Sunday, September 10, 2017

Simplicity: The Internet Edition

Let me start by saying I don't think the Internet is evil. I like social media, with Twitter being my current favorite. I'm not a hands-free mom, and I don't judge strangers when I see them on their phones because I don't know their lives. Maybe they are checking in on their kids or managing doctor's appointments for a sick parent. Maybe they are playing Candy Crush. Whatever.

I just know that for me applying some simplicity rules about the Internet is necessary, especially with where my mental and physical health have been. With flailing adrenaline glands, too much time surfing social media sites or looking at irrelevant information online is a problem. I was already dealing with anxiety with occasional side dishes of depression combined with 36-42 hours straight of not sleeping for good measure. The Internet did not help in those situations, ever.

I don't know if anyone else occasionally feels this, but social media and comments sections can be scary and jarring and awful. I post my thoughts on social media, as well as my writing, and I'm not against engaging in discussion, but the heated conversations about hot-button topics are best not done online.

Even checking my articles for comments can be dicey. I've been called c*ntish(is that a thing?  I mean, that is an amazingly mean thing to call someone, but adding ish to the end just makes me think this person has commitment issues.) and I've had it implied that I'm a moron for homeschooling my kids and that I am glad they are losers.(They aren't losers.) 

I also realized surfing the Internet after a long day of parenting and writing is not self-care. It is self-comfort, and it isn't really that comforting. Sarah Bessey explains it well, but basically, self-comfort shouldn't be a regular thing, and if I'm going to intentionally choose something it's going to be fried food combined with sugar combined with binge watching Netflix. I feel a tad guilty and sick after that, but no one calls me a c*nt, at least not that  I am aware of and that's all that matters.

My Internet simplicity rules are as follows:

Time block social media and email check in times. 

Use my computer for work during blocked times.  Otherwise, it's off.

No checking anything on my phone.  I have no notifications set to go off either, and after reading an article that said even having the things near us makes us dumber, I put my phone in another room unless I am returning a call or text.

I work on my computer, so I am by no means never on the thing, but my time is scheduled to make sure my computer use is intentional and that I'm not hooked to a phone every second of the day like it's my third arm.

I've found that I actually see a lot more of my life this way. It felt innocent to check emails or Twitter when the kids were occupied with something else, but not doing that has helped me truly see them, to watch them taking part in their everyday lives and store memories for when they aren't right under my feet anymore. I don't want their memories to be of me looking at a screen, and I feel like having some guidelines in this area will ensure that they aren't.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

August Book List

I finished several books this month, and I also grabbed some just for reference.  I've listed them all here.

Fiction

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
This book made me laugh out loud and cry multiple times, and I didn't want to let it go when I turned the last page.  Eleanor Oliphant is not typical, but since we see the world from Eleanor's view, we see why she thinks everyone around her is absurd.

When anti-social, possibly alcoholic Eleanor helps save an old man, she starts a friendship with a co-worker that leads to some upheaval in her otherwise planned out life.  As the story unravels we learn about Eleanor's past as she digs through her memories to piece together her own story.

This story is uplifting and shattering at the same time, and I cannot recommend it enough.  

Into the Water by Paula Hawkins
The author of The Girl of the Train, which I read by nightlight when the twins were tinies, is back with another mystery, this one involving the deaths of women in a river.

When a woman is found dead in the river months after a teenage girl was found dead there, questions come to the surface that must be answered.  The dead woman leaves behind a daughter who was also friends with the teen who died earlier, and Hawkins introduces us to a vast array of characters, all who might be suspects.

This was an enjoyable read and I recommend it, but it is clunkier than The Girl on the Train.  The story is told from so many different points of view that it's not easy to keep everyone straight.  I flipped back several times to figure out who I was reading about, and that messed with the urgency to get to the conclusion.

