4 GREAT CHILDREN’S CHRISTMAS BOOKS THAT DON’T MENTION SANTA

I have been all about the Christmas books lately, and found myself drawn to the kids books at the bookstore this weekend! While picking up a few new books for me 4 year old and 10 month old, though, I found that 85% of the kids books are either focused on Santa or have Santa in the book. I can think of two reasons that people would want a Christmas book for their kids without Santa, the first being religion – a lot of Christian families don’t want to focus on Santa because they want to focus on the birth of Jesus during the Christmas season. The second reason being that, for whatever reason, they just chose to not have Santa come to their house.

We happen to fall into both the first and the second group here at our house, and navigating Christmas as a family that chooses to not have Santa come to our house is nothing short of tricky, with everything from Christmas books to movies and Christmas decor. With our oldest being old enough to know who Santa is but also young enough to potentially mention Santa to other kids, we try to not bring Santa up too often in our home. That being said, I am always looking for Christmas items that don’t contain the big jolly man. That being said, here are 3 cute Christmas books that don’t focus on Santa at all!

Note: click on the photo I took of each book for the Bookshop.org link to support your favorite indie or the Amazon link to purchase from there.

A VERY QUACKY CHRISTMAS by FRANCES WATTS and ANN JAMES

If your kiddo loves books about animals and you want to encourage sharing gifts and joy, this book may be the pick for you! It’s the perfect length for my 4 year old and has super cute little illustrations.

LITTLE BLUE TRUCK’S CHRISTMAS by ALICE SCHERTLE

We love ANYTHING with motor vehicles in our house (probably because my husband works on cars for a living, but I digress) and this little cutie is a perfect Christmas tale! It rhymes and has bright, detailed illustrations.

CHRISTMAS IS JOY by EMMA DODD

This little book is so beautiful inside with gorgeous shimmery illustrations and a simple, sweet message. Christmas is joy.

THE NOT VERY MERRY POUT-POUT FISH by DEBORAH DIESEN

We adore the Pout-Pout fish in this house and this one is no different! Another cute little story with a great rhyme and fun under the sea pictures, it’s a Christmas win for sure!

CLICK THE LINKS BELOW TO PURCHASE THE BOOKS ON AMAZON!

REVIEW: THE SIMPLE WILD by K.A. TUCKER

Click the following links to read the book synopsis on Goodreads or The StoryGraph.

If I could travel one place next year, I think it would be Alaska. I’ve read two books set there in 2020 (the other one being The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah) and wow, I loved them both so much! Maybe it’s because they both contained epic love stories? Not sure. But my dear friend Phoebe from Read & Wright recommended The Simple Wild to me roughly 100x before I finally picked it up, and I’m so glad I did. I ended up loving this book! It got a solid 4 stars from me, and now I’m on to the sequel, Wild at Heart.

Here are 5 things about this book – 4 that I loved, 1 that I didn’t:

  • I loved the atmospheric writing. I could see Alaska in my mind even though it’s a place I’ve never visited!
  • I loved the relationship between Calla and her father. It was really heartwarming and heartbreaking all at the same time, and added so much depth to a book that could’ve stood on its own as a love story between Calla and Jonah.
  • The supporting characters in this book were so dang wonderful. From Calla’s best friend at home in Toronto to every last person in Bangor that rallied around Wren in his last few weeks, they all brought so much life to this book. I loved them.
  • My favorite romance trope plays out in this book – enemies to lovers. And I thought K.A. Tucker made it fun, witty, and endearing.
  • I didn’t love the way Jonah felt manipulative at times throughout the story. I don’t want to give spoilers, but just know that sometimes his messing with her in an attempt to get a rise out of her went a bit too far in my opinion!

Content warnings:

  • loss of parent to cancer
  • moderate sexual content
  • parental abandonment

Overall, this book was a solid read and I am so excited to get further into the sequel, Wild at Heart, and am really excited that the third book in the series, Forever Wild, comes out on Tuesday, 12/1!

Click the following links to purchase The Simple Wild from your favorite local independent store using Bookshop.org or via Amazon.

GIFT GUIDE FOR THE QUARANTINED FAMILY

I’ve seen a lot of great gift guides going around lately and have loved seeing the ideas people have for the bookworm – and other people’s lists are pretty excellent! While I definitely will be asking for some of those mentioned items for myself for Christmas, the main things we will need are items to get us through the winter as we continue to quarantine while we wait for a vaccine for COVID19.

I’m sure a lot of you are giving gifts to people who are in similar situations (or you are in that situation yourself and need help making your list), so I thought I would put together a gift guide for the quarantined family.

