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Surprising Favorite Read

Near the beginning of the year, I checked out a book at the library on someone’s recommendation. It was called Forget Prayers, Bring Cake: A Single Woman’s Guide to Grieving. I kept taking it back and checking it out again rather than just reading it. I was skeptical for three reasons:

  • Cutesy (almost flippant?) title for a discussion on grief? I get that people cope in different ways, but that’s…not mine.
  • Singling out singles is a necessary point of this discussion, and I can confirm that there are challenges with grief that are specific to not having a partner, but gendering it rubs me the wrong way.
  • The cover design is absurd (click the link above if you’re curious). You’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but we all do it, and I judged this one HARD.

I’m so glad I finally read it.

This is the best book I’ve read on the practicalities of dealing with grief and building a support system specifically for the process. It’s the perfect combination of memoir, guide, and comfort. As someone who incorporates tasks into emotional processing (i.e., simply talking or crying it out without a physical energy release often makes the situation worse for me), I appreciate the checklists and suggestions.

As my parents are getting older, we are having more conversations about what they want to happen, how we take over the farm as seamlessly as possible, and how it all gets paid for. Just having the conversations are emotional, and it’s helpful to acknowledge and process those feelings as they come, but it feels weird to future-grieve. This book gave me the validation and permission I didn’t know I needed, and Gerson’s kind-but-direct approach gave it to me in exactly the way I needed it.

I know I usually list five books that I enjoyed from the previous month, but this one stood out so far beyond the rest. This may be my favorite book I’ve read thus far this year.

September TBR

YAY THE -EMBER MONTHS HAVE BEGUN!

This is my favorite third of the year. Soon, it will be sweater and boot weather. Well, not SOON soon – this is Texas, after all – but relatively so. I wore layers today anyway. I will usher in fall through sheer force of will. I already have half my costume ready for Halloween. I. Am. Ready.

This is also about when I start thinking about goals for the upcoming year. My favorite planner is going to launch this month, and I think I already know what my theme word for next year is going to be (Maybe. There are a few contenders, but one has a sizable lead). But before that happens, I have some goals to finish up this year. I’m posting a series about what I’m learning about living a lush life in October, and I really want to finish most of my reading challenges. So here we go!

Book Clubs

A couple of my book clubs are starting spooky season early, and I approve. Actually, a couple of my book clubs lean toward spooky almost perpetually, so really, this is not a big shift.

Reading Challenges

  • Modern Mrs. Darcy’s (Summer) Reading Challenge
  • The 52 Book Club
    • Book with an alternate title – The Golden Compass (or, as it was originally published in the UK, Northern Lights) by Philip Pullman 
    • Author published in more than one genre – I’ve enjoyed her adult novels (romance? Chick lit? Anyway, steamy stories I really enjoyed), and now I’m going to try her YA sci-fi. When the Sky Fell on Splendor by Emily Henry
    • Book longer than 500 pages – The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon
    • A book picked based on its spine – The Saturday Book: 26, edited by John Hadfield. See the book next to the bottom of the stack in the picture above, and if you think the spine is something, you should click on the link and see the cover. This may be the acquisition from Booked Up (RIP?) of which I am the proudest. 
    • Job title in title – Weather Girl by Rachel Lynn Solomon
  • Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge
    • An award-winning book from the year I was born – Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard
    • The book that’s been on my TBR list the longest (and still is there….even though I meant to read this back in January…) – The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
    • A book whose movie or TV adaptation you’ve seen – Good Omens by Neil Gaiman
    • Winner of the Women’s Prize – The Book of Form and Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki
  • GirlXOXO Keyword Challenge
    • Keyword: Salt – Of Women and Salt by Gabriela Garcia
    • Literally any of the ones I haven’t finished yet from previous months.
  • POPSUGAR Reading Challenge
    • Social horror book – Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon
    • Sapphic book – Delilah Green Doesn’t Care by Ashley Herring Blake
    • Book title that starts with the last letter of the last book read (a somewhat difficult category when you read several books at the same time – also possible/probable that I’m overthinking it) – Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (cross-post from Read Harder – starting after The Final Girl Support Group)
    • #booktoc rec – Happy Hour by Marlow Granados
    • Two books set in twin cities – the Tokyo book complementing my earlier NYC read (The Personal Librarian) –  Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi

What are you reading this month?

