Category Archives: Book Review

Thinking, Playing, Reading {and Watching!}

Thinking:

I’m taking a 7-day social media hiatus which is really nothing, but in one day I could feel the difference: greater peace and time. I found myself putting the phone down instead of feeling bored and scrolling. It’s been a tumultuous and upsetting news cycle (what else is new?) and I need to find the good – which is not out “there.” It’s right here at home, making eye contact with my children, having a daily conversation with my husband, and pondering deeper scriptural texts. This Saturday and Sunday we are immersing in two full days of General Conference. This event ALWAYS makes me so HAPPY.

Playing:

I have a few fun things to share today-

Liquid Lash Extensions Mascara by Thrive Cosmetics ($24). Never in my life have I spent so much for a mascara but I’m telling you – WOWOWOWOW.

Brilliant Eye Brightener by Thrive Cosmetics ($24). Again, pricey by my standards but I use just a teensy bit in the corners of my eyes and again – WOWOWOWOW. LOVE.

Himalayan Salt Deodorant. Okay, this sounds strange – it’s JUST SALT! But I have this thing about putting chemicals straight into my pores after showering and shaving, and salt just feels so…natural. It works quite well! I picked it for cheap (just a few dollars) at a boutique, but I’ve seen them all over the web.

Alert Caffeine Gum as a running aid. Let me clarify: ONLY AS A RUNNING AID. I’m a little neurotic about not getting addicted to substances, and so I don’t allow myself to chew this piece of 40mg of caffeinated gum (a small cup of coffee has about 60mg of caffeine) except for early morning runs. Way easier and better than gels and GUs and Shot Blocks that have all that other sugary junk in it. It makes me feel motivated, helping me run faster and farther. You can buy 100mg/caffeine gum, but that’s “military grade,” and again, we don’t need any more addictions! Tired in the afternoon? May I suggest a 10-minute nap?

When Cope found it in my drawer she gasped and said, “Mom! WHAT IS THIS? I feel like I’ve discovered steroids in the house.”

RX and Lara Bars.  3-5 ingredients in them and that’s it! (The carrot cake bar above has 9 ingredients but all are “natural” and words I can pronounce.)

It’s not all beauty products and gum around here. Here’s what else I did this week – autopsies?

Reading:

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan. Cope raced through the whole trilogy. I’m all set after Book #1. It was entertaining, and I adore reading of other cultures and languages, but I thought the book too long and lacking in substance (which might be just the thing you’re looking for!)

Dear Mrs. Bird by AJ Pearce. I just started so stay tuned!

Watching:

Poldark. Need I say more? Season 4 out this past Sunday.

Okay, tell me all your things!

P.S. If you haven’t signed up for my AUTHOR NEWSLETTER yet, what are you waiting for? SIGN UP HERE!

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Thinking, Playing, Reading {the latest book recommendations!}

Thinking:

My friend Kate brought us the most beautiful bouquet of flowers “just because.” Patty sent my daughter a bouquet of flowers when she got her mission call Taiwan. Such a small – but big – gesture that makes me happy every time I enter the house. Happiness tip: Send the Flowers!

Playing:

Two of my girls are using matching planners from BAM, because, like their mother, they cannot survive life for one day without a physical, hand-written calendar (Google calendar is great for sharing schedules, but I also gotta write!) It makes me a bit giddy to see them planning and organizing their lives. Check.

Also: these pens with the planner. Goodness, I love them.

Reading:

Wasn’t I going to post books more often? Well, here you go – 8 books I read this summer and into fall as I try to hit 50 reads for the Goodreads Reading Challenge (I’ve always loved reading challenges 🙂 )

Love and Ruin by Paula McClain: Historical fiction. McClain (The Paris Wife) writes the story of Martha Gellhorn and her infamous relationship with Ernest Hemingway. Gellhorn was one of the first and most well-known female war correspondents. RESPECT.

Where There’s Hope by Elizabeth Smart: Nonfiction, adult. I took notes upon notes reading this book. We know Smart’s kidnapping story, but here she offers more: hope moving forward. I’ve become a huge fan of this woman, watching her take control of her life and empowering women of every age. One of the most powerful stories is her father bringing Elizabeth and her little sister into his study to practice, “screaming” after a woman cornered Elizabeth in the bathroom at church (after she was returned from the kidnapping she still didn’t know how to fight back!) Elizabeth froze, not knowing what to do or react. It’s wonderful to be polite and have manners when the occasion calls for it – but do our children (esp our girls!?) know how and when to scream and bite and kick when needed? Really great book.

