Monday, January 1, 2018

Top 10 Books of 2017

It's that time again. I'm starting to dread New Year's Day!

Just kidding. Sorta.

I read 159 books this year. I meant to surpass my 2016 number of 161, but I discovered Grey's Anatomy over Christmas Break and now I forget how to read.

I also fasted reading (who is told to fast reading? Most people have reading as part of their resolutions) for a part of September and October. Because let's be honest--my original goal was 200. And that would probably have been excessive.

10. Talking as Fast as I Can by Lauren Graham

Who doesn't love Lauren Graham? (Look up her interviews on Ellen. She's hysterical!) I loved reading this memoir of her life that included a lot of inside look at Gilmore Girls.

9. The Voice in the Wind (trilogy) by Francine Rivers

To be fair, this wasn't a new read. I read it in college. But it had been so long that I literally remembered zero plot or characters, so it felt like a new read. And like every Rivers book, this was a graphic, intense read! It's set in first century Rome and is about Christian martyrs and Roman hedonism.

8. How to Disappear by Sharon Huss Roat

I read a ton of YA lit this year. I have to say, I don't care for much of it anymore. It's getting edgy for the sake of edgy, and there's almost no redemption. This one, though, struck me differently. I can't remember if there was language, so be careful before you hand it to your teenager. It's a novel that explores the lure of social media and the emotional impact it can have (bad and good) for today's average teen.

7. Cape Refuge (series) by Terri Blackstock

I liked this four-book series. It started me on a wave of Christian murder mysteries (which seems like a strange genre). Though that genre is fairly formulaic, this series had characters I cared about and plots that kept me interested.

6. First Light by Rebecca Stead

Rebecca Stead writes middle-grade novels. One of her books has made a list of mine previously; I almost threw another she wrote (Goodbye Stranger) into this top 10. First Light is more fantasy in nature, though it's realistic enough to be believable. Stead creates an under-ice world and contrasts it to the aboveground reality in a beautiful way.

5. The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

If only this book hadn't had the F bomb, I would have been truly captivated. It had twists and turns, colorful characters, and suspense that made me fly through. It wasn't scary, exactly, but I didn't want to read it at night alone!

4. Making Bombs for Hitler by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch

This had all the makings to be one of my favorite reads from the start. Middle-grade novel? Check. Set in World War II? Check. This book explored one of the littler-known populations of WWII, the non-Jewish Polish children who were forced into labor for the Germans. Captivating!

3. The Sound of Gravel by Ruth Wariner

Last year, I had The Polygamist's Daughter by Anna LeBaron on my list. This book is a memoir written by LeBaron's cousin. Wariner grew up under similar conditions to LeBaron, but the way her life unfolded is very different. If anything, Wariner's story is more difficult to read. Her childhood was full of tragedy, and yet somehow, there was always love.

2. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

I'm almost embarrassed to have this on my list. But it was SO well-written! I honestly didn't see ahead of time how it would all play out. It was a fascinating look on old-time Hollywood, as well. I read several of Reid's novels this year, and most of them would have ended up on this list were it not for my strict one-book-per-author rule.

1. Idol Lies by Dee Brestin

Only the second non-fiction book on the list, and it was good enough to claim the number one spot. Brestin explores the underlying motives we all use to walk through our worlds, and she lays out the biblical truth about each one. If you're looking to grow spiritually this year, I can't recommend this book enough.

Shameless Plug Bonus: Catch Somewhere by Megan Hall

GUYS. My first novel was published this year. I DON'T EVEN CARE THAT I WROTE IT. IT IS GOING ON MY LIST. So there. (Don't search Amazon for Megan Hall. Let's just say there's another author with my name and we write VERY different books.)

Catch Somewhere is a Christian YA novel about Kinsley, who struggles with her self-worth, identity, and addiction before finding redemption in Christ. Probably you should read it. And buy it. Whatever it doesn't matter to me oh wait HERE'S THE LINK.

What was the best book YOU read this year?

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Megan's Top 10 Books of 2016

I read 161 books this year. I can't tell you about all of them, though if you follow me on Pinterest, I do keep track of them all. But I always narrow down the best new reads. Without further adieu...

