Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Reading Alone

Sometimes I miss this little nook. Lots of good reading happened here.

I am a big fan of reading in community. I like gushing about my favorite parts of a book, and I enjoy hearing what others thought of it. This is why I am a member of more book clubs than I can usually handle and also why I enjoy readathons (such as the Dewey that is coming up on April 30).

I also really love reading alone.

Despite the fact that I talk about books almost constantly (particularly when I post here), there is also a rich inner life that comes with reading. In fiction, I get to wrap my mind around other alternatives and worlds, and it helps me better understand my own. In nonfiction, I get to learn from the perspectives of others who have lived very different lives than I have in a way that doesn’t often happen in passing conversations. The best books accomplish both of these things, regardless of genre. Reading sparks imagination, empathy, creativity, and wonder. It can be a solace or an awakening.

This is where I started with my reading life. I didn’t join my first book club until well after graduate school. That doesn’t mean I didn’t love reading just as much back then as I do now. In fact, there are some elements of reading strictly solo that I miss sometimes. I weighed what I read solely against what I knew and believed, and the ideas that made the most sense at the end of this wrestling match were the ones that endured in my worldview. There are other ways to learn how to think critically, of course, but being mostly left to my own devices for what is still the majority of my reading life is what makes doing so seem like second nature to me now.

While my bookish life has become markedly more social in the last decade or two, I carry over some elements of solitary reading. I track most of what I read, but there are some things that I hold so close that I don’t even mark them on my Goodreads lists. I still argue out loud in my living room with authors I don’t agree with (you’re welcome, neighbors). Whenever I have a mostly free weekend (or when I’m so exhausted I cancel everything I’m planning and force a free weekend…like this one coming up), I hunker down with my current TBR list, only surfacing to drink coffee, eat and sleep.

If you love reading but have zero desire to join a book club, you’re not alone (well, technically you are alone…that’s the point…you get it). You don’t have to be social about it. It can be just as rich an experience as reading in community. Maybe even more so, sometimes.

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If I were a normal person, I would stick to one reading challenge. But since I’m not, and I read a lot, and I am open to counting the same book on multiple challenges, here we are. I usually attempt at least two or three challenges every year. This year, it’s four. This is also the first year I’m actively posting about them, and I’m going to try to update with the selections I’ve finished about once a quarter. If you are working toward any of these challenges and need ideas, maybe this will help (or ask in the comments if there’s a prompt you’re having difficulty with, and I probably have at least one suggestion).

Girlxoxo Monthly Keyword Challenge

Girlxoxo hosts several yearly reading challenges (and also compiles a hella long master list of challenges others are doing, which I appreciate), but I love the monthly keyword one the best. For each month, they give a list of words, and you choose a book that has one of those words (or some variation of it) in the title. I’ve done ok keeping up with them so far (technically, I didn’t finish January’s book until early February, but whatever).

Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge

This challenge actively encourages you to count the same book toward multiple prompts, but I read enough that I usually end up with multiple selections for a prompt, particularly after following the discussions in the Goodreads group and reading Book Riot’s suggestion lists. I haven’t finished a lot of them, but I have a plan for all but one of the prompts (if you have different reading tastes than I do and want to recommend a book to me, that would help). If you want a challenge that not only encourages you to try new genres but also mercifully gives you plenty of recommendations, this is a good one. 

The 52 Book Club Reading Challenge

The 52 Book Club can also help you get out of your comfort zone when choosing new books to read, but they consider it cheating if you use the same book for a different prompt (but also, no one’s checking up on you, so…do what you want). They also offer a lot of resources, though, to give you choices and diversify your reading. I’ve read books that fulfill quite a few of these prompts already (which is good, since there are 52 of them).

POPSUGAR Reading Challenge

This is the one that I find most challenging, as evidenced by the fact that I don’t even have plans for most of the prompts yet, much less completed reads. This probably has something to do with choosing it last of the four. It wasn’t even on my radar until February. Of course, they have suggestions listed right there on the challenge page, so it is likely that I will end up reading a lot of their recommendations. Book recommendations are the main reason I follow their site, so that tracks. I’m branching out with a few of them, though. 

