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...

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Fallish Quick Lit + my last books of 2015

too busy to read Life has been busy, but not too busy to read. ;) Even if it's only for a minute or two, I just don't feel right turning off my light without my eyes resting on the pages of a book (or ebook, as it were) before I fall asleep.

And in the moments when I had time to take a breath and chill for a minute amidst the craziness of life, it was usually to pick up either Instagram or a book.

So here's what I spent my reading time indulging in during the autumn of 2015.

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton

(So good and, whoa, that twist at the end! Just thinking about it gives me goosebumps.)

The Summer Girls by Mary Alice Monroe

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The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen

Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen

The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen

The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen

(I fell in love with SAE's books-- can you tell?? They are delightful stories with just the right amount of magic. The Girl Who Chased the Moon is my fave so far.)

The Wednesday Sisters by Meg Waite Clayton

A Window Opens by Elizabeth Egan

Attachments by Rainbow Rowell (yep, again. I just love it so much.)

After You by Jojo Moyes

(I just loved After You. It completely redeemed Me Before You for me, which had an ending I did not love. After You had a wonderfully satisfying ending, if not perfectly "happily ever after.")

Veronica Mars: An Original Mystery by Rob Thomas: The Thousand Dollar Tan Line by Rob Thomas & Jennifer Graham

(I listened to this (read by Kristen Bell, which was perfect), and I can't imagine reading it any other way. If only every beloved canceled series could be followed up by a movie and 2 novels. I loved getting more of a Veronica fix, and can't wait to read/listen to the second one.)

In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume was our fall book club pick. Reading Judy Blume again reminded me how wonderful a storyteller she is, but it also reminded me what I discovered when I read Summer Sisters years ago-- she can actually be a bit, well, almost graphic in her non-children's novels, especially when writing from a guy's perspective. I was unsure if the plane crashes would be too much for me to read but they weren't too traumatic for me-- the story captivated me enough to make up for them. Overall a good book, which gave us a fun discussion, and a great 5os-themed meal to enjoy.

With the kiddos

The Year of Bill Miller by Kevin Henkes

Oh how we love Mr. Henkes' writing and illustrations. This was a delightful book-- the first chapter book of his that we've read and recently Hallee asked me, "When can we read more stories about Billy Miller?" Maybe there'll be a sequel??

The Bad Beginning,The Reptile Room, and The Wide Window by Lemony Snicket

David read the first book from the Series of Misfortunate Events (which he and I had both read years ago) to the kids, and then we checked out the audiobooks of the next two for some very fun entertainment on a road trip-- especially the one read by Tim Curry.

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Stuart Little by E.B. White (currently)

I started reading this to Hallee (mostly when the big kids are at school) but Brody has wanted to get in on it too (he was a baby when I read it previously to him and Gigi). The vocabulary in this little book astounds me! And it's just so cute.

Unwrapping the Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp (love this beautiful advent storybook!)

Currently reading

Honorable mention (books that I've been "reading" for way too long):

  • On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder (Read-aloud time got pushed to the back burner a lot late fall. Hoping to ramp it up as we start the new year after Advent kick-starting us into a good evening routine and finally have more down time with the kids during the day.)
  • Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg (Writing has really been on the back burner but I'm looking forward to getting back into this with its short chapters, writing prompts and general bits of encouragement and butt-kicking.)
  • Encore Provence by Peter Mayle (I may wait till spring to pick this one back up. I tend to feel like reading travel lit in spring/summer.)
  • Follow Me by David Platt (This is a super solid book; I just need to get back in a rhythm of reading it-- probably a bit in the mornings after I finish Side by Side.)
  • Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan (I bought this for David for Father's Day in '13 and we started out having him read it to me in bed out loud (he does a good Jim impression), but considering it's been on my Goodreads shelf for 2.5 years, we apparently don't do this "ritual" very often. We both were loving the book but are better at watching TV late at night. Must finish in 2016!)

Up Next

My little book club is reading The Lake House (Kate Morton's latest) next for our winter pick and we are all super excited for our library hold numbers to come up; and I also plan to grab First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen from the library on Kindle as soon as I have a moment. Stay tuned!

what i'm reading in 2015  nicolevbennett.com

Hopefully next year I will do more frequent (and less gigantic) reading updates! ;) Have you read any of these books? Let me know what you thought. 

Quick Lit: Summer Reading Edition 2015

summertime reading 2015 There are still a few weeks left of summer for us-- we start school officially after Labor Day-- which means we are still enjoying the freedom and warmth of summer (yay!), although I am starting to feel the pull towards getting back into the rhythm and routine that the school year provides.

