Category Archives: Book

The Best Books I Read in 2016

Last year I decided to keep track of the books I read in 2016. GoodReads made this easy as I just added each book to my “2016 Reads” list after finishing. I ended with 116 books read in 2016. Mostly thanks to reading at the gym. I’m a quick reader and spend one hour (5 days a week) on the treadmill at the gym reading. So that’s 5 hours of read time meaning I easily read 1-2 books a week (depending on book length) just while working out at the gym. Plus I read during travel time on trips which we did a lot of this year. So, 116 is where I landed in 2016.

When it comes to rating books on GoodReads, I most frequently rate books at a 3 or 4. A 4 means I really liked the book and a 3 means that it was fine. If I rate it a 2 then I really didn’t like it (I have rarely given out a 1 star rating because I almost feel like it’s mean to the author, ha!) and if it gets a 5 star rating then it means LOVE! So today I want to share with you guys my favorite 5-star reads from 2016

mark-of-the-lion

I re-read the Mark of the Lion trilogy this year (A Voice in the Wind, An Echo in the Darkness, & As Sure as the Dawn). These are some of my favorite books so naturally I loved them all over again. I couldn’t even begin to tell you how many times I have read this trilogy since I was first introduced to it as a teenager. I just love all three of these books so much. So so so good!

scarred faith.jpg

Also a re-read for this past year was Scarred Faith. I first read this book in 2013 when it was published, but I think I’ve re-read it nearly every year since then (or at least parts of it). This book tackles several big topics (in a short 160 pages), but one of my favorite things about it is that it talks about how important mourning sad times is. We brush over grief so often because it’s uncomfortable and so many of us grieve differently and over different things. but I love this book for the reminder that God is standing with us through every moment of our suffering. And best of all, this book reminds us that the tomb was empty and that death doesn’t win. Jesus wins. And that reminder fills me with such hope for the brokenness in the world.

unafraid
The final re-read for 2016 was Unafraid.  Oh, how I love this book. I read it nearly every December because I love how it tells the story of Jesus’ birth from Mary’s perspective. It humanizes her in such a powerful way. Love it!

lady midnight.jpg

I’ve read several of Cassandra Clare’s books and every one of them has landed a 4 star rating from me. I enjoy them for sure, but they aren’t the best ever. Until her latest book, Lady Midnight, which was just above and beyond! A 5 star read for sure! Personally, I think it’s the best she’s written and I am so excited for the next book to come out this May!

crystal-kingdom

I read Crystal Kingdom (the final book in the Kanin Chronicles trilogy) this year and loved it! I loved the original Trylle trilogy that she wrote and this follow up trilogy was equally excellent – especially the final book!

the-crown

I read The Crown (the fifth book in the Selection series) and I absolutely loved it! I loved the first 3 books in the original trilogy, but was really disappointed in the fourth book (partially because I didn’t know there was going to be a fifth book until the last few pages of the fourth so I was really confused as to why they weren’t wrapping things up better). This fifth book absolutely redeemed the fourth. Loved it! I look forward to seeing what Kiera Cass does next!

harry-potter

I initially had mixed feelings about Harry Potter & the Cursed Child. I had no problem with the script layout, but I didn’t love all the parts of the story or character development. However, when I finished the book I found myself happy to have read it. Happy to have spent some time with characters I had missed. And happy to have met some new ones. It barely squeaked by with a 5 instead of a 4, but in the end all the old Harry Potter feels won out. 🙂

esther

This retelling of Esther is incredible! Like the “Unafraid” book I shared about earlier, this one humanizes Esther in a powerful way. It really helps you imagine what it might have been like to be in her shoes. Such an interesting read!

land-of-silence

I can nearly always count on Tessa Afshar for a 5 star read. Her book, Land of Silence, was no exception. She is a powerful story teller and I love that about her! I’m looking forward to her next book in June!

pride-and-prejudice

I have loved the BBC version of Pride & Prejudice since I was introduced to it as a child. And when the Kiera Knightley version came out while I was in college, I loved that one too. I obsessively watched every one of the Lizzie Bennet Diaries YouTube videos as soon as I heard about them and I have read countless re-tellings of the story in book form. However, somehow I just never actually read the original Pride & Prejudice. So this year I did. And I absolutely LOVED it!! I thought it might get tedious reading it all, but it was the opposite. Even though I knew everything that was coming, I still couldn’t put the book down. Jane Austen’s wit is just the best.

