My 2015 in Books

My 2015 book list included many genres.

What kind of bookish goals do you set? Read more non-fiction? Read more in general? Join a book club?

I started 2015 with the goal to read 45 books. And guess what, folks! I (just barely) did it! So I’m celebrating with a look back at the books that marked my year.

As part of a leadership group in my church, one book a month was leadership/personal growth related. Everything else was personal interest related.

When I wasn’t busy reading, I was out on bookish adventures, experiencing what was on the page. Book events, author events, book clubs and book crafts made this last year one for the books (pun intended)!

Before I set off for my goal of 52 books for 2016, here’s a recap of 2015:

  1. Yes Please by Amy Poehler
  2. The Grand Paradox by Ken Wytsma
  3. The Truth about Leadership by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner
  4. Snobs by Julian Fellowes
  5. Wild by Cheryl Strayed
  6. The Look of Love by Sarah Jio
  7. Desire by John Eldredge
  8. The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown
  9. The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant
  10. Strengths Based Leadership by Tom Rath and Barry Conchie
  11. GI Brides by Duncan Barrett and Nuala Calvi
  12. Sisters of Heart and Snow by Margaret Dilloway
  13. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
  14. The Lavender Garden by Lucinda Riley
  15. Necessary Endings by Henry Cloud
  16. At the Waters Edge by Sara Gruen
  17. Palisades Park by Alan Brennert
  18. Summer’s List by Anita Higman
  19. Principle of the Path by Andy Stanley
  20. The Day the Falls Stood Still by Cathy Marie Buchanan
  21. Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan
  22. A Girl Like You by Maureen Lindley
  23. Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson and Joseph Grenny
  24. Mrs. Hemingway by Naomi Wood
  25. All the Light we Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
  26. I Know How She Does It by Laura Vanderkam
  27. Through Waters Deep by Sarah Sundin
  28. The Life Changing Magic of Cleaning Up by Marie Kondo
  29. The Bookseller by Cynthia Swanson
  30. The Dream Releasers by Wayne Cordeiro
  31. The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street by Susan Jane Gilman
  32. Astor Place Vintage by Stephanie Lehmann
  33. The Cherry Harvest by Lucy Sanna
  34. The Emotionally Healthy Church by Peter Scazzero and Leighton Ford
  35. Mademoiselle Chanel by C.W. Gortner
  36. Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah
  37. See Me by Nicholas Sparks
  38. Prayer – Does it Make any Difference? by Philip Yancey
  39. The Most Fun You’ll Have at a Cage Fight by Rory Douglas
  40. The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls by Anton DiSclafani
  41. The Bassoon King by Rainn Wilson
  42. The All-Girls Filling Station’s Last Reunion by Fannie Flagg
  43. The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman
  44. Lead Like Jesus by Ken Blanchard and Phil Hodges
  45. Christmas Bells by Jennifer Chiaverini

Any suggestions/recommendations for books to add to my 2016 list? Please share!


What I’m Reading Wednesday


I remember someone who once said they weren’t going to get any more books from the library until she read the ones she already has.

I know.

You big fat liar.

Those were the loving words spoken from my husband Tuesday evening as I came home with my bag weighed down with books. I had swung by the library to pick up a book on hold for me and ended up leaving with three. And I already have two library books in the house!

What is wrong with me?

Which leads me to my book question of the day: How do you pick your book?

Do you read what’s popular on the New York Times Bestseller list? Do you keep pace with the Goodreads newsletter? Are you reading in preparation for the latest movie release?

I was at the library a few weeks ago picking up another book on hold (I know!), when the spine of a book on a shelf caught my eye. It was just one magical word on a green sticker that made me stop and pick it up.


A quick glance at the inside of the book jacket and I was convinced. Thus began my South African adventure in the 1880s.

The Fever Tree is the first novel of Englishwoman Jennifer McVeigh. The character lineup was my typical selection: upperclass woman destined to marry someone she does not love, (but this time) goes abroad on a grand adventure only to live in near squalor in a desert. There’s a love affair, the injustice surrounded by blood diamonds, a medical scandal, and a painted landscape of a land I can only imagine.

It didn’t take long for my obsessive personality to take hold. In fact, I was almost late for work one morning because I couldn’t put the book down, eager to find out how it ended.

There were a couple times where the story line and characters reminded me of Naomi Watts and Edward Norton’s characters in the film The Painted Veil. But instead of remote China the setting is the diamond mines of South Africa.

