books I’ve recently loved

I used to be (perhaps I did this three times?) in the habit of making monthly “what I’m into” posts — books, television, music, etc.  It was a clever idea, and one I didn’t keep up. But lately I’ve been thinking a lot about my reading habits, and I figured I’d share some of the best books I’ve read in the past year.


The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead : I read this early in 2017. It was a very challenging book, with many depictions of violence and suffering (as is appropriate for a book about slavery). The ‘magical realism’ element of the literal underground was cleverly done, I thought, and something about Whitehead’s writing of the protagonist, Cora, pushed me to really think about how I relate to characters in novels. The plot reminds one of the ways that the past returns even when we might think we are safe.

The Girl with the Tangerine Scarf by Mohja Kahf : This novel, about a young Muslim woman in Indiana, was captivating. I didn’t realize when I got it out from the library that it took place in Indianapolis and Bloomington, but the many location references, which were familiar to me, helped ground the book and added a level of interest.

The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King : I downloaded the first four of the many mysteries in this series onto my Kindle and read The Beekeeper’s Apprentice while in California to be with my beloved grandmother as she died, and then as I helped plan her funeral. It was highly enjoyable escapism, and although I still haven’t read the next three in the series, I am looking forward to them. I haven’t read a lot of mystery books, but I have read the Sherlock Holmes mysteries, and Laurie King writes about a young woman apprenticed to Holmes. If you’re looking for something diverting that still feels intelligent and rich, this is definitely a good series to try.

The Emigrants Series by Vilhelm Moberg : When David and I were visiting his distant relatives in Sweden, this book series came up over and over. It seemed like everyone in Sweden had read these books, and they all insisted that I ought to read them. So, I dutifully downloaded the four-book saga to my Kindle and began to read. The Emigrants is about a Swedish family that travels to the United States in the 1850s to escape the famine and poverty in Sweden (more than a quarter of the population of Sweden emigrated in the 1850s – 1950s. The population of the country has still not recovered from this mass exodus). The books were written in the 1940s and 50s, and I was completely drawn in. They were pretty strange at times — there are a lot of stories within the story, some of which are quite bizarre — but I was deeply fond of the characters, specifically Kristina, the mother of the family that emigrates. The books follow them from childhood until the end of their lives, and I cried a lot as I finished the final book.


Amazing Grace : A Vocabulary of Faith by Kathleen Norris : I read Mere Christianity by C.S.Lewis while David and I were in Oxford, and I was really disappointed with it. I thought Lewis wasn’t particularly clever and felt distanced from him by his sexism. I’ve loved some of his other work (I love the Narnia series, and I really enjoyed an essay collection of his as well as The Screwtape Letters), but I’d had high hopes for Mere Christianity. After I finished it, I asked for recommendations on a Facebook group I belong to : intelligent yet readable theology, from a woman. And boy, did this book hit the spot. Norris is articulate and thoughtful, but never conceited or obnoxious in her writing. I share a lot of her thoughts and was convinced by her arguments in favor of seeking meaning within the religion of your own ancestors. I’m looking forward to reading more of her work, and if you are a progressive, feminist Christian struggling to reconcile your modern views and the ancient, often “problematic” religion of your ancestors : check this out.

Stasiland by Anna Funder : My mother traveled in Germany and Eastern Europe last spring as a chaperone for a school trip and read this book while there. I borrowed it from her after David and I returned from Europe and it was fascinating. I never felt like I knew very much about East Germany and the Stasi, but Funder’s journalist eye provides facts and good stories within the context of her own story of living in East Berlin shortly after the fall of the wall. (If you read this book, pair it with the film Goodbye Lenin, a really excellent German film which, unlike most German films, had East Germans involved in production and shows a different “side” of East Germany).

Victoria The Queen by Julia Baird : I was interested in Queen Victoria after watching the first season of the PBS Masterpiece Theatre show, Victoria, and picked up this massive paperback when I saw it at Costco. I read it all fall and into the winter, finishing on December 31st. It’s magnificent! Baird is a journalist but also has a PhD in history, so she has the perfect blend of rigorous research and historical knowledge with captivating and intriguing writing style. I learned so much about Queen Victoria and also British history, Europe, and the industrial revolution. She really was a magnificent queen, and some of the popular imagination of her — that she disliked her children and was largely not involved in the politics of her country — are clearly disproven by Dr.Baird’s research.