FOR THE MOVIE LOVING FAMILY

A popcorn maker! Since we can’t go to the theaters, may as well bring it to our homes. Don’t forget the seasoning and popcorn containers, too.

FOR THE BOOK LOVING FAMILY

Everyone has heard of Book of the Month (and other similar services) for adults, but did you know that Amazon has book boxes for kids? I have my 4 year old signed up and we love getting the box each month! There are several books to pick from each month and you can skip whenever you want.

FOR THE JIGSAW PUZZLE LOVING FAMILY

One of the hardest things about loving puzzling is the amount of space that it takes up, but a good puzzle board takes away those issues! Especially for people who have pets and kids, it’s just not safe to leave out a work in progress – pieces get lost, the most frustrating thing ever. There are other alternatives to higher priced puzzle boards, like this roll up mat. Below are some great quality puzzles that will be fun for the whole family!

FOR THE NTI FAMILY

NTI is not ideal for any of the parties involved, but it’s especially not fun because of the noise factor in the home. Add in multiple kids watching their lessons at once and…it can get a little crazy. Sudio makes some great headphones for ears of all sizes, and this week, they are having their Black Friday sale! If you use the code JENNASTOP10 you can get an additional 10% off, too!

FOR THE FAMILY OF BOARD GAME ENTHUSIASTS

This game has been so much fun for us, and helps kids work on their dexterity! We laugh a lot while playing it and get some movement as we chase the pieces around that miss.

FOR THE FAMILY WITH ACTIVE TODDLERS

One of the hardest things about quarantine with active kids in the house is making sure those growing kids get the exercise they need for both their bodies and their minds. This scavenger hunt game combines both of those things!

FOR THE FAMILY TIRED OF COOKING

Another challenge in quarantine is CONSTANT COOKING. I cannot be the only mom that feels like ALL I DO IS FEED PEOPLE. This triple crockpot setup looks perfect for throwing a few dishes in in the morning and then not having to worry about dinner later on!

5 HACKS TO MAKE TIME TO READ AS A MOM (OR A GENERALLY BUSY HUMAN)

Recently, my dad asked me a question about a book I read a few years ago. I kind of chuckled and said, “Dad, I can’t remember specific details of a book that I read over 150 books ago!” My dad knows I love to read, but I don’t think it really struck him just how much I read until I threw that number out. I’ve already read over 100 this year, and as a mom of a 4 year old and 10 month old, I often get asked, “How do you have so much time to read?”

The answer isn’t simple. I could talk ad nauseam about how belittling it feels when someone asks me this question (cue the mom guilt), but I digress.

This post is not for the people who ask me that.

It is for the mom that feels buried and like she will never have time to read a book again in her life. To the new mom who can’t figure out how to balance the necessities in life with her hobbies. To those of you who spend so much time being a caretaker that you feel you cannot catch a break. I see you, and I promise there’s a way for you to squeeze in a little bit of reading each day.

HACK #1: AUDIOBOOKS

Audiobooks have been an absolute GAME CHANGER for me in 2020, helping me to read probably 1/3 of my books. Get yourself a good pair of wireless headphones (I have several pair, but my over the ear Sony’s are probably my favorite and are very reasonably priced) and listen to audio whenever you can – folding laundry, washing dishes, running the vacuum, pushing the stroller on a walk, etc. I also LOVE my JBL Flip 4 Bluetooth speaker because it gives me the ability to listen to books while I’m in the bath or the shower – gives me all the more reason to take my time while I’m bathing.

HACK #2: SMALL GOALS

I try to set a small goal each and every day – 10 pages, 10 minutes, 1 chapter, whatever I feel like I can handle. I encourage anyone who wants to read more to try to do this for yourself.

HACK #3: EREADERS

If you have been on the fence about getting an e reader, I am here to tell you that they can be a game changer for sure. I use my kindle when I am in bed at night and my husband wants to sleep, but I still need a little more time to wind down. I have had many kindle models over the years (the Kindle Fire, the Kindle Paperwhite, and the Kindle Oasis) and have loved each for different reasons. I think the Kindle Paperwhite is the best bang for your buck (and is often on sale on Black Friday, so keep your eyes peeled for that) and is easy on the eyes. Most library systems allow you to check out ebooks too, so you can rent library books from the comfort of your own home and never have to put on real pants to get a new read!

HACK #4: BOOK WEIGHT

This seems like such a useless item, but I use it ALL THE TIME to keep my book open while I’m doing other things (usually while drying and flat ironing my hair). I know a lot of people say they use their phone to hold their book open, but I find that I get distracted by my phone, so this works much better for me. You can get these at bookstores or snag one from Amazon if leaving your house feels too daunting.

