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Time for another update! Here are some micro-reviews of the books I’ve read recently. Those listed as just titles were reviewed in my previous post

For the main list of book titles I’ve read for this challenge, see this post.

A

With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo – So good! Such a hopeful story, and I love the audio version. The main character won me over early, and I loved cheering her successes throughout the book. Also, it made me so hungry and inspired me to cook, which to me is the ultimate mark of good foodie fiction. 

B

Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke 

C

The Castlemaine Murders by Kerry Greenwood

The Postmistress of Paris by Meg Waite Clayton – It was OK. Disclaimer – I have read a lot of wartime historical fiction, due to one book club’s proclivity toward such things and the fascinating discussions they lead to. It’s not one of my favorite genres, though. But since I have read so many, I was disappointed that this one didn’t really stack up to the rest of them. There were good moments and some interesting elements, but overall? Meh. If historical WWII fiction is your jam, you’ll probably like it. If you just want to dabble, stick to things like The Nightingale and Code Name Verity

D

Dear Bob and Sue by Matt and Karen Smith – This memoir recounts the couple’s visits to all 58 (now 59, as they added in one of the last chapters) national parks, as told to their friends Bob and Sue through emails. If you enjoy visiting national parks or hiking or being outdoors a lot, I think you’d really enjoy this book. My favorite part was their humor and their relationship. Reading it reminded me of one of my all-time favorite books about running – My Life on the Run by Bart Yasso and Kathleen Parrish. Both books were full of a whole lot of entertaining stories I am content to hear someone else tell and never, ever personally experience. 

E

Excuse Me While I Disappear by Laurie Notaro – I mentioned in the January TBR post that I feel like I grew up with Laurie Notaro because I read and resonated with a lot of her books in my twenties. This one is no exception. I wheeze-laughed. There were a few parts that I could have done without (e.g., I often bristle at kids-these-days commentary, so those small sprinkles fell flat for me), but most of it? I howled in solidarity. Recommended for anyone whose body is starting to betray them or who is now or will ever go through perimenopause.

F

G

H

How To Be Perfect by Michael Schur – If you loved “The Good Place,” you’ll probably also enjoy this book, as it addresses the same general topic and is written by one of the show’s creators and thus employs a lot of the same type of humor. Added bonus? Some of the cast members read the audiobook. I was taking notes for book club through most of it, so I stuck with the ebook version. It also gives you a pretty decent overview of Philosophy 101 without having to slog through Aristotle and Kant and Sartre (no offense to those dudes, but Schur works in TV. It’s basically his job to be entertaining.). And it sparked a really lively book club discussion, so…solid read!

I

J

K

Writers & Lovers by Lily King 

L

Lucky Turtle by Bill Roorbach 

M

Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire – Oh my gosh, the author reads the audiobook, which I usually don’t like, but it’s fantastic. I love the back story of these characters that we met in the first book of the series. Excellent character building, and I’m very excited to read the next one. 

N

O

The Opposite of You by Rachel Higginson 

The Book of Form and Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki – I actually started this one a few months ago. It took longer to finish because I savored it, which takes a little while to do when a book is 500+ pages. Perfect story for book lovers and mental health advocates with some charming magical realism elements. I gave it five stars on Goodreads.

P

Q

R

S

T

U

V

W

A World of Curiosities by Louise Penny

X

Y

Z

Welcome Home: A Guide to Building a Home for Your Soul by Najwa Zebian 

February TBR

This is Day 3 of this year’s (hopefully only) Icepocalypse. So far this week, I’ve slept in, talked to my mom and dad on the phone, made biscuits, submitted several articles for my writing job, started cleaning out the coat closet, and done some strength training. Right now, I’m cozied up with a cup of tea in my most comfortable chair. We have already received notice that the university is closed tomorrow as well. 

I’m so glad I bought coffee on Sunday.

I have also finished three books and plan to finish two more by the end of tomorrow. So I’m making an early dent in this month’s list!