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine: Middle grade, fiction. Take it from Paige: the movie does not do this book justice! Read the book! My girls read it over and over and over, especially when they need to curl up with an old favorite. I loved it, too.

Where the Watermelons Grow by Cindy Baldwin: Middle grade, fiction. Baldwin makes a lovely debut with her middle grade read about Della, the ups and downs of family and farm life, and a mother’s mental illness. Really well done! Just thinking about this book makes my mouth water and my body break out into the damp sweat of summer (that’s a compliment – Cindy brings great voice and language to this story.)

Calypso by David Sedaris: Memoir, adult. I’ve never read memoirist Sedaris before. He’s really funny, even when writing about family tragedy. He’s also extremely irreverent. Geez. You read a sentence and think did he really just write THAT? But no doubt, I get what all the fuss is about. He’s a great writer and I want to learn from him.

Dear Martin by Nic Stone Young Adult, fiction. This was my freshman daughter’s summer reading. She read it fast and said, “you should read this.” I casually picked it up and couldn’t put it back down. Real, sad, important. Justyce, a young black scholar is trying to balance two worlds – his old neighborhood and an elite prep school. It’s present-day, but he writes letters to the great Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, trying to figure out his place in a racist America. Head’s up: language.

P.S. If you haven’t signed up for my AUTHOR NEWSLETTER yet, what are you waiting for? SIGN UP HERE!

What are you reading? Do tell!

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Recent Book Reads and Recommendations!

I’m going to start posting books by ones and twos per The Word Nerd’s Recommendation, but until then, here’s a whole bunch. My recent reads and recommendations:

1. EVERY NOTE PLAYED BY Lisa Genova

I ADORE a complex medical dilemma coupled with lots of family drama. And Genova is an actual neuroscientist – as well as a superb writer. Richard, the main character, is a brilliant and world-renowned pianist. He’s also a terrible family man. So what happens when you suddenly start noticing a funny weakness in your hand and are diagnosed with ALS? It’s the family who steps up. This hit very close to home as I lost a dear friend to this horrible disease. For me, an informative tear-jerker.

2. THE BONE CURSE BY Carrie Rubin

What do you know? Carrie Rubin is also a doctor in real life, and a superb writer. THE BONE CURSE is book #1 in an exciting new series: a medical thriller with a supernatural element! I also kindof know Carrie through the internet and it’s always so thrilling to see your writer friends pave the way and do it SO WELL! Great job, Carrie.

3. THE FLIGHT ATTENDANT BY Chris Bohjilian

Oooh…this one was kindof a guilty pleasure (in the tamest of ways!) The moral of this story is: it’s time get stone-cold sober. At least for Cassandra Bowden, who woke up next to a dead man. Did she do it? SHE CAN’T REMEMBER! She really doesn’t think she has it in her, but…SHE CAN’T REMEMBER! After flying through this book (ha), I said to self: GO FIND ALL THE BOHJILIAN BOOKS NOW.

4. EDUCATED BY Tara Westover

This book is getting all the rave reviews for good reason. I LOVED it. I could not put it down. In the same vein as THE GLASS CASTLE: a family, a brilliant but mentally ill father, a child with no formal schooling who is schooled in survival and using her own smarts. After listening to the audiobook, my dad commented, “I knew a few people like that in Idaho.” Wide eyes.

5 & 6. GHOST (Track #1) and PATINA (Track #2) by Jason Reynolds

Give me a book about running and I’ll open it! Jason Reynolds is a really exciting middle-grade author who is giving us books with heart and diversity. I’m really enjoying this series for kids 8-12.

7. THE GREAT ALONE by Krisin Hannah

After reading EDUCATED, I must have been on a survivalist kick, which is what Hannah’s written. The setting is the wild, beautiful, and dangerous Alaska. I enjoyed this book, but the mother’s horrible enabling DROVE ME CRAZY the entire book. Obviously I lack empathy. Or something.

8. MIDWIVES by Chris Bohjalian

This book is pretty astounding in its writing and its research. Bohjalian is really really good. I have so much more respect for what midwives do – and what they risk. A medical thriller with lots of family drama and ethical questions that are terribly hard to answer – right up my ally! A GREAT READ. Jodi Picoult fans will love Bohjalian (but you probably already knew that.) Also, he’s lives in Vermont! Think he’d mind if I knocked on his door?

9. JUST UNDER THE CLOUDS by Melissa Sarno

YAY FOR DEBUT AUTHORS! I’ve known Melissa for years. How fun it was to both have debut books in June. This was a very sweet, yet realistic look at child homelessness. Sad, but hopeful. I loved all of the images of trees, throughout. Themes of hardship, sisterhood, and home run through this novel. Melissa has more books on the way and I look forward to more from this huge talent!

10. THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST by Samantha M. Clark

This book was not at all what I expected – in a really fun and surprising way! There’s this boy who doesn’t know where he is. What’s his name? Where are all the people? Why won’t his inner bully leave him be? With only one character throughout, Clark does a fantastic job of keeping the reader engaged. It’s somewhat heartbreaking but somewhat not…I don’t know. I’ll be thinking of this book for a long time. “Once upon a time there was a boy…” So good!

Okay, that’s it for me. What’s kept you up at night? Do tell! I love hearing what you’re reading and yes – I’m ready for a new book!

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Recent Book Reads {+ good shows, movies & podcasts!}

Books! Podcasts! Shows and Songs! Here’s what I’ve been loving the last three months.

First: BOOKS. Got book goals? I keep track using a notebook (and pink ball point pen) and the Goodreads Reading Challenge. Haven’t signed up? It’s free, easy, and a great way to track books.

Here’s what I’ve read (and liked!) since January:

1. Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes: An inspirational kick-in-the-pants guide to what happens when you say YES to more opportunities. A bold account from a minority woman in show business, self-described introvert, writer (creator of hit shows Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal), and single mother. I went back and forth between, “I need to say yes to more,” and “This is exhausting. Can I have a nap?” But no doubt about it: Shonda Rhimes is a FORCE.

2. QB: My Life Behind the Spiral by Steve Young: A fascinating look at sports, anxiety, faith, and how to throw the perfect spiral when you’ve got a photographic memory.

3. IQ by Joe Ide: The lovely literary agent, Zoe Sandler, sent me IQ and the follow-up, RIGHTEOUS, as she also represents Joe Ide. What I liked: A Sherlock Holmes in the hood mystery, and a needed diverse teen figure in literature. What was hard: the language. Like, it ain’t for the faint in heart. I’m kinda faint.

4. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng: This one is getting all the feels, and for good reason. I’m a sucker for a great family drama, and Celeste Ng can articulate the great nuances in family life SO WELL.

5. Everything I Never Told  You by Celeste Ng: Ng’s first book. More great family drama writing. But this one is sadder, left me in a funk.

6. The Woman in the Window by AJ Finn: As a huge “Rear Window” Hitchcock fan, I dove right into this psychological thriller. Does she see what she thinks she sees – or is Anna crazy? A satisfying page-turner.

7. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion: A stunning, unflinching account of Joan Didion’s husband’s death, daughter’s illness, and navigating the world without them. Sad, but heartbreakingly readable. I loved this.

8. The Witches by Roald Dahl: Paige and I read this together. Paige loved it. I liked it 🙂

9. A Deadly Wandering by Matt Richtel: Have a phone? Do your children have phones? Do they drive? Read this RIGHT NOW. So sad, so scary. DON’T TOUCH YOUR PHONE WHILE DRIVING. Your brain cannot pay attention to more than one thing at a time. Think you’re the exception? You’re not.

10. How We Die by Sherwin B. Nuland: Nuland writes that most people don’t die with “dignity.” Calm and descriptive, Dr. Nuland breaks death down from the point of view of the body. Fascinating – and also disconcerting. I kinda thought it wouldn’t happen to me. It will. I’ve been thinking about my coronary arteries a lot more.

11. Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast: I DO NOT enjoy graphic novels. I LOVED this one. NYTimes Bestselling cartoonist, Roz Chast, wrote a memoir about her parents aging and dying (what’s up with my reading choices?). Honest, funny, poignant. It’s so so good. Highly recommended!

12. The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant: I’ve finally read Anita Diamant! All the girls and the cousins and the moms in my family raved about this book until I finally read. A good coming-of-age novel about a Jewish immigrant becoming a woman in 1900 America.

Podcasts I’m digging:

1. Everything Happens by Kate Bowler: Think a podcast hosted by a young mother and divinity instructor diagnosed with an incurable cancer would be a downer? It’s not! Kate Bowler, a self-described optimist, is walking us through the hardest part of life. Skeptical? Start with the Alan Alda and Wes Moore interviews – awesome.

2. That’s the Way I Heard it by Mike Rowe: Short historical sketches (10-14 minutes) told in mystery format, I sit in parking lots, unable to get out, absolutely riveted. And Rowe’s voice? Perfect.

