3 Ways My Reading Life Has Changed in 2018

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First off, can you believe we’re already over halfway through 2018?? I don’t even know what to do with that information. So far, it’s been a good year for me. I’m looking forward to the next half, both to the exciting plans and the big unknowns. Thank you as always for journeying with me and being such fun, supportive readers. ❤

One of the things I’ve done in 2018 is read.

No, really. I have. Try to believe it.

It’s been a bit of a different reading year for me. I haven’t read as much as I normally do. I don’t mean that I haven’t spent as much time reading, but I guess I’m just not reading as quickly. My goodreads goal is lower than usual, and I’m still a little behind, which isn’t like me. I know reading isn’t about numbers, and if lower numbers mean more comprehension and appreciation of the books I do read, then I’m glad. But I don’t know, I feel a little sluggish this year book-wise. Maybe everybody has slower years. Maybe I just need to give myself grace and let myself go at the pace that I need.

Well, there’s no maybe about that. I know I need to do that. We all do. Give yourselves some grace and go at your own pace, my peeps. (Heyyy that rhymes. I should put it on an inspirational poster. *hands several out*)

ANYWAY. Enough chitchat. On to the main post. (I think I say some version of that every single time. My introductions always end up becoming mini posts themselves. Good grief.) 


three ways my reading life has changed this year


1 } Audiobooks 

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One reason I’m reading less this year might be that I I am listening to more audiobooks, which take longer. My family has been listening to audiobooks together at night for a year or so, which is a tradition I love, but I don’t think I would have delved into them on my own if I hadn’t been forced to. This January I developed some headaches and eye pain while reading. To my great relief and gratitude, the combination of reading glasses and regular neck stretches to relieve tension have made that pain manageable, but until I figured that out, I really couldn’t do much actual reading. Not a good state of affairs for a bibliophile like me. That’s when audiobooks came to my rescue.

I’ll say this about audiobooks: they can be tough. I’m much more of a visual learner than auditory, and I have trouble finding things to do while listening to them. I found that I dislike just sitting there listening—I need to feel like I’m doing something productive with my body. When you’re reading a book, you’re at least holding it and flipping through the pages (or swiping if it’s an e-book). Plus, I love how when I’m reading I can hear what’s going on around me and feel included in it even if I’m not directly interacting with it. With audiobooks, I feel much more isolated from my surroundings.

All that to say, I totally understand why they are not some people’s cup of tea. However, after being conscripted into their service, I have found several benefits. For one thing, they force me to slow down, pay attention to each word, and savor the book. There’s no skimming or skipping here (unless you fall asleep for parts. Which, ahem, may have happened to me on occasion.). I often struggle pay attention to the language and word choice in books, which is detrimental to me as a writer. Audiobooks help fix that.

Even better, audiobooks can bring stories alive in a way paper books simply can’t. The different voices and accents, the sound effects and music some productions put in, the sound of another human who is partaking of the same story—it’s a special experience. Some books benefit more from audio transformation than others. My absolute favorite audiobook is Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan. It’s a middle grade novel set in World War II about three children living in different parts of the world whose stories are connected by a magic harmonica and a love for music. Because music plays such a large role in the story, the fact that an audiobook can incorporate all the songs and instruments mentioned is perfect. Plus, since the kids live in different places, the accents of the narrators make those characters feel more real.

As with anything, practice makes perfect. I’ve found that if I haven’t listened to an audiobook in a while, it’s harder for me to get into one. But if I use them regularly, it’s easier for me to be still and absorb the story through my ears.

2 } Diverse books

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I honestly hate using the word diverse because it’s so politicized and overused these days, but it really does describe a big change in my reading life recently: as I named a shelf on goodreads, I’ve been reading more books with characters that are “not just white people.” I didn’t do this intentionally; somehow I just picked up more books about cultures that I am unfamiliar with. And I’m so happy about it.

I love learning about different parts of the world, and I love seeing how other cultures are unique and yet how people are fundamentally the same. Stories do a wonderful job of that—they give us a peek into another world, telling us what it looks like, what food there is, what customs exist. But they also provide a window into another human’s heart, and even though the surroundings may be foreign and that human may look or even think nothing like us, there is always at least one part of their heart that we can relate to.

Here are a few books that have been especially eye-opening to me:

You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins / multi-generational saga of an Indian family that moves to America—HIGHLY recommended (+ the audiobook is phenomenal)

Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai / a novel in verse of the journey of a young girl fleeing to America from Saigon due to the Vietnam War

Every Falling Star: The True Story of How I Survived and Escaped North Korea by Sungju Lee / the subtitle says it all but honestly guys, I can’t believe this actually happened. It’s just—super eye-opening, tough and dark but also inspiring

Stella by Starlight by Sharon M. Draper / middle grade novel about a young African American girl growing up in the early 1900s under the shadow of the Ku Klux Klan (also she wants to be a writer & I love watching that journey)

They Say We Are Infidels: On the Run from ISIS with Persecuted Christians in the Middle East by Mindy Belz / this’ll be one of the best books I read in 2018; fascinating & moving account of the Iraqi Christian communities & what ISIS has done to them—super relevant (see my goodreads review of it for more thoughts)

3 } Reviewing books

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I noticed recently that if I finish a book and don’t review it, I carry around a sense of incompletion, a niggling feeling that there’s something I need to do. I want books to change me; I want to learn from them and both remember and apply that knowledge. I hate reading something and thinking, “Oh, that’s good, I want to remember that,” and then, well, not. I still remember in the back of my mind that I wanted to remember something but I don’t know what it is. So I subconsciously fret about it and try to remember whatever it was that struck a chord in me. If I let too many of those instances build up, it’s honestly not good for my mental health.

The solution? Review each book when I finish it. And I don’t mean review as in some lengthy essay or detailed list of pros and cons. I just need to record something, a few impressions, a favorite quote or character or scene, or whatever random things stand out to me when I think back on it. Somewhere, whether in my journal or on goodreads, I need to string together a few words that describe a portion of what I feel or think about the book. I think I just need to be able to articulate some of my thoughts about it to prove to myself that I actually read and absorbed it. Most people probably don’t have this compulsion, and I know there are plenty of other reasons to review books. Do whatever works for you.

I do have to be careful that I don’t put too many requirements on myself about what I write. Sometimes I get too wrapped up in perfectly capturing my thoughts about a book—I want to perfectly articulate every fleeting opinion and idea the book conjures up in me. Which, of course, is impossible. The reason why I started making myself review books in the first place was to remove stress, so if I find find that reviewing causes more stress than it alleviates, I should give it a break. And honestly, some books don’t deserve a review. Not all books have to be something I learn from, and not all books are going to change my life.

(Take a chill pill, girl.)

And I feel like that was basically a therapy session for myself. xD It is really nice, though, to be able to scroll through goodreads and see what I thought about each book I read. I think I’ll really appreciate that in the future.

Now I really want to hear from you—how has 2018 been treating you? What’s your reading life been like? Are you an audiobook lover or ardent hater or somewhere in between? What are some of your favorite books about other cultures?  And do you find it helpful to review books?

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The Bibliophile Sweater Tag

It’s been literal years since I’ve done a tag, but when I saw this one on Abi’s blog, I knew it was time to remedy that. And yes, I know that it’s not exactly sweater season anymore unless you live wayyyy up north (or wayyyy down south where they crank up the air conditioning to Antarctic temperatures) but this tag is just irresistible.

By the way, Abi didn’t tag anyone specifically but I still want to give her a shoutout for introducing me to this tag and for having such an awesome blog (seriously, her posts always make me want to cheer. Go check her out.). And of course a huge shoutout to Mary at sunshine and scribblings who created this tag. I love it so much, Mary! It’s brilliant. (Like, polka dot sweater and well-rounded characters? So good.)

I decided to only feature books that I own, which then inspired me to take pictures of all of them, so enjoy these little scenes. Also, taking a brilliant cue from Katie Grace, the titles are linked to goodreads see you can easily add them to your TBR if you so desire. =D

Okay! Don your (real or imaginary) sweaters and let’s start talking about books.

Fuzzy sweater

a book that is the epitome of comfort

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The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall 

I first read this book over ten years ago while on vacation at the beach. I remember being sprawled on this huge bed with sunlight streaming around me and the sound of seagulls in the distance. *wistful sigh* The beach …

Anyway. Books. Right. This book captured my heart, and I have come back to it many, many times. There’s something so pure and beautiful about it—while having great, realistic characters with hilarious, snort-inducing moments. Whenever I want that warm, happy glow that well-loved books and fond memories give, I turn to this one.

(Also apparently the fifth and last book of the series is coming out next month?? I just found this out recently, and it’s basically made my spring.)

Striped sweater

book which you devoured every line of

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Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson

This one was tough. I mean, most of the books on my bookshelf are ones I devoured every line of. I almost chose The King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner but I figured you guys are probably sick of hearing about that series so I abstained. (Kind of. I am mentioning it now. ANYWAY.)

