May and June Reads

I’ve fallen a little bit behind in sharing but figured it was time to share my May and June reads!

In case you missed it, here’s what I read in January, February , March and April.

As always, you can also follow along on Instagram with #SamaraReads2018.

Not That I Could Tell by Jessica Strawser

This was a March Book of the Month book. The story follows an investigation in a close knit neighborhood after a mother and her twins go missing in the midst of what seems to be an amicable divorce. The neighborhood women are speechless of where she’d gone and why she’d leave and if they should be concerned. I really enjoyed it. I wouldn’t necessarily consider if a thriller but it was a good read.

Bring Me Back by B.A. Paris

B.A. Paris is one of my favorite thriller authors and her newest book does not disappoint. Twelve years ago, Layla goes missing while on a vacation road trip and is never seen again. Her fiancé Finn has moved on and is now engaged to her sister, Ellen, when he starts receiving mysterious emails and starts wondering if Layla is alive or someone is trying to get inside his head.

Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell

This was an April Book of the Month book. Ten years ago, 15 year old Ellie Mack goes missing without a trace. Her mother, Laurel, has struggled for the past ten years when she meets Floyd and his 9 year old daughter, Poppy. Poppy strangely resembles her missing daughter and slowly Laurel starts unraveling what really happened to her daughter.

Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown

This has been on my list for quite some time. I’ve read other Brene Brown books and always finished them feeling as though I have sigh better understanding of self. This one was no different. She examines what it means to belong, learning how to behave and love those we don’t see eye to eye with, removes the barriers of hatred. I think EVERY human should read this and apply her principles to life, especially in the hostile political environment we currently live in.

Drunk Mom by Jowita Bydlowska

I ordered this book after seeing Nora Borealis post about it on Instagram. Jowita’s memoir shares, in detail, her downward spiral into alcoholism after becoming a mom. While she openly writes about previously becoming sober, this spiral is dangerous and hard to watch [and read about] She wrote in a very real and raw way- so much so that you could actually feel how strong her desire to drink was on the pages of her book.

The Child Finder by Rene Denfeld

This book was recommended to me by a hockey mom friend. The story follows investigator Naomi [nicknamed The Child Finder] as she looks for a little girl who disappeared in the mountains a few years earlier without a trace. It was a really good read.

Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage

This was an advance readers copy sent to me by the publisher. It goes on sale July 17. Seven year old Hanna is making her mother Suzette crazy. She does not talk, has been kicked out of local schools, yet is a perfect angel when Suzette’s husband and Hanna’s father, Alex, is home. The book is a slow unraveling of the relationship between mother and daughter and ultimately brings quite a bit of awareness to child mental health. I didn’t like the ending. AT ALL.

The Perfect Mother by Aimee Molloy

This was a May Book of the Month book. A normal girls night out for some mom friends turns scary when one of their babies goes missing while out. There were a lot of characters to keep track of but overall I enjoyed this one.

Disclosure: Affiliate links are included in this post. That means if you click on and purchase a book I have linked, I will receive a small commission from Amazon. It will cost you no more or no less. 

The Greatest Showman Birthday Party [Under $100]

Frannie just turned 5 and to celebrate she wanted a Greatest Showman themed birthday party. It is hands down her favorite movie and soundtrack and she has watched it so many times she could probably recite most of it to you.

We held her party at her local dance studio which was fun because the instructor assigned to her party was able to create a little routine to one of the songs from the movie and have the kids perform for their parents.

I wanted to share some of the things we did for her party as of all of the parties we’ve ever thrown I think this was the simplest and also likely the lowest cost. Without including the studio fee of $100, the party cost us less than $100, yet included all of those fun and special details I like to include for parties.


Birthday Invite from Etsy $16 & then I send the .jpeg to Walgreens. Most of the time you can get 5×7 prints made for around $1 with a coupon code.


  • Barnum’s Animal Crackers  [24 for $38 on Amazon or around $1/box at Target]
  • I typically order cupcakes from our Target bakery as they can customize colors and flavors as desired. $17
  • I think everyone who throws parties needs a Cupcake stand [Mine is Martha Stewart brand from Macy’s that I purchased years ago but this one is similar.]

