RADreads

Currently // May 4

Currently // May 4

My birthday is sadly over, but I'm still keeping the celebrating alive! Check out the things I'm up to currently!

My April 2016 Reads

My April 2016 Reads

It's almost May which means it's almost my birthday...but first, here's what I read in April!

What I Read in October

October, you're just a wonderful month. I love your weather and your changing colors and your general sense of coziness. I don't love your famous holiday, but that's a story for another time. I read 5 books during your days this year, and they were some pretty different ones than what I read normally. Thanks for mixing things up!

Here's what I read this October:


The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan. // "A wave of intense happiness washed over me, and I told myself to carry this moment as a talisman of a time in my life when I was both truly content and lucky enough to realize it."

This book isn't my normal kind of read, but after seeing it recommended by friends like Bailey, I decided to give it a go. I surprisingly enjoyed this lighthearted, easy read. I especially liked all the London/England references and reminiscing on my own summer spent living there, so that made it even more fun. This definitely isn't a profoundly amazing piece of literature, but it would make for a great Saturday read by a fire or curled up on a cozy couch or on a plane while traveling. If you see it at your library, grab it and enjoy (but probably don't spend money on it because it isn't one you'll re-read)!


Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert. // "Bring forth what is within you, then, whether it succeeds or fails. Do it whether the final product (your souvenir) is crap or gold. Do it whether the critics love you or hate you-- or whether the critics have never heard of you and perhaps will never hear of you. Do it whether people get it or don't get it. It doesn't have to be perfect and you don't have to be Plato. It's all just an instinct and an experiment and a mystery, so begin. Begin anywhere. Preferably right now. And if greatness should ever accidentally stumble upon you, let it catch you hard at work."

This book IS PURE GOLD. Let me shout that from the rooftops and get your attention so you'll buy it IMMEDIATELY. It is so good. Her podcast is equally amazing. I shared so many more of my gushing thoughts about this book HERE.


The Secret History by Donna Tartt. // "Beauty is terror. Whatever we call beautiful, we quiver before it."

I read this one for October's #COLLABOREADS -- check out my full review here!


Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell. // "If the gospel isn't good news for everybody, then it isn't good news for anybody."

Okay. So Rob Bell. He's a controversial guy in the Christian world. I know that. I've heard the arguments from both sides (he's gone off the deep end / he's actually right on and everyone's just afraid of him, etc). I've never given him a chance, so I decided it was about time I did. The verdict? I'm not a fan. I liked parts of this book, I'll admit. Some of it was refreshingly real. Most of it was a little wacky to me, and there were some parts that actually made me angry because I disagreed with them so strongly. All in all? I won't read more from him, I feel like I have a clearer picture of who he is and what he stands for, and it just isn't my style or my same belief system. I do strongly believe in reading things you don't agree with though, so I'm glad I put myself up to this challenge. 


When the Heart Waits: Spiritual Direction for Life's Sacred Questions by Sue Monk Kidd. // "Waiting is both passive and passionate. It's a vibrant, contemplative work. It means descending into self, into God, into the deeper labyrinths of prayer. It involves listening to disinherited voices within, facing the wounded holes in the soul, the denied and undiscovered, the places one lives falsely. It means struggling with the vision of who we really are in God and molding the courage to live that vision."

Kidd is the one who wrote bestsellers like The Secret Life of Bees, but this book is something totally different from her. It's deeply personal, journeying through a phase in her life characterized by much waiting and change and evolving and growth. I read this one slowly, picking it up periodically and always finding that what I read resonated with me in that moment. This book is probably more geared toward middle-aged or older women (as that was Kidd's age when writing through it) but I found it to be just as relevant to my life as a younger twenty-something still. The metaphor of a cocoon repeats throughout the book and there are many other images and parallels she describes that have still stuck with me in poignant ways. This one is a really good one if you feel like you're in any in-between, waiting season at all. 


What are you reading lately?! 

#COLLABOREADS: Back to School

We're baaaaaaack! Did you miss us?! Every month, I just get so excited that Amber and I get to host this little link-up and share our books with you and hear all about what you're reading (and hopefully loving!) -- it's just the best.

If you've never heard about #COLLABOREADS, welcome to the fourth month of our fun little online book club! We pick a theme every month (so everyone's reading different books) and then all link up and share our thoughts (with a handy-dandy R.E.A.D.S. acronym usually) and link up and become BFFs. You can read more about this whole thing here.

This month's theme was a book about "back to school", and I chose I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban. Wow. What a book.


Riveting.

What part of the book could you NOT get enough of? Malala's story, from the very first page to the very last page, is powerful. I kept having to remind myself that she was YOUNG. She was a middle-schooler when most of the story took place. It's amazing to me how brave, mature, worldly, passionate, and dedicated she was to a cause and a life so much bigger than herself, even when her own life was in total chaos and confusion. I was blown away by her courage.

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How did you relate to/care for the characters? I fell in love with sweet Malala from the beginning of this book and felt so much compassion for her and so much empathy for how challenging so many things in her life were because of where she lived and who was in power. I wanted to give her a huge hug and a high five and all the books and all the humble gratitude for the ways she opened my eyes to everything I take for granted as an American woman.

What's your thought on the plot line and twists and turns? This book, since it's the story of Malala's life, was less twisty and turny than some fiction books, but it was still gripping and engaging throughout. At times, there were passages that seemed dry or didn't hold my interest very well, but they still were necessary to set the stage of her circumstances growing up. The way she opened the book with the most dramatic (and well-known) tragedy of her life and then flashed back to give context was very smart in terms of plot line, I thought.

Associate.

