2017 Modern Mrs. Darcy Reading Challenge: What I’m Reading

My 2017 reading list for the Modern Mrs. Darcy reading challenge. My goals this year include both reading for fun and for growth. See my picks for a great mix of books!

For the third year in a row, I’m participating in the Modern Mrs. Darcy Reading Challenge. I’ve found this challenge to be very impactful on my reading life. It’s easy for me to be a slave to my To Be Read list, listening to some cranky librarian’s voice in my head that insists I Must! Read! Books! In! Order! At that rate, I’d be reading 2017’s hottest and best books in 2027. I appreciate the challenge for getting me out of that rut. Without it, I’d have probably never tackled Pride & Prejudice, Friday Night Lights or Harry Potter – all books that have made my reading life incredibly richer.

This year Anne Bogel offered up two different challenges in a choose-your-own-adventure style, based on what you might like to be different about your reading life. Wishing for more fun and escapism in your books? Choose the Reading for Fun Challenge. Looking to be challenged as a reader in the year ahead? Pick the Reading for Growth Challenge. In that spirit, I ended up doing something different as well. I’d like to see a mix of both fun and challenge in my reading life, and so I picked 6 categories from each challenge and blended them into my own. Here are my categories along with what I’m (probably) reading this year.

Disclosure: this post contains affiliate links.

A Newbery Award Winner or Honor Book:

A book set somewhere you’ve never been but want to visit:

A book that’s more than 600 pages:

A juicy memoir:

A book of any genre that addresses current events:

A book in the backlist of a new favorite author:

A book by an #ownvoices or #diversebooks author:

A book recommended by someone with great taste:

A Pulitzer Prize or National Book Award Winner:

A book about a subject you already love:

A book published before you were born:

A book in a genre you usually avoid:

I think 2017 will be a wonderful mix of fun and thoughtful reads, don’t you?

With the end-0f-year hubbub and best-of lists, I never got around to sharing my December Must-Reads. I definitely slowed down during that last month, but there are a few titles I’d like to share.

How to Celebrate Everything by Jenny Rosenstrach

I’ve been a fan of Jenny’s from the moment I first stumbled upon her blog, Dinner: A Love Story. Her love of the family dinner, combined with her realistic view on just how difficult dinner can be as a parent, makes for a comforting, practical and useful resource. I own every one of her cookbooks (the others are Dinner: A Love Story and Dinner: the Playbook), and they show the signs of love and everyday use: stained and splattered. You might wonder how a cookbook ended up in my reading list. Isn’t it just recipes? Not this one. Jenny goes through the rituals of life, big and small, sharing her family’s traditions and encouraging you to create your own. Buy this now, make the Shredded Pork Lettuce Wraps and Chocolate Pudding Pie, and tell me you don’t love it as much as I do!

Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen

This was my pick for the 2016 MMD Reading Challenge for “The book you should have read in school.” I approached this book with trepidation. I’ve wanted to read it for years, as it feels as if I’m missing out on so many cultural references by not having read it. At the same time, I was scared that I’d hate it and wonder what all the fuss was about. I’ll tell you up front, it’s not an easy book to settle into. Anything written in the 19th century is going to have some language barriers to overcome. There were two keys for me that got me over the initial hump. One: Choosing the annotated version of the book. Having footnotes handy to explain words, phrases and traditions of the time helped tremendously. Yes, it can make the reading slow at time, having to go back and forth between the novel and the notes. It clarified things which helped me get into the story and have a deeper understanding of the characters. Two: Giving it time. Normally I would ditch a book that I wasn’t really into after 75 pages or so. I gave myself more time with this one, which was needed both to get into the groove of reading a completely different style of writing and to become invested in the characters. Once I did, however, I couldn’t get enough. At one point, after Lizzy’s scathing rebuke of Darcy, I said out loud, “Girrrl!” It transcends time, and I’m so very glad I read it.

Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist

I’ve been waiting not-so-patiently for Shauna Niequist’s newest book. Her previous book of essays, Bread & Wine, made my Best Of list in 2014. It’s a book I return to often, and love to give as a gift. I found Present Over Perfect to be just as lovely, but with one caveat: it won’t appeal to women as broadly as Bread & Wine does. Niequist writes with a certain woman in mind: the overworked woman who feels spread too thin. Niequist tells of her own breaking point, when the responsibilities that came along with a successful writing and speaking career threatened to overtake her health and her family. I found every part of Bread & Wine relatable, however there were a few essays in here which I couldn’t identify with. I still love the book as a whole, though, with its message that so many of us need to hear: you are enough.

I think I’ll continue to post book reviews as I did last year: a quarterly wrap-up of my favorite reads with year-end Best Of lists. It worked for me in 2016, so why change? As always, thanks for reading along with me. So many of you have told me that you choose many of your reads based on my recommendations, and that makes my bookish heart incredibly happy! In return, your recommendations have enhanced my reading life as well, so keep them coming!

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Best Non-Fiction Books of 2016

All year long I’ve shared my reads with you, but now we get down to the good stuff: the best books of 2016. In order to make the lists manageable and catered to your interests, I’m breaking down the year’s best reads into three categories: Best Fiction, Best Non-Fiction, and Best Middle Grade/Young Adult. One thing to note: my Best Of lists consist of the best books I read in 2016, but is not limited to books published in 2016. Okay then, let’s talk non-fiction!

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist

I’ve been waiting not-so-patiently for Shauna Niequist’s newest book, Present Over Perfect. Her previous book of essays, Bread & Wine, made my Best Of list in 2014. It’s a book I return to often, and love to give as a gift. I found Present Over Perfect to be just as lovely, but with one caveat: it won’t appeal to women as broadly as Bread & Wine does. Niequist writes with a certain woman in mind: the overworked woman who feels spread too thin. Niequist tells of her own breaking point, when the responsibilities that came along with a successful writing and speaking career threatened to overtake her health and her family. I found every part of Bread & Wine relatable, however there were a few essays in here which I couldn’t identify with. I still love the book as a whole, though, with its message that so many of us need to hear: you are enough.

How To Celebrate Everything by Jenny Rosenstrach

I’ve been a fan of Jenny’s from the moment I first stumbled upon her blog, Dinner: A Love Story. Her love of the family dinner, combined with her realistic view on just how difficult dinner can be as a parent, makes for a comforting, practical and useful resource. I own every one of her cookbooks (the others are Dinner: A Love Story and Dinner: the Playbook), and they show the signs of love and everyday use: stained and splattered. You might wonder how a cookbook ended up in my Best Of list. Isn’t it just recipes? Not this one. Jenny goes through the rituals of life, big and small, sharing her family’s traditions and encouraging you to create your own. Buy this now, make the Shredded Pork Lettuce Wraps and Chocolate Pudding Pie, and tell me you don’t love it as much as I do!

Grit by Angela Duckworth

Do you believe that the secret to great achievement is talent, and that some people are just destined for greatness while the rest of us slog along? Or is it possible that talent is only one part of the equation, and that effort, skill, passion and perseverance are far greater predictors of what one can achieve? These are a few of the questions that Angela Duckworth explores in Grit. I was initially curious to read Duckworth’s book out of a desire to nurture grit in my own kids. And while I learned a great deal about what grit is and how to foster passion and perseverance in my children, I was even more inspired to rethink my own attitude towards work and living a grittier life. We all have the potential to do meaningful, interesting and powerful things, according to Duckworth’s research. What we do with that potential is something entirely different. I love non-fiction that reads like fiction, and through Duckworth’s highly readable research and anecdotes, I felt like I was reading a personal journey through self-discovery as opposed to a dry book about how to be more successful. I found myself sharing snippets of the book often, both with Mike and the kids, which is a sign that a book is a game-changer for me. This book will stay with me for a long time, and I can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t benefit from reading it.

168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think by Laura Vanderkam

168 hours: that’s how many hours we get in one week. How, exactly, do we spend those 168 hours? Most of us would say working, and many of us often wish for more time so that we could pursue interests outside of work and the other drudgeries of daily life. Vanderkam insists that we don’t need more time – that big pockets of time are available to use every day and we just don’t recognize them as opportunities. Vanderkam suggests keeping a weekly time log for at least one week, and then walks the reader through work, home and family life to discover what you want more of and how to make it happen.

