Archive for the ‘Reads’ Category

The Virtual Librarian Experience: It’s All About the Characters for a Kingsolver Lover

Thursday, January 7th, 2016

The Virtual Librarian Experience from MomAdvice.com

I am so excited to be unveiling a new feature on MomAdvice this year. The main features that many of our readers come here for are the book reviews and to check out the stories behind the stories in our Sundays With Writers series. As a ferocious reader,  I have reviewed hundreds of books on here, but so many of these reviews for incredible books have sunk to the bottom of our archives and I just have not found a way to bring them back to life…

Until now.

Welcome to the MomAdvice Virtual Librarian series! I have created a quick questionnaire you can fill out to share with me a little about your reading tastes, your favorite authors, and what you look for in a good book. I will act as your virtual librarian to create a list of suggestions for you that I think you will enjoy based on books and authors you already love. My hope is to pair you with a book that may have never been on your radar and it will give the books that I have loved over the years a time to shine again on the site. My favorite thing in the world to do is to share good books with friends so this is a way that I can do that for you and share it with our readers in the process.

If you would like me to pick some books for you, just fill out this questionnaire and submit it. I will send you an email when your post is live to let you know my favorite picks for you! You can also leave comments on books you would recommend for this reader too in our comment section below!

I put this questionnaire together and asked my own Facebook friends if they would fill it out so we could get a solid start on our series. 30 people have submitted questionnaires so I am excited to start diving in and pairing readers with new books this year. I will answer your requests in the order they are received and send you an email with a link to my responses when your turn comes up. At times, this series may be a substitute for our favorite things list when nothing really is standing out to me as something to share for the week. I always want to be honest with my favorites and sometimes I don’t buy/do/use anything worth mentioning so I would rather not force it and keep the consistency true. I think this will be a great substitution for those quieter weeks!

The Virtual Librarian Experience from MomAdvice.com

Reader Profile

Name?

Helen

What is Your Favorite Book Genre?

Fiction

Who Are Your Favorite Authors?

Barbara Kingsolver, Robert B. Parker, Diane Chamberlain, Suzanne Collins, Diana Gabaldon, Anne LaMott

Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver

What is Your Favorite Book of All-Time? 

Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver

What Do You Look for In a Book?

It’s all about the characters

The MomAdviceVirtual Librarian (2)

 

The Virtual Librarian Selects…

Helen has such a wide range in personal taste, but you can instantly tell that she loves a good storyteller. I have read most of the authors she has listed and have enjoyed books by them so I feel pretty confident in making some good recommendations for strong storytellers that I think she will love.

Here are my top selections for Helen based on her reading profile:

 

The Stories Life of A.J. Fikry

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

A. J. Fikry’s life is not at all what he expected it to be. His wife has died, his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history, and now his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen. Slowly but surely, he is isolating himself from all the people of Alice Island-from Lambiase, the well-intentioned police officer who’s always felt kindly toward Fikry; from Ismay, his sister-in-law who is hell-bent on saving him from his dreary self; from Amelia, the lovely and idealistic (if eccentric) Knightley Press sales rep who keeps on taking the ferry over to Alice Island, refusing to be deterred by A.J.’s bad attitude. Even the books in his store have stopped holding pleasure for him. These days, A.J. can only see them as a sign of a world that is changing too rapidly.

And then a mysterious package appears at the bookstore that changes his life forever…

This story is enchanting from start to finish. This book is a must-read for book lovers as it references so many of my favorite books and centers around a little bookshop in a seaside town. I could not put this one down and, truly, did not want the story of these beautiful characters to end.

I think Helen would love this book because it is a book that really targets the heart of a true book lover and storyteller and is very character driven, which is something you can tell she really loves.

The Orphans of Race Point by Patry Francis

The Orphans of Race Point by Patry Francis

This book is absolutely stunning from start to finish. It was filled with words that begged to be read again because they felt like poetry to me.  It is a  beautifully woven story with big moral messages about love, forgiveness, and redemption. The plot twists? I never saw them coming, which happens rarely when you are an avid reader like I am.

Set in the close-knit Portuguese community of Provincetown, Massachusetts, The Orphans of Race Point traces the relationship between Hallie Costa and Gus Silva, who meet as children in the wake of a terrible crime that leaves Gus parentless. Their friendship evolves into an enduring and passionate love that will ask more of them than they ever imagined.

On the night of their high school prom, a terrible tragedy devastates their relationship and profoundly alters the course of their lives. And when, a decade later, Gus—now a priest—becomes entangled with a distraught woman named Ava and her daughter Mila, troubled souls who bring back vivid memories of his own damaged past, the unthinkable happens: he is charged with murder. Can Hallie save the man she’s never stopped loving, by not only freeing him from prison but also—finally—the curse of his past?

Told in alternating voices, The Orphans of Race Point illuminates the transformative power of love and the myriad ways we find meaning in our lives.

The author is just as fabulous as this book so be sure to read my interview with her after you finish it- her story of becoming an author is REALLY inspiring and made me appreciate this beautiful book even more!

I am recommending this one for Helen because of her love for Diane Chamberlain. I am a huge fan of her writing and found The Orphans of Race Point to be as compelling as some of  Chamberlain’s stronger novels!

Heft by Liz Moore

Heft by Liz Moore

This is a novel that can be appreciated by all people and is a story that leaves you rooting for some of the most unlikely characters in the most unlikely friendships. I consider this book to be storytelling at its finest, yet, this one really went under the radar when it came out,  making it a great hidden gem for Helen.

Eighteen years ago, Arthur had a promising career as a professor, and loved his work. He is now  a 58 year-old man who cannot leave his home due to his incredible size of 500 pounds. Since 2001 he has managed to stay within the confines of his home relying on services like grocery and food deliveries that can be ordered from his own computer. He has no friends, no family, and the only bit of human contact he receives are letters occasionally sent to him from his old student, Charlene Turner.

When Charlene contacts Arthur, out of the blue, to see if he will help her with her son Kel Keller and offer guidance to him to help him, Arthur hires a cleaning service to help him get his house back in shape. His house is a place that has been grossly neglected because Arthur has lost the will and lacks the energy to clean it, due to his size. When a young 19 year-old Yolanda shows up on his doorstep, he can never know how this will change his life. An unlikely friendship unfolds and brings new purpose to Arthur’s life that he never expects.

The author not only takes you through Arthur’s difficulties in his life, but the story of Kel and his mother Chelsea alternate in these chapters as you see the difficulties that this young man has had to overcome and will leave you begging for the happy ending that this boy so deserves.

Beautifully written and great stories that are woven together in such a way that you can vividly picture each of these characters and feel their stories resonate in your own heart. I think Helen would have a hard time putting this one down because of these compelling characters Moore has created.

11/22/63 by Stephen King

11/22/63 by Stephen King

Jake Epping  teaches high school English in Lisbon Falls, Maine, and is recently divorced from his wife and going through the everyday minutiae of middle-aged life. When he happens upon an assignment from one of his students, a brain-damaged janitor’s story of a childhood Halloween massacre by their drunken father, it brings him to tears and he finds that he can’t stop thinking about what if his life had worked out differently.

When he has lunch at his favorite diner, the diner owner and friend, Al, shares that he has a secret portal to 1958 that he uses to time travel in the back pantry of his restaurant.  He has been taking notes and following Lee Harvey Oswald to see if he can alter the JFK assassination. His dying wish is that Jake can use his notes and actually complete the mission of killing Lee Oswald Harvey before he kills JFK.

Jake decides to fulfill Al’s dying wish and begins a new life in 1958 under the name of George Amberson. What Jake doesn’t expect is how quickly his life can become settled in this new era or how his life would change if he met his one true love?

I loved absolutely everything about this book and when I finished it, I wanted to read the story all over again. It has a beautiful love story, great suspense, and leads to the ultimate question, “Would you change history if you could?”

I am selecting this one for Helen because of her love for Diana Gabaldon and her writing on time travel (and apparently her love for big books). I think she would find this one to be another fantastic time travel escape!

Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg

Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg

On the eve of her daughter’s wedding, June Reid’s life is completely devastated when a shocking disaster takes the lives of her daughter, her daughter’s fiancé, her ex-husband, and her boyfriend, Luke—her entire family, all gone in a moment. And June is the only survivor.

Alone and directionless, June drives across the country, away from her small Connecticut town. In her wake, a community emerges, weaving a beautiful and surprising web of connections through shared heartbreak.

Clegg ambitiously illuminates how interwoven we are as people in this beautiful and haunting story of a town tragedy and the people left behind. Although the sheer amount of characters that share in each of the chapters (some once, other main characters more often) is confusing to piece together as a reader, you become a detective as each person is woven into another.

The grief-stricken mothers left behind leave you with an ache in your own heart and are written so beautifully they feel real. You are also reminded that even in chance meetings with others you can play a powerful part in someone else’s story. This is, by far,  one of the best books I have read this year!

Don’t miss my interview with Bill Clegg about his haunting book and process for creating this gorgeous story!

I am suggesting this one for Helen because it focuses on an entire town of characters with smart layering of each one in the story and how this tragedy affects them. Since it’s all about the characters with her, this ambitious book would be fantastic for her! 

What would you pick out for Helen based on her preferences? Leave your suggestions in the comments below!

This post contains affiliate links. I only recommend what I love though! 

Amy’s Notebook 01.06.16

Wednesday, January 6th, 2016

Read more this year via Modern Mrs. Darcy

Source: Modern Mrs. Darcy

 

Seven simple ways to read more this year.

Oh, this cowl is gorgeous!

The joy of experiences over things. YES.

The joy of choosing one word for the year. Do you have one?

The best pieces of culture we watched, read and listened to in 2015. Be sure to read the comments for more ideas!

Don’t forget to give thanks.

A big bow DIY with no sewing required!

2016 Goals via Elise Blaha

Source: Elise Blaha

 

Inspiring goals for a new year.

How to read an entire book in a single day.

Have a plain brown paper package? Here’s a few ideas how to dress it up!

Why not try a 30-day shop your closet challenge to try out a capsule wardrobe? So smart!

13 best Google Chrome life hacks.

Snowfall crochet mittens – what a cozy design!

Top 10 mistakes we make when grocery shopping – and how to fix them.

10 ways your freezer can make everyday cooking easier.