seeking-refuge

As many of you know, Christopher and I began volunteering with World Relief last year. We were placed with a family from Syria and spent our Monday nights practicing English with them. Talk about an eye-opening experience. This book, Seeking Refuge, is a great place to start if you are curious about what’s happening with the refugee crisis and ways you can help. (Note: this book was released before the recent temporary ban was put in place so it doesn’t address that topic, but it does give tons of great information).

the-wonderful-things-you-will-be

The Wonderful Things You Will Be is actually a children’s book which is a obviously different from the others on this list. But I loved it so much that I wanted to share it with you guys anyway. The message is beyond precious and the illustrations are beautiful. As soon as I saw this book I bought it for Mallory (the little girl who I nanny a few hours a week). And you better believe I’m excited to read this book to Baby Vendetti as well! Such a sweet read. 🙂

What was the best thing you read last year? 

Have you read any of these books?

Love Rach

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Highlights Lately

When we got home from Europe we hit the ground running. So in an effort to keep this post from getting super long, I’m going to attempt to share the main high lights.

funny photography.jpg

One of the funniest things about family photo sessions is when all the adults behind me are trying to get a kid to look and smile (the long ponytail is me). The busiest time of the year for me with photography is September-December. So we came home and BOOM! Busy season! Plus we photographed the wedding a few days before we left the country so I had a ton of editing to catch up on already! But thankfully I love what I do so while it’s busy, it’s a fun busy! 🙂

lukes for the day2.jpg

lukes for the day.jpg

I love Gilmore Girls! My roommate in college turned me onto it and I have loved it ever since. I absolutely teared up watching the trailer that they just released! Anyway, when I heard that a couple of Memphis coffee shops were going to be “Luke’s for the day” on October 5th I just KNEW I had to go! I went to one close to our house first thing in the morning with Christopher and then I went again later that same morning with a friend. Oh my gracious, we had a great time! And when the theme song came on, you better believe we were singing it! 🙂

walk to end alz2.jpg

Back story for those who don’t know about Christopher’s dad. Since his dad can’t travel to Memphis, we took the walk to their town! Some of their friends from church even joined us on the walk which was sweet. We are so thankful for the community that surrounds them since we aren’t there to help out on a day-to-day basis.

fast and furriest.jpg

The Fast & Furriest 5k! Except that Oreo was not the fastest or the furriest and he definitely didn’t do the 5k. 😉 They also have a 1 mile fun walk and that’s all we did this day because we had a time crunch (see below) and since it took Oreo THIRTY-TWO minutes to walk a mile (no joke)… we were glad we had opted out of the 5k this time. He just loves to stop and sniff all.the.things. Ha!

zoo day!.jpg

Immediately after the 5k we ran home to drop Oreo off and change our clothes so that we could meet Christopher’s coworkers for a company wide picnic at the zoo. Isn’t this mug they gave us adorable?! 🙂 We had a wonderful time!

neighborhood party.jpg

We love the neighborhood where we live. Neighborhood block parties with live music are just one of many reasons we love it here! 🙂

bob goff2.jpg

Just this past week we got to hear Bob Goff (who wrote Love Does) speak. He was fantastic. Refreshingly funny and inspiring at the same time. If you haven’t read his book, give it a read!

voting2.jpg

Over the weekend we voted! Early voting is where it’s at, my friends. There was literally no line at all. We walked in, we voted, and we left all in less than 8 minutes.

Since this post is super long already I’m going to put all of our Halloween things in a separate post later this week. Happy Halloween/Monday/start-to-your-week, my friends!

Have you done any fun walks or races lately?
Are you excited for Gilmore Girls?
Have you read Love Does?

Love Rach

Thankful for hope

This past March I wrote a blog post and then never shared it. I felt like a lot of my posts around that time had gotten really heavy and I needed something a little lighter. So instead I shared my post on Dayenu again (originally posted here from last summer). But this past weekend Christopher and I got a call from the doctor’s office that had us on a roller coaster of emotions. Good news, then bad news… then confusion. Then a call to the lab to recheck their facts. And it turns out that we had been given someone else’s results so none of this applied to us anyway. It was a pretty intense 15 minutes and we came out of it emotionally exhausted. We talked a lot about it later that night and we landed in a place where we realized how grateful we are to have each other to journey through this life together. Days like these are when the wedding vows get real. To laugh together, to grieve together, to gently care for each other, to encourage each other. Which reminded me of this blog post. So I decided to share it after all.

