Category Archives: books

For the Love of Books

This piece originally appeared on Everyday Exiles.

One of my (very loose and mostly ideal but certainly not practical) goals of 2018 was to read more.

Yeah, I told you it was loose.

Anyway, I certainly accomplished it, and I’m proud to say that this week, I finished my 52nd book of the year. I know you people who have had reading goals every year and accomplished some sort of list of genres, authors, and new releases have certainly still beaten me, but for my life stage and loosey-goosey approach, I’m happy. My parameters were every bit as loose as the goal itself; almost anything counted. A mix of fiction and nonfiction, a mix of classics and modern YA lit. Some books took me more than a month to chip away at, one page and one day at a time. Other books I finished in a single day, and didn’t discount them for that. I read a poetry collection, and counted it. I counted two of the chapter books that I read aloud to my daughter. I also counted my advent devotional and a few books I read simply because I was interviewing their authors.

All this is to say that I learned a few things during my year of simply reading more. First of all, I learned that I like it better than watching TV. I don’t have anything against TV – in fact, I have several TV shows I love and have watched every episode of a hundred times. But when, at the end of the day, I need quiet moments of relaxation, I turn to books more happily. I also learned that while novels go very quickly for me, nonfiction is more than worth chipping away at. I used to hate reading nonfiction, but this year I have enjoyed more than a few spiritual memoirs, Scripture-based, and Christian lifestyle-type books (What even is the genre for all that, by the way?) and even a narrative nonfiction book that restored my belief in learning history past high school. I’m kidding, a little, but still.

I know a lot of people who would read, but “don’t have time” or they “can’t find anything they like past a few chapters in”. But to you guys, I’d encourage you to stick it out. Stick it out, try to build in the time, stretch your literary vocabulary, and explore a new kind of book you don’t usually read. If you haven’t yet found something you love, try the library instead of a bookstore until you find what you like, (It’s free, y’all. No-brainer.) even if it takes a little while.

What else did I learn? Well, I continue to learn that I’m no good at saying “No” to a book that looks even remotely interesting. A used book sale has my whole heart, and whatever cash I happen to have on me. I like libraries, but usually struggle with returning the books on time. I love my Kindle for the portability, but there’s nothing like turning pages. Reading in front of my kids makes them want to read, too. I’ll never stop buying books. I’ll never stop trading books with friends. I’ll never stop taking books to our neighbors’ little free library. I’ll never give away books that I loved – which results in a truly puzzling storage issue in my home. But most of all, I learned that I still really and truly love to read. I love it. I LOVE IT and I don’t care who knows it.

Authors I Love Right Now – Kate Morton and Kristin Hannah

So, y’all know I love reading. I’m not a picky reader, usually, widely spanning genres, years, fiction and nonfiction… I just love books. That being said, I have a few authors I’ve read a lot of – Kate Morton being one. She is one of my absolute favorites, and I think there’s only one of her books I haven’t read. I enjoy her historical fiction so much, as well as the contemporary story lines of her others. She is, in my opinion, a masterful plot creator, weaving storylines, connecting dots at the perfect moments, giving little bits you can figure out on your own, but never giving quite everything away, so that there are still a few surprising turns – you know, so you keep reading! She adds a perfect dose of mystery, so that her narrative isn’t predictable. I always plow right through her books quickly, partially because I become immersed in her stories, and partially because I cannot think of reading anything else until I find out what is really going on. I can’t put her books down!

Now that I’ve sung the praises of my beloved Kate Morton, I’ll move on to a new favorite: Kristin Hannah. She does for me something a little different than Kate Morton, although off the cuff, you might say they are similar writers. While Kate is a wonderful storyteller, Kristin Hannah also refreshes you with her unrivaled character development and incredible setting displays. She can take you right to the heart of why she chose a certain place or time, drop you right into that exact moment, and make you feel like you actually are her main character. It’s incredible to read her environmental descriptions (I mean, have you even read The Great Alone yet?!), and I can’t imagine how much research goes into making sure things are accurate and thoroughly described. Her descriptions of character relationships are so believable; you feel like you grew up in the climate of the community she describes. I truly love her style.

While I have read all but one of Kate Morton’s books (I’m coming for you, The Clockmaker’s Daughter!I have only read The Great Alone and The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. If you have read either of these ladies’ works, do you agree with me? Have you found that to be true to Kristin Hannah’s backlist? Do you also love their unique styles? This is great literature, friends. Go and read their books! I have several if you’re local and want to borrow mine!

Four Great Christmas Books for Young Children

This post originally appeared on Everyday Exiles.

