What I Read in 2013 {Non-fiction}

Photo Credit: Ungrind.org

Unlike my fiction list, every single non-fiction read was a knock-out-of-the-park, so to speak. I absolutely loved every single non-fiction book and my one regret is that I didn't read more non-fiction. I will try to remedy that in 2014.

Each book is rated using my personal rating system:

* Mediocre ** Good *** Very Good **** Excellent

Non-Fiction

Desperate: Hope for the Mom Who Needs to Breathe by Sarah Mae and Sally Clarkson**** In the dark of January last year this was the perfect encouragement for my mama soul. Detailed review here.

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy – Eric Metaxas**** It took me over a year to finish this book. It stalled a bit in the middle. However, it was a fantastic biography. Metaxas' writing was exceptionally engaging--this was not a mere churning out of dry facts. I knew little of Bonhoeffer before reading this book, other than that he wrote The Cost of Discipleship and was killed by the Nazis. I had not idea what a talented, interesting, brilliant intellectual, and theologian he was.

In the Land of Blue Burqas by Kate McCord**** I wrote a detailed review of this book here. This was a fascinating, sensitive, and enlightening book about the author's life and interactions with Afghani Muslims--particularly women--as she lived and worked in Afghanistan for five years.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot**** (audiobook) I look forward to anything Rebecca Skloot puts out from this point forward. The author takes a scientifically difficult and complicated story and tells it in a riveting way. It is also the story of the life and death of Henrietta Lacks, the woman behind the now famous and important HeLa cells. This book read like a novel and was intellectually interesting and emotionally compelling. Not to mention, so much of the story was locally set that it added to my interest.

The Greatest Gift: Unwrapping the Full Love Story of Christmas by Ann Voskamp**** When I found out Ann Voskamp was coming out with an Advent devotional I bought it right away. I liked it even more than One Thousand Gifts, which also impacted me. However, I get the most out of Ann's writing when delivered in small chunks, which was the way The Greatest Gift was set up, in daily readings. Her descriptive writing style had me looking at Christ's birth with fresh eyes of wonder: "What God ever came so tender we could touch Him? So fragile that we could break Him? So vulnerable that His bare, beating heart could be hurt? Only the One who loves you to death," she writes with beauty and insight. I looked forward to reading it first thing each morning for the month of December.

What was your favorite non-fiction read of 2013?

What I Read in 2013 {Fiction}

photo (1)

One of my favorite posts each year is to share what books I've read and find out what some of your favorite titles were as well. Looking back over the past year I felt like my fiction choices were not as stellar as past years. Many of them I can't say I loved, however, after reading them I found value in them. Whether it was the story or the actual writing, very few of my fiction reads actually made it to four stars. Maybe I'm just growing more critical or hard to please.

Each book is rated using my personal rating system:

* Mediocre ** Good *** Very Good **** Excellent

With no more ado . . . what I read in 2013.

The Postmistress by Sarah Blake** I could not get into this book. It was a lackluster tale. I felt like it strove to be greater than it was. Not one I'd recommend.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling** (audiobook) After so many people raving about Harry Potter I decided to give him a try. The narrator, Jim Dale, is almost worth listening to on his own merit. I enjoyed the book, but was by no means "hooked." I'm listening to book 2 now. We'll see if this series takes off for me.

Blackberry Winter by Sarah Jio*** I didn't enjoy this book as much as The Violets of March, but it was completely enjoyable, although certainly sad too. I enjoy how Jio always writes a story that has two narratives going on, one in the past one in present day, and how those stories end up colliding. It was certainly heartbreaking, as it involves the kidnap of a woman's son. But I was captivated.

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton*** One of my favorite reads of the year, I was happy to finally read a Wharton novel! Yes, how did I earn an English degree without reading one of her novels, I have no idea?! I definitely want to read more of her work. I was surprised how modern and even relevant her novel is even today. The end was just brilliant!