10. The Embassy Row trilogy by Ally Carter

Ally Carter is one of my favorite YA (young adult) authors, and I've managed to make most of my middle school girls fall in love with her Gallagher Girls and Heist Society series. Embassy Row is her latest series, and the first book is called All Fall Down. I'll admit, the first book wasn't my favorite, but the second and third more than made up for it. I am a sucker for books about secret societies, international politics and mysteries, and whodunnits.

9. The List by Robert Whitlow

I tore through all of Whitlow's Christian crime novels this year. I loved a few, liked some more, and felt indifferent towards several. But this one was my favorite of all of them. That's probably because this is also about a secret society. However, this is an overtly Christian novel, and I love seeing spiritual warfare played out on the pages of a fictional book.

8. Free to Fall by Lauren Miller

Miller's YA novel could probably have been a fantastic trilogy. Instead, it's a pretty good novel. I say that because she packed a lot of plot and action into a book where she could have developed it more and spread it among three. I'm pigeonholing myself, and I didn't even realize it until I began summarizing my list, but this book is a dystopian novel where the main character unlocks the mysteries guessed it... a secret society. Unlike the Carter trilogy, this book is set in a technological future where citizens are guided through their days by a device that reminded me eerily of Siri. But what happens when we dismiss our consciences and rely only on what can be proven?

7. Dishonor: One Soldier's Journey from Desertion to Redemption by David Mike

I have the privilege of calling David Mike my friend, and I was able to watch his story unfold on his blog before he published this beautiful memoir this year. Mike spent several years in the 90s as an inmate in Fort Leavenworth after a severe drug addition and deserting the Army. Mike recounts those years in this deeply personal account. You'll be amazed at the journey he takes through these pages. And if you could meet him now, like I've been able to do, you'll see how deeply changed he is from the troubled young man in these memories.

6. After Ever After by Jordan Sonnenblick

I first read a Sonnenblick novel a decade ago with some of my middle school students. The narration is funny and fast-paced, and unlike most YA literature, it's usually told from a male perspective. After Ever After is the sequel to that first novel, Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie, but this could easily read as a standalone because it occurs so many years later. Like all Sonnenblick's books, his happy ending doesn't tie up all nice and perfect, but there's always redemptive hope.

5. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

People had been telling me to read this book for years, but it took me until this past year to finally pick it up. I was blown away. I won't lie; it was a heavy read. The book centers in a small French village during World War II. Deaths, abuses, starvation...this book will tug on every emotion. But I didn't choose it because it made me have happy feels; I chose it because it painted a picture of the side of WWII I never knew. And it was captivating.

4. The Polygamist's Daughter by Anna LeBaron

I have fiercely talented friends, and Anna LeBaron is another. In this memoir, LeBaron recounts her childhood living under the oppression of a polygamist cult. As the daughter of the cult leader and one of 50 children, LeBaron shares how growing up in poverty, hunger, and confusion shaped who she was. This redemptive story also explains her escape and the freedom and healing she found later in life. Scenes from LeBaron's life are painted in riveting detail. I read this book in one sitting; I couldn't put it down. This book doesn't release until March, but it's available for pre-order!

3. The Night Circus by Erin Morganstern

I'm not sure there are words in the English language to begin to explain or describe this book. It's a novel about a magical circus and two young illusionists who are pitted against each other by their teachers. Elements of this book reminded me of the movies The Prestige and The Illusionist but with less creepy and more whimsy. It was a magical, enchanting, surreal read.

2. Unashamed: Drop the Baggage, Pick up Your Freedom, Fulfill Your Destiny by Christine Caine

This was the book that spoke my soul this year. Caine explores shame in a Brene Brown-esque way but adds the necessary ingredients of the blood of Jesus and the love of the Father to find healing from the pain and shame of the past. I think I highlighted more in this book than in anything I've ever read, and I frequently look back at those passages for worship and reflection. Also, it looks like the Kindle version is only $2.99 right now! Snap it up quickly!