But then I saw my Mistborn set sitting there, and there really was no other option. I remember getting a Kindle sample of it to start reading while I waited for the physical copy to come in at the library. I remember getting totally absorbed in it only to be cruelly jerked out of the story when the sample came to an end. It was quite a tragic experience. Fortunately, the book arrived soon after. Whenever I had to stop reading this series because of this annoying thing called life (like, who cares about dinner when Allomancy exists?), it felt like coming up for air after diving deep in the ocean for hours. There are very few, if any, other books that have so engrossed me like these ones. If you can read Brandon Sanderson without becoming obsessed, that’s quite a feat.

Ugly Christmas sweater

book with a weird cover

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Notes From the Tilt-a-Whirl by N. D. Wilson

Don’t get me wrong: this is an amazing book. I’m slowly making my way through it, trying to savor every word, and N. D. Wilson is just as poetic and insightful as ever. But this cover is just not my favorite. Bright pink is never my thing, and combine that with funky cowboy-ish tight lettering in a weird mauve shade with a strip of a picture showing half of a random person’s head at the bottom … yeah. I’m honestly not super into carnivals and the like, so that may explain it. Plus I feel like it looks gaudy and juvenile while the actual content is profound and beautiful—although that may actually be the point. But still. I think maybe he could have made the point in a more aesthetically pleasing way.

Cashmere sweater

most expensive book you’ve bought

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A Poem for Every Day of the Year compiled by Allie Esiri 

I’m not 100% sure that this is the most expensive book I’ve bought, but because I got it in England, I figured that the pounds-to-dollars conversion puts it pretty high on the list. This is technically a kid’s book (I got in the kid’s section, at least, which does NOT mean you have to be a kid to enjoy it but that’s a post for another time) but there are some pretty sophisticated poems in it and who says adults can’t enjoy a fun cover and big font? Allie Esiri, the compiler, writes a little introduction to each poem, either explaining why she picked the poem for that day or giving some background on it. There’s a great range of poetry in it, from short limericks to epic classics. I’ve been wanting to read more poetry, and this is a really easy way to do it.

Hoodie

favorite classic book

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Middlemarch by George Eliot

AHHHHHHH. This was the hardest question for me. I’m not going to tell you how long I stood in front of the huge bookshelf in our basement that’s dedicated just to classics and agonized over which to pick. I have to throw out the caveat that this is not my absolute favorite classic; such a thing does not exist. It is but one of several favorites.

And oh, it is so good. If you haven’t read it yet, take the plunge. I know it’s big and wordy and kind of has that negative association with school, but it’s beautiful. The way she portrays people and community, her insights into human nature and relationships and art and work … agh. ❤ It’s hard to describe or summarize it, but if you give it a chance, it will move and change you. And also, I mean, it’s a good story. There is excitement and suspense and tragedy and all that. *vigorous nodding*

Cardigan

book that you bought on impulse

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Falling Leaves by Adeline Yen Mah

I have to say, I don’t buy many things on impulse (I’m a Judger in the Myers Briggs system, yo). I rarely buy books I haven’t read yet, much less books I haven’t heard of at all. I saw this one on a rack outside a used book store in London (Charing Cross Road, anyone?). It was only one pound (the monetary unit, not weight XD) and it looked intriguing, so I grabbed it. And it was intriguing, although rather depressing too. It’s the memoir of a woman who grew up in an emotionally abusive home in China during the tumult of Mao’s Revolution. I’m ashamed to say I know so little about China, both its history and its culture. One book won’t change that, but it was a good peek into world I want to learn more about. At the same time, Adeline is a person just like any of us, and I ached for the pain she went through (although it’s always hard to tell exactly how fair or honest someone is being when looking back on their life and telling their own side of the story).

Turtleneck sweater

book from your childhood

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Carry On, Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham

Allllll the nostalgia and memories that come with this question. *dances happily down Memory Lane* Whenever people talk about books from my childhood, I immediately think of my dad reading Narnia to me. But I wanted to do something different this time, so I chose Carry On, Mr. Bowditch. My mom read this one to me when I was probably eight. It’s one of the first books that I really loved. I was so inspired by Nate, all the obstacles he overcame, his natural intelligence, how he saved the lives of so many people through his books on navigation. I think it’s also one of the first books I read with real tragedy in it. But there was real joy and hope too, and that’s an important combination for a kid’s book (or any book, for that matter).

Homemade knitted sweater

book that is Indie-published

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Pendragon’s Heir by Suzannah Rowntree

So I googled the difference between being self-published and indie-published, and it left me still a little confused and still unsure whether I actually own a book that is indie-published. Can anyone help me here? In the absence of a concrete definition, I went with this one. If it is in fact self-published I deeply apologize. No offense was intended.

In all seriousness, though, I love this book. It has a legend/lore/timeless feel to it, if you know what I mean. The prose is lovely, the themes are powerful, and the plot was complex and intriguing. It’s an original retelling of the story of King Arthur, and I think anyone who enjoys high fantasy would love it.

V-neck sweater

book that did not meet your expectations

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The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser

I went into this book with expectations that might dwarf a skyscraper. It came highly praised by both The Read Aloud Revival and WORLD magazine, two of my most trusted resources for book recommendations (among other things). And it was good. I didn’t hate it. Not by a long shot. I love stories of families and multiple siblings, and the theme of having to move is one near to my heart (although I have to admit, at times I thought they were rather wimpy—they weren’t even going to leave the state! Good grief, they have nothing to complain about!). Plus, it’s set in New York City. That automatically grants it big points in my book (no pun intended).

But I don’t know, guys, it just didn’t have that indescribable element that really moved and changed me. It was a sweet, interesting story, but that was it. It’s missing something that I can’t put my finger on. I heard some people comparing to The Penderwicks or All-of-a-Kind Family, but for me, it didn’t have the same magic or charm or long-lasting impact. It might just be me, and it’s most likely a result of my exorbitant expectations, but there you have it.

Argyle sweater

book with a unique format

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Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen 

I’m going with the interpretation of format that Mary used: story format versus layout/visual format. Out of Africa isn’t even really a story in the fictional sense––it’s the nonfiction memoir of an European woman who owned a coffee plantation in Africa in the 1900s. But it’s not just your typical memoir, going chapter by chapter through her life or centered around one theme. Instead, she breaks it into five parts that have no related chronology. One part centers around a specific event that took place over a couple of weeks, while another describes various people she met over the course of her whole time in Africa. One section is a collection of notes on African wildlife and short, random anecdotes about life on her farm. It’s like reading five mini books in one. It’s quite fascinating, and her prose is lovely, but it’s an unusual layout. Hence its inclusion here.

Polka dot sweater

a book with well-rounded characters

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Every Soul a Star by Wendy Mass

Surprisingly, I had trouble thinking of books for this one. I think it’s because I overanalyzed what “well-rounded” means. (Episode #1,986 in Abby’s Overly Analytic Adventures). Anywho, once I spotted this book on the shelf, I knew it was perfect. I first read it probably ten years ago, and every so often I come back to it. It’s one of those books that I can’t forget, primarily because of the characters. Ally, Jack, and Bree are so different but Mass manages to make each compelling and sympathetic. I love watching how they each change and mature and the unlikely friendships that form between them. They’re just, ugh, so relatable and realistic and special and beautiful and I wish they were my friends. I know this is a contemporary children’s/ya book written by a popular author, and I don’t tend to read a lot of those. But I’m so glad I picked up this one. You all should too. *pokes* (Plus, who doesn’t love eclipses??)

So there you go! I’m not going to tag anyone, but if you want to do it please feel free (and link back to me because I want to see your answers =D)! If you don’t do the whole tag, let me know in the comments what some of your answers would be and if you’ve read any of the ones I’ve picked. *hands out tea because tea and sweaters go well together*

My Favorite Romance Books (It’s Not What You Might Think)

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There’s something that really bugs me about the romances in most books these days: it’s all about how the two people meet and fall in love and how their relationship progresses up until they get married. Then all the excitement and drama ends. Boom. The book of their romance closes with a thud and dust begins to accumulate on top.

It’s not just books or movies or fiction, either. It seems to be the prevailing attitude that once you get married, all the fun ends. The romance fades away, and boring monotony sets in. In some ways, that’s kind of true. I mean, now most of your time together is spent doing normal life stuff like chores instead of primarily fun things like dates. Most of life is pretty mundane and unexciting. I get that. But just because you’re married doesn’t mean you can’t go on fun dates or that there can’t be moments of romance. More than that, I think that doing normal life stuff together can have its own kind of romance and beauty, the kind that you don’t get to have when you’re just dating.

Okay, so maybe you’re thinking, you’re not married. What do you know about this? Well, for one thing, I have wonderful parents who have shown and told me what a healthy, happy marriage can be. For another, not all the books I read have romances that end at marriage. There really are some books out there that show married couples still in love and portray marriage as an ongoing adventure. Today is the perfect day to celebrate them, wouldn’t you agree?

