2018 Reading Faves

Happy 2019, blog friends! A friend of mine asked for a list of the best books I read last year, so that she could have a jumping-off point for getting back into reading, so I decided, why not post it on the ol’ blog for all of y’all to see.

I went through my list of 100 books that I read in 2018, and these were all my 5-star reads. I’m a fairly liberal 4- and 5-star giver so this isn’t a small list. But I’m pretty happy about having read so many books I loved last year.

They are listed in the order I read them, within their categories. As you’ll see (which, you already know, if you know me at all), this is a very YA-heavy list, as that’s my go-to favorite kind of book, and also what I’m currently writing. Within YA, my tastes are varied, but— I’m getting ahead of myself. That’s the last category on the list. ;)

Without further adieu, here they are. And these are Amazon affiliate links, so if you click them, and then buy anything from Amazon, you support my writing, for which, I thank you!

Nonfiction Faves

Cookbook: Artisan Sourdough Made Simple // Emilie Raffa // This book changed my life. I had already been baking with sourdough for a couple of years, but this is exactly what the title says, simple. These recipes aren’t for long-fermented traditional breads, but her methods and recipes are hands down, the most accessible way to incorporate sourdough into my daily life. I read this cookbook cover-to-cover (which I rarely do), and I bake from it almost weekly, sometimes multiple times a week.

Christian Living: Crazy Busy // Kevin DeYoung // We read this with our church and I found a lot to be encouraged and convicted by in it.

Memoir: At Home in the World // Tsh Oxenrieder // Somehow, my friend Tsh seamlessly wove together the deep affection for home with wanderlust for the world in this memoir of her family’s 9-month long trip around the world. So good.

Education: The Book Whisperer // Donalyn Miller // This book, and its application in my kids’ schooling, changed the way I look at literature education and literacy. This is the education philosophy for reading that I never knew I always wanted. We are following an adapted version of her methods in our homeschool/classroom hybrid.

(Bonus: Advent Devotional: Come, Let Us Adore Him // Paul David Tripp // Will definitely read through this again for advent 2019.)

Middle Grade Faves

Brown Girl Dreaming (audio) // Jacqueline Woodson // Since this is a novel in verse, I loved listening to it to hear the proper rhythm of the poetry. Plus it was a beautiful book and an insightful look at an African-American experience in our country’s history.

Harry Potter & the Chamber of Secrets (reread) // JK Rowling // We continue with an HP-book-a-year as our winter family read-aloud. It obviously holds up in a reread. ;)

Kimchi & Calamari // Rose Kent // This is slotted as YA at the library, but I’d put it at high middle grade/early YA. It’s a great story of a Korean-born boy who was adopted into an Italian family, and has to do an ancestor report, and therefore starts really searching for his own identity for the first time in his life.

The Penderwicks at Last // Jeanne Birdsall // (5-star series!) I could not have loved the conclusion to this beloved series more.

Adult Fiction Faves

Apparently I didn’t read a lot adult fiction that I loved this year, although there were quite a few 3- and 4-star reads on my list.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (screenplay) // JK Rowling // I enjoyed the movie, and then loved reading the screenplay a few months later.

The Cafe by the Sea / A Very Distant Shore / The Endless Beach // Jenny Colgan // These are books in a series about the fictional Mure Island in Scotland. I love Jenny Colgan so no surprise that I loved these. There’s one more I haven’t read yet (a Christmas book).

YA Faves

And now for my favorite category! Side note: I’m pleasantly surprised to see that some of my favorite reads last year were written by authors of color or from other countries. It turns out part of that is that (when applicable) I really love reading about other cultures, and part of that is that these are just all darn good books.

How to Keep a Boy from Kissing You (reread) // Tara Eglington // I loved this one because it’s funny, a little cheesy, and just plain cute. And, as it’s a story about a girl trying to protect her first kiss for her perfect “prince", it’s a pretty clean read, too. I only wish it contained more Australian references as its author is Australian.

The Radius of Us // Marie Marquardt // An unlikely love story, and one character is an immigrant so I loved reading and learning about that experience.

The Case for Jamie // Brittany Cavallaro // Part of one of my favorite YA series, this is book 3 in the Charlotte Holmes series. Can’t wait for book 4 this year.

