“A year seems very long to wait before I see them, but remind them that while we wait we may all work, so that these hard days need not be wasted. I know they will remember all I said to them, that they will be loving children to you, will do their duty faithfully, fight their bosom enemies bravely, and conquer themselves so beautifully that when I come back to them I may be fonder and prouder than ever of my little women.” 

So wrote Mr. March to his beloved wife and daughters in Louisa May Alcott’s timeless classic, Little Women. While I’ve loved this book since childhood, I’ve been reminded this week of just how much I love it through the latest screen adaptation of it. BBC produced it and aired it in the UK over Christmas, and PBS just showed it in two consecutive weekends this month here in the US. I’ve read quite a bit of criticism of it online, but I honestly don’t know what they’re talking about. I don’t think I expected it, but here it is… 

This is the best version of Little Women I’ve seen. 

The production is beautiful in its sweet simplicity, the cast is endearing, and the tone of the writing strikes a lovely balance between serious yet hopeful, realistic yet heartwarming. It has all the charm and beauty that makes the novel so loved, yet also doesn’t shy away from the growing pains and losses that the March sisters endure as they go from girls to women. Both the 1949 version with June Allyson and the 1994 one with Winona Ryder were staples of my childhood, but I was ready for another take on this story when I heard BBC was adapting it. I really applaud the writer Heidi Thomas for a lovely screen translation of this story that adhered to Alcott's novel better than either of those previous versions. A three-hour runtime was a definite advantage at the outset and she made the most of it by including many plot points that had been left out of the other adaptations and by more fully developing the characters. Here are a few categories of aspects about this version that have made it my new favorite.

Kathryn Newton as Amy, Willa Fitzgerald as Meg, Annes Elwy as Beth, and Maya Hawke as Jo in BBC's Little Women
Photo Credit: Masterpiece PBS on Facebook

Development and Timeline Aspects

First, I appreciate that in this version, all four sisters are treated with equal worth in the beginning and then the story gradually becomes more about Jo. This mirrors the trajectory of the book very well. Previous adaptations brought Jo to the forefront at the beginning, as that was likely an easy way to deal with time constraints. But the story belongs to all four of them at the beginning, and then Jo becomes the clear protagonist by the end. I appreciated the screen time that the other sisters were given in this adaptation. 

Next, the order of events is much more accurately captured here, and a few seemingly smaller, yet significant, plot items that were omitted from previous versions were kept in. The Christmas dinner that Mr. Laurence sends over after he hears that they gave their breakfast to the Hummels, Beth's early shyness to go visit Mr. Laurence to play his piano, the snow maiden that Jo and Amy and Laurie build for Beth after her initial illness, and Laurie's conversation with his grandfather after Jo's rejection are some sweet, beautiful bits included this version that made me very happy. I also appreciated that the long separation in the middle of Meg and John Brooke's engagement while John fought in the war for a period was properly acknowledged. And during the sequence that notes this, there’s a positively exquisite rendition of "Land O' the Leal" sung in voiceover that brings ALL the feels. 

I also really enjoyed how much more character development was given to Mr. March than I would have expected since he had very little in the 1949 and the 1994 versions. We see snippets of his time away at war, and he has many conversations with Jo in the latter half of the runtime. I especially loved a scene they have together after Beth's death in which Jo feels paralyzed by grief, and her father tells her she needs to write again. And on that note, the scenes surrounding Beth's death were by far the most poignant interpretation of that storyline I've seen. Jo's seaside trip with Beth was included this time and I was so glad – the scene on the beach where Beth confides that she's slipping away is as raw and emotional as it's believable. Annes Elwy's portrayal of Beth's quiet strength and gentle dignity is beautiful.

