Memoirs with Good Stories

The past few years, I’ve gotten really into memoirs. I have always loved reading biographies, which has something to do with my fascination with history, but lately, I just can’t get enough of this genre! I learn so much from other people telling their stories, and these especially were so good.

Another plus of the memoir genre is they are (usually) not too long, so I can get through them fairly quick. Here are some recent ones I enjoyed!

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  1. Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist

I am pre-disposed to love everything Shauna writes, and I typically refer to her as first-name only, just like we are already friends. With that in mind, this book still has become an all-time favorite. It speaks of a lesson I really have been trying to drive home with myself for the last few years, plus I read it last August right after camp ended. Think of it like a breath of fresh air into our over-committed over-busy culture, so if that sounds like something you’d like, it’s a winner. (And her writing is flawless!)

2. Spoken from the Heart by Laura Bush

I have a mild obsession with the first ladies, but this is the first full memoir I’ve read by one. Sidenote: this book does not fit the “can finish quickly” category. It’s long, but fabulous. This has been on my list to read for years, and I’m so thankful I finally picked it up! Since she is a fairly private person who grew up modestly in West Texas, I found her incredibly relatable. I’ll most likely never end up in the White House, but if I did, I think her book is what it would feel like. Fascinating.

3. The Magnolia Story by Chip & Joanna Gaines

Okay so maybe everyone feels like they know everything there is to know about them now, but this book was SO FUN to read. I laughed and cried reading their stories (the book is narrated by both Chip & Jo to show their different perspectives), and felt so inspired by the end of it! If you’re looking for something light-hearted, interesting, and a look behind a (very successful) curtain, this is a great fit.

4. My Life in France by Julia Child

Ohhh this was so fun to read too! The only thing I knew about Julia Child going into this book was the limited experience of watching the movie Julie & Julia a few years ago, and I didn’t love the Julie side of the story, so I probably only watched it once. I do remember being so intrigued by Julia Child though- living in France with nothing to do, so she took up elaborate French cooking and created an empire. How on earth?! I also knew next to nothing about French cuisine, or French culture, so this was an enlightening read for me. Plus she was a really funny character- one time she sent out Christmas cards to friends and family of herself and her husband in a bubble bath. Ha!

5. Nobody’s Cuter Than You by Melanie Shankle

I may or may not already be tearing up thinking about this book. This is a memoir about friendship, and it is the sweetest! If you have a best friend, or if you want a best friend, or if you want to learn how to be a best friend, you’ll love and appreciate this one. (Bonus points if you went to Texas A&M- you’ll get all nostalgic as she recalls her time there!) This book way exceeded my expectations, and would also make a great gift for a friend!

Happy reading!

Fiction Books Worth Getting Lost In

In 2016, I made a simple New Year’s Resolution: “Read more books.”

That goal breaks all the rules of goals- it’s not measurable, it may or may not be realistic, but sometimes those are exactly the types of goals I need. Well, say whatever you want about goal-setting here, but this one worked for me. I read 29 books (I didn’t take a count till the end, so that kept me short of 30 I guess), and most of them were fabulous.

I’ve kept up the reading trend so far in 2017, and here are my favorite fiction books I couldn’t put down! All of these would be great beach reads, or to get lost in on a rainy day. I loved them.

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  1. The Gilded Years by Karin Tanabe

If you asked me in person for a book recommendation in the last year, the odds are I told you this one. It’s (loosely) based on a true story, set in the late 1800’s at Vassar College in New York. The main character, Anita, is the first African-American to attend the prestigious school, and she certainly wouldn’t be allowed to attend if they knew she wasn’t actually white. This story is so fascinating, because it’s talking about race relations in the late 1800’s, but Anita also gets into the most elite social circles of New York City society. I couldn’t stop reading it!

2. What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

Not everyone loved this book, but I read it last summer and I still think about it all the time. 39-year old Alice wakes up from hitting her head, and has lost all memory from the last 10 years. (Can you imagine?) She doesn’t remember becoming “one of those girls who goes to spin class,” she can’t remember why on earth she would be splitting from her love-of-her-life husband, and she especially can’t remember the 3 kids she birthed in the last 10 years. It’s a good one.

3. The Knockoff by Lucy Sykes & Jo Piazza

If you liked The Devil Wears Prada, you’ll love this. A big-time fashion magazine editor returns from a few month’s leave while going through treatment for breast cancer, and when she gets back, the magazine is in all kinds of transition. The magazine is going digital, and there’s a new super-young, super-millennial, super-know-it-all woman as the co-editor in chief. This was an interesting look into the millennial vs. experience conflict in the workplace, plus fashion and photoshoots. Very fun!

4. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows

I can never remember the title of this, and also I tried and failed to read this years ago, but trust me. It’s worth it. The style is different- the whole book is reading letters back and forth from various characters, but if you can stick with it, you will fall in love with these characters. Guernsey is an actual place, an island off of the UK, and this book is set just after World War II. The letters tell the story of what happened there during World War II, and how a “literary society” among people who had never read much before saved their spirits. If you like stories about books with endearing characters, this is for you.

5. Opening Belle by Maureen Sherry

This one’s about a one of the very few high-up women in Wall Street, right on the brink of the 2008 crash. If The Big Short were a book, written from a woman’s perspective, this would be it. It was an interesting “peek behind the curtain” story into a world I know nothing about. She also goes pretty deep into the harassment women in that male-dominated industry have to put up with, so heads up, this one is not PG.

6. The Royal We by Heather Cocks & Jessica Morgan

Oh my. If you’re into British Royalty at all, this is for you. It’s a fictional account of an American girl studying abroad who just happens to live on the same floor as a certain eligible British prince. They fall in love, and you can imagine how the Royal family reacts! This was SO fun and I could not put it down. Another “peek behind the curtain” book into a world I’ll never see up close. Heads up: this is also not PG.

Happy reading! More genres to come, so stay tuned!

2016 Books- Part 1

First of all, thank you so much to all of you who were so kind and encouraging seeing me back blogging! I was overwhelmed Monday with all of you lovely people. I’m happy to be back too!

Since it’s been such a long time, I’ll be playing catch up with the books I’ve been reading this year. I always love hearing what other people have loved or hated to read, so here’s part one! I read all of these back in the early Spring.

If you really are on the hunt for more book recommendations, I have gotten most of mine this year from the Modern Mrs. Darcy blog (check out her summer reading guides!), or her excellent podcast What Should I Read Next?

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1. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

Oh, how I have loved this book! Of the 6 listed here, this one tops them all. People either love it or hate it, and I’m in the “love” camp. If you’ve been wanting to clean things out, or simplify your life in any way, get this ASAP. It does get a little weird near the end, because she does say things like “socks have feelings,” but the rest is so incredibly practical and helpful.

2. The Lipstick Gospel by Stephanie May Wilson

I came across this book on a Facebook ad which claimed I could “Read this book for free!” So, I checked it out, and downloaded it for zero cost. That’s a pretty good motivator! I really enjoyed reading Wilson’s story of finding Jesus as a college student, and though relatively short, it was a good read for me personally as I disciple a lot of college girls. Note: the target audience for this is pretty much college age girls, plus or minus 5 years, but the book is still a free download here!

3. Sparkly Green Earrings by Melanie Shankle

So far, this is the only book I’ve read by Shankle, but I’ve heard her others are definitely worth reading. This is a memoir of her motherhood life, and this lady is funny! I read this almost entirely in one sitting, at Caitlin’s college graduation, and it was good entertainment! It’s not my favorite or most recommended book of the year or anything, but I enjoyed it. Note: I do highly recommend her podcast: The Big Boo Cast if you’re a female. It’s hilarious, and they talk about nothing. What’s not to love?

4. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

This is everyone else’s favorite book ever, and I will admit the writing is absolutely brilliant and beautiful, but the content is heavy. Set in World War II in France, the story is told through the eyes of two children, one fleeing her home in Paris, and one behind the scenes in the German military. It’s fascinating and terrifying, and definitely not your happy beach read, but worth your time.

5. Party Girl by Rachel Hollis

I first heard Rachel talking about her books on The Happy Hour with Jamie Ivey, and I was totally smitten by how fun this girl is. She described her books a little bit, and I knew I would love them. This is light, happy, beach reading. Party Girl tells the story of a girl who moves from Texas to LA to become an event planner, in a Devil Wears Prada type way, and supposedly is similar to Rachel’s experience of moving to LA. Again, it’s not deep at all, but super fun!

6. Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery

I’ve heard they are releasing new movies of this series soon on Netflix! I read this as a kid, but couldn’t have told you anything about the plot line, and I’ve heard so many references to “the Anne books” recently I decided it was worth another go. It was worth it!! It was wonderful to read this as an adult, because I could catch way more themes this time around. No wonder these books are so beloved- Anne is brilliant. If you’ve never read them or if you’re like me and it’s been years, read it again!

