Saturday, December 31, 2016

Top Book Picks from 2016

Okay, I had to choose 14 books, which I think is fair.  I read 70, and with the exception of a handful, I’d recommend them all.  That’s why putting this list together was so hard and why I separated fiction and non-fiction to add a few more.

Check out the Books Tab above if you want to see all of the reading lists for this year.  If you’re just looking for my top picks, here they are.


I’ve wondered for years if there was ever going to be an end to books about WWII.  I think the answer is no, and maybe there shouldn’t be.  Chris Cleave proves they can still be done well, introducing characters and situations that teach us new information about everything we thought we already knew.  Cleave’s book about the blitz on London during the war uses the conflict as a backdrop for personal stories about the people trapped in this dire situation.  The book also travels to battles in Malta, a place I did not even know was affected by WWII.

Everyone Brave is Forgiven is about war, yes, but it’s also about friendship, love, racial inequality, and the everyday lives of people living in extraordinarily dark times.  The dialogue is witty and at times hilarious, and the losses these characters experience hit the reader like a direct punch to the heart.  I still think about this book regularly, and it will likely go into my rotation of books I reread periodically.

During the 1999 World Trade Center Organization protests in Seattle, a son makes his way home as a father tries to calm the protesting crowds before tragedy ensues.  I read this one in the early months of this year, so details are fuzzy, but I walked away struck by the complex issues that Yapa dealt with in a beautiful, almost lyrical way.  Relevant for today, this is a solid book.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

I just wrote about this book on the December book list, so click here to check out the description.  Since I read it recently, I don’t have distance to add to my perspective.  It is just such a beautiful book.

All is Not Forgotten by Wendy Walker

I debated about putting this one on the list.  It’s dark, at times difficult to read because the content matter is so disturbing.  However, it’s superbly written and I keep thinking about and all the implications of the story.

When a young girl is raped, her parents choose to give her a drug to erase the details of what happened.  This creates more problems than it solves, and when the teen wants her memory back, she starts seeing a doctor to use talk therapy to help.  The outcome is not what any reader will ever be able to imagine.  

This book is fast-paced and addictive, dark and psychologically ominous.  It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but it will leave readers thinking.

The Unseen World by Liz Moore

Ada is raised by her brilliant father and becomes a prodigy herself.  In the world of computer science in the 1980s, David and his lab are working to create something, but when David starts to lose his memory, Ada finds out her father isn’t the man she’s always believed him to be.

When I think of this book, the word tender comes to mind. It’s a beautiful love story between father and child, and the characters are rich and jump off the page.  This was one I was sad to close the last page on, and I know I’ll read it again.

Version Control by Dexter Palmer

Version Control takes on time travel, family, science, relationships, and race and manages to do it all in a highly understandable way that had me screaming out loud as I read.(Other people do that, right?  Like, you read something and then go “WHAT?!?  That did not just happen.  Oh my gosh, it makes so much sense, of course it had to happen!”  Tell me I’m normal.)

I read this at the beginning of the year so I remember certain details and not others, but the story is perfection, the dialogue real, and the scientific element highlights human relationships and struggles.  A marriage hangs in the balance, tragedy strikes, then an incredible cast of characters draws you in until the final page.  

At the time that I read this book, I enjoyed it because the writing is beautiful and the story offers present-day action and well-placed flashbacks.  I did not know that the pivotal scene would haunt me for months.  

When Ellie forges a painting, she has no idea that the man it was stolen from will enter her life, and not by accident.  This game of manipulation keeps the reader wondering how in the world this can end, but I never guessed how it would.  The climax doesn’t feel contrived.  Instead it makes the reader think about humanity and what we are capable of when we feel robbed.

A Doubter’s Almanac by Ethan Canin

I always find it strange that I am so drawn to books about characters who work in math and science.  Maybe it is because I have absolutely no skill in these areas that I’m fascinated when I receive a look into the mind of someone who does.  

A Doubter’s Almanac follows Milo as he ascends to fame after his unique mind earns him honors in his field.  Spanning decades, A Doubter’s Almanac shows the darker side of genius and what it can cost to have a mind that is so centrally focused coupled with ambition.  It explores family relationships and wounded pride, and the writing was so good that I didn’t mind reading about math that I will absolutely never in my life understand. 