McVeigh studied English Literature at Oxford and while researching the history of English colonials in South Africa she came across an old diary written by a doctor at the end of the nineteenth century. The diary told the story of a smallpox epidemic that ravaged the diamond-mining town of Kimberley. Rather than try to control the disease, which would halt work in the mines, it was covered up, killing thousands, and was later reported as the greatest medical scandal in British medicine.

Pretty riveting stuff.

And so reader, how will you find your next book? Or how will the next book find you?

What I’m Reading Wednesday

This post will most definitely contain spoiler alerts because I want to try to get to the bottom of Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell.

So for those71LkLmxqgjL who have yet to read this Young Adult New York Times Bestseller, please stop reading this and pick up the book!

This novel was the latest selection among the YA-loving gals in my book club. Based on the number of holds ahead of me at the public library, I knew going into it there was something special about this one.

For starters, it’s set in the ’80s, and as a product of that era I was instantly a fan.

Then there’s the author, who not only has a unique name, but also a unique writing style.

Eleanor & Park, the teenage dramatic tale of two misfits who champion for their love despite high school bullies and a dangerous home life for Eleanor. Reading through the two characters’ perspectives I had a ball of anxiety growing larger by each page waiting for the ticking time bomb to explode with an emotional climax that would leave me stunned and unable to forgive Rainbow.

But the emotional climax turned out to not be as severe as I thought (anyone else think something worse was on the horizon??).

And all 325 pages lead up to the very last sentence.

Just three words long.

I read the last sentence and was so happy because in my hopeful mind I had no doubt Eleanor had written I love you for the first time to Park. No doubt. After Park said it to her so many times, always with no I love you too response.

And then I talked with my fellow book clubber Marlisa (who actually chose this book), who said, “But you don’t know.”


My Eleanor and Park 1986 universe was shifted and I don’t know what to believe anymore!

So I’m asking the masses. What do you think Eleanor’s postcard to Park said?

I’m tempted to live out the Fault in our Stars and write to Rainbow pleading her to share what those words are. But then I remember I’m 30 years old and that’s creepy.

I read in a Goodreads interview that Rainbow said the words were “happy and hopeful,” so I’m holding out hope Eleanor and Park fight against everything and end up together in the very end.

Eleanor & Park is the last YA novel I’ll read for a while. I’ve already surpassed my annual quota these last few months.

So Eleanor & Park fans, what do you think the postcard said?

What I’m Reading Wednesday

When I was classified as a young adult (the teen years) I was busy reading Sweet Valley High, Nancy Drew and The Babysitter’s Club. Fast forward to my first year in my 30s and today’s YA literature is decorated with more intense high school drama laced with colorful language.

How times have changed.

Many of my book nerd friends are YA lovers. I’ve learned that reading one YA book leads to another YA book, and the vicious cycle continues on. While discussing a YA book at book club last month, my friend Moe suggested reading If I Stay and it was in my hands when I left her house.

The novel by Gayle Forman illustrates how life can change in just a single moment. What if our lives were on the brink of life and death? What choice would we make if we could choose?

It’s some heavy stuff for teens, let alone grown up readers. It’s a quick read you can finish in an afternoon and once you’re done you move right along to the sequel Where She Went. That’s the beauty of reading a book much later after its release. There’s no waiting to see what happens next.

And if that wasn’t enough of a reason to suggest you should check out Forman’s novels, If I Stay is coming to a theater near you this summer.

The novel is a perfect beach read, or just a sit out on the porch in the sunshine read. It takes place in the Pacific Northwest, has a lot of music and an admirable family dynamic.

And of course there’s love.

What I’m Reading Wednesday


It’s hard to imagine what life would be like as a billionaire. Or even a hundred thousands-aire.

Thanks to debut author Kevin Kwan’s life experiences and colorful imagination, I caught a glimpse of how the rich of the rich live in “Crazy Rich Asians.”

The title sums up the novel perfectly. The novel is about Asians who are crazy rich. Not just fly first class rich, but more like buying a hotel after being snubbed by the racist manager rich. Hard to imagine right?

Kwan’s story centers around Rachel Chu, a New Yorker who travels to Singapore to meet her boyfriend’s “traditional” Chinese family. She has no idea of the money and status her boyfriend Nick comes from. Kwan entertains his readers with 500-plus pages of satire rich in drama, high emotion and lots of dollar signs.