Book Clubs

An issue that I vaguely foresaw when I made my reading goals this year is where to categorize the ongoing massive overlap of titles. Technically, everything in my collection that I haven’t already read is on my to-be-read list. That’s why I own them – for reading. So really, they’re all TBR. And I’m never sure whether to include ebooks and audiobooks as part of my TBR or my collection. I mean, I have purchased them, but I still think of them as TBR, as they’re not physically in the limited space of my home, with their own spot on the shelf. 

I guess the deciding factor is “Can I loan it to you (without violating the stingy fine print I agreed to when I signed up for the subscription)?” Collection – yes. TBR – probably not. So there we go.

Of course, all of this is a moot point this month anyway, because except for three of the books listed above that I will own as soon as they arrive, I’m focusing solely on the TBR.

TBR

I have a lot of library books out, and they’re all just sitting there on my shelf, begging for attention. Reminding me that someone else could be reading them if only I wasn’t selfishly hoarding them (someone else could also put a hold on them if they really wanted to let me know they’re dying to read them right away, so it’s possible this is all just a problem I’ve made up in my head). When Rory Gilmore chastised herself for not taking a book back to the library on time because it robbed someone else of the pleasure of reading it that week? I felt that. Anyway, this month is going to be a heavier focus on reading through most of those and getting them back into circulation where they belong. Fortunately, they’re all on my TBR list (which is why I checked them out to begin with), so I can do this without it pausing my goals for the year.

I’m so excited about this month’s reading list. Never fear, library books – I’ll be with you shortly!

That’s right. We’re back with the Friday Five. Five things I read/encountered/stumbled upon this week that I want to tell you about. This year, I’m still going to post links to things I found on the internet. But I’m also going to include snippets of the books I read that didn’t fit the alphabet or Girlxoxo or (later) the MMD summer challenge (and thus won’t get a snippet in those updates). 

  1. Almost every year, I read The Little Prince on New Year’s Day and jot down quotes or phrases that particularly stick out to me at that time. “When a mystery is too overpowering, one dare not disobey.” “I must endure the presence of two or three caterpillars if I wish to become acquainted with the butterflies.”
  2. The Baker’s Secret by Stephen P. Kiernan – I read this book because foodie books were the theme of our Rise and Shine book club in January, and this is one of the ones that were suggested. It’s a novel about a baker during WWII who finds a way to feed both the soldiers who require it of her and the people she loves. It was…ok. I might have liked it better if I had read a hard copy instead of listening to it, but I’m not interested enough in revisiting it to find out.
  3. Ijeoma Oluo’s “My Biggest, Fattest Year Ever” was the piece I didn’t know I needed to read right now. I am struggling with reconciling all the things my body can do with how it looks. I feel like I’m constantly having to re-learn how to dress it. This piece was a soothing balm.
  4. Two of my book clubs are also subscription services from Nowhere Bookshop. Well, they have a third one now – Nightmares from Nowhere. As horror is not really my thing, I (probably) won’t join this one (although the February book The Spite House looks really good), but I know there’s someone on my list for whom this is right up their alley. If you want a spooky book-of-the-month shipment and also opportunities to talk about it with other people who read it, give it a try!
  5. Did you know today is National Chocolate Cake Day? AND Mozart’s birthday. AND Lewis Carroll’s birthday. AND my friend cm’s birthday! What a great day!

I hope you have a great day and a wonderful weekend!

Before and After

I recently rearranged part of my living room because, once I put my Christmas decorations back in the closet, I couldn’t bring myself to move the recliner back to that corner. I like it where it is. So instead, I moved the small table with my record player over. 

It works better there. It’s easier to access, and I use it more often now that it’s not hidden behind the couch and a bookshelf and some throw pillows.

Eventually, though, I want this whole wall to be tall bookshelves, so it and the records will need to move to one of those. I’m running out of space for records anyway. And I want more bookshelves on the opposite wall. Get rid of the couch. Add reading chairs and a lamp in its place. My plans just snowballed from there.

This small move inspired me to take pictures of all four of my main rooms – living, dining, office, bedroom. That way, I have “before” pictures. 

But y’all. They are a MESS. The picture above is literally the only one I’m willing to post on the intrawebs. And I’m annoyed with it, too, because why is the diffuser in the middle of the floor. Ugh.

