Author Highlight: Jessica Day George

Hi there, it’s been awhile, hasn’t it?!

I just discovered a really delightful author, so delightful, in fact, that I polished off two of her books in one day!  The fact that these books are solidly in the YA/children’s category may have had something to do with that.  Confession: the YA section is one of my favorite places for finding well written, light, but not too fluffy, books when I want to just relax.  I read a lot of non fiction books, so sometimes I like to just kick back with something light and fun – like these ones!  They make excellent summer reading books!


So, Jessica Day George.  I just discovered this author when my sister told me I Needed to read her books.  So I hopped on my computer and requested three of her books randomly from our library.  All three books are written in a lovely fantasy/fairy tale style. Again, huge fan here, I’ve always been drawn to the fantasy genre, hello Narnia, LOTR, Harry Potter….I may tell myself that I’m previewing them for when my kids are ready to read them, which by the looks of things, won’t be too long, but really, it’s just because I love reading them, that’s all. 🙂

The first book: Princess of the Midnight Ball was a brilliant retelling of the famous story “The Twelve Dancing Princesses”.  I thoroughly enjoyed that one, as I’ve never grown out of fairytales myself!  She fills out the backstory beautifully, and while I don’t always enjoy retellings of classics, this one was a total win in my books.

Another, titled Tuesdays at the Castle, features the spunky and softhearted Princess Celie who, with her brother and sister must save the day when invaders try to take over the kingdom.  The castle is really the other main character, and you’ll see why when you read the book!

I’d recommend these books to girls or boys starting around age 10 or 11, although, of course, parental discretion is advised, as only you know your kids best!  If you’re not sure, you should probably do what I did, and read them to yourself first! 🙂

Disclaimer: there are magical references throughout both books, good magic and bad magic, just so you’re aware. 🙂


The Talent Code

By Daniel Coyle

This is an absolutely fascinating book about how talent is created.  Popular opinion has for years said that it occurs randomly by chance or “lucky genes,” but Coyle goes deeper into the science behind talent, and breaks down something called myelin, which is really the key to it all.

Talent is developed with three important factors: deep practice, ignition, and master coaching.

Deep practice builds at a molecular level something called myelin.  Myelin is basically an insulation that wraps itself around neural circuits and grows according to certain signals.  From a baby learning to walk, to a young child learning to play the violin, to a gymnast improving her skill, myelin is working in each person.

This book has so many practical applications in every day life.  It follows very closely along the lines of habit forming.  I was explaining this to my five year old son the other day, as he was getting frustrated with his reading lesson.  As I explained how each time he figures out what a word says, another layer of myelin wraps around his “reading skills” neural circuits, he began to get excited too.  Now, when he’s struggling to learn something new and finding it difficult, we both get excited about all the myelin he’s growing!

We need to make mistakes in order to learn.  We can’t just passively watch a demonstration of something and then go out and replicate it, we need to try and fail, and then try again, and again, and again, in order to attain any level of success.  This explains why someone who is a “natural” at something right off the get go won’t go any further unless they combine it with deep practice.  Being naturally gifted means you still need to push yourself hard in order to produce the myelin necessary to long term success and “talent”.

It’s imperative to be passionate and persistent about what you are doing, because generating enough myelin to become “talented” at something requires a lot of time and effort.  You’ve probably heard the saying that it takes approximately 10,000 hours of practice to make you a success or an expert.  You can’t achieve that without a lot of motivation.

Ignition is all about a series of tiny signals that helps create an identity.  They lead us to the moment in which we say, “That could be me.”  That’s the moment where the passion is born.  One signal is not enough, there needs to be enough of them to really “light the fire”

Coyle made an interesting observation about kids who succeeded wildly in a music class in a lower income school, versus kids whose “talent” and motivation petered out significantly, even though they came from a more privileged school, and had things like enough instruments for each child, the right sized instruments, a good environment to play in, etc.   When you recognize the value of something, you are less likely to take it for granted.