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware
I ended August with a mystery/thriller, and Ware did not disappoint.  Our narrator, Lo, sometimes seems a bit unreliable, but it's hard not to believe her when she feels something has gone terribly wrong on the luxury yacht she is aboard.  A list of suspects and hundreds of pages later, Ware brings this mystery to a satisfying end. 

I read this one at night when everyone else was asleep. Luckily, I've never been a good candidate for a cruise due to vertigo, but I would never go on one after reading this no matter what.

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
A Clockwork Orange was my classic choice for the month.  I knew nothing about this book when I picked it up, but I almost put it right back down.  The language the teenage hoodlum, Alex, and his friends use was disorienting from the start, and the violence that followed turned me off.

I kept reading, and the novel was a great study in what being a sociopath looks like.  However, I didn't feel sympathy for Alex ever while reading this, so I felt indifferent to his situation when the government tried to reform him.  The method the government used was wrong, of course, but I disliked this guy with a passion that ran so deep I felt almost nothing but loathing for him.

Poppy by Avi
Wren is in a book club, and it's the coolest thing ever.  The pick for August was Poppy, a story about a mouse who learns that the owl who rules Dimwood Forest is not the kind, watchful eye he passed himself off to be.  It's a tale of adventure that has great lessons about what it looks like when people in power use fear to control others and why it's important to question everything.

Non-fiction

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance
Vance's look at the hillbilly family he grew up in while living in Kentucky and Ohio was brilliant for many reasons.  Vance is able to look back at what most would call a very dysfunctional childhood with an eye for the good in those who raised him.  He doesn't let his abusive, drug-addicted mother, his absent father, or his somewhat crazy hillbilly grandparents off the hook, but he shares his past with an obvious affection for those who helped him survive.  He acknowledges that without his grandmother as a constant in his life, he likely wouldn't have escaped the poverty that most hillbillies find themselves trapped in.

Vance shares the struggles of hillbillies while still refusing to make excuses for why many choose to give up steady jobs, embrace addiction, and then blame outside sources.  He writes with love and a critical eye and offers an inside view of life within this culture.

Stuff Jesus Never Said by Paul Ellis
This quick read that is illustrated with memes of stuff Jesus never said is insightful and hilarious while also being sad.  Flipping through the pages, there are many sayings that most people have heard and assume are Gospel truth, except they are nowhere in the actual Gospels.  Ellis kindly dismantles the false words we attribute to Jesus and helps us see who he really is and not just the image we've made him into based on inaccurate information.

This is Where You Belong by Melody Warnick
I love Gretchin Rubin, author of The Happiness Project which I read again every couple of years, and Warnick's book reminded me of her.  After moving regularly for years, mainly just because Warnick and her husband are always ready to try somewhere new hoping it will be better, she finally ends up in Blacksburg, Virginia.  With two daughters, one who is entering the teen years, Warnick wants to learn how to settle down and love where she lives.  Is it possible that we can make ourselves fall in love with our town or city, despite its obvious imperfections?  Would learning how help the U.S. population be stayers more than movers?

Warnick explores ways to be happy where we live, and I needed this book right now.  D and I have discussed the moving question endlessly for months, and we are no closer to knowing what to do.  Settled here for the foreseeable future, Warnick helped me see the benefits of trying to fall in love with where I live, even if we don't end up here forever.  She outlines ways to love our cities, and her instructions and experiments are fun to read and backed with data from many sources. 

In the end, she confirms what Rubin believes: we choose to be happy, or we choose not to.  That's true no matter where we live.

Reference

The Five Love Languages of Children by Gary D. Chapman and Ross Campbell
In an effort to know more about our kids, I checked this one out and discovered what love language they spoke.  I'm now reading through the relevant chapters to figure out the best ways to communicate with them via their love languages.

The Adrenal Reset Diet by Alan Christianson
After seeing a naturopath, I found out my adrenals are trashed.  I'm taking about 50 supplements a day, and the naturopath also recommended I read this book to learn how what I eat and when affects my adrenals.  I'm reading the parts that are relevant to the stages of adrenal issues I'm in, stages two and three.