The Queen’s Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner

I already raved about this series in my 2017 reading recap post. I feel like the tagline of this blog should be trying to get everyone hooked on The Queen’s Thief series. There are worse goals, I assure you. Anyway, because of spoilers I can’t be really specific, but in one or more of these books there is a couple that is probably my favorite ship after Faramir and Eowyn. Which is saying a lot. Their relationship is complex and certainly messy at times, but also so beautiful. Ugh, I just love it so much. If you want to give me a Valentine’s present, go read this series so we can freak out together.

Annals of the Western Shore by Ursula K. Le Guin

Orrec and Gry, guys. I love how well they complement each other, how their different strengths and personalities are equally important to their mission, and how they recognize that. I love how they know what the other person thinks and needs and how they support and admire each other. I love seeing them work together. Definitely one of my favorite fictional couples of all time. ❤

Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler

This book is a modern-day spin on Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. Most of it is about the two main characters meeting and getting to know each other, but you do get a glimpse of them as a married couple (Hey, it’s not a spoiler, you know how the play ends. Or you should. *snooty judgmental stare*). More than that, it just has great views on marriage. There’s this part at the end where one of the characters basically gives a big impromptu speech about marriage, and it makes me want to cheer.

Presumption by Julia Barrett

While I dearly love Jane Austen and her books are quite appropriate for this time of year, they do tend to end with “and they got married and lived happily ever after.” Which is totally fine, but not quite in keeping with the theme of this post. In this sequel, however, Barrett gives us a picture of the Darcys after their marriage. The main plot focuses on Georgianna, Darcy’s younger sister, and her romantic adventures, but we do get to see Elizabeth and Darcy interacting as a married couple. Let me just say, it’s a treat.

The Mitford series by Jan Karon

I’m not sure if I’ve ever mention this series on here before?? If I haven’t, woe is me for this travesty. There are numerous reasons to love the Mitford series, and the relationship between Father Tim and Cynthia hold a high spot on the list. For the majority of this series, they are married, and I love watching their relationship unfold. Jan Karon is masterful at writing real, raw characters and treating them with honesty and compassion. Some of the stuff in her books is hard to read about, but there is always redemption and hope. Father Tim’s and Cynthia’s marriage embodies this. There are ups and downs, but ultimately it is a story of two broken people finding and creating a safe place with each other. Seeing how they make each other better and come through tough times closer has given me a positive and hopeful vision of what my future marriage can be.

Anne of Green Gables series by L. M. Montgomery

You can’t make any kind of list revolving around favorite fictional couples and exclude Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe. Another big ship of mine. Again, while I love reading about how they meet and eventually fall in love, I also deeply appreciate that L.M. Montgomery wrote about their married life together too. I especially enjoy the arc of their relationship in book six, Anne of Ingleside. I won’t say anymore because of spoilers, but it’s a wonderful portrayal of a long-lasting marriage. Make sure you don’t stop at book one of this series because there’s a whole lot of good stuff afterwards. (Shoutout to Rilla of Ingleside, book eight, as my favorite book of the series.)

Green Dolphin Street by Elizabeth Goudge

This is one of my favorite standalone books of all time, and one of the reasons is the couple that the plot revolves around. This marriage is unlike any of the others in this list. I can’t really say more because of spoilers, but Goudge showed me that marriage is way more messy and more beautiful than I had thought. This book basically changed the entire way I thought about marriage. Just aghhhh, GO READ IT. The writing is really beautiful too.

The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy

I almost didn’t include this one, because even though the couple in it is married, it kind of feels like they’re meeting each other for the first time. Again, I don’t want to say more because of spoilers. Just know this book is a whole lot of fun and a big part of the entertainment is the journey of Marguerite and Percy Blakeney’s relationship. Also, the movie version of this is hilarious and one of my favorite watches of 2017.

Wrinkle in Time Quintet by Madeleine L’Engle

If you’ve only read A Wrinkle in Time, please go read the other books in the series: A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, Many Waters, and An Acceptable Time. Man, they are so good. If you haven’t read them, you might want to skip this part because of slight spoilers. *waits for you to scroll down*

Okay, so the marriage I’m talking about for this series is between Meg Murry and Calvin O’Keefe. You don’t actually see a ton of interaction between them when they’re married, but from the little you do see and from their interactions as kids in Wrinkle, I know it’s a great marriage. Maybe my favorite thing about it is that they got married at all and that Meg chose to stay at home and support Calvin’s scientific work. I am totally all for girls going to college and grad school and having careers and all that. But I hate how if you choose not to do that you’re seen as suppressed or limited or boring or whatever. Our culture says women should get to choose to do whatever they want, but what they really mean is that they should choose to have their own job. Choosing to stay at home is it apparently the exception to the rule. I love what Madeline L’Engle says about it:

Several women have written to me to complain about A Swiftly Tilting Planet. They feel that I should not have allowed Meg Murry to give up a career by marrying Calvin, having children, quietly helping her husband with his work behind the scenes. But if women are to be free to choose to pursue a career as well as marriage, they must also be free to choose the making of a home and the nurture of a family as their vocation; that was Meg’s choice, and a free one, and it was as creative a choice as if she had gone on to get a PhD in quantum mechanics.

Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson

This is another couple that complements each other so well. Vin and Elend are so different in many ways—she’s intense and he’s more relaxed, she is the nobody with powers and he’s the normal ol’ aristocrat, she knows the ways of the world and how to survive and he is a naïve idealist. Each has something the other needs; Elend provides safety and security and unconditional love, and Vin helps push him to be more, to take action, to fight. They are so much more when they are together. I love what Sazed tells them when they get married:

Those who don’t take lightly promises they make to those they love are people who find little lasting satisfaction in life.

And that’s the real beauty of marriage—loving someone enough to make such a promise, to take the risk and make the leap and work through the messiness and fight for love even when it’s hard. We need more books like these ones to celebrate marriages like that, to show us that such marriages can exist.

What are your thoughts on fictional romances? What are some of your favorite couples and marriages in books? Oh, and Happy Valentine’s Day! *hands out heart-shaped cookies*

Reading Recap 2017

I got reading glasses this year. They make me feel delightfully nerdy and like I’m a genuine bookworm.

 

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I also got goodreads! I thiiiiink I’ve mentioned that before, but in a post all about books it’s worth mentioning again, right? I’m Aberdeen on there, and I’d love to see what you’re up to in the bookish realm.

Normally, I do a big end-of-the-year wrap-up post where I recount what I accomplished in terms of writing, blogging, and reading. However, the only thing I did much of on that list this year was reading. Which of course calls for a big long post about BOOKSES PRECIOUS. Who’s complaining? (That was a rhetorical question. *shoos away all complainers*) I’m going to share my thoughts on my favorite two books in each of these categories: fiction, nonfiction, and fantasy. I’ll also list some honorable mentions because we all know I can’t pick favorites. And of course there will be quotes.

Also, this post is really long because once I start blabbing about books it’s hard to stop. *sheepish grin* Feel free to just jump to the genre that interests you or skim through to see the titles or something. And do tell me what you’ve read this year or what you think of the books I highlighted in the comments.

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Okay For Now by Gary D. Schmidt

I don’t know what to say to do this book justice. It’s one of those rare but beautiful books that makes me both laugh out loud and cry real tears. It’s that kind of book I want to write someday. I think I can say that it’s my favorite book of the year. I know, I know, I just did the unthinkable and picked a favorite. It feels kind of scary to do so, but this book is that good. It wasn’t perfect; there were a few plot things that felt off to me but the rest of it was so storming good that they didn’t affect my overall opinion.

This is the story of Doug Swieteck. Another book by Schmidt, The Wednesday Wars, which is also an all-time favorite of mine, introduces him as a jerky bully. In this book, we find out why Doug is such a jerk. But we also find out that he’s more than a jerk. But you can read about the plot in a blurb online. Here’s what this book is really about:

It is about the power of art—how good art can relate to and change your life and how making art yourself can heal you. It is about how are are people are broken but how that isn’t all of their story. It is about family and friendship. It’s about the race to the moon and the Vietnam War and John Audubon’s paintings of birds. It’s about how flat-out astonishing the gift of being able to read is. It’s a book about hope in a deeply messed up world.

I love Doug’s voice. It’s so realistic and yet unique—somehow Schmidt is able to show him maturing without making him way too wise or thoughtful for his age or personality. I’ll never hear the word “terrific” without thinking about Doug. I love how there are so many great adults in his life (which is nice, because there are also a few horrible ones). And can I just say that I love that Doug loves the Yankees. PINSTRIPE PRIDE, PEEPS. Also, alliteration.

Basically, if you read only one of the books on this list, this would be a good choice.

Mrs. Daugherty was keeping my bowl of cream of wheat hot, and she had a special treat with it, she said. It was bananas.

In the whole story of the world, bananas have never once been a special treat.


Mr. Ferris didn’t say anything the whole time. He sat next to me and listened. And when I finished, I looked at him.

He was crying. I’m not lying. He was crying.

I don’t think it was because how hard I hit him.

I know how the Black-Backed Gull feels when he looks up into the sky.

Maybe, somehow, Mr. Ferris does too.