Shows I Watched and NEED MORE OF:

1. Victoria by Masterpiece Theater: I could be happy just staring at Jenna Coleman on-screen. Her beauty is unreal. Oh yeah, the story is pretty good, too 🙂

2. Home Fires by Masterpiece Theater: No Season 3? I OBJECT!

Movies I LOVED:

1. The Greatest Showman: Hugh Jackman, Zendaya, Zac Efron…I loved it.

2. Coco: You’ve got to watch this with your family!!!! Tears, laughter, so good.

3. The Post: Inspired me to write THIS.

Songs I Can’t Stop Singing:

Midnight Train by Sam Smith

Greatest Showman Soundtrack

And now it’s your turn – what are you reading and watching and listening to???

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Favorite Reads of 2017

In an attempt to resurrect my foul mood regarding the month of January, let’s reflect on our best friend, BOOKS. Do you keep track of what you read? I wish I’d done it my whole life. It’s fascinating to know what I pick up next and see what kind of trends are trending in my brain…

Of course I have my trusty journal with pink uni-ball pen, but last year I also began keeping track through the Goodreads challenge. My goal was 50 books. I read 33. For 2018, I again put 50 as my goal again because I’m unrealistically optimistic and gosh darn it, there are BOOKS TO READ (and less People.com stories to scroll through. am I right?)

Friend Annie, has an app, and has the ambitious goal of 52 books (one a week!) Do you have a goal?

Let’s get really nerdy for a moment. Of the 33 books I read, here’s a breakdown, with my favorite book for each category (SO HARD to decide!):

Children’s: 3 books. Favorite: Mrs. Piggle Wiggle by Betty MacDonald

Middle Grade: 3 books. Favorite: Waiting for Augusta by Jessica Lawson

Favorite Illustrations: Eloise Wilkins Stories, the Little Golden Book Collection

Young Adult: 4 books. Favorite: 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher (break your heart good. An important read for parents.)

Adult Fiction: 11 books. Favorite: Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult (incredibly relevant. sadly.)

Short Stories: 1. Dear Life by Alice Munro. (superb)

Poetry: 1 book. Bright Exit by Laurie Zimmerman (powerful)

Writing Craft: 1 book. Favorite: The Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donald Maass

Memoir: 7 books. Favorite: Lit by Mary Karr AND The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

Inspirational: 2 books. Favorite: Proof of Heaven by neurosurgeon Eben Alexander (WOAH.)

Most anticipated book that was way over my head: Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (his obvious brilliance eludes me :()

Male Authors read: 11

Female Authors read: 22 (one author read twice)

Interestingly, of the nine memoir/inspirational reads, only 2 were male authors (Clayton Christenson and Eben Alexander.) Memoir is dominated by female authors, which makes me wonder if men are writing their stories down…

It’s very obvious that I’m drawn to stories with family drama. Favorites will make me laugh AND cry. ALL of the books read this year were realistic fiction or nonfiction. I read no fantasy, speculative, or dystopian. As for my children? Nobody but me and Gregor likes realistic fiction all that much. Does this mean I lack imagination??? But even as a child, I disliked it. Judy Blume couldn’t get write fast enough for me!

I only read one book with one of my children: Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh by Robert C. O’Brien. This makes me kind of sad as daily reading with a child dominated much of my activity in earlier years. I’m determined to find books to read with Brynne and Paige this year (Brynne is reading The Help right now, on my suggestion.)

Since we’re breaking down the entertainment, here were a few other 2017 Favorites:

TV Shows: Mercy Street (LOVE), John Adams, Chicago PD, Blue Bloods, Hart of Dixie (so cheesey, but that Lemon!), The Crown, Poldark, Victoria, This is Us, The Good Doctor, Turn.

Geez, I could get a lot more reading done with all that time the above, ahem…

Movies: Wonder, Darkest Hour, Dunkirk, and The Greatest Showman (although historically suspect, I loved the acting and the music is tremendous!)

Podcasts: Happier with Gretchen Rubin, Helping Writers Become Authors with K.M. Weilland, Modern Love by the New York Times, and the 10-Minute Writer’s Workshop.

Whew! That’s fun. Okay, your turn. What do I have to get to this year???

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Recent Book Reads, Shows, and Podcast Love!

Happy Weekend! Looking for some good reads? Here’s what I’ve been up to since March…

Reading:

I adore Alice Munro. Such an excellent short story writer.

I’m a Michael Connelly fan. Great structure, kept me reading.

I love love Elizabeth Strout. Her sentences are so gorgeous. This is sad but good.

Watching:

PBS masterpiece, John Adams, Chicago PD, Hart of Dixie (only because of Lemon Breeland!), and currently it’s Amazon’s Vikings. The battle scenes are so violent that I have to constantly close my eyes, but I’m drawn to the culture and the curiosity and clash between paganism and christianity. Also: Lagertha.