Discovering Your Personality Type: The Essential Introduction to the Enneagram by Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson
Topics I've been obsessed with this year: hygge, minimalism, and the Enneagram.  In many ways they overlap because they are all about simplicity.  The Enneagram, in its own way, makes it simpler for us to understand who we are and what motivates us, so I grabbed this book to brush up on what each personality type is like and how to better serve them.  I am also reading up on ways to be the best type two I can.  


Monday, August 28, 2017

Simplicity: The Home Edition

To be very clear, I suck at home design and decorating.  I have never seen a show with those Chip and Joanna people, and we've lived in our house for nine years, but someone off the street could walk in the door and assume we've only been here a week.

My hobbies don't involve looking for the perfect throw pillow or turning a closet into a mini office.  I occasionally decorate furniture with laundry that I don't feel like folding, but that's about it.

So, why a blog on simplicity in home design?  Well, my style can be considered very simple, as in kind of non-existent, and I found out recently that that is actually a thing.  Minimalist decorating is pretty much what my home would look like if it wasn't cluttered.  I am also fond of Danish styles, which pretty much mimic minimalism but with really nice light fixtures.

I've found my biggest requirements for decorating happiness are: as little clutter as possible (laugh now.  I have four kids and they basically drop toys from their bodies as they walk around our home), and pieces that mean something to me.  Our walls are almost empty right now because I've been repainting several rooms, and I'm not putting anything back on them until I find the perfect pieces.  My husband is an artist, and he owes me several canvases right now. 

I also like spaces where it's easy to tuck in and hide, with a book of course.  Having things on a shelf that we're not using stresses me out (if we aren't using it, why do we have it?), so I started making tables out of keepsake boxes a couple of months ago and accidentally created a cool space in our bedroom where I often retreat.  We are now also using the boxes and they are not just sitting in the closet, so double win.

Reading The Nesting Place: It Doesn't Have to be Perfect to be Beautiful by Myquillyn Smith also opened my eyes to tons of possibilities.  Granted, my style is nothing like Smith's, but her advice is really solid and simple for those who want to try to create a beautiful space.

I feel like she gave me permission to care a bit more about how I design things.  It's creating, and I love creativity in all forms.  Though I'm not going over the top in the decorating department, I finally see that creating spaces that work for us isn't a waste of time, which is largely how I viewed it before.

Here is what simple in design looks like for us:

1.  Painting
It's amazing what a coat of paint can do for a room.

2.  De-cluttering
I am always looking for ways to have less, either by simply not purchasing items or by
clearing out what we're not using.

3.  No forcing it.
I could easily take everything I would need to live and move back to the tiny efficiency
apartment I rented in my 20s.  D and our kids could not.  They are minimalists, sort
of, but not like I am, and that's okay.  D collects comics and Alien toys (the proper name is\
apparently action figures, but they are toys).  The kids have more of his collector tendencies than I do.  This isn't bad, but I have to accept that my way of doing things isn't everyone's way.

4.  Find your style.
The best advice I read was to forget mimicking the styles of others or keeping up with trends. Create the space that makes you happy.  It's your home.  Don't fall for thinking it's only good if someone else is doing it.

My reading nook in the bedroom, which is sometimes borrowed by others
.

New paint in the kitchen and two pieces of art I love. 

Wren, Sam, and D owe me three more tree pictures since I'm making them paint me one for each season.

Homemade hooks from family members and crosses made by the kids.

Style and decorating for me means personal items that have stories behind them.  I love it if hands I frequently hold have made the designs I see every day.  I'm also okay with bare walls until I find what I love.


Thursday, August 10, 2017

July Book List

I'm a little behind because I am currently snowed under in books.  It's a good thing, but all I want to do is read.  Not eat, not adult, just grab my books and read.  Do people take vacations with their books?  Just, you know, a grown woman and three bags of books?  That's normal, right?