My brother looked at me. I looked at him.

Sometimes- and I know it doesn’t last for anything more than a second- sometimes there can be perfect understanding between two people who can’t stand each other. He smiled, and I smiled, and we put on the Timex watches on, and we watched the seconds flit by.

It was the first watch my brother had ever owned.

It was the first watch I had ever owned.

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The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope

I had a really tough time choosing between this one and Howards End by E.M. Forster. If I could assign books to certain personality types, Howards End would be for INFJs. Not that you can’t enjoy it if you have a different personality obviously, but the themes this book explored resonated with me so deeply. It was like it was talking directly to me.  Anyway, lest I be accused of cheating by talking about two books in one section, let’s move on.

The Way We Live Now is a huge hunk of a book but I sped through it. I seriously couldn’t put it down, guys. His writing reminded me of Charles Dickens and George Eliot. Basically, if you’re a fan of any 19th-century British literature, you’ll love this. I’m not going to try to lay out the multitude of characters in this book and ho yeah yes oh Yeah no boldw they are related, but there is one person you should meet: August Melmotte. Fabulously rich, he arrives in London from France with a murky background that everyone is willing to overlook in hopes of earning some monetary favors. All the various romances and escapades swirl around him, and the varied threads of every character’s life all become wrapped around the question: How did Melmotte get his money? And how will the answer affect them?

There’s something for everyone in this complex and fast-paced novel (yes, classics can be fast-paced). There are politics, relationships, ethics, intrigue, and a fascinating portrayal of the English upper-class in the 1800s. I personally found his descriptions of Americans hilarious and also rather interesting. For most of the book I was facepalming over the characters’ ridiculous choices but I promise, the ending is worth it. Not because everything ends happily but because it makes you think. Each story line has a different lesson to ponder, a different character that surprises you. If you read this book thoughtfully enough, you may begin to see that the way we live now is not so different from how Trollope’s characters live.

As long as there are men to fight for women, it may be well to leave the fighting to the men. But when a woman has no one to help her, is she to bear everything without turning upon those who ill-use her? Shall a women be flayed alive because it is unfeminine in her to fight for her own skin?


A liar has many points to his favor—but he has this against him, that unless he devote more time to the management of his lies than life will generally allow, he cannot make them tally.


Love is like any other luxury. You have no right to it unless you can afford it.

Honorable mentions:

Howards End by E.M. Forster

Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

{non-fiction}

Some of the most impactful nonfiction books I read this year were rereads, so I’m not including them on the list. Never fear, for I also read a lot of great new stuff. Here they are.

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The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

Okay. This book. I’m in love. It’s the kind of book that takes over my world and gets me super excited. It’s the kind of book I can’t stop talking about, as I am sure my family can tell you. Basically it’s the story of an college crew team trying to not only become the team to represent America at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin but to beat the elite German team. Sure, it seems pretty obvious what the result will be since there’s a whole book on it, but Brown’s genius is that you are on the edge of your seat the entire time. It’s incredibly suspenseful. And he’s not making up any of it. The obstacles these boys had to face are staggering. Many times I wanted to go look up this story in a history book because I thought there was no way that this could actually be true.

Brown does something really smart and powerful by following one of the boys, Joe Rantz, for the whole book. Joe’s story is hard and tragic in many places, but the struggles he endured just emphasize the extraordinary character and strength of the boys, as well as the importance of the team and the Olympics to them. The book is compelling because we care about Joe, because we have seen what he has gone through and what crew means to him.

Obviously, the Olympics race is more than just one team against another. It’s two sets of philosophies and ideas pitted against each other. It’s America versus Nazi Germany, and we all know what that means. For Hitler, it’s a chilling foreshadowing of what is to come—although of course he doesn’t see it that way. Brown does a great job describing the political and cultural ramifications of this race without overdramatizing it. He also describes the sport itself clearly so that I could appreciate the events of each race without getting lost in obscure terms.

This is a book about hardship and how it can make you or break you. It is a book about the beauty of struggles, about the heroism of the average, unpolished kid. It is a book about brotherhood and community and how we are stronger together. It’s about freedom versus tyranny and how in the end, the good guys always win.

I listened to the audiobook of this (I need to do a post on audiobooks sometime), so I don’t really have any quotes recorded. My deepest apologies. *formal bow*

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Roots and Sky by Christie Purifoy

I think I finished this book on New Year’s Day 2017. Yeah. If I had been a few hours quicker, it wouldn’t be on this list at all. But I’m glad it is, because it deserves a chance in the spotlight. In a lot of ways I can’t relate to Christie. I’m not a mom with young kids, and I’m not refurbishing an old house that will become my permanent home. I’m a teenager who’s moved her whole life. But I can relate to Christie’s heart. Her longing for a belonging place, her desire to find meaning and beauty in the little things, her awareness that she’s living in a story.

Christie takes us through the four seasons of her first year at Maplehurst, an old house in Pennsylvania they want to make into their home. While she does share details about her gardening and renovations and efforts to connect with the neighbors, this isn’t a book about fixing up a house. It’s a book about, well, her thoughts on life. I feel like I’m describing this terribly. It’s not a book that is easy to describe. It’s written in beautiful prose, simple and thoughtful and poetic. Her words remind me of a window at dawn; a clear pane of glass with golden light shining through.

I love how Christie rejoices in the material things about her, like a good meal or fresh soil, while also living with an eternal perspective, interpreting everything through the lens of the hope she has in Jesus. She isn’t preachy; she is real. Her book is soothing and yet deeply moving and inspiring. It came to me when I needed a vision of what my life could be, a promise that I could find meaning in the littlest moments. Thank you, Christie.

For this is no ordinary house. This is no pile of bricks and mortar. This is an outpost of the kingdom of heaven, and a star has risen overhead.


I know myself fairly well. I know that I do not like crowds. I do not feel comfortable strangers. I struggle, mightily, with small talk…. To put it simply, I am afraid. I am lonely, yet I want only to be left alone.

But the kingdom of God is pretty much the opposite of alone. Also, in the kingdom of God, there is this voice saying, “Do not be afraid, do not be afraid, do not be afraid.”


Some might say Maplehurst falls short of the ideal beauty I glimpsed in my dreams. But this allegiance to “ideal” beauty is a form of blindness. It is a refusal to lift the veil of everyday life in order to see the glory of God.

Honorable mentions:

Daring to Hope by Katie Davis Majors

The Reason for God by Timothy Keller

Behold the Lamb of God by Russ Ramsey

{fantasy}

In some ways, this was a slim year for fantasy because I didn’t read much of it. But it was actually a great year for fantasy because the stuff I did read was absolutely AMAZING. Like two-new-favorite-series-of-all-time amazing.

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Harry Potter by JK Rowling

I honestly can’t believe I read this. More than that, I can’t believe that it’s now on my top-five fantasy series list. I wrote about my Harry Potter journey in this post, but long story short, I wasn’t allowed to read this—or even super interested in reading it—until this year when I realized a) it’s not an evil series and b) it’s actually one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever read.

At the risk of sounding really cliche or obvious, reading these books was magical. I can’t really describe what I felt while reading them; it’s an indistinct rush of thoughts and feelings. It’s the same way I felt when I discovered Lord of the Rings for the first time. Readers live for that kind of experience, the enthralling and all-consuming plunge into another world. When I finished the last book, I ached. I ached for more of the characters, for more of the world, for more of this beautiful story.

Let me just say that Rowling’s world building flabbergasts me with its brilliance. I’ve always considered Brandon Sanderson to be the best world builder, and I still think he’s one of the best. But what Rowling does that is unique and powerful is that her world, although entirely magical and filled with immensely creative details, feels familiar. It feels cozy and real, and most of all, it feels like home. I never expected that from these books about sorcerers and dark lords. And it’s not just that it is set in our world. There are plenty of fantasies set in our world that still feel bizarre and alien. This one is different. You might get your mail by an owl or learn how to cast a patronus in school, but there is still mail and there is still school. Sure, there are magical rules to abide by, but the deeper rules, the rules about life and love and people, those are the same.

Two further notes for the Christians out there who haven’t yet read this series:

  • If you’ve never tried Harry Potter because of theological concerns, I would recommend this post by Andrew Peterson. And I would say, at least give it a try. Give it a honest try. In my experience, everyone who condemns it hasn’t read much of it, and those who were skeptical but tried it are never skeptical for long. This isn’t to encourage disobeying your parents if they don’t want you to read it or refusing to listen to your conscience or anything. But before you completely disregard something, make sure you know what it is actually about.
  • I do admit that there are still some issues in these books that require discernment. No book is perfect; no one will ever agree perfectly with a single book. Personally, I’m going to wait to handle my kids  this series until they’re in middle school just to make sure they have the maturity to distinguish between the sorcery condemned in the Bible and the “sorcery” in Harry Potter (I put it in quotes because it’s really nothing like the sorcery in Scripture).