Podcast Love:

New York Times, Modern Love, Happier with Gretchen Rubin, and KM Weiland’s How to Help Writers Become Authors.

And…that’s all folks! What are you reading, watching, and listening to?

Have a great weekend!

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Children’s Author, Jessica Lawson & a Book Giveaway!

Make sure to scroll to the bottom for a book giveaway!

One of my favorite children’s author’s, Jessica Lawson, is visiting Maisymak today with the September 5th release of her fourth book, UNDER THE BOTTLE BRIDGE,  by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. You can add it to your Goodreads account HERE, and see it up on Amazon here.

Isn’t this gorgeous cover art by illustrator, Sonia Kretschmar?

If you haven’t read Jessica’s other books, I highly recommend them! (I especially loved WAITING FOR AUGUSTA, so apropo for the times we live in.) Jessica has an incredible grasp of language and uses such clever turns of phrases – I’ve learned a lot from this girl (she’s also the gal I credit for helping me land my own literary agent, woo hoo!)

Here’s Jess:

SEASONS OF CHANGE

by Jessica Lawson

Thank you, Amy, for having me on your blog! UNDER THE BOTTLE BRIDGE will be released on September 5. For anyone wanting an early peek, I’m giving away one advanced reader copy. I’ll choose a winner from any comments on this post (winner will be chosen on August 28).

Autumn has always been my favorite season—it’s a time of such visible and internal changes as nature glides toward its annual sunset. Leaves burst into brilliant colors, then fade, then fall off. It’s metaphor-city for an author (and a welcome way to work cloves, cinnamon, and pumpkin-flavored anything into a story).

In UNDER THE BOTTLE BRIDGE, my main character Minna Treat is not ready to become a teenager. She’s been raised by her uncle, who has a huge collection of parenting books. Minna’s read all of them, and she’s learned enough about the teen years to be nervous for what’s ahead. Here’s an excerpt from the book as an example:

According to the award-winning book Natural Disasters: Emergency Parenting for the Teen Years, youth and innocence were basically over once age thirteen hit, and I needed to be as self-grounded as possible to anchor myself for the “deluge of tumultuous, volatile changes ahead.” If I didn’t have complete faith and confidence in myself as a person before the clock struck TEENAGER, I’d get swept away by some kind of giant invisible flood.

Between that kind of doomsday talk and the fact that my thirteenth birthday was three months away, I felt like I was on my own personal deadline for finding out exactly who “Minna” was before the very last autumn of my childhood was over.

While I wasn’t as apprehensive about the big 1-3 as Minna is, I definitely had reservations about growing up.

At the beginning of sixth grade, I had just moved to a new state. I knew nobody and was starting middle school. I adored elementary school and mourned its ending. Kindergarten to 5th grade was a 6-year-long season in my life that was golden. Everyone started changing a bit after 5th grade. They started growing up and having new concerns that I didn’t share, and it all sort of broke my heart. I was not ready.

I resisted mainly by being myself. I did not wear trendy clothes. I wore things like solid color sweatpants with different-solid-color sweatshirts. I did not wear makeup. There was no “going with” boys for me like there was for the other girls, nor did I want that. I did not get asked to any dances and was relieved, because dancing in public seemed like something I’d rather not do.

I was incredibly shy. But while I struggled a bit socially, other areas were smooth sailing. I was good at school and good at sports and I liked to read. Those things made all the difference.

I liked my teachers and classes. My report cards were thumbs-up. Though I went on to be a Varsity soccer team starter for all four years of high school, in seventh grade, there was no girls team at my middle school. So I tried out for the boys’ team. I made it. Boys did not like being slide-tackled by a girl. Grades and sports did not win me friends. But they gave me the confidence to continue resisting the pressure to “grow up” in ways that I wasn’t ready to. Plus I was a very Late Bloomer, which gave me a natural resistance. The P-word, Puberty, did not pay me a visit until my senior year of high school. I sometimes wonder if my body was simply waiting until my heart was ready for a change in seasons.

In a way, Minna finds refuge in the advice that parenting books give her—she figures that if she knows what’s ahead, there can’t be any hurt or pain. Not to spoil things, but the parenting books do not prepare Minna for what happens in this book. Like autumn leaves shifting colors from green to red and orange and yellow and brown, change sometimes happens whether we want it to or not. Writing this book was a catharsis for me in that way. You can’t always know what lies ahead, but you can choose who is in the boat with you while you weather any storms and celebrate any sunny skies.

And now that I’ve changed from autumn metaphors to sea travel metaphors, I believe that’s my cue to end this post. Readers, do you have a favorite season of the calendar year, or a favorite season in your life?

In the weeks leading up to Gilbreth, New York’s annual AutumnFest, twelve-year-old woodcraft legacy Minna Treat is struggling with looming deadlines, an uncle trying to hide Very Bad News, and a secret personal quest. When she discovers mysterious bottle messages under one of the village’s 300-year-old bridges, she can’t help but wonder who’s leaving them, what they mean, and, most importantly…could the messages be for her?

Along with best friend Crash and a mystery-loving newcomer full of suspicious theories, Minna is determined to discover whether the bottles are miraculously leading her toward long-lost answers she’s been looking for, or drawing her into a disaster of historic proportions.

Thank you, Jess! I can’t wait to read this.

Dear readers, please leave a comment – do you have a favorite season of the calendar year, or a favorite season in your life?

Could you help an author out? Please help me share this upcoming release by hitting the share buttons on the bottom of this post – Facebook, Twitter, Email, or any other social media button you’d like.

We love supporting local and indie bookstores! (tells you your local independent bookstore based on zip code), Barnes & Noble, Amazon, 

Connect with Jessica on Facebook, Twitter, her website, and blog!

THANK YOU so much. And congratulations, Jessica!

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Recent Book Reads, Favorite Shows, and Music Recommendations!

Good books, a fantastic medical drama, and a singer who has me swooning – read on for inspiration!

Since we are still in the thick of winter here in New Hampshire, I like to think it gives me more of an excuse to read. Which I don’t. Which I should. An hour every afternoon sounds dreamy, no?

Here are my recent reads (all of which I liked…I toss books aside when I don’t feel like reading them. Who has time for meh?)

What I Read: 

  1. Mrs. Piggle Wiggle by Betty MacDonald. Oh my, what a delightful classic. Mrs. Piggle Wiggle is now my standard for all things parenting. Funny and delightful, I’ll be reading more!

2. Pax by Sara Pennypacker. Middle grade, especially recommended for the kids (and adults) who love anthropomorphic animal stories (which I don’t normally gravitate towards.)

3. Eloise Wilkin Stories. Oh, the hand-drawn and painted baby faces, the chubby hands, cheeks, and legs. Simply exquisite. I snatched this at a children’s book exchange…for myself. My admiration for Wilkin was cemented after reading her children’s tribute to their mother. Their love is palpable as they wrote of their enormously talented and creative mother.

4. On Living, by Kerry Egan. Nonfiction. Really, really good. As a hospice chaplain, Egan writes of the “spiritual work of dying.” Sound depressing? It’s not at all! So much wisdom here.

5. A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote. Nonfiction. That Capote character is an intriguing chap. Capote was Harper Lee’s childhood friend (he was who “Dill” was based off of). Jealous of Lee’s success and her “little bird book,” he was a great writer in his own right. And so very very odd. Here’s a look at his rural Alabama upbringing. It’s good! 

6. Still Life by Louise Penny. An adult mystery. I realized about 3/4 of the way through I’d already read it. The writing is good, but was easy for me to put down.

7. The Story of Beautiful Girl by Rachel Simon. The Professor looooved this. I liked it. The year is 1968. Lynnie is developmentally slow and therefore deemed “undesirable.” Locked away in an institution, she falls in love with Homan, an African American deaf man. This is their love story. Some of our American history is so appalling.

8. Waiting for Augusta by Jessica Lawson. I LOVED this book. Favorite middle grade read in a long time. I’ve enjoyed all of Jessica’s books, but this one especially. The voice is pitch perfect, making me laugh out loud, and also want to cry (my perfect combo.) I envy her use of language and found myself dog-earring pages to study a turn of phrase. It begins: “Eleven-year-old Benjamin Putter has a lump in his throat, and he’s certain it’s a golf ball…?” With a subplot of race relations, it’s tells the story of one boy’s journey to find his father’s love.

9. Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult. As a lover of all thing Jodi Picoult, this ranks as a favorite. It hurt my heart, made me cry, feel ashamed, offended, offensive, uncomfortable, happy, and sad. A page-turner of a book about race in America. Destined to become a book club favorite. Read it. And may we all do better.

10. Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife by Eben Alexander, M.D.  A spiritual and medical memoir, Alexander, a neurosurgeon, writes of his near death experience after an ecoli bacteria strains attacks his brain and leaves him for dead. His recovery was miraculous and baffling to an entire medical team. Fascinating from a scientific point of view, Alexander makes the case for heaven.