You Bring the Distant Near // Mitali Perkins // I don’t usually love generational sagas, but I did love this one, about several of the girls in an Indian-American family, following each of them in their respective teen years.

The Illuminae Files series (Illuminae / Gemina / Obsidio) // Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff // This series is probably my top rec of the year. I loved it’s unique format, fast pace, and intense relationships & conflict… in space. ;) Can’t wait for their next book/series.

I Believe in a Thing Called Love // Maurene Goo // A cute unlikely romance, my first exposure to K-dramas, and why do I love Korean culture so much suddenly? I don’t know, but I do.

Arc of the Scythe series (Scythe / Thunderhead) // Neal Shusterman // My love for this series completely took me by surprise. My advice to you is to not worry about the synopsis, and just dive in. Also, there is no pub date for book 3 yet and we ended on one of the biggest cliffhangers I’ve ever read, just sayin’.

Trouble series (Trouble is a Friend of Mine, Trouble Makes a Comeback, Trouble Never Sleeps) // Stephanie Tromly // I reread books 1 and 2 this year before reading book 3 and it completely held up and I loved them all so much. Think Veronica Mars meets Sherlock with a kickass hodgepodge (read: slightly strange) group of friends.

Sky in the Deep // Adrienne Young // I wasn’t expecting to like a viking fantasy so much, but because I follow and love the author I gave it a try, and I loved it. While action-packed, it was also a slow-burn in many ways. Looking forward to the companion novel.

Anna & the French Kiss // Stephanie Perkins // Loved the setting, loved St. Clair, loved the friendship and relationship drama. Part of a trilogy of related/companion books that I also read, but this was my fave.

Unearthed // Amie Kaufman & Meagan Spooner // This book is a YA Indiana Jones-Lara Croft mashup. These are 2 things David and I love, so I immediately handed it to him after I loved it. He reads incredibly slow because of sports (insert shrug emoji) so he’s still working on it but he’s really enjoying it, too. The sequel just came out and I’m on the library waiting list. ;)

Caraval (reread) // Stephanie Garber // I personally didn’t love the sequel as much as this one, but I think I actually liked Caraval even better the 2nd time I read it. Looking forward to the finale this year (and yes, it’s called Finale).

Ignite Me (of the Shatter Me Series, the rest of the series I gave 4 stars) // Tahereh Mafi // Do not read this series if you can’t handle too much YA angst. Parts of the series were even a bit whiny/angsty for my tastes, but I loved this one SO much that it made the rest of them well worthwhile for me. There’s another book coming out this year which I will devour as soon as I can.

Renegades // Marissa Meyer // It’s possible I will love anything she writes, as evidenced by the fact that this was the first superhero book I’ve ever read, and I (surprise) loved it, along with Archenemies which is a 2018 consolation because I read most of it last year and then finished in 2019. Book 3 comes out in November (dang it).

Daddy Long Legs // Jean Webster // I think this was one of the only classics I read this year, oddly enough. This book is so cute and funny, and one of my all-time favorite books (Dear Mr. Knightly by Katherine Reay) is a retelling of it, so it was about time for me to read it. (Bonus: it’s a classic, so it’s only 99 cents on Kindle!)

The Way You Make Me Feel // Maurene Goo // This was about a food truck in LA (so win-win for me) and more fun Korean culture glimpses, friendship, family relationships, and a sweet romance.

My Lady Jane // Cynthia Hand, Brodi Aston, & Jodi Meadows // This book was a fantastic historical fantasy that sounds absurd but is sweet, funny, romantic, and did I mention funny? Perfect timing for me because we studied the time period of Edward/Elizabeth/et al this year in history. I can’t wait to read the rest of their books but first I have to read Jane Eyre (I know, I’m the worst classic lit fan, right?) before I can read My Plain Jane.

Whew! So there you have it! I hope that gives you some good book recs for 2019, Amanda, and others. Happy reading and let me know if you love any of my 5-star reads as well. If you’d like, you can see all the books I read last year on GoodReads, and of course, follow me on Bookstagram for the all the latest.


2 resources to encourage your walk with the Lord

I've gotten really picky about the books I receive or request to review, mostly because there are just so many things I want to read out there that I just can't read them all. But recently a few things have caught my eye; a few things in fact that are great resources for the spiritual journey (ours, and our kids-- you can check out my review of The Radical Book for Kids over on our homeschool blog). scripture-doodle-pray-atoz-1

Today the books I have to share are timely, too, because I think they would would bless you , and that they would also make great gifts for a gal who loves Jesus in your life.