What other books are like this one? I remember reading a book called Princess by Jean Sasson in high school, and it struck me as similar as it was a story about a Saudi Arabian woman who chose to risk her life to speak out about the lives of women in her country. There were many parallels between Princess and I Am Malala in terms of both of the women choosing to secretly share their stories with authors/reporters/journalists despite the dangers of doing so, because they so desperately wanted to see women have more freedoms and lead better lives. I'm inspired and challenged by women like that.

Design.

What did you think of it? I think it was a powerful and simple but beautiful cover-- seeing Malala's face (with that Mona Lisa smirk and stare!) connected me with her even more. The colors are striking and bright, which I think stands in stark but good contrast with some of the darkness of her story and shows that she is truly radiant and a bright light in the world.

Stars. 

How many out of five do you give this book? Would you recommend this book to a friend? All five! Yep, I would recommend it to anyone who hasn't yet heard of Malala or read her book (because I know I was SO behind the times with this one!).


LET'S LINK UP NOW.

Share your post here, and go leave love in the comments for everyone else! You'll probably add a bunch of books to your to-read lists too, so get those ready.

Also, make sure you read Amber's review HERE! Because she's the other half of this whole operation and always talks about books so beautifully.


And finally, for NEXT MONTH:

The topic for October is "Thriller/Horror pre-2010" and we hope you'll find a book published before 2010 (just as a fun added challenge, and because we all know the popular thrillers of recent years... cough cough Gone Girl...), read it throughout October, and link up with us again on October 26!

What I Read in August

August was WILD. The first week was spent getting a BUNCH of work done to get ahead of myself, then I was traveling all over the country for two weeks, then I packed up EVERYTHING I own and moved into a new apartment across town, and hardly had a second to sit down and catch my breath. It's been crazy.

With that being said, it shouldn't be surprising that I only got through a couple books. Then again, since I read an insane 14 BOOKS in July, I think it all balances out! 


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Mystery and Manners by Flannery O'Connor. // "What these editorial writers fail to realize is that the writer who emphasizes spiritual values is very likely to take the darkest view of all of what he sees in this country today. For him, the fact that we are the most powerful and wealthiest nation in the world doesn't mean a thing in any positive sense. The sharper the light in faith, the more glaring are apt to be the distortions the writer sees in the life around him."

Flannery is my favorite. She was young and brilliant and sassy and so honest in her writing and faith. I can't read enough by her. When I found this collection of prose by her in my local used bookstore, I was so excited. It's a mix of essays and pieces she published and things that were never published, which was really cool to me. O'Connor writes a lot about writing, a lot about the South, a lot about the church and faith, and a lot about fiction/literature. If any of those things interest you, READ HER STUFF. That is all. If Flannery wasn't such an odd name, I would seriously consider it for my future child.

 


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Travels with Charley: In Search of America by John Steinbeck. // "For how can one know color in perpetual green, and what good is warmth without cold to give it sweetness?"

I read this one during my two-week cross-country road trip, and it was the PERFECT choice. It's all about Steinbeck's adventures around America, and I absolutely loved how many parallels there were between his trip and mine. He wrote about a lot of places we saw, which was hilarious! I agreed with just about everything he wrote, too. This was a wonderful read if you have any wanderlust or love for this great country in you.

 


Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver. // "Now I'm starting to think he wasn't supposed to be my whole life, he was just this doorway to me."

I reviewed this one in depth for #COLLABOREADS, so read that here!


Here's to a much fuller blog post next month of books read in September! ;)

BLOG-TEMBER: An Introduction

The Internet has brought amazing people into my world that I NEVER would have met otherwise. It's the coolest thing, and I'm thankful for those people every single day. I've partnered with friends and made ideas come to life, I've joined friends and vlogged for the first time ever, I've met fellow gluten-free vegans...etc.

One of these amazing friends is Bailey. She's one of the very best. She's hosting The Blog-Tember Challenge this month, with a prompt every day for all of September. Because I know myself and know that I could never manage a post a day on top of my regular blogging (and on top of the launch of The Rising too), I'm going to just be picking and choosing different days to jump in on, but I am so excited! Thanks to Bailey for organizing and hosting this awesome challenge!

Today's prompt is this: Introduce yourself however you like! Pics, vlog, collage, your choice :)

So, HI FRIENDS.

I'm Rachel. My initials are RAD, which is why you see them up there in the corner. My favorite color is emerald green (my birthstone), so that's up there in that logo too, and the arrow is significant to me for a lot of reasons. I even got it tattooed on the side of my foot! To me, an arrow is such a simple tool, basically useless on its own. In the hands of a skilled Archer, though, it can go so far and hit a target and actually have an impact. My life is like that-- useless on its own, but in the hands of the One who made me, I can actually go the distance and have an impact for His kingdom because He is the one sending me. It's a reminder to run the race He's set before me, to give Him the glory, and to never be too proud on my own.

I'm an INFJ, and Strengths Finder says my strengths are responsibility, connectedness, belief, intellection, and empathy (if you're into that kind of thing like I am!).

I work for Rethink Creative Group and our faith-based blog The Rising is my baby. We re-launch on Sept. 8-- stay tuned! 

I've been a believer my entire life, and was baptized when I was 7. My testimony is one of brokenness and redemption, heartbreak and healing, trying to live life on my own then learning how to embrace and love community, trying to be self-sufficient, failing, and then learning the sweet, beautiful, radical gift of grace, and a whole lot of falling flat on my face before a Lord that is merciful and so mighty to save me time and time again. I'm daily amazed by Him. 