  • A book with a character on the ace spectrum – Loveless by Alise Oseman 
  • A book you can read in one sitting – Epilogue of an Epitaph by ACF Bookens
  • A book about a secret – Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew Sullivan
  • A book with a misleading title – How To Do Nothing by Jenny Odell (as it’s actually about how to do a lot of things – the important things – by saying no to imperialistic nonsense)
  • A book featuring a man-made disaster – Noor by Nnedi Okorafor

I usually start off pretty slowly with reading challenges and then pick up speed about mid-summer. So I’m pleased with the progress I’ve made thus far.

Are you participating in any of these (or other) challenges? If so, which ones?

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March TBR

I finally finished bingeing (is it really a binge, though, if it takes you the better part of a year?) Once Upon a Time last month. The final season had a mostly different cast, and I was not a fan of one of the new actors in particular, so it took me a little more time to get through it. But I kept coming back because Alice (in Wonderland but she’s “been to lots of places”) was one of the key characters in the last season. I loved her part in the storyline as well as Rose Reynolds’s portrayal of the character.

So this month, in addition to tracking down the Once Upon a Time in Wonderland spinoff, I’m prolonging the Alice magic by re-reading Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There. As I love all manner of tweaks and retellings, I may also read one or several of these:

I’m open to other Alice/Mad Hatter/Queen of Hearts/Wonderland retellings, of course. Fortunately, there are so many. Hit me with your faves. 

Book Clubs

Reading Challenges

Most of the books I’ve read so far this year have completed prompts on my challenges. A proper update on how each one is going is coming in the next few weeks, but these are the ones I’ve picked out specifically for this month.

  • Read Harder – Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust (queer retelling of a fairytale)
  • Girlxoxo – The Beautiful by Renée Ahdieh (keyword: beautiful)
  • 52 Book Club – The Maid by Nita Prose (we’ll try this January book club selection again to fulfill the prompt “published in 2022”) 
  • POPSUGAR – The two original Lewis Carroll selections listed above (from the advanced section – a duology – although I do have a lot of duologies on my general TBR list)

Lush Reads

A nice blend of challenge and comfort.

Additional Options

Mostly books that need to go back to the library soon but also some long-standing TBRs.

What are you reading this month?

