August book report

Question: What makes you want to read a particular book? Why is it that some books grab us, and others, even with a glowing review from a friend, don’t interest us in the slightest?

Author Gretchen Rubin shares monthly book recommendations on her blog, but believe the more someone tries to explain a book to her, the less likely she is to want to read it, so she never writes much about the books she recommends herself.

Will and I joke about the fact that as soon as one of us says ‘Oh you’ve got to read this book’ or ‘I think you’d really like it’, somehow it makes it completely uninteresting to the other person.

Anyhow, here’s what I read in August, and why I chose it in the first place:

The Happy Marriage

This book was mentioned in a list of upcoming African authors, and since I live on the continent, I havee tried to read more from local writers. However I struggled getting into this one and it’s only half finished. Perhaps I shouldn’t include it on the list?

Cutting for Stone

The author of Cutting for Stone, Abraham Verghese, wrote the forward for When Breath Becomes Air, a hauntingly beautiful true story I read earlier this year . I poked around to find out what Verghese had written himself and found multiple rave reviews about Cutting For Stone. However it wasn’t available on Kindle, so I forgot about it. Then, I was ordering another book on Amazon and needed to spend a little more to qualify for cheaper shipping, so I added this to the order. Hilariously enough, about a week after it finally arrived, I was walking through our local supermarket, which has a very large collection of books, and saw it sitting there in front of me. I could have purchased it in Nairobi for about half the price of getting it shipped!

Anyhow, I thoroughly enjoyed this book, the setting in Ethiopia and the beautiful story it tells.

Present Over Perfect

I chose this as I’ve read the rest of Shauna Neiquiest’s work and had caught snippets of Present Over Perfect on her blog and social media accounts. I enjoyed it, though I think I need to read it again at a later date. I’m very much in a season of actively choosing to take on more, juggle the hustle, dig deeper and go, go, go – which isn’t the season for the rest of my life but it is for right now – and it’s a very different season to the one Shauna writes about so well in Present Over Perfect. In saying that, I still soaked up a number of great gems.

A Praying Life

I’ve been reading this slowly over the last few months as I work through it in a Bible Study with some dear friends. We were going chapter by chapter until we realised just how many chapters there are (they are quite short though!). A fantastic, very honest read on prayer, probably the best and most practical book I’ve read on the subject.

Smarter Better Faster

This book had been referenced in a few others I’ve read recently. I can’t remember exactly, but I probably purchased it on Kindle after falling down the ‘Here’s-what-others-bought’-or-‘Recommended-for-you’-rabbit-hole. A great read on productivity in that social-sciencey style that I really appreciate – a good story, some interesting research, a nice general concept to pull it all together. I underlined a gazillion things and then even wrote down some quotes in a notebook for application to real life.

The Power of Habit

I enjoyed Smarter Better Faster so much I went on to read another book by the same author, Charles Duhigg. Once again, great writing style, interesting material (I’m such a habit nerd!) and some practical ideas to apply to my own life.

How to Become a Straight A student

After ‘returning’ to school late last year, I’ve found myself not only a Public Health student, but a student of distance learning and studying. I somehow stumbled across Cal Newport’s blog and a number of his ideas really clicked (and helped tremendously when I was revising for my exams in June), so I order this off Amazon with Cutting for Stone in preparation for school starting again in October. It covers a lot of the same things I had read on the blog, but I also gleaned some new ideas to study smarter. Now I am wondering if there is anything more nerdy than studying how to study?😉

Previous book reports here.

august ramblings

Two posts in one day, this must be some kind of record for me. I just posted my July book report but wanted to capture a few things online. This blog has served as a journal of sorts and I so appreciate reading back over old entries on what I was thinking, reading, doing in years gone by.

I spent the evening conducting a ‘mid-year review’, with a candle lit and a big black puppy dog curled up at my feet. I was inspired (again!) by Sarah’s post, aptly titled ‘How to conduct a great mid-year review (on yourself!)’, and it had been in my diary for weeks and weeks – August 14 isn’t exactly mid year, is it! But I finally found an hour to pull out a notepad and jot down some thoughts.

