I’ve added a caveat for my list. I can’t include any authors I know well enough to call “friend.”

Because I know once I start naming some of my favorites, I’m afraid I’ll inadvertently leave off someone and I can’t bear the thought of missing someone or hurting their feelings. So this list has the ten best books by strangers, that I read in 2016. A few of the writers I would go so far as to call acquaintances, but we don’t have the kind of relationship that I could email and ask if we could stay with them when we’re passing through town. That’s what I mean by “knowing” them.

Now that that’s out of the way, back to the list.

In Mysteries:


JD Robb, CALCULATED IN DEATH. All of Robb’s In Death books are fabulous, well-crafted, and shining examples of excellent mysteries. I love them all, but CALCULATED IN DEATH stood out for me this year. The plot was exceptionally well done.


Margaret Maron’s books are often in my To Be Read piles or on my Top Ten lists. Butmaron-dd¬†DESIGNATED DAUGHTERS was stellar in many ways. The mystery is well set up and executed. The red herrings were done so skillfully that I continued second-guessing myself all the way through.

In Non-Fiction:

EMPTY MANSIONS by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell is an amazing empty_mansions_paperback_cover_smalllook at a little known person in American history. William Clark was a U.S. Senator from Montana, he made a fortune in silver and copper mining, hung out with the Astors and Vanderbilts and Carnegies. Built huge homes. Amassed a collection of fine art to rival a museum. EMPTY MANSIONS covers Clark’s life, but is focused more narrowly on Clark’s youngest daughter, Hughette, who lived as a virtual recluse but maintained three homes she never visited, one she never even set foot into. It’s fascinating.


PRESENT OVER PERFECT is Shauna Niequist’s newest. I loved COLD TANGERINES, POP-coverBITTERSWEET, and BREAD AND WINE. PRESENT OVER PERFECT is a wonderful story of Shauna’s journey from stressed and overloaded to a simpler life with a focus on what’s important: God and family. I feel like I’m probably just a skoosh too old to fully appreciate all she has to say. I’ve already lived the stressed life (kids, work, social stuff, church obligations, the house — although admittedly not at her level. I wasn’t speaking in arenas). So the lessons were less revelatory to me than they would be to a mom in her thirties. But it was a good reminder and did provoke some though about how to slow down and enjoy life a bit more.

That’s enough for today. The rest of the Top Ten will post tomorrow. Thanks for reading!





Book Talk Tuesday: Bread and Wine

This one sat on my Kindle for a loooong time before I moved it to the top of the pile. I first read Shauna Niequist a few months ago. I really enjoyed her first book, Cold Tangerines. 

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Bread & Wine by Shauna Niequist


Bread & Wine is a collection of essays about the nature of food and fellowship and sharing meals and celebrations around the table.

Shauna Niequist has been compared to both Donald Miller and Anne Lamott. She shares their commitment to honesty along their journey.

I was blessed to see a production in June of Cold Tangerines: The Play. It was amazing to see Niequiest’s words brought to life on the stage. I’m so glad she agreed to allow that project to bear fruit.


I’m baffled sometimes by God’s choices for our lives. Okay, my life. I’ve long wanted to have regular family nights around the table. Taco Tuesdays. Monday Night Football and Chili. Meatballs on Fridays.

A night where we would fix dinner and set the table and whoever showed up would pull a chair to the table and join in.

But my husband had a job that demanded shift work. We didn’t have a regular schedule. We might have Taco Tuesday for two weeks, then Tostada Thursday, then a week of nothing and pretty soon, we’d be back to wanting and thinking about regularly hosting friends and family, but not actually doing it.

Bread & Wine makes the case for how we truly connect over food and drink. Those connections and relationships are worth planning and cultivating.

I loved this book and it will be one I return to often. And not just for the recipes.



Book Talk Tuesday: On My Shelf

I’m briefly between books.

Book Talk Tuesdays: Magazines


I have a stack of magazines I’m trying to clear out so I’m reading those and passing them on. In another week or so I’ll know how to make jewelry for my friends out of old soda can pop-tops and soap wrappers from Martha Stewart and will whip up an amuse bouche from some dates and frozen peaches to take to the next church potluck.

Well, maybe not.


Book Talk Tuesday: Playing by Heart by Anne Mateer



I’m in the middle of a few books or just about to start them.

I just received Anne Mateer’s latest, PLAYING BY HEART. I’ve loved Anne’s previous books and I can’t wait to start this one.




I’m also reading on my Kindle.


Book Talk Tuesday: Bread & Wine by Shauna Niequist

BREAD AND WINE by Shauna Niequiest is a lovely collection of essays and recipes about food and how it sustains and brings us together around the table. Watch this blog in the next few weeks for reviews of both of those.