17 Books I Loved in 2017 (Plus a Few Honorable Mentions)

Phew! I read 73 books in 2017! Looking back on my Goodreads ratings, I really loved most of them. It was hard to choose from my favorites, but there were a few stories that I just had to gush about once more before officially putting a close on last year’s reading.

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1. Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

I’ll begin with the last. I like even numbers (I’m weird!), so I planned to finish up my reading in December with 72 books for the year. I purposely picked up this historical fiction book at the end of December because I thought it would easily take me into January. Not so! I couldn’t put it down! Before We Were Yours features two strong women from two different generations. Each is faced with heartbreak — some worse than others. It also sheds light on terrible adoption crimes that took place in Memphis. I cried BIG tears, but the ending made it all worth it.

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2. No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency Series by Alexander McCall Smith

This book is so unusual. The narrator’s voice is unique. The plot is clever. I absolutely fell in love with Precious Ramotswe and Botswana.

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3.  The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui

Did you know graphic memoirs were a thing? I didn’t until this year and – wow – so good! This story, in particular, was extremely moving. It follows the harrowing journey of Thi Bui’s parents as they struggle to survive the Vietnam War and eventually immigrate to America. The story is told with such incredible empathy that my heart opened to what it meant to live in Vietnam at that time and what it means to be a stranger in a new land.

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4. To Dance with the White Dog by Terry Kay

This may well be my favorite book of the year. It is a story – simply told – of an old man who  loses his wife unexpectedly. Around the same time, he sees a white dog on his property that won’t seem to leave him alone. He eventually warms to the dog and begins caring for it — but, the problem is that his children can’t see it. This book is beautiful and the ending made me CRY BIG TEARS!

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5. Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham

A skeleton is found on some family property during a renovation. Rowan Chase wants to know why. She begins to explore the history of her family and the history of her community. This is YA historical fiction that sheds light on a long buried Oklahoma race riot and massacre. You’ll want to read this one quick to find out what happens.

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6. Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal

This was the book I read during Hurricane Harvey and it was such a respite for me. Stradal presents a fresh voice in fiction and, though the author is male, he gives us a believable female character. Her story — from her humble, somewhat depressing beginnings, to her future as a famous, enigmatic chef — is told from all the significant and insignificant people that helped her achieve her destiny. (Also, the author liked my review on Goodreads… so I pretty much fangirled out!)

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7. Exit West  by Mohsin Hamid

What if there were no boundaries? You could walk through a door and be in another country, in someone else’s home, anywhere really… This is the premise of Exit West, which follows two characters desperate to flee a brutal civil war in their native country and their odd, somewhat sci-fi immigration to a new country. This book is unusual, but so thoughtful. It makes you think about immigrants and the boundaries – largely invisible – that we let divide us. This book stayed with me LONG after it was over.

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8. Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah

I didn’t know much about Trevor Noah and I didn’t know much about apartheid. But, after reading this book, I was a fan — of Trevor Noah, not apartheid. Noah gives a completely genuine, hilarious account of his childhood under extreme circumstances. Like a true comedian, he shares the most horrifying and senseless details of his life in a way that makes you laugh… and then marvel that you’re laughing when you really want to cry. I found this to be the most quotable book of the year. There were so many poignant thoughts that were worth revisiting!

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9. Beartown by Fredrick Backman

This book. Oh man. This book. I have no words. Just read it.

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10. As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes

I picked this book up on a whim and it turned out to be exactly what I needed. It’s hilarious, ironic and cleverly told. Even if you’re not a fan of the movie, you’ll find it charming and laugh-out-loud funny. There’s an Andre the Giant fart scene that made me cry with laughter.

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11. Theft by Finding by David Sedaris

I read this book on audio, while driving cross-county for our summer vacation. It was my first introduction to Sedaris and I just love, love, love his voice. His observations on life, the way he captures the magic and intrigue of an ordinary day… it’s truly an art. He’s not for everyone and there’s quite a bit of language and risky behavior, but I could listen to him craft a sentence any day.

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12. Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg

I vaguely remember the movie, but this year, I kept hearing Fannie Flagg, Fannie Flagg. I’m so glad I tried her out. This book is nostalgic, charming, funny and sad. It’s southern fiction done right.

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13. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

I fell in love with this YA series this year. It’s sweet, light, honest and you really, really want to see everything with Lara Jean work out. Oh, holy cow, she can be AWKWARD though!! (Cringe!!)

