Book Review: Rocket Men by Robert Kurson


Rocket Men: The Daring Odyssey of Apollo 8 and the Astronauts Who Made Man’s First Journey to the Moon  by Robert Kurson

Ever since The Optometrist and I were children, we’ve been fascinated with NASA and space travel. I still remember being in Kindergarten when the Challenger exploded and how sad that made me and my educator parents who were excited teacher Christa McAuliffe was going into space.

While a lot of people remember this tragedy and maybe that of the launchpad fire taking the lives of the crew of Apollo 1, many, myself included, may not know much about the great strides made to keep America in the space race during the Cold War with the goal of beating Russia to the Moon.

The Apollo 8 mission, which took place over Christmas 50 years ago, gives an inside look at the beginnings of NASA, the first launch of the Saturn V rocket, the famous “Earthrise” photograph taken during the flight, and the groundbreaking journey of astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell (Tom Hanks’ portrayal in Apollo 13), and Bill Anders.

This historical space account was extremely readable narrative non-fiction, engagingly paced, and a terrific read aloud we enjoyed discussing together.

My thanks to Penguin Random House for the print ARC!


My Word for 2019


I’ve come to realize my brain thinks in words, so it’s been such a delight the past few years to have the Holy Spirit impress a word, or theme, upon my heart for the coming year. For a very long time a recurring theme was BRAVE and last year it was LEAN IN (yes, I know, that’s two words) and this year I hope to be on the lookout for SMALL MERCIES.  Isn’t that Ralph Waldo Emerson quotation above such a humble way of looking at the world?

I envision SMALL MERCIES as…

  • taking time to appreciate unique, everyday moments
  • paying attention to what might usually be overlooked
  • being grateful for answers to prayer
  • diligently seeking the good even when times are difficult

Who knows what the next 12 months have in store, but I am armed with my divine charge to take notice of what’s going on around me and look forward to the growth this brings about in my life.

Do you have a word for 2019? If so, please feel free to share in the comments below!

Read: 10 Favorite Books (of 100!) Read in 2018

For the first time ever, I’ve read 100 books in a year! This honestly wasn’t my plan at the start of 2018, but as December began and I saw how close I was to this number, I knew I could attain this goal and I have!

Here’s the break down of my yearly reading statistics, along with my Top 10 books read.

Home library: 19
Public library: 48 (includes print, e-books, & audio)
Academic library: 10
InterLibrary Loan: 8
E-books: 23 (includes ones from the public library and digital ARCs)
Audio books: 25

Uncommon Type: Some Stories by Tom Hanks (February)

Two Across by Jeff Bartsch (February)

Ruth Reichl (all of her books read throughout the Spring)

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah (June)

Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers by Deborah Heiligman (June)

Kind is the New Classy by Candace Cameron Bure (July)

Educated by Tara Westover (September)

I’d Rather be Reading by Anne Bogel (October)

The Good Neighbor by Maxwell King (October)

Make Something Good Today by Erin & Ben Napier (December)


This reflective list propels me into all that awaits for my reading journey in 2019. On my short list of books to-be-read in January (or soon in the new year) are:

  • Becoming by Michelle Obama
  • Dear Ally: How Do You Write a Book? by Ally Carter
  • The Working Poor by David K. Shipler
  • Beartown by Frederik Backman
  • Less by Andrew Sean Greer
  • Shoe Dog by Phil Knight
  • The Black Echo by Michael Connelly (Harry Bosch series)
  • A Great Reckoning by Louise Penny

Do you have any recommendations to add to my new year’s reading list? And how about you? What books await you in 2019?

Read: December 2018


Christmas at Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan

When the month began I thought I would save this until the week of Christmas to read this sweet story that revisits now engaged Polly and Huckle, Neil the puffin, and a pregnant Kerensa in the cozy hamlet of Mount Polbearne. But this was the one Christmas book I was most excited about reading, so why not begin with it?! It kept me company during a weekend conference when traveling with The Optometrist and was a heartwarming way to begin the Christmas season.

Read via: home library


Catching Christmas by Terri Blackstock

In this inspirational Christmas fiction story we meet cab driver and former chef Finn and up-and-coming lawyer Sydney. Their lives are brought together by Sydney’s ailing grandmother Callie when Finn becomes her unintended chauffeur. Woven throughout are themes of regret, second chances, answered prayers, sorrow, and finding love during unexpected times.

I received a complimentary (digital ARC) copy of this book from Thomas Nelson through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.