Dylan Baker and Maya Hawke as Mr. March and Jo
Photo Credit: Masterpiece PBS on Facebook

Laurie and Amy and Jo

You knew this was coming because it always does. But, significantly, I honestly thought this version captured Laurie's relationships with both Jo and Amy in total respect of the book. Two detailed points:

  • Contrary to popular opinion, I have always agreed with Louisa May Alcott's decision to marry Laurie to Amy. However, the creators of the 1994 movie seemed to agree with many fans and perhaps tried to make their feelings known by giving Jo and Laurie a romantic connection for as long as they could before they just had to follow the book. Winona Ryder and Christian Bale did indeed have sizzling chemistry at times, so Jo's rejection could have understandably appeared off-kilter and confusing for some viewers. What's more, the order of events was changed by placing his proposal before her time in New York. Not so in this new version. Maya Hawke and Jonah Hauer-King have a heartfelt but clearly platonic connection from the get-go, and like the novel, it's obvious that Jo has a maturity beyond her years much earlier than Laurie does. From her perspective, he's always been her brother and when he tries to turn their relationship into something else (which he does multiple times before he actually proposes), she finds it incredibly awkward and unhelpful. And also like the novel, Jo's motive for going to New York is to put space between herself and Laurie in hopes that he’ll realize they're not suited before he does something rash like proposing, rather than trying to get away from him after he proposes.
  • All of that said, I honestly believe that Alcott intended for Laurie and Amy to be together from the beginning. The seeds are planted when he visits her every day during her extended stay with Aunt March while Beth fights her first illness. This version gives more screen time to those interactions. There's an absolutely wonderful scene that's also in the novel in which Amy writes out her "will" and asks Laurie to approve it. In this moment, they begin to share confidences and fears. Their time together in Europe is also well-handled in this adaptation. After the initial catch-up, Laurie is obviously struck by how sophisticated, thoughtful, and intelligent Amy has become, and later, when they've received news of Beth's death, they have a moving scene together where Laurie makes clear to Amy that he won't leave her to grieve alone. It's understood that they spend a lot of time together after this, so their subsequent marriage is the natural progression.
Jonah Hauer-King and Kathryn Newton as Laurie and Amy
Photo Credit: Masterpiece PBS on Facebook

Brilliant Casting Choice 

And finally, I think one of the most noteworthy casting and characterization decisions for this adaptation was in Emily Watson as Marmee and the writing for her. The screen time devoted to her and Emily Watson's performance made me realize how much material related to Marmee has been skipped over in previous adaptations, and it was honestly their loss. This version gives her amazing depth and allows us to see her in a more human and relatable light. She has many more scenes that are directly from the book and that reveal who she is as a person – a deeply kind and generous woman who also sometimes feels the weight of the world on her shoulders. And it’s only natural that she would because at first, she's holding down the home front while her husband is away at war, and later, she experiences many normal pains of motherhood in seeing her children grow up and become independent. Here are a few of the "Marmee scenes" in this version that I loved: 
  • After Amy breaks through the ice, Jo pours out her fears of never being able to govern her tongue or temper to Marmee. Marmee assures Jo that she too has an awful temper and has been working for 40 years to control it.
  • Marmee comes into the bedroom where the girls are getting ready for Meg's wedding, and the four of them strike a pose as they giggle excitedly. Marmee is clearly overcome for a moment at how beautiful and grown-up her girls have become.
  • As Jo becomes concerned over Laurie’s attempts to turn their friendship into romance, she confides to Marmee that she must get away for a while because she knows Laurie will only ever be a brother to her. Marmee assures Jo that her instincts are correct in this area and says that she too has always felt that Jo and Laurie are too much alike to get on as a married couple.
  • When Beth tells Marmee that she's sick and won't recover, Marmee makes a quick exit to cry. Jo follows, and Marmee breaks down in Jo's arms. Cue my own waterworks opening up. 
Emily Watson as Marmee with her girls
Photo Credit: Entertainment Weekly

Are you convinced yet? I certainly hope so. This adaptation was good for my heart and made me feel all the nostalgia for girlhood. And to its credit, it has made me want to pick up the book again before too long. Thank you to all who made this story come alive again so beautifully for me. And thank you again to Little Women itself for reminding me of the beauty of womanhood in all its joys, pains, progressions, and turns. 