One thing I struggle with in my relationship with the Lord is prayer. I just can't seem to get in a good rhythm with praying for things that are important to me. I pray sporadically, when someone comes to mind, when a friend asks me to pray, before dinner, during the day when I'm feeling desperate.

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I even have reminders on my phone to pray at 9am, noon, and 3pm, which was an idea I got years ago to pray at set times from Ann Voskamp's blog-- often they are just a quick re-centering which is always helpful. But I like the idea of having a bit of specific direction with my prayer, and this new book, Pray A to Z, is a wonderful resource for that.

Pray A to Z is a book of prayer prompts that guides the reader in "a practical guide to pray for you community." Each letter of the alphabet lists a few topics to pray for (like adoption, pain, neighbors, missionaries, etc.) along with a couple of praise topics that thank God for his character (like mercy, righteousness, & dwelling place). It's a great starting place for spending some time in prayer as I start the day.

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The second fun book I want to share today is actually two editions of the creative journaling book Scripture Doodle (the second one is Scripture Doodle God's Promises). These books combine devotional/worshipful scripture readings with the "adult coloring books" phenomenon. The author/artist April Knight gives mini art lessons and guidance for doodling scripture (and for hand-lettering as well) as a way to memorize verses and hide the word in our hearts.

I wouldn't call these books a super deep, gospel-focused devotional or a substitute for reading the Bible itself but they are a really fun and beautiful way to interact with God's word while also functioning as a creative outlet. As Litfuse put it, "Each of the creative worship prompts in this interactive guide includes biblical encouragement and ideas for worship through art." The books themselves are beautiful as well, and would be great gifts for both adults and maybe even a tween or tween.

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(a spread I colored while watching a Hallmark Christmas movie)

Thanks to Litfuse for the review copies of these books. There are affiliate links in this post; thanks for reading and supporting the blog.

YA, KidLit, cyborgs, & more {reading update!}

what i'm reading 2016 It was a good summer of reading! Now that we've entered fall, I thought it was time to update the ol' reading list here on the blog. I had a lot of fun with the audioblog in my last book update and after so good feedback, I decided to do another one. This audioblog will be available in my free newsletter, which will hit inboxes on Saturday, October 29th. (The newsletter is meant to be seasonal, but as it turns out this will be my first one of 2016-- oops!).

Read More Coverget the scoop

If you haven't already signed up, you can do so here. When you sign up, you will receive a free copy of my eBook, Read More, and you will also have access to my second audioblog... where I discuss all these books including which series has surprised me most (which will hit inboxes soon)!

So without further adieu, here is what I've been reading lately:

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I'd love to hear your thoughts if you've read any of these books! And don't forget you can listen to all my thoughts on these in my audioblog which will arrive via email on Saturday morning, Oct. 29, 2016. If you're reading this post after the newsletter goes out, just send me a quick email (hello @ nicolevbennett . com) and I'll forward it to you! :)

This post includes affiliate links; thank you for reading and for your support.

Summer book club: Eight Hundred Grapes

Our lovely little book club met again this summer; this time to discuss the novel Eight Hundred Grapes by Laura Dave. sebastopol-ca

I really loved this book, not in the least due to my personal experience with the setting. The book takes place in the Northern California town of Sebastobol, which just happens to be the area where David grew up. He lived in Santa Rosa as a kid and went to an adorable little school in Sepastopol, so we have visited up there several times, and it's a beautiful place. It was very easy for me to picture the setting in my head, and I have a tendency to love a good setting like a character.

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We had a charming night discussing the book out on my back patio under the twinkle lights. Our book-themed meal was one of our best yet, so thanks Ms. Dave, for putting so many yummy things in your book! As usual we didn't all feel the same about the book but we had a great conversation around the story, theme, and character's choices.

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If you're curious about my book club, and are thinking about starting your own, I have just the resources for you. In addition to the post I wrote a while back on Mom Advice, I was a guest on The Simple Show podcast this summer and discussed my book club with my friend Tsh Oxenreider.

Disclosure: This post has affiliate links; thanks for your support and for reading!

