Recent Reads: Jan/Feb 2016

In honor of #ShelfieWednesday, I’ve taken a¬†“shelfie” of my recent reads, numbers 4 through 8 for the¬†#SixtyBooks in 2016 Reading Challenge:


4. A Call to Conscience: The Landmark Speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. edited by Clayborne Carson and Kris Shepard

5. Eight Hundred Grapes by Laura Dave

6. The Sketchnote Handbook by Mike Rhode

7. Divergent by Veronica Roth

8. This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Díaz IMG_8044.JPG

I’m sure you noticed a lack of theme or consistent genre here, that¬†each of these books is completely different from the next. Yes, they are very different from one another…and I enjoyed¬†each one!

That’s one of the things I love most about reading #SixtyBooks and making reading a regular part of my daily routine: ¬†the variety of topics and different perspectives I get to experience.

What have you been reading?


#SixtyBooks in 2016: End of January Check-In!


Time flies when you’re reading having fun! Our first month of reading together is almost up.¬†Laura and I are thrilled to be in such great company reading¬†#SixtyBooks in 2016!

As we near the end of the first month of this challenge, almost 300 people completed the online form, nearly 50 people have joined the Goodreads group, about 40 people have joined the Facebook group, and well over 100 readers are regularly posting updates about their reads on Twitter. We know there are also hundreds (maybe thousands?) of students taking the challenge in schools all over the country.

The #SixtyBooks movement is not only about our own personal reading but also about taking time to inspire others to read as well.

So, thank you to everyone who is participating in the challenge, spreading the word about #SixtyBooks, and encouraging others to make reading a part of their daily routine!

Laura and I are always talking about new books we are looking forward to¬†reading, so¬†she had the great idea to share some of those books that we “can’t wait to read” with you.

Here are a couple of our “can‚Äôt wait to read”¬†titles at the top of our TBR¬†lists:

Melissa’s Books:

Laura’s Books:

Leave a comment below or join in the discussions on social media to let us all know what books you are looking forward reading to this year.

Happy reading! 

Your #SixtyBooks in 2016 hosts,
Melissa (@mmorriswrite) & Laura (@lagnella)

Pen holders from Fenice

At the end of last year (for the last 100 days to be exact), I paid extra FullSizeRender.jpgattention to the material “things” in my life that brought me happiness (all the while being very¬†careful to get rid of anything that didn’t directly bring me happiness) and documented those things for¬†the #100HappyDays project.

The exercise was a great opportunity to reflect on the things around me — literally — and helped me to realize why¬†it was that certain “things” were bringing me joy.

There are clear patterns in the photographs¬†that I took¬†for the project.¬†Not surprisingly,¬†most of the “things” I recorded were either:¬† a gift from a loved one, a memento¬†of a trip or a special event, something associated with relaxation or eliminating stress, or something directly connected¬†to a creative task.

These pen holders from Fenice fit right in with all of those things I recorded for the #100 HappyDays project. They are a perfect example of how a little “thing” can bring much joy.

IMG_7941These tiny, magnetic pieces of leather are designed to hold a pen, be used as a bookmark, or both.

They work great with both books and journals. They adhere to the books with magnets, so they are removable; they can be moved around to any place in the book without damaging the book and be moved from one book to the next. They make an excellent gift for anyone who likes to have a pen or pencil handy while they read!

The only trouble I found is that these products were difficult to¬†obtain¬†here in the US. I searched online and in person in many retailers, but couldn’t find anything like them.¬†(We were eventually able to find someone selling them on Amazon, but since they came from¬†Korea it took a while for them to be shipped here,¬†and there were also high fees for international processing.)

I’d love to find someone here in the US who sells these products or offers something similar. In the meantime, I am also open to ways we can make something similar on our own. Maybe sewing thin magnets into fabric sleeves or thick ribbons, starching them for rigidity and durability? If you have any suggestions, please let me know!


A Short History of Myth by Karen Armstrong 

goodmyth.jpgA Short History of Myth by Karen Armstrong is exactly what the title promises.

It’s a short book about myth. Because of its intentional brevity, Armstrong¬†moves quickly over many topics, covering a span of time from 20000 BCE to the present. While it can be read on its own, the book is actually also¬†part of a larger publishing project called The Myths where some of the world’s most respected authors are re-telling¬†well-known myths in¬†their own style.

There were many¬†concepts discussed in the book that I would specifically like to explore further: ontology (the study of the nature of being, becoming, existenceIMG_7937, or reality), the idea of and the use of the word “everywhen,” and the the roles of both awe and participation in the practice of storytelling.

This short book is not a book for someone looking for an in-depth or comprehensive history of everything ever discussed about myth. It is an excellent book, however, for anyone looking for a string of well-written and thought provoking ideas, anyone who wants to get started in studying myth, or as a resource for stepping back to appreciate the (very) big picture of myth.

