Friday, February 8, 2019

Reading Recap: January Edition

I got down to business this month.  I downloaded the Libby app and listened to some audiobooks, I reduced my TV time by a lot, and I always had a book on my person.  I even abandoned a book this month.  Who am I?  

I've heard people who read a lot suggest all of these things over the last year, but I mostly scoffed at that advice.  "Sure, whatever, but they must be able to stay up reading late, or not have so many kids, or skim more."  I decided to just give these strategies a try and surprise, surprise, they worked.

This month I logged 7 books.  That is more than I read in any month last year.  I am super excited about 2019.  It feels like my phone and TV have less of a draw and I can foresee hours reading, writing, and being engaged with my family.  #bestlife

I'll Be Your Blue Sky

I started the month with this audiobook.  It was readily available on Libby and I had heard enough podcasters talking about it to give it a try.  I had read another book by De Los Santos, in this series, and *strongly disliked* it.  But this one was different.

I really enjoyed the story, the characters, and the historical context.  It didn't feel as contrived or predictable as the predecessor I read last year.  I listened to it while I folded laundry, made Beef Borgnine, and started a new puzzle.  All the winter things. 

the Beef Borgnine recipe was courtesy of my best girl, Ina

Sold on a Monday

This was the opposite.  It was contrived and predictable--once I knew what the story was.  The cover and marketing copy was misleading and that always annoys me.  

The language was flowery and a bit over the top.  I kept wishing for a red pen to cross out the superfluous words.  The novel reminded me of Christian fiction, which can be over-written, but with a few swears thrown in here and there to make it more "gritty."  I was not a fan. 

Where'd You Go, Bernadette

I had procrastinated reading this book for a looong time.  Then, I saw a trailer for the movie and I couldn't get it out of my head.  The book has been sitting on my shelves for a while and winter was the perfect time to read it. 

I LOVED THIS BOOK SO MUCH!  I'm pretty picky about pop fiction.  But I can't stop thinking about it.  The way it's told (in articles, emails, flashbacks, and doctor's notes) was so interesting.  I felt like I was tracking down the mystery of Bernadette's life from the first pages.  The characters were so real I was dreaming about them.  I had a visceral connection to the book and that hasn't happened to me in a while. 

A big reason why I loved it so much was the theme of motherhood and work.  These themes have been tossing about in my brain for a while and to see these ideas played out in figurative and literal ways on these pages was illuminating for me.  It's easy to disappear yourself these days and society isn't always super welcoming when we decide to be who we are meant to be.  

I can't say enough about this book and I will be the first in line to see the movie. 

The Advocate's Daughter

A friend recommended this to me as a good distraction which is something I was desperate for in January.  It was excellent for that purpose.  I got this on audio and listened to it a lot in the car.  

This is a legal thriller that takes place in DC.  It was plot driven and immersive.  I learned a thing or two about the legal world and the Supreme court and that was a fun little bonus.  

Side note: there was one really annoying part: a character who kept being referred to as "Chipotle man."  It bothered me so bad that I started yelling, "Stop calling him that," every time he was mentioned.  I'm weird.
we all love chipotle, but use the dude's name

Golden Child

This was my Book of the Month pick.  I got it and decided to start reading it the day it arrived because I have so many BOTM books sitting unread on my shelves.  I will get better about this.  

I haven't talked to anyone else who has read this, but I feel like I need to.  It was good but not obvious good.  Does that make sense?  Probably not.  

The writing had sparse quality.  The author created a strong sense of place with few words.  The more I think about it, the more this author reminds me of Hemingway.  

It had me thinking big thoughts and considering the role of society, class, and ambition on decisions we make.  The characters were all deeply flawed and I loved them...well, most of them.  

This scratched my literary fiction itch in a big way.  If you've read it, let me know in comments, I need to know what other people thought.  

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

My 9 year old is reading Harry Potter and she wanted to do a book club with me like I do with her older sisters in the summer.  She asked me to read the 4th book in the series and I agreed.  It's been years since I read this book, but it holds up well (duh).  

I was surprised by the way a book that is beloved by children could contain so many governmental intricacies.  In this installment, the reader looks carefully at the workings of the ministry of magic and Harry competes in the triwizard tournament.  There's a lot of excitement but also breaks in the action where Rowling is world building and developing characters.  It's really masterful.  