Because of Bethlehem by Max Lucado

A timely, devotional look at how the birth of Christ is at the heart of Christmas. Lucado’s quote, “Look for light this Christmas season…a reminder that the light of Christ is always with me” was particularly powerful, as was a quotation from Eugene H. Peterson’s A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, how “hope…means a confident, alert expectation that God will do what he said he will do. It is imagination put in the harness of faith.”

Read via: public library audio Overdrive


A Stubborn Sweetness and Other Stories for the Christmas Season by Katherine Paterson 

This sweet collection of Christmas short stories were of varied length, depicted characters young and old, rich and poor, clergy and everyday folk, stories set in America and around the world. A pleasant surprise came in reading the introduction with the discovery that Paterson’s husband has been a minister and he often read her stories aloud from the pulpit during advent.

My thanks to Edelweiss for access to the digital ARC.


Make Something Good Today by Erin & Ben Napier

Although I’ve only seen a few episodes of Home Town on HGTV, I immediately took a shine to Erin and Ben Napier. Therefore, when I saw they had written a memoir about their lives, marriage, relationship with Christ, and leap of faith into stepping away from “predictable” jobs and investing their lives and careers into art and restoration of their hometown of Laurel, Mississippi, I was all in.

Read via academic library InterLibrary Loan


The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser

This was a charming middle grade story about a family of five children in Harlem who must band together to convince their grumpy upstairs neighbor and landlord to allow them to continue to live in their shared brownstone. It included delightful themes of family togetherness at Christmastime and the power of kindness and community.

Read via: public library Overdrive


Christmas in Plains: Memories by Jimmy Carter

Written and narrated by President Jimmy Carter, this was a wholesome look at the Christmas traditions of this remarkable man and his family in Plains, Georgia, and was a gentle way to end my year of reading.

Read via: Hoopla audio

How have you wrapped up your year in reading? What are you excited to read in 2019?

Lean In: My 2018 word in action

Lean in

About a year ago I felt promptings from the Holy Spirit that throughout 2018 I should look for ways to lean in. defines lean as “to incline” or “to apply pressure to.”

One huge way I’ve done this is to begin journaling daily, a revitalized practice from years past, in which I’ve specifically documented ways I’ve sought to incline myself toward a more thoughtful practice. A few highlights include:

  • Not being afraid to try new online technology tools.
  • Expanding my horizons and participating in multicultural events on campus.
  • Taking time to engage with students about coursework and faith intertwined.
  • Noticing how my heart stirs during author visits and readings of their works in our library and/or on campus.
  • Offering off the clock time to stay late during finals week to answer patron questions and assist our student workers.
  • Knowing tasks needed to be done and asking for help to make it happen.
  • Being intentional about sending cards or calling friends and family members on their birthday (the later is a hard thing for me because I do not like talking on the phone, nor have I ever).
  • Not being afraid to spend time doing hard things – like attending a going away party for friends.

Have you had a word for 2018? If so, how have you seen it bear fruit in your life? Are you, like me, already thinking ahead to a word for 2019?

100 e-books read on my Kindle!

So, confession, I’m a bit of a luddite. I was a very late adopter to transitioning to digital, handheld technology, but in March 2013 The Optometrist convinced me that I would benefit from a Kindle and he was 100% correct in this assumption. Side note: the Kindle  came into my life around six months before I bought an iPhone – how’s that for priorities!

At the time The Optometrist had a regular Kindle, but he thought I would benefit from a Kindle Paperwhite, and right he was. Once I discovered I had access to digital, pre-publication advanced reader copies (ARCs) as a librarian through NetGalley and Edelweiss, as well as Overdrive from my local public library, I knew I would use it often and I most certainly have. Therefore, while I buy e-books from Amazon on occasion, most of what I read are complements of a publisher (blogged about here), borrowed from the library, or free/in the public domain.

10 few take-aways after reading 100 books on my Kindle:

  • Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson, checked out through Overdrive, was the first e-book I read on my Paperwhite.
  • As you can see, I keep the organization of my books simple into three folders:
    • Fin – those I’ve finished
    • Free to Read – ARCs
    • More About Jesus – writings about the life of faith.
      Books I’ve bought or haven’t yet read fill out the other pages on the device.
  • I’ve come to rely on the Kindle search feature so heavily I’ve caught myself wanting to press and hold a word in a print book to see where else it’s mentioned in the text. This is a handy alternative to flipping back in a traditional book and trying to remember where a significant word was featured.
  • Highlighting passages and flagging pages is a convenient way to return to vocabulary words I don’t know or a memorable quote I want to revisit.
  • The backlight is ideal for bedtime reading, keeping the brightness in check as I wake up early or am about to fall asleep.
  • With that in mind, I tend to reach for it more in the fall/winter when it’s darker outside and I don’t want to have on a light in our bedroom to disturb The Optometrist. Spring and summer are when I find myself reading more paperback and hardback books.
  • I almost always keep the progress bar turned off so I’m not in competition with myself to see how much farther or faster I need to read before finishing a book.
  • Every now and then a hard reboot of the device is in order, but I’ve never lost any of my books/files in this process.
  • The Send to Kindle app has been helpful in uploading PDF files to read on my Kindle at different times.
  • (Sneaky tip from a fellow librarian) If you turn on airplane mode, the Kindle operates offline and you’re able to finish the last few pages of a library book before turning back on the wifi and the book being auto-returned on its due date.

