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I actually met my reading goals for 2019—an accomplishment that brings me more than a little satisfaction. I consider myself and avid reader, but I’m often appalled when I look back at my year and see how little I actually read. It was nice to actually meet the goal I set for myself, and I read some really great books over the course of the year.

I also listened to some awesome new (to me) music and saw some beautiful films. My ever-supportive husband suggested that I could also share my thoughts on those here on the blog, so here’s a round up of the books, movies, and music I’ve been enjoying lately.


Pinnable Image for Daring Greatly book reviewEvery day we experience the uncertainty, risks, and emotional exposure that define what it means to be vulnerable or to dare greatly. Based on 12 years of pioneering research, Dr. Brené Brown dispels the cultural myth that vulnerability is weakness and argues that it is, in truth, our most accurate measure of courage.

Daring Greatly

Author: Brené Brown Genre: Non-FictionPsychology Content Warning: Crass language Stop what you are doing and go read this book. I seriously think everyone should read it. I’m going to read it again. I’m going to listen to the audiobook with Brett, and then I’m going to get the hardcopy (I listened to this one) and highlight the snot out of it because it is just. that. good. Daring Greatly completely transformed the way I view my relationships and my responsibilities, and I kept feeling the Spirit confirming the truth of Brené’s research and conclusions. I am completely confident that as I really let her teachings sink into my heart, it will help me be a better wife, daughter, sister, friend, and—someday—mother. If you’d like a small preview of what this book is like, check out Brené’s TED talk on The Power of Vulnerability.

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

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Pinnable image for Virgil Wander book reviewMidwestern movie house owner Virgil Wander is "cruising along at medium altitude" when his car flies off the road into icy Lake Superior. Virgil survives, but his language and memory are altered, and he emerges into a world no longer familiar to him. Awakening in this new life, Virgil begins to piece together his personal history and the lore of his broken town, with the help of a cast of affable and curious locals - from Rune, a twinkling, pipe-smoking, kite-flying stranger investigating the mystery of his disappeared son, to Nadine, the reserved, enchanting wife of the vanished man, to Tom, a journalist and Virgil's oldest friend, and various members of the Pea family who must confront tragedies of their own. Into this community returns a shimmering prodigal son who may hold the key to reviving their town. Virgil Wander

Author: Leif Enger Genre: Fiction I will read every book Leif Enger writes. My goodness, that man has a way with words. Our unassuming protagonist, Virgil, is the perfect narrator to lead a cast of characters who are somehow both unique and utterly normal all at the same time. Enger also has a gift for villains who aren’t diabolical—and that’s part of what makes them so terrifying. As always, he leaves a few questions unanswered, but in a way that leaves you curious instead of frustrated. What does it mean? Like life, sometimes it doesn’t mean anything at all. Sometimes it’s just the way it is, and there’s a certain magic in that realization. Virgil Wander is a slow burn, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Add to Goodreads buy from amazon Buy This Book from Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide Pinnable image for The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe book reviewNarnia…the land beyond the wardrobe door, a secret place frozen in eternal winter, a magical country waiting to be set free.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Author: C.S. Lewis Genre: MGFantasy After watching the movies together, Brett admitted that he’d never had the pleasure of reading the Chronicles of Narnia series. As they’re among my favorite books of all time, I suggested we make The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe  our next car trip read aloud book. He enjoyed it so much that he would often ask to read it when he’d get home from work. We’d mix up some hot cocoa, don our PJs and snuggle up on the couch to read together. It was very hygge of us, and we loved it. I thoroughly enjoyed rereading another favorite book with my favorite human, and we look forward to sharing this series with our future kids.

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

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Pinnable image for I'm Not Dying With You Tonight book reviewThey aren't friends. They hardly understand the other's point of view. But none of that matters when the city is up in flames, and they only have each other to rely on if they're going to survive the night.I’m Not Dying with You Tonight

Authors: Kimberly Jones and Gilly Segal Genre: YAContemporary Fiction Content Warning: Strong language and thematic violence There was a lot of language in this and I thought about putting it down, but it’s an important story that is all too real for a lot of people. I’m Not Dying With You Tonight is very well done. The characters are utterly believable, the pacing was just right, and the writing was excellent. I enjoyed having the dual narrative, as I felt it did a good job of balancing two very different perspectives. I was worried this would attempt to make one side seem less valid than the other, but it didn’t. Both of the girls face prejudice, and both learn to see things from the other’s point of view. It was a raw and honest look at race issues that are (maddeningly) still a problem today.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

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Pinnable image for The Hate U Give book reviewSixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer.... What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.The Hate U Give