The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh by Kathryn Aalto : My dear friend Lindsey gave this to me as a birthday gift. I love Winnie-the-Pooh, I loved the film Goodbye Christopher Robin, and I loved the tiny bit of hiking that David and I got to do in Southern England, so this was a perfect gift. I learned a lot about Winnie-the-Pooh, A.A.Milne, and Ashdown Forest (the “real” Hundred Acre Wood). It’s also just a beautiful book to look at — lots of photographs, clever page design, and handsome red cloth covers.

One exciting element of reading Victoria The Queen was realizing that I actually can read history books. I find history very interesting but have often felt intimidated by history books — and quite honestly, a lot of history books seem very dry and dull to me. However, after I finished this massive biography, it occurred to me that there must be a lot of other well-written, interesting books on history. I asked around and am now reading To End All Wars by Adam Hochschild, which is about World War One, and finding it absolutely fascinating and quite engaging. It’s pretty exciting to feel like I have a “new genre” to explore.

What are your favorite books about history? Any I should add to my to-read list? 🙂


My New Camera

So I totally haven’t prepared a good “what I’m into” post for March…oops. I definitely read some books, but not as many as in January & February. I’ve been a bit busier with preparing for my Last Term of Graduate School (fingers crossed) — two more classes & an advanced internship this summer and then I will have my Ed.S. degree! But I did read a few books, watch some films, and at the very end of the month, I got a real, grown-up camera.

As for books, I read Games Wizards Play by Diane Duane — the tenth novel in the Young Wizards series. I LOVED it and am probably just going to read it again once I finish Out of Sorts by Sarah Bessey, which I just got from the library after being on the hold list since late December (!). I also read Double Identity by Margaret Peterson Haddix — all in one long afternoon while I was trying to rest due to a really tremendous cold. (Seriously — fever, chills, headache, all the things. It was the worst.) Finally, I got hooked on a new series by reading Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch. In this series, there are eight kingdoms, and four of them are season kingdoms. The protagonist is from Winter, a land where there is always snow falling and the people native there enjoy/can withstand cold temperatures comfortably. I wish I could be a Winterian because I LOVE snow and cold, but I definitely also feel it.

In terms of watching things, I watched the whole first season of Catastrophe on Amazon Prime while I was ill — I LOVE it and can’t wait for season 2 to come out. I also watched the first five episodes of Mozart in the Jungle, which is fantastic. David and I are continuing to watch Parks & Rec. We continued our theme of watching documentaries, listed here in order of how much I liked them : Inequality for All, To Make A Farm, and Tiny.

Anyway, back to the CAMERA. I have been saving my pennies for this for quite a while. I got a Nikon D3300, which is sort of the “entry level DSLR.” It has both automatic and manual modes, so until I actually learn how to properly use a camera, I can still take great photos. I’ve been really enjoying playing around with it, and David has been a good sport about being a subject of a lot of photos. I love taking photos outside, but I also want to get in the habit of documenting our life together — even the boring, watching-TV-in-our-PJs bits. Not that I want thousands of photos of that, but I also don’t want to miss the beauty of making boxed mac & cheese for dinner before rushing off to Thursday night church choir rehearsal…because that’s life, too, you know?

Our beloved squirrel friend, Hank

What I’m Into : January 2016

January has been a month of big changes. Starting on the first Monday of the year (January 4!) I began my new job at our local domestic violence shelter. My job combines case management, intakes, paperwork, and organization with the regular job duty at any nonprofit of “coping with whatever comes up,” whether that involves washing dishes, cleaning out a broken mini-fridge, or comforting colleagues. I am so grateful to have this job and am already learning tons.

Outside of work, I’ve been trying to keep up the “self care” in the forms of reading, listening to podcasts and music, and enjoying downtime.

January’s Books

carryoncoverI finished 2015 reading Carry On by Rainbow Rowell which I L-O-V-E-D. I just adored it! I had read Fangirl last spring and was really excited when Carry On came out but saw some reviews that were only so-so. However, I decided to buy it in Kindle form so that I could read it while David and I traveled to my in-laws’ house for Christmas (so fun). And I devoured this BOOK! It was just so well done, the characters were intricate, and it was so enjoyable to see how Rowell took the things from my beloved Harry Potter that were problematic or that I would maybe change in a fanfic, and used those elements in Carry On. So even though that technically wasn’t a book I read this month, I wanted to mention it. I think it’s a great book for anyone who likes Harry Potter for sure, as well as for those who have enjoyed Rowell’s work before.

emmyandoliver simonvshomosapiensagendaI read two YA novels on my Kindle in the very beginning of January while lying around the house the weekend before I started my new job. Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli was a classic teenager-in-high-school book with an element of mystery. I loved Simon and cheered for him when he came out to his family and snagged a cute boyfriend. Emmy & Oliver explored complex topics such as how early traumas shape people’s lives and how it is possible (and normal) to love people who have done terrible things to you. There was also a lot of surfing.

