Tag: Tara Conklin

My Favorite Books of 2015

Posted on December 27, 2015 by

2015 best books mamawolfe

 “A room without books is like a body without a soul.” ~ Marcus Tullius Cicero

I am a book lover. I love being surrounded by stacks and stacks of books, both read and unread. I adore walking into someone’s home and scanning their bookshelves, and get giddy when I see familiar titles. I carry at least one – if not two (just in case, you know) – books with me everywhere I go. I typically read at least two titles at once – a novel, an inspirational morning book, and some sort of writing guide. I collect books like some people collect records (wait – does anyone DO that anymore?) and update my Goodreads profile like a pro. My Amazon wish list is full of…books. That’s about it. And I LOVE to gift books – in fact, this year my mom’s present was a HUGE bag of books that made her as excited to receive as it felt to give. She reads more than I do!

In 2015 I set my reading challenge too high, and missed it by about 13 titles. I did manage to complete at least 27 full-length novels, which I consider pretty satisfactory considering I have over 100 English students in class this year (think – 100 papers per assignment, at least 5-10 minutes to read/grade each, totaling 500 minutes which is OVER 8 HOURS minimum!). This year I’m sharing my favorite books, only because I want to share just the very best. I’ve added links to make it easy to read more about these titles on Amazon; I’d love to know if you agree with me – and if you’ve read something you think I should add to my list, be sure to comment. I’m always on the look out for great stories.

Here are my 2015 favorite books, in no particular order…

The Mapmaker’s Children by Sarah McCoy

I read more historical fiction than any other genre, and this was one of my favorites. The main character, Sarah Brown, is the daughter of abolitionist John Brown, and embraces the cause of the Underground Railroad all on her own. The author weaves a parallel story set in current time about a woman struggling with infertility who finds a mysterious porcelain doll head in her root cellar. I loved the mingling of past with present, and the ideas that women throughout history have challenged themselves to create the life they really desire. I tried to write my own bit of family history after reading this book – you can get the story of my great, great grandfather in my blog post, “Sheep Shearer’s Children In Lake Tahoe”.

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Pulitzer Prize winner. Besides that, this story is a glorious, delicate and beautiful tale about a blind French girl and a German boy who are trying to survive World War 2 in France. It’s a long read (530 pages), but I guarantee you will be captivated by the author’s ability to weave together two characters who should never have met, all the while sharing the idea that despite our circumstances, people really do try to be good to each other.

The House Girl by Tara Conklin

Another historical fiction story set in parallel structure, The House Girl tells the stories of Josephine Bell, a seventeen-year-old slave living in Virginia, 1852, and Lina Sparrow, a young lawyer living in New York City, 2004, who is tasked with research into a class-action lawsuit surrounding a mysterious Civil War era artist. I loved the interplay of art and history and secrets, and the idea about what does justice really look like.

If I Fall, If I Die by Michael Christie

This book was deliciously creepy, telling the story of a young boy named Will who had never been allowed to go outside. So what does he do? He defies his mother, sneaks out (wearing a protective helmet, just in case) and finds a kid who shows him the joy of skateboarding. There’s a mystery that happens, too – but this story showed me the extremes that parents will go to to protect their children, and the dark side of not allowing kids to experience life on their own. You can read my blog post, “Living In Between Love and Fear”,  inspired by this book.

All Together In One Place by Jane Kirkpatrick

After reading this first book in a series, I am now completely hooked on Jane Kirkpatrick. All Together In One Place shares the story of life during the westward movement in the U.S., a time when women were forced to pick up, move, and follow their husband to someplace they had never seen. What made this one of my favorite books was the multitude of strong female characters – women so strong they outlasted most of the men and managed to create their own destiny along the way.

My Name Is Mary Sutter by Robin Oliveira

I loved discovering this writer – another woman tackling the issues of feminism as told through the story of Mary Sutter, a Civil War era midwife who battles prejudice and discrimination against women. This was one of my favorite books because while the depictions of medical treatments of the time could be a bit hard to stomach, the courage and fortitude of Mary captivated me. I couldn’t put this one down.

Girl Who Fell From The Sky by Heidi W. Durrow

To my surprise, I wound up meeting this author during a conference at BlogHer this summer in NYC, and she was as lovely and delightful as her novel. While this wasn’t historical fiction ( the story is set in current day Chicago), her themes and story line most definitely have been repeated throughout our country’s history. Her story of Rachel, a biracial girl who survives a family tragedy, made me really stop and think about racism in our country, and how we all contribute to the ideas of social justice, and the power beauty and race hold in our world.

I Am Here: The Untold Stories of Everyday People 

OK- true confession – I’m sharing this title as one of my favorite books of 2015 because this collection of short stories is where I first became a published author in print. My story, “The Ride of a Lifetime”, was selected to be published by Story Shelter in their first ever print edition. To say I was over the moon is an understatement; after decades of seeing other author’s names on the title page, I did do a happy dance to see my very own there in black and white. I Am Here is an interesting collection of real life stories of regular people who have had extraordinary experiences – and my tale of our first trip to Nicaragua fit right into their theme.

Do you see anything you’d like to read in 2016? Do you share my love for any of these titles or authors? I’d love to hear your thoughts – please comment and let’s create another amazing year full of books!