This isn’t a typical time management book, and while the focus is clearly on readers who work full or part-time, I found it to be illuminating and helpful. I kept a time log for a week and it gave me incredible insight into how I spend my 168 hours (more on that in a future post for sure). Two things stuck with me, and can be transformative for those ready to make changes in how they spend their time. One: we spend more time than we think doing things that take up precious time and don’t bring us much joy or relaxation (such as mindless Internet surfing, scrolling through our phones, or watching TV). Two: if you don’t know what you want more of in life – whether it’s career, personal, or in your relationships – you can’t focus your valuable time toward making it happen. Vanderkam encourages readers to log and review their time, reflect on your dreams and goals (both very big and very small), and shows you how you can find time you already have to make them a reality. I initially only gave it 3 stars on Goodreads, which normally wouldn’t make the cut-off for the Best Of list. However as I wrap up my year and plan for 2017, I realize just how often the information I gleaned from this book keeps reappearing in my life in the most useful of ways – definitely a sign of a good book!

Untangled by Lisa Damour

If I could put this in the hands of every parent of a tween and teen girl I would. I can’t even begin to express what a gift this book is to parents wondering how to make it through the teen years. Damour, a clinical psychologist who specializes in child development and research on girls, writes a handbook for parents that guides them through the seven transitions girls need to go through on their way to adulthood. These transitions (Parting with Childhood, Joining a New Tribe, Harnessing Emotions, Contending with Adult Authority, Planning for the Future, Entering the Romantic World, and Caring for Herself) are necessary but tricky, leaving even the most confident parents and girls wondering what on earth is going on! What I love about Damour’s book is that it talks about these issues in a calm, informative way – never condescending, never preachy, and most importantly – never panic-inducing. Each chapter explains these developmental processes with the reasons why they need to happen and why they’re normal, and ends with specific examples of when a parent should worry. The teen years (unfairly) get a bad rap, especially teen girls. This book will help parents leave that notion behind and parent in a way that will ease the tension and drama, leaving them to enjoy this fantastic phase before their girls leave them for adulthood.

Rising Strong by Brené Brown

In Daring Greatly (one of my favorite non-fiction reads of 2015), Brené Brown invites us “to embrace vulnerability and imperfection, to live wholeheartedly, and to courageously engage in our lives.” In this follow-up book, Brown looks deeper at vulnerability: what happens when we’re brave and vulnerable – and we inevitably fall down? I find Brown’s writing both delightful to read and supremely insightful. I took so many notes, and there are ideas and passages that will resonate with me for a lifetime. At the same time, what Brown has to say isn’t always easy to take in. She looks deeply into what triggers shame, anger, fear, embarrassment, doubt and vulnerability, and shows us how easy it can be (in the short term), to stuff those feelings back down and cloak them in an entirely different story we tell ourselves. Best of all, Brown gives us to the tools we can use to break out of that cycle by recognizing our story, rumbling with our feelings and changing the way we live, love, work and parent. Buy your own copy and break out your highlighters!

How to Raise an Adult by Julie Lythcott-Haims

Written by a former Stanford freshman admissions dean, Lythcott-Haims examines the generation of kids she helped usher through Stanford and investigates why this generation in particular has had such a difficult time adjusting to adulthood. She tells stories of young adults whose parents intervene in college courses and post-graduate job interviews, and of kids who don’t know how to manage themselves on their own. Using these anecdotes as a guide, she formulates a plan for parents raising this next generation, helping us raise grounded, confident and independent kids who will be ready to tackle adulthood equipped with the tools they’ll need. I found it inspiring, eye-opening and extremely helpful. I’d especially recommend it for parents of tweens and teens who are on the cusp of the college admissions process.

What non-fiction books inspired you in 2016?

These 7 non-fiction books changed my life for the better in 2016.

