winter bookshelf for the kids (and kids-at-heart).


Friends!! I’m so sorry this took me forever, clearly I overestimated my ability to hammer it out really quick.

I hope it’s worth the wait.

I had so much fun writing this post. Children’s books are an unending source of delight to me, and the most amazing thing is how many wonderful books I’m discovering these days that I never knew existed. I read middle grade and young adult fiction to myself for fun (books my kids may not be ready for yet), but when I find a new picture or children’s book title I like to wait to discover it with them for the first time.

C.S. Lewis said that the mark of a good children’s book is that grown-ups enjoy it too, and I whole-heartedly agree with him.

This may be controversial, but I’ll just go ahead and say it: I let my kids check character books out of the library (like Tinker Bell, Star Wars, Lego Ninjago), but I don’t read them aloud to them. They can look at the pictures, ask a sibling to read it to them, or wait ’til they can read it themselves. By now they know the rule and now don’t even ask me to anymore.

I want to spend the energy I have reading really good, well-written books to my kiddos, but I also want reading to be delightful and fun for all of us.

So because of that, I also don’t give my kids a hard time if they don’t love a book that I love. Like, for some reason, they just haven’t been fans of Robert McCloskey’s picture books, like Make Way For Ducklings, which are on every classic children’s book list I’ve ever seen. But what can I do? I try introduce lots of great books to them, and give them space to form their own opinions. If they don’t like something I’ve been known to wait several months or a year and just try it again.

My current favorite sources for kids’ book ideas are Read-Aloud Revival and Sonlight (full credit to Sonlight for helping me discover most of the chapter books on today’s list).

Here we go!

Picture books

When it comes to picture books, I’ll typically settle on an author we like and work my way through their books, getting a couple at a time. Often this involves typing the author’s name into Google to see what all they’ve written, then requesting books from the library, but sometimes I’ll just find the author at the library and flip through titles there.

The following are tried-and-true authors that ALL my kids enjoy (and me too!); they are books we have read and reread and reread again.

I’d also like to point out that this list could provide gift ideas if you want it to (see how versatile it is!?). If we’re invited to a child’s birthday party I ALWAYS give books. They’re fun for baby showers too! I still remember books that people gave us when Judah was born. Do the recipient a favor, pretty please, and write the date and a message inside. It’s such a fun treat for them to discover when they learn to read for themselves.

Sandra Boynton

Thank you to our family: Pat, Cathy, and Annie for getting us hooked on Sandra Boynton when Judah was a toddler! These are family favorite board books and all these years later, we own most of them and still read them together. Blue Hat, Green Hat is the book that all four kids delightedly learned to “read” first, and it’s their favorite. We’ve also completely memorized Pajama Time! and Hey! Wake Up! Please just do yourself a favor and read them all.


Mo Willems

If you are down and need a pick-me-up, look no further than Elephant and Piggie. Their friendship reminds us that life is sweet and should not be taken too seriously, and that laughter is the best medicine. We own several of them but also always have one in our stack out from the library. They’re Gabe’s current favorites, and I tell him that Waiting Is Not Easy is the book we read over and over to comfort ourselves when we were waiting for him and Noah to come into our lives. It still makes me cry to this day (and is a great gift for any adoptive parent).

The Knuffle Bunny series by Mo Willems is a little lesser known but just as brilliant as Elephant and Piggie. These three books are ones the grown-ups especially love.

Finally, City Dog, Country Frog, is a hidden Mo Willems gem in my opinion. It’s a little more serious than his other books, but a beautiful, touching story.


Shirley Hughes

I stumbled upon Shirley Hughes on a website once, and couldn’t believe we’d never heard of this lovely English author! You’ll enjoy her artwork just as much as her writing. We’ve almost completely worked our way through her books, and there’s lots of them (don’t you just love prolific authors?). Start with the Alfie and Annie Rose series. The Tales of Trotter Street  series is a favorite of ours too.


Jonathan Bean

I discovered Jonathan Bean on a Read-Aloud Revival podcast episode and love, love his books and illustrations. I’ve been buying them over time because they’re the kind of books I want to share with my grandkids one day. His stories Building Our House and This Is My Home, This Is My School, are from his childhood (he includes family photographs in the back!). It’s so fun for our kids to have a picture book that’s about a homeschooling family. We love Big Snow and At Night too.


Jane O’Connor

These are hands-down Amie’s favorite books. She never gets tired of them, and heads straight for the Fancy Nancy books when we arrive at the library. I enjoy them because Nancy is, well, fancy, and her mom is plain, and somehow they find ways to meet in the middle. Sounds like another mother-daughter relationship I know of!


Rosemary Wells

Rosemary Wells is so fun! Yoko is story about a cat who brings sushi to school for lunch, and her classmates’ response. We have Noisy Nora in our stack now, and the Max books are sweet too.


Kevin Henkes

Our favorite is A Weekend With Wendell. We also love Owen, and Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse. I’ve never met a Kevin Henkes book I didn’t enjoy! But they check out like hot potatoes in our library, so I usually have to get online and request them.


Henry and Pawl and the Round Yellow Ball, Mary GrandPre, Tom Casmer

This isn’t a series but is a sweet story of a boy who wants to be an artist. It was given to us when Judah was born and has been a favorite for a long time (Which delightful person gave this to us!? How I wish I could remember. If it was you, please speak up! See, there’s a good reason for you to write a note in the books you gift). I think I read it twice a day to Judah for a good long stretch. It has the added delight for him now of being written by the illustrator of the Harry Potter series.


Jaqueline Woodson

Jaqueline Woodson’s children’s books are thoughtful and compassionate.  Her stories touch on race, poverty, incarceration, and foster care in age-appropriate ways. I first found this book after our adoption and it helped me understand what my boys were feeling just a little better.


Chapter books

Wonder, R.J. Palacio

This is aching yet heart-warming story about a young boy with a facial deformity named August, and his transition from being homeschooled to attending middle school. It’s a beautiful example of the power of story to take us outside ourselves and allow us to walk in other people’s shoes. I don’t typically like books written from multiple points of view, but the effect was powerful in this case. Everyone can find themselves in the pages of this novel, which I’d say is for older elementary students or middle schoolers (and high schoolers! and grown ups!). I plan to have my kids read it in fourth or fifth grade, and I look forward to discussing it with them.


The Family Under the Bridge, Natalie Savage Carlson

This story about a homeless family and the stranger they meet takes place in Paris, and my kids immediately recognized the illustrator from the Little House on the Prairie books. I could see in their eyes that it was the first time poverty became personal to them, and we enjoyed this sweet story and also had lots to talk about.


Here’s a Penny, Carolyn Haywood

The adventures and misadventures of a young, adopted boy named Penny, set in the 1940’s. We thoroughly enjoyed this story (especially the ending), and it’s sequel.


