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.


Why it’s okay to be in a reading slump in November (or, my history with NaNoWriMo)

This month, I’m participating in NaNoWriMo, which is a month-long writing challenge to write a 50,000-word novel (or part of a novel) in the month of November (The name stands for National Novel Writing Month). So while the library books stack up (and oh, how I want to read them), I’m trying to do more writing than reading this month as I draft my new YA novel. It’s a currently-untitled YA rom-com, and I’m really excited about it.

As October wrapped up, I realized I was feeling like I was in a bit of a reading slump because I had started two books that were on the bigger side but that I was slow getting into. Well, I’m still wading through those, and while I like them both, I still feel like I’m slumping a bit (we’re eight days into November and I haven’t finished a book yet!).

But I’m okay with it because if I want to meet that crazy word count, it’s better for me to get sucked into my own project right now than a book that I can’t put down, right?. (On the other hand, I keep starting new books, probably because I can’t help looking for the next book that I can’t put down. I can’t help myself.)

NaNoWriMo pairs well with drinks of all kinds!

NaNoWriMo pairs well with drinks of all kinds!

In 2007, despite a cross-country trip home for over a week, and a 6-month old baby, I “won” NaNoWriMo, writing my first quasi-complete novel. I had always wanted to write before that, but that was the first year I actually finished a work of fiction (that project had lots of plot holes, and not much substance but hey, I did get to the end!). I feel nostalgic thinking back to the house we lived in (in another state) that year where I wrote that story.

Eight months later, I started blogging and dove headfirst into a different writing world. Nine years, and two more kids later, with blogging having slid a bit towards the back burner, I decided to try my hand at NaNoWriMo again with a middle grade book idea. I didn’t win, but I did finish it later. I gave it to Gigi for her birthday and queried it a bit, which was a good learning experience. For the next two years, NaNo kickstarted me into finishing another manuscripts (the YA one I’m currently querying), and now here I am again!

One of the best things about NaNo is connecting with other writer friends who are putting their heads down to try to cram in as many words as possible. In 2007, I met a writer friend who is one of the few people I’ve kept in touch with from our time living in Colorado, and this year, I have been connecting with fellow Bookstagrammers who are also doing NaNoWriMo. This project is such a unique writing experience that it’s fun to celebrate the high days and lament the low ones with other writers.

NaNoWriMo’s an endeavor that I recommend for every aspiring novelist to try at least once. For me, it’s been a special project, because it’s really what got me back to my dream of writing fiction, it gave me the gumption to go for it, even if I felt like I had not clue what I was doing.

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Reading and writing recap: 2017 thus far

We're just over halfway through with the year so I thought I'd do a little recap of how my reading and writing has been going this year. 

Reading

So far, I've read 41 books (or 43 according to GoodReads, not sure what my paper list is missing). I started to keep track of some with the hashtag #nicolelovesbooks on Instagram but since I read so many on Kindle (thru Overdrive/the library), I don't end up getting pics of many of the books I read. But I have done better at recording my books read on paper as well as on GoodReads, and I love having a pretty list to look at and reminisce about all the lovely books I've read. It's been a good reading year so far, with lots more to go. 

My currently reading/TBR includes: Present Over Perfect, Big Magic, The Girl from Everywhere (about a time traveling YA pirate girl), A Snicker of Magic, For Darkness Shows the Stars (a YA dystopian Persuasion re-dux), Ginny Moon, Echo, Some Kind of Happiness, At Home in the World, Much Ado About Anne, Chasing Slow, and Border Odyssey (stories from the US/Mexico border). My upcoming book club selection is an Agatha Christie, which will be my first of hers. And of course, the TBR list grows daily it seems. (So many books, so little time!)

{click to see larger}

Around the fam-- David read and enjoyed Ready Player One (he liked it more than me but I am looking forward to the movie) and just started The Hunger Games (!!). The fact that he's reading more has me all swoony. ;) Gigi is reading lots (recently The Babysitters Club (originals and new graphic versions), The Mother-Daughter Book Club, Little Women (my childhood abridged copy) and lots more, and Brody has been devouring Magic Tree House books in order, along with lots of graphic novels, and most recently some of the easier Matt Christopher (who's actually a lady!) baseball books, like this one

Writing

In addition to my quarterly posts at The Art of Simple and what's become almost that infrequent here on my blog, I've been writing a lot (well, a lot for me). I finished my middle grade novel manuscript and have been editing and revising that and now I'm ready to submit it to Pitch Wars, a really cool contest and community. I've written a query letter and a synopsis and I have a couple more weeks to polish those up before entering in early August. 

My next project is flourishing in my mind but I haven't quite found/made the time to do much in the way of concrete outlining/plotting yet. It's a YA and I am really excited about bringing these characters' stories to life. 

{sometimes when you have a creepy dream and wake up early, you have to redeem the time and get to work!}

{sometimes when you have a creepy dream and wake up early, you have to redeem the time and get to work!}

Podcasts

If you're a reader, I'm sure you already know and love the What Should I Read Next? podcast, but another fun one I found recently is Overdue. Each episode the two hosts discuss one book, so I've downloaded a bunch about books I've read and they're quite entertaining. As for writing, I have been really loving the diyMFA podcast. Although, now that it's summer I'm pretty behind on my podcast listening-- something to look forward to when I'm driving to school and practices more in the fall. 

One last note...

I think I'll try to send a newsletter in the early fall with more thoughts on this, but after much prayer and consideration we decided to send Gigi to public school for 5th grade. She is thrilled. I'll still be homeschooling (part-time) Brody and Hallee for 1st and 2nd grade, which should be fun.

Hope you're enjoying your summer!

Disclosure: this post has affiliate links in it. Thanks for your support!

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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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.

what i'm reading in 2015  nicolevbennett.com


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!

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What have you been reading? 


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