I was born in Maryland, grew up in Arizona, and now live in Virginia. I've learned that home isn't places, but people, love, and a whole lot of pieces put together.

I'm a gluten-free vegan. Yes, it's hard. Yes, I still get my protein. Yes, I love it. No, I don't want to eat a burger, but thanks to everyone who always says that! ;)

I have another tattoo on my arm that I love love love, and you can read the story behind it here.

I'm a major bookworm. I write monthly blog posts about what I'm reading here, and my friend Amber and I host the #COLLABOREADS link up every month here!

I love adventure, exploring new cities, finding fun coffeeshops and drinking too much coffee, spending hours in bookstores, being outside, napping in my Eno hammock, traveling, scouring farmers markets for the best fresh produce and WILDFLOWERS, and experiencing everything I can everywhere I go.

I absolutely love sunsets and have been known to dangerously try to capture them in pictures while driving...oops.

I have a braid or a bun in my hair most days. It's a wild mane otherwise, and a girl's gotta do what she's gotta do.

I created this project called Story Seeker last summer as a way to get to truly know new people and swap stories. It has changed my life. You can read the stories here. If you want to share yours, I would be honored and absolutely overjoyed to hear and share it! 

I made a bucket list for 2015 and have LOVED how much it has pushed me to do new things!

I'm a liiiiiiittle obsessed with Shark Week. I watch a TON of Food Network and HGTV. I love love love Friday Night Lights, Grey's Anatomy, New Girl, Scandal, Bachelor/Bachelorette (guilty pleasure), Parenthood, Nashville, One Tree Hill, and How to Get Away with Murder. Wow, that's a lot of shows.

I'm a huge hockey fan-- GO CAPS. I grew up going to Phoenix Coyotes games and my high school boyfriend played and loved hockey too, so I got really into it and am now a diehard Washington Capitals fan through good and bad. Other sports? Eh. 

I'm learning lately to live my life with eyes open. I want to wake up from my slumber, calm the chaos, and make all of my life matter and be meaningful. I'm choosing to be grateful daily, even when I feel overwhelmed or out of control. 

It's so fun to share more about myself, but now I want to know more about YOU. Share a fun fact in the comments, friends! :)

 

What I Read in July

Somehow, I read SO MANY BOOKS in July. This month's total is higher than any other... a whopping 14 books in one month. I guess the heat and humidity outside have kept me inside more with nothing to do but devour books on my to-read list!

Here's what I read this July-- please comment at the bottom with any thoughts or recommendations or anything at all!


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The Vacationers by Emma Straub. // "They had chosen to make the leap and, having leapt, were delighted to find that the world was even more beautiful than they’d hoped.

My mom was reading this one for her book club, and I happened to get it from the library at the same time, so we both read this one simultaneously. It only took us a night to read it, and neither of us liked it, honestly. It never really seemed to go anywhere and I never connected with any of the characters at all. It ended so abruptly with a strange sense of resolution that didn't really seem to fit how the book had been going, and it just left me totally dissatisfied and disappointed. I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone, it just isn't worth your time at all.


Delicious! by Ruth Reichl. // "Change works both ways. You must accept those moments, experience them, and let them go. Because if you allow yourself to get stuck in that minute, nothing will ever change.” 

I had this book on my wish list for ages, but finally found it at the library and grabbed it. I'm a huge foodie and watch the Food Network whenever possible, so reading a book with such a focus on food was right up my alley. I was so enamored with this book-- the plot did not at all go as I expected (in such a delightful way) and I loved all the layers of story Reichl wove together. I was blown away that this was her first work of fiction-- it's fantastic and I would have expected her to be a fiction pro by the way it was written. You will absolutely fall in love with the characters, be surprised by the way the plot turns, and will want to eat every single thing Reichl writes about.


The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. // “To live every day as if it had been stolen from death, that is how I would like to live. To feel the joy of life, as Eve felt the joy of life. To separate oneself from the burden, the angst, the anguish that we all encounter every day. To say I am alive, I am wonderful, I am. I am. That is something to aspire to.” 

Recently, my grandma gave me a few big boxes of books she had read for book clubs and such, and I found this one among them. I had seen it around, so I was curious. It was such a great and unexpected read-- it's told from the perspective of the dog, Enzo, and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. It's heartfelt and heartbreaking and hearing it all from the dog's point of view just makes it better and richer than I think it would have been otherwise. If you've ever had a dog and wondered what goes on in their minds, you would love this story of true love through the crazy twists and turns of life.


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The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. // "Keep only those things that speak to your heart. Then take the plunge and discard all the rest. By doing this, you can reset your life and embark on a new lifestyle.

I've seen this little book EVERYWHERE but really just never wanted to spend money on it. The library came through on this one! I read it while sitting at the car place getting my car inspected (at 7:30 am...) and here's the honest truth: it wasn't that great. Hardly anything she said was news to me, she was super repetitive, and I just wasn't amazed. I appreciate her core message that we should only keep the things that spark joy and get rid of the rest, but this book just didn't really wow me. To be fair, I did do some tidying up when I finished reading, so maybe that's the whole point?


We Were Liars by E. Lockhart. // "We are liars. We are beautiful and privileged. We are cracked and broken."

I ventured back into the world of YA fiction with this one, and found that I blew through it in no time. I knew from the beginning that there was going to be some crazy twist (the writing style and everything just set things up for one) but I did not expect what happened at all. This wasn't an incredible work of literature or anything (it's not trying to be) but it's a great YA book with a strong pull and great twists along the way, so it was a solid read!


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New and Selected Poems: Volume One by Mary Oliver. // "Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?"