I hope you enjoyed our notebook, a collection of gathered links to DIY crafts, food projects, thrifty ways to spruce up your home, and thoughtful reads. Nothing brings me more joy than to highlight other fabulous bloggers. Follow me on Pinterest for daily inspiration!

November/December 2015 Must-Reads

Monday, December 21st, 2015

November/December 2015 Must-Reads from MomAdvice.com

It’s time to wrap up another year of reading on MomAdvice. I hope you didn’t miss my annual wrap-up of the best reads for 2015. What an incredible year of reading it was this year. I want to thank so many of you for your encouragement on how much you appreciate these lists when making your book selections and how these have helped motivate you to really dig in and read again. Reading is a cause that is near and dear to my heart!

With the holidays in full swing, I combined my November and December reading since I wasn’t able to tackle as many books as I had hoped!  I am looking forward to a little R&R with my kids while they are on break and I’m hoping to come back refreshed and with many more great book selections for you to dive into!

In the meantime, I started a small  MomAdvice Hangout Facebook group and we will be running a monthly MomAdvice Book Club discussion there. If you want to join in, be sure to pick up The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende for our January chat!  Each month we will have a new hostess who will be able to introduce to you a new book to read and discuss. If you are interested in joining in the fun, be sure to send me a request. We are keeping the group private for now so people can really chat and get to know one another!

Bird Box by Josh Malerman

Bird Box by Josh Malerman

I selected this creepy read to indulge in over the Halloween weekend since none of the typical Halloween horror films were grabbing me this year. I must say that this book did not disappoint and I would, in particular, recommend this one for Hitchcock fans!

Malerman succeeds in writing a perfectly gripping and creepy psychological page-turner. With the creatures lurking, a woman and her two children try to flee to safety blindfolded along a river. If they see what is lurking, they die a horrific death inflicting pain upon themselves to stop seeing the horrors of what they have seen. Interweaving past (pre-creatures) and present (a post-creature world), you go along on a horrific ride as Malorie tries to save herself and her children blindfolded, never knowing what is lurking around every turn.

I loved it and I think you will too especially if you love classic Stephen King or if you enjoyed The Girl With All the Gifts as much as I did. Do yourself a favor and read this one so we can talk about it!

Josh will be joining us next month for our Sundays With Writers series! I can’t wait to hear more about how he came up with this unique concept for a storyline!

4 Out of 5 Stars

Secrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meissner

Secrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meissner

I am slowly working my way through the GoodReads Choice Awards nominations list and Secrets of a Charmed Life was nominated for the Historical Fiction category.

There is so much to love in this story about two sisters who are separated from one another in such a sad way and how they are transformed by this experience and the war. Set in 1940’s England, the book focuses on the bombings that happened in London, following the story of Emma Downtree who ends up losing everything in the bombs including her inability to find her sister after a series of bombs occurs in the building where their apartment resides. This inevitably changes Emma’s entire life path leading her to a different career path, to find love, and uncovering some deep family secrets along the way.

The story does alternate with the past and the current day, but in a really readable way.  Sometimes those present day stories can take away from the story, but this really moved things along in a beautiful way.  The only part that lagged a bit was the ending with the letters, for me.

I am recommending this one for fans of The Nightingale, The Orphan Train,  All the Light I Cannot See.

4 Out of 5 Stars

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin

I have been dying to read Brooklyn ever since I saw the preview for the film. Wouldn’t you know that our theater did not have it and then they only had it at weird times so I never got to see it. I’m heartbroken why good films like this don’t stick around and get played more around this area. What the hay, Michiana? You see, I always make a deal with myself to read the book first so I can feel the true disappointment in films…kidding…sort of.

Eilis Lacey has come of age in small-town Ireland in the hard years following World War Two. When an Irish priest from Brooklyn offers to sponsor Eilis in America — to live and work in a Brooklyn neighborhood “just like Ireland” — she decides she must go, leaving her fragile mother and her charismatic sister behind. When she falls in love, she receives some devastating news that sends her back home again where she must make painful choices about her future.

This was such an achingly beautiful coming of age story that perfectly captures the struggles of growing up and leaving your childhood home and family. The real challenge lies in moving away and then finding yourself back at home again and finding your placement in the world again when you are all that your mother has left. Do you stay or do you go?

A beautiful read, particularly on audiobook thanks to the gorgeous accents, for a great escape. I recommend this one for fans of The Book of Unknown Americans, Everything I Never Told YouAmericanah

4 Out of 5 Stars

The Royal We by Heather Cocks & Jessica Morgan

The Royal We by Heather Cocks & Jessica Morgan

I know you are like, ALRIGHT, YOU LOVED IT. WE GET IT! Yes, this one made my top ten list for just a great guilty pleasure escape this year. That said, I read it over the month of December so I had to include it today in our monthly round-up!

I was completely enchanted by The Royal We, a fictional tale of an American getting swept off her feet by a real Prince.

Perhaps, that sounds a little cheesy, but it is anything BUT cheesy.Instead of focusing on the fairy tale romance aspect of the story, Heather & Jessica really dive into what it would take for someone to transition from college student into a Princess and the very real dilemma of losing her privacy, what strains that might put on her friendships, and what her family might go through as she takes on a celebrity status that she had never desired.

It’s funny, heartwarming, and really beautifully executed from a really smart family lineage to what training might be involved to be a part of the Royal family.

It read like a guilty pleasure read that still had lots of depth and soul. I laughed, cried, and was disappointed that I had to close the final pages when I was done. I just didn’t want it to end and I am convinced there is more of a story to tell.

Be sure to catch my interview with the authors for more juicy royal chatter and to hear what’s happening with the film process for this one!

4 Out of 5 Stars

Trail of Broken Wings by Sejal Badani

Trail of Broken Wings by Sejal Badani

Once again, I tackled another read from that GoodReads nomination list and Trail of Broken Wings was another nominee for Best Fiction that I wanted to read.

Domestic abuse is fully brought to light in this account of one family and the man who abused them. As he lays in a coma, each of the sisters and the wife replay the events that happened through their traumatic years and the reader uncovers the dark secrets that they each have carried. 

This one delved a lot into the Indian culture and the traditional roles of women in their culture, many of which I was not aware of! It would make for a compelling book club discussion and did not shy away from some of the demons people battle when they have been abused.

The book had a great twist at the end that really added some depth to one of the character’s storylines. Raw and honest, it would be impossible to read and not feel a new awareness and sadness for those abused.

 4 Out of 5 Stars

November/December 2015 Must-Reads from MomAdvice.com

Read With Me This Year:

January 2015 Must-Reads

February 2015 Must-Reads

March 2015 Must-Reads

April 2015 Must-Reads

May 2015 Must-Reads

June 2015 Must-Reads

July 2015 Must-Reads

August 2015 Must-Reads

September 2015 Must-Reads

October 2015 Must-Reads

My Top Ten Books of 2015

November/December 2015 Must-Reads from MomAdvice.com

What should I be adding to my library bag?  Leave your suggestions in the comments below! Looking for book ideas? Check out our entire Book section of the site! Don’t forget to friend me on GoodReads! xo

*this post may contain affiliate links- I only recommend what I love though.

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It’s the 3 Little Things: A Lifetime of Gift Wrap, Faux Leather Midi, & Glorious Holds

Friday, December 18th, 2015

A Charlie Brown Christmas Record

Yawn!  We made it through another week and I am giving myself a nice slow clap this morning as we crawl our way to the finish of another busy week. Today I am savoring my last day alone before the holiday break with the kids and finishing up the last of the details as we celebrate our first family Christmas tomorrow.

We had several gatherings with friends this week to celebrate the holiday season and each of them remind me how lucky I am to have my village of people and I am thankful for the new friends we have met along the way.

Bell Ringing

We have been trying to spread a lot of Christmas cheer in our neck of the woods. We volunteered with Clay Church to be bell ringers this year as a family and I plan to make this an annual tradition.  I think my heart grew just witnessing my kids and their genuine love for people and enthusiasm as each coin was dropped into that bucket during their shift.

Teacher Gifts

I usually share our gifts with you each year for all the helpers in our life! This year I did knitted cozies again and just added felt flower pins to this simple knit for each of our teachers and bus drivers (I left out that felt flower detail for our male bus driver & postal worker) on insulated coffee mugs. For our awesome bus drivers I did Fast Lane Tea (hahaha!) with mugs and then I wrapped up two Krispy Kreme Doughnuts in small boxes for them.

For the office staff at school I shared some of my slow cooker pumpkin spiced candles.

For our principal, I knitted a red pair of cabled ear warmers.

For the staff, I did a dozen Krispy Kreme doughnuts and attached our holiday card with some washi tape to leave in the lounge.

Our teachers received the same tea & knitted cozies set with a donation towards their iPad drive. It was fun to make deliveries this week!

Let’s move on to this week’s jam-packed happy list!

Leather Midi

Leather Midi

A Budget-Friendly Faux Leather Midi

I am still in a freeze with purchasing for my capsule wardrobe, but I needed to make a wardrobe investment for a holiday party we attended. A faux leather midi has been on my wish list for my wardrobe and I figured I could get away with making the purchase for the holiday festivities, but I didn’t want to spend a lot. I found this faux leather skirt and it is PERFECTION for a mere $22.90. If you look at the model, you will see that it hits a six foot woman at her knees. I am 5’1″ so it hits at the perfect midi length for me. Jealous, six foot woman? I bet you are!

This white mini dress was a little short for my age, but works perfectly as a tunic or under a flaring a-line layer like I have here. I love tunics for their multi-purpose wardrobe uses! The bib necklace was from last year at Flourish Boutique. My favorite nude comfy heels finish the look. Did I mention I tried a new top-bun twist too? Even a hair novice like me could figure that one out! Overall, I felt confident this year with my choices for the festivities and that faux leather midi is going to find itself in my winter capsule this year!

gift-wrap

The BEST Wrapping Paper Investment

“Brown paper packages tied up with string…”  I love the simplicity of brown paper packages and how you can customize them with ribbon, twine, washi tape, and stamps. The possibilities are endless. When I spied this ENORMOUS roll of kraft paper (800 feet to be exact!), I just knew this would be a smart gift wrap investment. It’s the perfect width, perfect weight, and costs a mere $21.76.  I now have gift wrap for every occasion as well as for future craft projects with my kiddos for approximately a decade.