Author: Angie Thomas Genre: YAContemporary Fiction Content Warning: Strong language, violence, and teen sexuality As with I’m Not Dying With You Tonight, I almost put down The Hate U Give because of language and other content. But it came at the recommendation of a trusted cousin (hi Dawn!), so I persisted. I’m so glad I did, because it was excellent. Reading THUG was an exercise in empathy, as it provided an opportunity to understand a perspective that is considerably different than mine. It made me take a hard look at how different my life is because I’m white. As uncomfortable as that truth is, it’s an important one to sit with if we’re going to find a better way forward for everyone. Also, I really appreciated that THUG includes a pair of happily married parents. We don’t see that often in YA literature, and I loved the dynamic between Maverick and Lisa.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Add to Goodreads buy from amazonBuy This Book from Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide Pinnable image for I Am Still Alive book review Jess hadn’t seen her survivalist, off-the-grid dad in over a decade. But after a car crash killed her mother and left her injured, she was forced to move to his cabin in the remote Canadian wilderness. Just as Jess was beginning to get to know him, a secret from his past paid them a visit, leaving her father dead and Jess stranded.I Am Still Alive Author: Kate Alice Marshall Genre: YA / Suspense Content Warning: Brief strong language and violence I Am Still Alive is like Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet, but for girls. In fact, Hatchet established in me a life-long love of survivalist stories (My Side of the Mountain, Brian’s Winter, Island of the Blue Dolphins, Station Eleven, Lord of the Flies), so I was instantly intrigued by the premise of this one. It was fairly well written and Marshall either really knows her survivalist stuff or she did a lot of research. She did an excellent job introducing realistic “pain points” that were a bit outside of what we normally get in these kinds of stories—things like having a gun but the wrong caliber of ammo, snares only catching animals that really aren’t good for eating, not knowing how to skin a rabbit the right way, etc. I could have done without a few of the more graphic details and Jess sometimes got a bit too whiny, but overall, I enjoyed it.

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

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The Biggest Little Farm

[clear] This is my new favorite movie. It is my biggest dream to have a farm like Apricot Lane Farms, and watching it come to life on the screen made me all sorts of misty-eyed. Brett really enjoyed it, too, and we’ve watched it three times in as many weeks. It’s honest, it’s beautiful, and it’s full of wonder and hope. I can’t get enough of The Biggest Little Farm. Find it in a RedBox, watch it on Amazon Prime, or buy it on DVD or BluRay.

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Little Women

[clear] I’m always a little nervous when I go into a movie with high expectations, but the 2019 adaptation of Little Women did not disappoint. I loved every minute. I smiled so much my face hurt and wept big, ugly tears. I basked in the electric joy of seeing my first literary heroine depicted so perfectly by Saoirse Ronin, and Brett melted my heart forever when he leaned over to whisper, “She is so you!” He also asked if we could read the book together after we finish Jane Eyre, and I would have married him on the spot if I hadn’t already done that. I wouldn’t recommend this version to someone who isn’t familiar with the linear narrative of the story. It does jump back and forth between the beginning and end a fair bit. But as much as I love the 1994 Winona Ryder version, I did feel like this one was far superior.

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Ford v Ferrari

[clear] This was such a fun film. I’m not even that knowledgeable about cars, but I did inherit an appreciation for the classics from my car-restoring father. Bale and Damon worked really well together, and the writing was excellent. And the cinematography—swoon! There was one shot involving the shadow of a car that I’m still marveling over. I look forward to seeing this one again.

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Journey of Faith

[clear] My mom recommended this documentary about the Book of Mormon, and I learned some really fascinating things about the history, culture, and geography of Lehi’s journey through the wilderness. Brett and I enjoyed it together on a Sunday after church and thought that it was a great addition to this year’s Come, Follow Me study.

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

[clear] I’m one of those people who really likes Star Wars but doesn’t know enough of the lore to be considered a “true” fan. I’ve truly enjoyed most of the Star Wars franchise I’ve seen (excluding only episodes 1-3), and this was no exception. I thought it was a fitting end to the Skywalker canon, and JJ Abrams did a good job of tying up loose ends left by Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi. I’d watch it again.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

The Mandalorian

[clear] Brett and I signed up for a one-week trial of Disney+ just so that we could watch The Mandalorian. I really enjoyed exploring more worlds in the Star Wars universe, and I’m not going to lie: I’m definitely a Baby Yoda fan. However, I did feel that some of the plot lines felt contrived just for the sake of prolonging the series. I would like to have seen a more cohesive story arc across the first season, but we’ll probably be back for season two.

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)


[clear] The playlist above has been the soundtrack to my life over the last few weeks. It includes:
    • “Let it Go” by Dustbowl Revival – Brett and I had the opportunity to listen to these guys live on our honeymoon to Coachella Valley, CA, and I instantly fell in love with their unique style and toe-tapping vibes. They’ve just released a new album, and I am totally digging this track.
    • “Once Upon Another Time” by Sara Bareilles
    • “You Want More For Me” by JJ Heller
    • “Dancing in the Minefields” by Andrew Peterson
    • “Jolene” by The Peterson Family
    • “Baba Yetu” by Stellenbosch University Choir
    • “Call to War” by the Lone Bellow
Find Your Joy What have you been reading, watching, and listening to lately? Write about your favorites in your journal or share your recommendations with a friend. I’d love to hear about your recent favorites, too! Tell me about them in the comments below or over on Facebook!

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Jess Friedman
Jess is a Canadian-American who’s always ready for the next adventure. She loves all things living, always has a million creative projects in progress, and polishes her nerd badge daily. She is passionate about helping families make and preserve treasured memories that strengthen bonds across generations. You can read more posts by Jess here.

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