36 in 36

36 in 36

How about something a little different on this here blog today? It's my birthday, and it's my blog, so I'm the boss and am going to ramble about something other than food for once. Let's talk about books shall we? Last year on my birthday I was feeling kind of frustrated that I had such a long list of books I wanted to read (piled high on my nightstand and deep in my Kindle archives), yet wasn't doing much reading (outside of what was dictated by my monthly book club--and not always even reading those). So I did what any type A first born would do--I set a goal. I decided that I would read 36 books in my 36th year. Three months in, I was only on number 5. Something wasn't working. I decided to get a little drastic and shut down Facebook, and really dig in and do this reading thing. And you know what? I did it. And I loved it. I forgot how much I really love to read--how engrossed I can get in a book, and how wonderful and relaxing it is to me to be awake long after everyone else in my home is asleep and just read by the light of my kindle. The world is full of fabulous books, and I'm amazed at the gift some people have of writing gobs of words that are interesting. I learned a few things about myself as I took on this little reading challenge. For one, I love memoirs. I think I prefer them to most any type of book--so long as the storyteller is able to flow it together like a novel. People are strong, resilient, and have endured some crazy stuff. I like gathering their words of wisdom and tucking them away to apply in my own life. Second, I will not hesitate to abandon a book if I don't like it. With few exceptions, I'll drop it like it's hot if I'm not invested by the 3rd chapter. Life's too short to read books you don't like. I probably have a list of a dozen titles on my kindle that I started reading and then stopped just in the last year (unfortunately, I did make it through about 3 that I wished I had skipped, as you'll hear more about in a minute. Live and learn.). Third, I really thought I hated historical fiction. Turns out I don't. The years of hating history class in school are over, and I guess I'm getting old because I actually care about history and am interested in different time periods and so forth. My favorite novel of the year was actually historical fiction. Who knew?

I love reading book recommendations on blogs, so decided I'd publish my list on mine (along with my quick and dirty synopsis/review that you didn't ask for). I'm not fancy and don't include links, and I also am not going to underline or italicize titles. You've been to English class, you know they are supposed to be and so do I--please just indulge me a little laziness on my birthday. After much consideration, I starred (***) my top 5 picks, just for fun. Oh, and before you accuse me of miscounting--there's actually 40 books on this list. Turns out I hit my goal a month early like a boss, so decided to see if I could make it to 40. Told ya I'm Type A. Happy reading, friends. Cheers to 37!


1. Glitter and Glue--Kelly Corrigan***

I love Kelly Corrigan. This is a memoir that reads like a novel. It will make you laugh and cry and appreciate your mom. I ordered it and sent it to my mom immediately after reading it.


2. Lift--Kelly Corrigan

A short book that is really a letter she wrote to her daughters. It's good, but not nearly as good as Glitter and Glue (or her first book--The Middle Place)


3.  Big Little Lies--Liane Moriarty

My favorite Liane Moriarty book. If you've not read her, get on it. Other great ones by her are What Alice Forgot and The Husband's Secret.


4. Brain on Fire--Susannah Cahlalan

A memoir about a rare brain disease. Good, but not a must-read.


5. Bossypants--Tina Fey

I felt like this was required pop culture reading. I love Tina Fey; the book was just 'meh'.


6.  Unbroken--Laura Hillenbrand***

I refused to read this book for so long. My husband kept raving about it. We have a joke that if he tells me to read something I'll never read it (case in point: It took me years to read Night by Elie Wiesel and Life of Pi--both awesome--just because he recommended them. When Oprah started raving, I was on 'em.). I finally gave in, and I am so glad I did. Wow. What a story, what a man. Your life will be incomplete if you don't read this book. I have zero desire to see the movie because I know it would ruin the book for me.


7.  Wild--Cheryl Strayed

I really liked this book--pounded it out in a weekend. Another memoir I think will be ruined by the movie.


8.  Tiny Beautiful Things--Cheryl Strayed

This is another non-fiction that's basically essays of Cheryl's (aka Dear Sugar) responses to reader questions in her column. Nothing fabulous.


9.  The Rosie Project--Graeme Simsion

Loved this book--a fast, fun, heartwarming novel. Didn't make my top 5, but it would have made my top 10 for sure.


10. The Rosie Effect--Graeme Simsion

Sequel to Rosie Project--kind of required if you loved the first book, but not nearly as good.


11. The Girl on the Train--Paula Hawkins

Super good, intense novel. If you liked Gone Girl, you'll love this.


12. Mating in Captivity--Esther Perel

This was a super interesting book. Non-fiction about the human struggle with monogomy. Basically boils down to the idea that we are wired to have novel experiences, so should keep that in mind in our married relationships. Worth a read.


13. The Same Sky--Amanda Eyre Ward

I read this book in a day. Engrossing story centered around a Central American girl desperate to make it to America to find her mother. Really brings the timely controversy of undocumented citizens to light. Full of both heartbreak and hope. Highly recommend.


14. Reconstructing Amelia--Kimberly McCreight

Another engrossing read about a mom who is trying to find out how/why her daughter committed suicide at school. Read it.


15. Wife Number Seven--Melissa Brown

Horrible book. Don't bother. I was too far in to abandon it by the time I decided I didn't like it.