Are you participating in the Goodreads Challenge? It’s fun! My goal is 50 books this year and I’m on track, baby!

What I’m Watching:

1. Mercy Street. LOVE it. This series is so well-made and written, it’s got me reading about typhoid in the civil war HERE, and a Behind the Lens HERE. Mercy Street is a civil war medical drama, and it’s got it all – love, loss, betrayal, redemption, jealousy, historical complexities, race, war, amputations (we’ve come so far in the medical field). There’s blood and some seriously realistic surgeries, but it’s so clean and SO GOOD. PBS, can you do no wrong? I think not. (Free on Amazon Prime.)

2. Other shows that got me through the winter: Poldark, Turn: Washington’s Spies (though unnecessarily racy), Scandal (I had to stop but Olivia Pope is on point), Victoria, The Crown, This is Us.

What I’m Listening to:

1. Ed Sheerhan’s new album, Divide. What a great album! My favorites (on repeat and downloaded for my recent running race): Perfect, Galway Girl, Dive, Happier, Supermarket Flowers (sob!), Nancy Mulligan.

And now, do tell – what are you reading, watching, and listening to these days?

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Summer Reads {including my current obsession with Lin-Manuel}

What I love about summer? More reading time. One day I told Paige we were having a reading hour right in the middle of the morning. We laid on my bed for a whole hour and read. It was quite blissful and I vowed to make a daily habit. It wasn’t, but I encourage you to lay aside tasks and chores and television for more words and books.

Paige finished the 7th Harry Potter book – a huge feat for a 9-year-old, but especially gratifying as this was my child who did not care much for reading; it was too hard! But then she discovered Harry. She was in mourning for days with a beloved Harry book to read, but I pushed Laura Ingalls and she’s enamored with a whole other world once again.

I just love good books. Here are my summer reads: what I loved and what I didn’t.

  1. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah: Covers WWII in France and serves as a warning of how insidious Hitler’s type of evil can spread. Hard to read at times as it deals with the choices mothers and fathers are forced to make during wartime. Really well written and definitely worth the read! And it will make you cry and pray for peace.

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2. The Book of Mormon: I read this often, almost everyday, and always learn new life insights. It’s changed my life. And it’s free 🙂

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3. Food Matters by Mark Bittman: Terrific, easy, unprocessed food and recipes.

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4. God Wants a Powerful People by Sheri Dew: Another life-changing book. Empowering.

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5. The Self-Care Solution by Julie Burton: Julie reached out to me and asked if I would read and review her new book. It was terrific, a read mothers should read, study, and heed. I’ve got a copy to give away to the first person who asks! I’d love to send it your way. Congrats, Julie!

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6. Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee: I resisted for months – who dares to complicate or cast a shadow on my favorite of books, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD? Alas, I opened the book and was quite delighted with Scout, all grown up. There’s so much controversy over the discovery of this manuscript (Google it – fascinating!), but I’m most intrigued by the fact it was the first draft of what would become her great classic. It shows the great power of an editor!

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7. Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo: I just love that DiCamillo, whatever she writes!

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8. The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman: I loved this. The movie is coming out in September and Cope and I will be first in line! A great love story. How far would you go for the one you loved? Would you let your wife keep a baby that wasn’t really hers – even under serendipitous circumstances? What would you do if someone tried to take away your only child? The writing is tremendous – and you will cry! My favorite type of book 🙂

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9. Truly, Madly, Guilty by Liane Moriarty: My BFF librarian, Gail, ordered Moriarty’s new book and personally handed it over as soon as it came in. What a gal, right!? As always, Moriarty nails character. She always makes me laugh and think. I didn’t love the plot as much as her other books, but I still enjoyed the read.

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10. Hamilton, The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter: This book is the score, with footnotes on how each original Broadway cast member was cast, and the long road of writing such a brilliant work of art. Hamilton, the Musical is now an 11-times Tony-award winning hip-hop musical on broadway. Don’t like musicals? Put that aside. This is unlike anything you’ve ever heard or listened to.

Have you ever wondered how a tiny band of scholars and mercenaries defeated the greatest superpower in the world? And then went on to write a Bill of Rights and Constitution, something never before seen or heard in the world?

Do you know anything about Alexander Hamilton? “Every other founding father’s story gets told. Every other founding father gets to grow old.” Lin-Manuel has put Hamilton’s extraordinary life to music in the form of a rap: “How does a rag tag volunteer army in need of a shower, somehow defeat a global superpower?”

