Best Books of 2020

I’m not alone in noticing that my reading in 2020 was very different from years past. A few notable changes were: integrating audio books and middle grade fiction into my reading, as well as diving into mystery and fantasy series. There were few non-fiction books, because I slogged through them (just due to not being able to concentrate – not the content!). As usual, my top reads were literary fiction, focused on families especially, and dealing with a number of heavy issues.

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

I’m not “ashamed” of anything in my reading life, except for maybe having gotten two degrees in English literature without having read any Russian literature. I have tried! Oh, I have tried! Knowing that I have almost no foundation in Russian lit, I thought this book wouldn’t be for me. But during the pandemic, when I couldn’t get any new books, I picked this book up off my bookshelf and I was blown away. It’s supposed to be a slow read, but I couldn’t put it down.

Rostov is sentenced to house arrest in the attic of the Metropol hotel in Moscow in 1922. That’s it! That’s our story. He lives there for decades, with all the Russian history unfolding outside the doors. I didn’t expect to fall in love with Rostov and this story. But this might very well be my favorite book of 2020.

“After all, what can a first impression tell us about someone we’ve just met for a minute in the lobby of a hotel? For that matter, what can a first impression tell us about anyone? Why, no more than a chord can tell us about Beethoven, or a brushstroke about Botticelli. By their very nature, human beings are so capricious, so complex, so delightfully contradictory, that they deserve not only our consideration, but our reconsideration—and our unwavering determination to withhold our opinion until we have engaged with them in every possible setting at every possible hour.”

Amor Towles

Sea Wife by Amity Gaige

I loved the character of Juliet so much. She was written so perfectly, flaws and struggles, musings and conversations with other moms. Struggling to write, struggling to parent, struggling to adapt in suburbia. She wrote motherhood so well.
I saw some complaints about the politics being heavy-handed in the novel and I didn’t find that to be true. I actually loved reading about a couple where one partner becomes increasingly conservative, and how that affects the marriage. It’s something I’ve wondered about, how it would be hard to find yourself in a marriage where you disagree so profoundly on a deep issue. I liked how we saw the marriage evolve, and this was just one part of it.
Unfortunately this novel is really being advertised as “survival at sea” and I think that’s not really fair. It’s a novel about a marriage and they happen to be at sea for a good part of it. Author Amity Gaige explains, “I started with the notion that the book would be a kind of a duet, a call and response—a lament of a wife, and the slightly echoey rebuttal of her husband.” I love how she explained it. 

“But I am a mother. Gradually, I just gave them all away, all my spaces, one by one, down to the very last closet.”

Amity Gaige

Florence Adler Swims Forever by Rachel Beanland

It’s 1934 and we’re in Atlantic City. Esther and Joseph Adler rent out their house and live in the apartment above their bakery for the summer. Their daughter Fannie is pregnant and in the hospital on bed-rest for the remainder of her pregnancy. Fannie’s daughter Gussie is living wth them, along with Anna, who emigrated from Nazi Germany. Florence is planning to spend the summer training to cross the English Channel, when tragedy hits.

This book has some trigger warnings, of course. But it’s a fascinating and beautifully done portrait of a Jewish family.

Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano

I thought this might be too heavy or emotional to read in the first few weeks of the shutdown, but my library had a copy in the Rapid Reads section, so I checked it out just before it closed. I finished the book in 2 days.
It was not an emotionally manipulative book. It was a tender exploration of grief and how the loss of his parents and brother affected 12 year old Edward. They are on a plane that crashed while traveling from New York to Los Angeles. How it crashes, we don’t find out until later in the story. But we learn that Edward is the sole survivor.
The story flip-flopped between the day of the accident and after the accident, over a few years. I loved the story in the air, as the reader learns about different people on the flight. Well-developed characters, who are all minor, but nevertheless, fascinating. The characters in the “after” chapters, are also wonderful. Well-developed, interesting, and very real.

“Humans need community, for our emotional health. We need connection, a sense of belonging. We are not built to thrive in isolation.”

Ann Napolitano

Oona Out of Order by Margarita Montimore

This was such a creative, inventive time-travel story. It begins in 1982 and Oona is about to turn 19. The coming year brings with it some big decisions – go to London to study or stay in New York with her boyfriend and pursue music? Except when she wakes up on January 1, she’s 51 years old. She discovers that every year she’ll jump to another age. I was sad to see it end because it was just a lot of fun! Plus, the pop-culture references are fantastic.

“There would be bad days, there always would. But she’d collect these good days, each one illuminated, and string them together until they glowed brightly in her memory like Christmas lights in a mirrored room.”