The Princess and the Goblin, George MacDonald

The Princess and the Goblin was a favorite from my childhood; last month my mom gave me the beautifully illustrated copy we’ve had in our family for years, and it was our December school read aloud. This is a fantastic, fast-paced story for both boys and girls; even Gabe, who’s known to get bored of chapter books, was swept up (because I mean: goblins!!!).


The Hundred Dresses, Eleanor Estes

This is a book for every young girl’s bookshelf. It’s about poverty and gossip and cliques. I want to reread it with Amie as she grows up.


Adventures with Waffles, Maria Parr

This was a bedtime read for Judah, Amie, and me this winter. Set in Norway, it’s about best friends Trille and Lena, who find themselves in one catastrophe after another. It’s laugh-out-loud funny and also had me choked up a couple of times. Judah loved it so much he chose to talk about it in a school presentation.


In Grandma’s Attic, Arleta Richardson

It made me so happy that my kids enjoy this series as much as I did as a little girl. In some ways reminiscent of the Little House books, it’s full of funny stories of a girl growing up on a farm.


No Children, No Pets, Marion Holland

Judah, Amie, and I thoroughly enjoyed this story of a single mom and her kids who inherit a ramshackle hotel in Florida.


Father and I Were Ranchers, Ralph Moody

We just finished this true story about a family who moves to a cattle ranch in the early 1900’s for our kid’s book club. Our kids have gotten hours of imaginative play ideas from it. A couple warnings: it has a sad ending, and there’s some “cowboy language” you’ll want to skip over, but other than that it was just about perfect. Little Britches is a whole series, and Judah’s just now starting the second book, Man of the Family. I want to read it too!


Finally, if you’re looking for more chapter books, especially for boys, here are:

Judah’s recommendations (age 9)

Captain Nobody, Dean Pitchford

Homer Price, Robert McCloskey

The Red Pyramid, Rick Riordan

The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkein

Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling

The Wingfeather Saga series, Andrew Peterson


I already have enough picture books/authors for another post, so I’ll write you another in awhile (with my track record, better plan on it being a long while). In the meantime, you know I always love recommendations!

Even if you don’t have kids, may I suggest making time for children’s books? Go sit yourself in the kids’ section of the library and pull a few off the shelf. The great ones never, ever fail to move me and lift my spirits.

Happy reading!

























winter bookshelf.

(photo credit)

Thank you, dear readers, for the all the book suggestions you’ve passed along since my last post. I always love new ideas and can’t wait to begin checking them out!

You know what, I promised you a Winter Bookshelf post, and then realized I felt largely unenthusiastic about recent novels. Never have I returned so many books to the library unfinished. Barbara Kingsolver says that she gives a book 20 pages, and if it hasn’t hooked her, she puts it aside. Life is too short to read books you don’t enjoy. To be honest, I’ve spent a lot of time lately reading backing through Jan Karon’s Mitford series.

If you read my fiction recommendations in the past, you may have noticed a general theme of unhappy endings. I realized when friends ask me for a light, fictional book to read, I often wrinkle my brow in thought to find something (most common recommendations for that genre are the Mitford books and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society).

Truthfully, I don’t read fiction for happy endings, but instead for the way the writing makes me feel. Don’t get me wrong: I love a good, satisfying ending (spoiler alert: that’s part of why A Gentleman in Moscow was my favorite novel last year), but I don’t like to sacrifice good writing and character development for an ending tied up with a bow.

At the same time, I’ve put several books aside recently because of how utterly un-redemptive they are, and how self-centered and small-minded the characters are. “Reality” does not always always equal “dysfunction.” Honestly, I find a lot of recent fiction off-putting. Good motivation to return to the classics this year.

It’s hard to strike that balance, isn’t it? Hats off to writers of fiction who manage it.

Here’s a handful of books that I have enjoyed lately, and on Tuesday, some book recommendations for the kids.


The Magnolia Story, Chip and Joanna Gaines

I smiled throughout this book, because Chip and Joanna’s writing voices sound exactly like their Fixer Upper voices. I’ve discovered that when reading non-fiction, what I want most of all is simply to hear someone’s story, and Joanna and Chip shared theirs — complete with strengths and weaknesses — in a very honest, humorous way, that had me cheering for them. David enjoyed reading about their variety of entrepreneurial ventures. A disappointment for me was the depiction of Christian faith, perhaps unintentionally, as shallow and capitalistic; little more than a baptized-balance sheet. Sometimes walking with God means blessing in business, sometimes it doesn’t.


The House at Riverton, Kate Morton

I’ve now read all of Kate Morton’s novels, and I enjoy them immensely. Here’s a perfect example of why I read books: though they all have a mysterious, melancholy tone, I just love the feel of her stories and her characters. I especially love her historical settings (England, around the time of World War 1 or World War II). After you’ve read a couple, they become a bit predictable, but I still find them engrossing and fun (warning: they’re really hard to put down). If you’re only going to read one of hers, my favorite by far is The Secret Keeper.


Teaching From Rest: A Homeschooler’s Guide to Unshakeable Peace, Sarah Mackenzie

I got this book with a Christmas Amazon gift card, and it’s now my single favorite book to recommend for homeschoolers. Maybe it’s just where I’m at in my journey; maybe it’s because Sarah Mackenzie has a bunch of kids herself, but her book was balm to my very soul right before we launched into a new semester of school. Blessedly short and to the point, it encapsulates the vision I have for our homeschool, and is full of practical, day-to-day encouragement. I plan to read it every year.


Mere Motherhood: Morning Times, Nursery Rhymes, and My Journey Towards Sanctification, Cindy Rollins

If Teaching From Rest is the top homeschooling book I’d recommend, this one’s a close second, although it’s not a how-to so much as one woman’s story: a woman who happens to have nine kids. Also a Christmas gift (admittedly picked out for myself), I devoured this memoir in a couple of days, and then starting right back at the beginning.

Cindy Rollins is a new hero to me because she embodies the kind of writing I want to do. The Author’s Note and Prologue alone are worth the price of the book. She’s well-read and smart, and yet tells her story with down-to-earth grace, honesty, and wry humor. You close the book with the impression of her as a flesh-and-blood human who makes plenty of mistakes and is still learning to find joy in her journey. My mom enjoyed this memoir very much too, which speaks to Cindy Rollins’ ability to connect with mothers in all different stages of life.


Bel Canto, Ann Patchett

I’m continuing to work my way through Ann Patchett’s fiction, and have just two novels left: Run and Taft. Bel Canto is unlike any novel I have read. A houseful of wealthy, powerful people from all over the world are taken hostage at a dinner party in an unnamed Spanish-speaking country.