March 23, 2015

Nearly two years ago I read a book that really challenged me. Scarred Faith by Josh Ross. The book tackles several big topics (in a short 160 pages), but one of my favorite things about the book is that it talks about how it’s not only okay to mourn during sad times, but important. And valid. We brush over grief so often because it’s uncomfortable. And so many of us grieve differently and over different things. But I love this book for the reminder that God is standing with us through every moment of our suffering. And best of all, this book reminds us that the tomb was empty and death doesn’t win. Jesus wins. And that reminder fills me with such hope for the brokenness in the world.

flowers2

I picked up Scarred Faith again this weekend and found myself flipping back through the pages where I had underlined paragraph after paragraph. These are two of my favorites:

“Even when it seems like death has won, the story of Easter echoes from the empty tomb that death couldn’t hold Jesus, and death still can’t hold us. Death doesn’t get the last word. Jesus wins!” (page 36)

One day, God will make all things new, and heaven will come crashing into earth as the groans of creation are redeemed. Tears will be wiped away, death will be defeated, and sin will be no more. But until the new heaven and new earth invade our current reality of suffering, tears will continue to flow. So, when towers fall, tornadoes destroy, pregnant women miscarry, husbands break wedding vows, and the innocent die because wars are fueled by a hunger for control and power, the first tear to roll of a cheek is a tear from God.” (page 59)

flowers3

I love the reminder that God loves us and is there with us during the difficult times. Recently I was driving down the street, praying for someone in the midst of grief, with my songs on shuffle and an old song from the 2000’s came on (I love shuffle for that very reason). Mark Shultz, “I have been there”. There’s a lyric in that song that is God speaking to us and it says, “I have been there. I know what sorrow’s all about. Yes, I have been there and I’m standing with you now!” You guys, the God of the universe understands what we’re going through. And He stands with us in our grief.

flowers

I have so many favorite songs and scriptures that I turn to during hard times. And I love that most of them have a theme of hope. Of redemption. Gentle reminders that we are not alone. I am thankful to have a relationship with the God Who is willing to stand with me. Who holds my hand through every storm. I am thankful for the man I get to live life with, for his strength and faith and gentleness. For the days of laughter, the days of tears, and the days where we are on our knees together in prayer. I am thankful for friends and family and Christian community who wrap us up in love and support through every high and low. I am so thankful for this amazing life I get to live. And today especially I am thankful for hope.

Love Rach

Because I’m happy…

I am so that person who gets super excited for other people when good things happen in their lives. Do we all remember the video of me with my mouth wide open in glee when my mom received her KitchenAid mixer for mother’s day? If not, please see exhibit A. 😉 But really, anything that my friends and family are excited over, gets me excited too. Every success at work, every engagement, every wedding day, every baby announcement – brings such a smile to my face. And lately I’ve been seeing this with my friends in the blog world. So many sweet friends of mine in the blog world are celebrating pregnancies or new babies in their lives and I just love reading about their joy! But there are three things in particular that have stood out to me recently that I want to share with you guys.

Nicole, who blogs over at Just Live It, has been following her dream to be a piano teacher. Just recently she hosted her first recital and it brought tears (of joy!) to my eyes as I read about her emotions surrounding the day. I love to hear stories of people pursuing their dreams!

Amy, who blogs over at A Desert Girl, is probably going to be embarrassed that I’m sharing this, but recently she was in a commercial. And she is an impressive actress! I feel like there’s no way I could’ve kept such a straight, determined face for that!

Tia, who blogs over at Tialla’s Tellings, just released her second book! She graduated high school only two years ago! I am always so impressed when I see young people doing something super productive. It’s like when I watch the Olympics and I see a 15-year-old win the gold medal and I think about what I was busy doing at 15. It definitely wasn’t being in the Olympics, ha! Anyway, you can read all about Tia’s most recent book “Where Shadow’s Lie” right here!

I have such a hard time picking just a couple of things out to share because I want to share everyone’s stories! Each new birth, each surprise pregnancy (hello, finding out you are halfway through your pregnancy at your first doctor’s appointment), each beautifully worded blog post, all the big and small success… I want to share them all with you! But then this post would go on forever, ha! So instead I’ll leave you with these. 🙂 Happy Monday, friends!