This novel will irritate you. It will make you mad. It will frustrate you. And through the theatrics you will be silently cheering for Rachel throughout, because frankly she’s the victim in a high-society so exclusive and ridiculous that’s it’s even hard to imagine it really exists.

A character map to help you keep track!

Oh, but it does. Kwan’s story of fiction is based on his own personal and professional experiences growing up and visiting the areas of Asia and Europe he writes about. His colorful characters are unforgettable, but because there are so many characters in this novel you might just forget who is who. Luckily, a character map is included!

The good news for fans of “Crazy Rich Asians” is that the story doesn’t end at the end of this book. Kwan is already at work on the sequel and his debut novel received a film deal, so soon we’ll see the outlandish characters who only talk about money come to life! Maybe then it will be easier to imagine being a billionaire.

If you like satire and you’re curious about how the rich live, I highly recommend “Crazy Rich Asians.”

On an unrelated sidenote, I am a fan of Kwan’s vintage specs!


What I’m Reading Wednesday

It’s been a few years since I read Jamie Ford’s debut novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, which became a book I often recommend to book clubs or anyone looking for recommendations.

WilllowThe novel takes place in WWII-era Seattle and centers around a hotel that exists today. The historic Panama Hotel contains the last remaining Japanese bathhouse in the United States. A group of my friends tried to make a day trip to Seattle to tour the hotel and have some tea a few years ago, but it has yet to happen. We have since revisited this topic (hopefully you’ll see a post soon about said tour).

Four years later Ford released his second novel, Songs of Willow Frost, which also takes place in Seattle and includes scenes in Tacoma (253!), with a mention of Camp Lewis. It’s a work of fiction, but includes many historical landmarks, including the Wah Mee Club in Seattle, which is where Ford’s grandparents met as mentioned in the author’s notes.

Songs of Willow Frost centers around two characters: William, a 12-year-old Chinese-American orphan trying to piece together his past based on vague memories of his mother, and Willow (Liu Song), William’s mother, a young, talented woman who desperately tries to move on from a tragic past but is haunted by her misfortune.

The Reader’s Guide includes the question “Overall, do you think the story is one of hope and promise or suffering and sacrifice?” I mention this because for the majority of the novel it’s hard to find any glimmer of hope following the stories of a lonely mother and son, separated by circumstance and kept apart partly because of prejudice and old-world traditions.

This novel takes place during the 1920s-30s and includes a lot about the theater and movie scene in the Seattle-area with historical mentions of Chinese-American movie stars.

Ford is the great-grandson of Nevada mining pioneer Min Chung, who emigrated from Kaiping, China to San Francisco in 1865. Ford grew up near Seattle’s Chinatown and his research and knowledge of the area is much appreciated by this Pacific Northwest reader.

Songs of Willow Frost is often times hard to get through, with so much heartache, pain and grief; but if you can make it to the last three pages, the reader’s sorrow is worth it in the end. I promise.

Who is your favorite local author?

What I’m Reading Wednesday

astronaut-wives-clubBefore reality TV stars, there were astronaut wives. During the space race of the 1950s-1970s, the lives of the women married to astronauts played out in the public eye, splashed across covers of LIFE magazine and live interviews on TV sets.

Troubled marriages and infidelity were hidden from the public eye, painting a portrait of all-American families sending their men into space.

Lily Koppel’s book “The Astronaut Wives Club” captures the women behind the men who made history. The ones who took care of everything while their husbands were guinea pigs in the untested waters of spacecraft. Sometimes their astronaut didn’t return, and the wives were the ones who rallied together to hold each other up.

The biography highlights The Mercury Seven (NASA’s first spacemen in 1959), The New Nine (second group of astronauts announced 1962 and the next phase of the space program: Gemini) and The Fourteen (third group announced 1963. Includes Gemini and Apollo moon missions).

For The Original Seven, as their military test pilot flying husbands went through the rigorous examinations and testing to become one of the country’s first astronauts, the wives painted a “Leave it to Beaver” appearance of their family, even if it was far from it. They feared if the men didn’t have a stable home life, they would be grounded from space missions and passed up by someone else who would write their names into history.

It was amazing to read of all the couples within The Mercury Seven, The New Nine and The Fourteen, only seven ultimately stayed together.

The women remained stoic during launches, during lost communication signals, during times of distress (“Houston, we have a problem”) and when their astronaut didn’come home. Thanks to Koppel’s research and interviews, the astronaut  wives are telling their stories and receiving their time in the spotlight.

