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I read some fantastic books in 2015. Really, really good. So grateful for the brave, faithful writers out there who sit down and put in the work for our benefit.

My goal was to read a book a month, and I rounded out the year with a grand total of 16 books. Not many compared to some, but I’m satisfied.

Here are the books I read in 2015:

 

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Fear and Faith: Finding the Peace Your Heart Craves by Trillia Newbell {Review & Video Author Interview}

Such a helpful, biblical resource for all who battle with various fears, anxieties, and insecurities.

Until We All Come Home by Kim de Blecourt {Review}

A page-turning, suspenseful account of one family’s harrowing journey to adopt from Ukraine.

Dragons and Dirt: The Truth About Changing the World – and the Courage it Requires by Dalene Rayburn {Review}

One of my favorite books I read this year. So much wisdom and food for thought on a wide range of topics and issues. A short read, but full of gems.

 

Three more nonfiction titles

 

For the Love: Fighting for Grace in a World of Impossible Standards by Jen Hatmaker

This is the first Jen Hatmaker book I’ve read. There are a few chapters I wish I could mass produce and distribute all over the country. I didn’t write a review, but my friend Bronwyn wrote a good one here.

Every Little Thing: Making a World of Difference Right Where You Are by Deidra Riggs {Review & Video Author Interview}

Inspiring and motivating. That’s how I would describe this debut book by Deidra Riggs.

Girl Meets Change: Truths to Carry You through Life’s Transitions by Kristen Strong {Review}

Encouraging words for all who have experienced change.

 

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Nobody’s Cuter Than You: A Memoir about the Beauty of Friendship by Melanie Shankle {Review}

A funny and heartfelt tribute to friendship among women.

Let’s All Be Brave: Living Life with Everything You Have by Annie Downs

I underlined copious amounts of this book. So many challenging words; highly recommended.

Dance with Jesus: From Grief to Grace by Susan B. Mead

Susan Mead kindly sent me a copy of this book, and I read the whole thing in one evening. It’s a quick read, but a moving testimony of a mother who has found grace in the midst of grieving the loss of her son.

Fiction: 

Three fiction titles

 

Secrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meissner {Review}

Beautifully written historical fiction about two sisters during the London Blitz of World War II.

Dear Mr. Knightley by Katherine Reay

I adored this debut novel by Katherine Reay. A series of letters written by a Jane Austen-loving journalism student to her anonymous benefactor. Captivating and cleverly written.

Stars Over Sunset Boulevard by Susan Meissner

This latest novel by Susan Meissner releases on January 5th, 2016! I was privileged to read an advance copy of this story set in the Hollywood period when Gone With the Wind was filmed. Review coming soon. Pre-order now by clicking here!

 

On Writing:

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On Being a Writer: 12 Simple Habits for a Writing Life that Lasts by Ann Kroeker and Charity Singleton Craig

A wonderful resource for writers. I was challenged and guided in my personal writing life, and had such fun leading a six-week online discussion on this book with several other writers. Catch up on the discussion here. I’ll be referring back to this book many times in the years to come.

Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg

This book is pure gold. Natalie cuts right to the chase in this no-nonsense, down-to-earth book that will make you want to pick up your pen and write like crazy. She covers all the bases and then some.

 

Christmas: 

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The Greatest Gift: Unwrapping the Full Love Story of Christmas by Ann Voskamp

Another gorgeous book from Ann Voskamp. This one offers daily Advent readings which carry the reader through biblical history, starting with Adam and Eve. So much spiritual food here; definitely worth reading at any time of the year, not just Christmas.

Unwrapping the Names of Jesus: An Advent Devotional by Asheritah Ciuciu

My friend Asheritah wrote this wonderful resource focusing on the names of Jesus. I read it aloud to my kids to start each of our homeschool days in December. Again, this book could be read and benefited from at any time of the year, not only during Advent.

 

 

Still busy reading:

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Rhinestone Jesus: Saying Yes to God When Sparkly, Safe Faith is No Longer Enough by Kristen Welch

Making It Home: Finding My Way to Peace, Identity, and Purpose by Emily Wierenga

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer

 

Related Post: My Top 14 Books of 2014

What are you reading now? What do you hope to read in 2016?

 

Note: This post contains affiliate links.

 

It’s your turn! I’d love to see what you read this past year. Either share a direct link to a blog post using the InLinkz button, or type your list of titles into the comments below!

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The other day, I made it to Panera by 8:19 in the morning, thoroughly impressed with myself for getting there so early and determined to have a productive day of writing without distraction.

I settled into a booth facing the window and opened my laptop as two ladies sat down at a nearby table. Moments later, two more ladies arrived and excited greetings were exchanged all around. Compliments flew about hair and attire, and one woman commended another for choosing oatmeal over her giant muffin.

This scene could have been described in Melanie Shankle’s new book, Nobody’s Cuter than You: A Memoir about the Beauty of Friendship  — except the ladies I saw at Panera were about two decades older than the four friends described in the memoir. Nevertheless, I still found myself picturing the four women in Panera as Mel, Gulley, Jen and Tiff, twenty years from now — laughing and chatting as if no time had passed.

Melanie has written in the past on motherhood and marriage, but in this latest book, she explores the intricate relationship of female friendships.

I laughed out loud through her first two books, Sparkly Green Earrings: Catching the Light at Every Turn and The Antelope in the Living Room: The Real Story of Two People Sharing One Life — and this collection was no exception. However, in my opinion, Nobody’s Cuter Than You has an added depth and maturity. It’s filled with hilarious anecdotes, but the lessons gleaned about friendship are rich and full of wisdom.