silent-stars-go-byAfter those two books, I picked up several books but nothing was “sticking.” Then I decided to try the book my brother gave me for Christmas a go, and it was great fun. It was my first Doctor Who novel, one of the 50th anniversary collection. The Silent Stars Go By by Dan Abnett features the 11th Doctor (played by Matt Smith in the TV show) with companions Amy and Rory Pond. As indicated by the title, the book had a wintery and Christmasy vibe and was perfect to read while it was snowy and cold and we were eating lots of soup.

carry-on-warriorI added Carry On, Warrior to my holds request list at the library several weeks ago after I started following Glennon on Instagram and reading more of her blog posts. I had read mixed reviews and wasn’t sure what to expect, but let me tell you : I LOVED this book. I read so many passages aloud to David that he practically read it too — it was so funny. And honest, and at times sad. Occasionally I disagreed with Glennon about certain things, and once or twice some of her phrasing was a bit kitschy for my taste, but overall this book was a total delight and made me even more a fan of Glennon than I already was. It was also really nice to mix it up with some nonfiction.

the-shepherds-crownAnd finally, I just now (10 PM, January 31st) finished reading The Shepherd’s Crown by Terry Pratchett. It is the last book he ever wrote (he passed away in March 2015) and also happens to be in my very favorite Pratchett series. The Shepherd’s Crown is the fifth in the Tiffany Aching adventures, books that follow a young witch as she grows in her power. What I love about Tiffany (and about all witches in Discworld) is that they are all about work. They might use magic for some things, but most of witching is just doing what needs to be done — whether that’s cutting toenails for elderly folk who can’t bend down anymore, sitting up overnight with the dead and preparing them for burial, delivering babies (human, sheep, and cow alike), or breaking up disagreements, witches do dirty work every day. (Unlike wizards, who read fancy books in the universities and hardly do anything of value.) Tiffany Aching is my hero and I loved this book just as I have loved all of the Tiffany adventures (although Wintersmith, being my first, holds a special place in my heart). Terry Pratchett was a genius, a feminist, and a hilarious and talented writer. I miss him.

January’s Listening

This month I discovered the podcast Dear Hank and John, which I have really enjoyed. As a longtime follower of John and Hank Green, I have had a hard time keeping up with the bazillion projects they are up to these days and often miss the Brotherhood 2.0 videos that started it all. Listening to this podcast makes me feel like I’m watching those old-school videos again! They’re HILARIOUS, and John starts each episode with a short poem, many of which have been familiar to me and all of which I have appreciated.


My other big discovery in January has been Jammie Dodger tea! My friend Leah gave me a certificate to Adagio Teas as a Christmas gift, and I spent quite a bit of time reading reviews and considering my own tea desires before I ordered. I finally decided upon a five ounce tin of Homemade Jammie Dodger tea. It’s delicious! I love it in the evenings before bed or in the afternoon while I’m reading or cooking. It basically tastes like what it sounds like — raspberry and shortbread. The tin is adorable and the tea is a gorgeous pink color.

Happy February, folks! There’s a lot coming up for me this month, both happy and sad. Lent begins February 10th and I am still deciding how to observe it. David and I already have tickets to a Valentine’s Day concert on February 13th that will encompass romantic classical music as well as poetry and essays. Later in the month will mark the anniversary of my father’s death, a day that my family and I observe with memories, reading his favorite authors, drinking Beck’s and eating Indian food. The month ends with my mother’s and Oma’s birthdays! So, lots coming up.

(Note: the images of the books link you to Amazon, but I really encourage that you check if your local library has the books before you buy them, just as a general practice! Libraries are the best, and I would make the books link to your library, but we all have different libraries. Okay, carry on.)

What I’m Into : September 2015

I’m very excited for my first “what I’m into” post. I first saw these types of posts on the blog Becoming Peculiar by Kathleen, a really wonderful writer and mother who lives in Canada. I don’t think she’ll be posting this month, but it was from her that I began to read Leigh Kramer’s blog. Leigh hosts the What I’m Into linkup. Basically it’s a monthly post to share what sorts of stuff has been taking up your time over the previous month — books, music, movies, and the like.