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14.  Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande

I love books that teach me things I didn’t know that I didn’t know. Turns out mortality is more than just dying. This book is so important that I think it should be required reading for everyone. It makes you understand why our bodies break down over time, what that means to us, what that means to those we love and how we can face the end of our mortality with dignity.

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15. Mayday by Karen Harrington

My daughter read this and then handed it to me and said, “Read this now.” So, I did. This YA book is about a boy who survives a plane crash. He uses facts and statistics to view the world and tell his story — which is anything but cold and unemotional. I finished this book and just wanted to hug it. My kid had it pegged right. A must-read!

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16. Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple

I just love Maria Semple. She’s a genius. Seriously. This entire book takes place in one day. And, like any other day, Eleanor wants to live her best life. She wants to do what she should be doing and not do what she should not be doing. Sounds simple, but it gets complicated. REAL complicated. Semple has an uncanny way of just saying the darn thing – without all the unnecessary extras, which is MUCH harder than it seems.

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17. My Life in France by Julia Child

I had no idea what a sassy, clever, hilarious lady Mrs. Julia Child was. Her memoir about her time in France is almost perfect, as far as memoirs go. You feel like you know her after it’s all over. And, most importantly, her story is so inspiring. Julia Child became THE Julia Child late in life and with plenty of obstacles and hardships. She didn’t let anything get her down. Bon Appétit!

Honorable Mentions:

  1. The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett – Experimental, hard to follow at times, but so interesting and thought-provoking. I found it worth the effort.
  2. Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy – A refreshing character in depressing times
  3. The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh – A stunning, heartbreaking story about the foster care system and the ways to communicate. I give it five stems of ranunculus.
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In Honor of President Monson I Give My Testimony, More or Less

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President Thomas S. Monson died today at the age of 90. He was an amazing prophet who strengthened my testimony through his inspiring words and good deeds.

All day, I’ve been thinking about President Monson and what he meant to me. This has also led me to consider why I believe in this religion and how it’s shaped my life.

Growing up Mormon isn’t easy — particularly in the “Bible Belt.”

I grew up being told that I would go to hell because I wasn’t “saved.” I grew up being told that I wasn’t a Christian, even though I believed in Jesus Christ. I grew up having the most uncomfortable American History classes where there was always a section on Mormons that portrayed them as bigamists, polygamists and greedy grifters — pushed out to Utah because they refused to follow the law. I could always tell the teachers that had strong views about Mormonism because they ad-libbed their lessons with plenty of anecdotal evidence about why Mormons were evil. I was often the lone Mormon in the room and I melted under the scrutiny.

When you have a green, fledgling testimony, it’s not easy to sit through that.

It’s also not easy to turn down alcohol time after time after time. It’s not easy to turn down sweet tea. (I mean, I live in the south for Pete’s sake! And, sweat tea is amazing!) It’s not easy to turn down coffee with the response always being… Really? Coffee? But… it’s coffee?! It’s not easy to be modest when all your friends are wearing short shorts and tank tops and it is SO hot in Texas. It’s not easy to clad your tight, slim teenage body in a full-piece swim suit when everyone else is wearing bikinis. Or to pick out your prom dress from a rack of bridesmaids dresses because your mom won’t approve anything remotely revealing.

It’s not easy to answer questions — endless, incessant questions — some innocent, some loaded with prejudice. It’s not easy to stay up at night and wonder those same questions for yourself and come to terms with the things that you just can’t know right now. It’s not easy to accept church policies that you don’t understand or immediately agree with.

In the grand scheme of easy, “socially acceptable” religions, Mormonism wouldn’t even rank on the list.

And, yet I’ve chosen this life. I’ve chosen it for myself and I’ve chosen to raise my children this way, knowing that they will face all of these challenges and more.

Why?

There was a time in my life where I didn’t consider myself a Mormon. In fact, it was an embarrassment to me.

During that time, I thought life would be easier and happier without the burden of religion. I lived the way I wanted to live. I did what I wanted to do. I based my choices on what felt right in the moment. I started to delve down intellectual pathways that justified my new ways of thinking. I got very deep into relativism and started to believe that there was no such thing as absolute truth.

Maybe something was true for you, but that didn’t make it true for me.

You can justify almost anything when you believe that way. And, believe me, I did a lot of justification!