It's been a good summer of reading. In fact, I had to revise this post several times because I kept remembering more books that I finished this summer. Here's what I've read and what's still to come before this season is over.

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All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

This book was a real pleasure to read. I ended up reading it rather slowly (it has ridiculously short chapters, which I loved because it was easy to read in snippets of the day). Because the library holds list was so long I couldn't renew it... I ended up buying it. I knew it was one I would like to be able to loan out or read again. I'll be honest: I wasn't crazy about the ending. If you've read it, I'd love to hear what you think (send me an email and let's chat!). But it was such a beautifully crafted story, so well-written and well-told, that the whole of it made up for that. A true literary gem, this one.


The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty

I definitely did not love this as much as I loved What Alice Forgot, but it was a good read still. The ending had a sufficiently surprising twist, and I enjoyed Ms. Moriarty's description of the school culture and community. It was a thought-provoker, too, that's for sure.


Bittersweet by Shauna Niequist

I really love reading Shauna's memoirs. In fact, I love them so much that they make me want to abandon my dreams of writing fiction to write my own memoir. She's so honest and raw, and yet also encouraging, in this book as she process going through tough paths that come her way in life. The tagline, thoughts on change, grace, and learning the hard way, says it all.


Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

This was definitely a departure from my usual genres of choice. But it's a departure I'm glad I took. This book came highly recommended and for good reason. It was a really interesting look at a post-apocalyptic america with no electricity (and no internet!). It was intriguing and mysterious, carefully crafted and really well-written. And one of those books that makes me go, wow, I wish I could think up a story like that!


Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty 

I'd probably rate this one second in terms of Moriarty books-- still not as good as Alice but I liked it better than The Husband's Secret. The interesting thing about this one was the perspective, as the story was told through more than one character's experiences. The details of the mystery gradually unfolded throughout the book in a creative way that really captured me.


Knowable Word by Peter Krohl

This summer our women's group has been studying Mark inductively and this little book was a great tool for expanding my understanding of what it means to do the three main steps of inductive Bible study: observation (what does it say?), interpretation (what does it mean?), and application (how does it apply or change my thinking about God?). Reading it felt a little like studying literature in college again, in a good way. It's an easy read.


The Boy Next Door by Meg Cabot

This a super fun and easy read that a friend handed me to read. She knows I love Meg Cabot and this reminded me why I love her so much. It was written completely in emails (which I know isn't a style everyone loves) but I tend to enjoy that kind of book. A great summer read-- comparable to something like Shopaholic but with a more likeable main character.


Yes Please by Amy Poehler

I finally finished listening to this. I'm still not very good at audiobooks-- because I have so many podcasts and Voxer messages I get distracted by. :) But you really can't beat a memoir written and read by a comedienne. Amy Poehler is definitely crass at times but her book was entertaining (complete with guest voices and a chapter read to a live audience) and even inspiring-- I found myself quoting her last night to some friends. She's a strong, talented, passionate woman, and I enjoyed getting to know her story.


Fit to Burst by Rachel Jankovic

I wish Rachel was a real life friend. She inspires me more even than I realized I needed in terms of motherhood and the gospel. This book was convicting in all the right ways, as I said on Instagram when I posted about it. It's pretty short, and easy read, and when I finished I made plans in my mind to begin it again almost immediately.


Where'd Ya Go Bernadette by Maria Semple

This was our first book club selection. I was intrigued by the fact that most friends I know who'd read it really liked it, but Anne, who is usually my reading guru, hated it! Well, it turns out I was in the first camp. I enjoyed it quite a bit (but you know I like epistolary books and this one was written as if it were compiled with emails, journal entries, letters, etc, which was fun).  More thoughts on this to come one after my book club meets.


 Currently Reading:

If it appears that I have all but abandoned Les Misérables, it's because, well, I have. :| It was so hard to get into and I think I was just too lazy to read it. The year's not over yet, so maybe I will go back to it, but I feel a bit bad that I've basically abandoned the FB book club.  The Motherhood & Jane Austen Book Club technically still exists but I'd say it's pretty dormant right now. Maybe another time it will awaken again. For everything there is a season, right?

For now, leaning into a real life reading community was more on my heart, so for the first time, I decided to start an in-real life book club. We're meeting next week for the first time to discuss Bernadette and I'm quite excited!

Need some practical inspiration to do more reading? Sign up for my newsletter (which will go out soon with some fun news!) and receive my free ebook Read More

What have you been reading? 


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