16. Maude--Donna Mabry***

This wins my praise and accolades as my very favorite book of the year, fiction or non-fiction.  It's a memoir of a woman told via stories she told her granddaughter. It spans the course of 60 years (starting in the early 1900's) and reads like a novel. It both broke my heart and melted my heart gobs of times. This woman was amazing and lived such an incredible, full life. You will want to buy this for everyone you know.


17. The Secret Wisdom of the Earth--Christopher Scotton

Good book I read for book club. Kinda slow, but rich (if that makes any sense).


18. Wreckage--Emily Bleeker

Novel about a small group of people living on an island after a plane crash. It flashes back and forth between time on the island and present day. Pretty good.


19. Hausfrau--Jill Alexander Essbaum

Do not recommend this book. It was incredibly depressing and I hated the ending.


20. Come Back--Mia Fontaine and Claire Fontaine

True story about a mother who is determined to save her once angelic turned runaway drug addict daughter. Written by both mother and daughter. Makes me fear for the teenage years in a way I've never before. Sigh.


21. Positive Discipline--Jane Nelson, EdD

Solid parenting book full of helpful strategies for choosing your language with children and managing discipline. Recommend.


22. Lizzy and Jane--Katherine Reay

Loved this one. A lot. Novel about sisters and the healing qualities of cooking/food. Right up my alley. Read it.


23. Bread and Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table--Shauna Niequist***

This book fed my soul. A memoir emphasizing the power of gathering around the table with those you love, and really looking at food/meals/hosting as a ministry. Full of good recipes, too. I want to be friends with the author, but she doesn't know it yet.


24. Some Girls--Jillian Lauren

I read about this woman on a blog somewhere and decided this book would have to be crazy interesting. And it was. A memoir that follows a lost young woman to Brunei, where she ends up being in a harem for the sultan. It's her story of finding her way back and reclaiming her value and self-worth.


25. All You Ever Wanted--Jillian Lauren

I thought it was important to read this book immediately after the previous book, to get a good sense of how this woman came full circle. This book is her story of international adoption, and finally becoming a mother.


26. The Martian: A Novel--Andy Weir

This is about to be released as a movie. An astronaut gets stranded on Mars after he is assumed dead. He's not dead. He has to figure out how to live on Mars and survive until he can figure out how to communicate with NASA and get picked up. Lot of technical science stuff that was more info than I needed (guys would love this read), but overall a good one. Definitely think this is one case, however, where the movie will be better than the book.


27. Moloka'i--Alan Brennert

Read this for book club, and really enjoyed it. Hawaii is a special place to me and I loved the descriptions of the land and Hawaiian life. Though this is a work of fiction, it is full of history that helped me really understand leprosy and how it was handled. A really beautiful story.


28. The Entitlement Trap--Richard and Linda Eyre

Great parenting read. Learned a lot of strategies to help my kids take some ownership in our home.


29. When We Were Animals--Joshua Gaylord

Strange book, not what I expected. Not recommended at all.


30. A Small Indiscretion--Jan Ellison

A page turner about a woman whose past comes back to taunt her. Highly recommend.


31. The House We Grew Up In--Lisa Jewell

I really enjoyed this novel. Kind of sad and multi-layered about a woman who is a hoarder and the impact it had on her family over the years as she raised four kids and grew into an old woman. A good illustration of how complicated families and their relationships really are.


32. Ordinary Grace: A Novel--William Kent Krueger

I read this for book club, and have to admit that if I hadn't been reading it for that purpose I might have abandoned it. But--about 30% in it really picked up and I ended up finding it a great book. A deep and rich story.


33. Everything I Never Told You--Celeste Ng

Not as awesome as all the reviews promise. Pass.


34. Searching for Sunday--Rachel Held Evans

Rachel Held Evans has a pretty good pulse on the issues my generation finds with the church, and she shares her faith walk honestly--the good, the bad, the ugly, the wandering, the returning, and so on. While I didn't like the way this book was organized (and found it kind of distracting), it really resonated with me.


35. The Giver--Lois Lowry

I'm kind of late to the party on this one. Young adult fiction about a dystopian society. Everyone should read it, and you can do so in just a couple hours.


36. Before I Go--Colleen Oakley

This book was horribly depressing, not sure why I decided to read it. A young wife has breast cancer and is determined to find her husband a replacement wife before she dies. Ugh, just typing that out depressed me. Don't bother.


37. The Nightingale--Kristin Hannah***

The best historical fiction I've ever read. Fascinating, heart breaking, inspiring novel about two sisters during World War II in France. Don't miss it. Wins my award for favorite novel this year.


38. The Good Girl--Mary Kubica

A bit too 'Gone Girl' for me. Kind of been there, done that...though this was slightly different. While I did predict the ending, I am still chewing on what it really meant to the whole story several days later.


39. For The Love: Fighting for Grace in a World of Impossible Standards--Jen Hatmaker

I  of course had to read this. I love Jen Hatmaker, and find her brutal honesty and transparency so refreshing. Plus, she's hilarious. While this isn't even close to my favorite read of hers (for the record, that would be "7"), it's still full of good nuggets, wisdom, and funny, relatable stories.


40. Simply Tuesday: Small-Moment Living in a Fast-Moving World--Emily Freeman

I heard this woman on a podcast last week and wanted to read her book immediately. The book is not super engrossing on the whole, but she has a lot of practical advice on how to embrace the small moments of life and to celebrate one's smallness, rather than viewing oneself as unimportant in the big scheme of things.