August has flown by in a blur! Here are my five favorite reads from July, and one book that I just couldn’t finish.

  1. All Systems Red by Martha Wells – I LOVE MURDERBOT. I am so grateful to my library book club buddy who recommended this series. They’re short books, so I’ve already finished three of them. If you like sci-fi along the lines of AI, you will probably love Murderbot, too.
  2. Finlay Donovan Is Killing It by Elle Cosimano – So funny. I really liked the main character, and I’m looking forward to the next in the series. I linked to the print copy, but I listened to this one on audio, which was excellent.
  3. The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking – That settles it. I just need to move to Denmark. This book links cozy living (just one part of the Danish practice of hygge) with happiness. I suppose if anyone knows a thing or two about how to live a happy life, it would be the CEO of the Happiness Research Institute. A very charming book.
  4. Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood – Did you really have any doubt that, when I said I was reading a book by Margaret Atwood, it would be on this list? My library book club’s theme for August was climate/environmental fiction, and this is the first of a dystopian trilogy that fits that genre. It’s so well-written, and the story really held my attention. I’m about to start the second one soon.
  5. Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes – This book took me the whole month to read. Usually, when that happens, it’s because I am having a hard time slogging through. But in this case, I took my time because I just wanted to savor it. While the movie focuses mainly on the main character’s love life, this memoir is a love letter to Italy and the life (and house) she and her partner built there. When I’m through moving to Denmark, a villa in Italy is up next.

And now for the one that I could not finish. I love a story with a bookish theme. Usually. And Kate Bromley is a good writer. But Talk Bookish to Me started questionably and just got worse. I only made it about 50 pages in before I couldn’t take it anymore. The main character seems nice enough. She’s a well-meaning doormat. While I find this personality characteristic a bit frustrating, I can usually handle it, because they are usually surrounded by other characters who are actually decent people who want the best for them and thus help them realize their worth and grow a backbone and live both happily and confidently ever after by the end. Not this one. Her bestie is an AWFUL friend. Just the worst. Slight spoiler, but for the record, if I ever tell any of you of someone who acted shadily, lied to me, and broke my heart, the correct response when he is suddenly and surprisingly back in my life is NOT to look for ways to throw us together so that he can DO IT ALL OVER AGAIN. I didn’t like this guy from the start and, after reading online spoilers (once I had flung it to the ground one too many times to want to pick it up again), it sounds like my initial impression was correct. Only read this book if you like stories where dishonest, manipulative tools get everything they want.

Any books you liked (or really disliked) this month?

August TBR

Last month’s reading plan got a little off the rails. Some of the library selections that I’ve been waiting on for a while became available, so I jumped at the chance to read them and get them back for the next person waiting in line. 

I’ve started this month with a few books I am finishing from July (The Lonely City, The Maid – which is really for book club this month anyway – and A Field Guide to Getting Lost), but then I’m diving right into this list. As I’ve been transferring my massive TBR to a spreadsheet, I realized I needed a whole tab that’s just various series I am reading/want to read. I read something on it every month anyway, so I’m just adding it as a section here this time.

This month comes with a lot of audio selections, too. August is typically a busy month at both jobs, leaving less time at home to wind down enough to sit still and read, so audio will be helpful. Also, I’m visiting my parents later in the month, so I’ll have several hours of listening time in the car.

Book Clubs

Reading Challenges

Series

Lush

Still summer. Still hot. You know what’s fun to do in the summer that I always forget to add to my summer bucket list? Read. Especially when the alternative is leaving home to do literally anything else. So I’m going to bask in the last books in Ali Smith’s seasons collection and a book about more books I will inevitably need to read.

Excellent. Now all I have to do is finish a book a day. That’s doable, right?