I get used to the clutter when I live in it every day, but looking at it in a picture that I am considering showing other people makes it more real to me. On the one hand, that’s moderately motivating enough to inspire a few tidy sessions in the days that follow. But once that motivation passes, it will most likely just leave me overwhelmed and make me even more hesitant to ever invite people over. 

I keep reminding myself that this is a process. But it’s difficult to stay optimistic because I know not only my vision of what I want it to look like but also how very, very many steps it’s going to take to get it there. I yawned and daydreamed about taking a nap just typing that sentence. 

So maybe I’ll delete most of those pictures, and I’ll wait to take new ones until I have visual confirmation of having completed one of the steps toward my end goal (like the picture above). Proof of a small move in the right direction is more likely to inspire further plans and their enthusiastic execution than thorough documentation of my overall chaos.

The year is starting off pretty strong, and I’ve already enjoyed most of the books I’ve read. Here are some brief thoughts on my reading thus far.

For the main list of book titles I’ve read for this challenge, see this post.

A

B

Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke – I do like a mystery novel. This was the first in a series, and the main character is interesting. I’ll probably read more of them, since it left a little teaser at the end. Well played, Locke.

C

The Castlemaine Murders by Kerry Greenwood – This is the 13th of the Phryne Fisher series, and it’s one of my favorites. It introduces Phryne’s sister, and I enjoyed their dynamic a lot. 

D

E

F

G

H

I

J

K

Writers & Lovers by Lily King – I enjoyed this whole book – the story of a struggling writer who also works at a restaurant, etc. – but it really picked up toward the end. So much that I almost gave it 5 stars. But I recognize that it probably appeals to me mostly because I am a (usually) struggling writer, so it doesn’t quite fit the “everyone should read and love this book” category. The writing is good, and the chapters are short (in case such a factor is as helpful to your attention span as it is to mine). 

L

Lucky Turtle by Bill Roorbach – I gave this one four stars on Goodreads because it kept my attention and was a decent story, but in my heart, it’s only 3.5 stars. I just wasn’t that invested in the characters until the very end. Solid audio selection, though – great reader!

M

N

O

The Opposite of You by Rachel Higginson – This was a quick read. Foodie romance. Slow burn. I wouldn’t quite call it open door – maybe…door slightly ajar? Maybe a little awkward to listen to on a road trip with people you don’t know that well (or maybe a good way to get to know them real quick)? Anyway. The main character occasionally got on my nerves and it was a little too knight-in-shining-armor in certain parts for my taste, but a fun romp overall.

P

Q

R

S

T

U

V

W

A World of Curiosities by Louise Penny – I adore this whole series, but this is easily one of the top five for me. It takes us back to the first case Gamache and Beauvoir worked together.

X

Y

Z

Welcome Home: A Guide to Building a Home for Your Soul by Najwa Zebian – I’ve been wanting to read/avoiding reading this one for a while because I knew I’d want to be in the right frame of mind to give the topic the appropriate attention. I really love Zebian’s Instagram account, so I generally knew what to expect from the book. A lot of things hit home for me, and I’m grateful for some of the tools I walked away with.

My Love of Design Books

This is not a commercial for the products pictured above. I was just excited about a bathroom storage solution that I will actually maintain on a daily basis. I really like the idea of a cabinet I can close and hide things away in, but in practice, I know that’s just code for “place I can stuff random crap and pretend I’ve tidied.”

When I read The Organized Home, I was finally able to wrap my mind around an open shelf that 1) holds everything I use on at least a weekly basis and 2) still looks presentable. The best part is that I was able to repurpose the bookshelf by my reading chair that was overflowing and replace it with a bigger shelf that was taking up space in my dining area but mostly going unused. Twin wins for two rooms!

I mean, the book had already won me over when it became clear in the first 20 pages that it’s really just a manifesto on how to shove more bookshelves into your home (my design philosophy in a nutshell). But all it took was one gorgeous picture of a bookshelf in the bathroom to spark the idea, and now the space that has been the bane of my existence since I moved in has stayed organized for over two weeks with absolutely no extra effort on my part. Incredible.