 

That’s a wrap for today! I’ll be catching up on book recommendations in the months to come, and if you’re like me you are needing all the books since it gets dark at 5pm these days. So sad! Let me know if you’ve got any recommendations for me in the comments!

Summer Reading

I love keeping a running book list going all year on my phone. There are actually two lists: one for “books to read,” and one for “books read in 2014.” Keeping track of both of these has helped me read more books, read more books that I actually want to read, and also to feel encouraged when I look back over the list! Win-win-win.

Blogging about my favorite books this year has been so fun, especially because so many friends are taking me up on the recommendations! I love that!

Here’s what I’ve been reading lately::IMG_6449

1. The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence by Gary Haugen [2014]

Gary Haugen is the President and CEO of International Justice Mission (IJM), and this book explains why their work is necessary and crucial in our world. To be clear, this is a difficult book to read. However, as a member of a generation full of non-profit startups out to save the world, it is incredibly important to understand the systems in place. For example, a micro loan or a job won’t actually help a widow buy a house if her property is seized unjustly by men in her village. The loan or job becomes pointless when the police and justice systems won’t step in to stand up for her. This book is important and extremely well-written.

2. North! Or Be Eaten by Andrew Peterson [Book 2 of 4 in the Wingfeather Saga] [2009]

On a lighter note, you’ve heard me talk about this beloved Wingfeather Saga before, and I think #2 is miles ahead of book #1. If you enjoyed the Chronicles of Narnia, you’ll love these books. These stories take creative writing to a whole new level. I love them!

3. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion [2013]

I hesitated to put this book on the list, because I didn’t love it as much as the others, and there was a fair amount of language in it. However, I read it over a month ago and I’m still missing and thinking about the characters! Set in Australia, a quirky older professor with Aspergers sets out to find a wife in true scientific form, called “The Wife Project.” This is a quick read, and I have heard a few movie rumors for the future.

4. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand [2010]

If you haven’t read this yet, stop what you’re reading and go buy it right now. Seriously. It is THAT good. Apparently I’ve been living under a rock because everyone else I know seemingly has read this and loved it as much as I did. I don’t say this lightly, but this may be the most inspiring stories I have ever read. It’s also the craziest; I was sitting in our living room gasping out loud during 60% of it. This true story is being made into a movie releasing Christmas Day 2014!

5. Cold Tangerines by Shauna Niequist [2007]

Shauna has become on of my favorite people ever. Yes, we’re on a first name basis. No, we’ve never met. ((Although, I did see the back of her head and sat in the same room as her in February at the IF: Gathering. So we could probably totally count that.)) She’s a beautiful writer/blogger/speaker, and it’s a little crazy I didn’t read this book till this summer! My roommate Rebe told me it was a life-changer for her, so I picked it up immediately! It’s a memoir format, written with one story per chapter so you can pick this up & put it down as often as you like. Truly lovely.

6. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens [1838]

I’m convinced I need more classics in my “book diet,” so every once in a while I’ll tackle a highly-referenced one like this. To make life easier, I checked this one out at the library on audio book, and settled into some highly detailed prose every day. I can see why Oliver Twist has become a classic though, and why it’s one we should all read. Dickens does not shy away from difficult topics, including a lot that still exist today. As someone invested and interested in the plight of the orphan in the world, this was a significant read. If you only read this back in 8th grade, it might be time to give it another go.

 

Full Disclosure:: Some of these books were heavy. And we went to the beach. While we were at the beach, I wanted to read something light and escape-like. Enter the NYT bestselling series: The Gallagher Girls by Ally Carter [2007-2013]. Feel free to mock my young-adult fiction taste, but this six-book series was so perfect! My sister and I could not put them down, and they were such fun to read! So, if you’re up for a page-turning, fun, clean, girly spy book, this is your jam.IMG_6461

Happy reading! xo

Lately Read

It seems there are two types of readers in the world: the ones who only read one book at a time, and the ones who are always actively reading at least 3 at once. I have always been the latter.

I simply cannot imagine how else I would have gotten through thick (excellent) biographies like Bonhoeffer without simultaneously re-reading a Harry Potter classic. How would I know what mood I’d be in?! This is basically the same logic used when I pack 7 outfits for a 2-night getaway. Obviously.

Also, though it takes longer to finish one book while reading three, I typically end up finishing them all within a few days of each other, making me feel incredibly accomplished. It’s a win-win.

