Top Book Recommendations and Some Superlatives.

I just realized in reviewing my reading list for 2015 that I read not 60 but 61 books in 2015! And don't worry, I won't list all of those books, but I want to recap a little bit of my reading themes for the year and give you some of my favorites as recommendations to add to your 2016 reading list. 

Being overseas for all of 2015, I had limited access to books of my choosing. I couldn't be too picky, and I was highly dependent on the library at our church (which, strangely enough, had tons of excellent fiction and non-fiction available) as well as any books I picked up at English bookstores on our travels. I didn't have a Kindle and hated reading on my iPad, so I stuck to reading mainly physical books. Because there wasn't a well-stocked English library around the corner, I couldn't really plan out my reading for the year and ended up with a much more flexible reading lifestyle. I basically read whatever I could get my hands on!

I also read books related to a class I took this summer, History of Children's Literature, which was really fun and pushed me to read some books I otherwise wouldn't have picked up (namely graphic novels).

In all, I read 47 fiction books and 14 non-fiction books. 16 of the fiction books were "children's lit" (using quote marks because Harry Potter starts to feel much more adult-geared than child-geared around book four, and The Chronicles of Narnia are timeless, don't you think?), and other than the first two of the Harry Potter series, I don't think I re-read anything.

All that said, here are a few of my superlatives given to my favorite books from this year!

In the category of non-fiction...

Book most likely to inspire you to swim upstream culturally: Notes from a Blue Bike: The Art of Living Intentionally in a Chaotic World by Tsh Oxenreider

Book most likely to inspire you to clean your closets and reconsider what things really bring you joy: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo

Book most likely to encourage you to glory in the Tuesdays (i.e. the most ordinary days) of your life: Simply Tuesday by Emily P. Freeman

Book most likely to help you understand yourself (if you're an introvert) or those beloved introverts in your life: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain

Book most likely to move you to jumping head-first into creativity this year: Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert

In the category of fiction:

Best book to listen to on audiotape (the accents are incredible!): Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Best books to spark "What if...?" conversations regarding society: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel and Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Most beautifully written fiction about the American Southwest: The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver

The best book to binge-read (i.e. over spring break, on a trip, etc.): 11.22.63 by Stephen King

The books most similar to Aesop's Fables with endearing, heartbreaking storylines: The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly by Sun-Mi Hwang and Fup by Jim Dodge

Most beautifully written story that crosses continents and makes you believe you are in the Brazilian Amazon: State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

I'd love to add some of your favorite to my 2016 reading, so please, leave a comment with a favorite (or two!) and let me know what you loved reading in 2015. Happy New Year, and happy reading!

Books forty-nine to Sixty: End of the Year Round Up!

At the end of 2014, my goal for the new year was to read 50 books. And while I figured I'd get there in a year's time (given the amount of time I had to read + the library I had access to...and my tendency to buy books at any--and every--English language bookstore I stepped foot in...), I am very happy to report that I read 60 books in 2015!

Some of you read double that, and some of you just read one book a year....so I'm not judging you, promise. But the fact that I read 60 books since last January (not to count the books I read when we arrived in Spain in Fall 2014) is pretty remarkable for me. I read a decent amount of books in high school and a ton in college as an English major, but this past year has changed the way I approach reading and learning. I am finding reading a pleasure and a joy, not a chore. And there's so, so much I want to learn and know. And I can't wait for 2016, where my next goal is 75 books. 

So here's a (very) quick end of the year round up. I haven't logged any of my reading since September (oops!), so here you go:

#49 Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis {The next book in the Narnia series--I intended to finish the whole series this summer, but then...I didn't.} / #50 My Wish List by Gregoire Delacourt {A woman wins the lottery: does she tell anyone, or keep it a secret? Wonderful, quick read.} / #51 Girl Meets Change by Kristen Strong {A good book to help you process and think about how to positively approach change, and what God might be telling you through it.} / #52 Simply Tuesday by Emily Freeman {SO GOOD, GO READ IT. I really love Emily Freeman's writing style, and I loved reading about how to embrace the smallness of my own life.} / #53 Scarlet by Marissa Meyer (2nd installment in the Lunar Chronicals) {An adaptation of Little Red Riding Hood: just add equal parts man-turned-wolf (fangs included) and teenage romance, and you're good to go.} / #54 Ready Player One by Ernest Cline {This would make for a fantastic book club read. (Not that I'm in a book club, just saying.) What happens when the world falls apart, and people begin to live their lives physically hooked up to a cyber world?}  / #55 Pigs in Heaven by Barbara Kingsolver {The sequel to The Bean Trees, and another beautiful work by a new favorite author.}  / #56 The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger {I've always been curious about this classic. It's weird. And because I'm watching every episode of Gilmore Girls right now I couldn't help but imagine the protagonist was Jess.} / #57 When Will There Be Good News? by Kate Atkinson {A detective/crime novel...which after starting another novel in the same genre and abandoning it, and not being super crazy about this one, makes me think this genre might not be one I love. Take this one or leave it.}  / #58 Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert {True confessions: I hated Eat, Pray, Love. But Elizabeth Gilbert has won me back over with her TED talks, Big Magic, and her podcast by the same name. This was one of my favorite books of the year.} / #59 Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather {A bit slow--in my opinion--but still beautifully written, Cather portrays the American West in the mid-1800s and the dedication and perseverance of a Catholic bishop.} / #60 State of Wonder by Ann Patchett {I heard about this book in Big Magic and found it at a bookstore, and I can safely say I've found another author whose writing I want to devour. Another total favorite.}

That's all folks! Coming soon: looking back at my reading list last year, with my top ten favorites. Or top fifteen. Or twenty.

Until then, Happy New Year!

Books Twenty-Seven to Thirty-One: First Five Summer Reading Books

Summer is starting off well for reading, but I know it's going to get tricky this week as we're moving apartments and as I'm starting an online class. But I'm committed to making it work! Here are my first five reads of the summer (books 27-31 of my year-long reading goal) with short-ish summaries (and yes, I added one that wasn't on my original list...I couldn't pass up the deal in a bookstore!). I'm linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy this week as she shares about her summer reading progress! Check her blog out--you won't regret it.

BOOK TWENTY-SEVEN (1st Summer Reading book): What is the What by Dave Eggers. This is a novel recounting the true story of Valentino Achak Deng, who fled his home in what is now South Sudan the 1990s when it came under attack. One of the Lost Boys of Sudan, Deng's story is told in harrowing detail, a story filled with sorrow and yet with hope as he seeks refuge and safety, education and opportunities outside of refugee camps. The novel switches back and forth between his present day (at the time) life in Atlanta, and his life on the run in northeastern Africa. A couple of days ago I pulled up the news on my BBC phone app, and lo and behold, Valentino Achak Deng recently made the news in his appointment to the position of education minister in his home country. A little on the long side--and I'm not sure why this was a novel and not a biography--but informative and enabled me to walk in someone else's shoes in a unique way.

BOOK TWENTY-EIGHT (2nd Summer Reading book): The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly by Sun-Mi Hwang. I saw this book for half price in England; I'd recently set it down in a bookstore in Amsterdam after deciding not to buy it. (Great things come to those who (finally) exercise book-buying self-control!) This short book, translated from Korean, is a simple fable that is sweet, endearing, and heartrending. Sprout, a self-named chicken who is left for dead in a hole by a farmer, escapes the farm to make a life for herself elsewhere and realizes her dream of becoming  a mother. But her Baby is a duckling, not a chick... Themes of adoption, belonging, loyalty to "your people," home, and loneliness abound. Beautiful writing and illustrations.

BOOK TWENTY-NINE (3rd Summer Reading book): The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie KondoI LOVED THIS BOOK. OK, so it's a little "out there"--Ms. Kondo is, shall we say, obsessed with keeping a tidy house and has some strange rituals up her sleeve. There were a couple of things organization-wise I just can't bring myself to do (i.e. own 30 books only, keep my bookshelves in my closet) BUT there was so much in this short book that I cannot wait to apply to our life when we finally live somewhere more permanent than the past two years! Tidying, by Kondo's definition means totally decluttering, cleaning, and making a beautiful space to live in. I love her main rule of thumb for decluttering, which is to ask yourself the question, "Does this spark joy?" Yes? Keep it. No? Toss it. She says, "You'll be surprised at how many of the things you possess have already fulfilled their role. By acknowledging their contribution and letting them go with gratitude, you will be able to truly put the things you own, and your life, in order. In the end, all that will remain are the things that you really treasure." If you're looking to declutter and totally change your home, read this book!

BOOK THIRTY (4th Summer Reading book): My Summer in a Garden by Charles Dudley Warner. I want a garden, but I have the opposite of a green thumb, whatever that would be. This short book's cover grabbed my attention at a used bookstore in Munich, and summertime in England seemed like the perfect time to read it. Warner lived in a home flanked by Mark Twain and Harriet Beecher Stowe, and though he is a little-known author, this is a sweet little book of his insights and reflections on gardening that, if you have any interest in gardening and dry wit and sense of humor, you might enjoy. "To own a bit of ground, to scratch it with a hoe, to plant seeds, and watch their renewal of life,--this is the commonest delight of the race, the most satisfying thing a man can do."

BOOK THIRTY-ONE (5th Summer Reading book): Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver. Ah, another Barbara Kingsolver novel. The more I read of her, the more I enjoy her writing style and the worlds she crafts, especially since her novels seem to take place in parts of the U.S. and the world that I'm not familiar with. This book takes place in the fictional town of Grace, Arizona, where Codi Noline returns to her childhood home to get back in touch with her ill and aging father, and tries to come to terms with her past. Codi encounters people who have changed, and people she wishes will change but who never will, all the while pushing against changes that are happening inside of her and all around her. After "seeing" the landscapes of Arizona painted in Kingsolver's prose, I am planning a trip out West for sometime in the next few years!