Books transport readers into different contexts on many levels, but new places are perhaps one of the most common of these transportations. I can’t remember how many times I’ve been reading a book and thought, “I need to see this place being described.” And I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s experienced the thrill of finally getting to see the setting of a favorite book. But when you’re not able to physically visit the place of your current imaginings, the next best thing is surely a bit of armchair travel that a good book can provide. Here’s a rundown of unlikely travel destinations that you’ll be booking a ticket to in no time once you’ve read these books that bring them to life so beautifully. 

The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows: Guernsey, Channel Islands, UK 
I hadn’t even heard of Guernsey before I picked up this gem of a book. It’s a tiny British territory island in the English Channel that’s closer to the French coast than the English. This post-WWII novel centers on Juliet Ashton, a London writer struggling to find a new book topic. By happenstance, she begins a correspondence with a group of Guernsey inhabitants who formed a book club during the war. Intrigued, Juliet eventually travels to Guernsey to meet them, unprepared for how the eccentric book club members will work their way into her heart. Rolling green, quaint English farms, crashing waves, and the nearby French coast seem almost within touching distance while reading this delightful story. 

Poldark Series by Winston Graham: Cornwall, England 
Ross Poldark and his family and friends are the focus of this 12-book series, but it’s no exaggeration to say that Cornwall is just as significant of a character as Ross himself. Winston Graham narrates spectacularly vivid images of this beautiful, rugged setting and often uses it to foreshadow coming events, reflect his characters’ emotions, or give more color to a character’s rich inner dialogue. I knew little of Cornwall before discovering the Poldark series, but now it’s near the top of my destination bucket list. I now dream at least twice a week of brooding on a cliff in Cornwall with the old tin and copper mines in the background. 

The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley: the highlands of Scotland 
Talk about atmospheric. The drama of this book unfolds in the shadow of a great castle on the northern coast of Scotland. The heroine rents a cottage near the castle ruin as she writes a novel about the Jacobite rebellion and I felt like I was sitting in her window seat. Seriously considering getting my own cottage in Scotland now. And maybe finding a handsome Scottish soldier with a knee-weakening brogue to marry. There are all kinds of possibilities. 

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah: Alaska 
This book is a heartbreaker, as I’ve previously discussed at length. But wow, does the Alaskan setting paint a picture. And not just any Alaska. Remote, moody, rough, majestic Alaska. Ernt and Cora Allbright and their daughter Leni move to this untamed wilderness in search of a new start, totally unprepared for how Alaska will change them. Leni arrives uncertain, but soon feels belonging and connection to the rugged beauty and close-knit community. But her father has wrestled with dark moods and violent behavior since the Vietnam War, and the merciless winters do him no favors. This story is difficult and sometimes upsetting, but it crescendos on an ultimately redemptive note, which is reflective of its backdrop. Alaska can be harsh and unforgiving towards the most lovable characters, but it also represents their home, a place of refuge, and a special part of their identity. 

Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr: Rome, Italy 
Okay yes, Rome is probably already on many travel lists, but this book makes you feel smack dab in the middle of the city, so if you’re not able to go there yet, here’s a nice placeholder! Anthony Doerr is well-known for his fiction (notably, All The Light We Cannot See), but this memoir of his year of living in Rome shows his versatility. In the early 2000s, he won a writing fellowship that would put him up in Rome for a year with his family, provided he would write. So he and his wife Shauna and their six-month-old twin boys moved from Idaho to Rome, and what a year it was! Doerr shares the struggles of new parenthood, writer’s block, and insomnia, all while also trying to find footing in a new country. His vivid descriptions of each season, the cobblestone streets, the famous landmarks like the Sistine Chapel, and Pope John Paul II’s funeral will captivate your imagination and even your tactile senses. 