1. The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

This was the first book I've ever read that helped shape and shift an entire mindset and social view. Not only is this historical novel loosely based on real-life sisters Angelina and Sarah Grimke in the American Civil War era, but it's a rich and captivating narrative that explores racism, sexism, and destiny in a powerful way. I can't recommend this book enough. It's also a heavy read, but hope soars throughout, especially when you finish the final page and begin to research all that the Grimke sisters accomplished in America.

Bonus: Walking Dauntlessly: The Search for a Meaningful Story  by, well, me. And Deedra Mager.

Yes, this is a shameless plug. But can I really write a top 10 list of books the year I publish a book without at least mentioning it? It's short. It's a quick read. But it's extremely precious to me. It's my story; it's her story; and it's our story of how God heals in community. If you haven't read it yet, you probably should. And then write a review because as long as I'm shamelessly plugging...well, can't hurt.

Have you read any of these?
What are your thoughts?
What was the best book you read this year?

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Siren, Rewritten and Re-released

I’m sure you’ve heard about this (because I can’t shut up about it), but one of my favorite YA authors, Kiera Cass, released a rewrite of her first novel, The Siren. This is a pretty big deal for her. She self-published The Siren six years ago, and since then, she’s had a ton of success with her series, The Selection. It completely makes sense that she should re-release The Siren with her publisher. It even makes a little sense why it might undergo a bit of editing or revising.

What doesn’t make sense is why she changed everything so that it’s barely recognizable.

I’ve read a couple reviews (and an interview with Cass) that say you simply have to treat it as a separate novel. I have two problems with that. First, if that were true, she should have changed the characters’ names and the title of the novel. Second, I’m infatuated with the first novel, so I cannot objectively read it without first filtering it through that lens. I recognize my bias, and I accept it. However, in order to try to maintain a facade of objectivity, I will not list anything as “good” or “bad”; I will simply explain what was kept and what was lost as a result of the rewrite.

What we kept

  • The characters’ names. Kahlen and Akinli are still there, as well as Ben, Julie, Aisling, Miaka, and Elizabeth. 
  • Most of the characters’ backstories. We actually gain more of Kahlen’s backstory. I didn’t mind seeing how her journey as a siren began, although the way it happened was definitely different. Miaka’s story is still there, and Ifama’s is told in memory, not as if we were witnessing it with Kahlen. Same with Marilyn. She’s never actually in the book, just mentioned as a memory. 
  • Kahlen and Akinli’s love for each other. It felt underdeveloped this time around, but you could still see how deeply their hearts were knit together. 
  • The sirens’ job description. Their role in serving the Ocean didn’t change. 
What we gained
  • A new siren. Padma is a brand-new character with her own backstory, and her story drives part of the plot. 
  • Akinli’s man bun. I can’t help you process this. 
  • A more concise novel. There was more action and few lapses with mere description. This was both a good and a bad thing. But I cannot deny that it was pared down. 
  • A completely different ending. The climax and resolution are based around an event that never went down in the first book. 
  • The Ocean’s own words. She never speaks in the first book; we only know her thoughts by what Kahlen relays. It was interesting to read her own dialogue. 
What we lost
  • The central relationship of the story. In the original, the love between Kahlen and the Ocean was the driving force behind every decision. In the rewrite, the Ocean comes across as clueless at best and vengeful at worst. We never see why the Ocean has a special affection for Kahlen, and we miss out on the years Kahlen spent at the Ocean’s side alone. 
  • Aisling’s sacrifice. The secret of Aisling’s past is revealed immediately in the rewrite. There is no climax where she is able to step in and save Kahlen. 
  • Character development. Miaka and Elizabeth seem hard and unfriendly in the rewrite. There is no time to know them and understand why Kahlen loves them. Likewise, we have almost no time with Julie and Ben. 
  • Akinli’s past relationship. I’m okay with this loss. I don’t think knowing about his past relationship in the original helped the story. 
  • Jillian and Kahlen's work as a teacher for the deaf. It was perhaps extraneous in the original novel, but this relationship and plot point helped us understand Kahlen's depths of feelings more, but it was left out because it wasn't needed to drive Kahlen to Akinli.
  • The Giving Tree. In the acknowledgements of the original novel, Cass writes, “Thanks to Shel Silverstein for writing a book that made me decide to become best friends with a tree in the first grade.” This explained so much about befriending the Ocean, but this book has no mention in the rewrite. 
  • The decision between judgment and mercy. Like I said earlier, the climax is completely different. There is no battle to see grace given or judgment doled out. 
  • The beautiful descriptions in writing. The first novel is so filled with amazing words that I have copious pages highlighted in my nook. For example, Cass describes the Ocean as “a shade of blue I’d never encountered. It was the color of ice and honey and sky and rain mixed together into a sheet of flawless glass with broken frothy edges that tickled my feet at the shoreline.” 
I first read The Siren in a time when I felt far from God. It wasn’t that I didn’t love Him; I did, and I was faithfully following Him. But I struggled to depend on Him alone. I couldn’t imagine that He could love me as much as the Bible said He did.