Relativism was just a hop, skip and a jump away from atheism. And, I was willing to explore those beliefs – or non-beliefs – as well. It was possible to be a good person, make good choices and not believe that God was real. And, really… where was the scientific evidence of deity? If God wanted us to believe in Him, why did He allow science and technology to usurp and explain so many of His “mysteries?”

I had so many questions about God. In truth, I still do! But, I quickly came to realize that this way of life didn’t work for me.

Not because I felt pressure from those around me to change. I had plenty of love and acceptance. Not because I was too indoctrinated into my Mormon lifestyle, as I had dedicated most of my time to studying other belief systems and have many, many family members and friends who believe differently. Not because I didn’t try out any other religions. I explored many other faiths. Not because it was easier to be Mormon — because, as I already established, that certainly wasn’t the case.

I just wasn’t very happy.

I was living for me, but I wasn’t fulfilled.

In small, indistinguishable increments, I was becoming a person that I didn’t like.

I found that love became a challenge for me. It was hard to even say it.

I found that I was increasingly frustrated with life, increasingly annoyed by people. Maintaining relationships became burdensome. I wanted to withdraw constantly.

I found it hard to forgive, hard to find compassion, hard to feel my feelings.

I found that the exciting things I thought would be so fun, quickly lost their shine. Life felt more dull, more boring, more worthless.

I found it harder to quell my tendencies toward depression and anxiety, harder to cope with challenges.

I found that decisions were more agonizing – the choices between right and wrong became more blurred.

I found that all the other belief systems and philosophies I studied sounded okay, maybe even made sense… but, like an ill-fitting outfit, they just didn’t feel all that great once I tried them on.

I didn’t feel like me.

And, when I really thought about my life and what brought me joy and wholeness and love, what inspired me and uplifted me, what kept me steady and sane — I came back to this church, to this gospel, to this religion.

When I put that yoke on my shoulders, everything else that felt really difficult just didn’t compare with the peace I’d found.

I felt more like myself, more free to express every part of who I truly was. I felt like I had more direction, more purpose and more joy even in the simple, unremarkable parts of life.

I still don’t consider it easy to be a Mormon.

I still struggle to say — it’s true!! — when I’ve spent such a significant portion of my life coming to terms with truth.

I still worry that my choice of religion and my assertion of belief might offend or annoy someone else that believes differently. It’s hard for me to overcome that passivity because I honestly respect all religions and belief systems, so long as they don’t hurt, abuse or demean others.

I still grapple with the demands of time, tithes and dedication required to be a full-time member of this church. There’s times when it’s not fun to serve others. There’s times when I don’t particularly want to love my neighbor.

I still find it a challenge to withhold my desire to compare my life and choices with others in our church, who I consider to be more righteous or worthy than me. Similarly, I still battle the urge to criticize those who I don’t consider to be as righteous or worthy as me.

That’s an ugly thing to say and that’s an ugly way to be. And, I hate the parts of me that slip into judgment or gossip or grudges. But, it’s honest and real.

I can be bitter about the sacrifices that are required of me and I can rebel against the lessons God sends my way. I cling desperately to my vices and stubbornly resist change.

If you’re looking for a perfect Mormon, that’s not me and probably won’t ever be me.

But, if you’re looking for someone who loves this gospel with all her heart, someone who has read the Book of Mormon and found it to be true, someone who feels a brightness growing in her soul whenever she’s sitting at church and listening with her heart, someone who wants desperately to be good, someone who loves the Savior and believes in His atoning sacrifice, someone who tries over and over and over again to be better, someone who prays often and with fervency, someone who battles hard times with faith and hope, someone who’s familiar with failure, someone who’s experimented with this gospel (and others) and found the fruits of it to be sweet and delightful beyond description — then that is me.

I believe this church – this gospel – is true. I believe it is true because that truth means that, as imperfect and wretched as I am, I get a fair shot to be with my Heavenly Father forever. I believe it is true because that truth means that you — even if you don’t believe what I believe — also get the same fair shot. I believe it is true because it teaches me that I am a Child of God, that I matter, that I have something to contribute to the world. I believe it is true because it has taught me to love others, to serve others, to see their worth, as well as my own. I believe it is true because it makes me better, challenges me, stretches my soul, and smooths away the edges of my often willful spirit.

I believe it is true because I believe that God loves his people enough to send us a prophet. I believe this world needs a prophet. And, I believe that God communicates with prophets and apostles in order to lead his people home. I believe Thomas S. Monson was a prophet and that the angels are rejoicing for the honorable life he led. I believe another prophet will take on that mighty mantle and similarly serve in righteousness. And, I believe that when I listen to that prophet’s council, my life will improve in meaningful, measurable ways.

