What I’ve Been Reading Winter/Spring 2017

Short-ish reviews of what I’ve read so far in 2017!

Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas by Stephanie Barron

A book I couldn’t resist from an MMD Kindle Deals email around the beginning of the year. I love mysteries but have to avoid them because of an overactive imagination and inability to forget creepy details when I’m home alone. If Jane Austen is involved I figured the murder couldn’t be too gruesome. I enjoyed this and would read others in the series.

What Women Fear: Walking in Faith that Transforms by Angie Smith

We are fans of Audrey Bunny in my household (I can’t read it without tearing up), but this is my first experience with Angie Smith as an author for adults. I listened to the Audible version read by Pam Turlow which was a little stiff (Angie’s sense of humor came off flat) but was still very engaged by this take on fear. Angie is real with her struggles with fear (that are definitely more than the average – she was hospitalized as a young girl because of anxiety). Tied with Unafraid: Trusting God in an Unsafe World by Susie Davis for most impactful books I’ve read about fear/anxiety.

A Portrait of Emily Price by Katherine Reay

I’m a huge fan of Katherine Reay. She expertly weaves classic literature into her own narratives, creating page turners that will effect you deeply. Dear Mr. Knightley is still my favorite of her four novels, but Emily Price delivered Reay’s signature subtle spiritual themes around the enjoyable framework of food, Italy, art, and romance.

Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home by Richard Foster

One of my 101 things in 1001 days was to read five books about prayer. Richard Foster’s was book number one! With similar accessibility to The Celebration of Discipline, Foster’s guide describes 21 types of prayer that help move us inward, upward and outward. I loved this book.

Coming Clean: A Story of Faith by Seth Haines

A fascinating peak in the mind and heart of a man who realizes he’s an alcoholic and journals through his journey to sobriety. Slim and well-worth the read.

Praying in Color: Drawing a New Path to God by Sybil MacBeth

The second of my five books about prayer was a complete departure from Foster, though I think he would approve of this practice. As someone whose perfectionism often stifles their prayer life, using a kinesthetic activity to focus your mind and heart on the subject of your prayers was intriguing and welcome.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Another of my 101 things in 1001 days is to read the favorite book of 10 readerly friends. (This has lead to the discovery of gems such as The Penderwicks and Code Name Verity.) The Great Gatsby is one of the favorites of a friend I’ve had since childhood. I hadn’t read it since high school and then heard this podcast where Megan Tietz (of the Sorta Awesome Podcast) raves on an on about The Great Gatsby. I may have understood it better on this second read, but I’m still not a huge fan.

Radical Spirit: 12 Ways to Live a Free and Authentic Life by Joan Chittister

Picked this up because the MOPS theme for next year is Free Indeed and my Input strength (yay StrengthsFinder) now compels me to consume everything within reach about freedom. Radical Spirit explores the 12 steps of humility laid out in the Rule of Benedict. Humility, to Joan, is the key to ultimate freedom in faith.

After reading the first few chapters, I realized I only needed to read the section addressing the spiritual implications of that step of humility to grasp all the concepts laid out in the entire chapter. And even those could have been said in a couple sentences. I did come aways with a few chewy nuggets but wonder if just reading the Rule of Benedict would have been more productive and insightful.

(I received this book from Blogging for Books for free but all opinions are my own!)

Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah

Previous to reading this, I knew nothing about Russia’s involvement in WWII. Winter Garden explores mother-daughter relationships and the hardships endured by inhabitants of Leningrad before and after Germans laid siege to the city. The narrative flits back and forth between past and present. Fantastic read.

The Coincidence of Coconut Cake by Amy E Reichert

I was (and still am) in the middle of four non-fiction books and needed a light fiction read to break things up a bit. This was definite fluff. I enjoyed learning more about the Milwaukee food scene as the food writer gets shown the city by a chef, but the rest was unremarkable. A good diversion, tho!

Dear Mr. Knightley {a review}

Dear Mr. Knightley


This post contains affiliate links. Read full disclosure here.

Dear English Majors, Literature Lovers, and Janeites,

It’s time to embrace your inner book nerd, to get down with your classics quoting bad self. You need to stop reading whatever you’re reading and pick up Katherine Reay‘s debut novel, Dear Mr. Knightley. I conveniently started this book a couple days before my husband got food poisoning. The story was so good, my 8 hour vigil seemed like an afternoon by the pool. (Actually, the all-nighter was rough, but I was so glad to have a page-turner to keep me company while Tim was endlessly vomiting…)

Now, I know the title alone would convince most of you that this book was worth reading – because who among us can pass up a nod to Austen? – but, Dear Mr. Knightley goes beyond your average, albeit enjoyable, Austen sequel. Mrs. Reay cleverly integrates classic literature into a nuanced plot that is both charming and poignant. Plus, she gives a nod to the likes of Lady Susan, Clarissa, and Pamela by writing the story in epistolary form.