P.S. – Too late for making my list, but I’m about to finish A Window Opens by Elisabeth Egan. This title came to me via a friend’s blog A Design So Vast – Lindsey’s post about “Best Books of the Half-Year” is full of interesting titles. It’s fun to stray away from my usual genre to dump myself inside the life of another modern woman determined to balance motherhood, career and marriage.

If you’re interested in my past year-end book posts, you can find my 2013 recommendations here, and my 2014 favorites here. I’ve also written a “Books I Love” post here.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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The Reasons Why I Didn’t Write A Book Last Summer

Posted on September 9, 2015 by

“What I want most this summer is simply to spend time with the ones I love. To have more days just like this one. Enough presence of mind to pay attention. And enough presence of heart to make gratitude my song, acceptance my refrain.”

Katrina Kenison

I didn’t write a book last summer. In fact, I didn’t even write a single word of a book. The boxes of letters remain untouched, unopened and unread in the same position that they began the summer, eager for my attention and begging to release their stories. But like so many things during the eight weeks or so when I detached from teaching and attached to myself, the book never materialized. The stories remained in their envelopes.

This was going to be the summer I finally did it, the summer when the story that’s been forming in my head for decades would finally find its way from my ruminations to my laptop. I’d even taken those first steps – I’d declared my intention, out loud, to a few friends and even some strangers. I’d moved the storage box from under my desk to my writing space, thinking that if I looked at it every day I would obviously make it happen.

June coast summer

But somehow, as usual, life got in the way. At first it was because Lily was home for only a week in June, and we needed to adventure to the coast and take long walks along the creek and go for Dutch Bros coffee even when we really didn’t need it. I told myself it was OK, I was just ‘detoxing’ from teaching and that the summer days would hover in front of me, intimidating me with their silence just as soon as she left for Oregon. I convinced myself, as I counted down the days until she left, that I would straighten out her room, lay down the letters and get to work. I bought a new journal and found my favorite writing pen, and instead of writing my words, I finished reading stories written by Barbara Hambly and Tara Conklin and dreamed of what the Civil War must have been like.

Carmel surf summer

And it was July, and the heat smacked us over the head like a battle weapon. So hot I couldn’t think or breathe and instead of settling down in front of the air conditioner to write, I bolted for the beach – I took my boy and my dog and sat in the fog and watched him board and swim and somehow even managed a little sunburn. I devoured Robin Oliveira’s book about Mary Sutter, a Civil War nurse, and cried through Lee Woodruff’s retelling of her husband’s tragic accident in Iraq.

And then John started to feel ill and life turned inwards as it often does when he can’t manage or work or talk very much. We went inside for a few weeks and spent our energy figuring out how to navigate chronic illness when it consumes your life. It felt a bit like hell. I read some more – Kim Edward’s The Lake of Dreams helped me disengage when I needed to step away.

Chelsea market summer

Still, the journal remained unopened, calling to me in a voice I couldn’t answer. I went to New York City for the first time, hopeful that surrounding myself with writers would ignite the story, would retune my ear to her whisperings and somehow, something would appear on the page. Instead, I walked Central Park in the heat, devoured gelato in Chelsea Market, went to bed early, and filled my head with thoughts about equality and kindness and my introversion kicked in big time. I escaped the city with my oldest girlfriend, watched the fireflies at dusk, hiked a mountain and ate Thai food with her sons. Oh – and I met an actor on the airplane home.

Big Sur Summer

In August, I covered my new journal with lavenders and blues and sea glass and butterflies. I read about the somewhat scandalous hidden life of Edith Wharton. I stayed in bed late, listened to NPR and when Lily came home, I relished every single ordinary moment together. August 3 came and went, and I celebrated one year of healing since Cameron broke his leg and ten days of both babies sleeping under the same roof. My girl and I escaped to Carmel and Big Sur, riding with the windows down and hiking in the sun. I spent a peaceful night alone at Tahoe and dashed off to a long weekend of hiking, family and gratitude in Yosemite.

Utah summer

And before I knew it we were loading the rental car, driving across the desert and depositing Lily back at school – this time in a house. We spent a few days shopping and unpacking and hiking and laughing and suddenly it was time to go. Those ten hours driving home across the Salt Flats were long and tedious and when I walked into the house I simply cried, not only because she was gone, but also because the summer was, too.

Then, I cleaned. Every room in the house. I cleaned her room and moved in new bookshelves and lugged the boxes of letters onto her desk. I placed the journal alongside and vacuumed the floor, straightened her duvet cover and cleaned the glass on her dresser. I walked out her sliding door into the garden and noticed the Russian sage alive with honey bees and a red-breasted hummingbird just leaving the tall crimson tube of a Canna flower.

summer Big Sur

I breathed and reminded myself of all that I did do this summer, and realized that those things, as small and ordinary as they may seem, were exactly what I needed to do. They were exactly what I wanted to do; those moments of paying attention, of walking alongside those I love, and of feeling gratitude for the gifts the Universe has presented me with. This was supposed to be the summer I wrote a book, but instead, I created the stories of my life, every single extraordinarily ordinary moment. And for that, I am truly grateful.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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