Contrary to the initial plot-line suggests, this is actually a very slow-moving book, which gives you the panicked, monotonous, crawling-time feeling of being cooped up in a rambling mansion without hope of escape. It’s character and setting-driven. For a time in the middle I struggled to finish it, but I pressed on, trusting Patchett’s story-telling ability, and I’m so glad I did.


Our Souls at Night, Kent Haruf

I can’t remember where I discovered this quiet book. I sat and read it in one evening and ached with the painful beauty of two lonely elderly people who try to find a life together. It’s not a happy book, but it is an insightful, well-crafted one.


Falling Free: Rescued From the Life I Always Wanted, Shannan Martin

I’ve had my eye on Shannan’s book since it was released and was excited to use Christmas money to finally get it. I enjoy reading her blog from time to time. She and her husband gave up their dream farmhouse in the country for a house in the city. Through a series of circumstances, they exchanged two well-paying careers for a job as a local prison chaplain and a life as a stay-at-home mom. They have four children, all adopted, one a 20-something ex-convict. This was a sweet, redemptive book to read after the blow of Evicted.

It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the pain and the needs in our country. I was touched and challenged by this one family’s story of finding freedom through serving, and I only wish this book contained more of the details. It’s told in snatches, in a bit of a non-linear, topical way, with Shannan’s thoughts on life and faith woven in.

I do love her emphasis on relationships, in their messiness and joy, as the doorway to real change, rather than simply doing a good deed to check a box. My favorite quote: “This is the way of community, where we all have something to offer and we all have something we lack.”

Thanks, friends!

On Tuesday I’ll be back with some children’s book recommendations!


















prelude to a winter bookshelf.


We’re full in the throes of January, and, like many of you, this is a time of year when I have to fight a little harder to be happy.

Overnight it seems that the well-lit warmth of the Christmas season gives way to a succession of cold, gray days when the very walls of this brick house seem to close in on us, and active kids cooped up too many hours wear a whole family’s stir-crazy frustration on their faces.

This results in more bickering all around (Mom and Dad included), punctuated with exasperated cries of “What were you thinking!?” (my part) and sullen blank stares (my kids’ part). Just last week the four-year-old that I thought had learned a modicum of common sense slunk into the kitchen, found a clean white washcloth in the drawer, and proceed to color the entire thing with markers. Just because.

What we all really need is to go outside. And we try to, as often as possible, whether it’s a backyard Daily Burn workout, an icy-cold walk through the neighborhood to Burger King on last Saturday’s snow day, or the 4-mile hike in the Harbison State Forest yesterday.

The thing I love about South Carolina is the handful of unseasonably warm days that plopped themselves out of nowhere into our week. We’ve thrown open the windows and pulled on t’shirts and flip flops, and curl ourselves up in patches of sunlight on the back porch and yard like cats, and the kids jump on the trampoline ’til dinner.

For these few days, all is right in the world and they remind me: cold is just a season. It will end.


Though the days are often gray and tempers prone to flare and my depression breathes heavy over my shoulder in the winter, there’s something a tiny bit joyous about living in this dark — if I stop complaining long enough to see it — because I get to anticipate the light that I know is coming, just around the corner.

And so I burrow into it. I find things to relish, like a steaming cup of coffee that warms cold hands, the cozy moccasin slippers I found at TJ Maxx, and early-dark evenings that make my little boys fall fast asleep by 7:30.

Of course, the other thing to love about winter is books. Lots and lots of them.

Next week, a little winter bookshelf list for you; today, a quick recap of last year:

I read 91 books in 2016.

Yes, it’s true. I even surprised myself with that number. It wasn’t any sort of goal, it just kind of happened.

If you’re curious, my hands-down-favorite fictional book of the year was A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles.

My favorite, and most-recommended, work of non-fiction was Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, by Matthew Desmond. If you decide to read it, it helped me tremendously to start with the Afterword, where Desmond explains how he researched and wrote the book. It changed the whole feel of the book for me. I also needed to take a break to read light fiction right before falling asleep at night, because that book is very heavy. Important, but heavy.

My favorite reading memory of the year was experiencing the full Harry Potter series alongside my nine-year-old, as he read them for the first time. If you’re wondering whether I’m happy with my decision to let him go ahead and read the full series at this age, I am!


And finally, even after my resolution to get back to the classics, I read just one measly classic, Oliver Twist, by Charles Dickens. Though it’s a story most of us know, it’s one of my least favorite of his books. Too dark and sad.

And so I turn the corner into 2017 with a resolution to read a bit fewer books this year, and instead to read some more challenging books.

If I read one classic last year, surely I can read at least two this year, right?

I will start with Little Dorrit, by Dickens, which I began several years ago but never finished.

Aside from season 5 of Call the Midwife, a few episodes of This Is Us, and some harrowing documentaries David talked me into, I watched almost zero television last year. This of course made lots of time for reading, but I decided to begin 2017 with a change of pace, to find a couple of series to get me through these winter evenings.

Who resolves to read fewer books and watch more TV?

I’m strange, I know.

I re-watched the BBC miniseries, Bleak House (available on Netflix), which is both my favorite show and favorite Dickens novel. Contrary to my usual recommendation, you should watch the series first, then read the book. My mother-in-law told me to do this, and it kept the characters straight and made the novel that much more enjoyable for me. Now, do you think I ought to do the same with the Little Dorrit film?

Currently I’m happily immersed in a recently-discovered series, Lark Rise to Candleford (available on Amazon Prime). Has anyone else watched this? Very reminiscent of Elizabeth Gaskell in my opinion, especially Cranford. I’m just reaching the end of Season One, and it’s fun!


My mom and I recently introduced Judah and Amelie to the movie Little Women (the Winona Ryder version), and they loved it Judah was initially very skeptical, but he said, “That was a great movie, Mom! I think I want to become a writer, like Jo.” Up next: Anne of Green Gables.

Okay, back to book goals.

I think I’ll read a bit more non-fiction this year, and thanks to some Christmas gifts and an Amazon gift card, I’m off to a good start. More about that coming on my winter bookshelf post.

I have a running To-Read list in my bullet journal, and I like putting it down on paper, because just by glancing at it I can try to keep some diversity in my reading habits. Too many newer novels in a row? Add something old, or something non-fiction.

I want to read Surprised by Joy, by C.S. Lewis.

I also plan to read the Wingfeather Saga series by Andrew Peterson, which Judah got for Christmas and is currently enjoying.

My friend Betsy recommended the memoir Roots and Sky: A Journey Home in Four Seasons, by Christie Purifoy, which is on my list.

So that means I need you guys to give me a classic and/or non-fiction recommendation (of course fiction is always appreciated too!). Any ideas?

I hope you’re enjoying some sunshine this Sunday! Hugs!

fall bookshelf.


Hello fellow readers!

Here in South Carolina the air has turned crisp in the mornings but still deliciously warm and sunny in the afternoons. A few of our old-house windows aren’t painted shut and they’re thrown open to the breeze. It’s the perfect weather to drag a chair outside with a cup of something hot to drink and read.