I loooove design and organization books. Because their goal is to make spaces more aesthetically pleasing, their covers are almost always gorgeous. I’m a sucker for a beautiful cover, so it’s inevitable that I will pick them up. And then I start thumbing through, and I get excited about some of the ideas, and ooh – there’s another book, and isn’t the color scheme on the front lovely? Before you know it, design books make up half my library stack that day.

I always think, “Oh, this book is mostly pictures – it will be a quick read.” Ha. No. The actual reading part? Sure. But I am constantly making notes as I go through, jotting down ways to improve some spaces in my home that aren’t quite working for me. And once an idea takes hold that I can apply to my apartment with little to no expense? Forget sitting still enough to read. I’m up and rearranging or revamping, and the rest of the book will have to wait until I’m satisfied with the progress.

I tend to go ahead and buy the ones that match my personal style, because even if some of the ideas in them aren’t useful the first time I read them, I know I will circle back to them later. In the meantime, they look so pretty on the shelf or coffee table.

Do you love design books? What are some of your favorites?

This is the anchor post where I will keep track of my progress for the Girlxoxo Monthly Key Word Reading Challenge this year. Each month, I will list the word(s) that I chose from the list and the book that matches the prompt. 

I will keep track of them here, but my plan is to also post quarterly updates with small blurb reviews.

If you want to join the challenge, sign up with Girlxoxo on their site!

January – Keyword “all” – We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

February – Keyword “book” – People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks

March – 

April – 

May – 

June – 

July – 

August – 

September –

October – 

November – 

December – 

Alphabet Challenge 2023

I want to explore my whole collection, not just the first couple of shelves, this year, and I think this challenge will help me do that. I’ll list books that match each letter (one author and one title for each) as I finish them. My anticipated goal is to update this post by listing the book (title and author) and occasionally (Monthly? Every other week? We’ll see.) post updates that include blurbs of the books I’ve completed since the previous update.

I’ve linked each book to the post where I wrote the review (either the challenge update where I listed it for the first time or, if I write a longer review elsewhere, to that page).

A

With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo

B

Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke

C

The Castlemaine Murders by Kerry Greenwood

The Postmistress of Paris by Meg Waite Clayton

D

Dear Bob and Sue by Matt and Karen Smith

E

Excuse Me While I Disappear by Laurie Notaro

F

G

H

How To Be Perfect by Michael Schur

I

J

K

Writers & Lovers by Lily King

L

Lucky Turtle by Bill Roorbach

M

Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire

N

O

The Opposite of You by Rachel Higginson

The Book of Form and Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki

P

Q

R

S

T

U

V

W

A World of Curiosities by Louise Penny

X

Y

Z

Welcome Home by Najwa Zebian

January 2023 TBR

New year, new reading goals! I’m excited about becoming more familiar with the books on my shelves as well as (slowly) whittling down my massive TBR. Here’s the plan for January.

Book Clubs

Home

First, I’m finishing up Welcome Home by Najwa Zebian. It’s a great reminder to be true to myself (and also to figure out what that means in the areas where I’m still a little fuzzy on the subject). 

For many people, home means family. I still refer to the farm where I grew up as home, because even though I haven’t lived there for almost thirty years, the people who brought me into this world, whose influence shaped a lot of who I am, are there. And I feel at home at my sister’s house. I know where things are and how it runs and what’s expected of me there. 

I also have a circle of chosen family – people I know I can call on and count on at any time. Maggie, Michelle, Sarah, Steph. Then there are others in the circle from Spiderweb and church and work who would definitely have my back in a fight (not that I am in such situations very often…at least physically). As someone who lives alone, I have to make more of an effort to see my family – both biological and chosen – than those whose family is in their house, and the older I get, the more I value relationships with people who seem to put as much effort into them as I do. Text Me When You Get Home by Kayleen Schaefer focuses on female friendships, but I expect that the concepts expand across gender, and I am excited to tuck into it!

TBR 

I know I said 3-4 selections, but my TBR is soooo large. I’ll calm down in a few months. Probably.