I have a big red bin full of books I pull out only during Advent and Christmas time. It includes silly ones about melting snowmen, and a couple of those touchy-feely Usborne books for toddlers, but it also includes a few beautiful stories. Of course, like everyone, we love The Polar Express and How the Grinch Stole Christmas, but these are a little lesser known. Here are my favorite books I read with my kids during this season.

Song of the Stars. This Sally Lloyd-Jones beauty is one of my favorite books ever. With beautiful illustration by Alison Jay, it is similar to SLJ’s Jesus Storybook Bible (which has a WONDERFUL telling of Jesus’s birth, by the way) on keeping Jesus at the center of the season, and emphasizing his saving of us all, not just his birth. The story begins with the tangible excitement of his coming, rustling through the leaves and being sensed by all of nature, this gift that would change the world.

Room for a Little One. This one is a toddler book, but it’s so sweet. My kids have loved naming the animals as we go through it, and seeing Jesus’s birth from the perspective of those unsuspecting characters. It’s by Martin Waddell.

Birds of Bethlehem. Now THIS is a neat book, by Tomie de Paola. We see the story of Jesus’s birth from some birds in and around Bethlehem. They are chattering away, sharing stories about how a baby has been born, angels sang, shepherds and wise men visited, and what it all means.

The Gift of the Magi. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t love this story by O. Henry. A beautiful telling of a couple who have nothing to give to each other, but end up showing their love by giving everything. The version I have is illustrated by P. J. Lynch, and is simply stunning. I can’t read it without crying.

What are the most treasured Christmas books in your family?

Girl Wash Your Face

This piece originally appeared on Everyday Exiles.

Have you read Girl Wash Your Face yet? It’s a hot topic around the country, with many people singing the praises of this Rachel Hollis gal who went from zero to hero, all by making the choice to do so. She just decided it. Sounds easy enough, right?

This media and marketing “guru” has a story like many of us… lowly beginnings, hardships, and extra-relatable troubles in the job, family, and dating world. Although she meets Matt Damon, which puts her leaps ahead of me, personally. She has several pieces of good advice, which she has personally experienced to be able to write this book. No one is arguing that. Also, I LOVE the premise of the book: Stop Believing the Lies About Who You Are So You Can Become  Who You Were Meant to Be. Who doesn’t want to read a book about disproving lies and destroying strongholds? I need more of that in my life! After all the great press and positive reviews from friends, I decided to read the book for myself.

She’s a great writer. All the lies that she picked (one per chapter) are very real struggles that women have, many of them every day issues. The lie that you’re not a good mom, that you’re defined by your weight, or that you’ll never get past this – well, those are all lies that we ALL want dispelled so our focus and our lives can move on to bigger and better things. I’m not here to tell you her main ideas were wrong.

But what really gets me going is the fact that she’s writing as a “Christian” and rarely mentions Jesus. She parades herself as the hero of the story, how her hard work, her tough choices, and her knowledge contributed to her success. And that’s the American dream, right? Knowing if you fail, you have no one to blame but yourself. If you succeed, you’re the only one who gets the credit. Right?

In my opinion, wrong.

Jesus is the hero of my story. He’s in control (just like the cliche says) and I know that first and foremost, I have to trust Him with everything. As much as I LOVE to think I’m in control, I’m just not. I can make choices, yes, and do things inside and outside of God’s will for my life. But ultimately I know that joy is better than happiness, and peace is better than success, and God is the Giver of those things. The book is full of dos and don’ts, full of ideas to help you be more efficient and focused. But what the book isn’t full of is prayers for when you’ve hit the bottom, praises for when you’ve been delivered out of something, or reminders that your identity is not in YOU – or your critics and onlookers – but in JESUS and His sacrifice that placed you into the family of God. Your identity is the one given to you by your Savior, not the one that you imagine up for yourself.

A quick chat with a friend last night helped me realize that what throws me off the most about the hype surrounding this “Christian” book that doesn’t point me to Jesus is this: it isn’t heresy. It’s not bold-faced lies or something outlandish like devil worship. It’s not that obvious why it’s not on track with Biblical truths. It’s Jesus and. Jesus and making good connections in LA, and marrying the right guy. Jesus and self-confidence, and control of my situations. Jesus and knowing my self-worth and not taking no for an answer. Well I have news for you: Jesus IS. He IS in control, my confidence is in HIM, and HIS yes or no or not yet are the only answers I care about.

