Reading List Recap & Tips – Natalie’s TOP 4

2017 was the best reading year I’ve had since my first child was born seven years ago. I credit that to a few reading strategies I adopted. First, at the recommendation of a friend, I started listening to Anne Bogel’s What Should I Read Next podcast. Listening to other readers gush over their favorites and hearing Anne’s recommendations inspired me to fill more of my limited free time with reading.

I also started using the Kindle reading app more frequently. I used to be a hard-core, physical-books-only reader, but it’s not always practical. For example, holding a 400-page novel while nursing…Nope. Not gonna happen. So now, I use Overdrive to borrow the Kindle version of whatever book I’m reading. I read the physical version either early in the morning or at bedtime, and then I pull out my phone when I have those few minutes to read throughout the day.

In addition to Kindle books, Overdrive is stocked full of amazing audiobooks. FREE audiobooks. To use Overdrive, you simply need to select your library and enter your library card information. This year, I’ll be using Overdrive to listen to classic works of literature. I used to think listening to an audiobook was cheating, but research is showing it’s no less beneficial for your mind.

Another strategy I’m using is keeping closer track of what I’ve read. And you know what? I also track chapter books I’ve read aloud to my kids, such as The Indian in the Cupboard and On the Banks of Plum Creek. Writing down the name of a recently finished book is inherently rewarding, at least to me. It’s an accomplishment. It means that’s several more hours I’ve spent nourishing the brain cells I have left rather than binging on Netflix (except for, of course, The Crown, season 2).

That brings me to my recap of 2017. Instead of listing every single book I read, I’m going to highlight my top 4.

Magical and mysterious. Read my full review here.

bean treesTHE BEAN TREES, by Barbara Kingsolver
I wanted to read a book set in my current state of residence, Arizona (see review here). I still think about this book often. Twenty-something Taylor decides to leave her native Kentucky for a job and adventure. Halfway through her trip, a woman leaves a child in Taylor’s car. Sensing the child was in danger, Taylor decides to keep the child and continues her journey, ending up in Tucson, AZ. This is a story about sacrifice, community, friendship, and love.

You can read my review of the first book in the series here. I finished the series and then also read the prequel, The Door Before. The Door Before fleshes out the history of Henry York’s parents, but also opens a door (ha!) to another fantastic N. D. Wilson series, the Ashtown Burials series. Overall, the 100 Cupboards closed with a supremely satisfying ending. What I love most about N. D. Wilson’s books is the strong theme of a boy facing extreme difficulty and choosing courage in the face of imminent death.
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king11/22/63, by Stephen King
This was my first Stephen King novel. BUT WAIT — this is not a horror story — but rather a time-travel story. The day after my birthday, I injured my neck so badly I couldn’t turn my head at all. I spent the entire weekend on the couch reading (and finishing) this book until I could get to the chiropractor. It was truly riveting. A diner owner divulges the location of a wormhole to Jake, a schoolteacher, in the hopes that Jake can stop the eventual assassination of President Kennedy. Think Stephen King is a second-rate author because he writes horror and sci-fi? Think again. He crafts beautiful, thought-provoking literature. Would you change history if you could? Would the present actually be better if we could change the past? I love this exploration of the role of tragedies in our history.


The First Five Books – a reading challenge update

from  Meg’s Reading Challenge – follow her on Goodreads here.

Here are the first 5 books I’ve gotten through so far this year in my 40 book reading challenge – and whether or not I’d recommend them (note: they are not all 5-star).

The Outlaws of Sherwood, by Robin McKinley

sherwood3-STARS – This one’s been sitting in my kindle for a while, barely started – so let’s start by finishing! Part of my motivation for reading this was that I LOVED the BBC Robin Hood series (circa 2009); and the other part is that I love McKinley’s Beauty – I read it annually. (Also see AB’s take here.) This version takes a unique twist in that Robin is not quite the archer/hero most tales make him – he’s not that great with a bow (Marian is much better – go woman power!), and his leadership is kind of “thrust upon him.” A fun alternative for sure, esp. for those who aren’t born wanting to blaze the trail. But by focusing more on the outlaws as a whole, I felt like the story dragged on a bit, lacked compelling character development, and by the end, was wrapped up much too tidily. It’s not a bad book (boys who love all things Robin Hood may love it)- just definitely not my favorite of hers.

Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? by Alyssa Mastromonaco

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End-of-Year Reading Challenge Update

By Megan

2017’s Reading Challenge is in the books (ha – ok, maybe pun intended) – so I wanted to share the last few books I read to finish it up along with a few tips I learned about doing a “reading challenge” as well as share my goal for this new year (actual books on my list coming later).