No, it is not easy to believe as I do, to choose what I do — but, it is so unbelievably worth it.

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I thank thee, oh God, for a prophet. For this prophet. And, for the beauty he’s added to my life.

Hurricane Harvey

I can’t relate to what’s happening in the world right now. I can’t understand people on Labor Day vacations. I can’t compute first day of school photos. I can’t abide opportunities to purchase long lasting lipstick or phenomenal acne treatments. I don’t care about your bad day or your good day.

Nothing matters but right here, right now.

I don’t know what day it is or when everything with Hurricane Harvey started.

I know I felt a sense of relief when it hit Corpus Christi. Sure, I felt bad, but it wasn’t here… so, honestly, there was relief. We’ve had our fair share of hurricanes, tropical storms and loss. But, what came for us… the incessant storms, the flash flooding, the mass destruction was far worse than anything I could have anticipated.

Everything around us is wiped away – entire homes, entire neighborhoods, entire communities. Cars lie haphazardly in ditches, abandoned – I hope – when the roads became impassable. Families are displaced everywhere. The whole region is mourning.

This is truly the most awful thing I’ve ever witnessed.

Our family is okay. By some fluke of luck, we are fine. But, so, so many others are not. My heart aches for them.

It’s all I can think about. All I can do.

Pray for Southeast Texas.

The Most Quotable Book of the Year

Y’all bear with me as I try to write this with my mind missing. It was blown away by Born a Crime: Stories of a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah.

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Let me begin by saying that I don’t watch The Daily Show due to my severe distaste for the news… even funny news. Because literally… it’s all so depressing. So, I came to this book completely ignorant of who Trevor Noah was and what he did for a living. I read it simply because apartheid is something I feel like I know about but don’t really get. I felt like I should understand it better… Plus, it was billed as being funny and who can resist the dichotomy of a funny story about apartheid?

From page one, I was hooked.

It didn’t bother me that the stories weren’t linear. Even the language didn’t bother me because I don’t think you can tell this story any other way. It would fall flat.

If my brain could’ve provided a running commentary of this book as I was reading it, then it would’ve gone a little something like:

Wow. 

Seriously?

You’re joking!

Literally, I hope you’re joking because I can’t believe I’m laughing at this.

Seriously, stop laughing… You should not be laughing at this.

Wow, I think I’m crying now.

When did I start crying?

**You get the gist.**

What really blew my mind is that Trevor Noah is my age. While I was living my cushy life in America… watching Ninja Turtles, swishing around school in my pastel wind suit, drinking Surge behind my parents’ back, THIS was happening across the globe in South Africa. It’s unbelievable. How could I not have known this?

Most importantly, what is happening right now that I don’t know about?

The thought is terrifying.

I’m not sure if this was my favorite book of the year, but I’m billing it as the most quotable. It’s too bad I had a library copy because, otherwise, I would have highlighted the whole thing.

“People love to say, “Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he’ll eat for a lifetime.” What they don’t say is, ‘And it would be nice if you gave him a fishing rod.’ That’s the part of the analogy that’s missing.”
― Trevor NoahBorn a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood

I’m so glad I read this book. It delivered exactly what I want in a book — opened my mind up to new thoughts, experiences and realities and taught me the things I didn’t know I was missing.

Thank you, Trevor Noah, for sharing this beautiful, heartbreaking story and giving us all a little bit of humor along the way.

Moving Forward

Life without Ellie has been a series of painful reminders.

It’s the little things that get you…

Ellie liked to lie on the cold tile in our entryway. I’d have to force my eyes not to look in that direction because I’d still… oddly enough… expect to see her there. Even in my peripheral vision, I’d think I’d see her, front paws splayed out straight, her white chin resting between them, eyes half-closed. I’d have to forcibly tell myself not to look — that it wasn’t real.

I didn’t open the blinds to the back yard for weeks. Same reason. There are these little smudges on the windowpane where she’d bump her nose against the glass to let us know she wanted back in. I haven’t had the heart to wipe them off. Ellie was there once. I wish she still was.

And, then there are the water bottles. My kids are incredibly wasteful with water bottles. They will open brand new ones, take a few sips and then forget about them. It’s a point of contention in our home. But, when I found them, forgotten in corners, toppled over by their beds, scattered around the kitchen table, I’d pour them in Ellie’s bowl. Then, it felt like less of a waste… Plus, Ellie always appreciated bottled water, unlike some people in our house. For the longest, I didn’t know what to do with the water bottles.