  • Clown Noses $6.99 [I displayed these in a clear glass jar on a cake stand, things I already owned but could use to display them.]

Not pictured: Temporary Tattoos   $4.70 I bought these for the kids to choose before the party began while we waited for all the friends to arrive. Super simple little treat that takes up some time.


April Reads

It’s time to share my April reads!

In case you missed it, here’s what I read in January, February and March.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

This was another Book of the Month* club book. The story follows 30 year old Eleanor Oliphant who lives a rather boring life until she meets a new coworker and they happen upon an elderly man in distress. This book went in different directions than I expected and at times was slow but I enjoyed it over all. 

The Year of Less by Cait Flanders

At 29 years old, after spending two years paying off $30,000 of debt, giving up alcohol and giving her health a complete overhaul, Cait decides to give up spending for a year. She creates rules on what she can and can’t buy. [She can buy groceries but no take out coffee etc] and she chronicles the experience month by month. I really enjoyed this book. It’s inspiring, honest, relatable and most of all, authentic.

Our Little Secret by Roz Nay

This was a tangled love story that results in a missing woman and is full of secrets and lies. It’s definitely a thriller.

Dance Stand Run by Jess Connolly

I’d been reading this book month by month since the new year. I liked the way Jess honestly walked through her understanding of holiness and encouraged woman to stop watering down their faith. 

The Widower’s Wife by Cate Holahan

I LOVED this thriller- it was hard to put down. A couple in financial distress make a plan to make all their problems go away but the plan changes and twists throughout the book.

The Reader by Bernard Schlink

This book starts out like a love story around the time of WWII and gives a fascinating perspective of a woman’s role in Nazi Germany. I wasn’t sure how much I liked the first half but I really enjoyed the second half. 

A Mother’s Reckoning- Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy by Sue Klebold

On April 20, 1999, Sue Klebold’s son Dylan walked into Columbine High School with his friend Eric Harris. Together the two boys killed 12 students and a teacher before taking their own lives. She writes honestly and reflectively about her son, how it felt to live in those minutes, hours and days that followed. Her story captivated me and broke my heart. Her feelings as a mother, full of grief and shame and wondering “how could my child, the promising young man I loved and raised, be responsible for such horror?” Her book is haunting and sheds light on so many dark corners of mental health and suicide awareness.



Disclosure: Affiliate links are included in this post. That means if you click on and purchase a book I have linked, I will receive a small commission from Amazon. It will cost you no more or no less. 

March Reads

It’s time to share what I read in March.

In case you missed it, here’s what I read in January and here’s what I read in February. 

The Broken Girls by Simone St. James

This was a February Book of the Month* book. The story follows journalist Fiona Sheridan as she works on uncovering why anyone would ever want to restore the rumored, haunted boarding school, Idlewood Hall. The story goes between 1950 and 2014 and was a really good book with an ending I didn’t see coming.

Sex, Jesus and the Conversations the Church Forgot by Mo Isom

In a world that is so saturated with sex, author Mo Isom shares her testimony and gives an honest look at the conversations the church forgot to have. She goes where few Christian authors have gone. It was a good read even though parts were redundant. I would recommend this book to youth workers and high school and college age students.

Other People’s Houses by Abbi Waxman

This was my March Book of the Month Club* book. It was a quick and easy read but definitely more chick-lit like than I usually read. Also? A lot of language. Frances Bloom is carpool mom extraordinaire- always available for her kids and her neighbors but when she discovers one of the other neighborhood moms having an affair, everything goes haywire. One thing the book did well was examine the difficulties of divorce and separation on children.

Hunger by Roxane Gay

This one was HEAVY. This was a memoir that I learned about on a podcast at the end of last year so I added it to my list and as an add on one month with Book of the Month*. Roxanne writes about her lifelong weight struggles and the underlying reasons for her overeating and weight gain. It felt like reading the pages of her journal. It was long and it was heavy.

*Interested in joining Book of the Month? Here’s my link– use YESPLZ for a free book when you join.