Hopefully this list provides you with some inspiration for your fall and winter bookshelf.

A note: With the exception of extreme cases, I’m going to stop giving disclaimers for books with objectionable content (language, sex) because unfortunately it seems that almost everything I read has some level of objectionable content. Anne Bogel describes this phenomenon in her post, The 8 uncomfortable lines I want to cut from the books I’m reading these days.

You can (hopefully) trust that if I recommend a book I think it’s worth reading despite the things I wish weren’t there. And so, as readers, we forge ahead into the brave unknown, thankful for the creativity and hard work of people who make our reading life rich!

In other words: I’m very excited about this list.

2016 has been a lovely year for reading, mainly because I have excellent sources for book recommendations. Modern Mrs. Darcy remains my favorite. But I also get ideas from friends, from blogs I follow, and browsing bookstores. If a book fails to capture my attention, I give it 25 pages or so and then find something different. You should feel free to do the same!

I always try to include some variety in my bookshelf posts to make allowances for different tastes, but I don’t mind one bit when you dislike a book I recommend, or even if you tell me so. I love discussing books, period, although just to warn you, I will take it as a personal challenge to then find something you’ll like better.

The joy of a reading life is that if you forage long enough, there’s something for everyone, and something for all seasons. I love when you text/email/comment with book recommendations of your own. Please keep it up!



Present Over Perfect, Shauna Niequest. This is the right book for me in this season of life. I really enjoyed Shauna Niequest’s memoir, Bread and Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table, but I liked this one even better. I can relate to much of her journey from finding self-worth in affirmation and performance, to stripping down to the bare bones of who she is in Christ, finding peace with a small life, trying to love a few people well. There’s a lot of wisdom here.



When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanithi. The memoir of neurosurgeon Dr. Paul Kalanithi, who was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer at age 36. He writes with simplicity and candor; this little book will break your heart and also make you grateful to be alive and grateful for the people you love.



Snow Hunters, Paul Yoon. Another short book for those of you who are strapped for time. It can easily tuck into your bag (I highly recommend reading as a way to pass the time standing in lines). This is a quiet book about a man who immigrates to Brazil during the Korean War. He builds a new life there and begins to find healing from his past.



Commonwealth, Ann Patchett. This is my year of discovering Ann Patchett. I’ve had her books on my mental to-read list for forever, and finally dove right in with State of Wonder. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and also enjoyed The Patron Saint of Liars and The Magician’s Assistant. I feature Commonwealth here because it’s her newest novel and thus far my favorite (although hold that thought because my copy of Bel Canto should be arriving in the mail today).

The funny thing is I don’t always love her characters or plot lines — especially the endings. But she writes with insight into human nature and a marvelous ability to give the reader a sense of place — whether that place is the deepest Amazon rain forest, or the windy suburbs of Nebraska. I plan to read every one of her novels.



The Water is Wide, Pat Conroy. If you’re not a fiction-lover, try this memoir from novelist Pat Conroy. Our Book and Tea Club read it as part of our “Year of Southern Authors.” I was deeply moved by the story of his year teaching school on Yamacraw Island (now Daufuskie Island) off the coast of South Carolina in the late 1960’s. You will laugh one minute and feel outraged at the brokenness of our world in the next.



Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi. This is another sad book, and I will give the heads-up that it contains some graphic content. It traces the history of two fictional African families over the course of several generations, one sold into slavery in America, one who stayed behind in Ghana.

I read a very insightful blog post by an African-American woman (I’m sorry now that I can’t remember where in order to link it) in response to a white man’s Facebook post. Referring to the racial tension that still infects our country like a disease, he asked, “What do you want me to do?”  She said, “The place to start is to listen. To agree — and not argue — that white privilege is real, and to understand that black people in America have a different story than you do.”

It seems to me this could be an important book in beginning to listen.



Locomotion, Jacqueline Woodson. I’m continuing to work my way through Jaqueline Woodson’s middle-grade fiction. I most recently read Locomotion and Miracle’s Boys (both short books), and enjoyed them as much as her others. Woodson is extraordinarily gifted at capturing the haunting nature of grief and loss through the eyes of children.



The Midwife’s Revolt, Jodi Daynard. I found this novel thanks to my mother-in-law’s book club list, and enjoyed it so much I read it twice. It follows the fictional story of a midwife friend of Abigail Adams during the Revolutionary War. I liked the sequel, Our Own Country, just as much and am happy to hear that the author is writing a third book in this series (there’s nothing better than a great series, is there?).



Habits of Grace: Enjoying Jesus through the Spiritual Disciplines, David Mathis. Here’s a change of pace. I’ll admit I’m a bit skeptical of new books on “How to have a quiet time.” But our church received a free copy of this book, and I couldn’t resist giving it a try. I appreciated it so much I’ve been recommending it far and wide. David felt the same way, so much so that bought it for the CPC elders.

David Mathis is a fantastic writer and has a simple, fresh way of explaining the old truth: that there is no magic shortcut to becoming like Jesus. The path involves small, daily habits, worked out over the course of a lifetime. His book will make remind you why these habits are important and beautiful.



The Secret Keeper, Kate Morton. This was my beach vacation read this year, and I’m so glad I chose it! It’s another book I wanted to read twice. I tried a Kate Morton book in the past (The Forgotten Garden) and thought it was so-so, but I loved this one. I’ve read The Lake House since and enjoyed it too, but I think The Secret Keeper will remain my favorite. I’m contemplating trying another one, so if you have another favorite, let me know! She’s a great story-teller.



A Gentleman in Moscow, Amor Towles. This is also my year of discovering Amor Towles. I was planning to feature the first of his novels, Rules of Civility, a glittering story of New York society in the 1930’s, but I finished this one while writing the post and had to make a switch. Don’t get me wrong: Rules of Civility was great, but A Gentleman in Moscow is just perfection. If you enjoy classic Russian lit at all, you will be delighted — and then you’ll want to go back and reread Anna Karenina.



The Nightingale, Kristin Hannah. So I guess by now you detect a strong “Historical Fiction” theme to my book recommendations. Ah well. What can I say? I guess it’s my happy place: it’s the best way I know to both pay my respects to and learn from the past. Several friends recommended The Nightingale to me, set in German-occupied France during World War 2. It’s heart-breaking and hopeful.



Everyone Brave is Forgiven, Chris Cleave. Another World War 2 novel, but this one is set in London and on the island of Malta, and the most intriguing part about it to me is that it’s loosely based on letters that the author’s grandparents exchanged. David and I both read this novel and really enjoyed it.