I’m OBSESSED with the genius of it all. Back story: Lin-Manuel Miranda was on vacation reading ALEXANDER HAMILTON by Rob Chernow. He was struck by the brilliant, young, ambitious founding father and told his wife, “I think this could be a hip-hop musical.” She didn’t laugh. Instead: “That would be cool.” And so it began. Chernow’s book is on my list. The girls and I don’t drive anywhere without blasting and rapping Hamilton lyrics (to Nelson’s great embarrassment). There are a few expletives…beware. It will make you grateful for America, it will make you want to “rise up!”, and it will make you cry. It’s SO GOOD!

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Bestsellers I read and didn’t like:

The Swans of 5th Avenue by Melanie Benjamin (was there even one redeeming character? Maybe one.), and Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah.

What I didn’t like and didn’t bother finishing:

The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney.

It’s been a whirlwind of a summer, but reading was a priority…and now we are plunging into the fall. But wait, what did you read and love? Do tell!

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Recent Book Reads and Recommendations!

Book recommendations are some of my favorite posts to write!

If you read my last book post, you know of my utter obsession with Liane Moriarty (Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon will soon star on-screen in Big, Little Lies.) I gobbled up three of her books late in 2015 and spent January and February running back and forth to the library to check out her earlier books. Have I mentioned? My librarians are my BFFs.

Here’s what I’ve been reading the last few months…

1. The Hypnotist’s Love Story by Liane Moriarty: Ellen is a hypnotherapist and finally falling in love. But new love, Patrick, has a stalker ex-girlfriend. Ellen is intrigued and thinks it would be fun to meet stalker…she doesn’t know she already has…

2. The Last Anniversary by Liane Moriary: Sophie has unexpectedly inherited her ex-boyfriend’s Aunt Connie’s house on Scribbly Gum Island—home of the famously unsolved Munro Baby mystery. A cute read about finding your own happiness. And I love the name “Scribbly Gum Island.” I want to move there.

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3. Three Wishes by Liane Moriarty. Moriarty’s debut novel about 3 beautiful triplets – they are so dramatic! As a reader who loves character-driven novels, Moriarty nails it every time. I’ve asked Moriarty to tone down the swearing but she says her characters have a mind of their own…

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You can tell how much better Moriarty has gotten as her subsequent books are released – a very fun author observation! This is also great news for all of us: WRITING IS A CRAFT we can all learn.

And now I’ve read all her books and am in a deep, dark slump…but don’t fret, Ms. Moriarty has a new book coming out this July! And my BFF (dear librarian, Gail) has already ordered it for me. I tell you, there are benefits living in the sticks!

Coming in July… (I mean, shouldn’t they hire me to be her publicist or something?)

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4. Writing Irresistible Kidlit by Mary Kole: So, so, good. A former literary agent, Kole knows the business. Want to write for kids of any age? READ THIS NOW. I’ve underlined and ear-marked every page.

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5. The War That Saved my Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley: “Mom, you HAVE to read this book!” my 11-year-old Brynne insisted. It was a very good, award-winning middle grade read set in WWII.

6. Finding Audrey by Sophia Kinsella: My first Kinsella book, I had to read this young adult novel after my oldest couldn’t stop laughing and saying, “The mom in this book is SO YOU!” Which, after reading, was totally unflattering. Kinsella does a great job using humor to write about a serious, psychological issue.

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7. Secrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meisner: An adult historical fiction novel set in WWII that features two young sisters separated during the Blitz in England. Heart wrenching for me to read about a missing child.

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8. Medium Hero by Korby Lenker: A collection of short stories, Korby Lenker CAN WRITE! I loved this collection so much. Lender will make you laugh and cry and think about your faith as he searches for his own.

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9. The More of Less: Finding the Life You Want Under Everything You Own by Joshua Becker: THIS BOOK is going to be big and deserves its own post. Joshua, of the hugely popular blog, Becoming Minimalist sent me an Advanced Reading Copy as he is about to release this gem of a book. Pre-order before May 3rd and you’ll have free access to the Minimalist class. I’m not joking: this book is a life-changer. It’s fantastic. You’ll be hearing more…

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10. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi: I weep. What happens when a brilliant neuroscientist gets cancer just as he is finally embarking on his calling in life? A #1 New York Times Bestseller, “For readers of Atul Gawande, Andrew Solomon, and Anne Lamott, a profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir by a young neurosurgeon faced with a terminal cancer diagnosis who attempts to answer the question What makes a life worth living?” I was trying to drift into a restful Sunday nap while reading but couldn’t stop crying and sniffling. The Professor puts up with a lot, I tell you. Worthy read.

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And now on to the next batch of books. Tell me, dear friends, have any book recommendations for us?

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