April 1, 2019

my favorite reads of 2018 (better late than never)...

So, let's all take a moment and pretend that it's actually January and the new year is still quite fresh and that I'm not getting around to posting this list four months into 2019. I've been wanting to post this list for ages, but now that I'm able to make more time to post here (AKA: not be able to fall asleep after my husband's alarm goes off at 5:15am), this is one I want to put out there, despite it being unfashionably late.

Books are the one thing I hold onto desperately during this busy time of life...I may not have time to finish creative projects, to write regularly, to manage much "self care" at all—but no matter what happens, I have to be reading something. I need a good book in my hands at some point during every single day. Getting lost in stories or feeling inspired by someone else's life or reading a charming chapter book aloud to my girls...these things center me and, to be quite honest, make me a happier person.

Last year was such a great bookish year for me that it was tricky to narrow my favorites down to these nine. I think I ended up with a nice balance of genres (with suspense/thriller still coming out on top because nothing makes me happier than a page-turner with an unexpected twist or two). See below for a breakdown of my favorite reads of 2018! (And I'm definitely pulling parts of each review from when I originally posted them on social media, but perhaps it's been long enough that it won't come across as redundant.)

Wonder by P.J. Palacio — I agree with pretty much everyone else who recommends this book across the board to kids, teens and adults alike. The story follows a boy who was born with a severe facial deformity, and I was so touched by all the different viewpoints shown throughout each chapter. I think it helps create empathy and understanding for everyone—and not only the boy, but everyone who is in his life, from parents to a sibling to a best friend to a "mean" kid. I read this when Verity was still a newborn and I was nursing around the clock. I pretty much bawled my eyes out over and over again as I read the chapters while feeding her. (I'm not sure what made me think I could handle a book like this while postpartum hormones were raging through my body, but what can I say?) I can't wait until my girls are old enough for this one. I want to wait until they're a bit older, so they can truly grasp the story and take it all to heart. And I'll possibly just have them listen to it on audiobook, because I'd like them to hear the story and not just witness their mom weeping openly.

There's No Such Thing as Bad Weather by Linda Akeson McGurk — This is possibly one of the best parenting books I've read. I typically don't enjoy books that compare American parenting culture to other cultures, because at the end of the day I'm still here in the United States, so I can't very well raise my child to be a well-behaved french child who eats everything they're offered and sleeps through the night within two months. (Yes, certain books make me bitter.) This author has a great balance between her application of Scandinavian parenting philosophies and the reality of raising children in a non-Scandinavian country. Although it isn't a book specifically for homeschoolers, it reinforced my passion for the unconventional way we choose to educate our girls. This book offers so much encouragement about things you can do to be intentional about getting your child into nature, letting them learn and grow by making mistakes and being independent, and making adventure and play a priority—regardless of the weather. The only chapter I couldn't fully embrace was the one on "Free Range Parenting", because I'm all for my girls roaming around the forests of rural Scandinavia...but our neighborhood in LA County where I'm grateful for the gate around our community? Not so much. This book is an awesome read for any parent who strives to give their children more. More nature, more exploration, more freedom, and (sometimes) more muddy clothes.

Mere Motherhood by Cindy Rollins — This is a book that has been talked about often within the homeschooling community, and I finally received a copy of it for my birthday last year. I have no idea why I waited so long to get my hands on it...I absolutely devoured it and the pages were like a balm to my soul. (Call me dramatic, but that's really the only way I could describe it.) This book is not what you'd expect from a Christian, homeschooling mother of 9 (and now grandma to many more). Her wit and charm and honesty had me hooked within the first few pages. This is one I'd like to reread this year—and many times after that.

The Doll People by Ann M. Martin — We do a lot of read alouds here at home and this series was hands-down my favorite from last year. Both my 7 year old and 3 year old absolutely adored it and by the last book in the series we were pretty sad to say goodbye to our adventures with the Dolls and Funcrafts. Many of the pages are filled with gorgeous illustrations, which I think makes it even more appealing to the younger set—and it is so charmingly written and filled with such wonderful characters, as well. We would find ourselves laughing out loud many times during each of the books and couldn't wait to pick them up again and again. Even though it's been months since we finished the last book, we still randomly quote parts of them to each other (which makes me so happy). Out of the four books, I think that the first remains my favorite, but each one is absolutely delightful. I recommend them all!

The Mountain Between Us by Charles Martin — First of all, I have to address the terrible cover artwork for this book. It makes no sense and has literally nothing to do with the book (which is not a romance novel and is actually a survival story). I would never have picked up the book if it hadn't been something I knew a bit about before checking it out from the library. So, please read this book and kindly ignore the random cover, okay? The story centers around two strangers who survive a plane crash and have to work together to somehow survive. It's filled with adventure and friendship and love and tragedy and hope. Yes, all of those things are possible within the pages of one book, and to top it off it comes with one free ugly cry, courtesy of the last few chapters. Read it and love it and cry a little bit and you're welcome. (And, no, I haven't seen the movie adaptation because I'm afraid that it won't hold up.)

Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips — When a book makes me stay up until nearly midnight to finish it, it is one I absolutely have to recommend. I don't sacrifice sleep often, but when I do it will most likely be for a good book (or white cheddar popcorn and cheap wine). This story is definitely a thriller! The story follows a woman and her four year old son who are at the zoo when something terrifying happens (no spoilers here) and they have to survive the night in the zoo without being found. It is incredibly well written and I couldn't put it down. The way the author captured the relationship between mother and son was just the sweetest thing in the world. And it made me wonder what I would do if I were in the same situation as this mom.

Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson — This was one of the most satisfying thrillers I read last year (and I read many, considering it's possibly my favorite genre these days!). It was so creatively written and the premise was fascinating to me. The story focuses on a woman with a specific type of memory loss that makes her lose all memories of each day when she goes to sleep at night. She wakes up every morning with no idea who/where she is. There were a couple twists that literally made my jaw drop, which I personally enjoy.

Caroline by Sarah Miller — This book is a fictionalized account of Caroline Ingalls, or as most of you know her: Ma from the Little House books. If you're an a fan of that series (and I am, as I consider them my favorite books of all time) then you have to read this book. You have no choice. You must read it, and then please let me know that you loved it as much as I did. It was so good that after raving about it online, my mother-in-law generously sent me my own copy so I'll be able to reread it over and over. (I don't reread books often, but this one I wanted to pick up again almost immediately after I finished it!) I was afraid the author wouldn't do Caroline justice, but she absolutely did. The writing feels very much like the original writing of Laura Ingalls Wilder, and it was so delightful to relive the familiar stories through the eyes of Ma...the big move, nearly losing Jack, meeting Mr. Edwards, the prairie fire, the building of the cabin, and others. I cried during the chapter when Carrie was born because it was so perfectly written. I would call this book perfect, but towards the end there are two chapters with sexual content that did not fit the tone of the book at all. In my opinion, it took away from the overall reverence the book had otherwise for Caroline Ingalls (she would have been mortified to have such things written about her in a book). That said, this book is one you absolutely have to read if you consider the Ingalls family cherished literary friends.

The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn — I must say, all the buzz about this book is totally accurate. The main character is a woman with agoraphobia, and her back story slowly unfolds throughout the book. I don't want to give much away, so if you haven't managed to pick this one up yet and are looking for a book to keep you up late into the night in order to finish, get this immediately! It's the perfect page-turner and won't disappoint.

Okay, it's your turn! What is one book you read recently that you can't stop recommending?

Further reading: my favorite reads from 2017 and 2016

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