Do you have an e-reader on which you enjoy reading? If you have any tips for a Kindle Paperwhite reader, please share in the comments below!

Read: November 2018


Remember God by Annie F. Downs

Infused with Annie’s wit and candor, she takes readers on a very personal journey to share how faithful God has been in everyday moments of her life. Although I’m in a different life stage than she, the truths of seeing God at work were broadly applicable and encouraging.

Read via: Hoopla audio


The Nature of the Beast by Louise Penny

Every few months I have Three Pines withdrawls, so, once again, I returned back to literary friends in this 11th installment. Two murders have occurred around Three Pines (are they interconnected?) and even though Chief Inspector Gamache is officially retired, he’s still on the case as a mentor and consultant to his protegees. At the end, even though the story is resolved, I see hints of a continuing story line with one bad-guy character and have a feeling the Chief Inspector may not stay retired for much longer. But I’ll have to keep reading to find out!

Read via: public library


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

There are some Christian authors who are sweet and others who are spicy and I love them all. But Jen Hatmaker is definitely in the snarky/spicy category and, boy, does she tell it like it is!

We don’t have to be saviors and critics for each other. We’re probably better as loved people beside one another. We aren’t good gods, but we can be good humans. 

Amen, preach it, spicy sister. While this is my first experience reading anything by Jen, it ended up not being the last (keep reading)!

Read via: Hoopla audio


The Red Bandanna by Tom Rinaldi

For the second time I am serving on our university’s common read committee, which I last did in October 2016. As we evaluate books for what next year’s Freshmen class will read together, this was on our short list, previously unknown to me.

This was such a heart-wrenching but inspiring read about the life of Welles Crowther, a dynamic young man who gave his life to help others find their way to safety during the attacks on the World Trade Center on 9/11. (You just might want to have a red bandanna handy as you read it.)

Read via: academic library InterLibrary Loan


The Wave by Todd Strasser

This was another common read contender, also previously unknown to me. At a brief 138 pages, this is a dramatized account of what happened in 1969 when a high school history teacher experimented with how he could better teach his students the concept of the Nazi’s oppression of the Jews in World War II. While the vocabulary is more suited for junior high or high school students, the reminders of thinking for yourself and not being swayed by peer pressure are reminders worth revisiting at any point in history.

Read via: borrowed from a colleague


Tony’s Wife by Adriana Trigiani

I’ve long been a fan of Italian-American author Adriana Trigiani, and was excited to get my hands on an ARC of her newest sweeping saga. The full review of Tony’s Wife is available here.

My thanks to Edelweiss for access to the digital ARC.


One Day in December by Josie Silver

I’ve begun my Christmas reading! This was on my short-list of Christmas books I have been excited to read, about which I recently wrote here.

My initial impression about the book was that it was going to be rather formulaic: memorable meet-cute, separation, longing, reunion. However, it had a bit more complexity than that, with deeper looks at missed opportunities, sacrifices for friendships, living the life you have, and second chances. While heavily laced with profanity, the characters were likable and the plot memorable.

My thanks to NetGalley for access to the digital ARC.


Of Mess and Moxie by Jen Hatmaker

This has literally been a month filled with Jen Hatmaker in my ears. Once I finished For the Love, and saw that Of Mess and Moxie was also available through my library’s Hoopla offerings, I dove right into this newest of her essay collections. Like For the Love, this was filled with laugh-out-loud accounts of her real-life as a momma of five, and tender moments where she “fan girls” about her people.

Read via: Hoopla audio


Wishtree by Katherine Applegate

This middle-grade story has been on my TBR list for a long time and found it just as charming as I anticipated. Red, a red oak tree, has stood guard over a neighborhood for generations and has stories to tell about the wishes people have left on Red’s branches, if one only takes the time to listen.

What a lovely story this is, filled with beautiful illustrations and timely lessons about kindness, diversity, and inclusion.

Read via: academic library youth collection

Christmas is around the corner and I’m excited about more holiday-themed books and a break in which to read them! How about you?