Ever since I heard that quote by Oliver, I've been dying to read more of her poetry. I finally got my hands on this collection, and I absolutely am in love. I spent several evenings curled up in bed just reading and re-reading these poems (and even reading some aloud to myself because that's when poetry truly shines). It's one I know I'll read over and over again-- her words are just gorgeous.


Where'd You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple. // "Maybe that’s what religion is, hurling yourself off a cliff and trusting that something bigger will take care of you and carry you to the right place."

Okay, I STRUGGLED to get through this one. I know, I know. Everyone loves it. BUT I DO NOT KNOW WHY. I think my first big turn-off was the format...I do not like books that are written in the form of emails and letters and narratives all strung together. At page 50, I wanted to quit. I wasn't into it, wasn't feeling it...but because EVERYONE raves about it, I kept going. I admit, it got a little more interesting as the plot thickened and characters got more exciting, but I just never fell in love. This book was just mediocre to me, and I really don't get all the hype. Oh well.


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The Artisan Soul: Crafting Your Life into a Work of Art by Erwin Raphael McManus. // "Our great fear is that we will never live a life worth sharing with others, never live a story worth telling, but that we will find ourselves trapped in a story for which there is no ending, only an endless cycle of disappointment and defeat. ... The reality is that our struggles and suffering give us the context to tell the greatest story of our lives."

I've had this book on my wish list for ages, and finally found it in paperback for cheap on Amazon and decided to give it a read. Overall, I actually wasn't super impressed or amazed by it. A lot of the time, it felt like little tweet-able one liners strung together without a lot of depth or continuity or anything holding it together. It wasn't bad, and I definitely underlined a lot of sentences and thought he said some good things, but it wasn't really anything spectacular. It's a short book, so if you need a little creative boost to remind you that your life is truly art and that what you do matters and that creativity is essential to our lives, this is a great book to grab.


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The Secrets of Mary Bowser by Lois Leveen. // "Now here in Richmond, that humanity shone before us."

This was my #COLLABOREADS pick of the month, so I'll let you read that review there


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Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling. // "In my mind, the sexiest thing in the world is the feeling that you’re wanted."

Okay, so I should probably start this by saying I don't think I've ever actually seen Mindy Kaling in anything...I've never seen The Office or The Mindy Project, so I really don't know much about her except what snippets and commercials and stuff I've seen. But...I loved Amy Poehler's book, and I saw this at the library and thought it would be similarly amusing and fun to read, so I read it. I really just didn't enjoy it, though. I think if I already knew and loved Mindy, it would have been better. It wasn't bad by any means, it just wasn't really that exciting and it wasn't very funny and it didn't really seem to say a whole lot... I guess it wasn't ever meant to be serious literature though so maybe I should just take it for what it is and move on! Okay, moving on.


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Encounters with Jesus: Unexpected Answers to Life's Biggest Questions by Timothy Keller. // "When you believe in him you are not just forgiven but beautiful to God, righteous in Him. Now, how do you deal with criticism or failure? We should not look at who we are in ourselves but at who we are in him. Oftentimes after we screw up, we realize upon reflection that we are trying to save face, scrambling for reputation or approval. In other words, we try to prove ourselves, make ourselves beautiful, significant, and righteous--though we wouldn't use those terms. We are trying to make ourselves feel important and decent, instead of letting Jesus carry the burden of significance. If we really understood how God regards us in Christ, we could take disapproval and failure in stride."

I am a major Tim Keller fan and this book was no exception. Going through encounters with Jesus found in the book of John, Keller shares so much goodness, wisdom, and truth about who Jesus is and who we are in Him. I love when teachers and authors like Keller take Scripture and dive in deeply to it, showing meaning and significance and richness that can easily be missed with a quick skim. I underlined and loved so much of this book, especially that quote above that just struck me so powerfully. This book is such a simple yet glorious reminder of who Christ is and what He has done for us, and I would HIGHLY, highly recommend it to any believer, new or old.


The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield. // "Rule of thumb: The more important a call or action is to our soul's evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it."

I've heard about this book from several people, and I SEVERELY judged it by it's cover. I mean, come on, isn't that the WORST cover you've ever seen? What is even going on there? I finally decided to give it a shot and I have to admit-- it was AMAZING. So good. It's easy to read, with many pages having only one paragraph of text (which meant I could write lots of notes and process right on the pages themselves! bonus!) Pressfield talks extensively about Resistance-- the thing that keeps us from doing the very things we were created to do. Basically, I decided that Resistance is Satan's alter ego-- he hates when we try to do the things the Lord gifted and called us to, and will do anything and everything in his power to keep us from it. This book was a swift kick in the pants and a big motivational speech all at once. No matter who you are, this book will speak to you. Guaranteed there's something you feel called to do (even deep, deep down), but something's keeping you from doing it. DON'T LET IT. Grab this book, wake up, and go after it.


Life of the Beloved by Henri J. M. Nouwen. // "It was as if I kept refusing to hear the voice that speaks from the very depth of my being and says: 'You are my Beloved, on you my favor rests.' That voice has always been there, but it seems that I was much more eager to listen to other, louder voices saying: 'Prove that you are worth something; do something relevant, spectacular, or powerful, and then you will earn the love you so desire.'"

I cannot say enough good things about this book. I have already come back to it more than a handful of times to soak up the words again and again and again. I have always loved and wrestled with the idea of being beloved, and this book illuminated all of that. Originally written by Nouwen for a Jewish friend, I found it incredibly convicting and humbling and stunning as a lifelong Christian. I want to get the word beloved tattooed on my body to remind me forever of the core truth of my identity: I am His Beloved.