Another thing that impresses me about Harry Potter is the way Rowling combines reality and fantasy.  Yes, we're talking about a magical government but yes, we're also talking about the same corruption that happens in regular government.  Yes, we're talking about the mistreatment of house elves, but yes, we're also talking about broader inequality and that there are no easy answers and that it takes courage to stand up for others.  It was stunning to see how relatable a group of kids with magical gifts could be to me, a mom in her late thirties with no known magical talents whatsoever.  

I ask myself this all the time
The weather was frightful this month, but it made for excellent reading conditions.  

What did you read in January?

Friday, February 1, 2019

What Saved My Life In January

I mean, the obvious answer is: books...there were a lot of them in January.  I will post a reading recap in a day or two so you can see those.  

But, aside from quiet moments spent with a book opened, these things made my January so much better. 

Tea Time
There is something so calming about routine.  I heat water in my pretty orange kettle that my husband got me two Christmases ago.  I choose a mug with a saying or picture I like.  I pick my tea.  The steam warms my face and I take a nice, long breath.  It is everything I need in the winter.  

Cute Pencils, Pretty Pens
I use colorful pens sparingly and I think that self-control adds to my appreciation.  Occasionally I remember to pull out my pen/pencil bag and mark up my bullet journal.  A little pop of color on the pages goes a long way.  Also, writing with cute pencils reminds me of being in grade school.  I have a CW Pencil subscription and it is one of my favorites.  I look forward to something fun to write with every time I get a shipping notification.  

Reading Challenges
I did a whole post on these and this month my dedication to various reading challenges helped me turn off the TV and put my phone down.  I have to read.  I don't have time for another episode of Parks and Rec.  My momentum may not last, but it sure helped make January better.  

Grocery Store Flowers
Almost every time I was in the grocery store this month I bought a bouquet.  Costco, Trader Joe's, or Giant, I found the flower section and allowed myself to pick something pretty.  Having happy flowers around definitely improved my mood.
my life motto

Nail Polish
I always forget how much I love painting my nails.  It is a relaxing thing that doesn't take two hours.  I'm far from perfect and accepting this is helping me overcome my natural perfectionism.  When I look down and see pretty fingers tapping away on my laptop it makes me smile.  #worthit
I am not pro

Valentine Stickers
I went to Target the other day and got some Valentine stickers with one of my daughters.  Then I stole the pack and started putting them randomly in my planner and bullet journal.   Whenever I go to add an appointment I see a little owl with a heart or a kitten and puppy embracing.  This warms my heart every time.  And it's been keeping me honest about actually using my planner.  

I am here for all the cute animal Valentines

January is the month for exercise resolutions.  I didn't make one because I know that doesn't work.  But, a couple of weeks ago the chaos of a busy season made me feel like I was going to buckle and my natural response to stress is to sit in a chair for hours with a book, ignoring reality as hard as I can.  There were audible sounds of old doors being forced open when I finally stood up after a long reading/destressing session.  Something had to be done.  The thought of running made me wince.  I figured yoga would be a good way to cheat on exercise, easy but it still counts.  

I'm here to tell you that I have been SORE for the last two weeks even though much of my exercise time is spent laying on the floor or sitting still and breathing.  My posture is getting better each day and I feel more open and optimistic.  Maybe this will last.

I think I'm nailing the poses but I actually look like this

What is saving your life now?  Do you drink tea?  If so, I need all your best recommendations for new flavors. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Reading Challenge Extravaganza!

Is it just me or does anyone else notice the boon of reading challenges that crop around the end of December/early January?
reading in the new year is FUN!

Here are a few I've heard about:

Modern Mrs. Darcy 2019 Reading Challenge
Book Riot Read Harder 2019
31 Day Read Aloud Challenge
The Unread Shelf 2019 Reading Challenge
The Reading Women Challenge

I'll be honest, every single time I hear about a new reading challenge I'm filled with excitement and hope.  Maybe it's my inner optimist, maybe it's my love for checking off items on a list.  I want to roll my eyes and scoff, but instead, I find myself taking screenshots and copying the prompts into my reading journal.  #nerd #nerdlyfe #inerdsohard now that I've got these challenges logged in my book journal all I can think of is how confining they are.  I don't actually want to read any graphic novels and does that make me a bad reader?

Reviewing last year's reading challenge pages I learned something about myself and these challenges.