Library Holds

Clark, Your Holds Are In

Library shopping carts can get out of hand quick! I had to laugh and snap a pic when my sister & I had a library date yesterday at the excessive amount of checking out someone did. I mean, geesh. Are you really going to read all of that, Clark?

I certainly am going to try! You can peek at my stack on IG.

The day my holds come in is always the happiest of days!

*this post may contain affiliate links- I only recommend what I love though. Check out past editions of  It’s the 3 Little Things

Now it’s your turn! What’s making you happy this week?

 

Blind Date Book Club Exchange

Wednesday, December 16th, 2015

Blind Date Book Exchange from MomAdvice.com

As a minimalist, I really love to give and get gifts that I really would love and use which can be difficult when it comes to holiday exchanges. We all, I am sure, have went home with a White Elephant gift we really did not love or spent good money on exchanges where we have felt a little disappointed in what we received in exchange. It’s tricky to not look like a Scrooge when you want to opt out to save money.

Last month though, I got a little inspiration for an idea to host a book exchange for my fellow bookworms. I visited Asheville for a conference and saw my first Blind Date Book display in person at the book shop. After snapping a photo for Instagram, I started thinking what a fun idea it would be to have a Blind Book Book Exchange for the holidays with my book club. What would an evening look like where we all brought blind dates to share?

Last night we had our exchange and it was, honestly, one of the best exchanges I have been a part of.  Perhaps, a bit nerdy, I loved going home with a great book AND a whole slew of ideas for books I’d love to check out at the library. 

Blind Date Book Exchange from MomAdvice.com

What Are Blind Date Books?

If you haven’t seen a display before, they are books that are wrapped in paper and then they have words written on them that describe what the book is about. Displays can be found at many bookstores and I have even heard that libraries do this too.  You can illustrate the paper or just write words about what makes the book special. I love this Pinterest board that shows so many ideas for a fun blind date book display. As you can see, there are many interpretations.

As someone who truly judges books by their covers, this gives you a chance to think differently, perhaps, about a book you might not have picked up before. Since it is a blind date, you are taking a bit of a risk that the money you invest may or may not pay off so you want to choose wisely.

I purchased a book at the bookstore and it sounded just like something I would love.

Guess what? It was something I already loved very much. I loved it so much that it made our top ten books of 2015.

I was happy to pass it on to someone else and, honestly, if I loved it enough to put it on my top ten, I would have been happy to own it too.

Blind Date Book Exchange from MomAdvice.com

How Do You Do a Blind Date Book Exchange?

Of course, since I have never heard that anyone has done this before, I made up my very own rules. That means, if these rules don’t work for you, feel free to make your own! It’s your blind date, friends!

Tell Everyone to Bring a Book Wrapped In Paper- I encouraged everyone to bring a book that was special to them or that they would want to read themselves. You could pass down a book that you already owned and loved or purchase a book for the exchange. Have everyone wrap their books and then write their own descriptions about them. I have found that reviews on the backs of books offer a plethora of beautiful words to use.

Draw Numbers- Write down numbers equal to the amount of people participating and have everyone draw a number.

Select Your Books- Give people time to browse the descriptions before the exchange and then start going in order of the numbers drawn. Beginning with the person who has drawn #1,  have them select their book, read the description on the outside, and then open it.

Steal Away- Just like those White Elephant exchanges, the next person in line can steal the opened book, if they are wanting to read it, or they can draw from the book pile. We allowed two steals per book to keep it fun while still moving along.

Go Home With a New Book, But Keep The Exchange Going Strong- What a treat to go home with a new read! The best part is, if your book club meets regularly, you can bring the book back to the next book club meeting and share it again with your book club members. It creates a little lending library for your group with just a small investment.  I can’t take credit for that idea though, it was thought up by my fellow book club member, Kate! Smart girl!

What Book Did I Give?

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

GAVE: Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

DESCRIPTION: Worldview Changer, America’s Mandela, A Voice to the Voiceless, Thrilling, Heroic Endeavors, Compelling, Hope for Humanity, Inspiration for Change

Nonfiction can be intimidating to fiction lovers so I wanted to share this one because it read like a legal thriller and completely changed my view on people in the prison system. I couldn’t put it down and I wanted someone to read it so I could talk about the injustice of so many.

What Did I Go Home With?

Looking for Alaska by John Green

GOT: Looking for Alaska by John Green

I am really excited to dig into this- have you read it? I’ve heard such good things. I think this is the only John Green book I haven’t read yet!

Blind Date Book Exchange

This was the best exchange I’ve ever been part of  and it’s not because I invented it.

Or maybe it is.

Who is to say?

Regardless, I hope it inspires you for a fun night with your own book clubs. We look forward to making this one an annual tradition and it made for a really fun evening talking about all of our favorite books. I look forward to cozying up with my book over the winter break and I don’t even have to return it back to the library- winning!

Want to be part of a book club? Join me over here for our first online book club happening in January. We are reading this one as our first selection and I am so excited!

Have you ever taken a blind date with a book? Tell me about it!

This post contains affiliate links. I only recommend what I love, I promise!

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Amy’s Notebook 12.16.15

Wednesday, December 16th, 2015

Breakfast Casseroles via The Kitchn

Source: The Kitchn

20 crowd-pleasing breakfast casseroles – perfect for Christmas morning!

What a great guide for families that ski & snowboard!

Here’s a tool for building a personalized (capsule) wardrobe.

How cool is this thumbprint technology for music lovers?

A smart gift guide for men.

Teach your Minecraft lovers how to code- so cool!

Chicken Nacho Pizza? HEAVEN!

Low-maintenance art projects with kids- bookmarking for our holiday break.

Reading Nook via The Makerista

Source: The Makerista

Reading nook inspiration!

Up your meatball sub game.

Queen Elizabeth II sent a personal response to the man who has faithfully sent her Christmas cards for over fifty years- this touched my heart!

Harry Potter fans- don’t miss this interview with the illustrator of the new illustrated series.

The best & worst price-matching policies for holiday shoppers.

24 videos that inspired us to do something good in 2015

15 tips for surviving a long flight.

One compelling reason to simplify your wardrobe.

I hope you enjoyed our notebook, a collection of gathered links to DIY crafts, food projects, thrifty ways to spruce up your home, and thoughtful reads. Nothing brings me more joy than to highlight other fabulous bloggers. Follow me on Pinterest for daily inspiration!

 

Sundays With Writers: The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan

Sunday, December 13th, 2015

Sundays With Writers

Hello, my friends! The holidays have certainly slowed down my reading pace, but I have picked up my speed again this week and am trying to secure some new authors here for our Sundays With Writers feature. I mentioned that I was completely enchanted by, The Royal We this week and as soon as I shut that incredible book, I emailed the authors to see if they would share more about their fictional story of an American getting swept off her feet by a real Prince.

The Royal We by Heather Cocks & Jessica Morgan

Perhaps, that sounds a little cheesy, but it is anything BUT cheesy. Instead of focusing on the fairy tale romance aspect of the story, Heather & Jessica really dive into what it would take for someone to transition from college student into a Princess and the very real dilemma of losing her privacy, what strains that might put on her friendships, and what her family might go through as she takes on a celebrity status that she had never desired.

It’s funny, heartwarming, and really beautifully executed from a really smart family lineage (we will dive into that in our interview below) to what training might be involved to be a part of the Royal family.

It read like a guilty pleasure read that still had lots of depth and soul. I laughed, cried, and was disappointed that I had to close the final pages when I was done. I just didn’t want it to end and I am convinced there is more of a story to tell.

On that note, go grab that coffee and settle in for a REALLY incredible interview with Heather & Jessica about their incredible novel, The Royal We.

Heather Cocks & Jessica Morgan

You are only the second set of authors that have joined me on Sundays With Writers that write as a duo instead of solo.  How do you build the story in tandem and what do you think the benefits have been with writing together instead of tackling a book like this on your own?

JESSICA: Basically, we work from a super detailed outline. Once we’ve gotten together and hammered out our plot, one of us will start writing and go at it until she wears out, more or less — at which point she ships the manuscript over to the other, who edits and reworks the first chunk, then writes the next chunk until she taps out.  So we go back and forth, essentially, until we’re done. I love working this way. I think most writers have a crew of creative people they can go to for feedback, or help with a plot issue, and we have that built in, automatically, which for me is invaluable.

HEATHER: It also incorporates automatic breaks. When a writer needs to, say, deal with their kids, or their day job if they have another one, or even just take a break because they feel stuck, the project doesn’t move along without them. The beauty of being in a duo is, when one of us passes it off to the other — for any reason — we get a brain rest AND the project keeps moving along. There isn’t that sense of, “Ohh, every time I walk away from my computer, I am going to have to make up for it later.” As for building the story, hammering out that initial outline requires a lot of back and forth — we both work better via e-mail or IM rather than in the same room, in part because when we start to digress we can scroll back and be like, “OKAY, no, this is where we were, let’s pick up again.” So that’s just easier for us.

But once we start writing, we also communicate with each other closely because invariably we realize the outline was too ambitious, or made a logic misstep, or just needed some compressing, and so we’ll leave notes for each other throughout the draft referencing those issues and being like, “Here is my pitch to fix that; here is where I was going with this,” or whatever. You just really need to communicate. And you have to be able to do it without taking any of it personally. The goal is the same: a great book.

Some of our readers might not know that this is actually your third book that you have written together.  The Royal We has been so well-received, even garnering you a nomination for Best Fiction on GoodReads!  As authors and as bloggers, do you think the success in this third book is because of our new ways to share about books on social media, is it just the story itself that is really resonating with readers, or is the secret sauce having a strong story and having those ties to social media because of your online writing?

JESSICA: Gosh, I wish I could explain why some books do well and some don’t — I think that’s the question that writers and publishers ask themselves every day! I certainly think that, for us, having a strong social media following was absolutely helpful, and I am quite sure the book would not have done as well as it has were it not for our wonderful, supportive readership from the blog.  That platform was very valuable for us. But all that said, few people are going to spend $12 to $20 on a book just because they follow the authors on Twitter. If the book isn’t any good, it’s not going to continue to sell, and having a strong social media following definitely doesn’t guarantee you good reviews, or good word of mouth. So for us, I think we also needed to be able to deliver the goods.