Anyway, here's July's list.

Fiction

The Best of Adam Sharp by Graeme Simsion

The Rosie Project and The Rosie Effect, Simsion's previous books, were wonderful and warm.  The Best of Adam Sharp tries to replicate some of the patterns from those books, but it doesn't achieve the same feeling or overall effect.

Again we have a protagonist who seems to be good at analyzing feelings but not so great at actually feeling them at times.  Adam Sharp has a brief relationship with a somewhat scattered woman while in his 20s, but they part and Adam finds himself decades down the road in a long-term relationship and settled in life.  When the woman from his past, Angelina, reaches out through email, is it worth upending his life to find out what might have been?

This book was good and I wanted to find out what happened, but it didn't hold the same charm as the Rosie books.  It also went to some unexpected places.  Told through music, this book has a playlist that can be accessed online for readers who want to hear the tunes of Adam's life.  It's worth a read, but if you haven't read the Rosie books, grab them first.

The Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

This is my first book by Anthony Horowitz, but I was impressed with this mystery novel, which is actually a book within a book.  There is more than one mystery to solve, and Horowitz weaves the stories in and out beautifully, creating a story that is about much more than it seems.

When Alan Conway turns in his latest novel to his editor, Susan, she expects a good mystery story with all loose ends tied up.   What she gets is multiple unsolved mysteries, one that is taking place in real life.  As she follows the clues left behind, she finds that nothing is what it seems, and just like in a real mystery novel, the closer you get to the truth, the closer the danger is.

Summer just feels like a time for mysteries, and this one did not disappoint.  


Do Not Become Alarmed by Maile Meloy

I was hesitant to pick this one up because the subject matter is disturbing.  I read a lot of disturbing books, but anything with kids in peril makes me squirm since I became a mom.  It bothered me before, but now it's even worse.  However, Meloy's story drew me in, and I found myself laughing as well as holding my breath as I ran through this story.

When cousins, Liv and Nora, decide to take a cruise with their families, it seems like a great idea.   However, when the kids disappear while they are on a stop in Central America, their lives come apart, and no ones is quite sure who to blame.  Where are the kids, and how did this happen?

Luckily, we also have the perspective of the kids.  Sometimes that's not comforting, but at other times it gives the reader something to hold onto.  The families explore their marriages, their relationships with their kids, and the very unreal lines we draw that make us feel safe.  This is a must read.

The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

This was my classic for the month, and I found it to be disturbing and addictive.  The entire story is creepy, and I am still trying to untangle the author's motive for his protagonist's metamorphosis.  I know there is a plethora of speculation, some of which I've read, but I'm still thinking it through and deciding what I think.  This book, all these years later, still has much to say about the human condition and how we deal with greed, family, and those who are different than the norm.

Non-fiction

Books for Living  by Bill Schwalbe

I haven't read The End of the World Book Club, but I likely will after picking up Schwalbe's latest book.  Schwalbe writes about the books that touched his life, changed his perspective, and worked as touchstones to certain places in his personal history.  I love books about books, and this one did not disappoint.

Schwalbe believes asking someone "What are you reading?" is a wonderful way to get to know them, and I agree.  His accounts of what books touched and changed him made me feel like I knew him, and it also caused me to add even more books to my overflowing reading list. 

Goodbye, Things: The New Japanese Minimalism by Fumio Sasaki

Minimalism is simplicity at its best, and I am reading pretty much everything I can get my hands on about it.  I wrote about how minimalism can help us as parents here, and that article was largely inspired by Saski's book. 

Sasaki wrote a beautiful book about not only the material aspects of minimalism but about how much the practice can do for us mentally, physically, and emotionally.  Having practiced minimalism for years now, I can confirm his conclusions.

Whether a person thinks they are interested in minimalism or not, grabbing this book is a good idea.  It's full of wisdom, and it's a fast read.  Plus, it would make a great coffee table book with it's simple cover, but would a minimalist want to adorn the house with a book on minimalism?  The constant struggle, right?