Margarita Montimore

Other Notable Favorite Books from 2020:

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek – A Review

“What I wanted most was to be okay as a Blue. I never understood why other people thought my color, any color, needed fixing.”

― Kim Michele Richardson, The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek

I believe I initially found out about this book because of the controversy over Jojo Moyes potentially taking aspects of this book and using them in her book, The Giver of Stars. A friend even recommended The Giver of Stars to me. I decided I would first read The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek and then see if I wanted to read Jojo Moyes book. After reading both books, I would decide for myself what I thought about the controversy.

Our protagonist is Cussy Mary Carter, who has a rare genetic condition that makes her skin appear blue (based on the real-life Blue People of Kentucky). Cussy lives with her coal-mining father and works as a packhorse librarian in Appalachia, delivering books by horseback to people in her community. Because of her blue skin, she and her father (believed to be the only two blue people left, which we find to not be true) are outcasts and face prejudice, especially by the reverend.

What I enjoyed about this book was learning about the blue people of Kentucky. The prejudice that Cussy faced, and real blue people would have faced, was fascinating to consider. Richardson included a character named Queenie, a black woman who was also a packhorse librarian, and it showed the reader how Cussy was treated in comparison to a black woman, who of course was discriminated against. I liked how Queenie was bright and talented, and even secured herself a librarian position in Philadelphia. Her letters to Cussy later in the novel, show how she was able to get out of an unhealthy situation and better her life – and books were a crucial aspect of that.

Another difficult aspect of the book was about poverty. The setting is 1930s in Kentucky – so it’s no surprise that poverty is a big issue! I really enjoyed seeing the minor characters in this book and how they struggled with poverty, food scarcity, and lack of education. All difficult topics to read about, but well-done.

Character-driven is certainly a way to describe The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek. And by character-driven, I also mean “slow.” I have gone back and forth about this book. There were things I liked about it, of course – ultimately, I rated it 3.5 stars, but I also felt sort of… bored. I gave it 3.5 stars because it’s a book I keep thinking about after being done with it for weeks. I like being challenged by books, so I’m glad I pushed through with it, even though I wasn’t amazed by it.

Even though it felt slow, it was a good read, and I would recommend it. I started this post by talking about Jojo Moyes book, The Giver of Stars. Even though I enjoyed this book, and I thought that I would read The Giver of Stars so that I could compare the two, after finishing it, I’m not at all interested it giving it a try. I thought Richardson did a good job – good enough that I don’t think I need to read another book that is similar. Even though Moyes’ books are fast reads for me, I think I might actually be bored with it. What I loved about The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek was learning about a part of history I didn’t know anything about before. And so, it kind of seems like, mission accomplished. I don’t need another book to learn more about the subject.

Do you have a book that you loved for one reason but also found yourself bored or frustrated by? Have you read either The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek or The Giver of Stars? I’d love to hear about your experience with either or both of these books!

Non-Fiction Reading Goals and Thoughts

One genre that I want to enjoy but have trouble with, is Christian non-fiction. It often feels like Christian self-help. Or more like self-help without any questionable language in it.
It’s hard for me to find my sweet spot in this genre because people are in very different stages in their faith and in their personal development. We are all looking for different things in our non-fiction books. Some are looking for practical tips. Some are looking for encouragement. Some may want conviction. Some may want to hear from the experience of someone who is very different than them.
First, I need to identify what I am looking to gain from spiritual non-fiction books. I want to learn and have that a-ha! moment. I want to be encouraged. I have two recent examples of books that were exactly what I needed at the right time.
Last year I read Introverted Mom by Jamie Martin and I felt like someone was holding my hand as I read. I felt understood. But I also was given some ideas to implement. I walked away from it encouraged in who I was and how God made me unique. Quiet, wanting/needing alone time and learning how to find that in a home of little kids, sensitive – and uniquely made! More books like this please!

“When suffering is sharp and profound, I expect and believe that God will meet me in its midst. But in the struggles of my average day I somehow feel I have a right to be annoyed.”

Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren

Another book I read that deeply encouraged me was Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren. Liturgy is not something I’m very interested in. That said, I think when someone is struggling in a season, liturgy can be incredibly comforting. I can’t pinpoint what was difficult about the season. It was probably just having so many little people in my house that were demanding things of me around the clock. (Remember, Introverted Mom really encouraged me in this same season.) Or maybe it was a chronic health ailment I was dealing with. Anyway, Liturgy of the Ordinary was so beautiful and profound to me, it was one of those books I couldn’t even write a review of it on Goodreads. Five stars, for sure. But why? Learning to worship God in the most mundane activities was exactly the lesson I needed to hear. Because all I could do was worship God in the small moments. 

