The 10 Best Books I Read in 2015

10 Fantastic Reads - emily p freeman

As many of you know, I have a habit of having many books going at once. I’ve stopped trying to break this habit because I like having many different author’s voices in my head on any given day. However, sometimes this means books fall through the cracks before I’ve actually finished them.

For the last couple of years, I’ve started keeping a detailed record of the books I actually finish. This year, I read (from start to finish) 34 books total.

Of those books, I’ve chosen my top 10 favorites to share with you, listed here in no particular order. All of the “about the book” descriptions come directly from the Amazon book summaries where I am a grateful affiliate, followed by a short explanation of why I loved the book.

 

Wild in the Hollow by Amber C. HainesWild in the Hollow by Amber C. Haines

Genre: Memoir

About the book: “Amber Haines is a woman haunted by God. Like Eve in the Garden, she craved the fruit that she thought would lead her to freedom. But the whispers of temptation led her instead down a path of isolation, dissatisfaction, and life-altering choices. In her most broken moment, Amber met God waiting for her in the fallout, freely offering her grace and life.”

Why I loved it: The best writers are the ones who can share the details of their own story in such a profound way that it actually mirrors all of our story. Amber Haines is one of those writers and I am deeply grateful for her artistry, her honesty, and her courage. This captivating book has stunned me speechless.

 

The Listening Life by Adam S. McHughThe Listening Life by Adam S. McHugh

Genre: Christian Living

About the book: “People talk past each other, eager to be heard but somehow deaf to what is being said. Listening is an essential skill for healthy relationships, both with God and with other people. But it is more than that: listening is a way of life.”

Why I loved it: It seems like everyone wants to talk but no one wants to listen. We have public speaking requirements in college, but what about public listening? You guys, we don’t know how to listen to each other. It’s an epidemic. Adam’s writing is profound, lyrical and self-deprecating in all the right ways. When I finished this book, I wanted to start it all over again.

 

The Lake House by Kate MortonThe Lake House by Kate Morton

Genre: Fiction

About the book: “Living on her family’s idyllic lakeside estate in Cornwall, England, Alice Edevane is a bright, inquisitive, innocent, and precociously talented sixteen-year-old who loves to write stories. But the mysteries she pens are no match for the one her family is about to endure.”

Why I love it: Kate Morton is a favorite fiction author of mine and this may have edged out The House at Riverton as my favorite of hers so far. It has several of my choice elements of great fiction: a main character who is a writer, clever suspense, an old house with a story, and an ending that stayed with me days after I finished the book.

 

Moon Over Manifest by Clare VanderpoolMoon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool

Genre: Children’s Literature, Historical Fiction

About the book: “Abilene Tucker feels abandoned. Her father has put her on a train, sending her off to live with an old friend for the summer while he works a railroad job. Armed only with a few possessions and her list of universals, Abilene jumps off the train in Manifest, Kansas, aiming to learn about the boy her father once was.”

Why I loved it: Initially I chose this book because of the cover but was quickly drawn into Abilene’s story. The narrative switches between 1918 and 1936 (two times in US history that have always interested me) and Vanderpool does an exceptional job of weaving the story of Manifest, Kansas into the fabric of history. A beautiful tale about redemption, connection, and the true meaning of home.

 

Soul KeepingSoul Keeping by John Ortberg

Genre: Spiritual Growth

About the book: “When is the last time you thought about the state of your soul? The health of your soul isn’t just a matter of saved or unsaved. It’s the hinge on which the rest of your life hangs. It’s the difference between deep, satisfied spirituality and a restless, dispassionate faith.”

Why I loved it: This was one of my first reads of 2015 and I highly recommend it as one to read early in the year, especially if you have much you want to accomplish this year but don’t want your inner life to suffer in the process.

 

EssentialismEssentialism by Greg McKeown

Genre: Business, Decision-Making

About the book: “The Way of the Essentialist isn’t about getting more done in less time. It’s about getting only the right things done. It is a systematic discipline for discerning what is absolutely essential, then eliminating everything that is not, so we can make the highest possible contribution towards the things that really matter.”