I don’t do New Year’s resolutions, but I do pick a word for the year and always have a birthday list on the go. This year’s ‘word’ is actually two words: dig deep. It was good to take a few minutes and reflect on how that has unfolded in my life these past six seven and a half months. I found a scribbled line from earlier in my journal ‘dig deep – a year for roots, not for blossoms‘, and while this year has brought forth some beautiful blossoms, there has been something powerful about focusing on the roots. I’ve muttered ‘dig deep’ to myself a hundred times this year already, after hard days at work, late nights of study, pushing through endless lists of errands. They’ve been a good fit, those two words of mine!

Following Sarah’s advice, I reviewed the past year according to some example questions – how have I grown? What have I learnt? Do the rhythms of my life feel more or less balanced? At the end of each year I usually do a run down of ‘What has gone well this year? What has not gone well this year? What do I want the next year to look like in terms of work, family, friends, spirituality, health, travel etc?’, so I included that in my mid-year review as well.

I am in a season of life that I recognise is busy, and know it should be busy, and I am grateful it is busy! But the review also reminded me of a sermon from Tim Keller on the Sabbath that I listened to earlier this year and have since listened again twice and taken two pages of notes. It’s called Work and Rest and I highly recommend it (it’s on iTunes). He talks about practicing Sabbath as an act of liberation (if you don’t rest, if you can’t say no, if you are too busy – you are a slave!) and as an act of trust (I am not the one who keeps the world running, He is!), and throws in a handful of very practical disciplines to practice Sabbath in our modern world. It’s one thing I want to embrace further for the rest of the year.

Subject change. Speaking of putting things in my diary, I’m a full blown convert to the Planner Pad system. A former colleague got me intrigued (she said she’d used the same type of planner for something like 10 years) and after using it myself for 10 months, I’m hooked. It’s not the prettiest planner but it’s so functional and it’s nothing washi tape and some highlighters can’t fix.

There’s a little notes section on each weekly spread in the planner and I’ve been using it to track expenses or file ideas or, more recently, capture favourite quotes. Two quotes that have inspired and challenged me of late:

“Have some fire. Be unstoppable. Be a force of nature. Be better than anyone here. Don’t give a damn what anyone things.” – Cristina Yang (yes, I get my inspiration from prime time television…)

It gave me a good kick to go hard on a few things at work, to not shy back or hold myself down.

And second quote:

“The quest for a contemplative life can actually be self absorbed, focused on my quiet and me. If we love people and have the power to help, then we are going to be busy. Learning to pray doesn’t offer us a less busy life, it offers us a less busy heart.” – Paul Miller, A Praying Life

I’m working through A Praying Life with a couple of girlfriends, we do dinner and discussion and prayer each Tuesday night. This quote jumped off the page at me – a reminder to look beyond myself, a reminder that it’s okay to be busy, a reminder that even in the busy, prayer will bring peace to my heart.

August ramblings, over and out.

July book report

I read another four books in July, though I have to say A Little Life was by no means a little book! It’s always a little difficult to get a sense of a book’s length when reading on a Kindle, but Google tells me the print version is a solid 720 pages, probably the longest book I’ve read this year. I’m still lost on how to adequately describe A Little Life – heartbreakingly tender, harrowing, beautifully written, sickening. At times, I couldn’t put it down. At other times, I had to put it down. It is a heavy book and the story touches on some dark subjects, so be warned if you’re after a light hearted holiday read!

However if you are after a light hearted holiday read, I’d recommend Eligible, which I also read in June. It’s fluffy and fun, a modern day adaptation of Pride and Prejudice that’s only a little bit cheesy🙂

My third June read was We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. It has popped up in my ‘recommended for you’ list on Amazon for ages, but I had no real idea what it was about until I got started (which, if you do want to read this, is the way to go – any pre-reading googling will give a key part of the story away) I thought it was a clever, thought-provoking story, with an interesting premise and great characters.

And on the non-fiction front, I finally read Outliers: The Story of Success. My first Malcolm Gladwell, I think? Fascinating stories and observations, just the kind of social-sciencey type of writing I love most.

Previous book reviews here.

27 before 28 – birthday list review

One of my favourite things about my birthday each year is reflecting on my ‘birthday list’ and brainstorming ideas for my next one. I turned 28 earlier this month, here’s my review of my 27 before 28 list.