SubmergedShattered, and Stranded by Dani Pettrey*** I met author Dani Pettrey at a local library author day and later interviewed her for Ungrind. The Alaskan Courage books are fast-paced adventure mystery romances. They involve a group of siblings and each book centers on one of the siblings and how they get involved in a mystery.

The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom*** In no way could I say I enjoyed this book. From the first chapter a knot formed in the pit of my stomach and it only grew from there. I almost didn't want to finish it. But when I was finished I found that I was thankful I read it. The end had a twist I in no way expected. This book is not for the faint of heart. I recommend it only if you have an interest in the subject matter of slavery and women in the pre-Civil War south.

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins*** Collins has long been a favorite of mine when it comes to Victorian Literature. This book was a little more dense than I remembered from my first reading of it, but completely enjoyable. It involves swapped identities, the diabolical villain Fosco, and the delightful heroine Marion who never gives up on her sister.

Left Neglected by Lisa Genova*** (audiobook) At first I didn't like this book at all, but it grew on me. It is about Sarah, an overachieving career woman and mom to three who has a car accident. The result is an injury to the brain that causes, in layman's terms, "left neglect." Written by a neuroscientist, the novel is poignant as it follows the changes Sarah must make not only physically, but emotionally.

Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks*** (audiobook) Geraldine Brooks can write. Some of the images from her novel will always be in my mind. This was a fascinating novel that dealt with the fictionalization of true events when an English village decided to quarantine themselves when it is discovered the villagers have contracted the plague. It was a great book and gave insight to that time period, however, the end was really bizarre and hurried.

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett** I think everyone liked this book in my book club except me. I found the science totally far-fetched. So far-fetched it kept me from enjoying the book. I never felt emotionally connected to any of the characters and felt they were rather one-dimensional.

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain*** I wanted to like this book. So many people loved it. But I think my distaste for Earnest Hemingway got in the way. I did enjoy "getting to know" Hadley and learning more about such an interesting time in literary history that existed in Paris in that period. The triumph of this novel is how masterfully the author was able to retell the true facts of their lives in such an authentic way.

A Week in Winter by Maeve Binchy**** I LOVED this novel. Both the story and the writing were something I could just sink into. I loved the characters and how they all interwove together. This is a novel about character development, how people change and grow. If you love that sort of story set in Ireland, then pour up some tea and enjoy.

The House at Tyneford by Natasha Solomons** This novel doesn't live up to Downton Abbey or Kate Morton's novels, like the cover claims. While there were many plot elements I liked, I didn't find one of the major relationships compelling.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery**** (audiobook) I'm glad I listened to this book on audiobook or I might not have gotten through it. There were a few times, even listening to it I wasn't sure if I could keep going. But part of the joy in listening to this novel was how the readers absolutely added to the book. Tony Award–winning actress Barbara Rosenblat positively embodies the concierge, Renée Michel, who is one of the main protagonists in the story. It is a novel unlike any I've ever read, and contains more words I've never seen in my life all in one place (and not all French, either). The novel is very philosophical which is one of the things that make it so one-of-a-kind. And can I just say I adored the Anna Karenina references?? It is a novel that stayed with me and although I was unsure about it, lodged itself in my heart. I ended up caring greatly for the characters and crying my eyes out at the end.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows**** A delightful reread for me. I love Juliet and Guernsey and hope it will finally get made into a movie soon!

So to recap, my favorite fiction of the year was The Age of Innocence, A Week in Winter, and The Elegance of the Hedgehog.

How about you? What was your favorite fiction from 2013?

The Weary World Rejoices

 

"The spirit of Christmas needs to be superseded by the Spirit of Christ. The spirit of Christmas is annual; the Spirit of Christ is eternal. The spirit of Christmas is sentimental; the Spirit of Christ is supernatural. The spirit of Christmas is a human product; the Spirit of Christ is a divine person. That makes all the difference in the world."

-Stuart Briscoe, quoted in The Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp

Merry Christmas!

Christmas Books {2013 Edition}

2013-12-09_015 In years past, I've shared some of my favorite Christmas books for children. I hope you will check that post out if you're interested in some wonderful books that center around the Christmas season.