HEATHER: I wish there was a secret sauce. We would sell that and retire to Fiji. I think a lot of things have to come together and there’s some magic involved. For instance, would Girl on a Train have done such gangbusters business without Gone Girl being a hit at the cineplex? Maybe — it’s not a question of Girl on a Train being good, but rather how brilliantly they leveraged that timing. The movie version of Gone Girl had come out to great acclaim and awards nominations right around the time Girl on a Train came out, so being able to position it as a combo of Gone Girl” and Rear Window or whatever, was a genius piece of marketing. But all that is just a jumping off point, and if the book doesn’t deliver, it goes away; Girl on a Train delivered on the promise, and a juggernaut was born. But that first push… man, getting those stars to align is so hard.

Britain Royal Wedding

 

We did time our book’s release to Will and Kate’s anniversary, and frequently joked about whether she’d thoughtfully get pregnant for us as well. And then that happened, and it meant the royal couple was foremost in everyone’s minds from about January through April, and that made it a lot easier when our book crossed people’s desks, because it resonated with something current that was also captivating pop culture. Which isn’t to say that nobody can get noticed if they don’t dovetail with something else in pop culture, but it sure does help. Because for us, it’s not like we were known commodities as authors. Switching from YA to contemporary adult fiction was basically like starting from scratch — it didn’t matter that we’d written Spoiled and Messy; the wider adult audience didn’t know that, and doesn’t know who we are — and so it helped tremendously to have that hook. And then as Jessica said, because we did deliver the goods, we were able to back up the attention we got.

I’m also really proud of Spoiled and Messy, but I think what’s hard is that the audience of contemporary fiction is larger and wider than for YA, and the publications that serve it are also much bigger — People, EW, etc. Which isn’t to say that YA’s audience is insignificant, or even restricted. I’ve long said that YA is just a classification based on the age of the protagonist, and not the age you have to be in order to read it. But I do think that in terms of publicity and reach, as compared to general fiction, it’s a smaller pool with just as many bodies in it. And so it’s harder to get noticed, or break through and be invited to the next pool. There are so many wonderful books out there that don’t get the lightning strike of being on the right person’s desk at the right time. And it really is a lightning strike. 

Buckingham_Palace (source: Wikipedia)

As I dove into your book, I really thought it was just going to be a light and fun read, but it really became evident as I read that you did a lot of in-depth research on the royal family. I understand you even visited Buckingham Palace to see it all in person which is incredible! What was one of the most surprising facts you discovered when doing your research about the real royal family? Do you have any favorite recommendations for books or documentaries for those of us that would like to dive into learning about the royals more?

JESSICA: Thank you so much! We did do a lot of research — it was important to us that the book felt grounded in reality, especially because the story itself is sort of fantastical. So much of it is about the difference between the gilded fairytale exterior of falling in love with a prince, and the actual, much less glamorous reality, so we really wanted to nail the reality bit, as much as we could. In terms of books, we read a lot of biographies of the current young royals, mostly for logistical details — Katie Nicholl’s book WILLIAM AND HARRY, for instance, had a lot of bit and pieces about the way the royal family’s security detail works in their daily life, which we needed to know for the book. Although it’s not about the current royal family, I strongly recommend THE HEIR APPARENT, by Jane Ridley, which is about Edward VII and his mother, Queen Victoria (who comes across like a real piece of work). It’s a very smart, juicy read. I also used Kate Fox’s WATCHING THE ENGLISH, which is social anthropology focused on the British class system, and which is a really funny, interesting book. (There is a line in there which I often mention, because it’s so memorable, in which she notes that the British love toast racks, while we Americans prefer our toast to be “humid,” which is pretty accurate and very funny.)

HEATHER: The trick for us was that there’s a point where we can’t do research. Because there’s a point where only a select few REALLY know what’s happening. What are the private apartments at Windsor or Buck House like? No idea, and there aren’t pictures. (We found one of the Queen’s study but that’s it.) The curtain has only been pulled back so far, to the world, so our challenge was to research whatever we could, and ground the book in every place possible, so that when it came time for us to make a guess, it was educated. And if the reader felt grounded in the other realism, it increased the odds they’d take that leap with us, and trust us and not think about it.

The tidbit about the family paying for whatever clothes Bex picks is true though. Helpfully, I can’t remember where I read that about Kate, but I know I did. I also enjoyed tips on how to curtsy and get in and out of cars without exposing oneself. We invented the idea of them doing Duchess training with Bex, but honestly, once we dug into the types of things she’d be expected to know and do — without looking like she had to learn them — it didn’t seem like such a far-fetched leap.

queen-maxima

Your blog, Go Fug Yourself, is focused on celebrity fashion so I must ask you, which real-life royal’s style have you admired the most?

JESSICA: I think the British royals have a tough row to hoe, sartorially. Kate gets a lot of flack for being too boring, but if she were NOT boring, she’d get a lot of flack for that. I personally enjoy a lot of her preppy, ladylike style, but you can’t really call it groundbreaking from a fashion standpoint, and nor should it be. On the wackier side, I must say that I always enjoy the many insane hats sported by Queen Maxima, of the Netherlands. That woman knows how to wear a turban.

queen-elizabeth

HEATHER: I don’t know that I am that captivated by any of them, particularly, to be totally honest. I will give it to the Queen. She knows what she likes, or what works for her, and manages to keep it varied and cheerful in other ways without straying from the basic cuts and coverage she prefers.

I also give credit to Camilla, who I think has had the toughest road to walk, given the circumstances of her relationship with Charles and their eventual marriage. Talk about being under a microscope, because everything she did was going to be compared unfavorably to whatever Diana used to do, because she was the most beloved royal in history in her day. So I find my favorite royals are borne of sympathy rather than me being actually enamored of the clothes. But I mean, if you want someone who keeps it clean and classy, Queen Letizia in Spain is pretty solid. She even kind of makes me want to wear business slacks, which is madness.

You developed a well-blended timeline of the real royal lineage and your fictional lineage that is actually quite astounding in detail and depth. Was this one of the most complex aspects of creating your story and why did you feel getting this accurate was so important to your story?

JESSICA: It was definitely something we spent a lot of time figuring out. I will note that Heather did a great deal of the heavy lifting here, and she can probably speak to the nuts and bolts of this aspect more than I can. But we had to figure out a way to create essentially an alternate history that kept in place enough familiar touchstones that it was still recognizably the UK, but that WOULDN’T have the person who is currently Queen Elizabeth, like, wandering around in the background as a distant member of our ruling family. It was really fun, actually.

HEATHER: When we sold the book, we did it with the prologue and the first chapter written. And when that’s all you have to worry about, you can toss in random little asides about ancestors or foreign royals, and it just feels rich and fun and insidery.

But when when you sit down to write the REST of the book, suddenly it matters.

The portraits on the piano in Bex’s hotel room, for example — we didn’t put any thought into who they were when we first wrote the prologue, so we just made them as colorful-sounding as we could.

But then once you’re writing a whole and complete book, and these characters are walking around and have real anchors to history, you have to go back and do the math: “What makes sense? Could that person have existed? When do we think Bex and Nick went to a royal wedding in Europe? Not possible! DELETE.”

And it’s for the same reason that we needed to research the rest of it: Readers can tell when you’re flying by the seat of your pants, and if they have to take themselves out of the story to figure out whether that royal could have existed, or who the hell that person is, or where THEY come from, and why are they marrying someone from that country… anything that causes the reader to put down the book and frown is a risk of losing that reader. You have to keep them on the journey, keep them swept up in it.

So while Jess had the actual book, I put my mind to the basic dates and a rough ancestry.

It seemed the likeliest places to change it were either to keep Edward VIII on the throne instead of having him abdicate, or change up Queen Victoria’s succession.

Edward’s rumored Nazi ties were not ideal, to say the least, and he was a bit too close — keeping him meant we didn’t have enough time to invent our own monarchs, and Queen Elizabeth was born in his lifetime, so she’d be a real person unless we got to tinkering with his family timeline as well.

It got muddy.

Victoria, we didn’t want to eliminate — she’s too seminal to the world, for a lot of reasons — but we found a nifty loophole in her succession.

Her son, who would become Edward VII, survived an assassination attempt.

And HIS firstborn son died of pneumonia as a lad.

So by changing those two things — Edward IS assassinated while still Prince of Wales, and Albert Victor does NOT die of pneumonia but instead lives to succeed his grandmother — we had an entirely fresh line of royals, and we could make them whatever we liked.

After that, it was just pinpointing rough ages we needed the current family members to be, and working backward through the dates. There was, in fact, lots of surprise math on this exam.

My sister helped out a ton with researching defunct dukedoms we could revive for the various spouses of our royals, and which countries might offer princesses for our kings to marry that wouldn’t monkey with ancestry. She was able to point out where it was illogical for a particular heir not to have married, and help us get past that. For example, we betrothed our Arthur I to Grand Duchess Olga from Russia, a real person who died in WWI. We had him drag his feet after the betrothal because he was in love with his best friend’s wife, and by the time he was ready it was too fraught to get her there due to the war, and then she didn’t survive it. Hence, he remained an unmarried heir. My sister was crazy helpful with all that stuff. It mattered to us that we would be able to explain this. If the world isn’t real to us, then why would it be to anyone else?

You really showcase the challenges that would be placed upon the shoulders of someone who is wed into the royal family. The story sheds light on the things that Kate Middleton and her family might have experienced during that courtship and the scrutiny one might be under in this new role. Why did you want to explore this and do you hope readers will think differently about Kate through this fictional account?

JESSICA: I don’t actually care if anyone thinks differently of Kate — and that sounds so unkind, and I don’t mean it that way! I just mean that we didn’t write the book as a way to make Kate Middleton more sympathetic. We wrote it because it seemed like an interesting story to explore — how difficult it would be to go from being a basically normal civilian to being thrust into a huge spotlight, simply because of the person with whom you fell in love. You know, we write about celebrities on our blog all the time, but those people chose to be famous. Nick — the prince in our book — was born into it, and Bex, our heroine, is forced into it because she loves him. And that seemed like something that would be interesting to explore. What do you give up for love? What are the downsides of this development that we are all taught is a fairytale, because there are actually quite a lot of them —  you can never go outside in yoga pants again, and that’s the very least of it. Is it possible to love another person enough that you give up some of what makes you you? There seemed like a lot of interesting conflicts we could explore. Once we got into writing the book, I never really thought about Kate at all. Obviously, the story is based loosely on her relationship with Prince William, but I never thought of our protagonist as anyone but Bex. That being said, if people find themselves thinking more fondly of Kate because they were so fond of Bex, that’s a wonderful tribute to our book.