*agonizes over this for 20 minutes because there are TOO MANY GOOD QUOTES OH MY STORMS*

It was important, Dumbledore said, to fight, and fight again, and keep fighting, for only then could evil be kept at bay…


Of house elves and children’s tales, of love, loyalty, and innocence, Voldemort knows and understands nothing. Nothing. That they all have a power beyond his own, a power beyond the reach of any magic, is a truth he has never grasped.


“But why’s she got to go to the library?”

“Because that’s what Hermione does,” said Ron, shrugging. “When in doubt, go to the library.”

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The Queen’s Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner

Um, wow. This series is one of the best things that happened to me this year. I had heard about it a couple of years ago and tried one of the books (which, I have since found out, was actually the fourth book) but just couldn’t get into it. As has happened to me many times with other books, I decided to try the series again and this time, I couldn’t stop reading (might have helped that I started with the first book).

It blew my mind, guys. From what I’ve heard, it has that effect on a lot of people. Seriously though, if you love surprise twists, complicated plots, and mental gymnastics, this is for you. At the end of every single book, Turner fiendishly takes everything you think you know and turns it upside down. And yet, suddenly everything make sense. You know that Sanderson quote, “there is always another secret”? That could sum up these books.

But for me, the real treasure in this series is not the stunning plots, fascinating political machinations, or even the great writing. It’s the characters. I love these characters so. much. Eugenides, also known as Gen, the cleverer-than-Sherlock-Holmes yet surprisingly vulnerable main character, silently but irrevocably stole the place of my favorite male character. I can’t really say more because of spoilers but yeah, all the other characters have captured my heart too (with a few exceptions).

If you don’t like traditional fantasy or anything that feels unrealistic or creepy, you have to try these books. They shouldn’t be labeled fantasy at all. It’s misleading. The world is very similar to ancient Greece but with a few twists—primarily in its technological advancements. There is no magic or elves or strange powers you were born with that destine you to save the world. The only supernatural element is that of the pantheon of gods that rule over the world, but they appear rarely. When they do, they are strongly reminiscent of our world’s Greek and Roman mythology.

Okay, now to find some quotes that aren’t super SPOILERY GOOD GRIEF. But the spoilery ones are so beautiful, it’s killing me. Just please go read this series guys.

“He would have been a better man under different circumstances.”

Gen looked at him. “True enough,” he said. “But does a good man let his circumstances define his character?”


“From shadow queen to puppet queen in one rule,” he whispered. “That’s very impressive. When he rules your country and he tells you he loves you, I hope you believe him.”


She thought of the hardness and the coldness she had cultivated over those years and wondered if they were the mask she wore or if the mask had become her self. If the longing inside her for kindness, for warmth, for compassion, was the last seed of hope for her, she didn’t know how to nurture it or if it could live.

Honorable mentions:

Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan (there is a magical component woven throughout this whole story but for the majority of the time it feels more like normal historical fiction so I’m not sure if it really belongs in this section?? I think it’s technically magical realism, for whatever that’s worth. Anyway, regardless of the genre, go read this masterpiece.)

Annals of the Western Shore by Ursula K. Le Guin

What were your favorite books of the year? Which of mine have you read? I’ve missed chatting with you guys—let’s remedy that with lots of book talk!

on Harry Potter

Hi guys. Sorry for disappearing—my arms have kept me from writing (more on that later). But I have been doing lots of reading, and as you’ve probably figured out, I’ve delved into the (in)famous Harry Potter series. Here are some of my thoughts on it. 

Also, I’m on Goodreads! It’s so awesome; I love it. I’m Aberdeen; come and follow meeeee. 


SO. Harry Potter. I was originally not allowed to read it, but my parents recently said I could if I watched out for certain things and discussed them with them. So I began, filled with both excitement and skepticism. “Harry Potter” is such a controversial, connotation-ridden phrase in Christian circles, I didn’t know what to expect.

When I finished book 1, my reaction was, “This is it?” Like, this is what we’ve been shunning? Good grief, it’s positively innocent compared to the dark hints I’ve heard about it. And I’ve read (and enjoyed) many books with much fishier worldview (looking at you, Christopher Paolini and Brandon Sanderson. Not that they’re not awesome, but you need discernment while reading them.). If you’re not sure about HP or have heard such hints, here are some things you should know:

Witches are girls who can use magic; wizards are guys. That’s all “witch” means (no, we’re not talking about the witch of Endor that Saul was condemned for meeting in the Bible). Speaking of magic, it’s not calling up spirits (which I believe is what the Bible was specifically condemning); it’s just turning things into other things or manipulating physical objects to do stuff (like fly or be impervious to certain substances).

There is a very clear distinction between good and evil; the kids at Hogwarts take classes to help them fight Dark Magic, and there are rules about what spells are allowed (for example, you’re not allowed to use the death spell on people).

Not only do these books not have bad stuff in them, they have a lot of good. There are so many beautiful in themes in them—the power of love and sacrifice, the beauty of families who love each other, the value of love over riches, the danger of immortality, courage, loyalty, what it means to be a good friend, looking beyond appearances, being kind to “inferior” people, choosing what’s right over what’s wrong, did I mention courage?…

The first book didn’t super grab me—the writing and plot felt a little simple. But it was good enough to keep going, and by book 3, I totally get why so many people are into them. Her writing, characters, and plot get so much richer and complex.Don’t stop at book 1, peeps (this goes for a lot of series, actually. Authors learn and grow like the rest of us.). Also, her humor is amazing, and I love the British feel of them—reminds of Narnia in that way. Also Quidditch.

I’m not saying these books are perfect or even on par with Lord of the Rings or that I totally agree with every decision of the characters (but is there a book where I do?) but the reputation they’ve cultivated seems to have come from hearsay, fear, and rumors rather than truth.

Also, here’s an incredible article on the series by Andrew Peterson: Harry Potter, Jesus, and Me.

So—what do you guys think? Have you read them? What do you like/dislike about them? Have you, like me, shied away from them because of stuff you’ve heard? (Also, I’ve missed you all. *waves wildly*)

Reading Recap 2016

Hi guys! Here is the full list of all books I’ve read in 2016. The bolded ones are those that made my favorites list (see yesterday’s post), and the ones in brackets are rereads. The list starts with the first book I completed in 2016, so the most recent ones at the end.

Which of these have you read? What are some of your favorite reads this year? Let’s talk books!