And then I read this book. Kahlen’s words so mirrored my own. She hated being alone, and she ached to be loved. When she finally gives herself over to the Ocean, she realizes the depths of Her love, and she says, “I sat then and wept openly in Her arms. She let Her waves rush over me, and for the first time they didn’t feel like chains. It truly felt like an embrace.”

I read that, and I cried out to God to feel that way with Him. I had my earbuds in, and the first song that came up on iTunes radio was a new song I had never heard before called “Oceans” by Hillsong. I blogged about that night soon after. 

The original cover

You see why this book felt so special to me. My daughter Kaelyn was so named because of this Kahlen. I wanted her name to have a special meaning of one who “trusts without borders” like Kahlen learned how to do in The Siren.

The original book isn’t readily available. It’s going for lots of money on ebay, it seems. I only have a digital copy, and I’m kicking myself for that now. But I’ll continue to read it, year after year, and lose myself in Kahlen’s world.

The rewrite? I’m going to pretend it never happened.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Dauntless Grace: The Backstory

Almost a year ago (fine, it was March 10, but who’s keeping track?), I received a rejection letter from Thomas Nelson publishers telling me that I had not made it into Jen Hatmaker’s For the Love launch team.

If you’re new here, I’m a little obsessed with Jen Hatmaker. Hashtag understatement. Maybe two years ago I convinced my friend to drive me to Wichita and stay at a stranger’s house so that I could go to a JHat conference. Maybe I screenshot every time Jen retweets me. It’s fine.
The first time I met Jen (but not the last)
Wichita, 2014

I was rejected from her launch team. And the friend who only knew about her because I made her drive me to Wichita? She got in. (I made her apply, so I ain’t even mad about it.)

But the rejection hurt more than it should have. It hit the deepest levels of pain in me, and I sobbed. Like, sitting on the edge of my bed, hair in my face, clutching my blanket, sobbed. Over a rejection email that was sent to 4500 women (at random) because Jen is uber popular and 5000 people applied for 500 spots.

Maybe that pain was about more than not getting an advanced copy of a book.

In a Twitterstorm of activity following all the emails, I saw a tweet that referred to those of us who didn’t make it as #the4500. That hashtag took off, and a group was formed on Facebook for all of us who still wanted to support Jen’s launch.

I reluctantly joined this group, still upset but ready to see what this new group would be about. I’ve been in large Facebook groups from the onset before, and I knew it would take several weeks for the chaos of introductions and remembering people’s names to settle down. Instead of trying to wade through the confusion of a brand-new group, I decided to get real with the girls in #the4500. I began asking questions of the women that required them to be vulnerable and honest with themselves.

Eventually, our threads began clouding up the newsfeed, so I moved a bunch of us to a new group where we could get down and deep with each other. It was amazing to see the raw, open stories of some of these women. The very nature of social media is to put up a veneer, yet we chose to strip it off and get real with each other.

God began moving.

Because of the willingness of these women to be authentic and bare, we began to see healing. Women shed long-time insecurities and gained new confidence. The women began fiercely praying for each other’s marriages and families. Lifelong friendships formed.

But I stayed in the background of my own group.

You see, I was still dealing with the pain of rejection. The pain of feeling like I wasn’t wanted by Jen or her publishers in the “real” group. And I realized that I was also finally coming to grips with some rejection issues I had pushed aside in my real life.