What are your favorite armchair travel books? I’d love to hear!
Spoiler Alert: Thorough spoilers from The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah are discussed herein

So this is partly a book review and partly a study of sorts on sad books. It begins with Sunday night of this week. I laid awake that night for nearly four hours to finish listening to the audio version of
The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah. It was one of those books that I just knew I HAD to finish because I wouldn’t think of anything else until I did. But, riveting and suspenseful as it was, as one horrific tragedy after another ensued, I sometimes found myself just wishing for the torment to be over. I was heaving ugly, guttural sobs throughout the audio equivalent of the last 50 pages or so, but at least tears of relief and gladness were mixed in by the very end. An end that finally brought some good after so much suffering. 
That said, The Great Alone got me thinking about sad books in general. How sad is too sad? Is a certain balance of happy and sad required? If an author’s going to pack a book full of pain and distress for the characters, is a satisfying ending always necessary in order to justify it all? When does the content become too difficult and too much? Each person obviously has different answers to these questions, and this book has helped me consider mine. I think this may be the first book (at least the first in a long time) that made me think, This might be too much. Please give it a rest, dear author. So, why did I feel that way? Here are my hunches (Disclaimer: these thoughts are limited to sad fiction books – a true story that’s sad but needs to be told is another thing entirely). 

1. I need there to be purpose to the characters’ suffering 
This is probably the most important compensation for me (and I’m guessing for many of us!) when it comes to sad, difficult content in books. There are obviously many books which tackle grim subject matter, but do so because the author wants to explore it sympathetically. I knew this was the case with The Great Alone from the outset, so I was prepared for it to be challenging. The story opens on the Allbright family and their move to the wilds of Alaska, a place that they hope will be a fresh start. Thirteen-year-old Leni’s main concerns at the beginning are surviving “new girl” status at school, and of course whether this “next thing” will really help her parents. Ernt and Cora Allbright have  tried many new things since Ernt returned from the Vietnam War, but Ernt still can’t hold a job, still drinks too much, and still acts out violently. As the family prepares for Alaska, none of them can predict how its terrible beauty will change them, for better and for worse. 

Domestic abuse, undiagnosed mental illness, and traumatized childhoods are central themes throughout this book, and the brutality of these problems is heightened by the rough, unforgiving Alaskan setting. For some, this is already too much. Many will know right off that they can’t handle a story whose plotlines turn on domestic abuse, mental illness, sexual abuse, severe trauma, or any number of other difficult topics. If that’s you, definitely feel no guilt in staying away from such books. In my case, these subjects are certainly hard to read about, but I still appreciate honest discussion of them through a story if it’s done thoughtfully. When I started The Great Alone, I was ready for that much, and I did fine with everything until the drama of the back half really took off. 

Leni’s relationship with Matthew Walker takes up more of center stage in the story’s second half, and their relentless trials saddened and wearied me. After their severely damaged childhoods, I struggled to see the point of the pain that Leni and Matthew continued enduring into adulthood. Their difficult early years developed their characters and drove the plot forward – two traumatized children found friendship and comfort from one another, and their backgrounds made them sure of what they wanted to change in their futures. As they grew older, they began to see how they could build that better future together, and it hurt to see them kept apart for so much longer than expected. 

The great conflict in the second half – Ernt’s climactic violence and Cora’s explosive act of protection when he hurts Leni – was definitely a necessary tie-up, but I can’t help wishing Leni and Matthew hadn’t paid such a heavy price in the process. Their accident while hiding in the mountains and subsequent years-long separation were the most difficult parts for me. I kept asking, Why? Why must they endure this too? Haven’t they been through enough? And I’m still not sure exactly what purpose was served. They had already grown up too quickly because of their terrible childhoods, so I didn’t quite see the need to permanently injure Matthew or to draw out their ability to be together for so long. Not saying I have the perfect alternate ending in mind, but I kept thinking that Kristin Hannah could have surely thought of something! 

2. I need time to process sad storylines 
I've realized that this was perhaps what was most lacking in The Great Alone for me. Sadness, pain, and tragedy were so incessant for the latter part of the book that I felt like I was choking on it. Here’s a summary. 

Cora suffers the most brutal beating from Ernt yet. Matthew and Leni have their terrible mountainside accident that leaves Matthew brain-damaged. Leni discovers she’s pregnant while Matthew lies in a coma. Ernt begins to beat Leni when he finds out about the pregnancy, prompting Cora’s shocking act of protection. She kills him without even flinching, and then she and Leni cover the murder and flee Alaska. From there, years of living under false identities ensue. Cora holds onto terrible guilt for everything, even as she’s dying of lung cancer, which she’s convinced is her punishment. And her last wish is for Leni to turn in her confession to the murder so that Leni can live freely again. But even as Leni contemplates returning to Alaska at the end, there’s no guarantee Matthew will know her or be independently capable. 

