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February 2021 reads

Breath by James Nestor ** 1/2

The basics: James Nestor takes a a look at the most basic act we all do- breathe. Curious about how breathing has effected our past and present, Nestor takes along on n his quest for answers and finds that we are all doing it wrong. Diving into historical, religious, and scientific research and techniques, Nestor searches for answers behind the mysteries of breathing.

My thoughts: I enjoyed the premise of this book and that it was from Nestor’s personal struggles that helped him create this work of literature. However, much of the book was over my head with scientific phrases I couldn’t begin to comprehend. Overall, I was glad that I read it, because I truly did glean new knowledge, I just wish I hadn’t felt so stupid during it.

A Promised Land by Barak Obama *** 1/2

The basics: From his time before politics, up through part of his first term, A Promised Land delves into a behind the scenes look into Obama’s life and how one election turned it upside down. With some fun stories thrown in along the way, he also gives the reader an understanding of his reasoning and thought process behind many of the policies he put into place during his presidency.

My thoughts: I love Obama, so I was really excited to read another one of his books…. But A Promised Land was long winded and discussed too many politics for the average reader to care about. Having lived through all of his policies and decision making, I understand his take on wanting to defend himself and his actions during his presidency, but I wish he could had done it in a more timely fashion, with more personal notes. I have yet to decide if I will read part 2.

White Ivy by Susie Yang ***

The basics: White Ivy, also known as Ivy Lin is not exactly the girl next door. A thief and loner, she begins her story with her childhood, growing up in suburbia Boston with first generation American parents. We follow along as she drifts through life, unsure of what she really wants, other than success, which she believes to have found when she reconnects with former classmate Gideon. Obsessed with image and a life that could be- Ivy does anything she can to stake her claim in Gideon’s family, even if it means death and despair.

My thoughts: It’s difficult for me to finish a book where I hate every single character. But I did it with White Ivy. Partly because it was a book club pick and partly because I was intrigued by what would happen to our main character. However there is no atonement for the awfulness that was the character of White Ivy.

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett, narrated by Tom Hanks ****

The basics: Brother and sister duo, Danny and Maeve can’t stop visiting the Dutch house. No matter how many years it’s been since it was home, no matter how many bad memories it evokes, and no matter how it turned their life upside down. But it’s also part of what has tied them together all these years. Told back and forth between present and past, Danny tells his coming of age sister, with his sister as the supporting role.

My thoughts: I loved that Tom Hanks narrated- it was the icing on the cake. As for the actual story itself, in some ways in resonated with me and my past so much, I had to take a break from listening or my heart would break. But in the end, I think those moments were what made this book come alive for me and is why I loved it so much.

The Paris Library by Janet S. Charles ****

The basics: Told in two timelines: Odile of Paris at the beginning of World War 2 and Lily of Montana in the 1980’s, have their own stories to tell that converge when it’s needed most. Odile longs to be a librarian in her hometown of Paris, even if her father doesn’t agree with woman having jobs. When war erupts, everything in her life is turned upside down, yet she is able to find solace and meaning with her library. Fast forward to 1980’s Montana and Lily, who tragically loses her mother is trying to cope with life as a teenager and no real friends to depend on. In enters Odile, allowing both of them to learn the true meaning of forgiveness and friendship.

My thoughts: Wonderfully written book on two of my favorite subjects to read about: history and libraries.

The Path Made Clear by Oprah Winfrey *** 1/2

The basics: A collection of interviews, stories, and quotes from Oprah and other famous people creates this short book of inspiration.

My thoughts: I loved the premise of this book as well as the wide variety of voices telling it- from all walks of life and beliefs. It was definitely inspirational.


Grief and the Mushroom Massacre

If the stages of grief were linear, anger would be considered the second stage.

But instead, grief is inexact and unconventional, coming in waves, and hitting you in random spurts of time. But I think that might be a good thing, because otherwise the weight of any one of them would be soul crushing.

