Counterfeit Gods – Timothy Keller: This was definitely one of the best studies we’ve done with our Community Group in the last few years. It was convicting, challenging and created great dialogue among the group. One of the things Keller succeeds at doing in this book is weaving in Biblical stories and perspectives to tie in to modern day idols.
Women in Sunlight – Frances Mayes: From the author of Under the Tuscan Sun, this book did everything I wanted it to and more. The story follows four older women whose children want to put them in a retirement home, but instead become quick friends and decide to move to Tuscany. I laughed, I cried and I was transported back to Italy with every single page. The writing is terrific, changing with the character’s perspectives, and the story will give you passion to do something radical.
The Perfect Mother – Aimee Molloy: This book was a classic female-led thriller, which is my favorite mindless reading. Yet the ending was truly shocking. Though I’m not sure I loved that – it seemed maybe a little too out there, if that makes sense. That being said, it was an easy, enjoyable read AND Kerry Washington is starring in the movie, so obviously a win.
Still Lives – Maria Hummel: Set in a modern museum in LA focused on the mystery of a famous artist gone missing, I was intrigued by the set-up. While it had all the makings of a good book, something about it fell flat for me. The behind the scenes of a museum and their artist relationships surrounding the plot was the most fascinating piece, but the ending was rushed and too complex.
You can read all my book reviews here.
Manhattan Beach – Jennifer Egan: What a unique book this was. And I say that meaning – I’m not quite sure what I thought of it, but on some level I enjoyed it. The setting is one of my favorites (New York) and the female lead is a badass woman who’s determined to be the first woman diver during WWII, but overall the story drifted and was a little hard to understand where it was headed.
The Breakdown – B.A. Paris: This had all the makings of a typical book I’d love, yet didn’t fully deliver. The beginning was enthralling, keeping me on pins and needles and the end was a satisfying twist, but the middle got too repetitive and I feel like I could have skipped probably 100 pages and been fine. Overall, good story that will make you think you’re going crazy from those tiny things you forget every day ….
Crazy Rich Asians – Kevin Kwan: LOVE, LOVE, LOVED this book! I couldn’t put it down! It was hilarious. I dove deep into a world of which I knew nothing about, and didn’t want to come up for air. Luckily there are two more books by this author AND they’re turning this one into a movie this year. All you need to know is it’s about exactly what you think it is: Crazy Rich Asians.
The Woman in Cabin 10 – Ruth Ware: This book was actually a huge disappointment. So many people told me how much they adored this book, and I just couldn’t get into it. It was a fast read, but the character development wasn’t great, the writing was so-so and the “thrilling” plot was fairly predictable.
You can read all my book reviews here.
Towards the end of last year, I took a little hiatus on my blog. I was getting overwhelmed with work + the holidays and was putting way too much pressure on myself to blog consistently, so I stopped. No harm, no foul. The great thing about this blog is I’m doing this for me so when it starts to be too much, there’s no reason why I can’t take a little break.
That being said, one my favorite things on my blog (and that friends tell me they love!) are my book reviews. I read quite a few books the last few months that I didn’t want to forget, so I added them to a list and here they are. A few of them made my top 5 books of the year list, and a few were duds, so we’ll quickly review these and get back on track for the new year.
Lilac Girls – Martha Kelly Hall: (#1 book of the year) I have two typical genres of favorite books – thrillers with female leads + WWII historical fiction. This is the latter, following three very different women throughout the war and how their experiences shaped them for years to come. It’s unique in it’s perspectives (one a concentration camp doctor and one a prisoner) and is written in such beautiful detail, that you will be transported in time and come back remembering how very thankful you are.
Sourdough – Robin Sloan: (#3 book of the year) This book is great and hilarious and I can’t say enough good things about it. It’s such an easy read about a young woman developer who turns baker through a funny happenstance. I learned a lot about sourdough starters (of which I knew nothing), and genuinely enjoyed this quirky book all the way through.
Little Fires Everywhere – Celeste Ng: (#4 book of the year) This book is very different than my typical reads, and I’m so glad I tried something new. Little Fires Everywhere is a slow burn. Literally. You see the ins and outs of two family dynamics and how they become intertwined. While there were several surprises throughout, the book mostly just leaves you contemplative.
The Wife Between Us – Greer Hendricks & Sarah Pekkanen: Thriller with female lead – obviously knew I’d love it, and I did. There were several page-turning twists, that keeps you questioning everything. As the front cover of the book says, assume nothing.
Books not as great …
Water for Elephants – Sara Gruen: I really liked this book, though think I would have enjoyed it more had I not seen the movie and knew what was coming. That being said, it’s a terrific story and gave me all the circus and animal and love story feels as it did via film.
The Late Show – Michael Connelly: I honestly can’t remember now how I came across this book, but it’s a departure for me, as I don’t typically read established authors/series (such as a Michael Connelly, John Grisham, etc.). While this book wasn’t earth-shattering, it was a solid, easy-read, Detective novel.