Monday, July 10, 2017

Asher and Eowyn Turn Four

This year the girls were old enough to be super excited about family and friends coming to their birthday party.  We bought balloons and tons of food, and the girls were counting down the days in advance.  That's why it was awful when we all got the flu and the party was cancelled.

We spent two and a half weeks rotating doctor's appointments, medications, and naps, and by then the girls were four and their big day was over.  However, we still made cake and opened presents.


The flu didn't dampen the sense of humor.


(For the record, the girls  have been sick on their birthday EVERY YEAR since birth.  They usually get to party the weekend before, but by June 19th, each one is running fever.  They've had hand, foot, and mouth, strep, and ear infections.  This year was the worst since it was all of us and it was the flu, but I really don't even know why I plan for them to be healthy each year.)

Anyway, we decided when we were all well that we would reclaim both their birthday celebration and Father's Day since each one was obliterated by illness.  We didn't reschedule a big party because we were still shell shocked from all the sick, but we did spend five days seeing movies, eating lobster and ice cream, buying books, and going to the aquatic center and HOA pool to swim.  We threw in some fireworks for 4th of July, and suddenly we all felt better.



Here's the scoop on my now four-year-old babies.  Yes, we still call them the babies, but we're trying to stop.

Asher


Loves: Daniel Tiger, Magnatiles, All Books
She speaks in a high, very girly voice.
She's fearless in the water.
Asher is tenderhearted.  I've told her simply to not jump on the couch or to take her food in the kitchen, and I've found her five minutes later crying because she felt bad for getting into trouble.  However, when she digs her heels in, good luck.  She will get three inches from anyone's face and argue her point in squeaky, preschool speak.  It's a mixed bag.
She likes to be tickled.  

Eowyn

Loves: Daniel Tiger, Magnatiles, drawing, punching Asher when she's angry
Eowyn sounds like Peppermint Patty.  This is still an easy way to tell them apart.
She did not fully immerse herself in the pool for a month, but she's good with it now.
Frequently says "I'm frustrated" for no reason because she's heard Daniel Tiger say it.  This frustrates me.
Eowyn loves affection, and though she can be a tough kid to discipline at times, her feelings get hurt by anyone even looking at her the wrong way.  She'll punch her sister in the face, but when confronted she falls apart and begs us to hold her. 
Eowyn is still roaming around the house asking, "What happened to my party?" in reference to the birthday debacle.  We just keep saying, "Influenza B".
She likes to be tickled.

To be honest, I did not fully see the twin bond thing in these two for a while.  Sure, they have something special and always have, but they were not these crazy connected kids who were afraid to be away from each other.  They've always played independently and still do.

However, lately they have become more attached in certain ways.  They go find each other if something exciting is happening, and it's gotten to the point where if I'm handing out snacks while one twin is on the toilet, the other will go and try to drag her off so she doesn't miss anything.  They are both devastated when the other one gets in trouble, which is quite a change.  Last year at this time they would laugh at each other when disciplining was being doled out to the other one.


They fight like all good siblings, and their fights sometimes get more personal than my oldest two.  Still, we can't take them out on separate dates because they cry when asked to have fun without each other.  We're letting them call the shots on how all this works, and we're just trying to follow their leads.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Simplicity: A Mid-Year Check In

My focus word this year is simplicity, and somehow the year is halfway over.  I want to take an assessment as the second half of the year starts to see what the first half looked like and if I truly kept a focus on living simply. I will also still be blogging monthly about how we're seeking simplicity in food, fashion, home maintenance, electronic use, and the like.  I am also looking at what simple means to me as I make new goals for the last six months of the year.