Some see grieving as crying, but rarely do I think people understand the other layers. Tears are easy to see and understand the meaning of. But what about the other stages?

For some I think those other stages can look like avoidance, being distant from people we love or activities we once enjoyed. For others it can be seen in an overindulgence of drinking or smoking. But for me, I noticed it in my actions of violently kicking all of the mushrooms in our grass. (Of course ironically I learned this would cause more to grow in their place.) At the time though, all I could feel were these overwhelmingly conflicting emotions. I was incredibly sad that we’d lost Joe but I was happy for him finally being at peace. I wanted the joy for him to surpass the sadness that I was feeling, but the thought of not having him anymore was devastating.

So as I walked back inside, muddied shoes and all I realized once again that grief can be strange and it doesn’t always show itself in the same way. But it has to come out- trying to stuff it down and avoid it makes it worse later on. But it sure does hurt going through it now.

If anything, I believe that 2020 helped us all see that. And maybe that also means we can better recognize it in other people and be more gracious towards them.

And to those that have lost someone, my heart goes out to you. Know that you are not alone.

With love, kel

Coffee + Art//Southern Grounds (Avondale)

Avondale is one of my favorite spots in Jax. However, not living close by means when I’m going to be in the area, I want to take my time there. So since the pups had grooming appointments, I made a day of it on this side of town.

I’ve been to Southern Grounds before, but not this location. And y’all- I have a new favorite place. Avondale’s location has ample amount of comfortable seating, a floor to [high] ceiling glass windows that allow for lots of natural light, and some amazing food and drinks!

Drink of choice: Chai Latte Hot


March 2021 reads

Yellow Wife by Sadeqa Johnson *****

The basics: Raised on a planation as the daughter of a slave woman and the white master, Pheby dreams of a life of freedom, which has been promised to her when she comes of age at 18. However, after the death of her father/master and mother, that freedom and the love of her life are both cruelly taken from her by her father’s wife. Pheby is then taken to the Devil’s Half Acre, a jail for slaves to be sold and tortured, to be sold into slavery. She is bought by the jail’s overseer and forced to be his mistress, her life of misery truly begins. However, the strong and fierce Pheby will stop at nothing to protect and free her family.

My thoughts: This is probably one of the most difficult books I’ve read, but so worth the read. Johnson is an expert with words and recreates for us readers this terrible time and place so that we know what it was like for so many slaves. This novel, based on a real story is heartbreaking, yet beautifully written and told. I feel like everyone needs to read it.

After you read: Listen to these podcasts featuring Sadeqa talking about Yellow Wife. I really enjoyed the one from the Free Library of Philadelphia!

Ready Player Two by Ernest Cline ***

The basics: Taking place moments after Ready Player 1 ends, we follow along as Wade makes another discovery left behind by Oasis co-creator, James Halliday. This journey will take Wade and all of his friends on a new adventure that invokes flashbacks and pop culture references of the 1980’s. But at the heart of it, Wade will have to make a crucial decision that could change the fate of mankind forever.

My thoughts: Having been raised on rom-coms of the 1980’s (i.e. Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink, etc.) and having a husband that loves sci-fy (i.e. Lord of the Rings) I was able to make sense of most of Cline’s book that is heavy handed with pop culture references of the past. However, even having the basic background, I still felt myself lost in all of the specifics. If you’re going to read this, make sure you brush up on all the culturally relevant books, movies, and video games beforehand.

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys ****

The basics: Set during World War 2 this books take a different approach than the typical. Our story is based on a family of four from Lithuania, who in the middle of the night are taken from their home and everything they love by the Soviets. Unsure of their future they spend weeks on end living in the railroad cattle cars, traveling the expansive land of Russia to an eventual slave servanthood.