I’m cheating this month. I refuse to narrow down my choices to five. One might argue that it’s my own rule and I can break it or change it however I like, and that’s what I’m doing. Instead of choosing just five of the books I read last month to gush over, I’m going to gush over three books separately and then talk about the five favorites from a particular genre.

Agatha of Little Neon was Follow the Reader’s selection last month. The main character is a nun (sister? The distinction was made in the book, and I think she’s a sister, not a nun. I was that day years old when I learned this.), and the overall theme was friendship and its quirks. It was easy to relate to her, especially those moments when she felt like part of the group but also an outsider. My favorite line from the book was “It’s my belief that many men sleep too soundly at night.” Same, Agatha.

I gave Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to Paris five stars on Goodreads. I was utterly charmed by this book. I’m a sucker for good, character-driven stories. It was quirky and witty and a delight to read.

Of course, I want to listen to Viola Davis narrate her memoir Finding Me. I would listen to Viola Davis read a grocery receipt. This book broke my heart and made me cheer. Parts of it are hard, but she’s a fantastic storyteller. Highly recommend.

Summer is the time for beach reads, which for me can mean anything from foodie fiction or books about books that I can imagine myself finishing in a few hours while drinking a mai tai and listening to the waves to a story that actually has the beach as a setting. In other words, my definition is fluid at best. They usually include a little bit of romance and/or sex, and they typically have happy endings (but not always). These were the five summer/beach reads that I really enjoyed last month:

  1. By the Book – This story has two things going for it right off the bat. Jasmine Guillory, so you know it’s going to be good, and it’s a Beauty and the Beast retelling that focuses on story crafting. Adore.
  2. Book Lovers – Um, if Emily Henry writes steam this well in every book, let me go read all of them right now. This one is also about the book industry, and it was fantastic.
  3. The Love Hypothesis – Olive is me (socially, at least). Now all I need is to plot a fake relationship with an attractive, available, brilliant guy so that he can go ahead and fall in love with me.
  4. Instructions for Dancing – A meet-cute through ballroom dancing? Yes, please. Also, fair warning and generically spoilery – per her usual, Nicola Yoon will rip your heart right out with this one.
  5. Meet Cute – This book makes me want to work on my own collection of short stories that I’ve started (or…one of the three that I’ve started…). I really loved most of these selections and found a couple of new-to-me authors whose work I’d like to explore.

Tell me the one (or eight) books you’ve really loved recently.

July TBR

Welp. Definitely summer. July is here, and I want nothing more than to stay inside and not be out in all that nonsense. It’s a good thing I have plenty to read.

There are a lot of books this month, but some I have started already and many of them are pretty short, so hope springs eternal. 

Book Clubs

Reading Challenges

Lush

The selections this month focus on finding lush moments in daily life. They’re also research for my 31 Days series coming in October (specific topic TBA).

La Dolce Vita Weekend(s)

Speaking of living lush, I have a stockpile of books from multiple genres about the sweet life in Italy. I’m going to take at least one weekend this month to binge and cook out of them. Right now, I’m planning on that weekend being July 22-23, as I will be participating in Dewey’s Reverse Readathon that Friday and Saturday, but don’t be surprised if I block off the weekends before and after it as well. After a trip to our new-ish Italian market, first, of course.

General

These are a few just-because books I’ve been wanting to read for a few months, so here we go.

Narrow it down to five from two months’ worth of reading, I thought. That won’t be hard, I thought.

I thought wrong.

This is not really a judgment on the ones that aren’t included. I’ve read a lot of great books recently. These are just the five that impacted me the most. It has not escaped my attention that four out of the five are from authors I’ve read and loved before.