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In no particular order…

  1. The Rural Diaries by Hilarie Burton Morgan – I grew up on a farm, and my parents still live there, so I get to go back and visit frequently. I am drawn to any story about farm life and making it work. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have the resources of two successful actors to fall back on, but I digress. Actually, that’s not a digression. This book is a good example of how much work it takes to make a farm functional, even if you have a lot of resources. She also charmed me with various instances of finding things and causes they loved and throwing all their excess money at them rather than just buying more stuff for themselves. I really enjoyed that.
  2. Wintering by Katherine May – I took so many notes on this book that I’m not sure I can summarize them. Instead, I leave you with some of my favorite quotes (lifted shamelessly from Goodreads because I’m wintering and reserving energy for other things because…just read the book):
    – “If happiness is a skill, then sadness is, too…[that] is wintering. It is the active acceptance of sadness. It is the practice of allowing ourselves to feel it as a need. It is the courage to stare down the worst parts of our experience and to commit to healing them the best we can. Wintering is a moment of intuition, our true needs felt keenly as a knife.”
    – “Here is another truth about wintering: you’ll find wisdom in your winter, and once it’s over, it’s your responsibility to pass it on. And in return, it’s our responsibility to listen to those who have wintered before us. It’s an exchange of gifts in which nobody loses out.”
    – “Doing those deeply unfashionable things—slowing down, letting your spare time expand, getting enough sleep, resting—is a radical act now, but it is essential.”
    – “Winter is when I reorganise my bookshelves and read all the books I acquired in the previous year and failed to actually read. It is also the time when I reread beloved novels, for the pleasure of reacquainting myself with old friends. In summer, I want big, splashy ideas and trashy page-turners, devoured while lounging in a garden chair or perching on one of the breakwaters on the beach. In winter, I want concepts to chew over in a pool of lamplight—slow, spiritual reading, a reinforcement of the soul. Winter is a time for libraries, the muffled quiet of bookstacks and the scent of old pages and dust. In winter, I can spend hours in silent pursuit of a half-understood concept or a detail of history. There is nowhere else to be, after all.”
    – “Much to my regret, I have yet to befriend a robin.” (ME TOO I HAVE THIS SAME REGRET)
    – “The right to sing is an absolute, regardless of how it sounds to the outside world. We sing because we must. We sing because it fills our lungs with nourishing air, and lets our hearts soar with the notes we let out. We sing because it allows us to speak of love and loss, delight and desire, all encoded in lyrics that let us pretend that those feelings are not quite ours. In song, we have permission to rehearse all our heartbreaks, all our lusts.”
    – “Now my evenings have the consolation of mugs of emerald-green tea made with fresh mint. It’s not so bad, but the time seems to stretch, and I’m finding myself in bed by nine, perhaps earlier if I can get away with it. It’s a profoundly unsociable way of living, but it gives me those clearheaded early mornings in the inky dark, when I light candles around the house and relish two straight hours when nobody can make any demands on me.”
    – “That’s what humans do: we make and remake our stories, abandoning the ones that no longer fit and trying on new ones for size.”
    – “They say we should dance like no one is watching. I think that applies to reading, too.”
  3. How To Do Nothing by Jenny Odell – Do you sense a theme? The title is a bit of a misnomer, because it advocates actually doing quite a lot. Just…things that are important and not necessarily the things that society/patriarchy/capitalism and other such nonsense wants you to believe are important. Is it possible that when you can truly stop doing those things you may have time for the things that matter most to you? I hope so.
  4. Loveless  by Alise Oseman – “Give your friendships the magic you would give a romance. Because they’re just as important. Actually, for us, they’re way more important.” Oh, the young adult angst! Perfectly captured. Reading this book was like listening to my students/customers. I had never read a rom-com with an ace main character, and it was lovely. I particularly enjoyed the parts that illustrated the impact and importance of friendships.
  5. Spoiler Alert by Olivia Dade – I only read this because it is the first in a series brought to my attention by a Happy Endings Book Club selection from a few months ago (I have a habit of only reading series in the order they are written if possible, so the book I received as part of my subscription had to wait). I’m so glad I started with it! It’s basically a fandom fantasy wherein the fan meets/befriends/falls in love with the celebrity. It reminds me of good times on the MRMB (Michael Rosenbaum Message Board). Now I’m excited to see what happens with Alex and Lauren in All the Feels

What have you enjoyed reading lately?

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Reading Challenges

As mentioned in my TBR posts, I’m participating in several (four, to date, but….well, we’ll see how these four go) reading challenges. I love challenges for one of the same reasons I love book clubs – they alert me to books that I may never have picked up myself. If you are wanting to broaden the scope of your reading life but don’t have time/energy/desire to join a book club, a reading challenge may be just what you’re looking for.

The challenges I’m participating in this year:

It’s not unusual for me to choose multiple challenges, and I don’t use the same book for two different categories on the same challenge. I do, however, cross-post books between challenges when possible. For example, in January, reading Okorafor’s Noor met Read Harder’s “adventure story written by a BIPOC author,” 52 Book Club’s “recommended by a favorite author” (it was the January selection of Roxane Gay’s Literati Club), and POPSUGAR’s “featuring a man-made disaster.”

Sometimes, it’s fun to specifically look for a book that counts toward all the challenges I’m participating in. This month, I’m reading Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore, which satisfies all the following categories:

  • A book set in a bookstore (Read Harder)
  • Featuring a library or bookstore (52 Book Club) – ok, a little cheaty as it mirrors Read Harder almost exactly, but let’s be real – you know I’m going to read more than one book that fits this category anyway.
  • Keyword “midnight” (Girlxoxo)
  • About a secret (POPSUGAR)

I also find myself reading multiple books throughout the year that fit a certain category, especially if it’s a category that I had to do a little searching to find a book that fits because that search always yields more than one book that sounds interesting to me. So you may see the same category with different books pop up throughout the year. I have just started tracking them this month, so other than the ones I’ve already listed, I don’t have a lot to add right now, but once I’ve got at least three finished for each challenge, I’ll post the updates here.

