Best reads 2016




Winter in the Midwest makes me want to cozy up with a blanket, drink tea, and read every spare minute I have. The love of books runs strong in my family. I have distinct memories of visiting my grandparent’s house and smelling the books that lined the shelves of every room. The barrister bookshelf that I inherited from my grandfather is something I will always treasure along with the stacks of books he passed along to me over the years. Even now when my siblings and I are in the same room, we quickly end up discussing the books we’ve been reading. Saying no to the TV and yes to books was absolutely essential for my reading life this year. I hope you find yourself a book you love this season. Here are my favorites from the past year:

Novels that will captivate you 

Still Life by Louise Penny – this murder mystery will keep you guessing and wanting to eat all the food she describes is mouth watering detail.

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Stout – a slim, heartbreaking and beautifully written story about Lucy Barton’s relationship with her family and impoverished childhood.

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah – this WWII historical fiction will make you forget the snowy weather with its adventurous heroines and their exploits in France against the Nazis.

Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave – set in London and Malta during the early days of WWII, the characters and their stories will remain with you long after finishing the book.

I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh – almost abandoned this one half way through reading it, but this mystery completely surprised me and that is a great feeling to have as a reader.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel – began and finished this in one day. It’s plot and story are unlike anything I’ve read before; as soon as I finished I immediately wanted to reread it.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi – an epic, sweeping novel that spans 200 years and several generations of one Ghanaian family whose lives are forever altered by slavery. Each character’s story intensely gripped me as well as the powerful prose. 

Nonfiction that will inspire you to live more creatively and boldly

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert – an inspiring read for anyone who is a creator or maker (and after reading this, I believe we all have creativity in us) and struggles with just doing the creative work.

Daring Greatly by Brené Brown – everyone should read this at least once in their life. It’s powerful for self-knowledge as well as for being a better citizen, friend, spouse, parent.

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin – the perfect book to begin a new year with. Full of solid research, personal anecdotes, and practical suggestions this will inspire you to think differently about everyday life.

Better than Before by Gretchen Rubin – after reading The Happiness Project, I became a major Rubin fan. You don’t have to read Happiness to enjoy this one. It’s practical and helps you better understand yourself which is so freeing. If you’re more auditory, skip the books and subscribe to her podcast for weekly inspiration.

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi – if you read one book in 2017, please let this be the one. It’s a book that everyone should read at least once in her life. I was lost for words after finishing it and still can’t form full sentences to describe it.

Books with solid practical advice to live more intentionally

Clutterfree with Kids by Joshua Becker – an engaging, practical, and helpful book to minimize the stuff that doesn’t matter and maximize the things that do as parents.

Simple Matters by Erin Boyle – I’ve been accused to reading things that reinforce my own belief system and this is one of them. Simple is always better in my mind and Boyle writes and gives practical advice about living a life with minimal stuff to embrace the moments that matter most.

Essentialism by Greg McKeown – anyone who feels like her life is bursting at the seams should read this book. It gives you permission to say no so you can say yes and vision to step out of the everyday and see a bigger picture of your life.

Money Mastery by Billy Epperhart – maybe I’m the only one with a major gap in knowledge when it comes to building wealth. After paying off our student loans, we finally have freedom to save and this book is full of practical advice and wisdom about money.

The Curated Closet by Anuschka Rees – more freeing than the capsule wardrobe philosophy, this book teaches you how to discover your own style and encourages you to have patience to wait for quality clothes that fit and match your style.

Parenting books for every season

The Danish Way of Parenting by Jessica Joelle Alexander and Iben Sandahl – one of the easiest to digest parenting books I’ve read. They explain big ideas in clear language and include a short list of ways to be more intentional and the end of each chapter. 

The Soul of Discipline Kim John Payne – an in-depth look at parenting throughout all the developmental phases from young children to adult children. It describes the role of parents in three stages: guardian, gardener, guide and these metaphors hold up well throughout the whole book. I plan to return to this one throughout the years as my kids enter each new season.

Poetry for the soul

Felicity by Mary Oliver – she’s been a favorite poet of mine since college when a professor introduced me to her in 2007. This collection is especially poignant and rich.

Roots to the Earth by Wendell Berry – a beautiful pairing of poems with woodcut designs. It’s gorgeous to read and look at.

Encouraging reads for your spiritual life

The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence – it’s amazing how the life and wisdom of a monk from 400 years ago still speaks powerfully today. If you ever wonder whether you’re living a big enough life for God, be encouraged with this book that even the small things matter to him. 

Ordering Your Private World by Gordon MacDonald – a must read for everyone in this age of nonstop information and motion. It brings conviction and encouragement to prioritize things in the right order.

Visually stunning and beautifully written

Le Road TripGardens of Awe and Folly, and When Wanderers Cease to Roam by Vivian Swift – let’s just say I fell in love with Vivian Swift this year. If you’re not a big reader and just want something beautiful to look at and read snippets of, this is the best coffee table book you will actually go back to again and again.