Why I loved it: I have chronic trouble with making decisions and this book brought things into Claritin-like focus for me. What Soul Keeping does for my inner life, Essentialism has done for my outer life – my calendar, commitments, and work-flow objectives.

 

A Circle of QuietA Circle of Quiet by Madeleine L’Engle

Genre: Spirituality, Auto-Biography

About the book: “Fruitful reflections on life and career prompted by the author’s visit to her personal place of retreat near her country home.”

Why I loved it: I’ve had The Crosswicks Journal series on my shelf for a few years now and A Circle of Quiet is Book One. L’Engle is one of those authors you read not because you are trying to learn something in particular, but because you want to learn particularly from her. I appreciate how she sees the world and the way faith and creativity are expressed through her.

 

Coming CleanComing Clean by Seth Haines

Genre: Christian Life, Personal Growth

About the book: “We’re all seeking balms for the anxiety of what sometimes seems to be an absent, unresponsive God—whether it’s through people-pleasing, shopping, the internet, food, career highs, or even good works and elite theology. We attempt to anesthetize our anxiety through addiction—any old addiction. But it often leaves us feeling even more empty than before.”

Why I loved it: I took a walk with Seth’s wife, Amber, while he was writing this book (Yep, his wife is the author of Wild in the Hollow). She told me about his process, and I could hardly believe he was willing to let us in to the vulnerable details of this process. I’m so glad he did. Documenting the entire first 90 days of sobriety, I’m still tearing up thinking about it. Seth’s words for me were a timely reminder of how God shows himself in the midst of our doubt in ways we don’t expect – ever tender, compassionate, and faithful.

 

An Unhurried LifeAn Unhurried Life by Alan Fadling

Genre: Christian Life, Spiritual Growth

About the book: “Following the framework of Jesus’ earthly life, Fadling shows how the work of ‘unhurrying’ ourselves is central to our spiritual development.”

Why I loved it: I’ve read books about slowing down before, but the way Fadling illuminates the un-hurried life of Jesus on earth is what makes this one my favorite. After finishing this book, I was able to catch myself in the cycle of anxiety and physically slow myself down to the pace of holy un-hurry.

 

The Mysterious Benedict SocietyThe Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart

Genre: Fiction, Action & Adventure

About the book: “When a peculiar ad appears in the newspaper, dozens of children enroll to take a series of mysterious, mind-bending tests. But in the end just four very special children will succeed. Their challenge: to go on a secret mission that only the most intelligent and resourceful children could complete.”

Why I loved it: Sometimes reading a book meant for children is just what I need to celebrate my smallness again. This was a great summertime read and, though it took me a few chapters to settle into, ended up being a delightful pool-side companion.

Every month I send out a list of what I’m currently reading, along with a secret post you won’t find anywhere else. Sign up here an choose The Bench to receive that note in your inbox each month.

As you make your own lists of books to read this year, perhaps you would like to check out some more recommendations:

12 Gift Ideas for the Writer in Your Life

Gifts for Writers - Emily P Freeman

The summer before 5th grade, I spent hours on my dad’s typewriter in our dark Iowa basement, writing about a magical creature named Milo who lived in the walls. (I didn’t say the writing was good, but that’s not the point.)

The point is that I have been writing for fun and reflection my whole life. Writing has always been the way I learn about and process the world. And about six years ago I started writing for a living.

If you know someone for whom writing is kind of a big deal but you’re struggling to know how to support their writing endeavors, or (even better) if you’re a writer who needs to give your mother-in-law some gift ideas, then this post is for you.

When applicable, I include affiliate links at no extra cost to you. Thank you for supporting Chatting at the Sky and here we go with 12 gift ideas for writers!