When Harry Met Sally : My husband, David, has managed to miss out on a lot of classic movies in his life, and had never seen WHMS before. He LOVED it, and I loved re-watching it (of course!).
You’ve Got Mail : After When Harry Met Sally, I had a craving to re-watch You’ve Got Mail. As that was another one on the list of movies to introduce to David, it was a perfect choice for a movie night. I’m always a little disappointed that it doesn’t end with Kathleen (Meg Ryan) reopening her bookstore and Joe (Tom Hanks) working for her as a business consultant, but it’s still a classic.
Going Clear (documentary) : This is a documentary about the “church” of Scientology. I have heard things about Scientology before, but we really had no idea how very scary that cult/organization is. The documentary was really well made, and impressed upon us how frightening and bizarre Scientology is as well as the terrible harm it has inflicted on many people.

As always, the Harry Potter Study Playlist : I discovered this playlist during my master’s program and I still enjoy it for background music when reading, studying, or doing housework.
What You Don’t Do by Lianne La Havas : My mother introduced me to this song and I just can’t stop listening to it. It’s catchy and clever, and the singer has a really phenomenal voice.
Fight Song by Rachel Platten : A bit corny? Yes. Motivating and kickass? Also yes.
Joni Mitchell : An old favorite. I introduced David to some of my favorite Joni songs, and as a result can’t stop singing them.

Rural Free: A Farmwife’s Almanac of Country Living by Rachel Peden : I cannot say how much I have loved reading this book. Rachel Peden lived (and farmed) in the same county where I currently live, and I have seen her book in the “local” section of the bookstore many times. I finally took it out of the library, and fell in love with her writing style, observant eye, and graceful reflections on everything from the meaning of life to tiny frogs on her window to the moods of the seasons and the days.
I Remember Nothing & Other Reflections by Nora Ephron : After watching two Nora Ephron films, I realized I had never read any of her writing. I took this book of essays out of the library and was honestly not very impressed. The essays just seemed to lack something, and felt plain and quiet. Some of the stories she shares are interesting, but the writing leaves something to be desired. It was still an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon.
Re-reading The Time Quintet : A Wrinkle In Time, A Wind In The Door, & A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeleine L’Engle : My dear friend Madeleine gifted us with this beautiful hardcover volume of the Time Quintet. These were some of her and my favorite books when we were growing up — my particular favorite is A Swiftly Tilting Planet (my copy is literally falling apart), but they are all phenomenal. We brought the hardcover back with us after visiting my mother in New York this summer, and it has inspired me to re-read the series. So far I am three books in. They are as beautiful and marvelous as I remembered.

Magic Lessons by Elizabeth Gilbert : I have never read any of Elizabeth Gilbert’s books, but Sarah Bessey recommended her podcast in a post, so I decided to check it out. I LOVED IT. The podcast is now over, but it was so amazing — Elizabeth Gilbert speaks with people who feel in a rut in regards to their creativity and helps them strategize ways to move forward. She also interviews other famous creatives for their advice. I really recommend it for anyone with a creative streak, whether you are a baker, writer, artist, dancer, or even someone who wishes you could be creative but hasn’t figured out how to start yet. The podcast was a part of the release of her book Big Magic, which I am looking forward to reading once it gets to me on the library waitlist.

What else has been going on? Well, we recently got the image files from our wedding photos, so I have been working on making Christmas gifts for our family (yes, I know it’s only September, but I love to get gifts done early!). I’ve also been spending some time making our apartment more “grown-up” — in other words, framing things and hanging them on walls, as well as buying this awesome end-table (secondhand, for $10!). We have named her Tessa, because she is in the shape of a hexagon, the most efficiently tesselating shape.


I have started to increase mileage more in my training runs for the half-marathon I will be running in November. A couple of weeks ago I had my first experience (this time around) with “hitting the wall.” I had not brought food or water on my run and I quite suddenly went from my normal great/high feeling to feeling like I had the flu and had just been hit by a truck. It was really awful. So I consulted with some of my runner friends and went out and bought a water bottle for running with as well as some energy chews. The following run went MUCH better. Hooray! I tried Honey Stinger chews in the lemon-lime flavor, because they have no artificial sweeteners, which tend to upset my stomach. They worked well and were tasty to boot.


Finally, David and I had a lovely trip last weekend visiting an apple orchard. I hadn’t gone apple-picking since I was a child and I was very excited. We had a really nice time goofing around in the orchard, sipping on an apple cider slushie, and, well, picking apples. Duh.

I’ve also been enjoying some time getting to know some of my friends here in Indiana better. September has been a great month.

I’m very excited for October : my mother-in-law is coming for a visit this weekend, and the weekend after that, my bestie Lindsey is coming to visit. It’s going to be great! and busy.

What have you all been up to lately? Any recommendations for books? I am always looking for things to add to my ever-growing library list!