  1. Muse of Nightmares by Laini Taylor – Every time I read a Laini Taylor book, I think, “This is it. This is my favorite one she’ll ever write.” Then I read the next one, and it’s somehow better. Exquisite world-building, believable characters/relationships. I really don’t see how the next one I read can possibly outshine it.
  2. Bittersweet by Susan Cain – I’ve followed Susan Cain on social media for a while, so I was really excited about this one. It did not disappoint. Artists, dreamers, and those generally prone to melancholy may find it comforting.
  3. The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell – Ok. Ready to move to Denmark. Or…ready to move to Denmark seven years ago before the outside world’s nutty political climate encroached upon it. I’m sure it’s still nice in a way America never ever will be. *sighs* I just want to be able to afford a house. Not even necessarily to buy – just to live in and have a yard and a garage and walls that I don’t have to share with anyone who doesn’t actually live with me. And foresee a time when I can really and truly retire without having to maintain a side hustle to supplement the meager future income I’m scrimping to save for. Those really are the highest financial goals I see as ever being remotely possible right now. But I digress…
  4. Heartless by Marissa Meyer – An origin story for the Queen of Hearts? Yes, please. Marissa Meyer is another author who is an instant yes for my TBR. I have been a fan since The Lunar Chronicles.
  5. Feral Creatures by Kira Jane Buxton – This is my favorite book I’ve read this year. It’s clever and sweet and a perfect companion to Hollow Kingdom. I really do need to work on my friendship with the crows in my neighborhood. Do they like peanuts? I think they need peanuts.

What have you read recently that you loved?

June TBR

I am just back to work today from a fantastic (one might even say luscious) almost-two-week vacation. I got to go to the farm, visit friends I haven’t seen in a while, and shop at Daiso for the first time! Today, I’m glad to see my coworkers, and my inbox is not too outrageous. But I have to tell you – having to be places before noon is bullshit. Highly overrated. 0/10. Do not recommend. Other than my mild, justified melodrama over being anywhere but my armchair and doing anything other than nursing a French press of coffee this morning, though, I’m pretty excited about the month ahead. 

Vacation time also let me make a decent dent in my backlist TBR. I finished 16 books, which isn’t quite my personal record, but it’s close. I’ll talk more about my favorites from May either tomorrow or next Friday, but for now, let’s look at the plans for June!

Book Clubs

Reading Challenges

And yay! The Modern Mrs. Darcy Summer Reading Guide is here! Several books I’m already excited to read are on it, so I’m going to start with at least these three:

Lush

June is the month when summer tries to sucker me into liking it. I mean, it’s a pretty good month. Bountiful produce, temperatures not quite as hot as they’re going to get, work not quite as frenzied as it’s going to get, fun Pride events, etc. My reading challenge and lush selections this month are a rampant revelry in meet-cutes and beach reads and nature essays and travel novels. Some of my favorite comfort read categories.

May TBR

An accurate representation of my perpetual TBR list. Aw, Booked Up.

We are officially one-third of the way through the year. In some ways, it doesn’t seem possible. In other ways, isn’t it November 2027 yet?

The TBR list looks a little different this month. You’ll see why in a minute. First, though, the book club selections.

Book Clubs

Good Intentions

So do you remember all those books I have listed in previous posts to read? With the exception of The Joy of Cooking (which is taking a ridiculously long time to read but is so, so worth it), I haven’t started all of them. Like…a lot of them. I put some of them off because a new installment of a beloved series came out. Or I received them in a subscription, but it turns out they’re the second or third in the series and I don’t read series that way, Happy Endings Book Club! Or I did start them, put them down because I wanted to finish a book club selection before we met, and never picked them up again, and now I need to restart them to remember what the heck is going on. Or I put them on hold at the library, and they didn’t become available that month, so I canceled it and there they remain, still unread by me.

This list is so long. I told Maggie yesterday that I was intentionally delaying this post to finish up a few of them before I hit publish. But it’s going to take all month to make a significant difference of any kind, so I’m just going to jump right in.

Anyway, there’s quite a list (and this is just the planned-to-read-but-haven’t-yets since October). Feel free to use this to feel better about your own unfinished and neverending TBR list. That just means we’re immortal, right?

Heh. 

The bulk of my reading in May is going to be working on that backlist. I know I won’t be able to finish it this month, but I bet I can make a dent. 