HEATHER: Yes, it’s definitely not a book that was borne of us liking Kate, per se, or being Kate apologists or anything. It’s just… once you start to think about it, how the hell does she DO it? She has only ever seemed totally composed. And when you consider she’s really the first person to marry into this family during the crazy paparazzi/Internet age, she’s treading new ground because nobody really knew what it would be like for her until they were in the middle of it. She’s handled this scrutiny with such calm. And Jess and I were talking about that with our agent one day, very casually, gabbing all about what the still waters must look like from underneath — are her feet paddling like crazy trying to keep her afloat — and suddenly our agent was like, “Someone should write that book.” We basically both shouted, “WE SHOULD WRITE THAT BOOK.” I think it’s a nice exercise in considering how ANY situation might feel from the other side. There always are two sides to every story, if not more, whether that person is the jerk at your office or the Hollywood starlet or the sudden princess. Look again and then think about what you’re not seeing.

lauren-graham-mae-whitman

(source: Variety)

You made a big announcement that the book will be adapted to the big screen. As a big Parenthood fan, I was so excited to see that Lauren Graham & Mae Whitman will be teaming up for this adaptation. How involved will you be with the film adaptation of your book and tell us about what was that moment like when you heard the news?

JESSICA: Oh, it was BEYOND exciting! We didn’t really expect that the book would be optioned — I think every writer hopes that it happens, but no one really thinks that it will — and it’s still so very surreal. Lauren and Mae are so smart and kind and really everything you could hope for; I feel incredibly grateful and really excited about the entire thing. We got really, really lucky. That said, I don’t know how creatively involved we will be — contractually, not at all, and that’s fine! We totally trust Mae and Lauren to do the book justice. As I said to them, I really just want to be in the room when they cast the hot British dudes. I don’t need to have a VOTE, I just want to get to eyeball them from the back row.

HEATHER: It is basically now their boat to drive. If they tell us there’s a seat on it for us, then great! If they tell us we can ride it for half an hour once, that’s fine too. If they never speak to us again, that’s totally their call (although it would make us sad, just because as humans Mae and Lauren are truly even smarter and cooler than we imagined). We have no expectations of anything, and are just grateful the book is in loving and intelligent hands.

Can we expect a sequel from you because I feel like there is so much more to tell in this story of Bex & Nick? Oh, and you can only answer yes to this…

JESSICA: Hah! Well, thank you so much. We don’t know what we’re going to be writing next. We’ve discussed a sequel, but I think it’s really important to us that, if we do write one, we come up with a fresh, new story to tell. We don’t want to write a sequel just for the sake of spending more time with those characters — although we’d love to do that! It also has to be a good book on its own. I think we’ve all bought sequels to books that we’ve loved and been disappointed by them, and that’s what we want to avoid, and figuring out how to do that, and if it’s even possible, is taking some time.

HEATHER: Part of me wants to let them live a while first, you know? The call for a sequel has been so flattering, and obviously tempting. For me, The Royal We has been such a perfect book experience that I don’t want to be careless with it.

I understand you are collectors of Royal swag! What is your favorite piece in your collection?

JESSICA: I collect Commemorative Royal Mugs and I LOVE THEM. It’s so hard to pick a favorite. Heather kicked the whole thing off by giving me a mug commemorating Wills and Kate’s engagement the year that happened, and that is the one that I would hate to lose the most, I think. That said, I also LOVE the mug I have wherein the mug-makers accidentally used Prince Harry’s face instead of Prince William’s. That’s a keeper, as well.

HEATHER: Jess gave me a Chuck and Di wedding jar that has the most hideous photo of Diana on it. It’s amazing. My parents also have a tin wastebasket from their engagement that I have asked for whenever my mother decides to get rid of it. We made an allusion to that in the book. Oh, my mother DID send me the book they got about the courtship and wedding, full of photos. It’s great. There’s a passage that explains that royal babies are not commercialized with souvenirs the way weddings are, which is HILARIOUS to read now, when of course nothing was more commercial than the birth of George.

If you could tell anyone to read one book (other than your own) what would that book be? (This will be added to one of our most visited posts of must-reads from the authors featured in Sundays With Writers)

JESSICA: One book! That is really a difficult choice to make. I have a degree in English lit, and I’m sure several of my professors will strongly disapprove of this — it’s very tempting to choose a classic, or at least something “literary” —  but I am going to recommend the classic Judith Krantz book, SCRUPLES (and also SCRUPLES II; the first book ends on a real cliffhanger, so be warned).  If you are interested in/enjoy popular woman’s fiction, Krantz is truly the master of the genre. Her books always feature strong women who excel at interesting jobs, and the plots are propulsive and highly readable and deliciously soapy. I personally never feel guilty about anything I read, but if you are into so-called “guilty pleasure reading” — or even if you are a person who only reads highly literary intellectual books but who longs to UNDERSTAND the idea of guilty pleasure reading — Scruples one of the most pleasurable, and, by this point, a classic of that genre. (Her autobiography, which is titled, brilliantly, SEX AND SHOPPING, is also a favorite.)

HEATHER: Oh, wow, I can’t pick that either. I think it’s because I would never advise anyone to read only ONE book, and I don’t even know HOW to answer this without considering the context. If it’s someone who never reads, I’d say start with the Harry Potter series, because it will invite you into books and then keep you there. If it’s someone who likes stuff that’s tonally similar to The Royal We — funny, with heart — I would hand them Someday, Someday, Maybe, by Lauren Graham, which I promise is a recommendation I would have made before she ever even picked up our book. If you’re into literature and wordplay and quirk, I’d suggest The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde (and then read the whole series; they get goofier but no less imaginative and punny). If you want striking prose, read anything by Kate Atkinson. And if you love wartime and friendship and romance, it’s a tie between The FitzOsbournes trilogy and Code Name: Verity, both of which are wonderful examples of books that are technically considered for teens, but offer so much to anyone of any age. How’s THAT for a wishy-washy answer?

You can connect with Heather Cocks & Jessica Morgan on their website!  I’m always thankful for these moments with writers and I hope you will pick up this amazing book! You can always connect with me on GoodReads, through our books section of our site, and you can read our entire Sundays With Writers series for more author profiles. Happy reading, friends!

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My Top Ten Books of 2015

Friday, December 11th, 2015

Best Books of 2015 from MomAdvice.com

My friends, it seems impossible that another year is coming to a close here on MomAdvice.  Each year I share with you my top ten books of the year, but I have to admit that I think this year was probably the toughest year I have had to choose. This year is actually the most I have read in a single year. I will update this post once the year comes to a close, but I have read 65 books so far and all of them were really incredible!  For me, this is a crazy amount, but I attribute getting in so many more than usual thanks to my new audiobook addiction I have acquired!

Whoa, This List Is Different Than the Previous Years….

Please be sure to really read the book descriptions and do your own research on these selections if you prefer “cleaner” literature! I typically shy away from controversial books and this year, I figure you are all grown-ups and can figure out if something doesn’t sound like your cup of tea. A lot of these books challenged me to think differently on things from reproductive rights to death row to mental illness to immigration to being gay…I am really excited about sharing these because they made such an impact on me as a person! 

What Is My Reading Motivation?

What keeps me motivated? Definitely our Sundays With Writers feature!  Many of the books on this list also include a discussion with the writer where I get to ask them my most pressing questions about their stories. My heart always pitter-patters like crazy when I send out an interview request, but even the most seasoned writers have been gracious and generous to share on our site. I haven’t had a single writer turn me down yet and it adds another element to these stories for me and for you.

Can I Motivate You? Join Our Book Club!

I started a small  MomAdvice Hangout Facebook group and we will be running a monthly MomAdvice Book Club discussion there. Each month we will have a new hostess who will be able to introduce to you a new book to read and discuss. If you are interested in joining in the fun, be sure to send me a request. We are keeping the group private for now so people can really chat and get to know one another!

Can We Be Friends?

Just as a reminder, I read many more books than are just featured here, but try to feature the ones that are my absolute best picks of year.  If you want to see more of what I am reading,  please feel free to friend me on GoodReads! You can find me right here and I am always happy to connect with people there too! There is nothing more motivating than seeing what other people are raving about and my to-be-read pile continues to grow with all of my new friends on there! In fact, many of the books featured are ones that I have found through my friends on GoodReads.

In no particular order, here are My Top Ten Books of 2015:

 

Fates & Furies by Lauren Groff

Fates & Furies by Lauren Groff

Prompted by the selection of this book for the  NPR Morning Edition Book Club, I decided to put myself on the hold list at the library for Fates and Furies. As soon as the book came in, I headed straight to the library to pick this one up and dove in. NPR’s selections never disappoint and are often meatier books than I would typically gravitate towards and this book held true to my beliefs about their selections.

At age twenty-two, Lotto and Mathilde are tall, glamorous, madly in love, and destined for greatness. A decade later, their marriage is still the envy of their friends, but with an electric thrill we understand that things are even more complicated and remarkable than they have seemed.

There are two sides to every story and Groff really illustrates it in this ambitious novel chronicling a marriage over decades. I wanted to put this book down when I started it because it built so slowly that it left me wondering where we could possibly be going?

But then…we were there.

And it is THERE that had me flipping the pages as quickly as possible uncovering the couple’s secrets page by page. The winding turns of marriage, the highs, the lows, the career losses, the family secrets, the lack of appreciation of one another, the true reality of marriage.

How Groff was able to build both a solid story, wildly wickedly twists at the end, write a book, set up a series of plays for Lotto’s career as a playwright written within the book, and then write him a small opera…Well, one can only imagine the creativity such an undertaking takes.

Groff admits to being ambivalent about marriage and I do think that those undertones pull through. Being ambivalent doesn’t mean that you don’t find love with your mate though and the highs in this marriage are some beautiful ones.

This is a novel to sink your teeth into for book-lovers who want something heavier to indulge in this year.