February Reads

Here’s the books I read in February [and if you missed my January reads, you can see those right here.] As always, you can follow along book by book on Instagram- #SamaraReads2018

After the Eclipse by Sarah Perry

I learned about this book on the Smartest Person in the Room podcast- coined as one of the best books of 2017, I knew I had to read it. It was a really hard, devastating read but also important. When the author was just 12 years old, her mother was brutally attacked and ultimately murdered while she slept in the room next door. Now in adult hood she writes about waking up, what she heard, what she saw and the aftermath of living without a mother. This book took me longer than normal because it was hard to read, it’s hard to think of a 12 year old going through such trauma and the aftermath of being shipped back and forth between family members.

Two Girls Down by Louisa Luna

This was my January Book of the Month* book. A mother’s worst nightmare, her two daughters are taken during broad daylight from a strip mall parking lot. A former bounty hunter and ex-cop team up to find the sisters and put the pieces of the puzzle together. It was an intense, somewhat scary read but really well written.

The Woman in the Window by A. J. Finn

Once I started this one I didn’t want to put it down. Such a thriller. This was a Book of the Month* book and while it’s 400+ pages, it’s a quick read. A homebound woman suffering from agoraphobia [fear of going outside] sees something from her window with grave consequences. It’s being made into a movie by Fox. Really good read.

The Tech Wise Family by Andy Crouch

If you’re looking for ways to create healthy boundaries for yourself and your family, this is a good book to start with. Written in a Christian perspective, some of it I didn’t relate with it but still other pieces of it were quite apropos. Raising kids in an iPhone generation is hard.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

This was my February Book of the Month* club book and it did NOT disappoint. [It’s also Oprah’s book club book right now, so I expect you’ll be seeing and hearing a lot about this one.] Just a year into their marriage, Roy is wrongly convicted and sent to serve a 12 year sentence in jail. Can their marriage survive while he’s behind bars just a year into their marriage? When the conviction gets overturned five years in, he is ready to return to his life again but is his wife? This was a really bittersweet read. I really enjoyed it.

Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis

Full disclosure: When I kept hearing about this book I assumed it was about make up and had NO interest in reading it. I was wrong. After hearing Rachel Hollis on a podcast about a month ago, I was intrigued and started following her on Instagram [one of my favorite follows] and knew I had to read her book. She goes through all the lies she once believed and had to overcome to become who she was meant to be. She writes from a Christian perspective but is so real and so raw. I have a feeling this will be one of my top books at the end of the year.

*Book of the Month Club was one of my favorite 2017 discoveries. Each month you’re given the option of five books, you choose one on the 1st and it’s shipped directly to you. Join now with code: YESPLZ for a free book.

*Affiliate links were used in this post. That means, if you use my links and purchase a book, I get a small percentage back. Purchases won’t cost you more or less, but it will help fund my book habit which I in turn share with you.

January Reads

At the request of several I decided that this year I’d recap my books each month [likely with a top ten post to still come at the end of the year] but this way you can get an idea of the books I’m reading throughout the year.

In January, I read:

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

This was on all sorts of top ten lists for 2017 and was a September 2017 Book of the Month* Club book.

The story follows Mia and her daughter, Pearl, who are living a nontraditional life in a very traditional neighborhood.The story delves into transracial adoption, surrogacy and abortion. It was really good- I could hardly put it down.

The Chalk Man by C. J. Tudor

The story goes between 1986 and 2016 as the main character, Eddie, looks back on some mysterious happenings in 1986. Now an adult looking back, strange things start happening again that include some of the same chalk drawings from his childhood and he slowly tries to put the pieces of his memory and what really happened together. This was my December Book of the Month* book.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

This is a classic book that I had never read and Henry was gifted for Christmas. With the movie coming out this spring I knew I wanted to read it and am so glad I did. The book mostly follows Meg and her adventure to find her father and ultimately keep herself, her brother and her friend Calvin, out of harms way. I wouldn’t call it science fiction but it’s along that line. The story has so many messages and an ending that will make you want more [there are four more books following this one]. It’s a Newberry Medal Award winning book and aimed at young readers – I would say late elementary and middle school would be best. This would be a great book to read aloud to kids.