Changing course, and embracing where I'm at

fiction galore For years I have wanted to write fiction.

In 2007, I participated in NaNoWriMo and "won," which means I completed a 50,000-word novel. Of course, it had lots of holes in the middle and not much of a plot, but hey, I "finished" something, which says a lot for me. ;)

Since probably my grad school days I have been interested in writing some kind of chick lit or women's fiction, and writing YA has also always been on my radar, basically since my own days of being a YA.

But recently I had this realization that as much as I love reading those kind of stories and still dream of writing my own, that's really not the world I'm immersed in right now in real life.

In addition, I see authors cranking out a book a year and I think to myself, if I actually somehow was able to write something really good, get an agent and get published, am I even in a place where I'd actually be able to be a working writer?

I don't want to give up homeschooling and as of now, I don't have any days (or even daytime hours) in my week where I am kid-free and could really devote myself to writing. That could change, maybe even next year, but that is all still as of now unknown, and not something I can count on.

All I can do is be right where I am. 

And where am I? I'm smack dab in the life of mainly-elementary-school-age child-rearing. I'm reading kids' chapter books aloud and studying classics and children's literature with my kids.

So my new plan and project?

I'm writing a middle-grade novel, and I'm hoping to have it finished and printed to gift it to my kids for Christmas this year. (People who know my kids: please don't tell them!) :)

outlining my novel

Tools I'm using to whip my lazy self into shape:

  • I'm attempting an outline for the first time ever, in hopes that having the general skeleton of the book laid out for me will help me know where I'm going in the story, and actually finish it. I recently read K.M. Weilands's book, Outlining Your Novel, and I'm following her guidelines for creating a novel.
  • Starting tomorrow, I'll be tackling the month-long project called Camp NaNoWriMo, which is a modified, customized version of the November challenge. My personal goal is an extended outline of my book, with a minimum of 10,000 words written (either in the outline or in the beginnings of the actual novel).
  • I'm starting in a spiral notebook where I've already begun brainstorming, but soon I'll move to Scrivener, the program I like to use for writing projects.

I'll share a more about my book in the future after I develop it a bit more, but I'll tell you now that it's about a set of 10-year old triplets who go to summer camp. :) I'll probably share more detailed updates about my book project in my newsletter, so if you haven't subscribed to The Scoop, you can do that (it's free, and I don't bother your inbox too frequently, and you get a free ebook if you subscribe).

If you're looking for a month-long writing challenge (doesn't have to be a novel in April), come join me at Camp NaNoWriMo-- there's room in our virtual cabin for you! (For reals, let me know if you join and I can see about getting you added to our "cabin.")

What I've been reading: Early 2016

spring Winter has come and gone (praise hands from the summer-lover!), spring has officially sprung, and I realized I haven't shared the books I've been reading, or rather devouring, with you, not even once yet this year. Oops!

(I did share a bit about what we've been reading with the kids, and in our homeschool over on my homeschool blog, so you can check that out if you're curious.)

what i'm reading 2016

As for me, I have had the pleasure of enjoying some great books this year so far, including some good YA which has been fun to dip back into. I'll go ahead and dig right in to my recent books list...

Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen

I have enjoyed all of SAA's books and this one did not disappoint. It had a slightly darker feel to it (just in the sense of tackling deeper issues of the heart), which makes sense considering this was her first book after her battle with cancer (she's in remission now!). I loved the characters, and the setting, and I'm hoping she revisits them in another book.


Silver Bay by Jojo Moyes

Another good Moyes romance; I especially loved the setting-- on the water's edge in a seaside South African town, where the location was as much a character as the people. I always enjoy her multi-POV stories, as she has a real knack with changing voice seamlessly.


Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg

Lots of great writing inspiration in this book, even if it means wading through some serious zen-mumbo-jumbo to find it. The chapters are short, the writing prompts are fun, and she's very encouraging to the writer-dreamer. I was greatly inspired to start writing in a notebook-- someday I hope that will actually become a daily discipline.


First Frost (Waverley Family, #2) by Sarah Addison Allen

A friend who is also a big SAA fan couldn't get into this one as much but I really enjoyed it. Similarly to The Girl Who Chased the Moon (my fave of her books), she follows both an adolescent (Bay, grown up from when we met her in Garden Spells) and some adult characters in this one, giving it a little YA flair. (I always love returning to characters I befriended before, so I'm probably not as critical as some when it comes to follow-up novels.)