Are you tired yet? I know I was. Thank goodness for MJ, Leni and Matthew’s little boy. He was definitely a bright spot that helped me to the end! As this tirade of tragedies progressed, I realized that I either needed more time between them or fewer of them. The mountain of pain I was trying to process for the characters was overwhelming and was growing faster than I could keep up with. Even when things calmed towards the end, I couldn’t stop thinking about how scarred Leni and Matthew would be for the rest of their lives. Leni had grown up under an abusive father and Matthew had endured his parents’ divorce and watched his mother fall through a treacherous frozen lake and die – why add brain damage, witnessing one parent kill the other, and years of isolation so soon after?! 

Granted, Ernt had definitely evolved into a full-out villain by the time Cora shot him, and the necessary irony of Cora and Leni becoming survivors of him was clear. But as I’ve mentioned, Leni and Matthew’s accident on the mountain and their years of separation were the most difficult things for me. When Leni first fell off the trail, I sighed thinking, Here we go again, I guess. Frustration only increased when Leni and Cora left Alaska before Matthew had healed much, and I stubbornly maintained that the accident and its consequences weren’t entirely necessary to the story. I think it would have been an improvement even if these storylines had just been toned down a bit – maybe something with an easier recovery than a brain injury for Matthew? A way for Leni and Cora to stay in Alaska or for Leni and Matthew to reunite earlier? Again, I’m no bestselling author, but surely there was a way! 

3. I need redemption that comes out of the sadness 
The Great Alone accomplished this well overall. Despite the ugly crying, I was also taking deep breaths of relief by the last twenty minutes. Leni returns to her beloved Alaska with her son. The truth about Ernt’s death becomes public and Leni can live as herself again with no more weighty secrets. She and Matthew are reunited. Matthew is permanently weakened and disfigured, but still loves her, loves their son immediately upon meeting him, and can walk and talk again. Their community pays touching tribute to Cora. And by the last page, we know Matthew and Leni have married and had two more children, they’ve made a life for themselves in Alaska, and Leni’s photography is reaching new heights. 

Glory be. I was ready for that happy ending, I assure you. But I persist in my wish that it hadn’t taken so long to get there. I also maintain uncertainty of how necessary Matthew’s lifelong physical impairments were. I was thankful he had regained mobility and independent thought and emotion, but he and Leni would have had plenty to work through already without those added burdens of physical limitations and the years apart. 

The other story arc that didn’t feel totally redeemed to me was that of Cora. She positively broke my heart. She’s an honest portrayal of a woman who can’t find the will to leave an abusive husband, which I understood. But it was gut-wrenching to see her inability to forgive herself at the end. She blamed herself for everything Leni had endured and staunchly believed that her lung cancer was divine payback. I cried so much and wanted to hug her and tell her how loved she was. The brightest note at her end was the hope she had for Leni’s future, but I just wish she had made peace with herself before her death. 
So, what are your thoughts on sad or heartbreaking books, or books that address difficult subjects? Do you need a balance of some sort? When do you know it’s too much? I’d love to hear your thoughts in comments. And if you’ve read The Great Alone, I’d love to hear other perspectives on it!

Hello and happy 2018 again to all of you, dear readers! I hope the first few weeks of it have been promising and encouraging and as usual, full of good books :) It’s that time again for me to share my tops reads of the past year. It was a great reading year in 2017 with some strong standouts. I read a total of 36 books, plus I reread the following favorites (many of them via audiobook) – Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, and The Black Moon by Winston Graham (new in 2017 but read it twice). It was a little tempting to be dissatisfied with this since I read 50 books in 2016, but at its foundation, reading is about quality, not quantity, and 2017 certainly delivered that. So with that, here are my top titles from 2017, in no particular order. 