They are so great for giving me some momentum.  I start January reading lots of books quickly because I'm so excited about the new year and my new challenges.  This is valuable to me.  After winter break I wonder if I will ever feel excited about reading again and then--boom--a kick in the pants just when I need it.  Reading is fun!  Checking books of these lists is fun!  Who needs Netflix?!

What the challenges have shown me about myself is this: I rarely, if ever, pick a book based on the challenges I've logged.  I'm such a mood reader that if the spirit doesn't strike me, I just can't be bothered to pick up a play/book of poetry, regardless if it's the last genre I need to check off on my book challenge.  I read widely and am almost always able to find books that fit the categories of any list (with the exception of plays...I mean really, who reads plays for fun).

I think a concept I'd like to develop that suits me even better than the beginning of the year challenges is an end of the year bingo card.  I've always been a big fan of bingo.  It wouldn't give me the same long term satisfaction as the reading challenges that stretch over twelve months, but I think I would feel even better about my reading life at the end of the year.

That would be awesome because the end of the year always makes me feel like a slacker reader.  Did you hit your Goodreads goal?  Did you complete all 76 challenges in your journal?  Did you read half as many books as the bookstagrammers you follow?

<If you'd also be interested in a reading Bingo card for December let me know in comments and I'll share a pdf in November-ish>

Brilliant bingo idea aside, I have plotted out some ideas for the challenges I'm doing.  Let me be clear, this does not mean I will actually read any of these books.  It's really a science experiment I'm conducting on myself.  Will I more successfully complete my challenges with a little ahead-of-time-planning?  Will I ignore my plans like I ignore the prompts until it is too late? 

We will see!

A Book You've Been Meaning to Read...Where'd You Go Bernadette
A Book By a Favorite Author...Help, Thanks, Wow 
A Book Recommended by Someone With Great Taste...The Goldfinch
A Book That Scares You...The Shining
A Book Outside Your Genre Comfort Zone...The Boys on The Boat or Team of Rivals

Are you doing a reading challenge this year?  Do you like the motivation or hate the pressure?  

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Reading Recap: December Edition

In early December we found out my dad has cancer.  This news prompted a few trips to visit my family.  We also traveled to Dollywood to see my husband's family.  Lots of travel, but one theme: family.

After a year marked by family tragedy, we decided that our priority would be visiting family and inviting family to stay with us.  I feel like we did a good job making sure we got to spend quality time with loved ones--even when it was challenging. 

With all this driving around and trying to figure out how to live in this new reality (cancer sucks on so many levels), I still got some reading done.  I think I read more in December because everytime the world seemed overwhelming I cracked open a book.  Life often felt overwhelming.  Also, I learned that I can read in the car and that was a big win.  Here's what I read:

Holidays on Ice
This was...different.  I've never read anything by David Sedaris so this was my introduction.  Holidays on Ice a compilation of short holiday stories that are unrelated.  It was really good for a short attention span.  The stories are irreverent and bizarre but definitely humorous.  I can see that Sedaris wouldn't appeal to everyone, but I think I like him.  I'll definitely be reading more by him this year. 

My Sister, the Serial Killer
I heard about this novel from a podcast.  The story sounded so interesting: a sister who helps her sister clean up the mess after she kills her boyfriends.  I have been enjoying traveling the world in my books this year and this one is set in Nigeria. 

The most challenging thing about this book was the cadence, which is something I struggle to adapt to each time I read books set in other countries.  Also, the actual book was a small hardcover that I had to struggle to keep open.  I was surprised by how annoyed I was by the physical book.  

Anyway, the story is fast paced and modern noir and I love it.  It was thought-provoking but never preachy.  There were timeline jumps that were perfectly paced to propel the reader through it.  You just gotta find out what happens next.  One of my favorite characters was in a coma for the majority of the book.  When I finished I really wanted to talk about it with someone.  

The Count of Monte Cristo
This is a classic that I have been meaning to read FOREVER.  This year I got the audio and listened to all 52 hours of it.  And it was fantastic.  

I've heard lots of people say it's the only classic they love or it's the classic that got them reading classics.  It's such an adventurous story--love, drama, revenge.  *sigh*  There are lots of plot lines and at first I was worried I wouldn't be able to keep track of them, but each story is compelling and connected.  Dumas was an artist.  