My thoughts: Recommended by a colleague (who read this in high school) I was most interested in a different storyline than what I normally read from World War 2 books (i.e. Nazis). After mentioning Doctor Zhavigo, this book was brought up and I’m incredibly happy it was. One thing I love most about novels, especially historical fiction, is learning about events, people or places that are little known or talked about and this fit that criteria perfectly. For fear of the safety of themselves and their family, many that suffered under the hand of the Soviets have never spoken out, even to this day. The surprisingly reality of how hard Stalin was to not only his perceived enemies but to his own people as well is incredible. It is estimated that he murdered over 20 million people during his reign (Hitler murdered less than half of that).

The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah *****

The basics: A beautiful, but tragic story of a woman and her family living in the midwest during the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression. Kristin Hannah, with great detail, brings us along to perhaps one of the darkest times in American history, but is rarely written about. Following the life of our main character Elsa, we watch as she has to choose between the land she has come to love and work hard for, but is dying and failed her. Or the well being of her family that would take her to the unknown life in the heart of California during the Great Depression.

My thoughts: The Four Winds was one of those books that makes you really question everything – what does struggling actually look like, what is it to be American, and what human nature can do in the worst of times. Kristin Hannah is one of my favorite authors and while this wasn’t my favorite of her novels, its definitely in the top three due to her fantastic writing and her thought provoking message at the heart of it all. I will warn you though, do not expect a happy ending.

America’s First Daughter by Stephanie Dray & Laura Kamoie ****

The basics: Written by one of my favorite authors, Stephanie Dray, who teams up with author Laura Kamoie we taken through untold story of Thomas Jefferson’s eldest daughter, Martha “Patsy” Jefferson Randolph. From her childhood as the daughter of a revolutionary, to her youth in the prestigious and glamorous French court, all the way to adulthood as a wife and mother these two dynamic authors take us through every faucet of Martha’s life.

My thoughts: I think everyone in America grew a little curious about Thomas Jefferson after watching “Hamilton” however, he wasn’t all that he seemed. Owning thousands of slaves and having the responsibility of raising his daughters without his wife after she passes away gives two very different sides of one of our founding fathers. Told from his eldest daughter’s perspective we catch an inside glimpse of life as a Jefferson. There were times when I felt aggravated that Martha didn’t care as much about what was going on around her, which I would have liked, (especially in regards to the slaves her father owned) but I felt like the authors did a wonderful job of showing us the mindset of who Martha really was and how she might have truly perceived things. It was a rather long read, but I didn’t enjoy the history (which was very obviously researched thoroughly.

The Wrong Family by Tarryn Fisher ***

The basics: Everything is NOT as it seems in this thriller. While living in the Crouch home, Juno comes to learn that the family she thought was perfect in every way may have some dark and troubling secrets. But Juno also is not who she seems.

My thoughts: Definitely a lot of twists in this one. I will say, after reading it, it did take me some time to get over the paranoia it caused me. But perhaps that just means Fisher did her job….

The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune ***1/2

The basics: Linus Baker, case worker at the Department in Charge of Magical Youth leads a pretty boring life. Every day is the same and no one seems to like him- not even his cat. However, he is given a new mysterious assignment which will take him to an “orphanage” for magical youth on a remote island in the Cerulean Sea. Unsure of what he is getting himself into, he fears the worst and is told rumors of the dangerous children he is about to encounter. What he finds will change his world and life.

My thoughts: **SPOLIER**

Recommended by a friend and bookstagrammer, I was excited to read this book, but a little worried it wouldn’t be my genre per se. However, I really liked it. The only thing that kept me from giving it more stars was that one of the dangerous children is the anti-christ and get this, he is actually super sweet (albeit also very messed up). As a Christian, it was hard to wrap my mind around this. But honestly, this was the one factor that got to me. The rest of it is beautifully written.

Coffee & Sweets// Roundbird

Place: Roundbird Coffee (South African based)


Drink: I ordered a Chocolate Strawberry latte with extra 🍫 🍓 .