  • Series – Having never read anything she’s written, I already like two things about Diana Xarissa. First, her last name will let me check off the letter X on my alphabet reading challenge. Second, all the series she’s written are titled in alphabetical order. For example, the Markham Sisters series starts with The Appleton Case, then The Bennett Case, etc. I will probably read those at some point, but this month, I am intrigued by the first book of her new series, the Midlife Crisis Mysteries, which was released in November, called Anxious in Nevada. I am also happy to report that it’s my turn with the library’s copy of the latest Inspector Gamache mystery – A World of Curiosities by Louise Penny – so I’ll be reading that one, too.
  • General fiction – I have this one marked with the notation “read without knowing the premise.” Intrigue! So while I’ve linked you to it, I have obeyed Past Me and not read the blurb. This should be fun. As an added bonus, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler also contains one of GirlXOXO’s January keyword prompts (all), so it’s my selection for this challenge.
  • Memoir – Dear Bob and Sue by Matt and Karen Smith, has been on my list ever since I heard my friend Lois talking about it. It’s a series of letters the authors wrote to their friends while they were traveling to all 59 national parks.
  • Food memoir – I’ve thumbed through the library’s copy of Sobremesa by Josephine Caminos Oria, and I may just end up buying it before the month is over. It looks like everything I love in a food memoir.
  • Essays – I have been a fan of Laurie Notaro since The Idiot Girls’ Action-Adventure Club, although it hurts my feelings a little to notice that it came out 20 years ago. I feel like she and I have grown up together, so I’m excited to hear her take on middle age in Excuse Me While I Disappear.

Collection

For the past year (or three?), any time I’ve put a book on a monthly TBR or was given it as a gift, I moved it to one of the shelves in the living room so that I had easy access to it. Then I put it back where it belonged when I finished it. As a result, I have quite a few books lined up on my living room shelves that I meant to read but didn’t (and thus haven’t made it back to their usual home). So I’m going to read a few this month that I’m still just as excited about as when I first planned to read them. 

  • Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi – This book was planned to fulfill one of the prompts for last year’s POPSUGAR challenge (set in Tokyo, a sister city to New York), and it’s one of the first books I ever bought at Patchouli Joe’s
  • Writers & Lovers by Lily King – I can’t exactly remember how this one ended up on this shelf other than I really like the title and the cover. My best guess is that I ran across it when looking for books with the word “winter” in the title (Lily King also has a book called Five Tuesdays in Winter) for last year’s GirlXOXO challenge.
  • A Place at the Table by Susan Rebecca White – Knowing my love of foodie fiction, Michelle gifted this to me a while ago. It’s one of the ones I pick up and read through when I just have a few minutes, so I’m going to actually finish it this month. Hey – another book to discuss at Rise and Shine! I really am going to try not to dominate the conversation. I promise.

What book are you most excited about reading next?

Reading Resolutions

I finished my reading goal for 2022 in the nick of time. Even with a slow October and November, I stayed enough ahead most of the year to finish strong with a few days to spare. Of course, I didn’t read everything I wanted to read, but that’s to be expected. One day, I’ll learn to bend the space/time continuum to my will. Until then, I guess I’m stuck with a few limitations.

This year, my monthly TBR will look a little different. I still want to focus on book clubs and my theme word for the year, but I also want to make a dent in my constantly expanding, grand list of books I’d like to read as well as the collection of books that I own.

Book Clubs

I have seven book clubs in total. I meet with three of them in person, three online, and one hybrid. I am consistent with attendance to the in-person and hybrid meetings, but not so much with the fully online ones. While I don’t promise I’ll want to add any more Zoom calls to my schedule, I would like to engage more in the online message-board-ish discussion of the subscription books each month. 

Just keeping up with the reading for all my book clubs will result in finishing at least six or seven books a month (one of the in-person meetings is centered around genre, not a specific book, so I often have already read several in the month’s category that I can discuss). 

Theme Word

As I revealed yesterday, my theme word for the year is home. I find that I am better able to focus if I choose a book to read that delves into some aspect of the word. I am still working through Welcome Home by Najwa Zebian I began in December, and that is the perfect start. Each month, I will choose one book to help me discover something new the theme has to teach me.