But this year I've discovered a few more and I can't wait to share them!

The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree by Gloria Houston I included this book on my previous list, but since it's my favorite Children's Christmas book ever, I have to repeat it so that no one misses reading it! A tear jerker about a little girl named Ruthie, who is waiting for her father to come home from war and must donate the “perfect Christmas tree” to her town’s Christmas play.

Lighthouse Christmas by Toni Buzzeo A delightful story about a family that is not sure if they'll be able to have Christmas this year due to lighthouse duties. Then they get an unexpected guest and a package is dropped from the sky.

Great Joy by Kate DiCamillo A sweet story about belonging and the end made me tear up. Gorgeously illustrated and written by the author of The Tale of Despereaux.

Christmas in the Country by Cynthia Rylant No stranger to children's literature, Rylant, continues her story of growing up in the country with her grandparents she first introduced us to in When I Was Young in the Mountains. Illustrated by Diane Goode who also illustrated the previous book, I loved the simple story of a Christmas in the country.

The Remarkable Christmas of the Cobbler's Son told by Ruth Sawyer A folktale illustrated by my ever-favorite Barbara Cooney, this book is about three brothers and a mysterious visitor.

Saint Nicholas by Ann Tompert An illustrated biography for children about the REAL Saint Nicholas.

Father and Son: A Nativity Story by Geraldine McCaughrean McCaughrean is quickly becoming a favorite around here and this is her take on Joseph's point of view of the birth of Jesus.

Humphrey's First Christmas by Carol Heyer This book is worth the amazing illustrations alone. I love the unique perspective of Ms. Heyer's illustrations. Humphrey is a camel on a journey who thinks quite a lot of his comfort and is easily disgruntled--until he meets the Christ Child, that is.

The Twelve Days of Christmas by Laurel Long We've read through all of Laurel Long's picture books last year because her art is exquisite. This books has layers and layers of images that build on each other as the book progressives. She takes the simple song and adds even more with her gorgeous paintings, as well as explaining the history of the song.

The Tale of Three Trees retold by Angela Elwell Hunt This book is easily a Christmas or an Easter book and it gets me every. single. time.

Hannah's Bookmobile Christmas by Sally Derby A snow storm strands a bookmobile on Christmas Eve.

The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowki A grieving Jonathan Toomey is a woodcarver who meets a young boy who needs a nativity carved.

Christmas Day in the Morning by Pearl S. Buck A Christmas story by a classic author, this is the story of a boy who wants to give a special gift to his dad.

What's your favorite children's Christmas book?

 

A Humble Heart

8745-mary baby jesus_edited.630w.tn  

If ever there was an inconvenient pregnancy, it was Mary of Nazareth’s. Her pregnancy was miraculous, but it also put her in a tenuous situation. As a virgin engaged to be married — worse case scenario — Mary could have been stoned to death (Deuteronomy 22:23-24). Who on earth would actually believe her story?

There are so many details I wonder about. What did her parents say? When she went away to visit Elizabeth for three months and came back starting to show, how did she deal with the gossip? Did she remain silent or did she share the angel’s message? Was she laughed at and ridiculed? After all, even her betrothed, Joseph didn’t believe her story at first.

Finish reading over at iBelieve . . . 

Image Credit: iBelieve.com

Christmas Tour {2013}

2013-12-09_012

We've been in our new home since June and it's hard to believe it's already Christmas! Every year I do a little Christmas "tour" and it's been fun over the years to look back and see what's changed. This year was especially fun to decorate our new space! No doubt you'll be seeing more of our new place as we make changes. Right now, the paint colors don't reflect my style or vision, they are what the previous owners chose. So just a little disclaimer there. Also, my sister is borrowing my wide angle lens for a college class so most of what I'm sharing here will be detail shots. You'll have to wait for later to see more of a "whole room" view. So without further ado, let's begin.

