Wigs, Black Orchids, & The Only Thing That Makes Me Want to Exercise: 7 Fave Reads of 2017


My reading life at age thirty looks different than it did at age thirteen. Back then I'd lay on my bed all day long engrossed in a book. Not so much anymore! However, this past year my husband and I--doers by nature--recommitted ourselves to actually resting on Sundays (Revolutionary, I know!), and with that new focus came a revival of reading in our household! I read a variety of books this year, most of which were recommended to me by friends. I'm recommending to you the following seven, my most enjoyable and helpful reads of 2017:

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, which means that I may receive a small commission if you make a purchase through one of the links I've provided here--at no additional cost to you. Please check out my disclosure policy for more info, and thanks for your support!


1. Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl


Ruth Reichl tells her engaging story of the time she spent as the restaurant critic for The New York Times. Upon beginning this job, she soon realized that chefs hungry for good publicity were rolling out the red carpet for her and that she may not, in fact, be receiving the same treatment as the average diner. In order to be dealt with as a "normal" patron and thus give voice to the experience of "every man" in her reviews, she developed several elaborate disguises, complete with wigs and personalities to match. These disguises drew out different versions of herself and elicited various reactions--positive and negative--from others. This was fascinating to read about, and Reichl is a delightfully descriptive writer. I also enjoyed hearing how her stint at the Times ended and how her next opportunity providentially presented itself at just the right moment.


2. Spark by John J. Ratey, MD            

Health & Fitness/Psychology

My relationship with exercise has been on-again-off-again at best, so the fact that this one made it into my faves is no small miracle! My bestie told me that this book was blowing her mind, and soon I could see why--it's main premise is that exercise has a huge effect on the brain. It has been proven to be as effective as medication for treating anxiety and depression, and it helps the body and mind deal with stress. Of most interest to me is that exercise produces a chemical necessary for learning and the formation of new thought patterns. In other words, exercise is an effective weapon in getting mentally unstuck! I'm a bit of a mental health nerd, so while fitness solely for the sake of my physical health isn't moving me to action, the prospect of an infusion of power into my mental health efforts is! I know you're wondering--I'm not training for the Olympics over here, but I have resumed a regular jogging routine, and I'm feeling quite good, mentally and otherwise.


3. The Magnolia Story by Chip and Joanna Gaines with Mark Dagostino          

Biography & Autobiography

My husband and I enjoy watching Fixer Upper, the popular house-flipping show on HGTV, so I really liked hearing about how Chip and Jo got to where they are today. They had many ups and downs over the years, which was encouraging to read about--it's tempting to look at an adorable and ridiculously successful family on TV and think that they have and always have had it easy! Not so! Chip and Jo were in tough spots many times, especially financially, but they also experienced tons of instances of God's providence. Jo talked about the quiet but sure way that God led her to make several big decisions, and Chip talked about how he'd learned to trust her with those things--what a lovely blend of faith and marriage! Jo also described how her family thrived in a new way when she decided that beauty wasn't her only decorating aim; instead she began to assemble spaces that everyone could enjoy and in which kids could be kids. Others resonated with this as well, and this pivot in her business caused her following to skyrocket. 


4. Brenda Starr Reporter by Dale Messick


It's not often a comic book makes it onto my bedside table, but I'm glad that this one did! My mom and aunt had been talking about the Brenda Starr Reporter comics that enthralled them when they were young, so I grabbed this book, which contains several storylines from the Brenda Starr comics that ran in the early 1940's. Brenda is a larger-than-life heroine in the best way; she's constantly getting into and out of wild adventures in pursuit of a good story. She's smart, sassy, and self-sufficient. Men fall at her feet, and on occasion she's rescued by a mysterious man who sends her black orchids. What's not to love?


5. Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown


What a timely message Brené Brown has written to us as individuals and to culture as a whole with this fantastic book. In Braving the Wilderness, she suggests that true belonging--something that all of us desire--requires being oneself while fitting in requires being like others. She talks about how sorting ourselves into groups of people who think mostly the same as we do is caused by fear and fosters disconnection, which in turn allows us to dehumanize our fellow man. Because of this crisis, leaning in to perspectives different than our own is more important than ever. I appreciate that Brown encourages all sides of the political spectrum to display empathy and kindness; she resists today's seductive temptations of blanket condemnation or condoning of one "side" or the other. People are complicated, and today's issues are complex, and Brown is willing to sit with the tension, giving the reader strategies to do the same.



6. The Yada Yada Prayer Group by Neta Jackson


I loved this book and can't wait to read more in the series! The main character, Jodi, is a female, white, middle class Christian (raising my hand here) who attends a women's conference at which she connects with a group of ladies who are ethnically, religiously, and in every way diverse. Jodi is intrigued by the powerful way that some of these women pray, and at the same time she raises an eyebrow at their family drama and regular smoke breaks. The group decides to continue meeting together after the conference ends. Their relationships deepen, and they pray for and support each other through a variety of circumstances.  Over time it becomes apparent to the main character and the reader that the ladies in the prayer group with the messiest lives are the ones who have the best understanding of grace. Jodi comes to a new realization of grace herself when she faces a personal tragedy. I loved this book's focus on heart-change as opposed to behavior modification.


7. Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin

Self-Help/Personal Growth

This book is about habit formation, and the reason I loved it is because it argues that there isn't one right way to form a habit! This is a relief for those of us who've done something for the standard 21 days, only to find that the habit didn't stick. (Anyone else?) Gretchen Rubin suggests that how you form a habit should be based on you. She gives the reader numerous questions to ask in order to know oneself better, such as, "Am I a familiarity lover or a novelty lover?" (Familiarity for me, please, in case you wanted to know.) She then details many creative strategies for habit formation, such as monitoring, accountability, and convenience. Thinking outside the box about habits I'd like to form has helped me to get moving on my most important tasks in the morning, get back into a regular rhythm of posting on my blog (Ta-da!), and--I admit it!--finally floss my teeth regularly. 


Bonus recommendation: In Better than Before, Rubin introduces her Four Tendencies personality framework, which is detailed in her more recently released book, The Four Tendencies. The tendencies categorize people based on how they respond to both outer and inner expectations. This knowledge is extremely useful for motivating oneself and helping other people. I'm an Obliger; I easily meet others' expectations, but I have a harder time meeting my own expectations, so my secret sauce for accomplishing my own goals is outer accountability.


What was your favorite read this year? Leave me a comment and let me know!

You may also enjoy:

5 Podcasts for Encouraged Ears


I had an iPhone for a full two years before I realized that the purple podcast app on my screen was, in fact, not trying to sell me something but rather to gift my listening ears with all sorts of awesome content! Upon this discovery I quickly became an avid consumer of all sorts of material, and I now attribute to my podcast education everything from better time management to efficient freezer meal prep. 

Though I frequently search for podcasts on specific topics in which I'm interested, I appreciate having a few shows which so consistently meet my expectations that I listen to almost every episode they produce. Here are my criteria for those select podcasts:

1. They must discuss a mix of weighty and lighthearted subjects.

Why? Because that's real life! At times we need to dig deep in order to explore complicated relationship dynamics, and then we need to come up for air and talk about the new Starbucks drink we're loving.

2. They must be encouraging.

As we plumb the depths of our cultural or personal problems, let's grieve, yes, but let's not stay there! We need to be reminded of what's true, given some practical action steps, or--preferably--both!

Five podcasts have met these two criteria on a regular basis. The women who host these shows are so frequently in my ears that I feel like they're my friends, so I'm excited to introduce my podcast host friends to my blog reader friends! I'll let you know which iTunes category each podcast falls into, the gist of the show, and a favorite episode of mine from the previous year. Search for these shows in your favorite podcast player, or click on the links provided to listen online. Enjoy!

1. The Happy Hour with Jamie Ivey

Category: Christianity

Happy Hour.jpg

The Gist: Jamie interviews a different woman in every show, and they chat about the guest's story and what she's loving and reading. I appreciate the wide variety of ladies Jamie interviews from entrepreneurs to social justice advocates to fashion bloggers. Listening to The Happy Hour is truly like sharing a happy hour with friends!

Fave Episode: #166: Kathie Lee Gifford and Aaron Ivey

2. Sorta Awesome

Category: Personal Journals

Sorta Awesome.jpg

The Gist: Meg and one or more of the show's three delightful co-hosts discuss a different topic each episode of the podcast, covering everything from sleep to self-defense to Netflix shows to parenting. The four co-hosts have vibrant personalities but different lifestyles and opinions, and this makes for a lively conversation between friends from which the listener gets to benefit.

Fave Episode: #121: Boundaries for the Holidays: Sane Solutions for Difficult Dynamics

3. Happier with Gretchen Rubin

Category: Self-Help


The Gist: Gretchen Rubin is a bestselling author who studies happiness and habit formation. On the Happier podcast she and her sister, Elizabeth, chat about these two topics and offer lots of hacks for listeners to implement right away to make their daily lives a little happier, like finding a "happiness 911" song or identifying one's "signature color"--mine would be green, of course.

Fave Episode: #116: Start a Side Hustle, a Travel Hack, and the Stumbling Block of "Raising the Bar"

4. That Sounds Fun with Annie F. Downs

Category: Christianity

That Sounds Fun.jpg

The Gist: Each episode Annie talks to a friend of hers--often a writer, musician, pastor, or psychologist--about what they do and what sounds fun to them. Annie is such an upbeat person that I always leave these dialogues feeling hopeful. I'm writing this post during the Christmas season and was thrilled to see that Annie released an episode in which she and friends did a deep-dive into Hallmark Channel's Christmas movies--what could be better?

Fave Episode: #42: Sadie Robertson

5. Dear Daughters

Category: Christianity

Dear Daughters.jpg

The Gist: Listening to Susie Davis' podcast is like plopping down on a comfy sofa after a hard day and letting her hand you a cup of tea and tell you it's going to be alright. She interviews a variety of guests and especially enjoys asking people about their "big God dream" and what they've been cooking lately. Delightful!

Fave Episode: #21: Kate Merrick │ And Still She Laughs

Did you give any of these shows a listen? What did you think? What are your favorite podcasts? Let me know in the comments.

You may also enjoy: