Happy New Year, everyone! I hope you spent the holidays snuggled close to the ones that mean the most to you. That you stayed joyful and relished in the small and big moments together. We had a beautiful Christmas with our little family. Waking up Christmas morning to excited little ones will forever be my favorite moment. The sheer giddiness and excitement of that day is contagious, and we were all feeling it. Each of us had taken turns this break to get hit with a nasty cold, but somehow, we were still able to get in the spirit, eat great food, and make the best of being stuck at home for the entire time. We certainly didn’t lack in quality family time this season! I was sad that I wasn’t able to take my kids to all the adventures, seasonal stops, and our favorite kids areas to play, but maybe it was meant to be that way. Maybe we just needed a slowed down pace and some togetherness before the year starts up in a big way again.
For New Year’s, we stayed in, watched football, had a big steak dinner (the kids chose ‘Brinner’ instead 😊) and watched the ball drop…okay, watched the East Coast ball drop and then went to bed. I’ve seen so many families travel this New Years and take vacations skiing or hitting up the beach. You know, that sounds like a really amazing way to ring in the new year, and I might just consider that a perfect way to close out 2022. Too soon to be counting the days down to the next year?!
And with the ending of 2021, it’s time for my last Book Review Day of the year! Plus, I’ll break down my top 3 books of the 2021. If you’re needing more choices, my monthly book reviews and my top 3 books of 2020 can be found here:
May-October 2021 Book Review (That time I did the One Room Challenge and reading posts took such a backseat!)
So let’s do this! I read three books in December, two Christmas stories and one inspiring/self-help/eye-opening book to close out the year.
Always in December by Emily Stone
This was a rollercoaster of emotion if I’ve ever been on one! Josie doesn’t enjoy the holidays since losing her parents as a teenager. Too many difficult memories, too many traditions missed. Already, can you see how I relate to this girl!? She writes a letter to her parents and slips it into a mailbox every year at Christmas, but this time, the letter doesn’t make it when she accidentally crashes into Max on her way. The connection isn’t instant, but it’s intense. As time goes on, you realize how much is going on with each of the characters and what exactly is happening in their lives to make them think and feel and act in the way that they do. Both easy to brush the other off, tuck tail and run, and try to protect one another from the secrets they’re hiding behind.
There is a twist at the end of this story that had me in absolute tears. It was sad, it was touching, it was heartwarming. It was far more intricate of a story than a typical “Hallmark-type” Christmas story. Yes, it’s a love story. Yes, it all wraps up at the end. But there are scenes that will have you shocked, hurt, sad, and caught off guard in this one. I enjoyed it for having the qualities of a great Christmas story: charming location, love story, likeable characters, snowy scenes, and Christmas festivities. But it was an added bonus that this story had much more meat than most Christmas books. If you’re still looking for a Christmas story to extend the season a little bit longer, this is a good one!
Nick and Noel’s Christmas Playlist
Whoa. I wasn’t expecting this one. Talk about a Christmas story with a touch (maybe a whole handful) of Fifty Shades of Grey mixed in. Yikes! Now listen, I’m no prude. I don’t turn my nose up to steamy reads or movies; however, I didn’t expect to have that much graphic detail in this story. It was a Christmas read for goodness sakes! If you try this one out, please note: You have been warned!
Nick finally gets home from serving overseas and is met by his best friend, Noel. They’re insanely close and have been since they were in diapers. Noel is attracted to Nick after he’s turned into quite a man while he’s been off completing his military service, but he’s with Amber, a girl from their high school who ridiculed Noel for years. He’s fully taken and she’s got a relationship going herself. It’s not until one night out at the bar that things go a little too far that they truly realize how much of a spark there is between the two of them. What if this is nothing more than lust? What if they go too far and ruin their friendship? And what if Noel loses not only Nick, but also his family, who has been there for her all her life?
This is a tricky review because the storyline was decent, the characters were well-developed, and I did feel like I flew through the book; however, I just had a hard time reading a Christmas story with SO MANY explicit chapters. The two just don’t go together in my mind. So when I was reading and it took that turn, I was a little taken back each time. Maybe it took a little bit away from the story for me. I wouldn’t recommend this one without a warning label. It gets a bit naughty!
How to Think Like a Monk: Train Your Brain for Peace and Purpose Everyday by Jay Shetty
25,000 5-star reviews. I couldn’t believe it when I saw it. After I saw one of my fitness instructors talk about this book for the New Year, I decided to look more into it. 25,000 amazing reviews! I’m so glad I was pointed in this direction because this book took tangible pieces of my life and helped me navigate how to identify them, how to deal with them, and what I need to train my brain to do otherwise.
Jay Shetty grew up in a traditional Indian family with a philosophy that you could become three things: a doctor, a lawyer, or a failure. Before he even graduated, Jay went against his family’s wishes and moved to India to become a monk, living in an ashram, meditating for 4-8 hours a day. He gave up all his job opportunities, his possessions, and his previous self to challenge himself to find the positivity and joy in life. He spent nearly three years there when a fellow monk told him that he may be better serving the purpose to go home, share his knowledge with the world, and make a difference for others. So that’s what he did…in a big way! He’s massive on social media, has a #1 listened to podcast, and now has this amazing book sharing what he learned during his time in the ashram.
If you are in a funk with finding your purpose, finding your joy, you’re tired of the comparisons and envy, and you’re wanting to truly find out why you feel the way you do, Jay Shetty really breaks down how to find it. I loved that not only did this book articulate the monk’s frame of mind and the way they shift their mindsets to be able to meditate, but he also shared practical advice and activities to do the same in a simplistic mind shift or basic activities. I was able to break down my true values, shift my negative mindset, and get practical ideas on how to stop defeating yourself.
What a book for the New Year. A positive, engaging, empowering book about finding the best YOU. I loved it, Jay Shetty. You have a big fan in your corner.
And now…the moment of truth…the THREE books that top the year. The books I loved the most, raved about the most, and recommended the most to my closest girlfriends.
Coming in at #3…
The Last Flight
From my October 2021 Book Review: Whoa! I feel like I actually broke a sweat while reading this one because I had so much anxiety. What a FABULOUS book! If this isn’t in my top 3 favorites of the year, I would be completely shocked.
Claire Cook lives a lavish life in a Manhattan apartment. Gorgeous husband, beautiful clothes, perfect body, a staff of ten. The list goes on and on. Her life is something that so many long for. However, behind closed doors, her husband has a temper, “expectations,” and has her life perfectly coordinated so her staff know her every move. She needs out and after months of planning her escape, is finally going to do it.
But when she makes it to the airport, another woman that seems to be running from her own life, changes her plans for her. Now they will switch plane tickets, switch locations, switch identities, and be able to fully restart their lives as one another. It seems like a seamless plan…until one of the plane crashes.
Even as I’m typing out the description, I’m on pins and needles. It was so well-written, so thought-out, so intriguing. I was locked in from the start and it never dipped, it never faltered. I love this book from beginning to the very end!
The Last Flight had me hooked from the very start and it never slowed down. It was intense and engaging and I adored how it kept you on your toes through the entire storyline. If you’re a fan of dramatic books, this has to be added to your 2022 list asap!
From my October 2021 Book Review: Whoa, whoa, whoa! This book may very well be number one of the year for me! This was dark, it was twisted, and I could not get enough of it. This book was actually one that I was reading while my kids were playing, in the car pool line, during naptimes when I normally am working on Growing Up Kemper. Really any time I could get my hands on this book, I was grabbing for it!
Another very dark and twisted story, guys. Another R-rated one for the relationship between Verity and her husband. The warning is there!