Side entry and stockings hung where the coats usually reside:

2013-12-09_006

Our cozy living room:

2013-12-09_0092013-12-09_008

2013-12-09_0102013-12-09_007

This year's Jesse Tree, on a built-in "buffet" that divides the kitchen and the dining room:

2013-12-09_003

Dining room mantel and nativity which graces our table: 2013-12-09_0052013-12-09_004

2013-12-09_013

My mom got the kids their own little Christmas trees for their bedrooms above and below:

2013-12-09_011 One of my boys in particular loves to decorate for the holidays. Actually, we never do it up enough for him. He wants the house covered in lights and a blow-up Santa in the yard! Oy! But he does enjoy having his own Christmas pillow and window clings to decorate his room with. Definitely makes him feel special!

2013-12-09_014

That's it for this year! Thanks for stopping by!

 

 

 

Christmas DIY {repost}

Need some DIY inspiration for Christmas gifts? I've got some for you. Last year my Christmas theme for gifts was "crafting." It included all types of crafts: knitting, baking, and framing. Here's some of the fun projects I created with links to all the resources you'll need.

I made several cup cozies and am still whipping them up to have on hand to give as gifts. Aren't they cute? Stick on in your purse and you'll never need one of those cardboard sleeves again! And I'm so excited that that I now have a Cuppow so that no matter how many jars I break, I'll always have a coffee cup. :)

I also made gourmet marshmallows! Coffee and chocolate flavors. Such soft and billowy goodness!

Pumpkin bread was baked in these adorable wooden bakers. It definitely dresses up a gift of sweet bread and you can get a set of 6 from King Arthur Flour.

I also made Pomegranate Syrup and put them in jars from Mountain Rose Herbs. Aren't the stoppers cute? The syrup can be drizzled on pound cake, ice cream, or made into cocktails.

I have a thing for maps and when I saw these printables, I printed out a bunch and framed them for almost everyone! What a beautiful way to decorate for Christmas! Or all year, because I'm not going to pack mine up.

I also made these pretty scarves! A no-sew project too, just hot glue and buttons. I got my sister to model hers for me. :)

 

Come Let Us Adore Him {Advent 2013}

2012-12-11_004.jpg

Advent. It means "coming." It is an invitation to come and adore Christ.

Every year I'm excited for Advent. Every year Advent centers my heart on what counts as Christmas nears. It helps me keep close Christ, amidst the hustle and bustle so that Christmas Eve doesn't arrive and it just dawns on me, O yeah, I'm supposed to be celebrating Jesus' birth!

It can be so easy to get caught up in the stress and expectations of Christmas: to make it bigger and better. But I want to teach my kids Christmas isn't about the tree, lights, cookies, and gifts. It's not about materialism or even family. It's about the coming of Jesus.

So this is how we'll quieting our hearts this Christmas.

For Me:

I'll be reading Ann Voskamp's advent devotional The Greatest Gift: Unwrapping the Full Love Story of Christmas. I also will be sporadically reading Nancy Guthrie's compilation of Advent readings entitled Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus.

For the Kids:

We'll be reading through Ann Voskamp's A Jesse Tree Journey, which was a free printable a few years ago. I don't think it's still available. The kids will hang the ornaments that came with it to create their own Jesse tree.

Also, in the morning we'll be doing this Jesus Storybook Advent Reading Plan while eating breakfast. We'll actually be listening to the David Suchet read version on CD. Suchet is better known as Agatha Christie's Poirot for Masterpiece Mystery. I guarantee you he does such a better and more dramatic reading than I would. :)

A Few More Resources:

I also downloaded and saved the following resources for future use:

Faith Gateway is distributing this version of the Jesus Storybook Advent plan that also includes printable ornaments.

The Story Warren put together an advent package I'll be sure to use next year. Unfortunately, it came out too late for me to have it printed and ornaments created, so I hope to use this for the kids next Christmas. It contains readings and beautifully watercolor illustrations to hang as ornaments on a Jesse Tree.

There are so many advent options it can be hard to pick one. But it doesn't have to be complicated. Just pick one and I guarantee it will enrich the Christmas season.

If you already celebrate Advent, would you share your family's tradition in the comment section?