All The Pretty Things, Edie Wadsworth. This is the memoir of Edie Wadsworth, who journeyed from a childhood of poverty in Appalachia to become a successful medical doctor, and finally a full-time stay-at-home mother. It’s a sad, beautiful story of suffering, sin, redemption, and freedom, as Edie comes to know the God that pursued her heart over a lifetime.







summer 2016 and the bookshelf.


Hello, dear readers!

It’s June, the time of year when life slows down and routines become gentler and there’s more free time — right?

Why do I feel like this isn’t always the case?

I’ve been shocked at how quickly our summer has threatened to become as full of activities as the school year. There are so many fun things to do! Invitations and play dates and cook-outs. Even before we returned from vacation in Florida last week, I started to feel overwhelmed and sad.

What about long, lazy days, staying in pj’s most of the morning, slurping homemade Popsicles out in the pavilion, baking cookies together? What about riding bikes? What about chunks of time to teach my kids a few more chores around the house — and to be home long enough so they can actually do those chores? What about book baskets sprinkled throughout the house and plenty of hours to curl up and read?

Then suddenly I realized: Wait. Just because there’s lots of wonderful options, does not mean we have to do them all. We certainly have a say in how our summer turns out.

And so, two weeks into June, I’ve come up with a vision for our summer, and I find myself saying “no” far more than I say “yes.” Not because I don’t have friends to see or fun things to let my kids participate in. But because I want to rest. I want something different than the schedule we keep all year — wonderful as that is.

I want my kids to feel bored, so they learn how to make their own fun. I do not want to be their chauffeur. I want to linger and cuddle on the sofa and tickle Gabe while he cackles with laughter, and play Uno in the living room during the sweltering afternoon heat. I want Poetry Teatime with Mum-Mum, and to practice reading with Amie every day (because she said just this weekend, “Mommy, I want to read Little House in the Big Woods together, but you’re always too busy”).

And so here we are. We’re doing a few fun things this summer. We will certainly see friends and family. We’ve already tackled some big house projects and I’m sure will do some more. We’ll keep up with swim practice twice a week.

But I have whole day-blocks in my calendar that are completely blank. And right now, that’s a delicious feeling.

The last proper Bookshelf post I wrote was at the end of January; I’ve come to know and love so many new books in the last four or so months, and I’m excited to share them with you! Hopefully you’ll find something here that you can take on vacation or to the lake or maybe just to your back porch with iced tea or a glass of cold white wine.

I divided the books into categories, so you can just skim the list and see what you’re in the mood for. Some of these titles I’ve mentioned in previous posts, but I think they’re worth repeating. I’ll keep descriptions brief, to save my own sanity, and yours!

Happy summer and happy reading!



Walking Across Egypt, Clyde Edgerton


A little novel set in a Southern small-town that follows the misadventures of the opinionated, 78-year-old Mattie Rigsbee and the juvenile delinquent she befriends. This book was both laugh-out-loud-funny and moving.


A Man Called Ove, Fredrik Backman


Ove is a middle-aged, bitter, and quite unlikable man. At first. As you peel back the layers of his story, you start to understand the path he’s traveled. I thoroughly enjoy the group of people that march themselves into his life, and change it forever. (Heads up for language)


Historical Fiction

These Is My Words, Nancy Turner


I know I’ve mentioned this book already; it remains one of my favorite historical fiction novels. It’s filled with all the calamity you can expect from a historical novel set in the Arizona Territory in the time of the Indian wars, but despite the violence, and some farfetched twists in the plot, I love it. The characters feel like dear friends.


My Name is Resolute, Nancy Turner


This is a long novel, but one I was unable to put down; so reader, beware. It just might consume your time until you finish it! I haven’t read a novel about Revolutionary-era America in as long as I can remember. I didn’t adore it quite as much as These Is My Words, but still found it a great read.


The Summer Before the War, Helen Simonson


Once in awhile I’ll read a book and just swell with pride for the author for his or her accomplishment. That’s how I felt about The Summer Before the War. Set at the start of World War 1 in East Sussex, England, it reads like a much-older classic, in the best of ways.


Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, Helen Simonson


I then felt compelled to read Simonson’s first novel, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, and highly enjoyed it too. This novel is set in modern day England and it explores the issues of family, immigration, and interracial relationships.


Middle grade fiction
I don’t think I really knew what middle-grade fiction was until this year, when I read Brown Girl Dreaming. It’s defined as fiction that targets 8-13 year-olds (think Newberry Honor books), and I’ve come to enjoy this genre. I think one of the biggest ways middle and high-schoolers can gain perspective in the thick of hormone changes and peer pressure and the struggles of growing up, is through reading good books. I look forward to one day reading and discussing these books with my kids.

If your summer is busy and you don’t have much time for reading, may I suggest one of these titles? They are much shorter than the others on the list (with the exception of Echo), but just as delightful.

Feathers, Jacqueline Woodson


From the author of Brown Girl Dreaming, this is a coming-of-age novel about a girl named Frannie, who experiences the pangs of growing up and begins to see the people in her world with new eyes.


When You Reach Me, Rebecca Stead


This is a fabulous novel that is part-mystery, part-fantasy, with a heroine you will come to love.


Goodbye Stranger, Rebecca Stead



You’ve probably noticed that when I find an author I like, I suddenly want to read lots of their books. So I’m on a Rebecca Stead kick right now. Her books are fun, thought-provoking, and wise. This one pricks as you witness characters make poor decisions, but the subject matter is handled so well, and the lessons they learn are vital.


Echo, Pam Munoz Ryan


This novel won a 2016 Newberry Honor award, and wins the prize for coolest cover art of this list, in my opinion. It follows three children during World War 2, and has a fantastic ending.


A Whole Series to Bury Yourself In
You knew I was going here, right? My two favorite series of all time, perfect for burying yourself in all summer long. In fact, I’m still dwelling in Harry Potter, right alongside Judah, this summer, and having a blast.

The Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling


The Mitford series, Jan Karon




Everything You Ever Wanted: A Memoir, Jillian Lauren


I loved this memoir of a couple who adopted a baby boy from Ethiopia. Jillian Lauren is hilarious, painfully honest, and insightful. She feels like someone I’d love to be friends with. (Heads up for language)


The Light of the World, Elizabeth Alexander


I’ll tell you at the very beginning: at first this feels like a book about death. The author is poet and Yale professor, Elizabeth Alexander. Her Eritrean husband — and father of her two sons — dies suddenly at the beginning of the book, and this beautiful story of their love and Alexander’s learning how to grieve well and cope in a world without him will break your heart, but also fill you with hope.


A Girl From Yamhill, Beverly Cleary


As you know, my big kids are huge Beverly Cleary fans. As I was browsing titles for them, I came across her two memoirs, and decided to check them out. I loved this book, and her second memoir, My Own Two Feet! Cleary is a great writer, and I enjoyed learning about her life growing up in Oregon during the Depression. In her childhood stories, I loved seeing glimpses of her inspiration for the Henry Huggins and Ramona series.


Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s, John Elder Robison


I nearly put this book down a couple of times because it was terribly sad and depressing — not so much because of Robison’s Asperger’s, but because of his childhood. However, I’m so glad I finished it. Robison is a survivor, and the way he eventually learned to live and thrive with his Asperger’s syndrome — in the face of many odds — is inspiring and hopeful. (Heads up for language)


All is Grace: A Ragamuffin Memoir, Brennan Manning


This last memoir on the list is another sad one, but well worth reading. Catholic priest-turned-Christian-evangelist, Brennan Manning, battled alcohol addiction nearly his entire life. This book is his deeply personal, honest account of his childhood and life spotted with sin and pain, but also with an unshakeable belief in the love and forgiveness of God. David and I were both very moved by his story.

our newfound love of audiobooks.


I fully credit the Read Aloud Revival podcast with our new audiobook obsession, or perhaps I should say my kids’ new obsession. I’m such a visual learner that I’ve never much enjoyed listening to audiobooks, which is unfortunate when it comes to long road trips. I find that if I can’t see the words on the page, my mind wanders. But as you’ll see, I’m now training myself to listen to audiobooks and enjoy them.

The kids and I tried a couple of audiobooks together about a year ago, but they weren’t fans, and since I truly love to read aloud, we abandoned the idea.

Enter into our family two wiggly, noisy little boys. Suddenly, I can hardly read aloud two sentences without an interruption. I’ve scaled way back reading aloud this year, because it’s just been too hard. The little boys have grown to do better and better with picture books, but forget chapter books.

I’ll make them sit at the table and play or draw during our morning read-aloud time for school (which is probably 30 minutes total), or they can always run off and be noisy in another room, but beyond that it’s hard to get hours of reading aloud done like we used to when we got caught up in a really great book.

So this winter I decided to give audiobooks another shot. I signed up for the free trial, which gives you a free audiobook or series to download (and keep!). I chose the complete Ramona Quimby series, by Beverly Cleary, because we read Beazus and Ramona for school this year and loved it, and because it was the largest/most expensive series I could find for my free credit. Well, Judah and Amie adored listening to the whole series! They plowed through 19+ hours of stories in less than a month, and then started right back at the beginning.

And since then, we’ve never looked back.

Before I give you a list of audiobooks they love, a couple of thoughts.


– Do I listen to books with my kids? For the most part it’s just them (and by “them” I mean largely the two oldest kids). Their main times for listening to audiobooks are during afternoon rest time, and at night before bed. But over time I’ve listened in on large portions of the Ramona Quimby series and love it.

There’s something childlike about having a story read to you. I find it makes me slow down, laugh more (Beverly Cleary is so much fun, for instance), and feel a delight that’s different when I read aloud. After serving others for a living, it feels like being served.

However, I don’t stress out when I can’t listen with them. Sarah Mackenzie gives a guide to 5 great questions to ask to get your kids talking about books, and she mentions that sometimes her own conversations with her kids are even better when she hasn’t read the book they’re reading, because they don’t feel like she’s drilling them or looking for a specific answer; she just genuinely wants to know what they think. I like that.


-How do we listen to audiobooks? Typically on the iPad or phone. A couple months ago I broke down and bought the kids a CD/cassette player (because my mom gave us a stack of old cassette tapes from my childhood). So we start with searching online for books we can download and listen to on the phone or iPad, and if they aren’t available there, we get them on CD.

I kept my Audible subscription after seeing that the kids wanted to listen to the Ramona series again. I have a special $7.99/month deal for three months, and then it goes up to $14.99; each month you get a credit for one book or series and discounts off additional books, and thus far I think it’s worth every penny. I use it to purchase my kids’ favorite series and books that aren’t available at our library.


-I’ve begun looking to audiobooks as entertainment rather than TV or iPad games. I’m not saying we never watch TV or movies anymore, but more and more I’m offering audiobooks instead. Of course the kids are disappointed when they can’t watch DVD’s on car rides or play games, but they’re getting used to it! TV has become a special weekend activity, and they almost never ask for iPad games anymore.

The big kids and I drove back from as airport run to Charlotte recently, and listened to Little House on the Prairie the whole ride home. They complained at first, but the three of us got swept up in the story and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. We’re a family who really enjoys music and usually listen to it in the car, but David and I have already begun talking about choosing a book to listen together as a family on our drive down to Florida in May.


-The kids almost always have something to do with their hands while they’re listening (and so do I): they draw or color, play with Legos or Amie dresses her American Girl dolls. If I’m listening with them, I’m making lunch or folding laundry, but sometimes I pull out my adult coloring book or make “fashion girl” paper dolls with Ams. Somehow keeping your hands busy helps you to pay attention.


-Do I worry about audiobooks replacing reading time for my kids? I did in the beginning. Judah reads to me every day for school, but beyond that, his pleasure reading lessened considerably for awhile when first diving into audiobooks, and I wasn’t sure if that was a good thing (although now he’s on book 3 in the Harry Potter series, so it turns out that I didn’t need to worry).

Then I heard Andrew Pudewa of the Institute for Excellence in Writing speak on the importance of reading aloud to older kids for their language and thought patterns and ability to communicate well (listen to the podcast or read this excellent talk here). It set my mind at ease, and if anything, encouraged me to offer audiobooks more to my kids, not less.

Having said that, during these years while I have complete control over what my kids listen to, I make sure to only select good literature. I want to fill their minds with beautiful stories and language, not so that they’ll be “advanced,” but to grow their imagination, empathy, and love of really great writing. I peruse book lists, get ideas from podcasts, etc.

I so wish Judah would listen to Harry Potter on audiobook with me because I’ve heard it’s magical, but he’s enjoying reading the series to himself right now. He’s such a visual learner like me, that I understand. There’s just nothing in the world like the experience of holding that well-worn hardcover book in your hands and seeing the printed pages. But maybe one day we’ll listen too!


– Experiencing stories together has been so good for Judah and Amie’s relationship! They’ve always been best buddies, but I see their interests merge more as they share hours upon hours of fun stories. Of course, this happens when I read to them too, and I love being apart of those memories. But I’m happy that even when I don’t have time to read to or listen with them, their imagination is being fueled together by characters like Henry and Beazus and Ramona, Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny, Winnie the Pooh, and all of their various escapades.

I can’t wait for the little boys to become apart of these shared memories more and more as they get interested in listening too.


-Finally, we’re learning that the “reader” matters! So when I’m getting ideas for what to listen to next, I take note of not only the recommended audiobook, but also the recommended reader if there’s more than one audio recording. Good performers make a book truly come alive for the listeners, and I’m seeing now that may have been our problem with the early audiobooks we disliked.