Throughout the book, Melanie aptly chronicles the whole gamut from early childhood bonds, to the awkward teen years; crazy college shenanigans, and even the challenges of navigating post-college and married life friendships.

 

_Friendships are fragile and we need to

 

I found this book to be both realistic and encouraging. Melanie didn’t shy away from some of the pain that can occur as a result of female friendships, because “any time you attempt to put all your faith in another human being, it’s inevitable that it will lead to disappointment.”

She addresses the sting of betrayal and the hurt caused both by petty accusations and deep, intentional wounds, sharing that “sometimes the best lessons are the ones that hurt the most.”

Melanie touches on the depth of emotion involved when friends truly love each other, and reminded me of the command found in Romans 12:15 to “rejoice with those who rejoice, and mourn with those who mourn.” When her friend Jen’s dad died, Melanie learned one of the most important lessons about what it means to be a good friend: “You show up for your people.”

When one of her friends from years past called her up out of the blue and announced that she was getting a divorce, Melanie remembers, “All she wanted was someone to help her through the pain, and all I wanted was to make her pain go away. Ultimately, that’s one of the cornerstones of friendship.”

 

“Having your soul knit to another isn’t

 

Tears definitely welled up in my eyes as I read the chapter about Melanie’s friend Jen being diagnosed with breast cancer.

Melanie writes, “We live in a world where tomorrows are never guaranteed and pain lurks around every corner. Sometimes you just have to take a deep breath and acknowledge that you’ve been given a gift ….”

I also enjoyed reading about how God used friends in Melanie’s life to draw her back to Him. The thread of faith and the importance of depending on God is evident in her story.

Referring again to Jen’s journey with cancer, Melanie testifies, “Sometimes the things that make sense in light of eternity don’t make sense while we’re still walking it out here on earth. Yet we will trust him; yet we will praise him.”

Melanie wraps up her memoir with these beautiful, wise words:

“A good friend will love you, support you, and cheer you on. A good friend doesn’t make you feel inadequate or like you’re not good enough. A good friend won’t dump you when someone better comes along or ask you to compromise who you are and what you believe.

These are the lessons we need to instill in the young women who are coming behind us, because there are few things in life worth having as much as a few close friends, and it’s worth trading popularity for authenticity. In this new world we’ve built of Facebook friends and Instagram likes and texting instead of listening to an actual voice, it’s still worth going deeper and finding people who will love you for your real, authentic, broken self. And, most important: to find that person means we have to be that person.”

As I sat my local Panera that rainy morning, two of the four ladies nearby got up to refill their coffee mugs. One of the two remaining turned to the other in all gentleness and love and asked, “Okay, what’s bothering you?” To which the other sighed before replying, “Is it that obvious?” I glanced over and saw the woman dab her eye with a tissue, and thought about this book.

 

“That’s how you know your true friends_

 

According to Melanie, “We have a tendency to swim in the shallow pool of relationships because we know that getting deep can equate to being vulnerable.”

Investing in female friendship can be a messy business, but it’s so worth it, because as Melanie says, “there is nothing as precious in life as a friend who knows you and loves you in spite of yourself.”

 

 

For a great new read, go ahead and click on over to Amazon to get yourself (and your best friend) a copy of Nobody’s Cuter than You: A Memoir about the Beauty of Friendship!

Learn more about Melanie Shankle and her writing by hopping over to her blog or following her on Twitter.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from Tyndale House Publishers in exchange for my honest review. Also this post contains affiliate links to Amazon.

 

IAntelope coverf you’re looking for a light, easy, hilarious read, look no further.

The Antelope in the Living Room, by The Big Mama blog author Melanie Shankle, is guaranteed to entertain.

I read her book, Sparkly Green Earrings, a few months ago, and laughed out loud with every chapter.  That one, her first book, was filled with stories about becoming a mother and navigating the path through the daily hills and valleys of parenthood. Earrings cover

In this, her second book, Melanie shares a host of stories and anecdotes about married life, and they are just as funny as her parenting quips.

I particularly related to her chapter on home improvement, in which she relays her experience of taking on the self-imposed torture of painting their “back house.”

She literally could’ve been writing my own story of recently deciding to paint our interior walls when she wrote:

“I scraped for a grand total of three minutes before I felt my forearms begin to cramp up.  Which is when Perry helpfully called out, ‘Remember, it’s a marathon, not a sprint!  This whole process will probably take you a month!’”

I heard the exact same words.  Except my husband’s name isn’t Perry.

Melanie goes on:

“As the endless painting stretched before me, the whole thing began to feel like heaven.  Not so much in the ‘there will be no tears or sorrow’ kind of way, but more in the ‘this will be how I spend eternity’ kind of way.  I had just one request.  I told Perry, ‘If this kills me, which I have no doubt it will, please make sure I’m buried in a sleeveless dress, because I have no doubt that the silver lining in all of this is that my arms will have never looked better.’”

Amen, sister.  I feel your pain.  I have a whole blog post written in my head already in which I blame The Nester for the fact that I haven’t been able to feel my arms for the past two weeks.  You know, since she wrote the book that inspired me to paint in the first place.

But that’s another story. Coming soon to a blog near you.

About The Antelope in the Living Room: Besides it being so consistently funny, the second best part is how Melanie paints such a realistic picture of marriage.  She tells it how it is, in a nod-your-head, yep-I-know-exactly-what-you’re-talking-about kind of way.  Which is probably why the book is a bestseller.

Finally, I really appreciated how Melanie incorporates her faith and weaves it into her story in a very appealing way.  Her chapter on grace and forgiveness is beautifully written, and it’s obvious that her dependency on the Lord is what seals her commitment to her husband.

Needless to say, I thoroughly enjoyed the read.