TBR

My TBR list is massive and out of control. I keep track of it on a spreadsheet that is divided into 21 different categories. The smallest number of books listed in any category is 7. I’m not even going to tell you what the largest number is (but the category is general fiction, so suffice it to say it’s a large, three-digit number). 

It may be overly optimistic to believe that I can make a noticeable dent in this gargantuan list, but I’m going to give it a whirl. First, I’m going to slow down when it comes to adding new things, and I’ve already started the process of reviewing the existing list and deleting books that I’m really not interested in after all. I’m going to be more selective and more realistic about whether I will actually ever choose to read a book before I will put it on the list. Second, I will commit to reading a few from the list each month this year. I may end up reading more (especially if I get hooked on one of the series I have listed or if one of my book club selections is also on the list), but planning for at least one choice from three or four different categories is a solid effort.

Collection

My personal collection? Also massive (but not out of control. Every book has a home.). I don’t have it divided into as many categories as the TBR, but I want to read a little out of all of them this year. So I’ll also be choosing three or four from my personal collection to read each month.

For those keeping track, that’s 6-7 selections for book clubs, one for my theme word, 3-4 off my TBR list, and 3-4 from my personal collection. This totals 13-16 per month, which is how I got to the goal of 180 total for the year. Challenging but not impossible. Wish me luck!

Reading Challenges

If you’ve followed this blog for a while, you may notice that something is missing. As I’ve discussed before, I love reading challenges. They introduce me to books I may have never chosen on my own and have me reading out of my comfort zone on a pretty regular basis. 

I don’t typically finish them, though, because I take on too many. I want to do them ALL. And also read all my book club selections. And the next installment of one of the many series I enjoy. And also random books I find at the library that sound interesting or that are recommended by friends. I find that sometimes (i.e., most of the time) I really resonate with Modern Mrs. Darcy’s you-don’t-need-another-challenge proclamation from a few years back, and I just want to read what I like without worrying about if it’s smart or challenging or important enough to merit my favor. 

Frankly, I just need to get paid to read. I could read so much more if it were my full-time job. Or if I could figure out that bending space and time thing. Or just become immortal. But I digress.

I think I’ll still get the diverse reads that I’m committed to through my book clubs and my TBR, so I’ll still be challenging myself in that way. But this year, I am limiting myself to two outside challenges and one of my own. I know, that doesn’t sound like “limiting,” but hear me out. The first two are simple ones I’m familiar with.

I do love MMD’s summer reading challenge, so I’ll do that one when/if it comes out in May. This challenge has many books on it that have some popular buzz, so I’ve usually already read a few of them before the list is even posted. They’re usually pretty quick reads (i.e., summer/beach reads, dynamic memoirs, and feel-good fiction, as well as some gems that I can usually get at least one of my book clubs to read), so I’ll have that going for me, too.

I am also going to complete the GirlXOXO Monthly Key Word Reading Challenge. It’s only a book a month, and I have free reign to pick something I’m excited about as long as the title includes one of the month’s keywords. Limiting the number of challenges I am trying to complete will let me give this one a fighting chance. 

The third challenge is alphabetical. I want to read 26 books with authors whose names start with each letter of the alphabet and 26 books with titles that start with each letter, too. I realize that’s 52 total books, but with an overall goal of 180, this shouldn’t be a problem. Also, there are relatively few names and book titles that don’t start with a letter, so almost everything I read will fit this challenge, especially the first few months.

The catch is this – any book I read for a challenge also has to fit one of the other categories I’m focusing on this year (i.e., book club, home, TBR, or collection). The alphabet challenge in particular is broad enough to add extra motivation that will help me cull my home collection without getting stuck on Allende (although if you really must be stuck somewhere, that’s a good place to be). 

As for updates, I am going to try something new. I will have an anchor page (posting two tomorrow and the MMD one when it comes out later) for each challenge and update it as I finish books. If the book happens to get its own review post or I actually write a review of it on Goodreads, I’ll also post those links on the anchor page. 

So that’s the plan for the year. Do you have specific reading goals you want to meet? I’d love to hear them!

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