I loved the audio because of the names and the French/Italian words.  I was able to talk about the book with my family and say things like "Jacopo," "Caderousse," and "Mercedes" like the narrator--with an over-the-top accent.  It was a delight.  

The Beautiful Mystery
Oh, Inspector Gamache, how I love thee!  

At first, this book, not set in Three Pines, made me annoyed.  What is happening to Clara and Gabri and Ruth???? But after 100 pages I got really engrossed in the mystery (basically a closed room set-up involving monks) and the trajectory of Gamache and Beauvoir's relationship.  It was so good!  

And, because I didn't listen to the audio I don't know how to say any of the French names.  I asked my daughters who are taking French how to say "Jean-Guy Beauvoir" and they have not stopped making fun of the way I butchered the name.  

The Bookshop on the Corner
Modern Mrs. Darcy Book club pick for December.  I don't usually read along but I every time I've heard this recommended it piqued my interest.  With all the emotional things happening in my life I thought nothing would be better to close out the month with than a rom-com in novel form.

This book helped me realize that I just don't like sweetness.  I mean, I like warm stories but not novels that I have to suspend all disbelief.  The story was ok, but a little far-fetched.  It was more Hallmark movie than rom-com and I am not a Hallmark movie fan.  However, if you are, you should totally read this.  You will love it.  Let me know if you want my copy--you can have it.

The book was begging for awws and I just can't.

So, that was December.  And I got this blog post before the 15th of January.  I'm pretty impressed with myself.  

good work me!

What was your best/worst of December?

Friday, January 4, 2019

Reading in My Real Life

Christmas Vacation

There's maybe a no better time of year to read than in the winter--blankets, fires, tea.  Night comes early and settling early feels right.  

With the structure that school provided we were able to read after dinner on most nights.  

actual photo of our family reading after dinner, try to contain your envy

But over Christmas vacation, things changed.  

Maybe you've seen that meme about Christmas Eve reading in Scandinavia or wherever.  Friends have sent that to me on more than one occasion.  It sounds like an amazing tradition but because our Christmas Eve can be described with words like, "frantic," "rushing," and "full" this meme kind of makes me resent our version of the holiday.  

We spent the day (as we do most years) cooking, cleaning, and packing for Grandma's house.  There is last minute wrapping and I always get the bug to catch up my laundry.  This bug leaves me alone the other 364 days of the year.  

I made apple rolls and a huge mess in the kitchen.  We had not visited Santa yet and so on Christmas Eve we found ourselves waiting in lines for pictures with the big guy.  Every year we go to church and out for a fancy dinner.  It's a lot for one day.  

There was no reading before bed.  There was no reading at all.  

We went to visit family and still, we did not read.  What was happening to us????  

But then we came home and the kids had lots of Christmas gifts to explore and I had a couple of books I was hoping to dig into before the end of the year.  A perfect match.  I opened my book and then, they started talking to me and didn't stop.  "Mom, look at this."  "Mom, do you want to play this game?"  "Mom, what's for breakfast?"  

I knew the right thing was not to hole up with my books and leave my kids to fend for themselves.  I was caught in the tension between doing what I wanted to do and doing the right thing for longer than I care to admit.  I'd engage with them grudgingly but eventually, I would find the fun of it.  We saw a movie, we played games, we talked and spent time together.  It never looked like a perfect family moment, but it was good.  Very good.  

Instead of getting hours of uninterrupted reading time I caught bits and pieces here and there and wound up finishing the books I had wanted to read.  

My life lesson this Christmas break: Live your life and don't get panicked about reading--it will happen if you really love it.  And I do really love it.  

Did you get any reading done?  

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Reading Recap: November Edition

Life is interesting.  One minute you think, "Gosh, I'm so busy and stressed," and the next minute you realize that the minute before you were in an idyllic place of peace and you would give anything to go back.  This happened in my life a few weeks ago.  I thought I was overwhelmed with life (hosting Thanksgiving, concerts for all of the kids, having colds and sinus infections circle our family) and then--boom--my dad got a terrible diagnosis and we are still trying to understand it.  

I didn't feel like writing for quite some time, but I'm ready to get back to it.  Maybe it's because of the imminent New Year, maybe it's because "la, la, la, la life goes on" but whatever the reason, I'm here.  

Ummmmmm, yas.