Of Mess and Moxie – Jen Hatmaker: Sadly, this book disappointed me. I adore Jen Hatmaker, but this book was too hit or miss with no cohesive binding throughout. One chapter would be hilarious (as Jen is), then one would seem completely random and I couldn’t relate. 7 is still her best book I’ve read to date.
The Unspeakable – Meghan Daum: This book was okay. It was a collection of personal essays/short stories that were billed as funny and deep and vulnerable. Some of the stories were a little funny or a little relatable, but mostly I was not impressed.
I’ve already read 2 terrific books this year and look forward to many more. What’s on your reading list for the year?
[You can read all my book reviews here.]
T V S H O W S
While I’ve done this annual post 6 years running now, this year was by far the hardest to narrow down to my top 5 favorite shows. TV is KING, and I hardly have enough time to watch everything on my list. I’m sure you will all disagree with my picks … I’m okay with that, and would love to hear your thoughts. I’m even faltering at the last minute on my top 5 as I post this, but here we go.
5. Stranger Things – Netflix: Last year, this was #1 on my list and while it has moved to #5 it is still a fantastic show we binged over one weekend, and is the only returning show from my list last year. Though the novelty might have worn off just a little, the second season came back with the perfect amount of mystery, intrigue, hilarity and post-show memes as the first. Move over #RIPBarb, we can all agree #DadSteve is way better.
4. This Is Us – NBC: I’m sure some of you will think I’m such a sucker, but this show has me wrapped around its little finger. I cry every single episode – to which Husband asks me why I watch, and I have no answer. I cry and laugh and am inspired and cry some more. Everyone can find something to relate to in the show, and it only keeps getting better. Lord help us all when we finally find out how Jack dies.
3. Master of None – Netflix: Another show that will make you laugh and cry and laugh some more. It starts out in the Italian countryside with all the pasta and wine, so maybe I was partially bias watching before our Italian adventure, but this show is just incredible. Aziz has created something so unique and heartwarming that it’s truly hard to put in to words. Just watch.
2. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel – Amazon: This show was hyped so much as “a new favorite for Gilmore Girls fans” that I was seriously skeptical. Well, look where it is on the list. It cannot be hyped enough! Set in 1950s NYC, it’s about a witty, newly single woman trying to make it as a comedian. The writing is outstanding and you will fall in love with Midge Maisel, played by Rachel Brosnahan, and want to watch it again and again. A new favorite it is.
1. Game of Thrones – HBO: Trust me, I’m as shocked as anyone that this is my number 1 … a show that has never been on my list before! We tried it when it first started, and I didn’t think I liked it. Then we re-started it and binged 4 seasons last year leading up to the latest, and holy cow, I couldn’t believe how hooked I was. This show has everything you could ever want in a show – and ended with a sultry/scandalous love story that left me breathless for the final season.
Honorable Mentions: The Handmaid’s Tale, Younger (still one of my favorite comedies!), The Good Place (give this show a chance – I promise you won’t regret it)
B O O K S
5. Option B – Sheryl Sandberg: I’ve already written an entire blog post about this book, so I’ll keep this short. This book rips you apart, then helps put you back together again. I want everyone to read it – especially if you’re grieving or if you’re close to someone who is.
4. Little Fires Everywhere – Celeste Ng: This book and the next are very different than my typical reads, and I’m so glad I tried something new. Little Fires Everywhere is a slow burn. Literally. You see the ins and outs of two family dynamics and how they become intertwined. While there were several surprises throughout, the book mostly just leaves you contemplative.
3. Sourdough – Robin Sloan: This book is great and hilarious and I can’t say enough good things about it. It’s such an easy read about a young woman developer who turns baker through a funny happenstance. I learned a lot about sourdough starters (of which I knew nothing), and genuinely enjoyed this quirky book all the way through.
2. The Girls – Emma Cline: This book has been on my list for forever, finally became available at the library, and oh my gosh I devoured it! Set in 1960s California, the book follows a teenage girl who gets caught up in a cult that ends very very badly. I was fascinated not only with the cult, but also the transformation of the main character. If you’re interested in cults at all or just want a unique read that will pull you in, this is for you.
1. Lilac Girls – Martha Hall Kelly: I have two typical genres of favorite books – thrillers with female leads + WWII historical fiction. This is the latter, following three very different women throughout the war and how their experiences shaped them for years to come. It’s unique in it’s perspectives (one a concentration camp doctor and one a prisoner) and is written in such beautiful detail, that you will be transported in time and come back remembering how very thankful you are.
[You can read all my book reviews here.]
Previously, I have also shared my top movies of the year. However, I’ve stopped watching as many movies and focused on TV shows. However, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention two top movies – Dunkirk and Wonder Woman. Both amazing in very different ways.
