review of this little advent devotional here, but the short version is that I loved it because it met me right where I am. I recommend it to anyone looking for how to hold on to hope in the midst of a dark world.

I am on the verge of finishing both Accidental Saints by Nadia Bolz-Weber and Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith (AKA J. K. Rowling) so my review will have to wait for next month, but spoiler alert – I’m really liking them both.

What I’m Listening To:

Adele. Duh. Isn’t everyone?

What I’m Watching:

I completely forgot to mention this last month, but I watched all of season 1 of Jane the Virgin on Netflix last month. I haven’t been able to watch Season 2 though because I didn’t start it in time to catch the first few episodes while they were on Hulu and now they aren’t available anymore (I know, I know, first world problems). Jonathan and I are keeping up with How to Get Away with Murder and Brooklyn Nine Nine (our favorite) and we are making our way through the new season of The Mindy Project.

In movies this month we saw Spectre (the new James Bond movie) which was a classic James Bond movie – entertaining but nothing special. We also saw the last Hunger Games movie with Jonathan’s family on Thanksgiving night. It was well done, but, like the book, rather dark.

What I’m Eating:

Way too much, guys. Way too much. One of my healthier fall favorites has been winter squash (acorn squash). Cut it in half and scoop out the seeds. Fill the hollow with butter, cinnamon, and brown sugar (amount depends on how healthy you want to be) and microwave for 6 – 8 minutes. Eat with a spoon!

o-ACORN-SQUASH-facebook.jpg

via Huffington Post

What I’m Writing:

I wrote my weekly adventures for weeks 44, 45, 46, and 47 here on the blog. I also wrote about the loss of two dear professors and about advent as the season of holy longing.

I wrote a few more articles for Modernize and while I’ve gotten positive feedback from the editor, I think my contract with them may be at its end. Fingers crossed for a few more weeks of work!

On the Internets:

Did you guys know about Glitter for Your Enemies? Cause I think it’s brilliant. It’s a website that lets you send an envelope full of glitter anonymously to your enemies. So they get glitter bombed. Because we all know how impossible to get rid of glitter. Almost makes me wish I had enemies…

What I’ve Been Up To:

I’ve actually been working a lot this month. I tutor 7 days a week for students from elementary school through college. Some days I just have one student and other days I have 3 or 4. I subbed 8 days this month and picked up 7 freelance articles. Some weeks I have too much to do and other weeks I can’t quite scrape together enough, but God has been faithful and little by little things are coming together, even without a traditional job.

We moved into our new place at the beginning of November and spent the first few weeks getting settled. I did a little photo tour to give you a glimpse of it.

The loss of two of my professors a couple weeks ago hit me hard and made me think a lot about what it means to live life well.

This past week we traveled to Ohio to spend Thanksgiving with my in-laws. It was our first time back to Ohio in a year and half and it was good to be with family.

December promises to be full of activity. My birthday is coming up this week and my best friend from college and her new husband are coming to visit for the weekend. A week later, Jonathan’s family will come to visit us bringing along his brother who will be newly arrived from South Africa. After their visit, we’ll travel to see my family in Louisiana for Christmas.

While I’m looking forward to all of that activity, I’m also longing to carve out times of quiet. After two years of being away for the holidays, I’ve become accustomed to a quieter Christmas season.

How was your November? What do you have planned for the holidays?