The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

This was another December Book of the Month Club* book. This book was a thriller and once you start you won’t want to stop reading. It follows “Nellie” and her relationship with Richard. The beginning of the book is a lot of back and forth between the past and the present but by the time you start Part Two, you’ll be fully invested in finding out where the story will go. It’s hard to say much without giving a lot of the story away. The book definitely went in directions I was not expecting. 

Tell Me More by Kelly Corrigan

I’ve long been a fan of Kelly Corrigan and this book did not disappoint. It’s written in the style of a memoir going through 12 important things we need to say like: I’m Sorry, I Was Wrong, Tell Me More, I Don’t Know, I Know and more. She writes in a conversational and real way about her life, her marriage, her family of origin and raising her daughters. I’ll likely go back to this one many times over.

Currently Reading:

Daily Acts of Kindness Devotional 

Dance Stand Run by Jess Connolly

After the Eclipse by Sarah Perry 


*Book of the Month Club is a monthly subscription service. Each month, you choose one of five books and it is shipped directly to you. You can get your first month free by using code: MYBOTM


Things to Know Before You Go to The Wiz at Children’s Theatre Company

This past weekend, I was able to attend one of the opening weekend shows for Children’s Theatre Company and Penumbra Theatre’s production of The Wiz.

The modern day twist of the classic story was very well done by a star studded cast and deserved the standing ovation it received at the end.

Here’s a few things to know before you go:

1. This is the first time CTC and Penumbra Theatre have collaborated but I have a feeling it won’t be the last. For those not familiar, Penumbra Theatre was founded in 1976 by Lou Bellamy to create a forum for African American voices in the Twin Cities theatre community. Penumbra has achieved national recognition for its quality productions and role in launching the career of many respected playwrights, including two-time Pulitzer Prize winner August Wilson. Today, Penumbra Theatre is Minnesota’s only professional African American theatre, and is one of only three professional African American theatres in the nation that offer a full season of performances.

2. The Wiz is best enjoyed by older kids and adults. I would say older elementary. There are some scary parts, strobe lights and magical concepts that young children might find overwhelming and also frightening. I would not bring my 4 year old. You can read all of the content advisories on their website.

3. The Wiz runs about two hours with a 15 minute intermission.

4. Paris Bennett, who plays Dorothy, was a top 5 American Idol contestant. That girl can sing!

5. This is the most diverse play I’ve ever seen at CTC, not just because of the cast but the audience as well. It’s inspiring to see the Twin Cities come together and celebrate this diversity.

The Wiz is playing on the United Health Stage through March 18 and tickets are still available online.

Disclosure: This is not a sponsored post. I am so thankful to work with CTC as one of their influencer partners. All opinions expressed above are mine and mine alone. 

My Favorite Podcasts

If 2016 was the year I [re]-discovered reading, 2017 was the year I discovered podcasts.

Call me late to the party but I really, really didn’t understand the whole podcast thing for a long time. But it’s actually super easy [especially on iPhone] and there are quite a few podcasts I enjoyed or ended up subscribing too this past year.

I mostly have listened to podcasts in the car when driving. When I have my kids I tend to use one of my earbuds because most of them aren’t necessarily meant for kids, though I have heard there are some good kids podcasts I might look into this year because if anyone knows us at all they know we spend a fair amount of time in the car. So feel free to leave any suggestions.

Here’s my list:

In the Dark: This was my first podcast and I was drawn to it because it is Minnesota based and about the Jacob Wetterling case. There is SO much information in this podcast that I’d never heard before. Season Two is coming out this spring and I’m anxious to hear it.

S-Town: Oh my word. If you can get past the insane Southern accent, this story will draw you in. It’s investigative journalism at it’s best as Brian Reed from NPR and Serial meets and follows John, a man who hates his Southern Alabama town and has suspicions about an unsolved murder from years earlier.

Serial Seasons 1 & 2: Neither season is related to the other but both story’s keep you captivated. Season one tells the story of Adnan Syed, who is currently serving time for the murder of his girlfriend in 1999. It’s an eye opening look at the justice system and you’ll be left with lots of questions on if he did it or didn’t do it. Season 2 tells the story of Pfc. Bowe Bergdahl who was held captive by the Taliban for five years. You’ll hear in depth conversation about his experience in the Army and his life experience and again, you’ll be left wondering what really happened.