Some of it was glorious, like meeting the Kennedys, and some of it was gritty, like looking the other way when a husband was caught cheating.

I read “The Astronaut Wives Club” during Women’s History Month, to learn of the brave women who stood by their astronauts, but were pushed to the background by their rock star status.

Even some of the astronauts whose own accomplishments fill history books, have spoken up to say their wives deserve to have their own story told and Koppel did just that.

What I’m Reading Wednesday

American Wife. 2008

My latest read took longer than my average week to finish. Not because it was difficult to get through, but because 555 pages is quite a commitment.

“American Wife” by Curtis Sittenfeld has sat on my bookshelf for so long I can’t even remember how I came to own it. The book was published in 2008 and was chosen as one of the Ten Best Books of 2008 by Time, People and Entertainment Weekly.

When I re-read the book description on the jacket cover I was reminded of why I wanted it for my personal collection. Because of my obsession with the Kennedy family I initially found “American Wife” interesting because it’s a first person story of an American First Lady.

While the book is a work of fiction, it is loosely based on First Lady Laura Bush. The main character, Alice Blackwell, experiences life events very similar to Mrs. Bush, including being involved in a car accident as a teenager that killed a classmate, becoming a librarian, and her husband’s political career.

Sittenfeld’s amazing imagination pieced together a “tell-all” story from beginning to end, not skipping an era or address. This novel required all 555 pages because of the author’s incredible attention to detail, and I believe a single word wasn’t wasted.

“American Wife” marks the seventh book read for 2014 and I’ve already started on this week’s book, which if you read last week’s post, ended my New Year’s goal of 2014.

What are you reading this week?

Bye, bye 2014 goal

42e1229bdf3ad009b39d56f3236f9ac8March 5 is the day my 2014 goal died.

If you missed my New Year’s post, my goal for this year was to avoid the library. I wanted to stop checking out books so I would ignore the unread books on my bookshelf.

Three months in I’ve read five books from my shelf and two on loan from a friend. I’m in the middle of a 500-pager that previously collected dust on my bookshelf for so long I can’t remember how I came to own it.

The temptation proved too great today. While out covering an assignment, which was conveniently located next door to the library, I poked my head in with the idea I’d check out a movie. I even picked up books from the “New Arrivals” shelf only to put them back with the image of my home collection in my mind.

But then it happened. As I was exiting the library the display case featuring “Women’s History Month” biographies caught my eye. From female aviators to the women’s liberation movement, I looked at each book behind the glass case. I was almost to the end of the display when “The Astronaut Wives Club” by Lily Koppel caught my eye.

It’s a book I’ve wanted to read since it came out last June. My mom fed the fire of my interest when she shared with me news articles of how the book about spouses of America’s Mercury Seven astronauts on historic missions came to be.

I could feel the pull.

I re-entered the library and with no one at the check out counter I built up the courage to ask if the display books were available for check out or if I’d have to wait until April.

My fate was decided with a “yes.”

My 2014 goal was laid to rest, but I feel no regret. With this month being Women’s History Month I have the perfect opportunity to learn of the rich history of the women who came before me. And for them and the opportunity, I am grateful.

What I’m Reading Wednesday

Jennifer Robson’s debut novel.

If you’re suffering from a “Downton Abbey” hangover, do I have a book for you. Historical fiction author Erika Robuck even gives the British drama a shout out on the cover quote of “Somewhere in France: A Novel of the Great War” by writing: “Utterly engaging and richly satisfying … Fans of Downton Abby will devour this novel!”

I’m publishing my weekly “What I’m Reading Wednesday” post a day early for all those who are already counting down to season five of “Downton Abbey.”

If you were a fan of Lady Sybil Crawley and rooted for her when she married chauffeur Tom Branson, you will love this novel by Jennifer Robson.

In her debut novel Robson pulls her readers into an era of stately homes, society and rubbing elbows with royalty. In the midst of the stifling lifestyle is young Lady Elizabeth Neville-Ashford, or Lilly for short. Bored out of her mind as her mother looks down her nose at every move Lilly makes, and wanting to make a difference with her life while her brother fights on the Western Front, Lilly gives up her title and financial security to become not only independent, but to her part for her country as an ambulance driver for the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps.

Choosing to serve close to the front lines, also puts her close to the man she loves, but Lilly’s resiliency is tested by her war experiences.

If you’re a fan of historical fiction, Downton Abbey, or just an utterly romantic love story, I strongly recommend “Somewhere in France.”