“Everyone wants a revolution. No one wants to do the dishes.” 

Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren

Besides these two books, I have read many duds. I have read some books that were just ok. Maybe I learned a thing or two. Or I thought, “I’m not sure if I got anything out of it, but I liked it.” I don’t want to use up my time with duds. Or with books that frustrate me! I received some recommendations for several books and bumped them to the top of my reading list. I’d love to hear if you’ve read them or have heard of them.

In His Image is a book that I am reading with a group of women. Jen Wilkin writes about the attributes of God and this particular book is about the communicable gifts – the ones that God possesses perfectly but that I can possess too. These are gifts like wisdom, justice and mercy. The other category, incommunicable gifts, are ones like omniscience and omnipotence, that only God can possess. I like this one because I’ve already learned something: the definition of communicable/incommunicable gifts and I love learning about the attributes of God. It’s like Tozer’s Attributes of God, but easier to read and maybe some more application. 

I’ve owned The Emotionally Healthy Woman by Geri Scazzero for two years at the encouragement of a dear friend. But I’ve never worked my way through it. I suspect it’s because it may require some heart-work that I don’t particularly want to do. (But need to do.) More recently, someone who was recommending some “soul care” practices insisted that everyone needs to read this book, men and women. Alright already! Two strong recommendations from trusted sources is enough to get me to give it another try.

I’ve included Prayer by Tim Keller because while I’m not a Keller fangirl, I do like what I have read by him. More recently, I was gifted a devotion of his psalms and I love how he writes the prayers at the end of each day. They are honest and thoughtful. They are eloquent because he’s a fantastic writer. But there is a rawness to them that I appreciate and made me want to check out what he has to say about prayer.

The last book on the docket in this category is Sacred Rhythms by Ruth Haley Barton. This book is about spiritual disciplines. I’ve read Richard Foster’s book on Spiritual Disciplines, but many years ago! I’m interested to see how this book differs. This book also comes recommended to me.

What I Read in April

April feels like ages ago, but I’ve finally finished collecting my thoughts on some of my recent reads. I zipped through many of the following books and would recommend just about all of them for summer reads! If you’re putting books on your library’s “hold” list for upcoming vacations, I would especially encourage you to add “Young Jane Young” and “The Stars are Fire,” my two favorite books of April. They may also end up on my top books of the year!

Miller’s Valley by Anna Quindlen

I don’t know what to say about this book! It’s a coming of age story of Mimi Miller, a bright young woman growing up in a small farming town in Pennsylvania. I’m captivated by Quindlen’s writing and I’m still not sure why. This story was very enjoyable.




Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

I’m not really proud that I flew through this book and enjoyed it as much as I did. I waited for months on the library’s wait list for the first in the series though. And I can understand the buzz! It’s such a fun read, perfect for the summer. And as a side note, it’s great to see Asians represented in literature. This book has been turned into a movie that will come out in Summer 2018 and features an all-Asian cast, which is very exciting!


China Rich Girlfriend (Crazy Rich Asians, #2) by Kevin Kwan &

Rich People Problems (Crazy Rich Asians #3) by Kevin Kwan

The entire series was fun, light, and great as a break between some heavier literature. 


Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer

I picked up this book (and the following two books in the trilogy) for my husband at his request. They’re fairly short, but good grief, this book got off to a slow start! I found myself constantly interrupted when reading it, but I think the bigger issue was that I just couldn’t get into it. I strongly disliked the narrator’s voice. There were a couple of things from the plot that interested me but I’m unsure if I’ll finish the series. Someone at my library requested Book #2 so I need to return it before I can pick the rest of the series back up. Gene wants to see the movie and I’m a big proponent of reading the book first, so I probably will relent even though I’m not super excited about it.


Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley

Eh. It was cute but also a little weird. It was compared to Life of Pi, which is such an amazing book, that I think my expectations were much too high. “Lily” and is Ted’s twelve year old dog and “The Octopus” is the cancerous tumor on Lily’s head. I did enjoy Ted’s journey as he realized how lonely he had become and he’s able to once again love again. But, there are a lot of fantasy elements in this book, and that’s not something I enjoy. I found myself saying “this isn’t happening” over and over, as I tried to figure out which events were real and which were imagined. I think if you are a dog person, you will probably enjoy this book, but since I’m not, I didn’t connect emotionally with the story very much.