Things I completed:

Safari in Samburu

We celebrated our birthdays this year with a long weekend up in Samburu. And after four years in Kenya, we saw a leopard! Two leopards!

Start my Masters

Check! One year down, one gazillion to go🙂

Send handwritten letters

Well, kind of. I sent a handful of handwritten postcards and cards. Forever a fan of real mail.

Read 10 books from the Rory Gilmore list

Is this totally cheesy? It was a fun way to find new books and read some classics I might not necessarily have made time from. I read 1. Year of Magical Thinking, 2. Heart of Darkness, 3. Living History, 4. The Secret Life of Bees, 5. Flowers for Algernon, 6. One Hundred Years of Solitude, 7. You Learn By Living, 8. How to Breathe Underwater, 9. House of Sand and Fog and 10. Pride and Prejudice.

And I absolutely loved Year of Magical Thinking, The Secret Life of Bees and Flowers for Algernon.

Print 5 new photos

I still haven’t printed a handful of travel photos we want to hang up, but I’ve got some great photos of friends up on our fridge now🙂

Lasagna on the 18th

I don’t know if I can really count this one as done as I only made lasagna a few times, instead of twelve, and I think I only made it on the 18th once. But

Year 3 of the One Line a Day diary

One of the best little memory keeping activities.

Say yes!


Take a hot bath

And it was glorious!

Put myself out there work wise

I’ve been happily employed this past year, and that’s a great feeling.

Continue my ethical wardrobe

Most of my new purchases continue to be second-hand, more eco-friendly, or more ethically sourced. I say most, because there have been a few purchases that have slipped through, but even living in Kenya it has been possible to make my wardrobe better!

Long walks with Rum

More, but still not enough.

More cuddles with Will


Less Facebook, more email

No Facebook on my phone

Eat at five new Nairobi restaurants

Maybe the easiest item on the list? There are new restaurants opening up here every month, and everyone knows I love my food.

Get organized (outer order = inner calm)

This planner has been my lifesaver this year.

End our use of ‘one-use’ plastic

No more clingwrap, and no more disposable plates. Lots of recycling of take away containers.

Eat the Kengeles steak


Get rid of 30 things

I didn’t keep track, but I can be a fairly ruthless purger when it comes down to it.

As per every year, there were a handful of things that I didn’t get done. Too busy, too lazy, clearly didn’t want to do them enough! But every year there’s a new birthday list and there’s something thinking up new items for my birthday bucket list that I love.


June book report

This month I finished off the following four books. I enjoyed each of them in their own way – Better was my favourite (let’s face it, Gawande books will always be my favourite!) but I also really appreciated The Sleep Revolution. Did you know Roger Federer gets between 11 and 12 hours of sleep per night? I know 9 hours is the magic number for me, but I so rarely get it. I’m going to focus on that for the second half of this year.

Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance

After You

Lean In (reread)

The Sleep Revolution: Transforming You Life One Night at a Time

Head here for Jan – May 2016 book reports!

May book report

I felt like I spent every waking moment of May with my head in a textbook as I prepared for my exams in early June! But I managed to get some ‘for fun’ reading in as well, mostly thanks quick spurts of reading in the taxi to and from work.

In an effort to save some cash and capitalise on all the books I already own, I leaned heavily towards ‘rereading’ this month. I know some people never reread, but there is something really lovely about revisiting a book you already know you will thoroughly enjoy. I often find I enjoy a book even more the second time around – you pick up little things you may have missed and are reminded of all the reasons you enjoyed the plot the first time around.

Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence (reread)

Well, I got halfway through this. Ironic that I couldn’t focus on a book about focus? It was good the first time, and I’d love to reread the whole thing soon, but I just didn’t have the brainpower this month.

Wild: A Journey from Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail (reread)


Interrupted: When Jesus Wrecks Your Comfortable Christianity (reread)


Travelling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith (reread)

Thought provoking.

When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor and Yourself

I’ve heard various people talk about this book, and finally read it for myself. I was hoping for some fresh insight, but it was a good refresher on a number of concepts/ideas/notions that are so key to good ‘development’ work.

Previous reports: January, February, March, April