HACK #5: JOIN A BOOK CLUB

This may seem crazy, but I find that if I feel like I HAVE to read a book for book club (in real life or online), I make the time to read that book. There are tons of book clubs hosted online that you can partake in, and Instagram is a great place to start. I personally host a monthly buddy read with my friend Danielle (which is just the internet way of saying book club) and we have a great time! Anyone can join in (bookstagrammer or not) and we laugh a lot.

I hope you can take some of these hacks to heart and maybe implement them. Did I miss one of your favorite hacks? Let me know!

MY FAVORITE UNDERRATED COMMON PLANT

Rare plants are all the rage right now – and with the quarantine plant boom, they’ve gotten incredibly expensive. I have a handful of rare plants in my collection, but honestly, the common ones are my favorites. They thrive easily, they typically grow quickly, and if you accidentally kill it…it isn’t the end of the world. I find that the syngonium (arrowhead plant) family is super underrated and doesn’t get the love it deserves.

Latin name:  Syngonium podophyllum (there are many varieties, the one I am holding is a Maria allusion)
Other names: arrowhead vine
Where to purchase this plant: I have a hard time finding these in my area of town in the big box stores, but the local nurseries always have a bunch of varieties! If you want to buy online from a great small business, I highly recommend California Tropicals. If you shop by clicking this link or enter the code JENNASTOPREADING at checkout, you get 10% off at their store. They have a 4″ white butterfly variety for $17.99 (free shipping!), They send beautiful, healthy plants for affordable prices!
Light level required: low to medium indirect light – these guys are pretty easygoing!
Water level required: Moderate water – I think the only way you can kill these is by overwatering, so be sure to let them dry out in between watering.
Care level required: super low maintenance. I ignore them and they thrive.
Why I love this plant: I love that these plants are easy to care for, easy to propagate, and grow quickly!

12 NOVEMBER KINDLE EBOOK DEALS

Okay, friends, you all know I am passionate about budget reading. Utilizing the library and ebook deals is how I keep costs down for myself – being a family on one income is hard! Typically when I find an Amazon Kindle deal, I add it into my IG stories with a swipe up link. But as I was sifting through November’s monthly deals, there were just TOO MANY good ones to add into my stories! So, without further ado, here are some excellent Kindle deals going on right now! Be sure to click the Goodreads link under each to get the full synopsis.

The Humans by Matt Haig – $1.99

It is no secret that this is one of my absolute favorite books of all time. Matt Haig is a genius, and sheds so much light on mental health and humanity in general in this witty, charming novel. This book has 4.09 stars on Goodreads and over 53,000 reviews.

The Light We Lost by Jill Santopolo – $1.99

A previous Reese’s book club pick, this is a fast paced, tumultuous love story told in dual timeline. With over 80,000 reviews on Goodreads, this book has 3.87 stars and is beloved by many.

Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen McManus – $1.99

After I read One of Us is Lying by Karen McManus, I knew she was an instant read author for me. This book did not disappoint me! This book has nearly 4 stars on Goodreads and over 40,000 reviews. It’s a great standalone YA mystery.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin – $6.78

Okay, I know this is technically not a super sale price, but it’s still exceptionally low and OH MY GOSH I LOVE THIS BOOK! I read it this time last year and wanted to cry because I loved it so much. Please, please give this book a chance.

The Worst Best Man by Mia Sosa – $1.99

This is another new release in 2020 that is on sale at a steal! Many of my friends have read this book and loved it. I will definitely be snagging it myself!

I haven’t read this book yet, but I have some friends who adored it. “‘Hollow Kingdom is a humorous, big-hearted, and boundlessly beautiful romp through the apocalypse and the world that comes after, where even a cowardly crow can become a hero.” I love humorous, big hearted, and boundlessly beautiful. Definitely need this one.

The Boyfriend Project by Farrah Rochon – $2.99

This is a steamy love story that celebrates Black joy in such a beautiful way. I really enjoyed the reading experience of this book and would LOVE to see it adapted into a film.

The Lion’s Den by Katherine St. John – $2.99

This book looks like an escape in a story – onto a luxurious yacht. I could use a yacht trip right now, couldn’t you?

Wrapped Up in Christmas by Janice Lynn.- $1.99

Looking for a Hallmark style Christmas story? Look no further. I also love that this book is set in my home state of Kentucky!

Two things I love: books about bookshops and a love story. This book sounds cute and sweet and light. Perfect comfort food for the hectic holiday season ahead of us!