Ways We've Done Simple

We Learned to Hygge

The Danish concept of hygge is all about simplicity, and I devoured books about this concept and wrote an article on it that was published here.  Whenever I feel myself veering off course when it comes to simplicity, I think hygge.  That means coffee, getting outside, unplugging from electronics, or grabbing a book to read.  It means simple food and long conversations.  Hygge helps me define my idea of simplicity in real terms, and just like it does the Danes, it makes me happier. 

We Made Positive, Scary Changes

I had to do a bit of soul searching when it came to what simplicity meant for me as it relates to change.  D and I both felt, without talking about it to each other, that we might not keep living where we are forever, and when we finally both confessed to these feelings, the realization floored me.

In the past, I've had no trouble with the idea of picking up and going somewhere else.  I love change that I initiate.  But being a parent suddenly made this idea seem impossible.  What about security and friends and all the things?  What if we ruined everyone's lives?

We're not planning on moving anytime soon, but conversations about leaving led to some realities that I had to face about control issues and about my own problems with displacement, something I've struggled with since my teen years.  It also pointed out some areas we needed to change where we're at right now.  We needed to get out of a situation, and we both knew it, but that fear of what would happen hung over our heads and damn near paralyzed me.  However, we did it, and it's great.  Maybe this is one small step and the bigger ones are coming.

I Sort of Learned to Sleep

Plagued with insomnia since birth if my parents are to be believed, I finally made the leap from an overtired, up-too-late person to someone who is getting around six to seven hours of sleep a night.  All it took was the flu leveling all six of us for two and half weeks to knock me down so hard that I had no choice but to prioritize sleep.

It's still hard for me.  However, I have streamlined my life to the point that I don't have to be up all night working, and when I get that urge to just sit up and listen to the quiet house until two am while still consuming coffee, I just say no. 

Simple Plans for the Future

One thing that is not easy but is simple is the idea that we need to challenge ourselves to grow.  I used to be great at pushing myself, but that was before I had four kids and my brain and body felt like mush by the end of the day.  Yes, I still read a lot and write daily, but I am feeling the simple urge to push out of my comfort zone and see where that leads.

When it Comes to God

I don't think we ever really stop journeying when it comes to spiritual issues, and D and I have recently made some decisions about our journey that give us peace.  We're going to keep pushing in the direction we're going, the one God is opening for us.  I'm also keeping a journal of all the places I see God amidst this crazy, ugly world.  Turns out that if you look for Him daily, He's not that hard to find.

When it Comes to Books
 
 I read a lot, and it's one of my favorite hobbies.  I don't discriminate against pretty much any type of writing, though I prefer certain types over others.  However, there are some classics I missed out on in high school, and I want to go back and read them. I read Anna Karenina a couple of years ago because I loved my Russian Lit class in college, and it was amazing.  Now I'm tackling War and Peace.  The problem is that book is a behemoth, and I want to savor it while still not missing out on reading other, newer books.

My goal is to read at least one classic a month, and I hope to still throw some new books in there as well.

When it Comes to Writing

My writing has been going well, but one place where I have fallen back is fiction.  I love writing fiction, but having fiction published is a beast.  Because I am successfully having non-fiction published regularly, I've stopped working on fiction as much.  This isn't how I want things to be.

I'm going to make sure my time is organized in a way that I can work on fiction every day, even it's just a little.  Whether it gets published or not isn't the point.  I have some words that need to be written, and so I have to write them.

When it Comes to Movement

Truth be told, I have never fully recovered from my pregnancy with the twins, and it's starting to show. I'm not yet 40, but my endurance is awful, and I don't feel like this is totally normal.  After carrying the girls for 37 weeks, I breastfed for another 17 months.  Just when all of that came to an end, I developed symptoms that a year later would finally be diagnosed as Meniere's disease.  Basically, every  time I thought I was getting back up, I got knocked back down.

I am going to push myself to sweat and hurt daily.  This is something I used to do without thought, but I used to overexercise due to an eating disorder, so it wasn't exactly a good thing.  I'm looking for normal/challenging, something where I will see that I am getting stronger.  Right now, I don't feel strong.
 