The Stars Are Fire by Anita Shreve

I finished this book in a day. A day when I also washed, dried and folded five loads of laundry. And exercised. And cooked. Just so you know, I didn’t shirk my duties to stay glued to this book! It was suspenseful but not in a “thriller” sort of way, more in a human interest kind of way. Shreve’s writing was terse and simple, my favorite style. I loved the setting: post WWII in Maine and the characters, who I was rooting for the whole way through. Plot-wise: we follow a young housewife who is stuck in a less-than-thrilling marriage as a fire ravages her town, affects her family dramatically, and alters the course of her life.


Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin

Zevin also wrote The Storied Life of AJ Fikry  which I read years ago and was utterly enraptured by. Seriously, such an incredible novel – especially for anyone who loves books! As usual, because of my high expectations I was nervous to read another book by Zevin, but again, I was blown away. She writes about a congressional intern who has an affair with her boss. She completely uproots her life and starts over but her past catches up to her, of course. It’s a light read but tackles a tough subject. I definitely recommend this one!


Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake by Anna Quindlen

I wanted to read a non-fiction book by Quindlen since I’ve been enjoying her writing so much the past two months. This had some real gems in it. But I did feel a bit “young” reading it since I think many of her readers are probably about two decades older than me. She writes a lot about aging, and I could glean some things from it, but I probably wasn’t the target audience.



The Queen of Hearts by Kimmery Martin

It felt like an episode of Grey’s Anatomy. It was odd to read a book with hospital drama with a plot that really would fit perfectly into primetime TV. This book had a lot of buzz surrounding it this spring, but I didn’t love it. The protagonists were ok. And I disliked the ending, which felt like the last five minutes of Murder She Wrote with the resolution being REALLY spelled out. If there are two characters that are best friends and one is hiding a secret relating to the other, it’s fairly obvious how the plot is going to go. For someone who likes hospital dramas, they may really enjoy this book, I just felt that it wasn’t very original.

What I Read in March

In the midst of March’s snow days, I discovered a new favorite author, Anna Quindlen. I picked up her newest book at the library and that was that! Quindlen’s books are such a breath of fresh air in this never-ending winter that we find ourselves in. Otherwise, my March reads were enjoyable, with nary a dud! And for an April spoiler alert: I’m reading two different trilogies… among many other great books!

Carnegie’s Maid by Marie Benedict

Carnegie’s Maid by Marie BenedictHistorical fiction with an Irish female protagonist: yes! Besides the wonderful Irish culture that I love reading about, this book focused on the Carnegie family. It brought back memories of middle school social studies classes! I enjoyed learning more about the family and what it may have been like to be “new money” during the 1800s. Parts of it fell flat for me (unbelievable love interest, not an empowering lead character) but I enjoyed it as a historical novel. 


An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

An American Marriage by Tayari JonesAlmost every book-focused instagram account I follow posted a picture of the gorgeous bright blue cover in early 2018. When I saw it just sitting on a bookshelf at the library, I snatched it up! I loved the story, the characters, and of course, the incredible writing. Best of 2018, for sure. Also, it was interesting to have read Just Mercy last month and then read a novel that dealt with racial injustice. It made the story that much more powerful for me knowing that the plot of this story is a reality for many people in our country.


Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Salt to the Sea by Ruta SepetysA YA World War II book. I liked it but I wasn’t wowed by it. It received quite a few awards so my expectations were higher. I do enjoy when I learn something from historical fiction. In this case, I learned about the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff, a German ship filled with refugees that was torpedoed. The story rotated between four narrators, which I would have enjoyed had the chapters not been so SHORT! Some chapters were just a page or two. It made the story feel like I was jumping around a lot and not investing in a character as much. Had I read this as a teenager, I probably would have loved it, but it just fell a little short for me.


Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah

Firefly Lane by Kristin HannahI quickly abandoned Winter Garden by the same author (not my taste) and plunged into this older best seller. I can’t say that the quality of the writing was that great, but I did enjoy it once I got into it. Great if you’re pregnant and want a good cry. It focused on the friendship of women through the decades. There is a sequel but I don’t think I’ll be picking it up.


Dear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks: A Librarian’s Love Letters and Breakup Notes to the Books in Her Life by Annie Spence

Dear Fahrenheit 451 by Annie SpenceI love when I can say, “I’ve never read a book like this before.” It was very true of Dear Fahrenheit 451. Written by a librarian to her books, it’s adorable, funny, and had lots of great recommendations. It’s a quick read and great if you feel a bit stuck between books. As a caveat, it does have a lot of (unnecessary) language.