House Arrest by K.A. Holt – $0.99

This book is written in verse and has fabulous reviews on Goodreads. I believe it is classified as middle grade, and that’s a genre I have grown to love this year

My Family Divided by Diane Guerrero – $2.99

Children’s non fiction for the win! “Before landing a spot on the megahit Netflix show Orange is the New Black; before wowing audiences as Lina on Jane the Virgin; and before her incredible activism and work on immigration reform, Diane Guerrero was a young girl living in Boston. One day, while Guerrero was at school, her undocumented immigrant parents were taken from their home, detained, and deported. Guerrero’s life, which had been full of the support of a loving family, was turned upside down.” This one sound like a must read.

BOOK REVIEW: LOVE AND OTHER WORDS by CHRISTINA LAUREN

Click on the following links to read the book synopsis on Goodreads or The StoryGraph.

Nothing can pull me out of a reading slump quite like a Christina Lauren book. My go to slump buster genre is young adult, but man, CLo knows how to hit me where it hurts but also make me fall in love. This book was no different! The pacing was just what I needed and the story had me completely wrapped up from start to finish. However, there were a few reasons that I had to knock off 2 stars, so, without further ado, here are 5 things about this book: 3 that I loved and 2 that I didn’t.

  1. The pacing of the book from start to finish was perfect. I never felt bored or like things moved too quickly.
  2. The dual timeline was executed perfectly – and I am a picky one on this! I sometimes struggle to follow multiple timelines, but I loved the way this was done and how it brought the story together.
  3. The characters were incredibly lovable. I was rooting for both Elliot and Macy
  4. I felt like the ease of how the two got back together was just a little too far fetched. They hadn’t spoken in YEARS but basically picked up right where they left off.
  5. This is a bit of a spoiler, so proceed with caution…but the cheating trope just gets to me. I am not a fan. Automatically knock off a star for any book that contains any kind of infidelity.

Overall this was a solid story and another CLo win for me! Click the following links to purchase the book on Amazon or through your favorite independent bookstore via Bookshop.org.

Content warnings:
Loss of a parent(s)
Cheating/infidelity

5 STUNNING, EASY CARE HOUSEPLANTS

I have like, a lot of plants. This comes as no surprise to anyone who follows me on Instagram. I get a lot of direct messages asking me which plants I would recommend to a beginner, so I thought I would compile a list of 5 of my favorites that have proven to have super easy care! I linked each of them at the bottom of the post so you can buy from California Tropicals, my favorite plant shop. US shipping is free and you can use my code JENNASTOPREADING for 10% off!

Monstera Deliciosa (aka Split Leaf Philodendron)

This large and beautiful split leaf plant is an absolute statement piece! I pretty much ignore this baby and it grows. Every time it gets a new leaf I cannot wait to see if it has fenestrations or not.

String of Turtles (aka Peperomia prostrata)

These babies are a little harder to come across, but if you ever stumble across a pot at Lowe’s (like I did this one) SNATCH IT UP REALLY FAST! They grow quickly, require very little water, and propagate super easily. These are also non toxic to pets which make them a great choice for people with cats that won’t stop attacking their plants!

Swiss cheese Vine (aka Monstera adansonii)

Nobody took bites out of these leaves, that’s just how the plant looks! These guys look great in hanging baskets or growing up a trellis.

Philodendron Brazil

I love the variegation in the leaves of this one! It likes the shade, grows pretty quick, and is absolutely stunning.

Heartless Philodendron (aka Philodendron cordatum)

Similar to the Brazil shown above, this one loves the shade and looks lovely trailing out of its pot.

Links to purchase (don’t forget to use my code JENNASTOPREADING to save 10%)!
6″ Monstera daliciosa for $29.99
4″ Monstera adansonii for $28.99.
4″ Philodendron Brazil for $19.99.
4″ Philodendron cordatum for $16.99.

REVIEW: MY BEST FRIEND’S EXORCISM by GRADY HENDRIX

Click on the links to read the book synopsis on Goodreads or The StoryGraph.

This is the third Grady Hendrix book I have read in the last three months and sadly, my least favorite. But why? This had all of the makings of a great horror novel. I was engaged from start to finish. I felt attached to the characters. The pacing was right. It was just the right mix of campy, believable/unbelievable, and some fun pop culture mixed in.

But where did I drop the two stars to make this a 3 star read?

In the content warnings, my friends.

I am not a sensitive reader. Very little rattles me. And while I obviously know that this book is written as horror and had many things happen in it specifically to add shock value, this one took it a few steps too far. I felt like Hendrix threw in a few things specifically to make the reader feel upset and gross, and it didn’t add anything to the story. The book could have been so much better had there not been these moments that just completely took away from the story.

That being said…here are the content warnings of this book. Proceed with caution.

Trigger warnings:
Death by a drunk driver
Brief mention of date rape
Minor jokes about AIDS
Derogatory language (specifically use of “retard” in jest)
Vomit
Death of a dog
Death of a baby (with descriptions of the deceased baby)