This place was fantastic: from the ambiance to the food, to the staff, to the coffee. Asking about the coffee lead to the staff giving me so many choices- the sky is the limit. Since their coffees are not typically sweet I did ask for some extra syrup to sweeten it and it was divine.

2020 Soundtrack

Over on my old blog I use to do this “series” every year where I would post different songs throughout the year. They either were meaningful to my situation, were new and I couldn’t (or didn’t want to) get out of my head, or just kept popping up in conversation and life.

So even though I didn’t post these songs here, I did keep going posting them on the old site and I figured I’d share the completed list here.

Okay, so if my 2020 was a soundtrack it would be this:

  1. Be Okay by Oh Honey
  2. Put on Your Sunday Clothes from Hello Dolly
  3. On My Way Downtown by Lucero
  4. Ain’t No Sunshine by Bill Withers
  5. The Old Heart of Mine by The Isley Brothers
  6. I Choose to Worship by Rend Collective
  7. RITMO by Black Eye Peas and J Balvin
  8. Who Lives Who Dies Who Tells Your Story from Hamilton
  9. Can’t Sleep by Gary Clark Jr.
  10. Wait For It from Hamilton
  11. Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door by Bob Dylan
  12. By and By by Caamp
  13. If It Feels Good by Leon Bridges
  14. Back To You by Twin Forks

You can see the videos from youtube all compiled on my old blog here.

January 2021 reads

Okay, so first things first. Last year my goal was 100 books (and I actually went above that and read 108). So to go ahead and answer those thoughts you are most likely asking right… yes I have a lot of free down time (but I also didn’t watch a lot of tv) and yes Austin probably did get ignored quite a lot (sorry babe).

To me, reading is a way of escaping. Whether I am learning or in a new world, this year I needed a lot of that. I guess we all did.

However, knowing that I’m making some big moves and changes in 2021 I decided to lower my goal for this year to 75.

But of course over achiever me signed up to do 3, yess t-h-r-e-e book club reading challenges. That’s 86 categories.

With all of that being said, here are the books of the first month.

Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey by Kathleen Rooney **

The basics: Cher Ami is a pigeon from England. Major Whittlesey is an officer from America. While they only have a fleeting and terrifying encounter during WWI, this novel tells both character’s stories from their own viewpoints.

My thoughts: I have to say, I actually learned a lot about pigeons, including the fact that they were used so much during the First World War. However, making the pigeon gay and then constantly referring to the Major’s sexuality had no point for me. It didn’t help the plot (in my opinion) in any way so it was more of an eye roll moment every-single-time it was mentioned (which was a lot!)! However, I will say the writing was extremely poetic and that part made me keep going back to the story, even in its most gut wrenching scenes of war.

Killing the SS by Bill O’Reilly ****

The basics: We know (now) about the atrocities that the Nazis incurred during WWII and some of us even know something about the Nuremberg Trials, but what happened to the Nazis that escaped prosecution? Reminiscent of the show “Nazi Hunters”, but without as much murdering this book tackles the research and explanation. But be prepared to be extremely pissed and saddened. *Spoiler* The USA allowed thousands of these monsters to enter our country (and protected them as well). A lot of them got away as well, escaping to places all over (including South America) never having to answer for their crimes. But these Nazi hunters will try to track many of them and bring them to justice.

My thoughts: Putting all politics aside and what you may think of Mr O’Reilly, he is an incredible historian. This is not the first of his books from the “Killing” series I’ve read and I have loved every single one. I am, like many people, a fan of WWII books and this one gave a different perspective of most of them, which I really enjoyed. O’Reilly did an incredible job of researching and giving detailed accounts of the aftermath.

The Whole 30 by Melissa Hartwig Urban ***

The basics: If you’re considering doing the Whole 30, but don’t know a lot about it– read this book. It covers all the basics: what you can eat, what you can’t eat, why you’re giving it up, what you want for end results, recipes, and so much more.