Tips about Reading Challenges:

  1. DO try utilizing Goodreads – this website/app makes it really easy to keep track of books you’ve read/are reading/want to read. I almost always have my phone with me, so if I hear about a book or read something online, I can quickly add it to my “want to read” list – no more forgetting all those “friend recommendations.” They also set up a Reading Challenge that you can customize to any amount you want. And any book you mark as “Read” will go towards your reading goal for the year.
  2. DON’T try to assign titles to all of your reading goals – for instance, I want to read 40 books this year. But this time, I’m not going to write down 40 titles – only 25-30. I get so many recommendations throughout the year, I want to have room to fill in with new ideas.
  3. DO try to read a wide variety of genres – this is always stretching for me, but I loved the variety I got from last year’s challenge.
  4. DON’T shop for books on Amazon or if you have no money. Enough said.

2017 Books reviewed:

Here are 10 books that I read this year that I haven’t reviewed yet – some might be good ideas for your own reading challenge lists (or your kids’ lists!). A good number were juvenile/Young Adult books because I am now a volunteer school librarian, so … it just kind of happens. 🙂 Continue reading


Strep, Lies, and Audiobooks

41bsZf4KRFL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_By Natalie

I have been to the Walgreens health clinic four times in the past four weeks. Three times for strep and once for an ear infection. I’m sure each one of you can relate to this season of illness. And during this chaotic and mucus-covered (too gross?) time, I’ve been telling lies. Lies to myself. Lies like, “I am going to lose my mind if someone else sneezes on me,” or, “I am going to fall down dead if anyone else asks for a snack.” My inner voice tends to get overly dramatic during stressful times. Recently, I read The Happy Christian by David Murray. Murray’s premise is that our self-talk about circumstances and situations directly affects our physical, emotional, and spiritual health. Continue reading


A Short List of Picture Books for Kids

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Autumn is a season that reignites our family’s love of reading, when we cozy up more often on the sofa with a good book. This past Sunday afternoon, my husband made hot cocoa, and he and our oldest read The Return of the King. For us, that’s a perfect afternoon.

And November was Picture Book Month! To mark this special month, we made an extra trip to the library just for picture books. Margaret Wise Brown is best known for Goodnight Moon and The Runaway Bunny, but in recent years a collection of poems was discovered in a trunk in her sister’s barn. Part of that collection was published as A Celebration of Seasons: Goodnight Songs. Twelve artists lovingly created the illustrations for the book, and the poems celebrate the seasons, animals, and children. The book also comes with a CD collection of the poems set to music that won’t drive you crazy, parents. Continue reading


Pass it On: A Proverbs Journal for the Next Generation, by Champ Thornton

Reviewed by AB

In the publishing world, producing a bestseller is difficult enough, and producing two bestsellers proves even more challenging. With the publication of Pass It On, Champ Thornton follows up his successful The Radical Book for Kids with what I believe is an equally impressive, though much different, work bound for the devotional bestseller list.



Pass It On is an in-depth, journal-style study of the book of Proverbs that excels in its ability to clearly define the structure and purposes of this much-beloved portion of Scripture. What makes this study of Proverbs different is its unique keepsake format. Thornton’s passion for sharing the truths of God’s Word with the next generation is clearly evident in this book, as well as his The Radical Book for Kids; and the deeper the reader gets into this study of Proverbs, the more that passion becomes contagious. With plenty of space for recording thoughts on what you’ve gleaned from God’s words of wisdom, you’ll be encouraged to share wisdom from your own life with a child, grandchild, or other young family member. Continue reading


Serafina and the Splintered Heart, by Robert Beatty

3 reviewers reflecting on the 3 Serafina books – and how book #3 compared to the others. 


(Serafina and the Black Cloak [1] & Serafina and the Twisted Staff [2]): 

Serafina 3AB: I thought Beatty continued to do an excellent job of hooking the reader. Within the first few pages, I found myself asking, “What in the world is going on here?” In that respect, Beatty does not disappoint.”

Natalie: This one didn’t land for me quite like the other two. But I have been reading a lot of fantasy lit lately, and I think maybe I overdid it in the supernatural. It was fun to read it so close to Halloween.

Meg: Once again, I read this in a sitting. It’s gripping and a little darker than the other two, but in a similar fashion still gives you something good to fight for. I did think this one was a little more “mystical”/New-Age-y than the previous two.


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