I was down. I don’t know another way to put it. I wasn’t depressed, but I couldn’t lift my head. It didn’t feel like a familiar battle. I told a friend that I felt like I was standing on the edge of something, and I could either jump to what God had, or I was going to fall into something I wouldn’t be able to get out of. She looked me in the eyes and told me a whole lot of hard things. She said it was time that I acknowledged my healing. She said that God had a new way of living for me where I needed to be ready to minister healing to others. And that was a conversation that tipped the scales.

I jumped.

I knew God had something special planned for the women in this group I had formed. I didn’t believe it was an accident, and I knew He wanted us to take all the good, hard things we had been experiencing into the big, wide world. He wanted us to share our stories. He told me to start a ministry based on this concept.

I had immediately connected with a girl named Julie. I told her my vision, and I told her I wanted her by my side. We spent several days thinking of a name, texting synonyms of great words back and forth, and eventually, in joint effort, we stumbled upon it: Dauntless Grace Ministries.

For a long time, perhaps months, I followed His plan hesitantly. I never asked for my own ministry. I’m a writer. I like to hang out behind the scenes. I like to support the dreams of others. I never asked to lead something public.

But God asked me to. And He planted a dream in me that I never knew I had.

Right now, Dauntless Grace is still an infant. We are still figuring out where it’s going long-term and what the best route is to get there. What we do know is that it will be sister organizations with Shine Movement because the two ministries share a similar vision of bringing God’s truth to the hearts of women and girls.

I have an amazing staff in place to oversee a weekly blog, monthly newsletter, active accounts on Facebook and Instagram (@dauntlessgraceministries), and even small home groups. I have dreams of publishing curriculum, books, devotionals, and Bible studies. I have a dream of a conference where we equip women with the tools for freedom and healing. I have a dream of podcasts, videos, and other multimedia in order to spread the message of truth to our culture.

What we are doing and what we will do is only by the grace of God. We are looking to Him to direct the path for this ministry because we are only in it for His glory.

Friday, January 1, 2016

My Top Ten Books of 2015

You'd think this is the first blog post I've written in a year. You would be wrong. Now, however, I write over at Dauntless Grace Ministries, so I haven't been posting to my personal blog as much. But this post? This one needs to be published under my own name. Because books are so very near and dear to my nerdy little heart.

I had a lot on my plate this year, so I didn't read as much as I did in 2014. I only read 155 books this past year, 35 under what I accomplished the year before. However, about 90% of my reads this year were new, so it felt like I read a lot more. Re-reads go much more quickly, and they were scarce this time around. Of course, I re-read my all-time favorite book, The Siren, by Kiera Cass.

Without further rambling from me, here is my countdown for my top ten new reads in 2015.

Honorable Mention: Nor Forsake by Julie Presley
This didn't make the list simply because it hasn't been published yet. I was privileged to read an advance copy of this cutting-edge Christian romance novel. I love the way Presley brings characters to life, and she has a way of writing romantic tension unlike any other Christian author I've seen! These books are real and raw. If you're looking for some light-hearted, saccharine Christian romance, this isn't it. It's much better. If you want to read this book, click the link above and help donate to the publishing fund! It's worth it, I promise.

10. The Walk series by Richard Paul Evans
This is a five-book adult contemporary Christian series. It captured me because the main character is a man, and I don't often read books with a male protagonist. Alan loses everything and sets off on a cross-country walk where he finds out what's important in life. I love the way Evans brings to life the unique quirks of small-town America through Alan's journey.

9. When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
This is a YA book that is part mystery, part twist ending, and all captivating. Two city kids receive a mysterious note and attempt to prevent a murder that may have already happened...I read this last January, so I'm fuzzy on the details, but I immediately added it to my "best of" board. I'll be re-reading this again, for sure!

8. The Testing trilogy by Joelle Charbonneau
I didn't think there were any new YA dystopian trilogies out there that I hadn't read, and then I stumbled upon The Testing. This trilogy incorporates the plot of Divergent with the suspense of The Hunger Games and the beautiful writing of Matched. In short, it's probably one of my favorites in all. And unlike most of these trilogies, it has a satisfying final book and conclusion to the story.

7. Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library by Chris Grabenstein
Who doesn't love books about books? As a literary nerd, I adored this book that esteemed so many other novels and authors. Plus, the premise of the book is to solve riddles and puzzles, so it was right up my alley. I am excited to read this book with my class of middle school students this spring.

6. Undaunted by Christine Caine
How had I never heard of Caine before this year? She's from the original Hillsong church in Australia, and she has an amazing personal journey that she writes about in this book. She also founded A21, which is a ministry that rescues women out of sex trafficking in western Europe. This book spoke to my identity and how to truly find it in the person of Jesus.

5. Michael Vey series by Richard Paul Evans
I hate that I have another series by the same author on this list, but I can't help it. As far as I know, Michael Vey is the first attempt of Evans into YA, and he does a slam-dunk job. There are currently five books out in this series, and I am on pins and needles anticipating the next. It's a realistic science fiction series about children who have electric powers and get called on to save the world from destruction at the hands of one of the most evil characters I've ever read about. My explanation doesn't do this series justice. Go read it.

4. 11/22/63 by Stephen King
I realize this book is several years old, but I swore I would never read another King novel after accidentally reading Carrie in high school. My dad is who finally convinced me to, and I tore through this 800plus page novel rapidly. What if the JFK assassination had never happened? How would the world change? Jake finds a way to travel back through time and attempts to stop it. It's eerie but not the horror book the world has come to expect from King, although there are some graphically violent scenes and language. Historical fiction buffs would love this.

3. The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer
This series ended up being a big hit with my middle school girls. This series can only be described as sci-fi/fantasy fairy tales, but that's a description that had I read it, I would have stayed as far away as possible. It's so much better than that. The characterization, the settings, the plot, the details... I loved every part of it.

2. Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
This was one of those YA books that stick with you for awhile. After a classmate commits suicide, Clay finds a series of cassette tapes left behind that outline her reasons for taking her own life. Beautifully written and haunting, it is definitely more for older teens. I wouldn't hand it to my 7th graders, although the lessons about kindness, bullying, and the ripple effect of our actions reach beyond ages.

1. Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey
Normally I wouldn't have a nonfiction book take my number one spot. But nothing defined this year for me more than this book by Bessey. Don't let the title scare you; this is not a bra-burning, man-hating book. This book is written tenderly, reaching into the heart of women and showing how Jesus valued and esteemed women throughout the Bible. Some parts could be considered controversial in certain circles, especially as she talks about the role of women in the church and equality in marriage, but I found her writing refreshing and beautiful. It helps that she is able to articulate in these chapters my very belief system about women and what God has for us in that very nature. If you read nothing else in 2016, pick up this book, and be soothed by the balm of her words.

If you read any of these based on my recommendation, let me know below! If you've already read some of these, what did you think?

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Top Books of 2014

One year ago, Jon Acuff posted a blog about the Empty Shelf Challenge. He set a goal of filling a bookshelf with every book he read in 2014. I like reading, and I like a good challenge, so I decided to join him in this journey. Mine, however, was a virtual bookshelf because I read everything on my iPhone. For twelve months, I pinned every book I read (or re-read) to a Pinterest board so that I could keep track. This is my (nerdy) assessment of the year.

Altogether, I read 190 books. About 40% were re-reads of books I’ve read before. Nine were novellas. The shortest novella was around 30 pages, and the longest novel was over 800 (thus justifying my counting novellas on the list). And, not surprisingly, about 60% were in the adolescent literature category.

Based on all the NEW books I read in 2014, I compiled my top ten list for your viewing pleasure. And because it’s New Year’s, I made it into a countdown.

10. Panic by Lauren Oliver.
This is one of those that technically classifies as adolescent lit, but the themes are much more mature than I would recommend to most teenagers. The book follows a few high school seniors as they long to escape their sleepy town after graduation with a large sum of money that they could win playing the game Panic, even though it’s illegal, dangerous, and possibly deadly.