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Best YA and Middle Grade Books of 2016

All year long I’ve shared my reads with you, but now we get to get down to the good stuff: the best books of 2016. In order to make the lists manageable and catered to your interests, I’m breaking down the year’s best reads into three categories: Best Fiction, Best Non-Fiction, and Best Middle Grade/Young Adult. One thing to note: my Best Of lists consist of the best books I read in 2016, but is not limited to books published in 2016. Okay then, let’s talk kid lit!

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

Young Adult

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

When I read the last sentence and closed this book, I took a deep breath. I knew it would take me some time to come to terms with it (in the best way possible). If you had asked me at different points in the book what I thought, I would have given you three different answers. In the first third of the book I was slightly confused and more than a little worried. Both the format and the writing style took some getting used to. Told from the perspective of twins Noah and Jude, the story alternates both in narrators and timing. Noah tells the before, when the twins are 13 and everything they know about life and each other seems to be changing. Jude narrates the period 3 years later, after their world is torn apart. Nelson has the uncanny ability to write straight from a teen’s brain. It was confusing at first, but once I dialed into it, I loved it. This was my pick for book club and I was feeling anxious that I’d made a terrible choice! In the middle of the book, after getting used to the writing style and getting deeper into the story, I was hooked. And the last third of the book? I couldn’t stop. It’s been a long time since I was so absorbed in a story that I knew I couldn’t sleep until I’d finished the book, but that’s exactly what happened with I’ll Give You the Sun. I literally gasped out loud at one point, and was sorely disappointed that, at 1 in the morning I didn’t have anyone to talk about the book with! I sobbed at the end, as Noah and Jude make each half of their story whole in a desperate, last-ditch attempt to remake their world.

Salt to the Sea by Ruth Sepetys

Salt to the Sea taught me about an epic historical event I knew absolutely nothing about (and I bet you don’t, either). In this historical fiction novel for young adults, we learn about the terrible tragedy of the Wilhelm Gustloff. Arranged by the Germans, the ship was to be salvation for over 9000 German refugees fleeing the Soviet army. Instead it was sunk by Russian torpedo, resulting in the largest loss of life in a single ship history. And I’d never even heard of it. Told in alternating viewpoints as several characters make their way to the ship, it’s a riveting and heartbreaking story. It came highly recommended and I now know why. It’s marketed for teens (and content makes it best for 14 and up), but it’s so solidly written and researched that any fan of historical fiction, regardless of age, will enjoy it.

Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy

Teen crushes, Dolly Parton, small town Texas, and an over-the-top beauty pageant … what more could you ask for in a delicious YA book? I stole this one from Elena’s book shelf and devoured it faster than one of the red candy suckers hunky Bo leaves for Willowdean in her locker. Willowdean is used to not fitting in and she’s fine with it. Being the overweight daughter of the town’s former Miss Teen Blue Bonnet winner is Willowdean’s claim to fame, and she’s happy to not draw any more attention to herself than that fun fact already does. The pageant is her mom’s thing, who’s gone from crown-winner to crown-giver as the head of the pageant. Willowdean is comfortable in her own skin and in being the sidekick to her cute best friend, until the attention of Bo and a rift with her BFF leave her unsure about everything. She can think of only one way to get her confidence (and maybe her best friend) back: entering the Miss Teen Blue Bonnet Pageant. Willowdean and the charming characters of Clover City, Texas won me over in the first few chapters. This book deserves a tiara of its own!

Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum

Jessie is floundering. In less than two years her life has been turned upside down. Her mother died. Her father eloped to a widow he met online. And now, in an effort towards new beginnings, her father moves them from Chicago to LA to live with their new family. It’s all going wrong and Jessie can’t fit in to save her life. Then she gets an email from someone calling themselves Somebody/Nobody (SN). SN seems kind and helpful, offering to be Jessie’s guide to her new school and everyone in it. But should she trust SN? Does SN really have her best interests at heart, or is this just another cruel trick played by classmates? Things get complicated as Jessie begins to have feelings for SN, just as she’s getting a small foothold on her new life.

This is exactly the kind of YA I love: smartly written, but not too serious; funny, but not silly. I’m also finding I have a new appreciation for books set in LA now that I’ve been there. I took this book to the beach with me and it was perfect for reading in short bursts in between sunning and swimming.