What were your top TV Shows, Books + Movies of the year? I’d love to know!
My Italian Bulldozer – Alexander McCall Smith: What a fantastic, easy-to-read, fun book – especially as you’re on a train traveling throughout the Italian countryside. Thanks to Mom for buying it for me to take to Italy, as it was absolutely perfect. It’s a quirky read about a food writer going through a divorce who just needed to get away and get inspired. It’ll leave you salivating for a trip to Montalcino.
Option B – Sheryl Sandberg: I’ve already written an entire blog post about this book, so I’ll keep this short. This book rips you apart, then helps put you back together again. I want everyone to read it – especially if you’re grieving or if you’re close to someone who is.
The Magnolia Story – Chip and Joanna Gaines: If you’re a fan of Fixer Upper, you’ll be a fan of this book. It gives you an inside look at the Gaines’ story – from their first date to their first call from HGTV and everything in between. It’s an interesting, refreshing love story that makes you fall in love with Chip and Jo even more. (And I didn’t even think that was even possible.)
Into The Water – Paula Hawkins: From the writer of Girl On The Train (one of my favorite books of 2015), I was a little skeptical about this one. I wasn’t sure how she could possibly follow such an incredible debut. Yet, she did. Though not quite as thrilling and page-turning as the previous, the story and characters were still terrific. I was thoroughly entertained throughout and pleasantly surprised. Her next book will definitely be on my list.
You can read all my book reviews here.
As you know, I typically do book review posts with short commentary on books I’ve read and give them a grade. I love sharing what I’m reading and inspiring others to read more as well.
However, sometimes there are books that are just so eloquent and inspirational, they deserve their own post. First of which was Carry On, Warrior, which you can read here. And now, Option B by Sheryl Sandberg.
I read Sheryl’s first book, Lean In when it came out several years ago and loved it. I blogged about it in my book reviews in 2013 and gave it an A, saying it had inspired me to lean in and take more control of my career. I knew then Sheryl was a remarkable, passionate woman and someone to follow.
Fast forward to her new book, Option B. Not only do I still believe she is a remarkable, passionate woman, but I’m convinced her writing is changing peoples lives all around the world, something I’ve always aspired to. And I say that, because her writing changed my life back in 2013 and again in 2017, and I’m just a simple 20-something girl in small-town Bentonville.
Option B is about facing adversity, building resilience and finding joy. It sounds like it could be a cheesy self-help novel, right? Completely wrong.
She opens the novel by sharing the story of her husband’s sudden death while on vacation in Mexico, and having to travel home and tell the kids their father wasn’t coming home. I read this on a train in Italy and had to literally stop myself from just losing it. It was so real and so raw and so emotional, and I could feel it all.
The thing about this book is, though it rips you apart, it then helps put you back together again. As she was telling her story of grief, it opened up all the wounds of my own grief from a few years ago when my Dad died. But then it put me back together again. Not only could I relate to so many things she wrote (like, the elephant in the room or using journaling as therapy), but she also gives very practical advice on how to build resilience and find joy again. She validated all of my feelings and reminded me I wasn’t alone on this journey of grief, even 3.5 years later.
I want everyone to read this book. Especially if you’re grieving or if you’re close to someone who is. And if for any reason you can’t afford it, I will buy one for you.
“Life is never perfect. We all live some form of Option B. This book is to help us all kick the shit out of it.”
Fates and Furies – Lauren Groff: There are only two reasons this book gets A minus – it starts a little slow and it’s a little too long. But everything else about it is just fabulous. It is a truly epic and fascinating love story that takes you on a ride with no clue of the final destination. Told in two parts – Fates is from the husband’s perspective and Furies is from the wife’s perspective. The latter infinitely more interesting and has a shocking twist.
What Alice Forgot – Liane Moriarty: I’ve read several of Liane’s books, and I absolutely adored this one. It’s a tragic plot – she hits her head and has seemingly forgotten 10 years of her life, including her kids and her failing marriage – but it’s also so endearing. She sees her current life through a totally new, un-jaded lense and vows to get her marriage back on track. It’s cute, it’s easy, and it makes you thankful for what you have.
Wearing God – Lauren F. Winner: Highly recommended from a friend, I’m passing along this recommendation to all of you. This is a thought-provoking book about metaphors of God – though not the ones you immediately think of such as King or Shepherd, more like Clothing, Laughter, Laboring Woman… intrigued yet? This is a great book to read with a friend and discuss together. It will probably make you feel uncomfortable, but I promise it will also give you a new perspective on God.
The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood: I vowed to read this book before I watched the show on Hulu, and I’m so glad I did. Oh.My.Gosh. This book AND the TV show are absolutely incredible. It’s creepy and weird and will make you cry and will make you gasp, but it is such a good story. I’m so glad Hulu has taken it over so well and expanded upon the book, because I finished it and was dying for more.
You can read all my book reviews here.