1. Walking on Water ~ Madeleine L’Engle

2. Lightless ~ C. A. Higgins

3. Updraft ~ Fran Wilde

4. Not Without Honor ~ T. Elizabeth Renich

5. Ink and Bone ~ Rachel Caine

6. Nicomachean Ethics ~ Aristotle

7. The Westing Game ~ Ellen Raskin

8. Poetics ~ Aristotle

9. Paradise Lost ~ John Milton

10. The Tattooed Potato (And Other Clues) ~ Ellen Raskin

11. The Apocrypha (selected books)

12. Bands of Mourning ~ Brandon Sanderson

13. The Innovators ~ Walter Isaacson

14. Mission Possible  ~ Marilyn Laszlo

15. Middlemarch ~ George Eliot

16. Calamity ~  Brandon Sanderson

17. Sense and Sensibility ~ Jane Austen

18. Simply Tuesday ~ Emily P. Freeman

19. Thrones, Dominations ~ Dorothy L. Sayers

20. Hood ~ Steve Lawhead

21. The War With Hannibal ~ Livy (selections)

22. David Copperfield ~ Charles Dickens

23. Foundling ~ D. M. Cornish

{A Ring of Endless Light ~ Madeleine L’Engle}

24. The Small Rain ~ Madeleine L’Engle

25. On the Nature of Things ~ Lucretius

26. Lamplighter ~ D. M. Cornish

27. 100 Cupboards ~ N. D. Wilson

28. selected readings by Cicero

29. Factotum ~ D. M. Cornish

30. Dandelion Fire ~ N. D. Wilson

31. The Chestnut King ~ N. D. Wilson

32. A Circle of Quiet ~ Madeleine L’Engle

33. Dragonflight ~ Anne McCaffrey

34. The Wand in the Word ~ Leonard S. Marcus (editor & compiler)

{Troubling a Star ~ Madeleine L’Engle}

{Outliers ~ Malcolm Gladwell}

35. Wuthering Heights ~ Emily Brontë

36. Eclogues & Georgics ~ Virgil

37. Frankenstein ~ Mary Shelley

38. Outlaws of Time: The Legend of Sam Miracle ~ N. D. Wilson

39. The Jewish War (selections) ~ Josephus

40. A.D. 30 ~ Ted Dekker

41. Immanuel’s Veins ~ Ted Dekker

42. To the Lighthouse ~ Virginia Woolf

43. The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict ~ Trenton Lee Stewart

44. Meditations (books 1-7) ~ Marcus Aurelius

45. The Chosen ~ Chaim Potok

46. The Apostolic Fathers ~ trans. by J. B. Lightfoot & J.R. Harmer

47. Alexander Hamilton ~ Ron Chernow

48. Mistborn: Secret History ~ Brandon Sanderson

49. The Promise ~ Chaim Potok

50. My Name is Asher Lev ~ Chaim Potok

51. Art and the Bible ~ Francis Schaeffer

52. How Star Wars Conquered the Universe ~ Chris Taylor

53. Dear Mr. Knightley ~ Katherine Reay

54The Wednesday Wars ~ Gary D. Schmidt

55Lila ~ Marilynne Robinson

56. Hamilton: A Revolution ~ Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter

{Ender’s Game ~ Orson Scott Card}

{North! Or Be Eaten ~ Andrew Peterson}

57. A Branch of Silver, A Branch of Gold ~ Anne Elisabeth Stengl

58. The Selection ~ Kiera Cass

59. A Thousand Miles to Freedom: My Escape From North Korea ~ Eunsun Kim

60. Vinegar Girl ~ Anne Tyler

61. Lavinia ~ Ursula K. Le Guin

62. Challenger Deep ~ Neal Shusterman

63. Storming ~ K. M. Weiland

64. The Dean’s Watch ~ Elizabeth Goudge

65. Amazing Grace ~ Eric Metaxas

66. Rise to Rebellion ~ Jeff Shaara

67. Originals ~ Adam Grant

68. To Get to You ~ Joanne Bischof

69. Two From Galilee ~ Marjorie Holmes

70. Stargirl ~ Jerry Spinelli

{When You Reach Me // Rebecca Stead}

71. Silas Marner ~ George Eliot

72. A Student’s Guide to The Core Curriculum ~ Mark C. Henrie

73. Salt to the Sea ~ Ruta Sepetys

74. Between Shades of Gray ~ Ruta Sepetys

{The Fellowship of the Ring ~ J. R. R. Tolkien}

75. Things Not Seen ~ Andrew Clements

{The Two Towers ~ J. R. R. Tolkien}

{Antigone ~ Sophocles}

76. Burial at Thebes ~ Seamus Heaney

77. The Railwayman’s Wife ~ Ashley Hay

{Oedipus Rex ~ Sophocles}

{The Return of the King ~ J. R. R. Tolkien}

78. Fierce Convictions ~ Karen Swallow Prior

{Oedipus at Colonus ~ Sophocles}

79. The Bird in the Tree ~ Elizabeth Goudge

{The Way of Kings ~ Brandon Sanderson}

{Words of Radiance ~ Brandon Sanderson}

80. Pilgrim’s Inn ~ Elizabeth Goudge

81. The Heart of the Family ~ Elizabeth Goudge

{selections from Plutarch’s Lives}

82. Sweet Mercy ~ Ann Tatlock

83. Promises to Keep ~ Ann Tatlock

84. A Time to Die ~ Nadine Brandes

{most of the Mitford series ~ Jan Karon}

{Inferno ~ Dante}

85. A Time to Speak ~ Nadine Brandes

86. Purgatory ~ Dante

87. A Time to Rise ~ Nadine Brandes

88. The Thief ~ Megan Whalen Turner

89. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks ~ Rebecca Skloot

90. Paradise ~ Dante

91. Star of Light ~ Patricia St. John

92. The Penderwicks on Gardam Street ~ Jeanne Birdsall

93. The Penderwicks at Point Mouette ~ Jeanne Birdsall

94. The Penderwicks in Spring ~ Jeanne Birdsall

95. A Long Walk to Water ~ Linda Sue Park

96. The Right Thing ~ Scott Waddle & Ken Abraham

{100 Cupboards series ~ N. D. Wilson}

97. The Hawk and the Dove ~ Penelope Wilcock

98. The Butterfly and the Violin ~ Kristy Cambron

99. The Secret Keepers ~ Trenton Lee Stewart

100. Five Glass Slippers ~ Ed. by Anne Elisabeth Stengl

101. Five Enchanted Roses ~ Ed. by Anne Elisabeth Stengl

102. Wingfeather Tales ~ Ed. by Andrew Peterson

Out With the Old, In With the New {2016}

Ah, 2016. It’s certainly been a year, hasn’t it? For me personally, it was a good year. I earned a lot of money teaching swim lessons in the first half of the year; I traveled to South Africa on an amazing mission trip; I got to visit family, colleges, and the beach (THE BEACH, guys. My favorite thing in the world.). These past few months in Germany have been wonderful—not only have I loved living in this beautiful country, but somehow my school schedule this year has let me be way more productive and actually have more free time than last year. I feel less stressed, even with college apps and my arm pain. So praise God for all of that.

But as for the world, it’s been a rather rough year. Every day I was in South Africa, there was a new report of some shooting in America. At least, that’s what it felt like. Terrorist attacks cropped up sickeningly often. And the election, all the anger and accusations, the chaos and confusion, all the tension and bitterness that have left us exhausted. The death of Carrie Fisher seemed to seal 2016’s doom as a particularly rotten year.

I don’t have anything particularly eloquent or profound to say to all that except that, well, it’s a new year. Isn’t it just like God to give us a fresh start every twelve months? He’s the God of second chances, the God of working redemption in the dark. His story—in you personally, in this wide, aching world at large—is far from done. So right now I’m going to take a breather and think about some of the things that went right this year. Will you join me?


Reading Review: 2016

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  1. I failed my goal of 110 books. This failure of my book count goal is becoming a tradition, it seems. And while I’m not overly concerned with the number of books I read, I do feel like this was a dryer reading year. I certainly found many books to enjoy, but overall … I don’t know, it just wasn’t as spectacular or earth-shattering as years past. But that’s okay. I know every year can’t be like that. And I did stumble upon some treasures …
  2. THE LIST. So last year I picked my top six books for three genres—non-fiction, fiction, and speculative—that I’d read that year and that were new to me. This year, I read wayyy less speculative stuff than before, so I felt like I couldn’t really find six stellar books for that category. Instead, I’m going with my top eighteen books in those three categories, but the categories can have unequal numbers of books. (I’m probably the only person who cares about the number of books, but whatevs. It makes my OCD happy.) Here ya go:

Non-fiction: 

  • The Innovators ~ Walter Isaacson
  • Walking on Water ~ Madeleine L’Engle
  • Art and the Bible ~ Francis Schaeffer
  • Alexander Hamilton ~ Ron Chernow
  • Amazing Grace ~ Eric Metaxas
  • Originals ~ Adam Grant

Fiction: 

  • Vinegar Girl ~ Anne Tyler
  • The Chosen ~ Chaim Potok
  • Challenger Deep ~ Neal Shusterman
  • Middlemarch ~ George Eliot
  • David Copperfield ~ Charles Dickens
  • Paradise Lost ~ John Milton
  • The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict ~ Trenton Lee Stewart
  • Salt to the Sea ~ Ruta Sepetys

Speculative: 

  • A Foundling’s Tale series ~ D. M. Cornish
  • 100 Cupboards series ~ N. D. Wilson
  • The Thief ~ Megan Whalen Turner
  • Wingfeather Tales ~ Ed. by Andrew Peterson

Writing Wind-up: 2016

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  1. NaPoWriMo. This was my third year doing the National Poetry Writing Month, although I did it in May this time, so I could do Camp NaNoWriMo in April. A few other bloggers joined me in my May excursion, which was really fun. *high-fives my rebel buddies* As always, I loved NaPo, and I hope to do it again this year.
  2. Phoenix. *minor squeal because this story just makes me happy and excited* So for Camp NaNo in April, I wrote a short story called Phoenix. Except that it ended up being not so short. Its current version is sitting pretty at 22k, which I guess is novella length? I finished it in July (I think) and have started editing it. I’m not sure when I’ll finish that and how/where I’ll reveal it, but I’m just glad that I actually finished a longer writing project.
  3. Um? *coughs* So yeah. I didn’t really do much else, mostly because I was super busy with my job and traveling in the summer, and my arms have been hurting since. But I’ve also been working on college applications and being the senior editor for my online school’s e-magazine (shameless self-advertising there, mhm). I feel like I’ve got a story brewing in me, but it’s pretty deep down in there. It’s going to be big, I think, and right now I’m content to jot down notes and read and just let it germinate. My arms couldn’t handle a big project now anyway. I’m trying not to get discouraged that I’ve done so little compared to what other people are doing. I know God doesn’t waste anything, and maybe this time is a learning, rejuvenating time. Maybe when my arms heal, I’ll have a lot of story ideas and inspiration that I’ve accumulated during this waiting period.

The Best Is Yet to Come: 2017

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  1. This blog. I just have to say, I love this blog. I love posting on here, I love your comments, I love interacting with you guys. This whole experience has been a huge blessing to me. For now, I’ll be posting when I can, probably a few times a month, with whatever poetry, stories, and musings I’m able to write. It’ll be nothing like last year, when I posted about three times a week and had a fancy schedule, but it’s something. I also want to change my theme at some point; I’ll update you when that happens. *bounces*
  2. NaPoWriMo & more. I’m honestly not sure if I’ll be able to physically handle NaPo, but I’d really love to. Maybe I’ll tailor it to what I can do, like three poems a week instead of one a day. We’ll see. NaPo is one of my favorite things ever, so I’m going to fight to make it work. Also, depending on how my arms are, I really want to try to enter Anne Elisabeth Stengl’s yearly fairytale retelling contest. I finally bought the previous collections (her Christmas sale on those was amazing), and they’ve really inspired me. *more excited bouncing* Oh, and figure out what to do with Phoenix. That’s another goal for this year.
  3. 100 books. Yeah, my book count for each year keeps getting shorter. But hopefully also more realistic. Besides, 100 is such a nice, round number. It makes me happy.