Master Coaching

Many of the best coaches in the world, be it in music, sports, or something else, aren’t some special guru who knows “the secret” to creating great talent.  Rather, they possess the ability (that they have themselves developed through years of deep practice) to meet each student where they are at, and constantly push them just a little beyond their ability.  They don’t approach teaching with a “one size fits all mentality”.  They are able to see what the student is capable of, even if he doesn’t recognize it himself, and push him to achieve that level.

With only 10 chapters and a lot of anecdotes mixed in with the more “science-y” parts, this book was pretty easy reading and engaging.  Definitely worth your time if you are interested in learning about skill and talent and how they develop in each person!  As a parent and a teacher, I loved this book for the perspective it offers on teaching, and bringing out the potential of each person.


How Just One Change Can Make All of Life Better

by Brant Hansen

“Forfeiting our right to anger makes us deny ourselves, and makes us others-centered.  When we start living this way, it changes everything.”

This is an incredible book about grace, humility, anger, and obviously, being unoffendable.  It is one of the most life changing books I’ve ever read, and I was extremely tempted while reading it (I still am, to be honest) to run out and buy about a hundred copies to give to everyone I know.  It’s that good.  Within the first few chapters, I felt like I was holding in my hand a version of “Christianity for Dummies” in the best way possible!

To be unoffendable calls for a lot of humility.  The kind of humility to admit that we’re not like God, able to see into hearts and determine motives; the humility to admit that we too are sinners, to admit that even our own hearts can deceive us.  Choosing to be unoffendable is not about ignoring wrongs, you don’t need to simply accept wrong situations, but, it does mean you can choose to deal with them without becoming angry or offended.

Getting offended at something someone does to us assumes we know their motive, why they do things. But unless they tell us, we can’t possibly know for certain why anyone does anything.  We can barely decipher our own motives at times, what makes us think we can know the motives of others?

The author brings some incredible points to life with an easy, conversational style.  With every chapter, there was a new aspect of Christianity that was both super convicting, and also incredibly freeing.

He also illuminated grace for me.  Grace, by its very nature, is completely unfair.  It’s especially unfair to those who are rule followers, who base their worth on how well they perform.  It’s galling to see others receive exactly the same thing who didn’t work as hard for it.  But when we take a step back, and realize that no matter how hard we try, we’ll never be able to earn our salvation, it’s then that we realize how truly amazing grace is.

What if we were unsurprised by sin?  What if we took the same approach that Jesus did when He treated notorious sinners and outcasts (like lepers and prostitutes) like they were real, valuable people?

“What if…Christians were known as the people you couldn’t offend?”

We can choose to be unoffendable because, as Christians, we’ve already been forgiven.  We don’t need to work at earning our salvation, there’s nothing we can do to make God reject us once He has saved us.  It’s incredibly easy to get frustrated when we see other people living in a way (especially if they are Christians) that doesn’t live up to *our* standards of how Christians should live.  This should send up some pretty big warning flags to us, that maybe we’re relying a little less on God’s grace, and a little more on our own efforts to be saved. Instead of growing offended, we should take a step back and get our own priorities straight, and let God take care of the others.

Gratitude and anger can’t coexist.  We can go through life choosing to hold on to our anger and our astonishment that people will sin…or we can come to God every day, astonished at His grace, grateful for His salvation, and determined to show that to the world.

The author brought attention to an incredibly dangerous mindset that has become more popular with Christians within the last hundred years or so.  The idea that sin is like a virus, and as Christians, the way to keep ourselves and our families safe is by isolating ourselves from the world, setting up our own “culture” so that we won’t be contaminated by the sin of the world.  There’s only one problem: we’ve already been contaminated.  And the only way to become free of this “virus” is for us to acknowledge our sin before God, and accept His free gift of salvation.

It’s not up to us to assess where people stand with God.  That’s a good thing, because it’s completely impossible for us to know that about anyone.  And also, that’s God’s job.  The only thing we can know about them (and ourselves) is that we need more of Jesus.
This is one of those books that I can’t recommend highly enough!  If you only read one book this year, try this one, it could change your life!

Review: Teaching From Rest

A Homeschooler’s Guide to Unshakable Peace

by Sarah Mackenzie

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Teaching from Rest is a truly liberating book that takes the emphasis in homeschooling off of sheer academics and textbook learning, and places it back where it belongs, on the relationships we are building with our children, and the delight that is to be found on the journey of learning and discovery.

Teach your children to love what is beautiful, to enjoy and understand great books, cultivate their soul to take on whatever challenge lies around the corner, and you will have succeeded in a great education.

I love the part of this book entitled: Curriculum Isn’t Something You Buy.   I loved this because she gets back to the heart of what education is: mastery of a certain subject.  You can definitely use books to teach a subject, but remember, you are teaching your child, and you are not a slave to the book.  If something isn’t working for you, you are totally allowed to drop it and find a different way to teach your child!  Don’t kill the natural love of learning before it fully blossoms with too much of an emphasis on “finishing the book.”

If you’re worried that you can’t be everything for your children, can’t provide them with all they need to succeed in life, let me help you out with that – you can’t.  But….. God just so happens to be pretty awesome at doing amazing things with the tiny little pieces we have to offer.  He did amazing things with a little boy’s basket that had only a few loaves and fish in it, and He’ll do amazing things with whatever is in your “basket” when you offer it to Him!

My children don’t need me to be perfect or even good at every area of life; what they do need, is for me to be good at being me.  Each one of us is completely unique, with different strengths and weaknesses, and God has chosen us to be the parents of our children.  How amazing is it to realize that He has given us what we need to be the best parents for our children?!  It is so easy to compare ourselves to one another, homeschooling is no exception.    Sarah Mackenzie encourages all homeschooling parents to look at their own strengths, and delight in them!  At the end of the day, the relationship with your children is more important that any one subject.

Be the person you want your children to be.  If you want your children to love great books, to tackle new challenges, to be life long learners, guess what, you need to be and do those things!  It’s so easy to pour ourselves into parenting our kids and teaching them all the things, so that by the end of the day, we’re too exhausted to do anything other than just turn on a movie, turn off our brains, and relax.  But what if there was another way?  What if by modeling the type of people we want our children to be, and by challenging ourselves, almost most than the active teaching of our children….we ended up with the outcomes we were hoping for?  In my very limited experience of trying this method out, I can say that it works!  Our children are always watching us, and our actions are 100% more powerful than our words.

This is a short little book that will take you a few days to read, (or maybe just one day, depending on how often you get interrupted!) and it’s well worth your time!  Sarah Mackenzie constantly brings the focus back to God, and challenges you to ask, “Am I trusting God in this situation, or trying to control all of the outcomes?”

 “Today, do less.  Do it well.”

-Sarah Mackenzie

Review: Better Than Before

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Gretchen Rubin

I absolutely loved this book on habits!  It was an incredibly practical, entertaining, applicable book that anyone who wants to go a little deeper into studying habits would find engaging!

Rubin takes a close look at how habits are formed, and, more importantly, what keeps them successful.  She discovers that not all people are exactly the same, (who knew, right?!) and that carries over into habit formation as well.  She comes up with many different factors that go into how different people form habits, sort of like a habit personality test.  As you read this book, with her anecdotes and examples, you’ll find yourself identifying with certain people and traits, thus making it that much easier to form effective habits in your own life.  Self-knowledge is one of the most important things when trying to form a good habit, or break a bad habit.
There are basically four “types” of people in the world when it comes to forming habits.  We have the Upholder, the Obliger, the Questioner, and the Rebel.  Upholders like habits, and they rely on their inner motivation to keep them going, usually, with great success.  Obligers need external motivation, they need to feel like they are checking in with someone.  Questioners rely on internal motivation as well, but will only keep a habit after they have questioned all the reasoning behind it, and have become completely convinced in their own minds that it is worth pursuing.  The Rebel is kind of a wild card.  They will basically keep a habit if they want to. External “checking in” is more likely to drive them away from a habit, rather than towards it.  If they feel that it is helping them be their true self, they will be much more likely to do it.

Rubin talks about “Pillars of Habits,” which are basically different key strategies in ensuring a habit’s success.  The four pillars are: Monitoring, Foundation, Scheduling, and Accountability.

  • Monitoring. We need to be precise with our habits, we can’t just “want to get in shape,” we need to “work out for 30 minutes 5 times a week.” If we can count it, we can monitor it.  This is an effective strategy in people who want to lose weight by eating better.  People have seen better results by simply keeping a food journal – monitoring what they eat – before even trying to change the amount or quality.  Monitoring works!
  • Foundation. One of the best thing we can do for ourselves, is start with a habit that helps us be more self-controlled.  Examples of foundational habits are: getting adequate sleep, exercising, eating and drinking right, and decluttering.  Each of these habits have huge benefits and can really help us form better habits in other ares of our lives.
  • Scheduling. This is such an important one!  (Unless you’re a Rebel, then it will probably just be annoying) I find for myself, it doesn’t often work to attach something to the clock, as a mom to three little ones, life is not always predictable.  However, what works for me is to plan a habit around something that is always the same, such as always reading aloud after breakfast.
  • Accountability. Obviously this one is very important especially for those of the Obliger tendency, but most people tend to do better when they are accountable to someone or something.

One of the things I loved about this book was how totally practical it is.  Rubin has an entire section of the book dedicated to helping you anticipate roadblocks that will come into your path, and how to get rid of them.  She also gives you strategies for starting a new habit, and even goes into some of the deeper reasons why you might find it difficult to kick a bad habit (sometimes our bad habits are so tied in with our identity, it’s hard to let them go).

Habits can do so much to make our lives simpler and more effective, while freeing us up to pursue more of what is truly important to us in life.

Which of the four habit “personalities” do you identify with?  If you could master one habit for the rest of your life perfectly, which one would you choose?

Review: Tumtum & Nutmeg

By Emily Bearn

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These are some of the most delightful children’s books I have ever read!  Think “The Borrowers” meet “Brambly Hedge” and you’ll have a good idea of what I mean.  If you haven’t read either of those, I would highly recommend them!

Tumtum and Nutmeg are two adorable mice living in the broom cupboard of a small cottage.  They live with two children, Lucy and Arthur, as well as their absent minded inventor father.  The mice take an interest in the children and their problems, and decide to become their “fairy godmother.”

I read this book to my 3 and 4-year-old, although it will delight children much older as well!  The stories are written with a beautifully whimsical style, introducing lovely vocabulary into the minds of its readers.  It’s a wonderful transition out of picture books into chapter books.  The chapters aren’t too long, and the adventures keep their attention and have them begging for more!

If you decide to read these wonderful stories, I recommend starting with Tumtum & Nutmeg: Adventures Beyond Nutmouse Hall, and continuing with Tumtum & Nutmeg: The Rose Cottage Adventures

Review: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo

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The Japanese art of decluttering and organizing.

In this practical and yet whimsically written book, Marie Kondo shares her method of tidying up, which includes serious decluttering and organizing.  She encourages people to sort through their belongings, one at a time, handling each item and asking a simple question, “Does it spark joy?” If it does, you keep it, if not, you toss it.  At the end, you’ll have a home filled with things that you love, and that bring you joy.  It’s a subtle difference from other decluttering methods, but the positive angle she approaches it with makes the entire process more life-giving.  Once you’ve decided what you are going to keep, all you need to do is find a place for everything, and then put things back where they belong.  You won’t have to continually re-organize and declutter on a daily basis.