Sorta Awesome Show: Such a cheesy name but such a good show. I started listening to this show over the summer on long walks. There’s a new episode each week/ Four women talk about just about everything under the sun- from parenting to ethical shopping to social media boundaries to friendship. Most shows have made me laugh.

Smartest Person in the Room: This podcast is done by Laura Tremaine, she’s also been a part of Sorta Awesome show up until the new year. I haven’t listened to a ton of her episodes but each episode includes an interview with someone “smart” on the subject at hand. A couple of my favorites: Mind Body Series- Eating Disorders and Viral Series- Professional Bridesmaid. This podcast has also inspired a few of the books on my To Read list.

Parent Cue: This was another podcast I discovered over the summer and would dive into on long walks. With a Christian focus, Carlos Whittaker and Kristen Ivy delve into various parenting topics and issues with eternal significance.

Honorable Mention podcasts

For the Love with Jen Hatmaker

The Shauna Niequist Podcast

Where Should We Begin with Esther Perel [Not for little ears!]


Are you into podcasts? What podcasts are you listening to? 






Books I’m Gifting This Season

Several people I know have been looking for book suggestions for Christmas. I love gifting good books. And if they are pretty to look at, even better. Here’s a few of my favorites this season for gifting:

[You can click on the images to go directly to Amazon for more information or to order.]

Little People Big Dreams series

There are several of these books about different powerful women- from Amelia Earhart to Maya Angelou to Frida Kahlo to Rosa Parks and more. These books are BEAUTIFULLY made and the perfect bedtime story for preschoolers. Frannie is getting a couple of these for Christmas and I can’t wait to read them.

If I had a Little Dream

This is one of Joanna Gaines’ favorite children books and it’s no wonder- it’s got a beautiful, empowering message and again- it’s GORGEOUS. Gifting this to a sweet little three year old in our life this Christmas.

Uni the Unicorn

You really can’t go wrong with any of Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s children’s books and this one is our newest favorite. Rosenthal passed away this past spring and all of her books are now a beloved treasure to me. Her stories are creative and fun and kids and adults both love them.

Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls

This one is a little spendy buuuut I think worth it. Each page is devoted a story and picture of an extraordinary woman. Evie’s getting this one for Christmas.

 Q&A a day for Kids

Evie has been asking for this book for months. If you’ve got a little journaler in your family, you want this book. Each page has space for three years of answering the same question. So fun to look back and see how answers change and some stay the same. They also have an adults version of this book.

365 Days of Wonder

Wonder was one of my favorite books of 2017 and I’m so glad to see that momentum continuing with this book of Mr. Browne’s precepts- a quote for every day of the year about courage, friendship, love and kindness.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid 

I do NOT understand the allure of the Wimpy Kid books but alas both Henry and Evie love them. Henry devoured the newest book in the series, The Getaway, within a couple hours last week and Evie just finished it up too. Any of the Wimpy Kid books are sure to be a hit for those late elementary schoolers.

The Lego Ideas Book

We gifted this book to Henry years ago and it still sits upon our shelf. Even though kids are so creative at coming up with their own buildings and creations, it’s fun to have an ideas book too. This is perfect for any lego-lover in your life.
The Dangerous Book for Boys

This isn’t necessarily a new one but it’s a new one to me. This book is for boys of all ages and has all sorts of neat info- from how to make a slip knot, learning how to really fish, discovering magnetism, exploring the various wars and more. Lots of opportunities for dads and boys to create projects together. This one’s already under the tree for Henry this year.

Tell Me More

This is out for pre-order right now but I already love it. [Also, local friends, she’s coming to MN in January!] I’ve loved every Kelly Corrigan book I’ve ever read and any of her books would make a great gift.


This is my required day before the first day of school reading every. single. year. This book is perfect for a mom in your life as she becomes a mom, sends one off to preschool or kindergarten or even college.