My thoughts: In case you don’t usually read my blog (I’m silently judging you for this…. just kidding) I talked previously about Austin and I taking part in the Whole 30 “diet” for 2021. My personality type constantly insists that I research everything in great detail to know what I’m getting myself into. (Sometimes this is a blessing, most of the times an annoyance. In this case, I really enjoyed it). While a little overwhelming in size, it offers up so much insight. The book goes into detail what food you’ll be giving up and why. It also gives helpful hints, previous victims, er- clients and their feedback and then the best recipes!!! Since there is A LOT of things you can’t eat on this diet, it helps to have a bunch of ideas for what you actually can. If you plan to do the Whole 30, I highly recommend this book.

The Mystery of Mrs. Christie by Marie Benedict ****

The basics: For 11 days Agatha Christie went missing. Once she was found, she never revealed where she was. It was a secret she kept even to her death. Marie Benedict in this novel decides to tell the unknown tale as she believes it could have happened.

My thoughts: If you know my reading preferences well, you’d know that I love Agatha Christie (I have a bucket list to read every single one of her books) and I have a new appreciation and interest in any of Marie Benedict’s books. She is always choosing a women character that is lesser known in history, yet had a giant impact on the world. So a combination of these two = fantastic. Benedict tells the story from 2 timelines that closer to the ending converge to help everything make sense. Be prepared to hate men.

The Night Portrait by Laura Morelli ***

The basics: Following 3 timelines, each with a different character and time period, Morelli tells the story of a famous Leonardo Di’Vinci painting and it’s subject as well as how the Nazis tried to steal it and what great lengths some went to to save it.

My thoughts: I loved each character and timeline in their own right, but my mind had a hard time keeping track of where in history I was and what was going on. Leonardo and his subject, Cecilia, are in Milan in the 1400’s. Edith’s story begins in the beginning on WWII, while Dominic’s story starts in the middle of WWII. However, once I was able to get over that silly quirk, the story itself was beautiful. I also loved learning about an aspect I hadn’t known: Monument Men (whose main job it was to protect artwork from the Nazis).

Sad Cypress by Agatha Christie ***1/2

The basics: Number 22 of the Hercule Poirot mysteries, this one tells the tale of Elinor who as the story begins, is on trial and accused of murder. However, one man still believes her to be innocent and calls upon the infamous Poirot to help solve the mystery of who actually killed Mary Gerrard.

My thoughts: A quick read, Agatha Christie yet again includes details at the very end to throw you off your track. I swear, one of these days I will guess the murderer correctly!

Culture Shock by Chip Ingram ***

The basics: Its seems that after the tumultuous year we had in 2020 everyone is seeking truth. It’s hard to blame anyone after being fed so many lies from the media. Ingram’s book (which I listened to) dives into subject matters that are typically swept under the rug by the Church. He also brings us back to the Bible- what does the Book say about these things? And how should we live our lives by truth?

My thoughts: Although sometimes I felt like Ingram was repeating himself more than need be, I really enjoyed this book and his talks. It brought up a lot of conversation (our church has been studying this book and discussing it in Sunday morning classes) that I feel needed to be addressed. We are not of our parents or grandparents culture of “we don’t talk about that” anymore. And if we as a church don’t talk and teach our kids God’s Word on these areas, where else can we learn?

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia ****

The basics: The story begins with our heroine, Noemi and her father receiving strange and cryptic letters from Noemi’s newly married cousin. Worried, Noemi decides to go visit her cousin at an English type castle, High Place. Even from the first moment of arriving Noemi feels that something sinister is happening at High Place. The castle itself is decrepit and falling apart. The family members are odd and borderline manic. After learning her cousin is sick and her husband won’t let her leave, Noemi decides to stay at High Place instead. That’s when all hell literally breaks lose.