 Kondo encourages you to take plenty of time before you begin decluttering and organizing to really be intentional and envision what you want your room/home to look like when you are finished.

Kondo talks about some of the reasons that we keep clutter around, reasons like obligation, guilt, or desire to get our money’s worth from it.  She describes how every thing has a purpose, and once something has fulfilled its purpose, we do not need to feel obligated to keep it around any more.  There is so much freedom in recognizing that an item has accomplished its purpose, and then passing it on!

I can tell you from personal experience that this works! In the short time since finishing this book, I have gone through many items in my home, using the “KonMari Method” and gotten rid of a lot of things that were unnecessary and did not “spark joy” and already, my home feels cleaner, lighter, and more happy!

It’s amazing the power that decluttering can have!  Making that many decisions (hundreds, by the time you’re done) can give you a much clearer idea of who you are, what you love, what you don’t love, and what your style is.  It brings confidence and an excitement in being unique.  There is such a freedom that comes with you are no longer a “stuff manager”, but can come home to a place that is restful, full of beauty and joy, a place that you are delighted to call home.

Review: Essentialism by Greg McKeown

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From the moment we wake up, we are bombarded with the message that “more is better.” We are given the dangerous idea that we can have everything, do everything, and be everything.  We are told that busy people are productive people, and productive people are valuable people.  We expend our energy and focus on a hundred different things, and then wonder why we are not succeeding at anything.

Enter “Essentialism” by Greg McKeown.  The main point of this book is: “less but better.” This book was like a breath of fresh air, and clearly communicated an idea that needs to be heard more.  His motto of “less but better,” stresses the importance of discerning the vital few from the trivial many.

“What if we stopped celebrating being busy as a measurement of importance? What if instead we celebrated how much time we had spent listening, pondering, meditating, and enjoying time with the most important people in our lives?”

Greg McKeown

The power of choice is one that is often underutilized and under-appreciated.  Our obligation to say yes fills up our life with things that aren’t even important to us, because we don’t know how to say no.  Essentialism strongly encourages us to think carefully before we commit to anything, and to dare to say no to all but the most important things. “If it is not a clear yes then it should be a no.” (McKeown)

“To discern what is truly essential we need space to think, time to look and listen, permission to play, wisdom to sleep, and the discipline to apply highly selective criteria to the choices we make….these very activities are the antidote to the non-essential busyness that infects so many of us.  Rather than trivial diversions, they are critical to distinguishing what is actually a trivial diversion from what is truly essential.”

Greg McKeown

The “fear of missing out” is at direct odds with the idea of essentialism.  Essentialism takes a great deal of courage, the courage to say no to the “okay option” now, in order to be free to say yes to the best option later on.  We don’t need to experience everything, and in fact, we can’t.  So isn’t it better to be extremely selective about what we allow to fill up our lives and our minds and our day?  Essentialism celebrates the fact that we only get one life, so instead of wasting it on non-essential, trivial pursuits, we should choose the best option, we should think more carefully before jumping into things, and we should take time to really live in the here and now.

This book is far from theoretical.  In each chapter, the author outlines another step that contributes to essentialism, and then provides some solid examples of how you might apply these in your own life.

In conclusion, some of the main takeaway points from this book include:

*Less, but better.

*Have extremely well-defined goals

*Learn how to say no to all but the vital few

*Focus on the moment

Have you read Essentialism?  What do you think of the idea “less but better?”

Reading suggestions: If you read and loved Essentialism, you will probably enjoy “In Praise of Slowness” by Carl Honore, or

The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg

Review: What Alice Forgot, by Liane Moriarty

SPOILER ALERT: This review contains mild spoilers.