Without further ado, here’s what I’ve read lately:

books1. Freefall to Fly by Rebekah Lyons (2013)

In this case, a beautiful cover did equal a beautiful book. I saw Rebekah speak at the IF:Gathering in February, and then I immediately went out and bought her book. She talks about anxiety in women, and how the stats are up to 1 in 4 women on some sort of anxiety or depression medication. Those are staggering statistics, but this book, written in memoir form, tells her own personal story through anxiety, hope, transitions, and Jesus. I absolutely loved it. Not enough people are talking about this, and the issue is only going to become more prominent. Worth a look.

2. The Language of Flowers byVanessa Diffenbaugh (2011)

True confession:: I 100% picked this book because it was a bestseller and duh– it’s supposed to be about flowers. Well, it just was not nearly as lovely & whimsical as I had hoped. The story follows a girl aging out of the foster care system in San Fransisco, who has an affinity for flowers and their meanings. I was intrigued by the story, though saddened at the same time. For those interested in the foster care system, this is a valuable story, but don’t go in with happy expectations.

3. Daring Greatly by Brene Brown (2013)

I saw Brene speak at Catalyst a couple years ago, and wasn’t sure what to think of her. She stuck out in a room full of ministry leaders, as her official job title is something along the lines of “shame and vulnerability researcher.” See? I just don’t really have a box for that one. This book kept coming up though, in blogs, books, and random conversations, so I decided to give it a try. It was extremely research-heavy, (clearly) so not for the faint of heart, but she is spot-on. We run from opportunities to be vulnerable, when life is found in these moments of daring greatly. I liked it, but this probably shouldn’t be your summer beach read.

4. Let Me Be a Woman by Elisabeth Elliot (1999)

This has been a year I wanted to intentionally study what the Bible has to say about femininity, so in between Scripture passages I’ve perused through books on the subject. This one, hands down, is the best I’ve read on the subject. Elisabeth Elliot is one of my heroes, so I tend to love everything she writes. This one is a compilation of letters she wrote to her daughter during her daughter’s engagement. I found it so interesting how relevant each letter still is, even a few decades later.

5. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (2012)

Everyone has been talking about this book for months, so it was really only a matter of time until I picked it up. Hollywood already has a movie in the works, and whether you read it or wait for the silver screen, bring a box of tissues. I see why it’s a bestseller: the prose is exquisite, the story simultaneously captivating and heartbreaking, and it’s a quick easy read. It’s good, by all literary and human standards, but goodness. These characters need hope. (Sidenote: this is why I love reading non-Christian fiction. If reading gives one an insight into the minds of humanity and helps us build empathy, then here’s a golden opportunity to gain some perspective.) Worth your time, but consider it a PG-13 rating.

6. Notes From a Blue Bike by Tsh Oxenreider (2014)

Besides that I’m still not entirely sure how to pronounce the author’s first (or last) name, I adored this book. It’s written in a memoir format, and fights for the idea of living a simple life. What’s not to love? Tsh spent several years living abroad, and this shaped her ideas of what was “necessary” in life. She may come off a little strong in a couple of areas, but she’s such a gracious lovely writer I barely noticed. Also, I’m all for living simply. I recommend it!

 

Of course, I also wrote a whole post about Malala’s book and how much I loved it, so feel free to shift it to the top of the reading list. Then of course add in a couple more, because why read one book when you can read three?!

Best & Brightest | 02

Happy weekend indeed! I have been obsessed with the weather this week… I know it’s just a matter of time before summer hits in full force around these parts, so the days of 0% humidity and a light breeze are completely worth celebrating.

peonies(cheers to peony season! can’t wait to save up my pennies to buy some! photo credit)

Here are some of my favorite things found on the web this week:

Cutest hair

Looking for a summer study or journal? Look no further; this one is perfect.

New 31 Bits for summer! Swoon.

Celebrating new life in Jesus #watermarkbaptism2014 what a spread!

And this video: (Best Sunday of the year)

Watermark Baptism Day 2014 from Watermark Community Church on Vimeo.

A column for good: What’s so Scary about Smart Girls?

Related:: the blog that had me in tears this week & rallying for the world

The Wingfeather Saga is now complete! Get your summer reading ready!

Did you see the #StyleForJustice contest Noonday + IJM announced this week? It’s not too late to enter!

The Porch started a new series this week, called “Quarter Life Crisis.” Listen to the first talk here. Sounds about right.

Favorite new song::

Have a lovely weekend! xo

The Story of Malala and Praying for the World

I just finished reading possibly my favorite book of the last several years: I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai. Think of her as the Katniss of the Middle Eastern world.

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I cannot imagine a better contrast of the depravity of humanity, and the impact of one courageous person. Malala was raised in a culture which did not value women, especially the education of women. She loved to learn, was admittedly “bookish,” and enjoyed competing to be at the top of her class. Her own father was an outspoken advocate for education (even for girls) in Pakistan, owning and running several schools himself.

Then everything changed. The Taliban slowly and subtly took over in her area of the country, and the results were horrifying. She writes of beheadings in the street, public floggings of both men and women, bombings every night, and – even worse, she says – they shut down the schools. She tells the terrifying details of evil infiltrating the everyday. I simply could not believe what I was reading. Everything in me cried out for justice and hope and this is not as it should be.

“All this happened and nobody did a thing. It was as though everyone were in a trance.” (Malala, kindle location 1433-34)

“Some people are afraid of ghosts, some of spiders or snakes – in those days we were afraid of our fellow human beings.” (Malala, kindle location 1934-36)

One day Malala went with her family to the beach. It was the first time she had seen the ocean, and her father noticed she seemed far away as she sat staring out over the horizon. “I sat on the rocks and thought about the fact that across the water were lands where women were free.” (Malala, kindle location 2525-26)

malala-yousafzai-1-w724I’m embarrassed to admit I knew nothing of the history of the Taliban in Pakistan. I had no idea how long they had been in control, or how they had come to power.

On her way home from school one day, Malala, at age 15, was shot in the head by a member of the Taliban in October 2012.

October 2012. Not even two years ago.

Since then, she has miraculously healed and is now living in England, unable to return to her beloved homeland. She has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Price, her book almost won a Pulitzer, and she spoke to the United Nations on her sixteenth birthday last July.

I cannot believe I didn’t know more of the story before. Her narrative comes with dates and times- dates I specifically remember in my own life:

  • 2005: Maulana Fazlullah [notorious Taliban leader; still at large] starts [propaganda] radio in Swat [the name of the valley Malala called home]
  • 2005: I graduate from high school
  • 2007-2009: Taliban extend influence across Swat
  • 2007-2009: I complete my sophomore and junior years of college. I work at a Christian camp in the summers.
  • 15 January 2009: Fazlulla announces all girls’ schools to close in Swat
  • January 2009: I begin my final semester in college, and begin to plan a trip for the following semester abroad in Australia
  • 12 October 2012: Malala shot in the head by the Taliban
  • October 2012: I begin interviewing for a new job in Dallas. Our family has recently begun the adoption process for James and Betty, two people I only know by names and one picture, living in the far away nation of Uganda.

This is what I love about writing. Stories like Malala’s humanize the news. I’m simultaneously amazed and thankful for the bravery of one young girl; the impact she has had worldwide is enormous.

There is deep depravity in the hearts of people, and only Jesus can bring hope and healing to our hearts. The light only comes through Him (John 14:6), and I know the light of Christ beats out the darkness. The darkness will not overcome it (John 1:1-12).

However, I fear we have forgotten the depravity of humanity. I often get so wrapped up in my small life (the psalms call it “but a breath“), and I don’t think about what’s happening one house over, or certainly not one ocean over. I don’t think about the hope I have, that same one others desperately need.

Often I think stories like Malala’s are so far off, so distant, and that nothing like that could ever happen in my backyard. But then, I’ve read about the genocide in Rwanda, when people slaughtered their own neighbors and friends with dirty machetes by the thousands. I’ve studied Nazi Germany, where one of the most educated countries in the world committed history’s most wicked crimes. The truth is, it could happen anywhere.

I pray we believers will be people who follow Jesus daily, and in the following we will love our neighbors as ourselves, and intentionally pray for the world. How shall we pray for the world? Read the news. Know the stories. Read Malala’s book (it’s fantastic). Grab a copy of Operation World to reference from your coffee table. Take a trip overseas. Adopt a missionary to support and consistently keep in prayer. (I’ve got some suggestions if you’re looking!) Take a Perspectives class. Pray for those 276 girls who were abducted and sold into marriages just this week in Nigeria. (I can’t get their stories out of my head.) Study and support the work of International Justice Mission.

The world is smaller today than it has ever been, thanks to the technology we use more often to distract and entertain. Let’s courageously leverage it for freedom and light.