My thoughts: I knew going into this that this novel would be on the creepy and even dark side, but it still blew my mind away. At night I struggled with wanting to read more because it was so fascinating and also being terrified that if I kept reading I wouldn’t be able to fall asleep. The finale sent me for a loop and while I didn’t find it very believable, I was still okay with how it ended.

Midnight Train to Prague by Carol Windley ***

The basics: Beginning in the 1920’s, the story is told from 2 points of view: Natalia and Miklos. Once their lives intersect, we are shortly thereafter thrown into Part 2 which takes place in the 1940’s and includes a new point of view: Anna. The intertwining of all of these characters throughout the 2 decades of time is what makes the story tick.

My thoughts: I loved each character’s individual stories and I especially loved the art of how Windley tied them all together. However, I was not a fan of her writing. Quick phrases and story points never given as much detail as they should have been left me confused and wanting more.

Favorite Books from 2020

2020. One of the crappiest years, but I will give it this– it gave me a lot of time to read.

So first off, here are all the books I read (108 in total, which is 8 more than my goal!!!)

Favorite books of the year (for me):

5 stars (out of 5 stars)

—which means absolutely loved and couldn’t put down. I may have even cried when I was finished.

  1. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
  2. The Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

4 stars (out of 4 stars)

–which means I really, really enjoyed

  1. Galatians by Theodore H. App (which I used as a study along with the Bible and learned a lot from)
  2. The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
  3. The Last Mrs. Parrish by Liv Constantine
  4. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han
  5. The Prodigal Prophet by Timothy Keller
  6. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
  7. PS I Still Love You by Jenny Han
  8. Always and Forever by Jenny Han
  9. The Things We Cannot Say by Kelly Rimmer
  10. Prince Caspian/ Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
  11. The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley
  12. Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Bali Kaur Jaswal
  13. The 7 Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
  14. The Alice Network by Kate Quinn
  15. The Kommandant’s Girl by Pam Jenoff
  16. The Last Battle by CS Lewis
  17. Get Out of Your Head by Jennie Allen
  18. How We Got To Now by Steven Johnson
  19. The Woman Before Wallis by Bryn Turnbull
  20. Finding Freedom by Mid Scobie
  21. Biased by Jennier L. Eberhardt, PHD
  22. The Guest List by Lucy Foley
  23. The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo
  24. The Last Train to Key West by Chanel Cleeton
  25. American Royals by Katharine McGee
  26. Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis
  27. The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James
  28. The Whispers of Way by Julia Kelly

Favorite authors from the year:

Yaa Gyasi, Julia Kelly, Kristin Hannah, Simone St. James, Cs Lewis, Kate Quinn, Taylor Jenkins Reid, Lucy Foley, Jennie Allen, Susan Orleans, Timothy Keller, Liv Constantine, Jhumpa Lahiri

leaving 2020

Oh the dumpster fire that was 2020…. If we all complied a list of the things that sucked about it, I feel like it would be an all encompassing pit of sadness and change.

To be honest though, I don’t want to sit here and write a list about all the terrible ways in which 2020 went wrong- because sometimes that is just life. Instead, I want to be able to look back on 2020 and see the good that came from it. Because believe it or not, good things did happen even if you weren’t taking note.

So here is my list of good that happened in a year that was tough…

I learned more about myself. Hello enneagram and studying who I am from the Bible.

I had more family time. Including 2 whole months at home with my husband and we really enjoyed it.

I got to experience “normal” marriage which was dinner together every night.

There was so much down time and because of that we found some fun tv shows to watch and I read…a lot. 108 books to be more accurate.

I made time to visit family because you never know how long you have them for.

I made fasting, praying, and mediating more of a priority in my life.

I kept up (mostly) with my journaling + art journaling weekly project.

I learned even more about the power of God.

I made some amazing relationships and strengthened more.

I went white water rafting.

I started a new blog (you know, this one).

I was reminded time and time again how amazing my friends are.