When it Comes to People

I fully embrace the part of me that can't deal with people all the time, the introvert side that needs quiet to survive.  However, I've started embracing the extrovert side as well, the part of me that loves those intimate relationships that lead to hours of conversationCatching the flu and all of us being quarantined for weeks left me aching for time with the people I usually see on a regular basis.  I want to keep feeding those relationships since I care for them so much.


Monday, July 3, 2017

June Book List

I only read five books this month, but I am also editing D's novella, and I managed to binge watch A Handmaid's Tale on Hulu.  Since all six of us were hit with the flu, I did the best I could with what time I had.

Non-fiction

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

Gay's essays on feminism were insightful and honest, with the author confessing to embracing feminism but not feeling like she is always doing it right.  Her message is relatable since even the most staunch feminists can't seem to agree on every issue and where we should stand.  I agree with Gay when she says that it's important for her to be a feminist, even a bad one, because there is still work to do for women.

Gay covers music, movies, and her own life in these essays, and though all were enjoyable, I was particularly fond of the stories that centered around her narrative and personal history.  That's why I grabbed the next book on the list and dove in.

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay

Gay's memoir takes an even more personal turn, talking in more detail about the gang rape she experienced at the age of 12 and what it meant for the rest of her life, particularly her body.  Attempting to protect herself from the abuse she suffered at the hands of cruel boys, Gay ate to deal with her trauma, and this book talks about the toll that hunger has taken on her life.

Gay holds a mirror up to our body-obsessed culture while still admitting that she sometimes longs for a different body.  Her honesty is breathtaking, and it doesn't say great things about our world that a woman with her PhD and best-selling books to her name still has to deal with rude remarks about her appearance.

I read Hunger in one night, absorbing Gay's story, weeping for all she went through.  It's impossible to define this book except to say it should be required reading for all.

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren

Scientist Hope Jahren writes her memoir using personal stories and information about plants.  It may sound like a strange combination, but it's perfection.  I read this one slowly, not really wanting it to end. 

The chapters alternate, telling something about plant life in one then switching to tales of Jahren's life, starting with her childhood living with a father who let her come to his lab regularly.  Jahren is honest about the struggles female scientists face, and she's also transparent about her struggles with bipolar disease.  Her writing is beautiful, almost lyrical, and I felt every emotion possible while reading her story.  Put this book in the hands of any budding scientists, avid readers, or anyone who just enjoys good writing.

Fiction

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

Towles' protagonist was described to me by a friend as "like Ove from A Man Called Ove, but way less grumpy".  That description is perfect, and this book was a delight.

When the Bolsheviks take over, Count Alexander Rostov is confined to a hotel for the rest of his life as a punishment for being a man of leisure.  He takes this confinement in stride, and for decades he watches Russia change from inside the elegant hotel.  While confined, he makes friends, finds purpose, and reveals details of his past.  When a young girl needs him to have a good life of her own, he rises to the challenge and uses his skills to provide her with the best life possible.

This book is on BookPage's top 50 for the year, and it belongs there. 

No One is Coming to Save Us by Stephanie Powell Watts

Watts' book is described as being Great Gatsby-like, but it's been years since I've read F. Scott Fitzgerald's tale of 1920s decadence.  I enjoyed this book for what it was: a tale of families coming to terms with where their lives have led, and the tale of a man trying to change his future by using money to lure in the girl of his dreams.

Ava dreams of having a child, but her marriage to Henry is falling apart and she can't carry a pregnancy to term.  JJ comes back to lure Ava to him with the house he is building in the Carolina mountains.  Sylvia, Ava's mother, watches this unfold, dealing with her own life decisions and the infidelity of her husband, Don. 

This story explores what it means for this family to be black in the Carolinas, a previously segregated area that still carries the scars of racism.  Watts' writing is wonderful, and the relationship between Ava and Sylvia, mother and daughter, is accurately depicted as equal parts difficult and tender.