Okay, since this post is getting long, here’s a list of our favorites thus far. Please let me know if you or your family are enjoying any that I haven’t mentioned!

Ramona, Henry Huggins, and The Mouse and the Motorcycle series by Beverly Cleary, read by Stockard Channing, Neil Patrick Harris, B.D Wong

Winnie the Pooh, read by Peter Dennis

The Boxcar Children series (different performers, but the kids have enjoyed all)

Hank the Cowdog series, read by the author (Gabe and Noah enjoy these funny children’s stories too)

Little House on the Prairie, read by Cherry Jones (note: I honestly wish my kids like these books more than they do. I read Little House in the Big Woods to them. They will listen when I turn it on, but never ask for my most beloved series ever. But they’re their own people and allowed to have their own preferences!)

When I’m looking for what to listen to next, I work from this list over at the Modern Mrs. Darcy blog.

Happy listening!

the harry potter era.

I was a sophomore in high school when this book first came out, in 1997. My mom read it soon after with my brother Danny, who was 11 — Harry Potter’s age in this first book. Yes, Danny was in that magical group of kids who literally grew up alongside Harry Potter. My mom told me to read it, and eventually I tried the book, but was unimpressed (I was kind of a literary snob back then).

I didn’t pick the Harry Potter series up again until years later, when I was out of college and married. I wish I could remember what made me want to give the books another try, but I think it had something to do with youth ministry and spending lots of time with teenagers (that will knock the snobbery right out of you). Anyhow, this time I was hooked from the start and tore through the books, collecting the series in hardcover bit by bit at used bookstores. I’ve reread the series in its entirety almost every year since. It’s one of my favorite traditions.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows came out in the summer of 2009. David pre-ordered me a copy and it arrived on our doorstep in Lititz, PA, the day the book was released. I was seven months pregnant and still as sick as in my first trimester, and basically parked myself in our hand-me-down recliner until I finished the book. It was every bit as good as I wanted it to be.

Two months later, Judah was born. Harry Potter has been across the world with us, lugged in suitcases from Lexington to Lititz, from the U.S. to India and back again. I remember seeing Judah’s eyes light up the first time he really saw the books I was reading — their covers a swirl of color and wizards and magic — and he asked, “Mommy, what are these books?”

Since then, he’s been an avid Harry Potter fan by proxy. He remembers details he hears about the characters and the movies, because he knows I love them. He studied the Harry Potter Lego sets in his catalogs until he memorized scenes. He recognizes the soundtrack when it comes on the classical radio station on Spotify. It’s like he’s always known Harry Potter would be something we’d share, just like my Mom and Danny shared the books all those years ago. And in the last few months he’s asked, “Mom, when can I read Harry Potter?”

I’ve gone back and forth about this decision, polling other parents to find out when’s the “right time” (and as you can imagine opinions vary wildly). Finally I decided that there’s no reason he can’t at least read the first three books in the series; they’re certainly no scarier than Star Wars. Our one deal is that he can’t read them last thing before bed. There’s a natural break, I think, between The Prisoner of Azkaban and The Goblet of Fire, and after that I imagine waiting a bit.

So this afternoon Judah and I laid on the trampoline in the March sunshine and read chapter 1 of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. I’ve been waiting his whole life to be able to share it with him, and finally we’re here. He took off on his own after that and is on chapter 5.

My heart is happy. As soon as he finishes the book, of course I will pick it up and start at the very beginning, trying to see it all for the first time, through his eyes.

what i’m reading: march 2015.


This has been a wonderful year for reading so far! The discovery of many gems that I never even knew existed both thrills and terrifies me — how many more such books exist in the world? And how will I ever find them!?

I recently decided to start documenting my reading progress on Goodreads. I made an account a long time ago and then let it slide. When I logged back in I realized that I probably didn’t keep up with it because I made myself write reviews of all the books I read. Now I just give them a star rating, assign them to a bookshelf, and call it a day. So far I much prefer this method to the Word document I kept last year.

And now, on to what I’m reading . . .


These Is My Words, Nancy Turner. This is one of the novels that falls in the category of “Where has this book been all my life?” I heard about it on a podcast interview with a woman who also loved Brown Girl Dreaming, and since I adore that book, I decided to try These Is My Words. It is filled with all the calamity you can expect from a historical novel set in the Arizona Territory in the time of the Indian wars, but despite the violence, I love it. So much so that I immediately ordered my own copy from Amazon and am rereading it to underline my favorite parts.

I love it for the same reason I love the show Call the Midwife; for the glimmering way the sheer kindness of people stands in stark relief to human suffering. There are some evil characters in this book, and some that are just plain rascals, but also so many good people. Strong people. People you want to be like. Sarah Agnes Prine is now one of my favorite literary characters. I devoured the final two novels in this trilogy also, and they weren’t quite as good in my opinion, but still entirely worth reading to follow the story of Sarah Prine and her family.


Big Magic: Living Creatively Beyond Fear, Elizabeth Gilbert. I typically read fiction quickly, and nonfiction quite slowly, which I’m doing with this book, but it’s another one I went ahead and purchased because of how much I enjoy it. I’ve underlined whole big paragraphs. I feel so inspired by Elizabeth Gilbert. She is down-to-earth and witty and honest. I don’t agree with everything she says, but I love her words about taking risk, pursuing your passions, and working hard for the love of what you do — rather than working for a certain brand of “success.” (heads up for some language)


Everything You Ever Wanted: A Memoir, Jillian Lauren. This is an adoption memoir recommended by my friend Hannah that I got from the library yesterday and can hardly put down. It’s a beautifully written, sad and hopeful story about a mother’s fierce love for her hurting adopted son, and the start of their family’s journey together. (Also heads up for language)


The Life-Giving Home: Creating a Place of Belonging and Becoming, Sally Clarkson and Sarah Clarkson. This is the latest book by author and speaker Sally Clarkson, and her daughter Sarah Clarkson. I’ve really benefited from Sally’s writing and speaking on motherhood in the past, although sometimes her words come across a bit preachy to me.

There are many different ways to raise a family and I have sometimes felt from her writings that she presents just one quite specific way. Having said that, she has a lot of wisdom, and I’m enjoying working my way through this book. I really like the addition of her daughter Sarah’s voice. I think if you put aside feeling the need to model your family just like theirs, you can gain a lot from the ideas of creating a home and family rhythms.


My Name Is Resolute, Nancy Turner. Another historical novel by the author of These Is My Words; it’s set in the period of the American Revolution, and also features a strong female character. It hasn’t transfixed me in the way These Is My Words did, but I’m about halfway through and enjoying it very much. And besides, it’s always fun to have a really fat book to read.


Happy Hump Day!


what we’re reading.


Thank you so much, friends, for your kind words after Sunday’s post. I still have moments of panic when I remember that I published something so personal on the Internet, but I don’t regret sharing this part of my story with you.