The Royal We by Heather Cocks & Jessica Morgan

The Royal We by Heather Cocks & Jessica Morgan

I was completely enchanted by The Royal We, a fictional tale of an American getting swept off her feet by a real Prince.

Perhaps, that sounds a little cheesy, but it is anything BUT cheesy. Instead of focusing on the fairy tale romance aspect of the story, Heather & Jessica really dive into what it would take for someone to transition from college student into a Princess and the very real dilemma of losing her privacy, what strains that might put on her friendships, and what her family might go through as she takes on a celebrity status that she had never desired.

It’s funny, heartwarming, and really beautifully executed from a really smart family lineage to what training might be involved to be a part of the Royal family.

It read like a guilty pleasure read that still had lots of depth and soul. I laughed, cried, and was disappointed that I had to close the final pages when I was done. I just didn’t want it to end and I am convinced there is more of a story to tell.

Stay tuned because Heather & Jessica will be joining me this Sunday for our Sundays With Writers series to share more behind their fun story and a little glimpse at what we can expect from the movie adaptation!

I'll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson

I’ll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson

I’ll Give You The Sun is achingly beautiful in so many ways exploring the beauty and anguish of first loves. This story is uniquely told by a twin sister & brother, alternating chapters, yet one is telling the story three years later while the other is telling the story as it happens. It creates a journey experience for the reader when characters begin to overlap together in these stories.

Jude and her twin brother, Noah, are incredibly close. At thirteen, isolated Noah draws constantly and is falling in love with the charismatic boy next door, while daredevil Jude cliff-dives and wears red-red lipstick and does the talking for both of them. But three years later, Jude and Noah are barely speaking. Something has happened to wreck the twins in different and dramatic ways . . . until Jude meets a cocky, broken, beautiful boy, as well as someone else—an even more unpredictable new force in her life. The early years are Noah’s story to tell. The later years are Jude’s. What the twins don’t realize is that they each have only half the story, and if they could just find their way back to one another, they’d have a chance to remake their world.

Nelson’s words read like watching a painting unravel on a page, as though it all is coming to life, especially when told through artistic Noah’s eyes as his words are the most visually vivid. Nelson beautifully paints the portrait of the typical teenage angst of Jude & Noah, while focusing strongly on the difficulties of being a gay teen and the hostility of classmates that force Noah to try to fit in with his peers.

I laughed and cried through the pages of this one especially because I have never read a writer like this, making me Nelson’s latest fan. It really surprised me in so many ways. I would recommend it for fans of Rainbow Rowell or John Green.

You can also read my interview with Jandy Nelson in our Sundays With Writers series to hear more behind this beautiful story!

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

Once again, I hit our must-read list and Vanessa Diffenbaugh had recommended this one saying, “It is an incredibly intense book about racial inequality in our criminal justice system, but it is beautifully written and powerful, with just enough hopefulness to help you sit with the discomfort of the truth and think hard about how you can help contribute to a solution.  I recommend it to everyone I know.”

It is true. It is impossible to read this book and not think differently about our broken court system and those on death row. Bryan Stevenson founded an organization called the Equal Justice Initiative whose sole purpose was to defend those who were most desperately in need. His cases include people suffering from mental illness, addiction, poor, the wrongly condemned, and women & children and his stories illustrate case by case how these people wound up on death row and how they worked to defend them.

At the center of it all is Walter McMillian who was wrongfully accused of murder and Bryan’s efforts to redeem this incredible man before he is executed. I flipped the pages as quickly as I would a legal thriller hoping for redemption for Walter and his family.

Bryan is a masterful storyteller, offering heart and humanity to the wounded, and is a true American hero. Everyone should read this book.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

Everyone has been telling me to read this book and I kept putting it off. Why in the world would I read a book about a grumpy old man? Welp. You guys were right. This book was incredible!

Meet Ove. He’s a curmudgeon, the kind of man who points at people he dislikes as if they were burglars caught outside his bedroom window. He has staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People call him the bitter neighbor from hell, but must Ove be bitter just because he doesn’t walk around with a smile plastered to his face all the time?

Behind the cranky exterior there is a story and a sadness. So when one November morning a chatty young couple with two chatty young daughters move in next door and accidentally flatten Ove’s mailbox, it is the lead-in to a comical and heartwarming tale of unkempt cats, unexpected friendship, and the ancient art of backing up a U-Haul. All of which will change one cranky old man and a local residents’ association to their very foundations.

This is the most beautiful fictional book on aging that I have ever read. It really served as a reminder to me how we all have things that happen to us that shape us as we get older and how we often neglect to listen to those layered stories of our elders. I laughed and cried over this sweet story of Ove & the stray cat that claimed him.

The touching story of his beautiful bride and the difficulties of seeing your friends age and forget you just really pulled at my heartstrings.

Beautifully written supporting characters in the neighborhood just brought the whole story together for me and rounded out the beauty of finding “home.” 

You by Caroline Kepnes

You by Caroline Kepnes

This book is dark, disturbing, twisted, erotic, psychotic…just try to put it down. Fans of Chelsea Cain & Gillian Flynn will love this book.

This is a twisted love story told from Joe, our obsessed narrator, who finds love in his bookshop after cyber-stalking a girl who used her credit card at his store. We watch as Joe becomes more and more unhinged as he discovers love is nothing like the books he’s read and the movies he’s watched- a fact that he is most displeased with. Twisted humor makes for laugh-out-loud moments and cleverly woven pop culture themes add a little lightness to the dark. This is an author to watch!

If you love it, you will be happy to know that it looks like the next book is in the works. This is one that would be fine as a stand-alone though, if you aren’t feeling committed to another series! Add this to your must-read steamy book pile!

 Lucky for you, this is the first in a possible trilogy so we can look forward to more antics from Joe!

Be sure to check out our interview with Caroline Kepnes in our Sundays With Writers series to get the scoop behind this guilty pleasure read!

Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg

Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg

On the eve of her daughter’s wedding, June Reid’s life is completely devastated when a shocking disaster takes the lives of her daughter, her daughter’s fiancé, her ex-husband, and her boyfriend, Luke—her entire family, all gone in a moment. And June is the only survivor.

Alone and directionless, June drives across the country, away from her small Connecticut town. In her wake, a community emerges, weaving a beautiful and surprising web of connections through shared heartbreak.

Clegg ambitiously illuminates how interwoven we are as people in this beautiful and haunting story of a town tragedy and the people left behind. Although the sheer amount of characters that share in each of the chapters (some once, other main characters more often) is confusing to piece together as a reader, you become a detective as each person is woven into another.

The grief-stricken mothers left behind leave you with an ache in your own heart and are written so beautifully they feel real. You are also reminded that even in chance meetings with others you can play a powerful part in someone else’s story. This is, by far,  one of the best books I have read this year!

Don’t miss my interview with Bill Clegg about his haunting book and process for creating this gorgeous story!

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

I’m not even going to lie, this novel is absolute perfection from start to finish. Never a lag, never a dull moment, audible gasps at shocking plot twists, a steamy sordid love affair…friends, THIS is unbelievable. Now as a disclaimer, the love affair lies between two women so if you don’t want to read that, then continue on with your life. That being said, it is tastefully done and the love affair scene is more Snow Flower & the Secret Fan rather than that cheap stuff in 50 Shades of Grey. I could not put this book down and actually bought it for my Kindle (due to its whopping 596 pages in length), and kind of already want to reread it again. Or just have you all read it so I can talk about it. I mean- it’s THAT good.

Sue Trinder is an orphan, left as an infant in the care of Mrs. Sucksby, a “baby farmer,” who raised her with unusual tenderness, as if Sue were her own. Mrs. Sucksby’s household, with its fussy babies calmed with doses of gin, also hosts a transient family of petty thieves—fingersmiths—for whom this house in the heart of a mean London slum is home.

One day, the most beloved thief of all arrives—Gentleman, an elegant con man, who carries with him an enticing proposition for Sue: If she wins a position as the maid to Maud Lilly, a naïve gentlewoman, and aids Gentleman in her seduction, then they will all share in Maud’s vast inheritance. Once the inheritance is secured, Maud will be disposed of—passed off as mad, and made to live out the rest of her days in a lunatic asylum.

With dreams of paying back the kindness of her adopted family, Sue agrees to the plan. Once in, however, Sue begins to pity her helpless mark and care for Maud Lilly in unexpected ways…But no one and nothing is as it seems in this Dickensian novel of thrills and reversals.

As a reader, you are taken on a Dickens-esque roller coaster ride with plot twist after plot twist. I could not put this down and can’t wait to dig into more of her books now that I finally know what all the fuss is about. This book was amazing!

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

All the Bright Places is a beautiful story of two sweet kids who find each other just when they need one another the most. Niven sheds light on a topic rarely discussed in YA literature sharing the true struggles of mental illness as Finch, the main character, struggles with bipolar disorder.

Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him.

Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s recent death.

When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the “natural wonders” of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself—a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink.

The stigma attached to mental illness and the reaction of his peers to this, make this a compelling read for any teen in understanding what it would be like to live with mental illness. This was heartbreaking, beautiful, and provided a thoughtful ending with a great resources & info list for kids struggling with (or who have family/friends struggling with) mental illness at the end of the book. I highly recommend this one for a well-captured idea of what living with bipolar disorder would feel like.

Be sure to read my interview with Jennifer Niven about the real-life Finch that inspired this story!

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

First, don’t read any reviews on this one. Just read it so you can have fun with the surprise- kind of like the shocking twist in GONE GIRL. It’s got that element of, “WAIT, WHAT?!”

Meet the Cooke family. Our narrator is Rosemary Cooke. As a child, she never stopped talking; as a young woman, she has wrapped herself in silence: the silence of intentional forgetting, of protective cover. Something happened, something so awful she has buried it in the recesses of her mind. Now her adored older brother is a fugitive, wanted by the FBI for domestic terrorism. And her once lively mother is a shell of her former self, her clever and imperious father now a distant, brooding man. And Fern, Rosemary’s beloved sister, her accomplice in all their childhood mischief? Fern’s is a fate the family, in all their innocence, could never have imagined.

This is one of those books that you want others to read just so you can talk through it. I avoided reading any reviews on this and I am so glad I did because half of the fun in this one was making sense of this unusual family and just what makes them so unusual. So beautifully executed that it reads like a memoir, it was such an enjoyable and believable read that you want to go on a narnia of fact-finding on Wikipedia to discover all of the inspiration behind this novel and read more about how many of these cases featured were true.