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi 
This was the very first book I read in 2017, and even then, I was confident it would remain a favorite. And so it did! Paul Kalanithi wrote this personal memoir during what he knew were the final months of his life, and he reflects on deep questions of life, death, and the human search for meaning with thoughtful poignancy. He talks about his time as a young medical student wondering what makes a meaningful life, his lifelong love for writing and poetry, his decision to pursue neurosurgery, his fascination with the brain’s place in man’s search for identity, and his own sudden transition from doctor to patient. Kalanithi was a brilliant writer and examined difficult life questions through this book as he unflinchingly faced his own mortality. It is deeply moving to read and impossible to forget. Tears were pouring down my face as I read the last ten or so pages and I know I’ll be revisiting them.

Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark T. Sullivan 
This was a jewel find of 2017, plus it has a great title, doesn’t it? Sullivan’s writing is cinematic and gripping and it will suck you in with this true story of an Italian teenage boy who becomes involved in Italy’s resistance movement during WWII. The story opens in the early 1940s on Pino, our hero, who really just wants a normal life. But the war soon necessitates that he move away from his family to a boys’ school run by a kindly Catholic priest. It’s through this school that he soon starts helping Jews escape over the Alps and into Switzerland, and later on, he becomes the personal chauffeur to one of Hitler’s chief executives by happenstance. From here, he has the chance to spy within Nazi high command. I’m so glad this story has now been written, for Pino was a true hero. You’ll laugh, cry, and tremble with suspense as you read his story.

The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman
And while we’re on the subject of WWII hero stories, here’s another one that made my favorites in 2017. You may be familiar with the film version of The Zookeeper’s Wife that came out last year, but as usual, I also recommend the book :) The heroes of this one were Jan and Antonina Zabinski, and their work with the resistance in Poland was truly remarkable. Their beautiful Warsaw Zoo was bombed early during the war, but throughout the rest of the war years, they worked to evacuate Jews and others at high risk. They hid people in their house and throughout the zoo, brought food and medical supplies to Jews trapped within the Warsaw Ghetto, and helped many more escape the country. It’s impossible to calculate the impact the Zabinskis had and I’m so glad to know their story. After I read the book, I had the honor of visiting the Holocaust Museum and seeing their names listed on a wall that honored those who helped Jews during WWII. Entirely fitting.

The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Butterfield

This was apparently the year of the biography and memoir, because this memoir was another 2017 favorite. In this one, Rosaria Butterfield tells her personal journey of coming to the Christian faith. The short version is that it was not easy. In fact, it was marked by pain, grief, disappointment, and loss. Heavy losses. Loss of friends, career, home, respect, and much more. She describes her conversion as a train wreck in which she lost everything but the dog. But every page of this incredible account ensures the reader that it has been worth it. I’m so thankful for Rosaria and her gut-wrenching honesty. It challenges and edifies well.

How Harry Cast His Spell by John Granger

Since I’m still relatively new to the Harry Potter books, I’ve been eager to learn all I can about Harry’s world and study the fun and hidden meanings in J.K. Rowling’s series. Her imagination blew me away continually as I read the books for the first time almost two years ago, and this book by John Granger gives even more insight into just how brilliant she was in constructing Harry’s story. Granger is humorous, engaging, and has more Potter mania in his little finger than the biggest superfan the internet could find. He carefully analyzes the series’ place in the English literary tradition, the story’s roots in alchemy, the spiritual keys in each book, the deep symbolism, the meanings of names, and so much more. The details he has pulled out and made accessible through this book will make Potter fans marvel afresh at the timeless, universal nature of Harry’s adventure. I know it made me love the series that much more.