Happy reading, friends. I hope you all find yourselves encouraged, inspired, or lost in a book in 2017!

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Best reads this summer

Anyone else have a stack of books as your constant bedside table companions? This summer’s pile o’ books is diverse – some self-help, murder mystery, literary, and pure fun. Here’s the round-up!

This is the life and business version of The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. While Marie Kondo focuses on simplifying the material things that accumulate in our houses, McKeown does this for our days and time. The book is full of catchy phrases and practical advice like “discern more so you can do less” and “our highest priority is to protect our ability to prioritize.” It felt like he has been listening to every conversation I’ve been having with myself and friends about figuring out what to say “yes” to and “no” to in what feels like an ever-speeding up life. Need inspiration to live more intentionally? This is it.


The One Thing by Gary Keller

The One Thing felt like the perfect companion to Essentialism. Keller spends the whole book talking about how to figure out your one thing in every area of your life and what to do once you know what it is for: career, family, spiritual, health, relational. It’s a super practical and convicting read. Throughout the book he says things like, “it’s not that we have too little time to do all the things we need to do, it’s that we feel the need to do too many things in the time we have.” The best thing Keller does is provide super practical advice for figuring out what your one thing is in every role you play in life, which feels like half the battle most of the time.

Still Life by Louise Penny

Summer is all about the murder-mystery, read-it-in-a-day type books. Penny strikes the perfect balance between an intriguing plot and interesting characters. If you love solving a case before the detective does and need a diverse cast of suspects, this will keep you reading until the end. And, if you’re anything like me, you’ll immediately pick-up the next book in the series because it was such an enjoyable reading experience.


My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

This book is not for everyone. It is for you if you enjoy beautiful prose and reflective literary writing. It’s a slim volume of a well-written and engaging life story told by the narrator, Lucy Barton. I couldn’t put it down, and because of it’s short page count I was able to finish it in a couple hours on a Saturday. Looking something more substantial than self-help and mystery? Check this one out for sure.


Le Road Trip by Vivian Swift

Stuck at home this summer but wish you were traveling the world? Specifically traveling to France? Le Road Trip will probably increase as well as satisfy some of that wanderlust. Reading this makes me want to own everything Vivian Swift produces. She is funny, insightful, and easy to read. Plus, the book is full of beautiful watercolor paintings. Visually, this book is stunning. As a reading experience, it’s purely a delight.


Here’s to diving into the summer reading!


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Top 5 Books for Spring Reading


Need a good cry? Looking for practical ways to live happier? Or inspiration to get the gardening gloves out?  The library has been my BFF for a long time and I’ve been borrowing and reading like nobody’s business this spring. Here are my top spring picks for your your reading pleasure:




The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

I wanted to become happier making small changes. I could change my life without changing my life by finding more happiness in my own kitchen.”

This book is full of practical examples and encouragement to figure out what makes you happy and how to bring that into your everyday life rather than making huge, drastic changes and pendulum swings. What made this book for me was the underlying message of knowing oneself and making decisions based on self-knowledge rather than external and internal pressures to be someone you aren’t or like things you don’t.



Better than Before by Gretchen Rubin

 Habits are the invisible architecture of daily life. If we change our habits, we change our lives.”

Better than Before is the Rubin’s follow-up to The Happiness Project. Books like this are so great because they provide space to take a step back and look at your life from a fresh angle. The best part about this book is Rubin’s breakdown of personality types and how habit formation and follow-through vary depending on individual quirks and temperament.



Gardens of Awe and Folly by Vivian Swift

Of all the forests I have known I wish to belong where the willows are.”

Some books are meant to be soaked in and stared at, and this is one of those. It is full of beautiful watercolor, interesting facts, and inspiring thoughts about gardens around the world. If you only get this book to look at the pictures, it is well worth the perusal.



Lessons from the Great Gardeners by Matthew Biggs

We have done our best and created a garden where none was.” – Vita Sackville-West

Forty Gardening Icons & What They Can Teach Us is the subtitle of this book, which better describes the purpose of this beauty. You get a glimpse into the gardens and philosophy of each gardener through hand-drawn illustrations, photos, and descriptions of the plants and experiences in each space. It’s amazing to see what can be done with a space when someone has a vision for it.



When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

The first birth I witnessed was also the first death.

If you only read one book this year, can I highly suggest you read this one? The writing is so beautiful it makes me want to cry. The story itself made me cry. This memoir details Kalanithi’s journey of becoming a neurosurgeoun then finding out he has cancer just before he finishes his residency and the way he confronts the very real likelihood of death. Sometimes reading about life from someone who knows they’re dying gives you a healthy and much needed perspective on daily disappointments and circumstances, even if it is through tear-filled eyes.

Happy Spring reading, friends! What books have been topping your lists this season? Please share!