Dietland by Sarai Walker

I get overwhelmed when thinking about this book, and I think about it often.  Now even more than when I read it I feel this book should be required reading for the betterment of humanity.  Walker focuses on our society’s obsession with appearance and what it does to women and our culture.  The book offers characters who try to fix the system peacefully and those who try to blow up the whole damn rape culture, almost literally.  There’s no way to read this and walk away without feeling a little out of breath, committed to being responsible to what we feed our girls about what it means to be a woman and what we teach our boys about what it means to interact with women.  

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

I am a firm believer that books offer passageways to the minds of others and can help unite us when our tendency is to live divided.  Ta-Nehisi Coates' Between the World and Me proves this, and I devoured this one twice this year and will probably read it again every year until I die.

Coates writes this book as a letter to his son.  He tells him what he needs to know growing up black, and he traces his own journey to the person he is now.  Coates offers truth without being preachy and wisdom and perspective that can benefit any reader who wants a deeper look at why, yes, our country still has a major problem with race relations.  

The first time I read this book I was a part of a group that discussed it online.  It was mainly Christians(though Coates is not a believer, that was just my book group) from all races and walks of life, and it was eye opening to see the long-lasting effects of racism, especially when many Southern churches supported it or turned a blind eye.  Reading Coates’ book made me hope and pray that in this day and time, we can remember that what we don’t speak up against becomes what we’re known for approving, and that we will rise up against injustice no matter where it comes from.  

The Road Back to You by Ian Morgan Cron, and Suzanne Stabile

I hadn’t heard of the Enneagram before reading this book, and as a friend wisely paraphrased, reading this book was knowing you were going to do something very uncomfortable but doing it anyway.  Why?  Because whichever number you find yourself most identifying with on the Enneagram, it’s going to be rough to recognize yourself in the ugly parts.  Yes, you get to find out the good as well, but for true growth, you need to know the bad, and the authors offer that for all.

I am going to read up more on the Enneagram(I’m a 2 and that pretty much explains everything), but this book was so good I’m actually hesitant to seek out anything else.  

Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan

I picked this book up because I thought I was losing my mind.  Sometimes due to Meniere’s disease, I still think I am, but that is beside the point.  Brain on Fire tells the story of a young journalist with a promising career who suddenly starts suffering with symptoms that can’t be properly diagnosed.  Too mentally ill to function, Cahalan is hospitalized and loses months of her life to a rare auto-immune disease that attacked her brain.

She used her skills as a journalist to write this book and to try to trace her own journey through these missing months.  The book is well written and concerning, showing how chance plays a huge role in if we are properly diagnosed and treated.  It’s also a fascinating, if horrifying, portrait of what happens when our body finds a way to turn our mind against us.

Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist

Niequist is one of my favorite writers, and her books seem to always find me when I need them most.  In Present Over Perfect, she talks about letting go of perfection and being where we are.  This book explains a lot of what I’m focusing on this year with my 2017 word, simple.  Do the simple thing, not the easy thing.  They are often not the same.  It’s not simple to be present in a world of easy distractions, but it’s the life worth living.

Patient H.M. by Luke Dittrich

The true story the movie Memento was based off of, Patient H.M.  takes readers inside the world of brain surgery and brain injury over the last several decades.  Warning: it’s horrifying.  The author is the grandson of a renowned brain surgeon, but he has no issues pulling the veil up to reveal a world of misguided doctors and scientists using patients like guinea pigs and causing damage that permanently affected lives.  The book is about both science and family, and I couldn’t put it down. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

December Book List

I'm wrapping up a really good year of reading with these five books.  I hope to finish The Fortunes by Peter Ho Davies and Sex Object by Jessica Valenti by New Year's day, but I will report back on them in 2017.


You Can’t Touch My Hair and Other Things I Still Have to Explain by Phoebe Robinson

 I knew nothing about Phoebe Robinson before picking up You Can’t Touch My Hair and Other Things I Still Have to Explain, but now I plan on listening to her podcast and stalking her on Twitter.   Robinson is a comedian who had me laughing on almost every page even as she dealt with difficult topics like racism and sexism.  The title of the book leads to a chapter on the idea of “good hair” and how black women are often raised to believe they must look a certain way to receive a positive response.  It’s heartbreaking, honest, and somehow Robinson still laces the stories with humor and hope.

Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick

I’ve only seen Anna Kendrick in the movies 50/50, Pitch Perfect, and Twilight, but hearing her voice over and over again on the Trolls soundtrack (thanks, kids!) made me want to grab this book.  It was a quick read with insights about working on the stage and in Hollywood.  Kendrick shares her personal journey using wit and humor, and she is a talented writer.  After reading it, I’m hoping to watch Up in the Air and The Last Five Years soon.


Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, and John Tiffany
I may be the last person on earth to read this, but I finally got around to devouring the play that takes place 19 years after Harry leaves Hogwarts.  All is not well in Potter’s world, and this story is as much about family as it is about evil forces that threaten to tear the world in two.  Harry Potter fans should read this one, and people who aren’t Harry Potter fans, well, I’m not sure how to talk to you.  Go read Harry Potter!  

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

This book knocked me off my feet as I laughed and cried my way through the feel-good book of the year about an old, cranky man determined to alienate himself from everyone he meets.  Ove is annoyed with humanity in general, but new neighbors change his path, and he’s suddenly in the middle of a life with meaning and people surrounding him, whether he likes it or not.  Ove’s full story unfolds in beautiful flashbacks, and don’t forget to read the chapter titles because they are absolute gems.  This one is on the top 10 list of books I read this year.

The Girls by Emma Cline

To be clear, if this book had not been on the BookPage's Top 50 List, I would have never picked it up.  A fictional account based on the Manson murders, it’s disturbing in a way that I don’t enjoy.  However, the writing was amazing, and Cline does such a precise job of unearthing how sad girls end up falling in with people to feel like they have a home that I couldn’t turn away.  Her observations, such as that girls don’t know who they are because they are pretending to be what boys want while the boys actually just get to grow into their own men, are simple yet profound, and that makes the book worth reading if you can stomach it. 

Monday, December 26, 2016

Sam at Age 6

Sammy turned 6, dropped the last two letters from his name, and became a full-grown Sam-man.  It's a bit unbelievable.  Since Sam's birthday is four days before Christmas, it's always our goal to set that day apart from the holidays, and I think we've done okay so far, though this year was a bit more challenging.  We spent the morning at the bakery letting Sam chow down on cinnamon rolls, but we spent the next couple of hours apart since I had to take Asher to the doctor because she was acting shady.  D took Sam and Wren to Chuck E. Cheese to play arcade games, and I hustled the twins to the doctor.  In case you're wondering which parent had it worse, it was ME!

We met back up that afternoon and went to see the Christmas lights on Frisco square and grab snow cones, a Christmas activity that Sam requested for his birthday, so that made it okay.  Sam got his longed-for Angry Birds plushie, and I gave him more kisses when he turned "fully six" late that night, though he was already sleeping.  (Are anyone else's kids obsessed with the time of their birth?  My kids will not call themselves an age until they are "fully" that age after their birth time.)

We also did his birthday interview, and here are the results:

The Official Interview

What do you want to be when you grow up?  a chef
What is something you want to do that you've never done?  new video games
If you could go anywhere, where would it be?  Japan
Proudest Accomplishment: learning to swim, finishing my AWANAS book, and learning Sonic the hedgehog video games


Thing to do: color
Holiday: Halloween
Food: hot dogs, chili dogs, cinnamon rolls
Season: summer
Gift: my mom

Then on Christmas Eve Sam broke his face, and like always, he didn't scream.  Since this is the second time we've done bloody chin injury in less than a year(Wren in May), you'd think I would have handled it like a rock star.  Not so much.  Sam did that thing he does where he won't cry out for help, so I turned around when I heard Wren screaming, "Mom, Sam fell!" to see my six year-old face down on concrete not moving or making a sound, his face turned away from me so I couldn't even see if he was conscious.  Two hours later when the adrenaline wore off and we discovered he would only need butterfly stitches instead of real ones, I still felt like I was going to puke.

And that may sum up where I need to focus on Sam, reading him on his terms, learning his cues because they are distinctly his.  Sure, we are working on emoting and talking through how we feel, but it's probably a good idea for me to get used to his communication style, because he does communicate if you're paying attention.  In this case, he was breathing, so I guess that counts?

He's made leaps and bounds at expressing his needs this year, and I love every fiber of that kid.  He told me the other day he needed to fix his hair for the girls, and I internally wept.  He's always going to be my guy.