* all photos from unsplash

And that’s all, folks! Here’s to another year of doing hard things and looking for the light—and, of course, writing a lot and reading even more. How was 2016 for you, personally or otherwise? Any favorite books or writing projects? *hands some sparkling grape juice* Let’s chat!

{Fireside Fridays} Stories That Must Be Told

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Can history disappear if it’s written in blood?

Some stories just need to be told. And if it’s true that every human life is a story, then all stories need to be told.

In Salt to the Sea and Between Shades of Gray, Ruta Sepetys tells the stories of millions of souls, stories that are in danger of being lost. I think all of us know what Hitler did to the Jews. That atrocity has become common knowledge, a familiar stain on the tapestry of history. But we do not hear a lot about what Stalin did to the Poles and the Baltic people. Those tragedies are just as horrific.

The daughter of a Lithuanian refugee, Sepetys has a passion for telling the stories of those whose homes—and, all too often, lives—were taken by the Soviets. She does so through historical fiction, intended for young adults but read widely by adults as well. At first I wasn’t sure what to expect: All the reviews made her books sound so dark and meaningful and deep, so I wondered how they could be labeled as young adult. Then as I read the first chapter of Salt to the Sea—first person narration, sparse language, short—I questioned that this was as rich as the reviewers claimed. But when I finished the last page, heart racing, aching, sobbing, I understood.

Her use of teenaged protagonists enhances her message more than any other age could, because they are old enough to understand all the evil around them and the forces at work in their ruined worlds, and yet they are young enough to muster the strength, hope, and resilience to survive. They remember what life was like before the war, and yet they still dare to dream of a life after it.


My husband … says that evil will rule until good men or women choose to act.

In Salt to the Sea, Sepetys tells the story of the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff, the German ship carrying thousands of refugees out of the Soviets’ path of destruction. German Florian is betrayed by the Nazis; Polish Emilia is longing for home and fighting for life; Lithuanian Joana uses her medical training to care for others while trying to forget her own   scars. Their paths cross as they all attempt to board the ill-fated ship, each carrying deep secrets and facing almost impossible odds.

In Between Shades of Gray, Sepetys travels in the opposite direction as she chronicles the journey of Joana’s cousin, Lina. Taken from her home by the Soviets, she, her mother, and brother are separated from their father as they travel across all of Russia to frigid Siberia and struggle to survive in the fatal cold with little to no food.


“Just when you think this war has taken everything you loved, you meet someone and realize that somehow you still have more to give.”

I could talk about her writing—simple yet powerful, its sparseness making the painful truths she shares hit your heart harder than a hammer. I could talk about how in Salt to the Sea, she uses the first person for her four main characters and yet each sounds different and unique. There’s no question that her mechanics and style are praiseworthy. But there’s so much more to admire.

There’s the fact that she avoids the major pitfalls of young adult fiction: adults that are portrayed as weak, stupid, or non-existent; and too much romance based on emotion and physical desire. In Salt to the Sea, an elderly refugee nicknamed the Shoe Poet is, as Joana puts it, their light, their source of wisdom that they cling to and rely upon. In Between Shades of Gray, Lina’s love for her parents is beautiful, and her mother is portrayed as a heroine. While both books contain some romance, it is both clean and realistic. Both romances occur because the couples undergo incredible struggles together, and Sepetys demonstrates that while they might not have been attracted to each other had they met under normal circumstances, they grew to love each other after working together and building trust in terrifying times.

Then there are her villains. I can describe them in one word: masterful. In Salt to the Sea, she gives us a glimpse into the mind of a young Nazi sailor, Albert. Due to his ego, he ends up helping Florian, Joana, and Emilia, but his self-centered, propaganda-saturated thoughts are sickening and repulsive. That’s why he’s such an amazing villain: He makes you hate him. I was so disgusted by him that I wrote furious comments about him on my Kindle, something I’ve never done before. I’ve never felt so repelled and infuriated by a character, which is a testament to Sepetys’ talent.

In Between Shades of Gray, she twists the whole concept of villains on its head by portraying a Soviet soldier, Nicolai Kretzsky, sympathetically. As the story progresses, she reveals his humanity, his compassion for the prisoners that he is too afraid to show, and ultimately, his hatred of himself. The pain of his own story as a half-Pole rejected by the other Soviet soldiers and the despair he feels at what he has become pierced me. All villains are, at their hearts, humans.


War had bled the color from everything, leaving nothing behind but a storm of gray.

So, maybe you want to read this story now. Maybe you feel the pull of great writing and beautiful stories, of unforgettable characters and ringing truths.

Don’t give in.  Don’t read these books.

Why? Because they hurt. These stories hurt. They are dark and painful and horrifying. I am not exaggerating in this: Not everyone could handle them. The atrocities Sepetys recounts with brutal honesty are sickening. The sufferings endured by the Baltic people are gut-wrenching. The tragedy of the sinking of the Wilhem Gustloff is horrific.

I closed both books feeling shaken, shattered. I felt a deep sob bottled in my chest, too large and too raw to be let loose. These kinds of things really happened in our world? Less than a hundred years ago? In the continent in which I know live? Dear God, why?

But it wasn’t despair. Had the stories ended in the hopelessness, I would have been less shaken. What shook me is that all this did happen and still, people lived. They made it through. Furthermore, they loved. They even laughed. That there could be hope in the face of such devastation, that there could be a future in the face of such irreparable loss—that is a truth Sepetys boldly confronts too. And this truth is so bright it blinds.


Was it harder to die, or harder to be the one who survived? I was sixteen, … [imprisoned] in Siberia, but I knew. It was the one thing I never questioned. I wanted to live.

That is what resonated so deeply with me about these books: They are true. Not only that all this—the mass murders and the survivals—actually happened in history, but that it is true that humans are capable of mind-boggling evil and also incredible love and bravery. It is true of this world, too, that there is a God in control of it who can give life and love and laughter in the midst of horrible travesties and enable humans to survive unthinkable hardships.

You have to decide for yourself if you can handle the darker aspects of these novels, but if you can, and if you choose to delve in the world of Joana, Florian, Emilia, and Lina—a world of shattering brutality and brilliant courage—you will be well rewarded. Don’t let these stories be forgotten.


Every nation has a hidden history, countless stories preserved only by those who experienced them. Stories of war are often read and discussed worldwide by readers whose nations stood on opposite sides during battle. History divided us, but through reading we can be united in story, study, and remembrance. Books join us together as a global reading community, but more important, a global human community striving to learn from the past. ~ Ruta Sepetys

{Fireside Fridays} The Two Ways Books Are Magical

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Books are magical. I think we can all agree on that. You open up the cover of a book, and you can almost see the fairy dust floating up from its pages.    The shiver down your spine when you finger a new tome or reach the climax or discover some startling revelation is much akin, I’m sure, to what you might feel if you watched Gandalf show off his dazzling fireworks. When you get sucked into another world, when you make friends with people who don’t exist (except that, of course, they do), when you are made to laugh and weep by sorcerers who weave words—what else is it but magic?

As with other things in this world, like love and friendships and sandwiches, there are different kinds of magic. One is the magic of reading alone. You know what I’m talking about: You’re lying on your bed, the door closed, book in your hands. You’ve decorated your room with posters and quotes from your favorite characters, but you don’t see those now, don’t register anything except the words flowing through you in an anthem of adventure. The world around you fades away (see? magic), and you are absorbed into the book. You are no longer reading the story, you are living it. You don’t notice it, but your face changes in reaction to the emotions the characters are feeling. The characters—what am I talking about? They are your friends now, your enemies, your acquaintances, populating your world. Your heart races during seemingly hopeless battles, and your skin prickles in mist-cloaked dungeons. You laugh out loud when that witty fellow makes a joke, and you positively beam when your sister (even though you don’t have a sister in “real” life) is happy. You throw you arms around her in joy even though you’re still lying on your bed. And you weep. You weep when your beloved friend dies, when your sister is hurt, when the little boy on the street is mistreated.

And then the magic wears off. The potency of the potion fades. You close the book. Slowly, reluctantly, you return to your room, to the world you were born into. You notice the crick in your neck from sitting in the same position too long. You hear your stomach rumbling or the screams of the kids outside your window. You’re back. But part of you isn’t. Part of you is still in the story world, and part of you will always stay there. You will always relive that adventure, always enjoy reuniting with those characters—those friends. They call this world the real world, but somehow the so-called story world has bled into reality and transformed it.