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I usually have a hard time narrowing down my top five reads of the month, but January was easy. I can even rank them. Of the 13 books I read in January, these were my favorites (in actual order of preference).

  1. How the Word Is Passed by Clint Smith – This is the best book I’ve read in a while. It took me a while because it’s pretty heavy material, but I love Smith’s writing style. This interview is a good example of the perspective he brings to his writing.
  2. The Book of Delights by Ross Gay – Close second. I read the ebook, but I’m going to buy a copy to add to my bedside collection for mornings when I need a quick pick-me-up to get going. I love Gay’s humor and charm.
  3. Noor by Nnedi Okorafor – Such gorgeous writing. I love novels that describe ordinary moments in exquisite detail. I also love plots that keep moving and make me stay up late to find out what happens next. It’s unusual to find both in the same book, but this one has both.
  4. My Body by Emily Ratajkowski – I went into this expecting to be annoyed by complaints about privileges her body has afforded her (she’s a model). Any time I had such a twinge (e.g., the chapter where she waxed philosophical about getting paid a lot of money to vacation at a luxury resort and document it on social media. Meanwhile, I work in student affairs where I make in a year what she gets paid in a session.), her exposition of capitalism, inequities, and the complications of her place in it (both privileged and disadvantaged) brought me back to her side. If I were to teach a class on memoir writing, this book would be the required reading for the lesson on nuance.
  5. Pure by Linda Kay Klein – This book was one trigger after another, but it was ultimately helpful for me to read. If you grew up in purity culture (and you probably did, whether you were in the fundamentalist, evangelical thick of it or not), this may give you fun new things to discuss with your therapist.

What is the best book you’ve read lately?

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February TBR

My library is going to be stoked to get some of these back soon.

The problem is that there are too many books in the world. And by “too many,” I do mean “Yay! So many!” And by “problem,” I do mean “luxurious, lovely happenstance.” My TBR list is always going to be bigger than my time frame for completing it, and I’m just going to have to make peace with that. 

Here are a whole lot of books that I will likely start (and for the most part, finish) this month.

Book Clubs

  • Monday’s Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson – I meant to read for two hours Monday night and then finish up the rest yesterday before book club, but then the pace abruptly picked up and so I had to read to the end before going to bed on Monday. Worth it. Who even needs sleep. 
  • The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray – I want to be a personal librarian. Anyone reading here who would like to hire me to do that sort of thing? References available upon request.
  • A Match to the Heart by Gretel Ehrlich – Memoir about being struck by lightning. We are all fascinated and curious.
  • Circus of Wonders by Elizabeth Macneal – Fantastic Strangelings coming through with the magical again.
  • Count Your Lucky Stars by Alexandria Bellefleur – Happy Endings selection for the month of love
  • To Paradise by Hanya Yanagihara – This is a pretty long book, Roxane Gay. You’ve never steered me wrong before, though, so I’m in.

Reading Challenges

I’ve added a couple of reading challenges (surprising no one – we all knew this would happen). Partly for me, but mostly because I know some of you like a little structure and I want to highlight challenges you may enjoy that I’m also participating in. If you want a challenge and none of the four I’ve chosen fit your tastes, fret not. Girlxoxo does this so much better than I do; here’s the master list of challenges they compiled for 2022

A lot of my selections fit categories on all of the ones I’m doing (although my personal meta-challenge is that, no matter how many I end up tracking, I won’t use the same book for more than one prompt on the same challenge). In fact, I may do a separate reading challenge update in the middle of the month to outline all the prompts and the books I read to match them. Here’s just a taste for this month.

Lush Reads

The lush themes for this month are food, love, rest, and dreaming. And chipping away at long-time TBRs. Happy.

  • Babette’s Feast by Julian Baggini – loved the movie and just recently found out it was a book. 
  • How To Do Nothing by Jenny Odell – I really feel like this month is going to be the month I finish it. It’s just so inspiring…to do nothing…
  • All About Love by bell hooks – in honor of the recently departed icon.
  • The Alchemist by Paul Coelho – Approximately 12,341 people have recommended this book to me – will it live up to the hype? My expectations are pretty high.
  • Warrior of the Light by Paul Coelho – Might as well pick up the companion manual, too.