A Short History of Myth is the third book I read for the
#SixtyBooks in 2016 Reading Challenge.
To learn more about the #SixtyBooks reading movement,


Summary of the book from The Myths project’s website:
Heralding a major series of retellings of international myths by authors from around the world, Armstrong‚Äôs characteristically insightful and eloquent book serves as a brilliant and though-provoking introduction to myth in the broadest sense ‚Äď and why we dismiss it only at our peril.


Book Review: One Word (That Will Change Your Life)

I believe that words are powerful, and so the practice of selecting¬†a word, just one word, to shape an entire year makes perfect sense to me.¬†It’s clear I’m not alone in this thinking, because so¬†many people are¬†taking on this¬†practice in 2016, largely because of the popular book, One Word by Jon Gordon, Dan Britton, and Jimmy Page.

The authors of One Word begin the book by sharing their own personal journeys in arriving to the idea that focusing on a IMG_7816single word for an entire year can have a significant impact on our lives. They share that selecting a word to be our guide is an introspective process, and they invite us to begin our own journey with these simple steps:  1) Prepare your heart, 2) Discover your word, and 3) Live your word.

Early on in the book, the authors discuss the idea of a “stretch team” and the importance of sharing the word with others. They also talk about how the one word we select will have an impact on many facets of our lives including: spiritual, physical, emotional, relational, mental, and financial areas.

Once a word has been selected for the year, the authors share ways that we can keep the word “front and center” in our lives. Suggestions like¬†putting the word on our computer’s screensaver or posting it in our kitchen or car, journaling about the word, and even choosing a song that reminds us of our word are some of the strategies¬†the authors give for making sure that we stay focused on the word throughout the year. And again, they discuss the idea of sharing the word with a close group of people, a “stretch team.”

It is suggested¬†that each year we¬†start afresh¬†with a new word, not repeating words or carrying them over from year to year. At the same time, the authors also ask¬†that we resist the urge to take a “to do list” or “check the box” approach toward this practice. They place a¬†strong emphasis on the One Word approach being a continuous journey.

I would absolutely recommend this book, which is a pretty quick read, to anyone who is open to or looking for new ways of setting intentions and becoming more mindful about how our everyday actions and decisions, including the specific words we use, impact our lives.

IMG_7886(One of my personal reading goals for 2016 is to spend more time reflecting on the books that I read and intentionally incorporating new information into my own life, comparing information or experiences, and seeking out additional or related information. To do this, I’m talking about the books I read with the #SixtyBooks community, keeping a journal just for the books I read this year, and taking the time to write a blog post for each book I read. )

I first started the practice of keeping what I called a “focus word” a few years ago. It was right after a period of time in which I was dealing with many (many!) changes all at once. Because of this, I found myself reflecting on how I wanted to respond to all of the change, the one thing that I knew I could control.

I selected a word, an adjective, as a mantra that I would repeat over and over to myself. When faced with a task or decision, I thought of this adjective and selected the option that I felt reflected it best. I lived each day to embody the word. I used the word when I wrote privately as well as in conversation, not only in describing myself but everyone and everything around me. It was an amazing and powerful experience. Before long, I noticed that people (those I knew well and even total strangers) were using this word to describe me, my actions, and my efforts, and I truly felt like the word described who I was. It worked!

Much like the authors of One Word suggest, I’ve continued to select¬†a new word (for me it’s always an adjective) every January. Where my practice and the authors’¬†practice¬†differ, however, is that I am very careful not to¬†share my word, at least not in…so many words.

Instead, while I keep the word itself private, I let my actions and the influence the word has on me communicate the focus word. I’m able to know when I am successfully making the intended improvements in my life or growing as a person when I notice¬†others use the word I’ve been focusing on to describe me, my behaviors, or my work.

While I agree with the authors that a single word has the power to shape our entire lives and that we need to “live our word” I think it’s important to keep in mind that¬†how we choose to do so is very personal. One person’s strategy will not necessarily work for everyone else. For me, part of the reason this practice¬†has worked so well¬†is that I make many efforts¬†to express¬†my¬†focus¬†word in other ways than sharing the word itself. For other people sharing the word might make it more meaningful. It’s different for everyone.

One Word is the second book I read for the
#SixtyBooks in 2016 Reading Challenge.
To learn more about the #SixtyBooks reading movement,



From the authors’ site:
One Word¬†creates clarity, power, passion and life-change. The simple power of One Word is that it impacts all six dimensions of your life ‚Äď mental, physical, emotional, relational, spiritual, and financial. Simply put, One Word sticks. There is a word meant for you and when you find it, live it, and share it, your life will become more rewarding and exciting than ever.


See Me by Nicholas Sparks

The first of the #SixtyBooks I read for 2016 was See Me by Nicholas Sparks. After finishing this book, I realized that I’ve been reading Sparks’ books for nearly twenty years — twenty years! Two decades! (Where has the time gone?)

The first was The Notebook, and I can remember reading it on a warm afternoon out in my parents’ backyard, gently swinging on a hammock, and just falling in love with the story (which I wrote a little about here). I remember crying as I read and talking about that book to anyone who would listen.