Although the execution of delivering the information in a mixed up timeline can be confusing for the reader, the originality of this unique & heartbreaking story made this a book that I just couldn’t put down.

I will say that this is a pretty polarizing book- people absolutely love the twist or they absolutely hate it.

I loved it.

So there.

Just as fascinating as the book is my interview with Karen Joy Fowler and hearing why she thought this would make for a fun exploration in her story.

 

Ten Honorable Mentions for 2015:

A Window Opens by Elisabeth Egan

A Window Opens by Elisabeth Egan

I could not put this book down! This was such a deeply satisfying read that tackles the struggles of every working mother who is trying to balance it all. Egan creates the perfect balance of humor and heartbreak as Alice tries to navigate the tricky terrain of being an employee, wife, mother, and daughter to her ill father.

In A Window Opens, beloved books editor at Glamour magazine, Elisabeth Egan, brings us Alice Pearse, a compulsively honest, longing-to-have-it-all, sandwich generation heroine for our social-media-obsessed, lean in (or opt out) age.

Like her fictional forebears Kate Reddy and Bridget Jones, Alice plays many roles (which she never refers to as “wearing many hats” and wishes you wouldn’t, either). She is a mostly-happily married mother of three, an attentive daughter, an ambivalent dog-owner, a part-time editor, a loyal neighbor and a Zen commuter. She is not: a cook, a craftswoman, a decorator, an active PTA member, a natural caretaker or the breadwinner. But when her husband makes a radical career change, Alice is ready to lean in—and she knows exactly how lucky she is to land a job at Scroll, a hip young start-up which promises to be the future of reading, with its chain of chic literary lounges and dedication to beloved classics. The Holy Grail of working mothers―an intellectually satisfying job and a happy personal life―seems suddenly within reach.

Despite the disapproval of her best friend, who owns the local bookstore, Alice is proud of her new “balancing act” (which is more like a three-ring circus) until her dad gets sick, her marriage flounders, her babysitter gets fed up, her kids start to grow up and her work takes an unexpected turn. Readers will cheer as Alice realizes the question is not whether it’s possible to have it all, but what does she―Alice Pearse―really want?

This book got me in the all the feels. I highlighted many a passage in this sweet story of Alice and found her to be one of the most relatable characters I have read this year. I also teared up at many of the moments in this story because the struggles of being in the trenches as a working parent were ones that I have experienced myself. Alice tries hard, but it’s an impossible juggle and you feel like you are spiraling a bit with her as the story unfolds.

Fans of Where’d You Go, Bernadette & Wife 22 (thanks to the hilarious correspondence between colleagues & family) will really love this one!

You can read our interview with Elisabeth Egan this month in our Sundays With Writers series!  I can’t recommend this book enough!

Where All Light Tends to Go by David Joy

Where All Light Tends to Go by David Joy

Where All Light Tends to Go is Southern Grit at its finest in this dark debut novel! Joy creates a compelling coming-of-age story about a teen boy growing up in the Appalachian Mountains whose father deals meth in their small town.

The area surrounding Cashiers, North Carolina, is home to people of all kinds, but the world that Jacob McNeely lives in is crueler than most. His father runs a methodically organized meth ring, with local authorities on the dime to turn a blind eye to his dealings. Having dropped out of high school and cut himself off from his peers, Jacob has been working for this father for years, all on the promise that his payday will come eventually. The only joy he finds comes from reuniting with Maggie, his first love, and a girl clearly bound for bigger and better things than their hardscrabble town.

Jacob has always been resigned to play the cards that were dealt him, but when he botches a murder and sets off a trail of escalating violence, he’s faced with a choice: stay and appease his kingpin father, or leave the mountains with the girl he loves. In a place where blood is thicker than water and hope takes a back seat to fate, Jacob wonders if he can muster the strength to rise above the only life he’s ever known.

If only life were that simple. This story is beautifully told and the ending was a strong one, despite the feeling of hopelessness for these people.

Read my interview with David Joy and dive into more of his recommendations for great Southern Grit!

A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout

A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout & Sara Corbett

I have never read a survival story like this book and I have thought about it ever since I shut the pages. It was one of the most difficult reads I have ever read and I will never forget this memoir or how extraordinary Amanda’s journey was.

Amanda Lindhout lived in a violent home and escaped her life through her issues of National Geographic that she collected and dreamed of traveling to a life far better than her own.  At the age of nineteen, working as a cocktail waitress in Calgary, Alberta, she began saving her tips so she could travel the globe. Aspiring to understand the world and live a significant life, she backpacked through Latin America, Laos, Bangladesh, and India, and emboldened by each adventure, went on to Sudan, Syria, and Pakistan. In war-ridden Afghanistan and Iraq she carved out a fledgling career as a television reporter. And then, in August 2008, she traveled to Somalia—“the most dangerous place on earth.” On her fourth day, she was abducted by a group of masked men along a dusty road.

Held hostage for 460 days, Amanda converts to Islam as a survival tactic, receives “wife lessons” from one of her captors, and risks a daring escape. Moved between a series of abandoned houses in the desert, she survives on memory—every lush detail of the world she experienced in her life before captivity—and on strategy, fortitude, and hope. When she is most desperate, she visits a house in the sky, high above the woman kept in chains, in the dark, being tortured.

It is impossible to read this book and not be moved by Amanda’s journey. Although it is frustrating to read how naive she is by throwing herself into places that she knows are dangerous to prove the world wrong (which she acknowledges in her story), her ability to transcend the brutality and exit her body is an extraordinary study in survival and her will to live.

If you loved (and could endure) survival stories like Unbroken, I think this one brings new perspective on how women are treated in Somalia every single day and you will be moved by Amanda’s story and what she now gives to Somalia since being held hostage.

This is graphic, brutally graphic. Amanda glosses over much of what she endured probably to save the reader from the imagery, but what she tells is so horrific that you will be thinking of this story long after you close the final pages.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. “Jess and Jason,” she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.

And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel offers what she knows to the police, and becomes inextricably entwined in what happens next, as well as in the lives of everyone involved.

This is a twisty dark psychological thriller with an unreliable and unlikeable narrator. The novel has a slow start, but builds beautifully once you get going.  Not a character in this one feels trustworthy, taking the reader along on a bumpy train ride when a woman in town goes missing. The comparison to GONE GIRL is warranted, but the ending is far more satisfying. The book kept me guessing and each character was beautifully fleshed out.

Usually in alternating viewpoints, I want to skim chapters, only enjoying one point of view. In this one, I looked forward to each viewpoint as it built upon the mystery. I really enjoyed this story and I can’t wait to see this book adapted to film.

Deep Down Dark by Hector Tobar

Deep Down Dark by Hector Tobar

I heard about this book on NPR since it was their first Morning Edition book club selection and we know I am all about anything NPR-related.

When a Chilean mine collapsed in August 2010, it trapped thirty-three miners beneath thousands of feet of rock for a record-breaking sixty-nine days. This book is the story of the miners and what they  experienced below the surface. Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, Hector Tobar gains exclusive access to the miners and their stories and tells these beautifully. It helps to offer an understanding of the families and the personal stories of these miners, as well as adds insight into what it would be like to work in this type of job.

When I read stories like this, much like the beautiful book UNBROKEN, I am reminded that I would die in the first day because I am a very weak, weak person. I could not exist in this kind of tomb-like existence. It is an incredible testimony to the strength of these men and the love they had for their families.

This is a survival story unlike any other I have read. The harrowing tale of these men trapped in this mine is completely unbelievable and what they do to survive together is just as unbelievable. The story of their survival proves that miracles really do happen and I am so glad I got to read the stories of their days in this mine as well as what life is really like after you become a hero in the eyes of the media and public.

I can’t imagine how difficult it would be as author to capture all of these stories of these men in one book…and do it so well. I am so happy NPR Morning Edition selected this as their first book club pick so I could dig into something that was outside of my usual genre this year!

The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez

The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez

This was an absolutely beautiful story about what it would be like to come to America as an immigrant. Told from alternating viewpoints all from immigrant neighbors in one apartment complex, it gives the reader the opportunity to see America through an immigrant’s eyes. From struggling to make ends to meet, to the struggle to communicate, to finding a job, to sending your child off to school, to the sacrifices that are made when leaving your own country for something you believe will be better than the life you are leading- it looks at it all through new eyes.

The story hinges around two sets of parents who have sacrificed everything for their kids and the blooming love between their children in a beautiful coming-of-age story. Honest, human, and so moving. A must-read this year.

Read our interview with Cristina Henriquez to learn more about the immigrant stories that inspired this book!

  Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan STradal

Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal

This book was just the quirkiest book ever and I loved it. It reminded me of one of my favorite quirky Midwest-lovin’ movies, Drop Dead Gorgeous, but with smarter humor. Have you seen it? If you love this book than you will love that film!

When Lars Thorvald’s wife, Cynthia, falls in love with wine—and a dashing sommelier—he’s left to raise their baby, Eva, on his own. He’s determined to pass on his love of food to his daughter—starting with puréed pork shoulder. As Eva grows, she finds her solace and salvation in the flavors of her native Minnesota. From Scandinavian lutefisk to hydroponic chocolate habaneros, each ingredient represents one part of Eva’s journey as she becomes the star chef behind a legendary and secretive pop-up supper club, culminating in an opulent and emotional feast that’s a testament to her spirit and resilience.

Each chapter in J. Ryan Stradal’s startlingly original debut tells the story of a single dish and character, at once capturing the zeitgeist of the Midwest, the rise of foodie culture, and delving into the ways food creates community and a sense of identity.

This book is perfectly quirky in every way. The reader gets to go on a journey chapter by chapter with different narrators who are all somehow connected to an incredible little girl named Eva, that grows into a woman of major culinary talent. As with any book with changing narrators, some chapters you are more drawn into than others, but it does not take away from the quirky hilarity written in each chapter.

Being a Midwest girl, there were many references that made me feel nostalgic about my own Midwest roots as Eva’s coming-of-age story unfolds. I had a hard time putting this one down! Fans of Eleanor & Park will really appreciate the quirk in this one!