On a lighter note, thanks also to those who email and text and tell me that they’re working their way through my Bookshelf recommendations! I love it! And as always, I love hearing your recommendations!

Now, on to the fun stuff. What are we reading in the Gentino house these days?



Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens. After my one classic in 2015, I determined to start this year off right. I love Dickens. But I’ve always avoided Oliver Twist, because, well if you know anything about the story line, you can guess. Little Oliver just breaks my heart. So does Nancy. But it’s good to get back to Dickens.

Seven Women: And The Secret of Their Greatness, Eric Metaxas. I picked up this book because I need more non-fiction in my life, and the title intrigued me, but the jury’s still out on whether I’ll finish it. For some reason I struggle with the biography genre.

Brown Girl Dreaming, Jacqueline Woodson. My friend Jessica has been after me to read this memoir, which is written entirely in free verse. All I have to say is: swoon. I can’t wait to read it again.

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, Elizabeth Gilbert. This just came in for me at the library and I haven’t started it yet, but it comes recommended by several bloggers I admire. I’ve enjoyed Elizabeth Gilbert ever since Eat, Pray, Love, and am very interested in reading her thoughts on the creative process.



Paul and the Gift, John M. G. Barclay

Brown Girl Dreaming, Jacqueline Woodson



The Green Ember, S.D. Smith


Happy Wednesday!

winter 2016 bookshelf.

Happy weekend, friends!

We enjoyed the lightest dusting of snow here in Columbia today, and envy our Pennsylvania family who are out sledding as I write this.

Sorry this bookshelf post has been awhile in coming. I’m currently enjoying rereading Cold Sassy Tree, by Olive Ann Burns, for book club next week. Although I haven’t been reading a whole lot because I’m busy making our family’s 2015 Shutterfly yearbook. This may just be my favorite one yet, and I bet you can guess why!

Judah has blazed through all of the Magic Treehouse and Encyclopedia Brown books. The Chronicles of Narnia is still a bit challenging for him to read just for enjoyment, so I found The Green Ember, by S.D. Smith at the library (have you heard of this book? It came recommended on the Read Aloud Revival podcast). Yesterday we cuddled in the brown chair to read the first chapter and he loved it.

I was hooked too, so I said, “Should we read it together?” and he responded, “No Mom, I think I’d rather read it to myself!” Today he’s on chapter eight. It’s the first time he’s turned down my offer to read to him, and it both stung a teeny-tiny bit, and made me thrilled that he’s building a life of books and words that’s all his own. I remember what a magical time that was for me. My mom did such a good job choosing books, starting them by reading the first chapter aloud to me, then letting me take off.

Anyway. Here are a few book ideas for your winter bookshelf!


Whistling Past the Graveyard, Susan Crandall


This novel is set in 1960’s Mississippi, and is somewhat reminiscent of The Help. I really enjoyed the voice of the protagonist, nine-year-old Starla. Warning: once you start you won’t be able to put it down!


Kira-Kira, The Thing About Luck, Cynthia Kadohata



I mentioned Cynthia Kadohata’s middle grade novel, Half a World Away, in my Adoption Bookshelf post, and liked it so much I was eager to try more of her work. Kira-Kira and The Thing About Luck are both achingly beautiful stories about immigrant families. I highly recommend them!


Lovable Livable Home: How to Add Beauty, Get Organized, and Make Your House Work For You, Sherry and John Petersik


I was excited to get my hands on the Petersik’s latest book, and it didn’t disappoint. In fact, I enjoyed this one even more than their first because they showcased lots of different families living in their homes in creative ways. John and Sherry wrote the popular DIY/Design blog Young House Love, which I followed for years. If you’re interested, they have a fascinating story of their decision to step away from full-time blogging, and you can hear more about it on this interview with Jess Lively.


The Fish Ladder: A Journey Upstream, Katharine Norbury


This is a quiet, beautifully written memoir of grief and healing through travel, set primarily in Wales. I have read so little about that part of Great Britain, and especially enjoyed the author’s reflections on nature and her relationship with her daughter.


My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life, Ruth Reichl


David’s aunts got me hooked on Ruth Reichl when we visited Seattle a year and a half ago, and I’ve been a fan ever since. She’s a New Yorker who writes about food in a winsome, down-to-earth way that makes you want to get in the kitchen and cook. Reichl’s latest is part-cookbook, part-memoir about the year after Gourmet magazine, where she was editor-in-chief, closed. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it cover to cover. Whether you try any of the recipes or not, it will cause you to slow down and appreciate the simple pleasure of good food. I should mention here that I also recently read her memoir Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise, about her job as a NY Times food critic, and that was a fun read too!


Call the Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times, Jennifer Worth


Call the Midwife is one of my favorite TV series ever, possibly more beloved than Parks & Rec and Parenthood (although all three shows are so very different I couldn’t bear to choose). I had so much fun binge-watching it this fall, and I’m excited for the final season to come out. Jennifer Worth’s memoir was hard and so good — a glimpse into a world very different than ours. If you enjoyed the show, just a heads up that Worth’s first memoir focuses primarily on her interaction with patients and their stories, rather than the personal lives of the nurses.


Last Hundred Years Trilogy, Jane Smiley


I read this entire trilogy (Some Luck, Early Warning, Golden Age) last year, which follows one family over the course of a century, beginning in 1920. Each chapter of the three novels spans one year. It’s a brilliant plot concept, and a fascinating way to cover American history. Smiley is a simple, lovely writer, but I’m still torn over whether I liked these books. I was disappointed in the bleak outlook on life, and chronic selfishness of many of the characters. I wished there were more people and relationships within the family to love and admire. What I really want is someone to discuss these books with, so if you read them, let me know!


The Precious One, Marisa de los Santos


This is a fun yet surprisingly deep novel. I was instantly pulled in by the voices of the two main characters, step-sisters, Taisy (in her mid-thirties) and Willow (age 16), and enjoyed every page. I’ve never read Marisa de los Santos, but will definitely look for another of her books as a vacation read.


Purple Hibiscus, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie


I read Purple Hibiscus in December, and it made it onto my list of top books I read in 2015. I’ve loved Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s writing for several years. Her novels break my heart, but they are breath-taking and important. Purple Hibiscus is written from the perspective of 15-year-old Kambili, daughter of a wealthy Nigerian man who uses religion for both good and evil, and her story has haunted me ever since I finished it.


The Bronte Plot, Dear Mr. Knightley, Katherine Reay



Katherine Reay is a light, fun writer, but my mother-in-law pointed out that her novels are really meant for fans of Victorian literature: Jane Austen, Elizabeth Gaskell, the Bronte sisters. She sprinkles literary references liberally throughout her books. The plots are always a bit far-fetched, but the characters and their stories stick with me and make me smile.