The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James BrownGoodness, this was a long read. There are two components to this book: rich history of the early 1900s in the West and so many details about rowing. I loved the history. I wouldn’t have wanted less information about the rowing, though. It was a wonderful, inspiring read. Reminiscent of Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken


Still Life with Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindlen

Oh dear, I found a new favorite author! Where has Anna Quindlen been all my life? Our protagonist is an older photographer who leaves New York for a small town. I won’t say more. It was so lovely!




Alternate Side by Anna Quindlen

Alternate Side by Anna QuindlenBe prepared for reviews on every one of Anna Quindlen’s books!!! I’ve got them on hold at the library. I love when the setting of the novel is so crucial to the text that it is like a character. This is very true for this novel, which takes place in New York. This is the story of an upper-class family but also a story about race. Reviews on Quindlen’s newest novel are mixed but I loved this book.


Glory over Everything: Beyond The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom

Glory over Everything by Kathleen GrissomI was very surprised that I enjoyed this book as much as I did! I loved Grissom’s The Kitchen House and I did not expect that a second book would live up to the first. Jamie was one of my least favorite characters in The Kitchen House but it was interesting to see his character develop. I liked how the format was similar to The Kitchen House, with one than one narrator. Also, I liked that Grissom didn’t feel find it necessary to check back in on every character from The Kitchen House. She introduced new characters that were just  as wonderful and interesting.


And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer by Fredrik Backman

And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer by Fredrik BackmanGorgeous novella by the wonderful Fredrik Backman about an elderly man and his grandson. I’m a huge Backman fan and absolutely floored that his books are translated and still read like poetry. 

What I Read in February

Hello Readers! While I haven’t been writing, I have been busy reading (and visiting doctors for this pregnancy!). I finished my least favorite book of the year so far, as well as some other incredible books that took me by surprise. We may already be into spring, but here’s an overview of what I loved and hated in February.


Why Did I Even Read These Books:


Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum

those who save usPass! Why this book was on my kindle, I couldn’t tell you. But I found myself on a treadmill without headphones, so I pulled this up on my kindle app. I should have abandoned it early on, when I got to some graphic scenes that added nothing to the novel. I appreciated that the author wanted to tell a World War II story from the perspective of a German woman. There were aspects that I found interesting, but I didn’t like any of the characters. I was glad to be done with it.


Sing Unburied Sing by Jesmyn Ward

sing unburied singA supernatural road trip story with a lot of drugs and horrible parenting. What about that description makes people love this book so much? It came highly recommended. I hated it. I don’t even want to talk about it. I know there is some good stuff in here – there must be if people are loving it so much – but it’s not for me.

Great February Reads:


Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

Just Mercy by Bryan StevensonI wish I could give this book to everyone who struggles to see injustice in our judicial system. I know they wouldn’t read it, though. It’s difficult to read. And yet, there is some hope. I felt grateful for people like Bryan Stevenson who have dedicated their lives to helping the oppressed and making their plight known. Our family is passionate about justice, so this was an obvious read for me, but I do recommend it to anyone.


Attachments by Rainbow Rowell

Attachments by Rainbow RowellCute, fast read. Add this to your “beach reads” list! I needed a light read after Pachinko, which was certainly “epic” and a struggle to finish. Rainbow Rowell writes both YA and adult novels, and this was one of her most popular adult novels. I started and abandoned one of her YA novels already – too much teenage angst for me!


Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely FineA must-read! It is laugh-out-loud funny and also heartbreaking. Such wonderful writing. I turned to Gene again and again to tell him what was happening in the book because I was so excited about it. This is one of the best books of the year for me so far.

The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui

Reading a graphic novel was a first for me! I can’t remember the last time I was so touched by  a memoir. I thought the graphics might be distracting from the story going into it. However, at no point did I wish it was a regular book without the graphics. They enhanced the story. The way Thi Bui weaves history into her memoir, with hand-drawn maps, helped me to understand the history of Vietnam. I wish books like this could be included in history curriculum in schools. It was so much easier to grasp hold of what was happening and how it impacted people than our standard history books.


Other Books:


A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'EngleI read this book in second grade, which if you’re wondering, is too young (in my opinion). I remember nothing about that first read. There are Christian themes in here! Who knew!? I will most likely read this book along with my children as they get older, but I do wonder what age would be appropriate. Gene read this as well and we both finished it and said “huh”. He thought it was similar to C.S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy, which I haven’t read before. I’ll probably pick them up sometime this year since he loved them.


Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Pachinko by Min Jin LeeI loved the first third of this book but grew more frustrated with it as it continued. It had everything to do with the characters. Since it was an epic novel that spanned generations, the second and third sections of the book focused on different characters in the family. They grew increasingly shallow. The first section was about a female and the later parts were focused more on the males in the family. This was probably a huge component as well. The males were more educated and more opportunities before them, even though they were minorities (Korean) in Japan. I definitely recommend, but know that the novel changes and focuses on different characters.

Pho Recipe

Instead of going our for special holidays, our family splurges on homemade Pho Bo, Vietnamese Beef Pho. We love the rich beef broth and fresh herbs that pair to make the perfect comfort food. I’ve made this Pho recipe countless times, in a slow cooker and pressure cooker and both are perfect!

The first few Valentine’s Days that we were married, we tried to figure out what our tradition would be. We had one unfortunate Valentine’s Day dinner at a restaurant where the kitchen took nearly two hours to serve us!  After that, we’ve opted to stay in for holidays and cook something special. There are lots of things I love to cook that feel “special” but this is our favorite. After much trial and error, I’ve found some tricks that make the process easy and comparable to any Pho you may have purchased at a restaurant. The key to great Pho is making the best bone broth you can.

Spices You'll Need for Pho
Cinnamon Sticks, Cardamom, Coriander and Cloves

I’ve made the broth in both the slow cooker, stove-top pressure cooker and Instant Pot. My preference is the Instant Pot, which is due to the fact that it fits more liquid in it and makes the most broth, in the shortest amount of time! The slow cooker does a great job making a rich bone broth, but it takes much longer. I like to set it up before I go to bed and let it cook all night. Warning: you may wake up during the night because of the delicious smells coming from your kitchen!

Fun tip: Pho is already gluten-free, but you can make it Whole30 friendly if you opt to make zoodles (zucchini in a spiralizer) instead of using the rice noodles. Also, make sure not to buy Soybean Sprouts if you’re avoiding soy!


4-5 lbs Beef bones (I use leg bones. Also good are: shin & oxtail.  You want a lot of collagen)

1 onion

Ginger (about 4 inches long)

Pho Spice Packet (available in Asian grocery store but check ingredients for MSG & any fillers you may not want) OR make your own with the following spices:

2 cinnamon sticks

1 tbsp whole cloves

1 tbsp cardamom seeds

1 tbsp coriander seeds

Up to 6 star anise (use 6 if you like this flavor, otherwise use 1-2 or leave out)

Optional: fish sauce and a sliced apple for sweetness

1 tbsp salt


Pho Rice Noodles (look for a package that is labeled Pho. You can buy dried or fresh noodles in the refrigerated section in some stores)

1 lb beef (flank, sirloin or eye of round steak)



Thai basil



Green onions

Thai chilis (optional)


Steps to Make Pho:

  1. Roast your beef bones in the oven with ginger and a halved onion, face-down. This should take about 45 min at 400.  You DO want burnt onion. That charred flavor is what makes the Pho broth unique. If it’s not very charred, you can put the broil setting on in your oven for a few minutes to achieve the charring you need.
  2. Put your roasted beef bones, onion and ginger in a crockpot. Either use a Pho spice packet (available at your Asian grocery store) or for a clearer broth, add: 2 cinnamon sticks, a handful of cloves, coriander and cardamom and star anise (to taste… it is very strong!). Optional: fish sauce (a few squirts will do) and a halved apple for some natural sweetness (some recipes add sugar but I don’t find it necessary).  Fill your slow cooker up with water and let it cook 10-12 hours. In an Instant Pot, fill no more than halfway and set for 45 min-2 hours at High Pressure. Let the pressure release naturally if you have time.
  3. If you’ve cooked it overnight, in the morning you will strain it and then set it aside in a pot or several large tupperwares in the refrigerator until dinnertime. If you used the Instant Pot, strain it and “keep warm” or use “saute” button to keep it simmering while you prepare your sides and noodles.
  4. Prepare all your sides. Chop cilantro, Thai basil leaves, green onions, mint, Thai chilis, and limes. Rinse sprouts. Arrange on platter.
  5. Reheat your broth. Add salt to taste.
  6. In a separate pot, boil water to cook your rice noodles. Follow directions on your package. Do NOT cook your noodles in your Pho broth. Depending on the package you bought, it will cook instantly or up to 8 minutes. Drain and add to bowls when ready to serve.
  7. Slice beef very thin.
  8. Place noodles in bowls. Add hot broth. Add thinly-slice beef (it will cook in the broth). Serve and allow everyone to add desired toppings. Enjoy!!