Fidelity: Five Stories by Wendell Berry. // "It was as though his soul were like a little moon that would be dark at times and bright at others."

It was originally here that I heard about Wendell Berry, and then I read this about him and wanted to just read everything by him. He's written so much, so I'll spend a lifetime trying to get my hands on all of it, which is a great problem to have. These five stories are all poignant and unique and paint beautiful pictures of his characters that are unlike any others. This was a great read for a breezy summer evening in my hammock between two big trees with a cider in hand.


I'll be on vacation for two weeks of August and then moving in to a new apartment, so I'm sure my August book list will be a lot smaller :)

If you're looking for a book idea...our August theme for #COLLABOREADS is "a book set in summer"! Find some ideas here and join us with your review at the end of August!

#COLLABOREADS: A Name in the Title

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If you're just hearing about #Collaboreads for the first time, here's the short summary: for the month of July, Amber and I decided the topic would be "a book with a name in the title," and anyone who was interested could choose one, read it throughout July, and then today, they'll publish their review (we gave an acrostic of R.E.A.D.S. that everyone can use for this!) and link-up with us at the very bottom of this post or on Amber's.


Here's what the inside flap of this book says (since it's not super well-known and I doubt you've seen it or heard of it before!): All her life, Mary has been a slave to the wealthy Van Lew family of Richmond, Virginia. But when Bet, the willful Van Lew daughter, decides to send Mary to Philadelphia to be educated, she must leave her family to seize her freedom. Life in the North brings new friendships, a courtship, and a far different education than Mary ever expected, one that leads her into the heart of the abolition movement. With the nation edging toward war she defies Virginia law by returning to Richmond to care for her ailing father-- and to fight for emancipation. Posing as a slave in the Confederate White House in order to spy on President Jefferson Davis, Mary deceives even those who are closest to her to aid the Union command. Just when it seems that all her courageous gambles to end slavery will pay off, Mary discovers that everything comes at a cost-- even freedom.


Riveting.
What part of the book could you NOT get enough of? 

Knowing this book was based on a real woman, Mary Bowser, who was born a slave in Richmond, VA (my city!) and was freed and educated in the North but came back to the South to fight for freedom as a Union spy, I was instantly engrossed in this story. I loved all the Richmond references and imagining my city back in the 1800s. I don't know that anyone else will think that's even remotely interesting, but I absolutely loved that about this book!

This girl is GUTSY. She made choices and did things I could never even imagine doing myself, so I became her biggest fan and admirer as I saw how relentlessly she fought for freedom even after she was free herself.

Elements.
How did you relate to/care for the characters?
What's your thought on the plot line and twists and turns? 

The main character, Mary, grows up from a young girl in this book, and you see the world (the good, the bad, the unfair, the challenging, and the exciting) through her eyes in a way that makes you connect with her. You like who she likes and feel what she feels. Many other characters play significant roles in her life over the years, and her parents especially will tug at your heartstrings. Despite being born into slavery, Mary has amazing people in her life who root for her and provide for her and give her opportunities many would have only dreamt of, and you are grateful while reading that those people exist for her.

The plot line was slow in parts, and after reading the inside flap that talked about Mary being a spy in the Confederate White House, I was surprised it took more than half the book to get to that. What I liked about that, though, was that I knew Mary well. I had seen her grow from a five year old to a strong, independent, courageous and intelligent woman who fought for freedom with every ounce of her. I loved how this book ended, too, but I won't give it away!

Associate.
What other books are like this one?
If none, did it remind you of a particular TV or movie with its themes and characters? Does it serendipitous-ly line-up with things going on in your life or the news right now? 

This book is similar (because of the timeframe and genre and general content) to books like The Help, To Kill a Mockingbird, books by Sue Monk Kidd, etc, but very different in the approach and angle. Like Amber said last month, I keep finding myself drawn to books from the Civil Rights era because of all the recent headlines and tragedies centered on race. I'm simultaneously amazed at how far we've come in so short a time, and also how little has changed. Books like these help me understand the bigger picture and enter the conversations happening today with a better understanding and more awareness.

Design.
You know you judged this book by the cover.
What did you think of it? How did it relate to the contents of the novel? And the font and layout of the pages? 

The cover has a metal key laying on a handwritten page, and while it looks representative of the time the book is set in, it's not particularly remarkable or exciting as a cover. The pages are the rough edged kind that make it seem like you're reading an old journal, which again, felt appropriate for the nature of this book. 


Stars. 
How many out of five do you give this book? Would you recommend this book to a friend?

Four out of five stars for this one! I would especially recommend it to friends who live in Richmond, friends interested in the Civil Rights era, or friends who have read other books in a similar style/genre and enjoyed them.


LET'S LINK UP NOW.

Share your post here, and go leave love for everyone else! An added bonus? Reading all these posts will give your to-read list a bunch of new additions!


Now, for NEXT MONTH:

The topic for August is "A book set in the summertime" and we hope you'll find a book, read it throughout August, and link up with us again on August 31! 

Here's a list of books set in summer if you need some ideas!

What I Read in June

We are halfway through 2015. WHAT. That feels wild.

My goal for 2015 was to read 50+ books, and I've prioritized reading this year like never before. I guess it's paying off...because I've tackled 40 books already. That feels even more wild. Here's what I read this June! It was a busy month full of AMAZING books.


The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan. // "Throughout the day I felt profoundly connected to the countless men and women through the ages who have at some time or other come to this realization about themselves: that life is a relentless sliding down, that eventually everyone finds himself in water up to his neck, and that the ability to have such realizations is what distinguishes men from beasts."