You can read my interview with J. Ryan Stradal and read more about his passion for food & the Midwest in our Sundays With Writers series.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Ready Player One will be hitting the theatres in movie form thanks to the direction of Spielberg (no biggie!).

In the year 2044, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he’s jacked into the virtual utopia known as the  OASIS. Wade’s devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world’s digital confines, puzzles that are based on their creator’s obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them. When Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade’s going to survive, he’ll have to win—and confront the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.

Ernest Cline wasted a lot of ’80’s references on this poor girl who apparently knows nothing about the era, but it didn’t take away from the unique concept that he developed in this story. Following Wade Watts as he works to discover the ultimate lottery ticket in a virtual world was such a treat as a reader and felt as though, you too, were in the world with him. The twists at the end really brought it all together beautifully!

Although this was out of my typical genre, I really loved the unique concept and think it just might be a bit of the foreshadowing of what might be to come in 2044.

Everything I Never Told You By Celeste Ng

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

I selected this book for my local book club this month after discovering it was the #1 book of all the books on Amazon for 2014. How could you not select this after making that discovery?

This is a beautiful debut novel and Ng’s descriptive language is a treat to read. When a family’s daughter goes missing the lives of her family members begin unraveling through Ng’s beautiful storytelling. The reader is taken on a journey from the very beginning of the relationship of the parents and moving through each family member, including Lydia, their missing daughter. Everything I Never Told You is every character’s story that was never told- from the disappointment felt by parents to not fitting in due to their race to what roles they were expected to fill in the family (whether wanted or not).

This is a book that would lend itself well to a book club discussion since it tackles the big issues of parental roles/expectations as well as the heartache of youth and the challenges with fitting in.  I did not find this to read like a mystery or thriller, but more of a character-driven piece.

Be sure to read my interview with Celeste Ng to read more about her reaction to writing the best book of the year on Amazon!

My Notorious Life by Kate Manning

My Notorious Life by Kate Manning

Inspired by a real midwife who became one of the most controversial figures in Victorian New York City, Manning weaves a rags to riches story of Axie Muldoon. The impoverished child of Irish immigrants, she grows up to become one of the wealthiest and most controversial women of her day.

Axie goes from orphan to midwife to lady to prisoner,  and Manning creates a compelling story of what it would be to be like to work as a midwife under scrutiny of the law for your services in the mid to late 19th century. Controversial in her services and notorious in her community for offering birth control to those who needed it, it’s an incredible journey to follow and keeps you on the edge of your seat. A beautifully woven love story between two orphans (one being the infamous midwife, Axie) who met on the orphan train and find each other later in life adds to the beauty of this story as they create a business together as adults.

A couple of things to note with this one. It’s  a long one (464 pages), but was a really incredible read that was worth diving into! Secondly, if you have strong opinions on women’s reproductive rights this one will give you a lot of food for thought and would lend itself really well to a book club discussion. I had many opinions of my own about reproductive rights and this one really illustrates the necessity of birth control options during such an impoverished time in history. It was an eye-opening read and I highly recommend it!

Need More Book Ideas? Here are my top ten lists from the past four years!

My Top Ten Books of 2014

My Top Ten Books of 2013

The Best Books Read in 2012

My Top Ten Books in 2011

The Top Ten of 2010

For more great suggestions, check out the NPR Book Concierge- swoon! It is heavenly stuff!   Tell me, what your favorite books were in 2015 or share your links to your own round-ups! Anything I should be adding to my library bag?  Leave your suggestions in the comments below! Looking for book ideas? Check out our entire Book section of the site! Don’t forget to friend me on GoodReads!

This post contains affiliate links. I promise to only recommend what I truly love!

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Amy’s Notebook 12.08.15

Wednesday, December 9th, 2015

Easy Twisted Updo

source: A Beautiful Mess

An easy twisted updo that I am hoping to try over the holidays.

Now that’s a use for temporary tattoos that I never would have thought of!

Busy morning breakfast cookies- let’s see…that’s almost every morning then.

A truly inspiring home holiday tour- so much eye candy!

Slow cooker peppermint vanilla lattes look like a fun holiday brunch treat!

10 things our kids don’t need this Christmas- I couldn’t agree more!

I am excited to follow this kid’s cooking series and plan to work through this first lesson over the holidays!

46 ways to give experiences instead of stuff- REALLY great ideas!

9 bestsellers that are actually worth the hype- have you read them?

Simple Eucalyptus Wreath

source: Centsational Girl

I love a great simple wreath for any season.

What it is like to raise a transracial family- lots of things I had not thought about until I saw this video.

How to decorate for the holidays without punching someone in the face. Perfection.

An LOL for my fellow Fixer Upper addicts.

A fun book lover’s gift guide- I want all the things.

10 holiday movies you are demanded to watch- I don’t think I have ever seen the first one on this list. Have you?

Addicted to distraction? Guilty!

Even if you don’t feel like you are doing everything right, remember that you are a mom that shows up!

I am curious about this tool for capsule wardrobe building- have you heard of it?

I hope you enjoyed our notebook, a collection of gathered links to DIY crafts, food projects, thrifty ways to spruce up your home, and thoughtful reads. Nothing brings me more joy than to highlight other fabulous bloggers. Follow me on Pinterest for daily inspiration!

 

 

It’s the 3 Little Things: Queens, Royals, & Your Favorites

Friday, December 4th, 2015

nutcracker

It has felt like a lifetime since my last favorite things list. So many good things have been happening over here! Let’s see, I hosted BOTH sides of my family and it was absolutely perfect. I even nailed the turkey this year even though I accidentally set my oven to the wrong temperature (oops!). I was thankful for all that delicious food I had prepped in my freezer for our holiday meal.

My daughter performed in The Nutcracker with the Conservatory of Dance over Thanksgiving weekend and our faces hurt from smiling at her sincerity and focus while dancing.

We also got these halls all decked and I shared my first tour ever of our home. I have already heard from two friends that they were ordering a Bucky for their home. We love that cardboard animals are trending!

holiday-project333-1

Brooks Brothers Fancy gently used from thredup!

I’m still rocking my fall wardrobe from my capsule and I haven’t even made any switches yet, although I did add a couple of ponchos to the mix. I am planning to stay in this capsule through the winter because I am liking it so much.

Save-Time-and-Money-with-a-Capsule-Wardrobe-Podcast

 

Speaking of the capsule, you can find me over on A Prioritized Life sharing about what I have learned from finishing out my first full year in Project 333. If you are thinking about exploring one, this might help you navigate it better than I did at first, as well as how this shift began to transform the rest of my life. I hope you can give it a listen! I love getting to share about my journey through this experience.

Here are a few other things that made me happy this week!

The Royal We by Heather Cocks & Jessica Morgan

I’m Working My Way Through the GoodReads Nominations

I am going to be combining the Must-Reads list for November & December since it is a struggle for me to get in as much reading time as I would like for the holidays. Rest assured, I will have it to you as well as my list of the best reads for the year (which is always a big challenge!).  I headed to the library and checked out a huge stack of the GoodReads Nominations after I put together the list for you guys!  I read this one (EXCELLENT!) and I read The Royal We. I have heard so many good things about this one and, once again, you guys were right!  It was a BIG book (a whopping 452 pages!), but I enjoyed it from start to finish.

I was expecting it to be a light love story of an American falling for a Prince, but there was some real meat in there. I can’t imagine how much research they did to really create the insider feel of what it would be like to be a part of the royal family. I found all of that really fascinating. The authors will be joining us on a Sundays With Writers this month so stay tuned for that!

It must have been a week for me and royalty because the second thing on my list is…

The White Queen

The White Queen

My girlfriend told me ages ago that this show was so great (it’s based on the Philippa Gregory books that I am sure many of you have read), but I told her I didn’t have HBO so I never looked into it. The other night I was flipping through the Amazon Prime Options and The White Queen was on there and I am completely sucked in.

It’s racy so I am always looking over my shoulder if one of my kids is trying to peek at my iPad and giving everyone the evil eye with my headphones on to stay away, but goodness it is SO GOOD. The costumes are incredible, the settings are unreal, and I am bawling my eyes out at scenes because the acting is so good.

Sadly, they only made one season of it, but that also makes it a series that I can start and finish (a rarity for me!). If you have Prime, it’s worth adding it to your Watchlist!!

harry-potter-illustrated (4 of 4)

I Love Seeing Your Favorite Things

I took a peek at my Amazon reports to see what you guys are loving and purchasing from our recommendations on the site this year. When I started this favorite things series, I wasn’t sure if you would love it as much as I would love sharing my favorite stuff. I thought I would tell you what your top ten favorite things have been!

1. Lion Brand Hometown USA Yarn- It seems our yarn pom pom wreath  &  pom pom garland has been a big hit in a lot of houses and you bought a ton of yarn to make these projects.  As we toured the house, I shared that I never put it away because the wreath is so special so I am happy you want to make one too!

2. Harry Potter Illustrated- Basically, my kids favorite book of the entire year!

3. Pom Pom Makers- I told you that wreath was a hit! If you love pom poms, you must have a maker. It’s a must-have tool for any crafter!

4. Rit Dye- If you are restoring your jeans, you need a little of this dye to make it happen and apparently that was happening in a lot of homes.

5. All the Light We Cannot See- What an honor it was to interview a Pulitzer Prize winning author. I count that among one of my biggest blessings that happened from our Sundays With Writers series.

6. Rice Cookers- Everyone loves to make quinoa in their rice cooker and I list it as must-have gadget for any busy cook.

7. Epilators & Laser Hair Removal Devices- I must not be alone in my hair woes!

8. Coobie Bras- So thrilled my yoga pant comfort in bras is such  hit!

9. Black Lights- People love glow-in-the-dark stuff and our glow-in-the-dark JELL-O must be hitting a lot of Halloween parties. We also sold a ton of glow-in-the dark accessories so it sounds like some of you had some epic parties that I wasn’t invited to. It’s cool…

10. Argan Oil- You must have the skin of babies.

I hope my weekly happy list continues to inspire you in your home!

Oh, and here is a little more Adele just in case that wasn’t enough happy for your weekend! Isn’t this beautiful?  xo

*this post may contain affiliate links- I only recommend what I love though. Check out past editions of  It’s the 3 Little Things

Now it’s your turn! What’s making you happy this week?