A Gift Guide for Writers

 

Emily P Freeman's Gift Guide for Writers

1. The Listening Life: Embracing Attentiveness in a World of Distraction by Adam S. McHugh

I truly believe the writer’s job is to pay attention: both to the the world around us and to the world within us.

This stunning, important new book is the perfect read for writers – not because he talks about the craft of writing (he doesn’t) but because he opens up the world of listening. And being a good listener is a pre-requisite to being a good writer.

If you haven’t heard of Adam, here’s my endorsement: If it were possible to combine the voices of Dallas Willard, N. D. Wilson and Jim Gaffigan, then what you would get is Adam S. McHugh. His writing is profound, lyrical and self-deprecating in all the right ways.

And the best part is, this book just released this week so chances are good your writer does not yet have it in their library.

2. Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art by Madeleine L’Engle

The writers in your life may have already read this one. But if they haven’t then I will say congratulations! You get to be the one to give them one of their future favorite books. This one is required reading for any writer who needs to remember why they write in the first place. And really, any human who wants perspective on the crossroads of living, faith, and art.

A Gift Guide for Writers - Emily P Freeman

3. A Million Little Ways: Uncover the Art You Were Made to Live by Emily P. Freeman

I wrote this book to encourage us to stop running from our calling, no matter what it is. I don’t care if you’re the President or the janitor – your ability to bring glory to God by simply being the person you fully are and embracing the job you’ve been given to do is a uniquely human privilege.

As writers, we often struggle with this – haunted by the question who do I think I am? This book will help you answer and move past that question so that you can show up as you are and make your own brand of art.

4. The Memoir Project: A Thoroughly Non-Standardized Text for Writing & Life by Marion Roach Smith

You don’t have to be a memoir writer to learn from this book. Short, matter-of-fact, and incredibly helpful for any writer who needs to stop hiding behind writer’s block and start writing with intent. I dare you to try to make excuses for not writing after reading this one.

time to write

5. Time to write. No, really.

These cute alarm clocks are from Anthropologie, but the real gift here is to offer the space and freedom for a writer to write. What we need more than any gift card, tool, journal or book is time to actually do the work of writing.

This could be as simple as offering to babysit young children or as elaborate as paying for a hotel room so she can have an extended time alone in the quiet to work out those words. Give your writer the gift of time and you’ll basically be securing your spot in the acknowledgements section of her next book.

 

6. Hand-Lettered Art

Aside from time to write, the second most important thing for me as a writer is a space to write in. For years I wrote my books either at my kitchen table or my favorite spot on the sofa. I finally have an office now.

Maker + Ink

But the truth is, it doesn’t matter where your space is, it matters if it’s a space where you can get your work done. And I do better work when my space is lovely – made possible by these prints from Maker + Ink. Support a small business and a group of artists in the process? Yes please. Use this link and receive 15% off.

 

Screen Shot 2015-12-07 at 1.11.41 PM

7. Uni-ball 207 Signo Impact RT (Retractable) 1.0 mm Ink Pen

Everyone. You will never need another pen, ever. I repeat, this pen. Granted, it isn’t great for writing in thin-paged journals but you shouldn’t be using those anyway. And if your writer ends up having a book published, this pen is the ONLY pen to use for signing books. Amen. And you’re welcome.

Scrivener

8. Scrivener Writing Software

Gone are the days of opening Microsoft Word to write my next book. Now I use Scrivener, the intuitive content-generation tool that keeps you organized and sane while working on a long-form project. Here you can see a shot of my screen before the first round of edits on my last book, Simply Tuesday.

It may look intimadating at first, but there are a ton of free tutorials online and – full disclosure – I probably only use about 10% of what it’s capable of doing and it still changed my writing life.

Scrivener 2 for Mac OS X (Regular Licence)
Scrivener for Windows (Regular Licence)

9. A Great Journal

I can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t have an active journal. Real writing with a pen and paper? I just can’t quit you. I’ve tried many journals over the years and my top two favorites are the Moleskine and Miquelrius.