I found this national bestseller at B&N for like $5, and the cover design is beautiful, so I bought it. Yep, I'm a sucker like that. I thought this book would be really similar to the Titanic story (it's also about an ocean liner sinking, but in this case, due to a mysterious explosion), but I was surprised at how different the premise was. This book was one that I read in one sitting this evening and would definitely pass along-- it makes you think about the nature of humanity, the things we would do to save ourselves, and how selfish we ultimately are. It was a quick read, fast-paced and compelling and well-written, and definitely worth a read.


The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez. // "Because a place can do many things against you, and if it's your home or if it was your home at one time, you still love it. That's how it works."

This book was fantastic. The chapters bounce around to different characters, all people who have immigrated to the United States from various South and Central American countries for different reasons. This book is poignant, beautifully woven together, and dripping with the passion and struggle that comes with pursuing the American dream for the good of family. It opened my eyes to what coming here must be like for so many, and I couldn't put it down. I think Americans need to read more books like this one so the compassion and grace that drips from its pages will seep into our own lives and change the way we interact with the incredible people who have come to make a home here.


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The Rescue by Nicholas Sparks. // "'That even though you rescued me, you were trying to rescue yourself, because of what happened to your father.'"

Yep, I read a Nicholas Sparks book. Not my usual style, I admit, although I read quite a few of his books back in the day! I was at my grandparents house and my grandma had given me a box of books she had read and didn't want anymore, so when they left me at their house to go to a dinner, this was the one I grabbed. I ended up reading it all that evening and was actually a little surprised that it didn't totally follow the cliche plot I had expected. It definitely wasn't a literary masterpiece, but as far as easy romantic fiction goes, it was pretty good. If you need a super light love story to read on a rainy evening, grab something by Nicholas Sparks and just relax.


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The Crane Wife by Patrick Ness. // "There were as many truths - overlapping, stewed together - as there were tellers. The truth mattered less than the story's life. A story forgotten died. A story remembered not only lived, but grew."

I FINALLY renewed my library card (and found that I had $2.20 of fines waiting for me from high school...) and this was one of the books I picked up purely based on the intriguing cover design. If you don't judge books by their covers, you're a better person than me, because I totally do. This book was different than any other I've ever read, even from the opening lines. The writing is...enchanting (but that doesn't seem to fully cover it). The story immediately pulled me in poetically and mysteriously, like a cool breeze was nudging me through fog toward a glimmering and warm light. Sounds weird, but it was incredible. I loved this book from the start, and loved how it unfolded and how unexpectedly it concluded... definitely recommend this one!


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All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. // "Could he, by some miracle, keep this going? Could they hide here until the war ends? Until the armies finish marching back and forth above their heads, until all they have to do is push open the door and shift some stones aside and their house has become a ruin beside the sea? Until he can hold her fingers in his palms and lead her out into the sunshine?"

This book was my choice for #collaboreads, so I'll just direct you to that post to read my thoughts in detail...this book was incredible and beautiful and I just can't write all my thoughts in this small space here!


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If You Feel Too Much: Thoughts on Things Found and Lost and Hoped For by Jamie Tworkowski. // "You deserve the space to be human. Family chooses us but we get to choose our community. Our friends. Our support system. We are meant to be known, to be loved, to be in honest relationships where we can be carried and where we can help carry."

This book, written by the founder of To Write Love On Her Arms, wasn't what I expected it would be. I didn't expect it to be so much like a memoir, with old blog posts and letters and notes and stories pieced together from years of Jamie's life, broken up by chunks of years with different definitions. It was such an honest book, so open and transparent, so raw in sharing the pain and also the hope, in celebrating life and coming together in the darkness. I am a feeler, and so much of this book resonated with the way my heart reacts to the world around me. I soaked this one up in an evening and know I'll return to it to be reminded of ever-present hope and the joy that comes from living life alongside others and the beauty of community through the highs and lows.


To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. // "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view... Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it."

This book is such a classic. I've been struck by how themes in this book and similar injustices and racism are still prevalent now, 55 years after this book was published. It was a necessary reminder that we still have so far to go and I want to be part of that fight for equality.


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Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives by Gretchen Rubin. // "For a happy life, it's important to cultivate an atmosphere of growth-- the sense that we're learning new things, getting stronger, forging new relationships, making things better, helping other people. Habits have a tremendous role to play in creating an atmosphere of growth, because they help us make consistent, reliable progress."

This book was incredible. I'm a person who is pretty much obsessed with personality tests and self-reflection tools and self-analysis, so I absolutely devoured this one. I have always been awful at creating good habits and breaking bad ones, and this book was incredibly enlightening as to why that is. It gave me so many solid insights into my personality and how to play into my strengths to create solid habits that I will actually keep...it's just an excellent resource that is full of research and practical, manageable advice but reads easily. I haven't read anything else by Rubin, but now I want to read EVERYTHING. This book will absolutely be one I refer to over and over as I keep growing and learning!


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The Art of Stillness by Pico Iyer. // "Writers, of course, are obliged by our professions to spend much of our time going nowhere. Our creations come not when we're out in the world, gathering impressions, but when we're sitting still, turning those impressions into sentences. Our job, you could say, is to turn, through stillness, a life of movement into art. Sitting still is our workplace, sometimes our battlefield.

A while back, I stumbled upon a TED talk called "The Art of Stillness" and fell in love with the way Pico Iyer talked about going nowhere. I love travel and adventure and exploring new places, but I also deeply love my solitude and times of stillness and quiet, so what he said affirmed my belief that the calm is so crucial in our lives. This book was just 65 pages and meant to be digested in one sitting. It's full of tranquil and stunning photography and a slightly more detailed look at the art of stillness than he presented in his talk, but both are wonderful and worth your short amount of time!