Mr. Kiss and Tell (Veronica Mars, #2) by Rob Thomas

I was incredibly disappointed to find that Kristen Bell did not read this audiobook like she did the first. I almost had to turn it off because the narrator started out so droll, but as I got into it, I found she did a great job of changing her voice for different characters. The story was captivating and well-written but would probably say I liked the first one better. Here's hoping Rob Thomas keeps going with these books because I love Veronica so much that I don't want this series to end.


The Lake House by Kate Morton

This was our last book club pick. It was a great title to discuss-- Morton always gives us lots to talk about. I don't want to say too much because that's just how her books are, but this was more of an actual mystery (and the main character was in fact a mystery writer). Lots of people love this one, but I'll go on record and say it was really good, but I liked The Secret Keeper better. I prefer to read her books in actual paper form because I constantly feel the need to flip back and review things.


The Royal We by Heather Cocks & Jessica Morgan

Favorite novel I've read this year so far. These two authors are so good at telling a story and crafting characters, and after reading a bit about them, I found myself wanting to find a friend to write a book with (Amy has a great interview with them on MomAdvice). I sincerely hope they write a sequel, because when the book ended, I was downright depressed to let go of the characters, and I felt a bit obsessive about them and their story for a while. I don't go ga-ga for Will-and-Kate mania but I loved this fairytale story and the rawness and "real" struggles the authors brought to it.


Paper Towns by John Green

A great YA read-- Green is a wonderful storyteller, and I was glad to read a less-depressing book by him. ;) This wasn't all sunshine and rainbows of course; it had plenty of YA angst and a good dose of getting-to-know-your-real-self. But it was a fun mystery, with a fair share of adventure, and I look forward to watching the movie now (after sobbing through The Fault in Our Stars, I had no desire to watch the movie, so this is a big improvement in my book).


Side by Side: Walking with Others in Wisdom and Love by Edward T. Welch

We read this with our church, discussing it in our community groups. It was easy to read and incredibly encouraging as we strive to live in community and interact with each other the way Jesus would want us to. Very practical help on how we counsel one another, and come alongside one another as we walk with the Lord. I'd say a must-read for small group leaders and people who want to really live out the gospel.


Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success by K.M. Weiland 

I picked this up at the writer's conference I went to last year and I'm so glad I did as it's exactly what I needed as someone who's not very good with following through. I read it all the way through and now am working through it to outline a new project. I'll share more about the project and the book soon. :)


Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling

I read the Harry Potter books probably about 15 years ago or so, so it's really fun to revisit them now with kids. We read this aloud to our kids (and listened to a big chunk on audio while road-tripping), and they fell in love with Harry and the wizarding world-- especially Brody. We intend to take our time (we didn't jump right in to book #2 yet) and only read books 1-3 until the littles are a bit older. They loved reading the book and then watching the movie.


First & Then by Emma Mills

I definitely picked this up because I was drawn to the cover (isn't it so pretty?!), but then when I read the jacket cover I was convinced to check it out. I really adored this story-- a story "about falling in love--with the unexpected boy, with a new brother, and with yourself." Quintessential (non-fantasy) YA. Plus, the author is a young grad student and vlogger, which is pretty fun.


Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella

Another spontaneous find of the YA library shelf. I had no idea SK had written a YA book- how fun (and another cute cover, too)! This was another great read. I don't know how realistic its treatment of anxiety and mental illness is, but I appreciated that it was raw, without being depressing. I do love how Sophie Kinsella tells a good British story, too. ;)


Follow Me: A Call to Die. A Call to Live. by David Platt

This was a super legit book at what it really looks like to follow Jesus. Lots to think about, lots of evaluation of the heart and what life looks like. This was a great companion/followup to Side by Side.


 

So that's what I've been reading so far this year-- whew! I should really write these posts more often I think so they aren't so loaded with titles.

And again, if you are interested in more of what we've been reading with the kids and in our homeschool time, you can visit my recent post over on my homeschool journal, February in books, pictures, and a few thoughts.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on these books if you've read any of them! And here's what I'm currently reading...

Affiliate links included; thanks for reading and for your support of this blog.