The story centers around Sam, a twenty-three year old orphan who is back at Grace House after getting fired from her desk job. When an anonymous benefactor offers to fund her continued education, Sam reluctantly applies to Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. There’s a catch: on top of her doubts about the program, she must write regular letters to the mysterious donor who chooses to be addressed as Mr. Knightley. A unique relationship develops as Sam begins to sort through her painful past in the one-sided letters.

If Sam’s habit of quoting Dumas, Austen, and the Brontë sisters doesn’t engross you, the cast of supporting characters will keep you turning pages. The enigmatic writer, the sweet professor and his wife, and the brooding youth bring engaging complexity to Sam’s journey.

Veins of social justice, faith, and romance add to the literature steeped narrative. I learned more about the foster system, the importance of genuine relationships, and the process of forgiveness. I also appreciated the unexpected plot resolution and can’t wait for Mrs. Reay’s next book.

Dear Mr. Knightley is a rich and readable story with subtle spiritual themes. It is sure to get you busting out your college English syllabus and dropping your favorite Austen quips in everyday conversation. Even if you don’t catch all the literature references, you will thoroughly enjoy this novel.



(a fellow English major, literature lover, and Janeite)

P.S. Don’t miss the questions at the back to discuss with your bookish friends.

P.P.S. Any book that mentions both Jane Austen and Fletch is a winner.


2013 in Books

Book wrap-up

The list of books I read in 2013 that I have assembled in my head seems a bit more impressive than the actual list of books I read this year. Maybe that’s because seven of the thirty-nine were re-reads of the Harry Potter series, which I enjoyed digesting while food didn’t sound good during my first trimester. It could also be that when I look back over the books I read in 2013, I’m also looking back at the amount of time I was watching Frasier, White Collar, and Friends instead of reading. Or maybe it’s just that I have a whole passel of amazing books still in my to-read queue.

Regardless, this year has been a great year for books. I’m linking up with Sarah, Anne, and Haley with this unorganized post about the books I read this year. (This post contains affiliate links. See my full disclosure here.)

Fun Facts

  • 19 non-fiction, 20 fiction
  • 28 different authors, 23 of whom I hadn’t read books by before this year
  • I used Goodreads faithfully all year (thanks to the recommendation of the lovely Lindsay.)
  • I also compiled a list of life-changing books.
  • I started participating in Twitterature (short, casual book reviews with a link-up hosted by Modern Mrs. Darcy)! You can find my Twitterature posts for the books I read in 2013 here.

My Favorite Books of 2013 (that I read in 2013, not necessarily published in 2013)

Bread and Wine by Shauna Niequist

A beautiful memoir of food, family, and friendship. Her prose are effortless, the themes are relevant, and the recipes are delicious. I loved everything about this book. I loved this book so much, I geekily wrote an expanded discussion guide for the book. You can find them here: Intro, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

Adam: God’s Beloved by Henri Nouwen

I’m always immensely challenged by Nouwen’s words and this was no exception. Adam rocked my worldview.  I won’t ever look at physical, mental, or emotional disabilities the same. Nouwen’s heartfelt tribute to a dear friend is poignant, playing on themes from previous works like Life of The Beloved.

Quiet by Susan Cain

Quiet was insightful on so many levels. As an introvert, I learned much about myself and how I interact with others. But, Cain makes it clear that her book is less about one personality type overpowering the other and more about empowering people to be comfortable in their personality skin. Whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, the content of Quiet forces you to take a closer look at yourself and those around you. (Also $2.99 on Amazon right now!)

My Hands Came Away Red by Lisa McKay

An extreme but realistic look at what could happen on a third-world mission trip from the perspective of 18 year old Cori. I appreciated the not-so-perfect ending. Plus, the teen romance factor wasn’t cloying or annoying. I was totally immersed and engaged.

Grace for the Good Girl by Emily P. Freeman

Hard to pick between this one and A Million Little Ways, but GGG was just so pertinent to who I am. I need a constant reminder to let go and let God. I heard her message to come out from hiding behind girl-made masks loud and clear.

There’s a couple more, like The Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp and Packing Light by Allison Vesterfelt (full review here) that are on my favorites list, but five seemed like such a nice number to highlight.

I would also like to mention two note-worthy authors that I read for the first time this year: Tessa Afshar and Alison Strobel.

  • Tessa Afshar – I already wrote a whole post about her and her books, so I will keep this brief… She writes wonderful Christian fiction and her three books were some of my favorite this year.
  • Alison StrobelComposing Amelia and Reinventing Rachel were good books, but what I really appreciate about Alison is how she portrays the typical Christian perspective. I found myself rolling my eyes at some of the cultural Christian responses of her main characters before pausing to examine if my own responses to life ever appear that way to others. She also doesn’t shy away from gritty topics like mental illness and addiction, which I like especially from a youth worker perspective.

 What were your favorite books of 2013? What should be on my 2014 to-read list?