9. Zion Covenant series by Bodie Thoene
This series mainly follows one woman, Eliza, through Europe as Hitler rises to power. I enjoyed it because I learned a lot about the Gestapo and the behind-the-scenes of the Nazi forces. It offered different perspectives than most Holocaust books. This book would be classified as Christian fiction.

8. Wool trilogy by Hugh Howey
I didn’t include this trilogy because I loved it; I included it because it stayed with me for a very long time, and I believe that’s a mark of books well done. Wool is set in a dystopian American future. America has been bombed or gassed somehow, and the only remaining survivors live in an underground tower. But as we know from all good dystopian novels, things aren't always what they seem. This is definitely written more for adults than teens.

7. Maybe One Day by Melissa Kantor
Zoe and Olivia are sixteen-year-old best friends, but Olivia is dying of cancer. Zoe has a hard time dealing with how the illness separates her from Olivia, both physically and emotionally. I think this book explored friendship and grief and loyalty in a true manner.

6. Shenandoah Sisters series by Michael Phillips
This is a set of four books, followed by four more called Carolina Cousins, and they chronicle the lives of two girls, one black slave girl and one white plantation daughter, through the end of the Civil War in the deep south. I like historical novels anyway (see the WWII series above), but this one kept my attention with the suspense and camaraderie these girls face, and I enjoyed the Christian perspective.

5. The Clockwork Three by Matthew J. Kirby
This book, which is on the Illinois Rebecca Caudill reading list for 2014, introduced me to a literary term I hadn’t heard before: steampunk. According to Wikipedia (God’s gift to people who don’t like to research), steampunk is defined as “a subgenre of science fiction and fantasy literature and art that commonly features some aspect of steam-powered machinery.” That definition makes me glad that I hadn’t heard of it before. Luckily, the story itself is fascinating, as it follows three children at the turn of the 20th century in nondescript America. All three children are fighting their own struggles, but as their stories intersect, they learn to work together.

4. The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
This was one of the most emotionally difficult books I read all year, but it was also one of the most beautifully written. Orphaned Victoria is now of legal age, and she knows nothing of how to survive in the world except what she was taught about flowers. The way she learns and grows and develops is heartbreaking and redemptive. This is definitely an adult novel, though.

3. Just One Day by Gayle Forman
Forman is the author of the depressing novel-turned-movie If I Stay. Thank goodness Just One Day is nothing like the other novel. Allyson is a high school graduate traveling through Europe when she meets someone that changes everything about the rest of her trip. Though the main characters are teens, it’s not one I’d hand to a high-schooler. College students and older would enjoy this one.

2. Landline by Rainbow Rowell
This book is one of those guilty pleasure books that I had to include. It’s typical chick lit, but it kept my attention, and it had a very sweet premise. A disgruntled husband takes his daughter to his childhood home for Christmas while his workaholic wife stays behind, but when she calls him, she reaches her husband from the past, before they were engaged, and it sparks her interest all over again. So far, I’ve loved everything I’ve read of Rowell’s, including one I’m almost finished with called Fangirl.

1. We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
This book knocked me off my feet. As soon as I finished it, I wanted to read it again. I knew immediately that it would top my book list for the year. Lockhart writes cheesy teenage girl books, and I’d read most of them already, so I downloaded We Were Liars for some fun reading. I was in for a big surprise, though, because this book isn’t light. It focuses on a family of cousins who vacation together each year on an island, and it’s told entirely from the perspective of Cadence, a 17 year old who hasn’t been back to the beach in two summers and is eager to catch up with everyone, but everything feels off. If you read nothing else in 2015, read this. Seriously. Read it. And then email me what you thought.

I had fun cataloguing my reads, and I plan on keeping track for 2015, but I will not be numbering them anymore. I don’t care how many I’ll read, and I anticipate a much lower number as I start working on my grad degree in a few weeks. But for anyone who wants to see all 190 (including my all-time favorite books that weren’t included here because they were re-reads), find me on Pinterest.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Having a Baby Changes Everything... Except When it Doesn't

Let's clear something up first. I am a mommy, and I am a blogger, but I am not a "mommy blogger." My house is usually messy, I don't own a jogging stroller, and I believe Pinterest is more for snarky e-cards than crafts or recipes. Case in point? As of 11:00 this morning, the only thing my daughter had eaten was a brownie and a few Doritos.