What have you read and loved lately? I would love your recommendations!

Life Lately: June 19

Making // plans for a two-week cross-country road trip with Dad for August, and I am SO EXCITED. One of my goals for this year was to visit two new states, and this trip will cross five off of my list!

Cooking // tacos. All the tacos. All the time. 

Drinking // French press coffee (the best coffee)

Reading // Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin and All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (my #collaboreads pick!)

Playing // the app WordBrain -- it's addicting and so fun (and frustrating!)

Enjoying // all the goodies from my third Causebox from Sevenly-- so many fun things this time!

Liking // bullet journaling! Thanks to posts from Amber and Kristin, I've offially ditched my planner and my million random to-do lists and streamlined everything into one bullet journal that I LOVE.

Wondering // which of the apartments I'm checking out with a friend today will be the favorite...

Loving // this "Acoustic Concentration" playlist on Spotify! It's a nice mix-up from my usual "Stress Relief" playlist, but just as good for background noise when I need to get work done.

Pondering // all the incredible conversations I've had in the last week with friends and family, and trying to get everything written down before I forget. So much verbal processing happened and that's not my norm, but it opened my eyes and heart to SO MANY NEW THINGS and I'm so grateful.

Watching // Friday Night Lights on Netflix all over again from the beginning. Because Texas Forever. Clear eyes, full heart, can't lose.

Hoping // this Sunday's Color Me Mad 5K is as fun as they seem to be! Let's hope my knee holds out okay and I make it through the finish line without having to crawl!

Marveling // at the simple beauty of hydrangeas (thanks, TJ!)

Needing // to get back into my morning yoga routine...my muscles hurt and it's not going to be pretty.

Smelling // a sweet honeysuckle candle burning... smells like summer and I love it.

Wearing // lots and lots and lots of neutrals. and lots of Madewell.

Noticing // keeping healthy snacks on my desk means I'll be more mindful in my snacking. Almonds and apples are my current go-to choices!

Thinking // a lot about what family looks like and how we do family well... this post from Ann Voskamp is one I know I'll keep reading over and over.

Admiring // the newest Darling Magazine... beautiful.

Sorting // through my closet, getting rid of things that aren't my style any more or that don't fit or that I don't love...because I'm learning that I'm an over-buyer and I want to try to simplify even though it isn't my nature.

Buying // a curling wand! When we were in Texas, we took new head shots, and a new friend kindly took pity on my mess of hair and curled it...I was sold instantly. So quick! So beautiful!

Getting // TONS AND TONS of bug bites already this summer...so I finally bought essential oils that are good for repelling those little guys so I can hopefully not get eaten alive anymore!

Bookmarking // each of my devotionals every day reminds me how quickly and simultaneously slowly the year goes by. (I read Jesus Calling, My Utmost for His Highest, and Savor every morning.)

Disliking // humidity. Go away.

Opening // a new journal is like opening a door to a whole new world. That first crack of the spine, the sweet smell of new paper, the blank space just waiting to be filled...it's an experience and I love it.

Feeling // heartbroken by the Charleston shooting and devastated by the loss of nine beautiful lives. It's easier to try to tune out the news and avoid reading the articles about the tragic current events in the world around me, but this time, I didn't let myself do that. I read the articles. I watched the news. I read the tweets and the posts and the commentaries. I wept. Really and truly, I cried like I haven't cried in a long time, praying out loud to a God I know is weeping too at such a loss. May I love like Jesus-- regardless of any color, any sin, any lifestyle, any culture, or any difference at al. May I be aware of and broken by injustice, by violence, by cruelty, by racism, by prejudice, by slavery, by all that is wrong in our world. May I never stay silent when the Lord is calling me to speak, may I never turn away and pretend I don't see, may I never feign ignorance. May Your kingdom come. May Your peace comfort. May Your love heal. May Your people be Your hands and feet. May Your light shine in darkness.

What I Read in May

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Every month this year, I'm gathering up all of the books I've read (my goal for 2015 is 52 and I've tackled more than 30 already!) and sharing quick little reviews with you. This post is a few days late because the nasty stomach flu knocked me out cold for a few days, but here are the books I read this May!


Help Thanks Wow: The Three Essential Prayers by Anne Lamott. // "Love falls to earth, rises from the ground, pools around the afflicted. Love pulls people back to their feet. Bodies and souls are fed. Bones and lives heal. New blades of grass grow from charred soil. The sun rises."

Anne Lamott. I cannot say enough good things. This book was one I read in a short afternoon at one of my favorite cafes, and although I found myself recognizing a lot of passages from previous books I've read by Anne, I still loved it. I've always been a major fan of the totally honest, transparent style of prayer and writing too (why get all flowery and formal when you can just be totally real with God?) so I loved her way of highlighting her three essential and simple prayers: help, thanks, and WOW! This is a great little book that I heavily underlined, laughed through while reading, and would pass along to many friends.


The Dinner by Herman Koch. // "My mind was already made up. I did what I thought I had to do as a father: I put myself in my son's shoes."

This book was an interesting one. As a New York Times bestseller, I assumed the quality would be high. With a Gillian Flynn (author of Gone Girl) review on the front saying "Chilling, nasty, smart, shocking, and unputdownable," I assumed it would be similar in nature to Gone Girl. It wasn't, at all. I honestly found it pretty boring and slow. I really didn't get much out of it, didn't really find it particularly enjoyable, and wouldn't really suggest you read it. So that's that.