What I’ve Been Reading

Some of y’all may remember that I set a loose goal at the beginning of 2018 to “read more”. I began following some #bookstagram accounts and listening to some podcasts to get fresh ideas for books to look into – not that I didn’t already have a hundred (that’s only MAYBE an exaggeration) unread books around my home

I had a pretty productive summer in terms of reading, so I thought I’d share a few little reviews/thoughts of the books I’ve read recently. If you follow me on Instagram (@onlyhsuman) you may have already seen a bit about some of these books, but enjoy what I’ve got here. If you’re local, I am happy to lend books that I’ve got in print (as opposed to Kindle editions) so let me know if you’d like to borrow one!

FICTION

Crazy Rich Asians and China Rich Girlfriend : These books are a particular sort of hilarious. I heard a podcast recently that described them as a bag of chips: not good for you but delicious and you can’t stop eating them. That’s a perfect description. Not incredible writing, but for some reason you’re hooked! The world in which the characters live is just so outrageous to American me that I cannot fathom it’s real life. But the plot in the second book is even better than the first, so I’m already looking forward to the third book – and seeing the movie!

Anne of Green Gables: I never read these books as a kid, but MAN I love them now! I guess I’m only halfway through Anne of Avonlea, but still. L.M. Montgomery’s style is so beautiful, Anne is a gal I can easily connect with (Can you say kindred spirit?!), and I’m loving the immersion in Avonlea’s community. What beautiful writing it is!

The Lake House. I have been a Kate Morton lover for a long time, and this just happens to be one that slipped by me until recently. Such a good read, a full-on dive into the world surrounding said lake house, the family, and the present-day cop that’s digging to find out long-ago truths. Definitely a good, long read for coming out of a reading slump!

All We Ever Wanted: I haven’t read anything by Emily Giffin since Something Borrowed and Something Blue, and this one was a nice foray back into those rom-com novels. There was a bit of teen angst written into this one, so every once in a while I had to read quickly to get past it, but all in all it was a good story, and I liked the character development.

Where the Crawdads Sing: Now THIS is a fantastic book! A beautifully written debut novel, it has some North Carolina roots, with a nice few twists added in. I love a good novel that can switch time periods along the same storyline successfully – and as we follow the story from a decade apart, finally bringing them towards the end, we get to see the main character grow up, and find herself and her life’s work.

NON-FICTION

Saturate: Jeff Vanderstelt opens the door to his life and how hospitality works for his family. He encourages us to live as Jesus would: sharing each part of your life with your community, allowing them to minister you as well as offering your ministry to them.

Glimpses of Grace: Gloria Furman is a WONDERFUL, Scripture-based writer, and she encourages the weary mama to find joy and meaning in the often exhausting and difficult seasons of motherhood.

The Gospel Comes with a House Key: Rosaria Butterfield’s colorful background and incredible testimony give this book the power it needs to go straight into your heart. Another take on Christian hospitality, Rosaria practices what she calls radically ordinary hospitality, no matter the sacrifices (and there are certainly sacrifices).

Girl Wash Your Face: I expounded a lot on this book on Everyday Exiles (link to the article here)  but my main point was to read with caution, because she says she’s a Christian, but doesn’t point to Jesus very much. There were some good takeaways, certainly – don’t hear me say I didn’t like anything. But I had a hard time with her telling us how responsible she was for her own life success, yet saying only a couple of times that she prayed about something. My ONLY successes have come from prayer and the old cliche “Let go and let God”, and I’m happy to tout JESUS as my hero, not myself. So read carefully.

I’d Rather Be Reading: Anne Bogel (also known as Modern Mrs. Darcy) has really outdone herself with the bookish feelings in this lovely little memoir-style book about books. And reading. And readers. And book lovers. It’s perfectly wonderful, and if you love reading or books you should absolutely read it! I read it right through in a day, and had quite a few happy, “Me too!” tears.

And the much-anticipated UPCOMING READS!

I’m excited to continue Madeleine L’Engle’s qunitet and L.M. Montgomery’s Anne series, but I’m also looking forward to Annie F. Downs’ newest book Remember God, and Shannan Martin’s book The Ministry of Ordinary Places. I’m also reading Heidi to EK right now and we’re both loving it!

WELL! Have you read any of these?! I’d love to hear a review or any thoughts you have! What are you reading these days?