In See Me, Sparks brings uCYE67yDWMAAwdOm.jpgs back to that familiar and remarkable moment just before¬†two people, perfect for one another, are about to meet for the first time. We meet these characters, Maria and Colin, just before they are¬†about to change¬†each other’s lives forever. This story of two people falling in love and the complications that ensue is¬†one that keeps us on the edge of our seats, constantly wondering what is going to happen next.

Those of us who’ve read¬†Sparks’ other books know that¬†the¬†stories can sometimes be pretty¬†suspenseful, with lots of twists and turns, and they don’t always end happily. Throughout¬†See Me, we experience many ups and downs with Maria and Colin.We learn about their their flaws. We learn about their very different backgrounds and their complicated pasts. We worry about what¬†is going to¬†happen to¬†them.

In contrast, the secondary¬†characters in this novel, are a lot of fun, offsetting the otherwise pretty serious nature of the storyline. And though there are some very tense moments in the story when we aren’t quite sure what kind of terrible things are about¬†to happen, we somehow still feel safe through it all, wrapped up in the signature warmth of Sparks’ storytelling.


Book synopsis from the authors’ website:
Colin Hancock is giving his second chance his best shot.¬†¬†With a history of violence and bad decisions behind him and the threat of prison dogging his every step, he’s determined to walk a straight line.¬†¬†To Colin, that means applying himself single-mindedly toward his teaching degree and avoiding everything that proved destructive in his earlier life.¬†¬†Reminding himself daily of his hard-earned lessons, the last thing he is looking for is a serious relationship.

Maria Sanchez, the hardworking daughter of Mexican immigrants, is the picture of conventional success: with a degree from Duke Law School and a job at a prestigious firm in Wilmington, she is a dark-haired beauty with a seemingly flawless professional track record.  And yet Maria has a traumatic history of her own, one that compelled her to return to her home town and left her questioning so much of what she once believed.

A chance encounter on a rainswept road will alter the course of both Colin and Maria’s lives, challenging deeply held assumptions about each other and ultimately, themselves.¬†¬†As love unexpectedly takes hold between them, they dare to envision what a future together could possibly look like . . . until menacing reminders of events in Maria’s past begin to surface.

As a series of threatening incidents wreaks chaos in Maria’s life, Maria and Colin will be tested in increasingly terrifying ways.¬†¬†Will demons from their past destroy the tenuous relationship they’ve begun to build, or will their love protect them, even in the darkest hour?

Rich in emotion and fueled with suspense, See Me reminds us that love is sometimes forged in the crises that threaten to shatter us . . . and that those who see us for who we truly are may not always be the ones easiest to recognize.

Nonstories (and Reflecting on the Last Few Reads of 2015)

I think it’s a lot of fun to read books during the time of year that they take place or when the topic is timely. For example, I like to read spooky stories or books like Dracula around Halloween and books set at the beach in the summer.

For the last few years, I’ve been making it a point to read seasonal books around the holidays. In fact, when I’m out at library sales during the year, I’ll pick up some Christmas-themed books so I can stock up and tuck them away until December rolls around. At first it was just one seasonal book a year, then a couple more, and this year it was six.

These are the seasonal books I read in 2015:

Screen Shot 2015-12-24 at 10.53.05 AM.png

  • Matchless by Gregory Maguire
  • Christmas Legends to Remember by Helen Haidle
  • Promise Me by Richard Paul Evans
  • The Christmas Tree by Julie Salamon
  • Comfort and Joy by Kristin Hannah
  • A Wedding in December by Anita Shreve

Deciding on the last book to read for the year was no easy task. (Nor, for that matter, is choosing the first book of 2016!) I’m really glad that for me the last book I read in 2015 was Shreve’s A Wedding in December. I loved the complexity of each of the characters as well as the historical story within a story that develops as we get to know those characters better. In the book, the characters each reflect on the things that have happened to and around them over the years, the consequences of their own choices, and even the nonstories of their lives…the things that could or might have happened, but didn’t. The nonstories are some of the most important parts of the plot and some of my most favorite things about the book.

Nonstories actually occur to me often (both my own potential nonstories and those of others) and since finishing the book, I’ve been thinking about how important nonstories really are to us, whether or not we are aware of them.

What if we took the other job? What if a different neighbor moved in next door? What if we were a few minutes early or late the day of the accident? And there are so many others…

As we welcome in the new year, I can’t help but wonder if these nonstories might be fodder for our new year’s resolutions? Either way, I’m so happy that Shreve’s beautiful words and this notion of nonstories are helping me bridge 2015 and 2016. I haven’t quite figured yet out what sort of bridge it is, exactly, but I’m certainly looking forward to all of the stories and nonstories that 2016 are going to bring.

Though I did complete my reading goal of sixty books in 2015, there were many books that I didn’t read but would have liked to…more nonstories, perhaps?

Do you ever save books for a certain time of year? Do you like to read books “out of season” so that you can celebrate Christmas in July or escape to the beach in the middle of winter? What do you think of nonstories?

Leave a comment below, or join the #SixtyBooks discussion on Twitter.


(And…remember, you can still sign up for the
#SixtyBooks in 2016 Reading Challenge
if you haven’t already!)