When Kyle took Ellie to be put down, I kept watching our driveway, halfway expecting him to bring her straight back. Maybe he’d come up with a good solution in that short drive to the vet. Maybe the vet would come up with a new idea that was destined to work and he’d come bounding in with renewed hope and our no-worse-for-the-wear pup. So, I kept all her stuff just as she left it… her water and food dishes as they were, her medicine in the cabinet, her food in the bin, her leash hanging on the peg. Even after Kyle came home without her, I still couldn’t bring myself to move anything… just in case. I’m not sure what that “case” was, but it felt right even if it didn’t make sense.

Eventually someone took up the bowls. I think it was Kyle. I saw them in the garage. But, everything else is just as it was. Whenever I’d open the cabinet that was hers in the laundry room, I’d see her things and think I should throw them out. But, it’s easier to just shut the cabinet, so I’d do that instead.

We had a rhythm with Ellie. It was such a seamless part of our lives that we hardly even noticed it. We let her out at certain times, in at certain times, filled her bowls at certain times, bathed her at certain times. But, now I go to the door, touch the knob and then realize my brain’s gotten it all wrong again.

Ellie was never much of a guard dog. No one would find our half-blind, lethargic dog a threat. But, she made me feel safe. After Ellie died, I felt so insecure in our home. It didn’t feel the same. There was one less set of eyes – even old, dimmed eyes – on this house and these little people. I depended on her.

We told the kids that we’d look for another puppy after our vacation (more on that later), but I fully expected it would take months, maybe even a year, to find just the right dog. I didn’t really know what I wanted. Well, that’s not true… I wanted Ellie back. But, as far as what was realistic, I didn’t know.

Part of me felt like no dog would compare to Ellie, so why put one in that position — to always be forced to live up to some unattainable goal. Another part of me thought another dog would diminish Ellie’s memory in the kids’ minds. Part of me felt like it would be a betrayal to Ellie – to love another dog. And, then there’s the cost of a new dog, a cost that I felt guilty not spending on Ellie, to maybe buy her more time, make her more comfortable.

But, in my heart, I knew we’d get another dog… someday.

That day came sooner than expected.

Kyle called me from work and basically said, let’s go get a puppy.

There was a litter we’d considered, but… frankly… there were several litters we’d considered and then decided we weren’t quite compelled enough to move forward.

But, for whatever reason, we went back to that last litter and thought, well… if they still have that one puppy we liked, we’ll see.

As it turned out, that puppy was still available, but someone was coming to look at her and her sister right then.

So, then we said, well, we’ll see if she’s still there after that person leaves.

And, then she was.

Kyle looked at me imploringly and I said, let’s just go look.

We surprised the kids — told them we were going to buy some more discs for Kyle disc golf habit. (This is a real addiction for him — so no big shock there.) On the drive over, I kept thinking how unprepared we were… The house wasn’t puppy proofed yet. The kids haven’t healed yet. hadn’t healed yet. But, what was the harm in looking?

We didn’t tell the kids anything until we pulled into the breeder’s driveway. They immediately burst into tears. I’m pretty sure they were happy/sad tears, since I had a few leaking from my eyes, as well.

I was far more impressed with the breeder than I expected. I was far more impressed with their environment than I expected. And, the puppies had the very best mom. She was sweet, gentle, calm, confident, quiet and highly intelligent, so much like our Ellie. The breeder showed us all her tricks and we were impressed. But, then we saw the puppies… Gosh, it’s impossible to not love a troupe of puppies barreling, tripping, yipping across the yard to you.

I immediately spotted our girl, notable because her white markings where all her siblings were solid brown. She licked our faces and stared in our eyes with her crystal green ones. I told myself to be logical. So, I checked her all over to make sure she was healthy, flipped her on her back to make sure she was submissive enough to trust me, watched her interact with the kids and her litter mates.

After a little discussion, we left with our puppy. Our new little lady.

The kids named her Emmeline and call her Emme. It’s close to Ellie and that’s fine by me.

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In many ways, this puppy has reminded me of Ellie. And, each time she does, it stings a little bit. I’m glad we didn’t get another golden for that reason alone. We already had enough reminders.

But, in dozens of other ways, she’s her own little creature. That’s fine by me, too.