Moleskin + Miquelrius

Moleskine (hard cover lined)Your writer probably already has one of these, but these are like chapstick – you basically need one for every room – and car. I use these to write my Morning Pages and another separate one to keep a record of my 1000 gifts.

Miquelrius (soft cover graph paper): This is the journal I use daily for planning, capturing ideas, book notes, scheduling, lists, and basically everything. It’s the one I always have with me everywhere in all of the places.

Gift Guide for Writers

10. Woodwick Candle

Can a writer do her work without a candle? Yes of course. But why would she want to? I go through so many candles every year, especially close to deadlines. These from Woodwick are especially lovely as they pop and crackle while they burn (think ‘fireplace’ rather than ‘rice crispies’).

Live FashionALBE

11. Mamuye Tote by Live FasionABLE

Made of handcrafted distressed leather, this is the perfect bag for the writer who likes to take her laptop to the coffee shop and still have room in her bag for a charger, a wallet, and a couple of books.

The best part? FashionABLE works with women, both locally and globally, who have overcome challenges ranging from prostitution to addiction to a lack of opportunity. So your purchase supports that work, too. The one I have is Cognac (pictured) and am basically obsessed.

hopewriters

12. Hope*Writers monthly membership subscription

The hope*writers membership community is especially for the writer wants to take their writing to the next level but might feel:

  • intimidated by the publishing process
  • weary of the pace of the internet and your place in it
  • aimless in your writing
  • frustrated by your lack of knowledge about the tools you need, much less how to use them

hopewriters

With new content (videos, tutorials, interviews, and more) added every week, writers are receiving encouragement and advice to help them become better writers, write a book, share their work, and maintain balance between writing and life.

Here is what some of our hope*writers are saying:

“I am so thankful for the safe haven this space nurtures for those tender worries, creative curiosities, and hopeful dreams.” – Marie, hope*writer

“Years ago, it was Emily who first nudged me toward the courage of admitting, I am a writer. Now, as I cross over to first-time author, the steep learning curve is giving me vertigo. Hope*Writers is just what I need to settle down and get to work.”

 – Shannan Martin, hope*writer + author of Falling Free (Coming Sept 2016)

If you’re a writer, it’s a great gift to ask for and if you love a writer, it’s a tangible way to support their dream.

***

Happy shopping + most importantly, happy writing! I hope these tools and suggestions are as useful for you (or your writer) as they have been for me.

Gift Guide for Writers - Emily P Freeman

Will You Help Me Choose My Next Read?

“For some of us, good books and beautiful writing are the ultimate solace, even more comforting than exquisite food.” – Anne Lamott

So I read more than one book at a time and this weekend I realized my current stack is made up of my personal perfect combination of book genres. I will share those genres with you in this post, but I realized I have a bit of a problem.

Will you help me choose my next read?

This year I’m loosely trying to follow Modern Mrs. Darcy’s Reading Challenge and one of the categories is to read a book in a genre you wouldn’t typically choose. But I’m having trouble thinking of something for that category.

I thought it would be fun to share with you what I’m currently reading and then hear suggestions from you of a book outside of one of these genres.

Here are the books I’m currently reading (including affiliate links incase you want to check them out yourself):

Moon Over Manifest by Clare VanderpoolMoon Over Manifest [Audio Book] by Clare Vanderpool (Children’s Literature, Historical Fiction)

Now that the girls no longer attend school in the neighborhood, I spend a lot of time in my car. So I checked out the audio version of this one. The main narrator’s voice grates on my nerves which was almost a deal-breaker for me.

But I have managed to get over that and I’m glad I did. I’m about seventy-five percent through it and look forward to getting in my car so I can listen to it. When I don’t have a fiction book in my life, I’m a little less happy about the world. I chose this book based on the cover.

 
Hidden in Christ by James Bryan Smith

Hidden in Christ by James Bryan Smith (Spiritual Non-Fiction)

I adore the book of Colossians and this is an entire book about the third chapter. It’s shorter than books I typically read in this genre, but I enjoy being able to read a whole chapter or two each morning.