Daily Acts of Kindness Devotional

A sweet new friend of mine co-wrote this book and I bought it right when it came out. A simple page a day and chalk full of so much wisdom on living a kind life. It’s the PERFECT gift for a sweet friend in your life.

Of Mess and Moxie

The best Jen Hatmaker book ever. This book is perfect for a friend with moxie. This book is guaranteed to make her laugh and laugh some more.

Bread and Wine

I’m a big huge fan of Shauna Niequist and this is the perfect book for someone in your live who loves entertaining and gathering. Full of recipes [some of our family favorites have come from this book.] and full of life giving truth.

Present over Perfect

Maybe a gift for you. If you’re ending the year feeling tired of running and doing and over scheduling, this might be the perfect read to catch your breath and remember the importance of being present versus being perfect.

Extra Good News Amazon is currently having a book sale- use BOOKGIFT17 for $5 off a book purchase of $15 or more!

Disclosure: Affiliate links were used in this post. 

Related link: My Best Reads of 2017 

Ten Years Gone

On Thursday, December 13th, 2007 at 1:05 a.m. my mother, my mumsy, passed away. She left the pain and the illness she’d been living with and fighting seven months and went home to her heavenly home.

Ten years ago today my mom left us and in so many ways she left us prepared for her death. Details already attended to, instructions taken care of. Even as death came closer to her, she took care of her family, because that is what she always did.

She died just twelve days before Christmas but don’t you worry, that tree was trimmed, the cookies were baked [mostly thanks to aunt Janet] and there were presents for all wrapped under that tree.

So many things in the world have changed in ten years- the first iPhone had JUST come out when she got sick and NOW LOOK AT US ALL.

Even our family has changed [and grown] since she left us.

Sometimes I hear her voice and other times I wonder, would I even still recognize it? Every once in awhile I’ll see a look, a photo, or mannerism that reminds me of her, yet again sometimes I wonder if my mind is playing tricks on me- seeing the things I want to see.

Ten years is a long time to be a mother without a mother and there are so many times I have longed for her. So many times I have wanted to scream about the unfairness of it all and so many things she has missed.

Kelly Corrigan explains that perfectly in The Middle Place:

“…”Your mom had a good life. She had a lot of happiness. She was so uncomfortable. Now she’s at peace.”

Well, yeah, okay, good for your mom. But what about you? What about your peace? Your comfort? Who’s going to remember what you were for Halloween that year or the name of your fifth grade teacher? Who’s going to cry when your baby is born? Who’s going to sit in the front row of your play?

Look mom! This is the scene where we get engaged. Oh! You’re gonna love this part! Look at me in my white dress…And in this next scene, we get pregnant! …Isn’t this a good play? Don’t you love it? Wait! There’s more…My husband gets promoted in the third act! Don’t go yet! My son starts kindergarten next year! Wait til you see my daughters first swim meet! Don’t leave- it gets so good!”

Don’t leave mom, it gets so good.


I think it’s pretty common to idealize someone after they’ve passed away but I’m not going to do that, instead I will tell you just how she was.

She was loving and beautiful and funny and smart. She was honest and tactful and knew how to present herself in any and every situation. She was strong.

She loved the Lord but she was not a Bible-thumper. She had a quiet, personal faith and she prayed me through many days.

She loved her husband, my dad, and even after thirty years of marriage and thirty-six years together was still madly in love. When people asked if she was married, her response was always, “Happily.”

She was such a good mother. She wanted the best for us in every way possible, I’ve seen that more now that I’ve myself been a mother for so long, all of the thankless tasks she did. Sometimes I wish I had treated her better when I was growing up. She worked hard and made sacrifices so that we could have every experience and everything we ever needed and more. Most of all, when we needed someone in our corner and we often did, she was there.

Mom and Henry- 2006

She loved her grandchildren and made each one feel special in their own way. The joy she had for Henry, my only baby she was alive to meet, was indescribable. She would have found so much delight in my girls.

She was a good friend, always up for a chat around the table with a cup of black coffee.

She may have had her faults, we all do- she was stubborn as heck and Jeff and I often laugh about a particular “meatloaf” incident. But she was my mom- irreplaceable and imperfectly perfect.

I am so glad she was mine.