And, I realize my reading recap for November is coming at the eleventh hour.  I almost scrapped it, but November was full of good books that I want to talk about.  

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

I had misconceptions about what this book was about for yearzzzz.  Which is a real shame as I was an English major.  I gifted this book to my niece who always raved about it and thanked me profusely.  Still, it took me a long time to get to it.  But now that I've read it, I wish I had read it sooner.  If you love books or writing, Francie Nolan's story will speak to you.  Joy and sorrow played equally on the pages and Smith's writing was dreamy, while still conveying the most mundane aspects of life in Brooklyn during the early 1900s.  

My husband and I visited Brooklyn when we were in NYC this summer.  We even walked across the Williamsburg Bridge (and I am terrified of bridges).   This definitely added to the experience of reading the book and helped propel me through some of the slower passages.  

The Ministry of Ordinary Places

Wowza.  This book hit me hard.  

Martin talks about loving your neighbor practically.  She writes about embracing the place you live and doing a good job caring for your neighborhood and the people in it.  I have been an avid follower of her blog and her Instagram so I was excited when this came out.  But at the time I read it I was feeling frustrated with my neighborhood.  I wanted to move and just hole myself up in my house until we could leave.  Martin's stories and insights challenged me to walk around my hood appreciating it and being open to talking to people.  

I can remember a specific episode when I felt annoyed to see a neighbor while I was out walking the dog.  Instead, I stretched out of my comfort zone and approached her.  We talked for a bit and exchanged numbers after finding out our kids were accepted into the same band.  Now I have a carpool and a new friend.  #winwin

The Unmade World

The book club book of the month.  I loved it so much at first but then the author lost me.  He expanded the scope of the novel so much that it was ridiculous.  By the end, I was marveling at each unlikely plot twist and hoping for the end to come mercifully.  To make matters worse, I was laid up with a terrible migraine caused by a nasty sinus infection and missed book club.  Ugh.

The Grave's a Fine and Private Place

I found the Flavia DeLuce series long ago and have loved these books so much.  I was preparing to host Thanksgiving and was using this novel as both a coping mechanism and a tool for procrastination.  It worked for both like a charm.  

A new book is coming out in January and I'm totally excited.  

Almost Everything

Reading this book was serendipitous.  I needed to read this just before hearing about my dad.  I remember reading it and crying, as I do with most Anne Lamott books.  She deals with life and death and grief, writing and loving and hating, and through it all there is a thread of hope that sparkles.  It made me take heart.  It made me rethink some long-held beliefs and helped me feel the freedom to be messy and make mistakes and try again.  I underlined a ton and I think I need to review those passages now...

Stay tuned.  The December Reading Recap will be up soon.  Happy New Year y'all! May 2019 bring you good health, happiness, and lots and lots of reading!  

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Stress Reading

2018 has been one of the most stressful years on record for our family.  We've lost people we love, we've faced new parenting challenges, job stress, and one of our children had surgery.  It was rough.  And maybe it's that time of year, maybe I feel the need to be ready for whatever might come next, I'm sitting here taking stock.  

no, really.

What worked...and what didn't?
How did we handle these circumstances with grace and what made us come apart at the seams?

More than any other year I've found my coping mechanism in 2018 to be books.  Reading for me, audiobooks when I'm folding laundry, talking about books with my husband, children, friends.  When life got hard, I cracked open a book and hid there for a while.  

actual footage of me

It may sound a little unhealthy (can you say "avoidance"??) but it wasn't.  In going to books I learned so many things this year.  

I learned how to love difficult people through difficult things (Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, Ginny Moon).  
I learned the value of occasional escapism (Gamache Books).  
I learned to laugh (Let's Pretend This Never Happened, Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves).  
I learned to relate to my teens (I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter) and my younger kids (Henry and Beezus).  
I learned to pray (Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer).  
I learned to grieve (Traveling with Ghosts).  
I learned to see beauty in small things (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, The Ministry of Ordinary Places).  I learned that travel is a very good thing (Less), and so is coming home (Belong to Me).
I learned to love (Persuasion).  
I learned to live (Nobody's Fool).

Through fiction and non-fiction, my stress reading habit saw me through this year.  

I'm ready for 2019 and I'm hoping for a less eventful year.  But, now I know that I will manage just fine, with good friends, a loving family, and books.  Lot and lots of books.