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Books for February

My January reads left me absolutely motivated to continue to read ALL THE BOOKS. I might be even more excited for my list of books for February! I plan to read some bestsellers and award winners from 2017, as well as some challenging non-fiction. Here’s a list with a brief description of each books for February that I hope to complete!

Non-Fiction Books for February:

the road back to you by Ian Morgan CronThe Road Back to You by Ian Morgan Cron is my non-fiction pick for this month. Since I read Reading People last month, I’ve wanted to dive into Enneagrams more in depth. The book has been incredible. My type (#5 – The Observer) is pretty rare. I’ve had many moments of surprise as I realize there are other people out there like me! Some of the feedback on Enneagram study is that it can be focused on the negative. However, this book encourages growth as a way towards spiritual transformation. I’ve read the chapter on Fives already, but I still want to work through the other types. I will probably be reading through this one slowly in February.

Just Mercy by Bryan StevensonJust Mercy by Bryan Stevenson is another non-fiction pick for me that I actually began in late January. Bryan Stevenson is a young lawyer who founded the Equal Justice Initiative. EJI is dedicated to defending the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children. I am floored by this book so far. Our family cares deeply about justice issues, but even so, this book is incredibly challenging.

Top Fiction Books for February:

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely FineEleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman is a Modern Mrs Darcy pick for a “Book recommended by a librarian.” My library’s website actually included a page of recommendations from many librarians in our entire library system, so I found this book on the list. It came up over and over again! The reviews are incredible for this book. I can’t wait to find out why so many librarians recommend it!


Pachinko by Min Jin LeePerhaps the book I am most excited for: Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. Everything about this book makes me want to read it. It’s about several generations of a Korean family in Japan, beginning in the early 1900s. I love a good family saga! I’m also really excited about the setting, because it’s incredibly different from anything else I’ve ever read! It’s a National Book Award Finalist for 2017, among many other awards.  


A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'EngleIs everyone getting excited about the film version of A Wrinkle in Time? I plan to wait for it to be available for rent but I want to reread it in anticipation of the film! Unfortunately, I first read it as a young child and I don’t have any memory of what it’s about. I’m excited that Gene is reading this one too, so we can talk about it together. He was hesitant but my one sentence explanation hooked him. I said something about time “wrinkling” and the phrase “time-space continuum” (which I’m not sure is actually relevant at all). Did you know that A Wrinkle in Time was once on the Banned-Books list? That qualifies it for another book on the Modern Mrs Darcy list. Score!

Glory Over Everything by Kathleen GrissomGlory Over Everything by Kathleen Grissom is a continuation of The Kitchen House, which I really enjoyed as a bonus book in January. It’s a stand-alone novel, but includes characters from The Kitchen House, most notably, Jamie Pyke, son of a slave and the master of Tall Oaks plantation. The Kitchen House was one of my favorite books in January so I’m very excited about this one!

Bonus Fiction Books:

The Golden House by Salman RushdieThe Golden House by Salman Rushdie begins with the inauguration of Barack Obama and follows a wealthy immigrant family in Manhattan. That’s all that I know about it! It came recommended by a podcaster who has similar taste in novels as I do. The opening line hooked me:



“On the day of the new president’s inauguration, when we worried that he might be murdered as he walked hand in hand with his exceptional wife among the cheering crowds, and when so many of us were close to economic ruin in the aftermath of the bursting of the mortgage bubble, and when Isis was still an Egyptian mother-goddess, an uncrowned seventy-something king from a faraway country arrived in New York City with his three motherless sons to take possession of the palace of his exile, behaving as if nothing was wrong with the country or the world or his own story.”


Attachments by Rainbow RowellAttachments by Rainbow Rowell is a YA novel that also came recommended by two podcasters that I enjoy (Sorta Awesome podcast). Hear more from these ladies hereRainbow Rowell comes highly recommended by them, so I look forward to my first book by her. It should be a fun, light-hearted read… which I may need since I have a few heavy non-fiction reads this month!

What I Read in January

My goal for 2018 is to read forty books but I started off the year on a much higher note… it must have been all those snow days! Or maybe it was just a lot of really great books (TEN!) that drew me in! I quickly made it through my January list, so I was able to add on a bunch of fun reads. Here’s what I read in January – what I loved and what left me disappointed!