This Is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith

More like This is What Fluffy YA Fun Looks Like. Smith’s book read like a modern-day version of my tween/teen daydreams: Quiet girl-next-door strikes up flirty (yet completely anonymous) relationship with boy via email, thanks to one mistyped character in an email address. Boy, who happens to be world-famous teen-heartthrob, figures our where girl lives and convinces the producers of his next big movie to film on location in girl’s small town. Will they fall in love in real life? Can they survive jealous friends, meddling agents, and keep their relationship under wraps? OH, THE DRAMA. But it totally works and I loved it. Elena loved it, too.

Middle Grade

Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling

You guys, I did it! I finally read Harry Potter! I don’t know why I waited so long, but you can bet it won’t take me as many years to read the rest of the series. I read the first book as my pick for “A book chosen for you by your spouse, partner, sibling, child, or BFF” in the Modern Mrs. Darcy Reading Challenge. Both Mike and the kids have been begging me to read the books for years. Since finishing the first book, I also got through The Chamber of Secrets by listening to the audio version on our way to the beach. The audio versions, narrated by Jim Dale are fantastic. My goal for 2017 is to finish the series (I’m on Book 4). I’m hoping if I finish them next year and I’m very, very good, I’ll earn myself a trip to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in 2018!

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

Mysterious, nuanced, sad and relatable … those are just a few of the words that come to mind after finishing When You Reach Me. I read this aloud to Eli, and we both found ourselves wanting to read just one more chapter to get us closer to figuring out the many mysteries in Miranda’s life. Will her mom win the $20,000 Pyramid? What’s up with the Laughing Man? Why does her best friend, Sal, suddenly want nothing to do with her? And most troubling, who is leaving letters for Miranda and what will happen if she ignores them? I remember Elena trying to read this one on her own in 4th or 5th grade and declaring it “too creepy” to finish. It does have a dark side, but when read aloud and given the opportunity for discussion I think it’s perfectly appropriate for 3rd grade and up (although Eli did groan at the mention of kissing).

Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool

I want to give Vanderpool all the gold stars for writing a book that manages to grapple with tough subjects (autism, PTSD, grief, and adolescence) beautifully through relatable and endearing characters. Jack Baker is adrift in his new boarding school in Maine. A grieving Midwest boy struggling to fit in, he finds a friend in the most unlikely of boys, Early Auden. They set out together on the Appalachian Trail together for very different reasons, learning valuable lessons about friendship, trust and the deepest kind of love. I read this aloud to Eli and we were both hooked. He loved the plot line of two boys on a quest, while I swooned over some of the best writing and dialogue I’ve found in a middle grade book.

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

I’ve never read anything like this Newbery Medal Winner by Kwame Alexander. Written in verse,  a genre that I would typically pass over. But it came highly recommended, and I thought the topic (basketball) would appeal to Eli. We both loved it. It made us laugh, think and talk about some tricky issues regarding relationships, and cry. Alexander tells the story of twins Josh and Jordan. They both love basketball and they’re fantastically good at it, thanks to passion, genetics and the coaching of their father (a former professional player). Junior high brings big changes to the boys and their relationship: girls, competition, rivalry and worries about their father’s health. Their struggles and their story would be compelling on its own, but the writing style takes it to another level. I’d recommend this book to just about anybody (I bet the audio version would be fantastic!), but I’d enthusiastically put it in the hands of reluctant young male readers.

The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo

Kate DiCamillo is a master at writing books for children that adults will love. She’s also extremely gifted at writing books that make wonderful read-alouds. Despereaux the mouse may be small (even if his ears are extremely large), but he is mighty and brave when it comes to his love for the Princess Pea. Nothing can stop him from rescuing her – not the deep, dark dungeon, the rats, the butcher knife, or his own family’s betrayal. But it’s in the journey in which he learns what’s really important: love, loyalty and soup. Eli wasn’t captivated by the first couple of chapters, but I urged him to give it a few more nights of reading … and he was hooked. We especially love the character of Miggery Sow. Not only is she fun to read as a narrator, but she speaks to the heart of what all children want: to be heard and seen.

What did you and your kids read and love in 2016?

Best YA & Middle Grade Books of 2016

 

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