Love Rach

On why I go to a sketch gym

I love my gym. It’s a very basic gym. We picked it when we were working on paying off our student loans and were trying to spend as little money as possible. $10 a month seemed perfect to us. No childcare, no classes – all very basic. But it was clean and had the equipment I wanted for cardio and weight lifting. Perhaps not in the classiest neighborhood (read: the gym is in between a Goodwill and an abandoned lot & there’s a cop parked outside every day). Definitely not in a part of town I would go by myself after dark. But it’s become like a little home to me. After we paid off our student loans we talked about switching to a safer/nicer/closer gym, but I just couldn’t justify spending $100/month on a gym when I didn’t need any of the other amenities.

gym on carnival elation{I don’t have any photos of me actually working out so this shot of me on our first cruise when I was pretending to work out will have to do}

So I stay at my gym. And I stick out like a sore thumb. Not only am I one of the very few (often only) Caucasian people in the gym, I also wear obnoxiously loud colors (tie dye and neons being my favorites). I get teased rather regularly by the gym folk about being an adult who wears tie dye. But what can I say? It’s bright and happy. 🙂 And I’m also the only person in there walking on a treadmill with my face in a book.

rach tie dye{yup, love that tie-dye}

Speaking of being teased by the gym folk & books… recently I got book shamed by Kieron (one of the new guys who works at the gym). He sees me come in with a book every time and last week he asked me for the first time what I was reading. He couldn’t have asked when I was reading something deep or thought provoking in the weeks prior. Oh no, the day he asked me, I was reading… Vampire Academy. *face palm* I’ve already admitted to you guys that I love YA lit, but it’s a totally different matter to admit it to the new guy at the gym. Ever since then Kieron has picked on me for my “bad” taste in literature. Whatevs… he just doesn’t know what he’s missing. 😉

asics{even my shoes are bright! love my Asics!}

But my favorite thing about my gym is how often I have had the opportunity to talk to people about Jesus. All my other reasons for not switching gyms are still valid, but this is by far the biggest one. The very first time it happened was a couple of years ago after I’d been coming to the gym regularly for a few months. One day I walked into the gym and JT (the guy at the front desk) stopped me and asked “Why do you smile so much? I have watched you every time you come in here and you’re always smiling at everyone. Why?” I was totally caught off guard at first, but within just a few short minutes I was telling JT about Jesus and how different my life is with Him in it. I didn’t gloss over the hard times, but I did share with him how life as a Christian gives me hope even in the hard times. Since that day I have gotten to know so many staff members at my gym. About their families and financial situations. About their backgrounds and beliefs. I’m not one to push what I believe on other people, but when you ask me why I live and act and speak the way that I do… it’s  because of Jesus. And I’m happy to share it.

blissful rach{see! very happy! though here I was happy to have just gotten married. but I am always happy about Jesus!}

Do you  have a gym you love?
Have you ever been book shamed? 
Love Rach

Let’s talk young adult fiction

So earlier this week I shared one of my favorite young adult book series that I am somewhat embarrassed that I love. Since then I have had conversations with several of you about favorite book series. Now that my most embarrassing favorite is already out in the open for all to see, I thought I might as well share some of my other favorites I’ve read recently.

I should begin by telling you that after making this list I realized that while I do read some normal grown up stuff, I apparently really love young adult fiction. Haha! And nearly all of it is dystopian. Which I guess is mostly because that’s what is popular right now so that’s what people are writing. This post will be forever long if I tell you the story line for each series so instead I am going to link to the first book of each series on GoodReads so you can check out the summary and reviews! Anyway, without further ado…

vampire academy2{all images in this post are from GoodReads.com}

I might as well start with Vampire Academy again. Like I mentioned earlier this week, the first book was okay,  but the rest of them just really pulled me into the story. I actually listened to these books (audiobook rental from our library) while I worked at my old job and they made the time FLY by. I got so wrapped up in this story and was so sad when I finished the last book and the series ended. But, since Richelle Mead (the author) is amazing, she actually wrote another series using some of the secondary characters from VA. Um, yes, sign me up!

bloodlines

Bloodlines is the follow up series to Vampire Academy and I love it just as much! Well, it’s actually still being written so hopefully I will continue to love it, haha! But considering how much I like the characters and Mead’s writing, I’m pretty sure I will continue to love it. 🙂

selection series

The Selection trilogy is actually still being written, but I got so wrapped up in the first two books (and loved them!) that I am super excited to read the third as well!

trylle trilogy

I really enjoyed the Trylle trilogy! I haven’t heard many other people talk about this series which makes me wonder if the reason I liked it so much was because I read them while I was laying out on the beach. 😉 It was a light read and perfect for the beach.

birthmarked series

The Birth Marked series is another one I enjoyed. A lot of people compared this series to the Hunger Games (and either hated it or loved it because of that comparison), but I wouldn’t go that far. The societal splits are similar, but the story is its own. Definitely worth reading.

divergent

Ah, the Divergent trilogy… I loved this series. I had such a hard time putting down the books. I didn’t like how the third book ended, but I hate to give spoilers so I’ll just leave it at that. These books are still worth reading, though!