Lowen is an author that hasn’t quite found her big break yet, nor is she actively seeking it out. Weeks after losing her mother, she gets a call from her agent that she is being requested at a very secretive meeting. She’s being asked to finish the insanely popular book series written by Verity Crawford after Verity has suffered injuries from a car accident. After meeting with Verity’s husband, she agrees to go live at their house with them for a few weeks to gather notes from her office and get into the mind of Verity before taking on the task of writing the final three books.
During her time, she uncovers a morbid memoir Verity has written among her files, and uncovers disturbing secrets about the family, their two daughters that have recently passed away, and about the “car accident” that Verity was in.
Oh my word. This is the pinnacle of edge of your seat books and I loved every single minute of it!!
Another couldn’t put down book of 2021. Verity was extremely morbid, thrilling, and addicting. Even at the close of the book, you are still questioning what happened and who did what. There are polls all over social media and online regarding who and what you really believe. Truly, the only reason this book isn’t my top book of 2021 is because of how graphic and morbid some of the chapters are. I loved it, but my number one book passed it over because there were points that I actually cringed while reading. It’s gruesome, but it’s good! The book is a knockout that will have you reaching for it any free chance you can get. Read it, think on it, and share with me just what you think because I’m dying to talk more about it still!
And no questions asked, no doubt about it, my favorite book of the year and maybe in my top 3 books of my lifetime…
From April 2021 Book Review: If this isn’t one of my top books of this year, if not THE BEST book of the year for me, I’ll be completely shocked. And it will mean that this year was a strong book year. After reading this one, I think I can officially call Kristin Hannah my absolute favorite author. Between Four Winds, The Great Alone, and The Nightingale, I’m shookith.
This historical fiction read centers around a Midwest migrant family during the Dust Bowl and Great Depression. Elsa, a hard-working mother of two, who spends day in and day out working on their family farm is suddenly forced to make life or death decisions just to keep her family alive. Brought up in a childhood of neglect and emotional abuse, Elsa finally has a place that she feels comfortable, loved, and worthy, and now the dust storms are taking that away from her, too. The farm can’t produce with the intense drought and relentless dust that is blanketing the land, their home, their belongings, and their lungs. Now she must decide if she leaves all that she knows and loves at the farm to keeping her children healthy in the unknown of California. It was constantly reemphasizing just how far you would go to keep your family safe.
Four Winds is a story about survival and the human spirit, especially through the eyes of a mother. Kristin Hannah did an incredible job telling this story, developing the characters, and bringing so much accurate history into this book. By the end, I was crying for the characters, I was crying because it was beautiful, and I was crying because it was just done so, so well. I loved this book and I really believe that you will, too.
I’ve recommended this book to anyone that asks for one. It’s a powerful story on a time in history that is not spoken about enough. The premise of ‘teaching history so it doesn’t repeat itself’ just kept ringing in my ears on this one. The feelings regarding immigration, wages, poverty, and politics were the same then as we are dealing with now. But among those deep and complex topics, there was a story of survival, of love for your family, of doing the right thing. This book was moving and brilliant and I’ll forever be a fan of Kristin Hannah and her beautiful stories that she shares with the world. This is a must read!
Looking Ahead to January…
I’ve rounded up some good ones that I’m starting today for you. When the temperatures have already dipped to below zero here in KC, I plan on snuggling up to do plenty of reading this month. My comfort=your benefit in this case! Plus, I’m sharing my favorite Bible Studies and Devotionals with you next week. I’ve done plenty over the last two years and I’m going to round those up in one post for you to be able to reference. If making Jesus a priority is your goal for 2022, I’ve got some great pieces to help you get your year started the right way.
For me, I’m going to read the Bible in its entirety for the first time this year! I’m using the Bible Recap, and corresponding Study Guide, to help guide me. Three days in and I’m already learning, digesting, and feeling closer to God than I ever have before. Join me! It’s never too late to get closer to God through His Word.
Happy New Year, everyone! And Happy Reading!
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