However, I'm pregnant with my second child, and I have a lot of friends who are either pregnant or have recently given birth, and it's had me thinking a lot about what having a child means.

I think movies and commercials have painted a more realistic picture of this recently. They show the crazy side of child-rearing: the diapers, the cost, the mess, the lack of sleep. They've even given us cute catchphrases like, "Having a baby changes everything."

Well, yes and no.

It sure changes sleep patterns and time management and how often we get to shower, but it doesn't change everything. I think a lot of new moms expect their world to become this magical, albeit crazier, land of hugs and snuggles and love. Those things definitely can and do happen, but it's a much different type of scenario. Many things aren't changed by having a baby, no matter how much we wish they would.

1. Having a baby doesn't repair a faulty marriage.
Too often, struggling couples attempt to get pregnant in the hopes that this little person will unite them in a way that they couldn't grasp before. This is so, so wrong. First off, that's a heck of a lot of pressure on a child, pressure he or she will someday understand and own. Second, having a baby often causes more stress. If a couple can't unite on marriage decisions, why would they suddenly be able to unite over baby decisions? And trust me, these decisions get weightier as the child grows older.

2. Having a baby doesn't increase your self-worth.
Moms are not more important than other women. They are not more important than men. Moms have a unique responsibility in this world, but that responsibility is not worth more than the responsibility given to other demographics. What defines your worth should be solely based in the promises of who Jesus says you are. When we look to anyone else to define our worth, especially a baby, we will always find ourselves lacking.

3. Having a baby doesn't fulfill every longing.
This one is tricky. I know people who have waited years for the opportunity to have a child. Some couples walk through a decade or more of infertility. Other women don't find their spouse until later in life. Having a child, whether biologically or through adoption, may fulfill the longing of having a child. But that baby will not complete other unfulfilled longings that may have been covered or overshadowed. Babies are not a magic fix.

4. Having a baby doesn't make you closer to others who have babies.
I'll admit that part of why I originally wanted to have my firstborn was because I felt like I couldn't relate to anyone at my job. They seemed to all be seasoned mothers, and I was a young newlywed who couldn't contribute to the conversation. However, after having my first baby, I found that my closest friends were mostly single women. Friendships aren't based around life stages. If that is our basis for friendship, we are overlooking many meaningful relationships with women older or younger, childless or single. While there might be a convenience to playdates, friendships should be staked more in common beliefs, similar passions, and a willingness to be transparent.

5. Having a baby doesn't ease loneliness.
Loneliness is a human condition, and it doesn't matter how surrounded we are by people, we all experience loneliness from time to time. A baby will not cure this. Actually, often babies will make us feel more lonely. It's isolating to be at home with a newborn or to plan events around bedtimes and feedings. Having someone depend on you fully can be so draining, it can most certainly increase those feelings of loneliness. And unfortunately, we are expected to be happy, radiant new mothers, so when sadness hits, we feel like we can't share those feelings, which can only exacerbate loneliness.

6. Having a baby doesn't make women naturally good at being a mother.
This one is less talked about in our society. We are told of instant attachments and overwhelming feelings of love and adapting easily to motherhood, but it seems to me that those are rare at the beginning. I didn't feel an instant bond with my daughter. It may have been the traumatic labor and delivery; I'm not sure. But it took awhile for that bond to form. While I have loved her since the beginning, I wasn't overwhelmed with those happy warm fuzzies. And I sure as heck didn't adapt that easily. My husband and I brought her home and looked around the house like there should be an owner's manual somewhere on how to care for this thing. I cried every evening for weeks. And each stage of motherhood brings its own challenges. Sending a kid to school? I figured this was the easy part, but then I learned that that comes with packing lunches, signing folders, helping with homework, and disciplining for notes sent home.

Don't misunderstand me. I love my daughter, I'll love my newborn, and I love being a mommy. But this time, I'm more prepared for the realities of what having a baby means. I know I'm entering a whole new world of having two children, but by the grace of God, my expectations are more realistic as I take this journey.

What are some things that didn't change the way you had hoped, mamas?