That is one kind of magic. It is a special treasure that you carry close to your heart, a haven you run to when the world seems set against you. Though others have had similar experiences, they have not shared that exact one with you. You walk among people with a glow in your heart, the secret of your adventure singing in your mind for hours, days, years after it finishes.

But there is another kind of magic. I have been exposed to it since I was little, since before I can remember, and only recently have I begun to realize what a blessing it is. Only recently have I begun to realize that it is magic, probably because it embedded itself into my veins early, and I have come to unconsciously depend on its power.

It began, as I said, before I can remember, but I’ll start with what memories I do have. One of the first is The Lupine Lady, the lady who traveled the world and lived by the sea and made the world more beautiful by planting fields of lupines—lush, stunning, every shade of purple you can imagine. I don’t know how many times my parents read that one to me. But now, whenever we see it in a store or on the shelf, we look at each other and smile.

Doesn’t sound like magic, you say. Wait. There’s more.

Skip forward a few years, and I can read now. I can read! Not very much or very well, maybe, but I can do it. But even so, my mom does a strange thing. Well, not strange to me, because I am used to it. The magic is already a part of my life. You see, though I can read, she keeps reading to me. I read to her out of my beginner book, and then we set it down and settle into the couch cushions, the stress of school forgotten. This is the best part of the day for both of us. She picks up Little House on the Prairie and picks up where we, reluctantly, let off yesterday. I am swept away to a small house under a vast sky in an age so very different from my own—much like the first magic. But this time, my mom is swept away too. With me. The minute she opens the book, it as if we grab hands and stand on the edge of a portal, prairie wind reaching through and rustling our hair. Then she reads the first words, and we are through, together, still holding hands as we watch Laura and Ma make cheese. We marvel at their ingenuity and brace ourselves against the fierce, cold winters. We discuss Laura’s jealousy of Mary and how we both have brown hair too and how we’ve felt like Laura but how she should have responded differently.

As we read and as we talk, look at us. Maybe you can see the gold threads starting to form between us, growing stronger and thicker and brighter with each word read. The letters on the page seem to float up and join the dazzling bonds that link us together forever. This magic is less of a secret and more of a celebration. It is not a glow inside one soul but a path of light between two.

When I grew older, the magic just grew and deepened. Look back on your childhood: What were its most magical hours? For me, they were with my dad, lying on my bed at night, as he read me The Chronicles of Narnia. Through two moves and many years, we journeyed with the Pevensies, with Digory and Polly, through that enchanted world I will never forget. I would beg him not to stop, and he would usually give in, finishing the chapter or starting just a little bit of the next one. Or he would say, “Well, this is the end of the chapter, so if Mr. Lewis thought it was a good place to stop, it probably is.”

Now we grin at each other when Narnia references come up and say, “Do you remember when we found out such-and-such? or when that scene happened?” I felt safe, listening to his low, strong voice, wrapped up in my blanket and in the wonder of the worlds we were walking through together. I felt loved, that he would come read to me every night that he could for years. Years. Imagine how strong those gold cords were between us after that. Together, we rejoiced when the White Witch was defeated, mourned as Reepicheep left, and laughed at Lewis’ dry humor and colorful characters (how we loved Puddleglum!). We unravelled his allegories and decided in which order we thought the books should be read.

The magic grew to include our whole family. When my dad was deployed, we kids would grab blankets and cuddle up on the floor of my mom’s room while she introduced to All of a Kind Family. The hours walking through New York City behind this bustling family of girls, learning about Jewish customs, made a fortress around us to protect us from the cold, empty place where Daddy should have been. When he came back, we continued the tradition. We debated—rather fiercely at times—whether the Little Scout was a boy or a girl in The Bee-Keeper and urged Heather and Pickett on in The Green Ember. Now we’re in Germany, but the magic has followed us, because the memories of all the adventures we’ve gone on together will never leave us. The magic will forever run from heart to heart on its gleaming path. We like to predict what will happen and stop and marvel at revelations when they occur. References to the books we’ve read together come up at dinner or during everyday conversation. When someone else mentions a family read-aloud, we look at each and grin, and the gold between us shines like the sun.

This magic is warm and strong and dazzling like the happiest smile, and as cozy and comforting and familiar as a fire on the hearth. It builds together and binds together, it strengthens and heals. You may not notice it as much as you do the first magic, but you know, painfully, when it is lacking. It runs through your days in a subtle undercurrent of peace and trickles into real life through laughter and inside jokes.

So: books are magic. Whether a treasure or a fortress, a secret or a family song, they will add beauty to your days and strength to your soul as surely as any wizard’s fireworks or concoctions.


Hey! Just a little house-keeping note: I won’t have wifi next week, so there won’t be a Fireside Fridays. However, I am scheduling one or two posts, so this place won’t be totally silent. I (obviously) won’t be able to respond to comments then, but please do leave them, and I’ll get to them when I get back! Keep on dreaming, friends. 

{Fireside Fridays} 5 Reasons Why Ebooks Help You Read More

Wait a minute, you say. Didn’t she post something a while back about why ebooks will never replace paper and ink ones? Indeed I did. But that doesn’t mean ebooks have no value. As I’ve been traveling this month, I’ve come to realize how useful and even delightful they can be. I’m a sucker for real books you can hold and flip through, and I love adding to the array of colors and shapes on my bookshelf. But I’ve begun to appreciate ebooks more, too. In fact, I’ve realized that they can actually help you read more than you would if you only had paperback books. So, reluctant readers, listen up. And you bookworms—maybe this will convince you to give ebooks a try.

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{ 5 Reasons Why Ebooks Help You Read More }

 

1. Ebooks are (usually) cheaper than paper books. 

Which helps you read more because when each individual book is less, you can afford to buy more books. I can attest to this from personal experience. On this vacation, I was browsing Barnes and Nobles and came upon a book that looked really interesting. But it was twenty-something dollars. Gulp. So I went online and found that the Kindle version was only fourteen—still pretty expensive for an ebook, but considering that this particular book had just come out, it’s a good deal. And it’s a whole lot cheaper than the paper version. A few days later, I read about a book that sounded like something I’d enjoy. Instead of having to save up for it, I found that the ebook version was a mere five bucks. Because of ebooks’ cheaper prices, I was able to get two more books than I would have if only paper books were available. Doesn’t that just make your bookworm heart happy?

2. Ebooks can help you find other books. 

I had a Nook, and now I have a Kindle app on my iPad, and both have Other-Books-You-Might-Like-type features. In all honesty, sometimes I waste too much time browsing through them, but they have really helped find great books that I wouldn’t have heard of otherwise. Plus, Nook and Kindle also let you sample books, which has often convinced me to buy a book that I wouldn’t have if I had just read its blurb. With huge libraries at your fingertips and services that figure out your reading preferences, ebooks are vastly helpful in discovering new reads.

3. You don’t have to worry about forgetting to bring a book. 

Have you ever been somewhere and wished you had a book with you? Maybe the wait at the doctor’s office is long or the pool is too cold, and you wish you’d brought a book. You probably had your phone or tablet with you, however. Here’s the awesome thing about ebooks: You can get Kindle and Nook apps so you can read ebooks on your phone or tablet. It may not be the most fun way to read, but reading is more fun than being bored and better for your brain than scrolling through Facebook. Ebook-reading apps provide access to books wherever you are. If you’re a bookworm, you’re probably thinking that you carry around a paper book more often than you do a phone, but if you’re the type that struggles to find time to read, this can be so helpful. When books are so easily accessible, you’ll be more likely to read.

4. Ebooks don’t get lost. 

This ties in to the point above. You’re much less likely to lose an electronic device than some ol’ paper book. I know, I know, we’ve all lost electronic devices before, too. But still, most people take more care of them because they’re more expensive and valuable. So, if your books on an electronic device, you probably won’t lose them. Paper books, on the other hand, are relatively easy to lose. We just don’t keep tabs on them quite as carefully as we do phones—because, no matter how much you love books, you have to admit that phones are much more expensive and more necessary for daily life (though that’s arguable).

5. You can get books quickly. 

Right here is one of my favorite parts of ebooks. I love being able to get a new book instantaneously. Of course, there’s a very special thrill of paper books arriving in the mail—anticipating them, flipping them over and relishing their shiny covers and fresh smell. But sometimes I’m so impatient for a good read that I’m willing to forgo the aesthetic appeal of paper books. You’re also more likely to buy books if you can read them right away. If you have to wait, you might lose the motivation to spend money on a book, or you might have lost your excitement for it by the time it arrives. This is especially helpful for people who aren’t quite as into reading. If you can dive into a book when you’re at the height of your excitement about it, you’re much more likely to finish it and buy more books in the future.


Again, I’m a huge fan of paper books, and I don’t believe they’ll ever be obliterated. But there are many benefits to ebooks, from their lack of size to their easy ways to highlight quotes. They can be especially helpful for reluctant readers or people who struggle finding time to read. For voracious bookworms like me, they enable you to read even more books—and who doesn’t want that?

What do you think about ebooks—are you forever against them or have you fallen in love? Do you have any reasons to add to this list? How have ebooks helped you?