I credit so many authors who write books in this category for much of my own spiritual formation. But I have an entire stack of books in this genre waiting in the wings so I definitely don’t need any more recommendations like this right now.

 

Bird by Bird by Anne LamottBird by Bird by Anne Lamott (Writing, Reference)

This is mostly a re-read, although I am realizing as I near the end I’m not sure I ever completely finished it.

I always feel best when I have a book on writing or creativity on my stack and have several more I want to start. These are the kinds of books I like to re-read as I always find something new to apply to  my creative work. I’ve enjoyed my time with this one.

 

 

Never Broken by Jewel KilcherNever Broken by Jewel (Memoir)

The older I get, the more I’m enjoying memoirs. The goal isn’t to teach a lesson or make a point but to tell a story.

Because of my continued obsession with Alaska and my love for the show Alaska the Last Frontier (a reality show featuring what life is like on a homestead that just so happens to star Jewel’s family) I ordered this book last week. When it arrived, I sat down and didn’t get up for three hours.

From her experience living on a homestead to living in her car as a homeless teenager to becoming a millionaire singer – it’s the stuff of movies, y’all. Except it’s her real life and it’s fascinating.

 

These are the four books I’m currently reading in my four favorite kinds of books: fiction, spiritual non-fiction/Christian living, writing, and memoir.

What do you recommend I read outside of one of these genres? Something about space? Science? Gardening? I’m at a loss!

One Thing Change Doesn’t Change

change

They built a Wal-Mart next to the Starbucks in the shopping center where I write. Once demolition started, they put up fences to keep the traffic out. You could see where the new building would be even though it was mainly construction equipment, piles of debris, and mounds of dirt.

construction zone

It was a parking lot in transition, on its way to becoming a shopping center.

What was is no longer and what will be isn’t quite yet.

When John and I were living in the midst of a vocational transition since he left his job of twelve years, I felt a little like that parking lot. I married a pastor, was involved in our church, felt part of a team of other youth leaders, and then all of that was gone.

It was our choice and the parting wasn’t ugly or painful in any of the ways these partings sometimes are. But it was painful in the ways you might expect – loss of community, an unpredictable future, fear of the unknown.

What was is no longer and what will be isn’t quite yet.

It took me several months to begin to grieve some of those losses as well as to recognize the control and predictability I thought I had before were only illusions anyway.

Slowly we started to carve out a new normal in the midst of the vocational limbo.

Girl Meets Change

I’m always hesitant to embrace change, at least the kind I don’t feel in charge of.

But the biggest reason I hesitate is because I only know what I’m leaving. I don’t yet know what I’m walking toward. And that is the hardest part of the limbo.

“When change puts me in tight places, is it especially dark because his hand covers and protects me too? Can I believe — really believe — it is dark because of mercy and protection rather than abandonment?”

Kristen Strong, Girl Meets Change

growth in change

Walking to my car after leaving Starbucks shortly after construction began, I noticed some of those mounds of dirt in the construction zone had grass and other plants growing out of them.

Grass! And other plants!

This parking lot was in the midst of transition and grass was growing where it had no business. The dirt wasn’t there for keeps, but it was there for now. Even so, seed takes root, burrows into the darkness, and shoots up to the light because that’s what seeds do.

Seeds take root and grow even though things won’t be this way for always, even though all is about to change, even though all seems unsettled, unsure, and unstable.

The one thing change doesn’t change is growth.

The growing still happens even in the midst of transition. But unlike those plants that will be uprooted and tossed aside as that dirt mound becomes a foundation, the growth that happens within me in the midst of change will not be wasted.

Girl Meets Change by Kristen Strong

When I look back on my life, the times I have experienced the most important growth have intersected with some kind of life change or transition.

I’m not saying those changes have always been welcome, but when my soul has been asked to move forward, let go of something old, or embrace something new, these are the times when I have become more fully myself.