The Black Moon by Winston Graham 
Yes, I’m still working through the Poldark series and I’ve now read up through book 7! However, book 5, The Black Moon, certainly won a special place in my heart. It has all the usual for Poldark – mining, feuds, politics, marriages, and more – but after the ringer of Warleggan, The Black Moon is a welcome respite for Ross and Demelza. They joke, laugh, tease, and raise their children happily together, and what a joy it is to watch. But it wouldn’t be Poldark without drama, and it’s found in the introduction of star-crossed lovers Drake Carne and Morwenna Chynoweth. These two, y’all. They’re my new favorites and their story is one of suspense, heartbreak, and the most enduring and pure love I’ve seen in a long time. Also notable to this volume is the prison break in France to free Dr. Dwight Enys. The order of events is changed a bit in the TV series, so if that’s your only exposure, please pick up the books! The rescue attempt and the subsequent homecoming occur toward the end of The Black Moon, and unlike the show, said homecoming is an extremely happy event. I read this one twice within 2017 and am working through rereading books 6 and 7 until season 4 airs later this year! Here’s to ever more Poldark, you guys. 

So, there are my 2017 favorites – what were yours? And what are you reading now? I’d love to hear what you’ve read in the last year and any recommendations you might have for me in 2018! Here’s the full list of 2017 titles I read and I can’t wait to hear all about your reading in the comments :)

My 2017 Reads:
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
A Jane Austen Education by William Deresiewicz
Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica Day George
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
Stepping Out in Faith: Former Catholics Share Their Stories  edited by Mark Gilbert
The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness by Timothy Keller
Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
The Black Moon by Winston Graham
The Four Swans by Winston Graham
The Secret Wife by Gill Paul
Victoria by Daisy Goodwin
84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
Dead Wake by Erik Larson
The Zookeeper's Wife by Diane Ackerman
The Angry Tide by Winston Graham
Journey from Skioria by Kandi J. Wyatt
In Farleigh Field by Rhys Bowen
How Harry Cast His Spell by John Granger
Humility by C.J. Mahaney
Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
Reading People by Anne Bogel
Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis
The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Butterfield
The Madwoman Upstairs by Catherine Lowell
Sweetbriar Cottage by Denise Hunter
And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
Perelandra by C.S. Lewis
Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark T. Sullivan
The Beat on Ruby Street by Jenna Zark
Eight Women of Faith by Michael A.G. Haykin
The Ladies of Ivy Cottage by Julie Klassen
The Pleasures of God by John Piper
The Gospel at Work by Sebastian Traeger and Greg Gilbert 
Happy New Year, dear readers! Today I want to share an exercise that I tried last week on a whim, but that also turned out to be encouraging and calming for me. I’ve joined the bullet journaling bandwagon in the last year, and in an effort to find something to fill up an extra page in my said bullet journal, I made it into a reflection page for 2017. I simply titled it “2017: A Look Back,” as I’ve titled this post, and wrote down a number of things that happened in my life throughout 2017. As I scribbled away, the events and happenings that spilled onto the page began to remind me not only of the many good things that came my way in 2017, but also became markers of God’s continued faithfulness and provision in my life. Here’s my list below, and I hope it helps you reflect in similar ways. Happy 2018! 

2017: A Look Back 

• Joined Capitol Hill Baptist Church 
• Started working full-time in DC 
• Worked with people I love 
• Moved twice 
• Got to be a bridesmaid twice 
• Read 36 books (plus rereading the Harry Potter series, Anne of Green Gables, Pride and Prejudice, and The Black Moon via audiobook) 
• Visited Oklahoma for the first time 
• Visited the White House at Christmas time 
• Got to go to the top of the Capitol dome 
• Saw John Crist live 
• Saw Keith and Kristyn Getty in concert for the third time 
• Met Ben Shapiro 
Won an Aidan Turner-signed coloring book 
• Saw The Lion King Broadway show 
• Participated in a Christmas book exchange 
• Sang in the church’s Christmas choir 
• Saw more snow in a year than I’d seen in all previous years combined (that I recall) 
• Started collecting literary prints and d├ęcor in earnest 
• Fell in love with The Crown and Victoria 
• Went on my own health insurance (!) 
• Got two people interested in Poldark 
• Finally saw the live action Beauty and the Beast come to fruition (seriously, I'd been following the process for over two years so that was a DEAL! #fangirl)

While we're at it, here are the best nine pictures I took in 2017 according to the internet masses. Follow me on Instagram @elizabeth_8212.