Additional Reads

This list is mostly an assortment of books due at the library soon-ish and racy/romantic recommendations from friends.

Clearly, I need to set aside at least one reading weekend this month. 

What are you reading now?

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I thought I had to take another picture for this post. But then I looked through my phone and discovered what I really had to do is just narrow the selection.

With my focus on joy last year and my exploration of lush this year, I’ve been thinking a lot about my aesthetic, not just in my home but also in my personal style. Once upon a time (like two decades), a friend commented that I dressed like a cartoon character. I tried to protest but then looked down at the black t-shirt, oversized green cardigan, and bright blue pants I was wearing. Ok, he had a point.

That may be the time in my life when I loved my look the most. It was mostly pieces in solid colors tempered with a lot of black, as it coincided with my goth “phase” (which, let’s be real – I never really grew out of. It’s a fun look that I still often enjoy breaking out today).

Then I read this article about bookcore (i.e., dressing like people who frequent bookstores). And I am fascinated, enchanted, and enthusiastic. Of course, this is my look. There’s not really one distinct thing that sets it apart (although the writer gives some key elements to look for toward the middle/end-ish). But looking at the pictures at the end, and reading through the whole piece, I think my particular brand of bookcore looks something like this:

  • Layers – Depending on the season, my trusty pea coat, sweaters, t-shirts, scarves. I particularly enjoy the suggestion of “a questionable hat.” After reading this article, I may have to start wearing blazers again (throwback to my early teaching days). Layers allow me to adjust to the store’s temperature so that I can spend a while there and still be comfortable. Speaking of comfort…
  • Low-heeled boots or other comfy footwear. I don’t know that I can commit to ugly shoes, but I do enjoy something with some support.
  • Knit skirts/tunics/dresses with leggings – Again, comfort is key. I technically own a pair of jeans and one or two pairs of trousers, but I don’t remember the last time I actually wore real pants. And why would I, when there are leggings? Real pants are so uncomfortable with their hard seams and lack of give. Also, they cover up my cute boots.
  • Backpack and/or tote bags – For my everyday bag, I need something that I can wear – leaving my hands/arms free for book browsing – that can also hold a book if I know I’m going to be standing in lines a lot that day and will need something to read. And I have so many tote bags, but I also use them regularly. Nice to think of them as an actual part of the look.

Bookcore definitely has taken over my home, as there are shelves and/or stacks of books in every single room. When you basically live surrounded by books, it just makes sense to dress the part.

I may have to do some reconnaissance this weekend to see how well I match the local bookcore aesthetic. Do your local bookstore patrons have a particular style?

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December was one of my read-a-bit-of-everything months, so I didn’t technically finish many of them. Here are the ones I did finish that stuck out.

  1. Winter by Ali Smith – I really like the way Smith wrote these characters. Some of them were more likable than others, of course, but they read real (if that makes sense). I am looking forward to reading the spring and summer novels.
  2. Poet Warrior by Joy Harjo – This memoir was rich and deep. I found myself re-reading passages because the language was so lovely. I would expect nothing less from Joy Harjo.
  3. Taste by Stanley Tucci – I enjoyed reading this book for many reasons, but mostly because it seemed that he got more relaxed as the book went on. It went from TV persona to putting things like “a fuck of a lot of garlic” (I think it was garlic – if not, let’s just pretend it was because a lot of garlic always makes sense) in an ingredient list. The only thing that would have made it more enjoyable was listening to him read it to me which I am likely to do this year some time, since he reads the audiobook. Yay!
  4. Home is Not a Country by Safia Elhillo – Is it a poem? Is it a novel? Yes. It’s the best of both worlds. Beautiful story about the influence of a name, understanding where you come from, and finding where you belong.
  5. A History of Wild Places by Shea Ernshaw – I like the way the author developed this plot. It kept me curious all the way through. Without giving too much away, I felt compelled to scope out Ernshaw’s social media for real world context and its potential influence on the plot. I could see this book being used to make points that she didn’t intend for it to make, but I liked the premise and the twists.

What did you enjoy reading last month?

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I love my book club selections this month!