hunger games

Okay, so I haven’t read the Hunger Games trilogy recently, but I can’t make a list like this without mentioning the very first trilogy that introduced me to dystopian YA fiction. I couldn’t put these books down. Parts of it made me slightly squeamish so I just skimmed those parts, haha! But other than that – I loved these books!

twilight

Oooookay, so pretty much every time I admit this, I take some hate for it, but here’s the truth: I really liked the Twilight books. This was my very first introduction to the whole vampire/werewolf stuff and while those parts were weird for me at first, I was so drawn into the story. I hated the beginning of the second book (literally threw it across the room) when Edward was all “I am breaking up with you because it’s what is best for you…” blah blah blah. Drives me crazy every time I see this in literature or the media. When people don’t communicate and try to make decisions for other people because they are “protecting them”… ugh. Drives me crazy. But, I did eventually finish the second book and I’m glad I did because I loved the rest of the series. 🙂

harry potter

And best of all! I LOVE Harry Potter! I don’t own many books because I don’t often re-read books (however, the librarians know me by name because they see me so often, haha), but I do own this series. I have always loved to read, but the Harry Potter series is one of the few series that I loved reading as a teenager and also as an adult.

So like I said earlier, I know that I didn’t explain what these series are about, but I knew this post would be super long already so here’s my theory: If you enjoy YA fiction and/or have read any of these series and liked them, then check out the others! GoodReads.com is my favorite source for reading reviews on books so I definitely recommend checking that out! And if you have a GoodReads account and want to be my “friend” there let me know and I can add you! 🙂
Love Rach

Valentine’s Recap

Christopher and I have never been huge on Valentine’s Day. When we were dating, it usually consisted of homemade cards and hanging out together. We got engaged February 7th so from then on, we have celebrated our engagement anniversary instead of Valentine’s Day. This is not to say that I think going all out for Valentine’s day is bad. Lots of my close friends do just that. I can’t tell you how many people I knew in college who got engaged on Valentine’s Day. In fact, my grandfather got married on Valentine’s Day a couple of years ago (my grandmother passed away while I was in college). So obviously, I am not one to judge anyone else for how much they love the holiday. 🙂 But, since we don’t go all out for Valentine’s Day we thought we’d give some of our friends a chance to go out instead. So we actually spent our Valentine’s evening baby sitting. 🙂

babysittingBaby sitting Madeleine and Cadence  🙂

After the girls went to sleep, Christopher and I ordered a pizza and snuggled together on the couch and watched a documentary about pitbulls on Netflix. Yuuup, we know romance. 😉  Buuut if you rewind to my Valentine’s morning, it did start off with quite a surprise and my kind of romance. Christopher went to Starbucks at 5:30am to get me a drink (I get up at 5:45am and head out the door by 6:10 for work) and I was totally surprised by his sweet thoughtfulness. Well, let the surprises keep coming because… Last week my laptop died so Valentine’s morning he surprised me with a new laptop (that he’d scored from his work for $50!!) with all of my stuff from my old hard drive on my new computer! He also bought me a web domain for my photography business!

photography website!D’aaaw! He’s the sweetest! I actually haven’t had much of a chance to work on the website, but once it’s ready I will definitely share it with you guys! 🙂 Anyway, for a couple who doesn’t really celebrate Valentine’s Day, this guy shocked my socks off. 🙂 We actually went out the next night to celebrate our proposal anniversary (which we couldn’t actually celebrate on the 7th because my in-laws were in town). We went out to dinner at Pete & Sam’s which I will review later this week (spoiler alert: it was great!) aaaand we saw a movie that I’m almost embarrassed to tell you that we watched. We went to see Vampire Academy.

vampire academy{source}

You guys, I LOVED this series of books. I know, I know, vampire stuff is so overdone right now. But, the story line in these books is just great. The first book is okay, but as I kept reading through the series, I just loved it. So naturally I was exstatic that they were making a movie about it. But then I totally forgot that there was a movie coming out until Saturday when we were eating lunch and talking about how we hadn’t been to the movies in months so we decided to see what was playing. I nearly flipped my lid when Christopher read this title off to me. Haha! And to tell you the truth, it wasn’t as bad as I was expecting it to be considering the budget. Even Christopher enjoyed it which is saying a lot since he is picky about movies. You can see the trailer for it here.

So there you have it, I have outed myself. I love teen fiction. I love the Vampire Academy series. And the movie wasn’t terrible. Okay, I’ll be honest, I still really liked it despite the cheesy parts. Whatever, I loved it. There, I said it. HA! Anyway, if you enjoy teen fiction, then I think you’ll enjoy the books. And if you don’t mind somewhat cheesy moments, watch the movie! 😀

Love Rach