I still have sad spells, crying spells, aching spells. But, this puppy has been such a distraction. I wasn’t aware of how badly we all needed that. We haven’t had a puppy in 13 years and I forgot how challenging they are, but it’s a challenge we’re all up for — if only to get to that place where we were with Ellie — complete trust, complete love, complete devotion, complete family.

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The Complications of a Complex Character

Forgive me for that title, but I love alliteration. It’s a weakness.

Also, **Spoiler Alert**, I’m discussing Into the Water by Paula Hawkins, with a little bit of Girl on the Train sprinkled in for good measure. If you want to read either of those books and haven’t, do NOT proceed.

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So, I’ve noticed that people either love or hate Paula Hawkins. Personally, I’m in the like/love category. Believe me, I felt pretty sheepish when I read and enjoyed Girl on the Train and then endured review after review after review of people calling it the worst book of the year… or ever…

Um, clearly it wasn’t the absolute worst since it sold so many copies and was made into a movie… But, ahem, I digress…

Now, I suspect Into the Water will be just as divisive. And, here’s why… Paula Hawkins doesn’t have any heroes in her books. You certainly have protagonists and antagonists, but they’re a bit icky.

Case in point: In Girl on the Train (Warning: More Spoilers), your main gal is Rachel Watson. You sympathize with her. You want her to be okay. But… hey… she’s also a raging alcoholic, part-time stalker, almost kidnapper, very emotionally disturbed, sleeps with the victim’s grieving (and also super weird and gross) spouse… And, you’re just thinking Pull it TOGETHER, Rachel! Good grief! Enough is enough!

You’ll find much of the same in Into the Water.

Case in point: Main gal Lena. She’s lost her best friend and mother. She’s absolutely broken. You just feel for her! But, oh hey… she flirts with her teachers for the joy of making them uncomfortable… does drugs and drinks… she is SUPER rude to just about everyone… Oh, yeah… and she might be a murderer.

She’s hard to love.

But, that’s the thing. That’s why I really like Paula Hawkins. Because, in real life, people are sometimes hard to love. And, they can make the worst possible decisions. And, they are gross and unlovable and complex. And, you can respect them and hate them all at once.

Yes, it’s nice to read books with clear cut lines of allegiance. I do love an underdog story. Who doesn’t love a hero who perseveres despite terrible odds? Those books are amazing! And, real life heroes DO exist. I know that they do!

Real life heroes can also fall, make mistakes and let the world down. Because real life heroes are real life humans.

Like… Remember Lance Armstrong, who was this amazing athlete who accomplished so much after battling cancer? We all LOVED Lance Armstrong! He was great! We all wore his Live Strong yellow wristbands! He was on magazine covers and could basically conquer the world.

But, writers like Paula Hawkins aren’t afraid to remind you that ol’ Lance turned out to be a cheater, among other things…

Does that negate everything he did that was great? Does that take away his prestige or accomplishments?

Well, maybe.

But, is he an evil mastermind?

I doubt it.

That’s why I love Paula Hawkins. In her books, she isn’t afraid to tell the truth about the Lance Armstrong’s of the world. She has no trouble reminding you of the grittier side of humanity – the disappointments and the idiocy and the messy mistakes.

If you need a hero, these aren’t your books.

But, if you need a reminder that life isn’t so black and white, maybe they are.

Fantastic Four!

Anna's 4th Birthday

Just like that, my littlest is four.

Annelise is the perfect caboose to our trio. She is sweet and spunky, independent and strong, expressive and hilarious. And, believe me when I say… she doesn’t take nothing from nobody.

Anna’s favorite things are:

  • dancing
  • singing
  • playing “mommy”
  • reading
  • shopping
  • swimming

Her favorite cartoons are:

  • Thundercats
  • Peppa Pig
  • Curious George
  • Clifford the Big Red Dog
  • Disney princess anything (particularly Moana, these days)

Her favorite foods are:

  • pizza
  • fruit
  • cereal, cereal and more cereal (there’s days that’s all she eats)
  • noodles (any variety)
  • cheese
  • OREO’S (OMG… we’ll find packages of Oreo’s hidden in the strangest places. She HOARDS them!)
  • strawberry frosted donuts

She claims to be more of a cat lover than a dog lover (even though we’ve never owned cats) and I can totally see that in her personality. But, she’s a lover of anything she can cuddle.

I feel so blessed to have this little bean in my life. What a boring world it would be without her!

Happy birthday, Annie Banannie.