I have a slightly bigger reading goal this year (150), so I’m starting out ambitious. Some of these books are ones I started in December and hope to finish up this month, and some of them are books that I’m starting but know they will take longer than the month to finish. At any rate, I hope to get a good start on the 12.5 books a month needed to meet my year’s goal!

Book Clubs

I am a member of six book clubs (not counting the library club, where we talk genre instead of a specific book we’re reading together). Three meet at a specific time (in-person or Zoom, depending on various factors), and three are ongoing discussions online. All add fascinating reads to my TBR list.

  • Dial “A” for Aunties by Jesse Q. Sutanto – We discussed this one on Tuesday, so I’ve already finished it. It was a wild ride. I listened to the audiobook. Highly enjoyable.
  • The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich – I love this author, and I’m looking forward to reading and discussing it over beer with the church folk.
  • I Forced a Bot To Write This Book by Keaton Patti – We were going to read this last month in Follow the Reader, but several had a hard time finding a copy so we pushed it to January. I’ve read some of it already, and it’s pretty entertaining. This is the sort of thing I’d enjoy reading aloud to party guests when I’m schnockered (aw, remember when I had parties? I…don’t miss it. But also I do. It’s complicated).
  • Weather Girl by Rachel Lynn Solomon – Happy Endings selection that sounds fun.
  • The Maid by Nita Prose – I’ve had this on my list since it was announced, and I’m so happy that it’s finally out and it’s our Fantastic Strangelings pick for the month. It sounds like a great read for fans of Clue, cozy mysteries, and charming characters. 
  • Noor by Nnedi Okorafor – My Christmas present to myself was a Literati subscription so I can just have Roxane Gay’s book picks mailed directly to me. I don’t choose a lot of science fiction on my own, but I think I’ll like this one.

Reading Challenges

In addition to my book club selections, I want to be more intentional about keeping up with the two reading challenges I’m doing this year. 

Lush Reads

Committing to my word for the year through reading/study/reflection worked really well in 2021, so I’m going to continue the practice. Part of this is to get back in the habit of journaling, so I’ve chosen four books that help me explore topics on well-being-esque topics with daily or weekly prompts. Real talk – I’ve already gone off the rails and completed several “days” in one sitting for at least two of these books, so I’m not sure it’s going to take me all year to finish them as designed, but at least they will get me back into the habit of daily journaling, which is my purpose in reading them in the first place.

I also am finishing up/starting three books that talk about living abundantly and seeking delight and remaining healthy and sane in the process, all of which go along nicely with “lush.”

  • The Book of Delights by Ross Gay – If being utterly charmed is something you’re into, just go ahead and keep this one by your nightstand.
  • Don’t Overthink It by Anne Bogel – Practical advice from Modern Mrs. Darcy.
  • The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell – I ran into this one as I was going down a hygge rabbit hole after seriously cozying up my bed linens. Intrigued.

Other Selections

December was one of those months I couldn’t settle on just a few books. So I have a couple of books I’ve read a few chapters of and want to finish up. Also, I have quite a few books that I need to return to friends or the library soon, so they’re on the list, too.

  • The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern – I have been slowly reading this one for about three months now. The story and characters and language are all wonderful. 
  • How the Word Is Passed by Clint Smith – I started listening to this on the way home for Christmas and the chapter on Angola Prison made me madder than it’s responsible to be while driving. So I’m only a little bit into it, but it’s a fantastic tour of several monuments and landmarks and their significance. Highly recommend. Check your blood pressure beforehand.
  • Role Models by John Waters – I borrowed this from Sarah 14,000 years ago, and I found it while dusting shelves last week. Past time to read and return it!
  • Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro – This has been on my TBR list a long time and is due at the library this week, so I want to hurry and finish it so the person waiting for it can get to read it. It’s so lovely.
  • Music on the Brain by Arlene R. Taylor, PhD & Michael R. Hudson – I received several copies of this from my friend Matthew (thank you!), who works across the hall from Dr. Taylor, so I have a couple left to loan if you’re local. Great read so far!
  • Blood Hollow by William Kent Krueger – Gosh, I love mystery series. And I want to get this one back to Lois so someone else can enjoy it. 

So the list may look a little daunting, and I’m not expecting to actually finish everything this month, but this is what’s on my current pile.

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