Books Like Lavender and Chamomile Tea

I am unapologetically opposed to thrillers right now. Horror, suspense, crime, gothic, any page-turner that might keep me awake and add stress to my life—just no. Come back another decade of my life. Maybe.

Right now I read to relax, usually for half an hour or an hour before bedtime. This year my life has been full of the little day-to-day stresses that come with small children and a part-time job, and also some bigger stressful events. I struggle with anxiety and insomnia anyway. For the last few years I’ve maintained practices that have helped keep these in check, and one of these practices is choosing to unwind with a restful activity in the evening.

Hence, reading books that are like lavender and chamomile tea. And by that I don’t mean sappy and sentimental—that would be more irritating than relaxing, to me at least—but truly good fiction and nonfiction books that provoke thought and bring enjoyment.

I haven’t blogged about what I’ve been reading for … well, a long time … so I have a long list that I will review briefly. (Note to self: briefly.)

Paul Miller

A Praying Life, A Loving Life, and right now Love Walked Among Us have been my nonfiction selections of the last several months. I read nonfiction slower than fiction—usually only half a chapter or a chapter a day. I love Miller’s literary writing style and his convicting honesty.

A Praying Life reshaped how I pray. A Loving Life is my favorite of his books—it’s not a marriage book per se, though there’s lots of application in that area, since it’s about love in all our relationships. His theme of the J curve and how love leads to death and then resurrection spoke powerfully to me. So often I expect love to be easy and happy, and then when it’s not, I wonder if I made a wrong turn somewhere. Real love is hard but worth it.

Love Walked Among Us is specifically about how Jesus loved. It is oh-so-practical on topics like how to respond to manipulation or how to confront. I’m halfway through this one and loving it so far.

The Magic of Ordinary Days by Ann Howard Creel

I read this in late summer, and in hindsight it’s my favorite fiction of the year. I can’t even put my finger on why I liked it so much. It’s so memorable. It draws you in. It’s kind of an upgrade on Love Comes Softly. It’s nuanced and honest.

The Lake House by Kate Morton

This novel was my treat to myself while staying at a lake house this summer. It’s an engrossing vacation read. Kate Morton has definite Gothic overtones, and one of her books I put down partway through because it was a little too disturbing for me. This one is a wonderful read, though. She’s so skillful in how she weaves together a plot from two different time periods and multiple viewpoints. I just read it admiring her art and loving her characters.

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

This is a novel about family dysfunction and specifically how children are pressured by their parent’s experiences and expectations. These characters largely respond to their issues by burying them—until something happens so tragic that they have to deal with their stuff. I found the mother difficult to relate to. But all in all, this is a well-told story and it challenged me to think about how my life experiences impact my parenting. It’s definitely a warning not to put on our children pressures formed by our own disappointments and insecurities.

Peace Like a River by Leif Enger

At the expense of sounding a like a teenager, I’ll say this book was a little weird but still cool. The ending particularly is like, what?! But the development of characters and setting is so spot on, and I definitely felt myself drawn into the family drama and sympathetic to everyone involved.

Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah

Kristin Hannah’s novels always seem to have at least two major female characters (this one has three—a mother and two daughters), and though there’s romance on the periphery of her stories, the focus of the plot is always on the relationships between the women. She’s not my favorite author—she sometimes seems a bit unrealistic and contrived. But that said, this was another fascinating story, even if it did toe the line of what constitutes “relaxing” and maybe I was researching the siege of Leningrad on my phone at 10 PM.

America’s First Daughter by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie

Well-researched, fascinating historical novel about Thomas Jefferson’s oldest daughter. After reading a novel about Sally Hemings earlier this year, I was interested to read about this period in history from a different perspective. I appreciate how this novel deals with the nuance of Jefferson’s family—it’s not overly condemning or praising, and it helps to understand the challenges of that time period. I read this shortly before the election and decided that Jefferson being elected President was probably a more traumatic election cycle than what we just endured. Historical perspective helps.

The Mitford Series by Jan Karon

If any books fit the chamomile tea analogy, it would be these. So relaxing. I really enjoyed the first of the series—loved the characters and the small town humor. But to be honest, books 2 and 3 are in my bedroom waiting to be read. I only made if halfway through book 2. Maybe this series is a bit too relaxing?

Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty

Liane Moriarty always seems to have some moral ambiguity in her stories, and at least one PG-13 plot line. That said, I can’t think of any other contemporary author whose characterization is so spot-on. She can write empathetically from almost any viewpoint. It’s fascinating to see one character from another character’s eyes, and then promptly switch places. I think this kind of reading can bring a greater empathy and self-awareness to life as you’re more cognizant of what it might be like to walk in someone else’s shoes.

This novel focuses on three couples who experience a crisis together. Each of the six characters—four in particular—struggle in specific ways that affect their marriages. I appreciate how Moriarty deals honestly with the stuff of life and emphasizes the priority of working through that stuff and staying married. Besides, she’s just fun to read.

That’s all I can remember from the last several months—next up is Hillbilly Elegy which I am excited about, and I’m hoping to get my hands on Ann Voskamp’s latest book for my next nonfiction read.


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