This post is for the schedule nerds. Those who mark “set up new planner” as the last thing on the to-do list in the old planner. Those who put the release date for next year’s edition of their favorite planner on their calendars as an actual event.Those who send out the office invitations for fun events that everyone else misses because they’re buried in a mass email that no one else reads.

My people.

It’s also for people who are curious about what reading for 24 hours in three days looks like. Spoiler alert – it involves way more sitting than you imagine. Plan active breaks and audiobooks you can take on walks or listen to while cleaning. All types of reading count. Not all my 2-hour blocks of reading will be done sitting down.

This is the tentative schedule for my retreat this weekend. I say “tentative” for two reasons. First, I find that I follow a schedule more easily when I give myself permission to veer from it (i.e., don’t view it as set in stone or something I have to do). Having to do things is a lot of pressure for a weekend that’s supposed to be fun, and if I need a more extended break, there are several things that I may decide to do that aren’t on the schedule. Also, my focus has been shit lately, so a certain degree of playing it by ear may be necessary. Shorter, more frequent breaks may become the rule.

Second, individual pockets of activity may be shifted depending on how much of my to-do list I get done before the weekend officially starts. For example, ideally, I will have time to make the Earl Grey shortbread dough tonight so that all I have to do tomorrow afternoon is bake and box the cookies for cookbook club. If that doesn’t happen, though, I have allowed space for this task to cut into Friday’s proposed reading time without derailing the whole read-24-hours plan just as it’s getting started.

I started planning my schedule by putting specific activities during the breaks, but I think breaks will work better if I leave them flexible. So just know that a break without a specific activity listed next to it may involve one or more of these things:

  • Dancing
  • Doing Pilates
  • Switching out/folding loads of laundry
  • Washing dishes
  • Tidying something that’s been visually harassing me out of the corner of my eye while I’m trying to focus on what I’m reading
  • Journaling (writing or art)
  • Taking a walk
  • Eating a snack

I also have potential reading times that I’m not including in my planned hour count. This gives me even more flexibility just in case I go rogue (a very real possibility). Additionally, I have planned 26 instead of 24 reading hours, just in case. So there’s a lot of wiggle room.

Friday, April 29 (8.5 hours)

12a-2a – Going to get it started at midnight, per my usual habit (2 hours)

10-11:30 – Leisurely wake up/scroll social media/have breakfast/watch an episode of Boston Legal or Arrested Development

11:30-2 – Read (2.5 hours)

2-2:30 – Make shortbread dough (or another break activity if that’s already done)

2:30-5 – Read  (2.5 hours)

5-5:15 – Check personal email/social media

5:15-6:45 – Bake/box shortbread for cookbook club. Listen to audiobook while baking (1.5 hours)

7-? – Cookbook club

?-bedtime – Potential reading time (or just go to bed early because carbs and wine)

Saturday, April 30 (10 hours)

10-11:30 – Leisurely wake up/scroll social media/have breakfast/watch an episode of Boston Legal or Arrested Development

11:30-1:30 – Read (2 hours)

1:30-2 – Put lasagna in slow cooker for evening

2-4 – Independent Bookstore Day Festivities at Patchouli Joe’s or read (potential 1.5 hours + break)

4-6 – Read (2 hours)

6-7 – Dinner/break/TV/social media

7-9 – Read (2 hours)

9-9:30 – Break

9:30-11:30 – Read (2 hours)

11:30-12 – Break

12-2 – Read (2 hours)

Sunday, May 1 (7.5 hours)

10-11:30 – Leisurely wake up/scroll social media/have breakfast/watch an episode of Boston Legal or Arrested Development

11:30-2 – Read (2.5 hours)

2-2:30 – Break

2:30-5 – Read (2.5 hours)

5-5:30 – Eat sandwich or salad

5:30-? – Attend private concert event to which I will definitely take a book and sneak in at least an hour of reading (1 hour)

?-bedtime – Read (1.5 hours, or however many are left at this point)

It’s likely that I’ll post updates on Instagram or maybe here (if I have actual commentary about how it’s going) throughout the readathon. Whether you are reading or spending time with family or working or doing a little bit of everything this weekend, I hope you have a good one!

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