Currently

July has been such a busy month around here, y’all! So this currently post isn’t a link up and it isn’t on time, but it IS an update on what’s been going on over here with me! img_5993Celebrating || the 4th of July with an impromptu family cookout – minus Hubby, boo! Look at these cousins!Visiting || West Jefferson and Todd, NC. Our friends were super kind and let us stay with them for a day and a night at the cabin they had rented in West Jefferson, and the next day, we went tubing (read: floating not rafting!) in the neighboring town of Todd, on the south fork of the New River! That was a BLAST. We went through Wahoos Adventures, and the kids LOVED it. We already are looking for dates to go back and do it again! To be totally honest, I love the beach, the wide expanse of the ocean, and the pure sunshine, but the mountains are where it’s at for me actually feeling relaxed, experiencing the Lord’s creation in it’s fullest sense, and being refreshed and rejuvenated. This view might have something to do with that.Wearing || my Chacos every single day (obvi), and lots of easy, casual dresses. It’s too hot for pretty much anything else around here! I have a couple of “traveling” dresses, one from Costco (it’s great!) and one by Patagonia (also great, and obviously a little more expensive) that I’m digging for their ease, their cuteness, and their support if I want to be active in them. I hiked in the Costco one in West Jefferson and it was very comfortable!Loving || the new podcast, No Thanks We’re Booked! I found out about it because one of the gals on there, Katie, is on another podcast I listen to through the Everyday Exiles podcast network (it’s called Pictures and Pages when you click on that link up there) and I’m super excited I get to HOST HER on Pictures and Pages next month! I’ll put up that link when it’s up!Reading || a lot this summer! Which I’m happy about, of course! I’ve finished up The Nix (Nathan Hill), Everybody Always (Bob Goff), Radium Girls (Kate Moore), and How to Walk Away (Katherine Center) all of which I highly recommend! I’ve already loaned out Radium Girls and Everybody Always, so if you’re local, let me know if you want to borrow one! I’ve started up Southernmost (Silas House) because it’s his new one and I love his writing. I literally saw it on the “new arrivals” shelf when I was getting another book, and snagged it as well. You might remember my review of A Parchment of Leaves, since it was his first I had read. Clay’s Quilt is the other of his I have read, and I’ve got The Coal Tattoo to get to soon.

Currently – June!

Hello there, June! I can hardly believe it’s already time to go to the pool, for school to be out (well, it’s out for my littles and only a few more days for my kindergartener!) and for front porch sitting with a book and a cocktail in my hand. (Just me? Surely not!) I’m linking up with Anne in Residence and Sarah over at Total Basset Case. Here are a few things we’re planning for the month of June. Comment or link up and tell me what you’re up to currently!img_5993

Traveling || not very much this summer. We will go to Georgia to see my family, and to the lake (only an hour away) to Hubby’s family’s place, but other than that, we may not travel at all. It’s kinda freeing to not have any big plans! Our next big trip is September, and Hubby and I are headed to Colorado WITHOUT the kids! We’re seeing the Punch Brothers at Red Rocks and I’m beside myself with excitement!

Grilling || Hmm. Hubby is the chef, and therefore the griller, but when we had a gas line run to our porch so we could grill without go big through propane tanks, we still haven’t gotten the last piece we need to hook it all up. So, no grilling right now!

Exploring || our local hiking venues! My plan this month is to get the kids to several local (under an hour in the car) places to hike, now that they do okay without naps and eating picnic-style works pretty well. I can’t wait to have them out on the trails – I hope they love it, because it’s exercise that I really enjoy! (If you’re local, I’m thinking Salem Lake, Hanging Rock, and Pilot Mountain for our starters!)

Planting || lots and lots of things! We’re growing so many different things, it’s hard to name them all! Tomatoes, tomatillos, kale, squashes, beans, peas, asparagus, blueberries, strawberries, and more! We are pretty pleased with how everything is going so far, and my plan is to try my hand at canning this summer, one of those weeks where we have so many tomatoes I can’t begin to think how we’ll use them all.

J taking care of his blueberries.

Playing || dominoes, Candy Land, and Snug as a Bug! Those are all games my kids can get their heads around (the older two, at least). They’re also okay at Go Fish! but it’s tough for them to hold all those cards. Even the clothespin trick is a little too much for them at the moment. But Hubby and I LOVE playing games, and so I hope that they’ll continue to love it, too!

Reading || some beachy reads, even without the beach! I just finished The Turquoise Table (Kristin Schell) and Keeper of Lost Things (Ruth Hogan) last month. This month, I’m working on Everybody Always (the newest from Bob Goff), The Nix (Nathan Hill), A Wind in the Door (Madeleine L’Engle’s sequel to A Wrinkle in Time), Saturate (Jeff Vanderstelt), and Glimpses of Grace (Gloria Furman). I’m doing studies of the last two with some friends, so we’re working on it all summer, but the others I should have finished by the end of the month, I hope! Do you have any book suggestions for me?! My “to be read” list is always a mile long, so I never mind adding to it!

A sampling of what my nightstand looks like on any given day!

Well, that’s about it for now. What are you up to currently?