I have to admit, this book didn’t grab me right away.  But when I decided to give it a second chance, I could barely put it down!  It was such a unique book, a novel dealing with a lot of heavy issues: divorce, infertility, disappointment in life, premature death.  The author brings in a few different voices to tell this story, which makes it much deeper and richer, as we see what it looks like from the heroine, Alice’s eyes, but also get to read the story through the eyes of Alice’s big sister and her adopted grandmother.

Synopsis: This story is about Alice, a 29-year-old “mother to be” expecting her first child with the love of her life.  She wakes up from an accidental fall at the gym to discover that she is actually 39 years old, with three children, and no memories of the past ten years.  The story is about her rediscovering what she missed, who she has become, and what she is going to do about it.

What would you do if you suddenly woke up to find you had “lost” ten years of your life in memory?  Finishing this book made me look a little differently at my life.  We all have those really bad days, the ones we’d rather just forget about, but we also have the really beautiful days and moments, the ones that make us unbelievably grateful for life, and for the people around us.  Sometimes, all we need is a little perspective, and I felt like as Alice got a new perspective on her life, as her old memories began to come back to her, I was able to find a new perspective and appreciation for many aspects of my own life.

*Favorite quote*

“Early love is exciting and exhilarating.  It’s light and bubbly.  Anyone can love like that.  But love after three children, after a separation and a near-divorce, after you’ve hurt each other and forgiven each other, bored each other and surprised each other, after you’ve seen the worst and the best – well, that sort of a love is ineffable.  It deserves its own reward.”

Have you read What Alice Forgot?

Review: The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg

Why We Do What We Do In Life And Business

In a nutshell, The Power of Habit is about how habits are created, how we can change a habit to essentially create a new habit, and how once habits are created, they don’t require memory, they become automatic responses.

 “Habit is a choice that we deliberately make at some point, and then stop thinking about, but continue doing, often every day.”

Charles Duhigg

Our brain is constantly forming new habits, as a way to make things easier and open up more space for new information.  Habits are never fully forgotten, even if new habits are created.  Memory is not necessary in habitual behavior.  In fact, habits use a totally different part of the brain, which is why we can be doing something habitually, while thinking about something completely different, and still accomplish what we set out to do.

I found the chapter on how habits are created really interesting.  Essentially, there is a cue, a routine and a reward.  This is the habit pattern. New habits can be created once we understand what is driving the old habit.  If you want to change a habit, you need to first identify what your cue is, this triggers the routine (habit), and then you can identify the reward you are seeking.  Once you identify the separate parts, you can begin a new routine following your regular cue, receive your reward, and eventually, it will become a new habit.

When reading a book like this, I love the “aha moments,” when I really identify and agree with what I’m reading.  I found this in the chapter on “Keystone habits.” These are foundational habits, which, when implemented, begin to affect other areas of our lives.  Some examples would be exercising regularly or making your bed every morning. These types of habits tend to have a domino effect, and as you focus on the one habit, you will notice other areas of your life changing as well.

Part of the process of creating healthy habits in our life is simply looking ahead and anticipating things that might come up, then planning what our response will be.  It’s much harder to make a good decision in the middle of a high stress situation. Willpower becomes a habit when we choose ahead of time what our course of action will be. Writing down our plans ensures an even higher success rate.

“If you try to scare people into following Christ’s example, it’s not going to work for too long. The only way you get people to take responsibility for their spiritual maturity is to teach them habits of faith.”

Rick Warren

The chapter on habits and how they affect the church and Christianity was really an eye opener.  Many of the spiritual disciplines we practice are habits that we create in our lives, and the more they become habit, the more they become part of our identity.  The difference is, when your habit is something like reading your Bible daily, or praying throughout the day, as opposed to something like choosing a healthier snack, the results in your life will be much more drastic.  Many of these spiritual habits would be the “Keystone Habits” mentioned earlier.  Once you start to implement them, and they become habit, they will begin to spill over onto other areas of your life.

Have you read The Power of Habit?  What did you like best about this book?