The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis. // "'I can promise you none of these things. No sphere of usefulness: you are not needed there at all. No scope for your talents: only forgiveness for having perverted them. No atmosphere of inquiry, for I will bring you to the land not of questions but of answers, and you shall see the face of God.'"

Oh, C.S. Lewis, how I love you. Your words challenge me, open my eyes to new perspectives and ways of thinking and believing, and constantly push me to make my faith more real and more my own. This book was a beautiful fantasy, what Lewis calls in the preface an "imaginative supposal" of what Heaven and Hell might look like. It was a great afternoon read (in my Eno in perfect weather, no less) and one that will linger in my thoughts as I think of what might await us someday. As always, I highly recommend ANYTHING Lewis writes, because he's the best.


The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. // "I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart. I am, I am, I am.” 

I've been trying to make an effort to read more classic literature and major award-winning books, because they're rich and good and so worth reading. This was one of them-- I've heard of and loved quotes from Plath for a while, but had never really read any of her work. I didn't know what to expect with this one. It took a while for the story to really get going and I wasn't really satisfied with the ending, but there was a lot in the middle about the breakdown of the main character that was fascinating and horrifying and gripping. It wasn't a favorite of mine, but I'm glad I read it.


The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd. // “Stories have to be told or they die, and when they die, we can't remember who we are or why we're here.” 

My sweet friend Amber sent this book to me as a beautiful birthday gift, with a note inside that said "this has been my very favorite book for some time. I hope it sits as beloved in your heart and on your shelves as it does mine." I read it in one evening (you're very productive when in a big empty house after the baby you're watching falls asleep) and truly loved it. It's a rich story of a brave girl in a turbulent time in America's history, and the love seeps through the pages in a sweet (it's all about honey, so literally, it's sweet) way. It's no secret why this book is a bestseller.


All The Birds, Singing: A Novel by Evie Wyld. // "I reached the doorway of my house and looked out. It was still there, whatever it was, the feeling like something had hunkered down in the valley, waiting and watching and ready to stoop."

This book was an interesting one. I honestly don't think I would ever recommend it to anyone. I found it at Barnes & Noble in a section of "Great New Writers" to discover and it was labeled as an award winner, so I thought it would be good. Straight up, it wasn't. I couldn't get into it, couldn't connect with the main character, couldn't keep up with the flashbacks and flash forwards and random characters and overall strange lack of emotion and character OF the main character...it was just a dull, flat, uninteresting read to me. It totally baffles me how The Boston Globe is quoted on the cover saying "The writing floods every age with menace" when I found the TOTAL opposite to be true.


In case you missed my announcement with Amber of Mr. Thomas and Me last week, we have launched a new kind of book club for book lovers: #COLLABOREADS. (READ ALL ABOUT IT HERE OR HERE.) Choose a book currently on the NY Times Bestsellers list and get to reading! We will host a link-up on both of our sites at the end of the month for you to share your thoughts on your book with all of us! PS: I've chosen "All The Light We Cannot See" and am SO excited to dive in to it!

Introducing: #COLLABOREADS

I'm the girl who could get lost in a bookstore for hours, skimming my hands along the spines on the shelf, inhaling the sweet smell of new and old paper, soaking up the words on the page, wanting to take them all home and wrap up in their stories.

I'm the girl who sends friends books for their birthdays, because I want to share the words that have struck me as beautiful.

I'm the girl who adds to her Amazon wish list after every blog post of book reviews or Pinterest pins of "must-reads".

Because I'm this girl, I had this idea: create a place where people can read books, share their thoughts, and connect with other readers as well as what others are reading. I knew as soon as this idea took seed in my brain that I needed Amber on board. 

If you don't know Amber, she shares incredibly rich goodness with the world on her blog Mr. Thomas and Me, and she has a heart of gold. She's brilliant and beautiful and this idea would still be just that if it wasn't for her. She took my idea and built a fantastic structure around it, and I'm so excited to introduce it to you today!

Meet #Collaboreads: a book lover's link-up. 

 Here's how it's going to look: 

  1. We will pick a random criteria for your book. (It'll look something like: published the year you were born or mentions a city in your state or historical fiction about an era you really don't know.)
  2. You find your book. (at your local used bookstore, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, the library, whatever works for you)
  3. Read. (You'll have a month.)
  4. At the end of the month we'll review(ish) our books. (Amber and I will both have places for you to share your links in our posts.)
  5. Repeat steps 1 - 4 every month. 

That's all. Short and sweet and wonderful.

Also-- the hashtag for this is #collaboreads! Use it anywhere and everywhere. Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, anywhere else... it's the way we can all see each other's posts and connect and build a community around our love for words!

Because we'll be reading different books, we decided to make the review process a little more stream-lined. So, we made a little mnemonic for the suggested (completely suggested, you're allowed to do it differently) way to do your review: 

Riveting.
What part of the book could you NOT get enough of? 
 

Elements.
How did you relate to/care for the characters?
What's your thought on the plot line and twists and turns? 
 

Associate.
What other books are like this one?
If none, did it remind you of a particular TV or movie with it's themes and characters? Does it serendipitous-ly line-up with things going on in your life or the news right now? 
 

Design.
You know you judged this book by the cover.
What did you think of it? How did it relate to the contents of the novel? And the font and layout of the pages? 


Stars. How many out of five do you give this book?
Would you recommend this book to a friend? 


We cannot wait to see what books you find and hear what you think about them. We can't wait to get to know you. We can't wait to click on the #collaboreads hashtag on Twitter and Instagram and see all of your posts fill up the feeds.

Please join us for the first link-up on Monday, June 29th. 

The criteria is: On the NYT Best-sellers List when you start reading it. 

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