My “Bonus Books” for January:

January Highlights:

The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom

The Kitchen House was an incredible historical fiction novel set in southern Virginia about an Irish indentured servant living with slaves on a plantation. It wasn’t what I expected. Truthfully, I wanted some flashbacks to life in Ireland but there was none of that. Despite the lack of rich Irish culture I was hoping for, I started to fall in love with the characters. I also enjoyed the format of the novel, which flip-flopped between two very different narrators. If you haven’t read this one yet (it’s a few years old), then I suggest you check it out! In February, I plan to read the follow-up to this book, Glory Over Everything.

I already shared a review of Reading People by Anne Bogel, which ended up being one of my favorite reads in January! Also, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas was incredible and will probably be one of my top reads of the year.

I can’t forget two other novels I read in January, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer, as well as Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson. Both were so lovely! They had wonderful protagonists and humor, even as they tackled some heavier issues. They are light reads, perfect for a trip, or just something will renew your love of reading, should you be in a reading drought!

A Book I Struggled With:

The Refugees by Viet Thanh NguyenI ended up being able to tackle a second “Modern Mrs Darcy” book off my list: a book written by an author of a different race, ethnicity or religion than my own. The Refugees, a book written by Viet Thanh Nguyen, is a collection of short stories, set in both Vietnam and America. Viet Thanh Nguyen’s previous book, The Sympathizer, is a 2016 Pulitzer Prize winner and on my list to read later this year.


If I’m being honest, I didn’t enjoy it. For starters, I don’t love short stories. I’m drawn to character-driven novels, so even while I can appreciate the well-crafted short story, I want to invest in a character. Another thing that makes this book difficult is the subject matter. It’s just heart-wrenching. It was certainly not the first book I reached for each night! Even though it’s fairly short, it’s took me longer than I expected. I still would recommend it because reading hard things helps us grow. While I don’t love painful stories of refugees who face rejection and abuse, I think it’s important for us to hear these stories.

I have some fantastic books picked out for February that I can’t wait to share! Stay tuned! For more detailed reviews of each book, find me on Goodreads.

Join Usborne Books & More with February $40 Kit Special

Start your business with Usborne Books & More for only $40 with the February Kit Special. Fill your home with beautiful and inspiring books and spread the LOVE of books in your community. Usborne’s $40 February start-up kit is valued at over $140 and contains some of Usborne’s best-sellers… soon to be YOUR children’s favorite new books!

Working with Usborne Books & More has been life-changing for our family – our bookshelves are bursting with incredible books and my kids are always asking to read another book.  They can never get enough!! I’m so glad I’ve been able to pass along my love of books to my children and that I’ve been able to make a business out of it!

The Benefits of Working with Usborne Books & More:

  • The best books for your children
  • Phonics books & reading libraries to help teach your child to read
  • Durable baby books, perfect for all those baby showers
  • Activity books for traveling
  • Affordable chapter books
  • The perfect gifts for birthdays and holidays
  • Non-fiction books about topics your children care about
  • Books to help teach your child hobbies like Chess and Cooking
  • Majority of books are under $10!

  • Books for Young Artists

YOUR children will obviously reap all the benefits of you working with UBAM! But you may be wondering…

What else can you do with this business?

  • Parties: Get your friends together to share these books online or at home! Easy-peasy!
  • Fundraisers with our “Cards for a Cause” program: Help organizations you care about meet their fundraising goals with our gorgeous, embellished gift cards!
  • Book Drives: Support causes that will put our awesome books into the hands of children who NEED them! ← My favorite part of this business!
  • Book Fairs: Get involved in your community by introducing these books to families in your local schools, church fairs, and community events.
  • Reading Challenges: Encourage children in your community to read MORE and help them set goals to read everyday for a set amount of time, to help raise money to buy NEW books for their homes and libraries!
  • Become a Team Leader: Grow a team of like-minded consultants and share the book-love across the country!

  • Show off the books at local schools, libraries and community events!

What about the nitty-gritty details?

Literacy Launchers LogoWorried about HOW to do all these things? You’ll love our TEAM, Literacy Launchers, who will walk with you and provide incredible training to get you LAUNCH you into your business!

Wondering about HOW you’ll do this every month? You don’t have to… There are no monthly requirements! Work as little or as much as you want! There are no additional fees for the first 6 months – afterwards, you’ll pay a small fee to keep your shopping website open. This gives you a great opportunity to get your business started!!

Ready to get started? This February ONLY, you can join for just $40 (not included tax and s&h). Our mini and full kit kits are still available for $75 or $125 if you want more books in your start-up kit, but if you’ve already got some UBAM books at home, this February kit special is perfect for you!

Join Usborne Books & More in February for just $40!