Change invites me to burrow down deep into the place where God lives with me and find the solid ground of peace, hope, and a whole heart.

I may despise the change, but I never regret the growth.

And so we pause to consider those things we’ve left behind, those strange places where we now find ourselves, and the unknown future we’re walking into. Isn’t that what life is, after all? A series of holding on, letting go, moving forward, and growing in the middle?

Girl Meets Change by Kristen Strong
My friend Kristen Strong wrote a whole book about this ever-present, not-often-enough talked about topic of change. She would know – she has traveled far and wide with her air force family, settling in to one community just in time to leave again.

KristenStrongHeadshotAs the wife of a career veteran, Kristen speaks as a woman who has experienced change in many makes and models. And as a friend, Kristen speaks the kind of language I can relate to.

I read Girl Meets Change during a time when I really needed to remember the truth: that God is with me even though things are different.

As my girls are into their first few weeks of middle school, I hold on to that truth.

As I walk with John into a new season of ministry, I hold on to that truth.

As I consider what it means to love, really love, my friends even when we’re all changing, I hold on to that truth.

You can learn more about Kristen and her new book at GirlMeetsChange.com. If you are in the midst of a life change, no matter how big or small, I hope you’ll pick up a copy of Kristen’s book today. She’s lovely, kind, and just the kind of company you want beside you in the midst of those unknown seasons of change.

Why I Read More Than One Book at a Time

 

At the beginning of the year, I made a list of books I hope to read in 2015. For now the stack is too high. But secretly I like it best that way.

Book Stack - Emily P Freeman

Unread books are like kind friendships waiting in the wings. They won’t rush you and they’re willing to move at your speed.

I keep a list of all the books I’ve read so far this year (I write them down in my bullet journal with an actual pen). But I won’t write the book down until I’ve completely finished, even if I only have a few pages left. I always look forward to writing the title and the author’s name on this page – a way to celebrate progress.

Books Read 2015

I am a firm believer in reading more than one book at a time. I might change that habit one day, but for now I like the way the ideas and concepts from different authors hang out together in my soul. They trade ideas, contradict one another, see the world from all different corners.

Sometimes they say things so perfectly in sync with one another I’m sure they must be friends in real life.

That’s a nice reminder for me. As a writer, it’s tempting to think we should always be creating something new, saying something original, dazzling the world with our ingenuity. But as a reader, I enjoy when the books I read repeat the truth. Sure, they may say it a little differently, turn the phrase in a way I’ve not yet heard.

But when old truth is repeated, it gives my soul a place to rest.

I think of my girls when they were toddlers, asking for the same book at bedtime – again, again, again. We find comfort in repetition.

So tell me the truth in your southern accent or through the filter of your time in the war. Show me the truth with your metaphors, the ones you find in your travels or your own front yard. Tell me the lessons you’ve learned and the ones you hope to learn. Weave for me stories of love, of loss, of hope.

Repeat the truth you’ve heard from your mother and your mother’s mother, but say it in your own way. And I’ll read your story and her story and their story, too – one in the morning and one at night.

Book Stack - Emily P Freeman

A stack of books is a pile of promise. Even books we don’t like or don’t agree with teach us something about the truth.

As you make your book lists and add to your piles, it’s always a joy to see a book I’ve written sitting on your bedside table or nestled in a stack on your shelf.

Simply Tuesday by Emily P FreemanMy newest book, Simply Tuesday, releases in 2 weeks. (UPDATE: It’s available now!) If you aren’t yet sure it’s for you, I want to invite you to listen to me read the first chapter to you.

Simply click on this link and you can listen right now.

Or if you prefer, you can download it now and listen later on your walk through the neighborhood or while you finish up the dishes; before you go to sleep or first thing in the morning.

I might talk a little too fast and maybe get carried a way in some spots. But I wanted to record these first 40 pages as a gift to you. May the words be a kind companion for your soul.