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Archive for the ‘Friday Five’ Category

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?

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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.

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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?

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I was about to type “I didn’t read as much in March as I usually do…” but then I looked at how long some of the books I finished in March are, and turns out I did read quite a bit. These were my favorite five, in no particular order.

  1. A Match to the Heart by Gretel Ehrlich – The telltale way to know I really enjoyed a book is that I immediately seek out other books the author has written. This was a memoir about getting struck by lightning, and it was fascinating. I’m super excited to read The Solace of Open Spaces.
  2. Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor – Ok, I lied. There is somewhat of an order. This was my absolute favorite of the month. Laini Taylor is a world-building rockstar. I’m about halfway through the second book in this duology (Muse of Nightmares), and it’s just as good.
  3. Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust – This was my second time reading this one, and it was just as lovely this time around. If you like fairytale retellings, check it out.
  4. Microscripts by Robert Walser – A collection of essays compiled from notes the author scribbled on scraps of paper. I picked it up because Maira Kalman is the illustrator, and I love her. I’m so glad I did.
  5. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll – Technically two books but my copy has both of them in the same volume, so I counted it as one. I don’t remember how many times I have read this and I love it just the same every time.

What is the best thing you’ve read recently (books, articles, bumper stickers – whatever)?

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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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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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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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Food and wine with friends is always a good day.

The prompt for today is “best day of 2021,” so I thumbed through my planner to find the best day. I was already up to five by April, so I just decided to go top ten. In order (somewhat) of occurrence:

  1. Inauguration Day (January 20) – I am not a person who believes that political leaders (particularly milquetoast, capitalist, and/or status-quo-y ones) are the answers to our problems. I suspect that in order for someone to make it to the highest offices in our country, they’ve probably had to (and will continue to) compromise a lot and do some pretty shady things that likely do more to add to our problems than to solve them. When I vote, it’s typically for the least objectionable person who could actually win whose future speeches are the least likely to inspire me to damage whatever screen I’m viewing them on. But I enjoyed Inauguration Day. I enjoyed hearing Amanda Gorman share The Hill We Climb, and I loved watching her capture the day on Instagram. The Bernie memes still make me laugh. It’s just a day to take a breath, and it was nice to do so.
  2. Spiderweb Loves You – This virtual performance on Valentine’s Day was a poem I pieced together from text conversations with Maggie and Michelle. As with our conversations, topics ranged from favorite TV moments to the stressors of the day. I love them both a lot, and I love that Spiderweb gives us a specific space each year to love on the people who are important to us.
  3. Birthday celebrations (technically spanned more than one day, but let’s be real – there are no rules here) – Between visiting Texas Tulips and having lunch with Tammy, wine/coffee/pastry/book shopping, dinner and hangout with CM and Sarah, an All Booked Up outing with Sarah and Joan, and new shelves and delicious early dinner with Steph, Nathan, Tammy, and Matt, I was especially well loved on the days surrounding my birthday in March.
  4. Wine and pizza at Fortunata with Kim and Beth – It was the perfect evening. Friends, food, wine, live music that we definitely sang along to, getting out of the house. Such a lovely time with two of my favorite people and some of my favorite simple pleasures.
  5. Denton Community Market – Maybe I went on opening day? The day I’m remembering was at least one of the first days in April that it was open for the season. I usually avoid DCM early on (let the crowds thin out and the summer veggies show up), but this year I was excited about it. At any rate, my favorite DCM day was the one where I saw (and hugged!) so many friends in person whom I had mostly just seen virtually for the past year.
  6. Maggie and Michelle weekend!!! In late May, Maggie and Michelle came to see me! It was so exciting. We ate delicious things, chatted, and watched TV for a long, luxurious weekend. I miss them so much. The weekend was so fun we decided that it needs to be a yearly(ish) ritual.
  7. In-person gatherings – My Cookbook club, church book club, and Follow the Reader are meeting in person again! We started getting together again about mid-year, and it’s been so nice. 
  8. Spiderweb at the farm – One of CM’s friends has a farm nearby (with sheep! And donkeys!), and we were invited over to lounge in the pool, enjoy the outside and make art a few evenings during the summer. It was an amazing little mid-week reprieve. 
  9. Colorado trip! I actually took a vacation this year. I went with Spiderfriends to a cabin in Colorado where we hiked (well, they hiked. I mostly wheezed and stayed at the cabin), read, played games and enjoyed each other’s company. It was nice to take a real break (from both jobs!) for a few days.
  10. Spiderdead – So many of my best and most memorable days include Spiderweb Salon. I really love these people and the community we have together. I got to help share a friend’s poetry during our yearly grief ritual, and it was a great experience. It was my first time performing on stage at Rubber Gloves, so that made it special to me, too.

The fact that 2021 holds so many best days for me indicates that I had a pretty good year. It hasn’t always felt that way, so this was a nice discovery.

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My reading plan derailed a bit this month as I was finishing many books planned for October and got a late start. And also in part because I just some different books than I planned to read. That happens sometimes. Anyway, here are the five books I read/started in November that I enjoyed the most.

  1. The Madness of Crowds by Louise Penny – The latest in the Inspector Gamache series. This one hit differently because it dealt with themes of the pandemic and different people’s reactions to it. It is set as the beloved characters of Three Pines are celebrating together again for the holidays. I love this whole series, but there were times reading this one that I had to put it down and catch my breath.
  2. Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman – Why did I wait so long to read this? I devoured this book in early November, and I’m already halfway through the third in the series. If you like magical realism and you haven’t read it yet, learn from my mistake. Do not wait any longer.
  3. Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God by Brian Zahnd – This is a quick read, but I was reading along with my discussion group at church, so I took it more slowly and finished it with them. Highly recommend for Christians who get mad at God every time they read the Bible. It might help you do that less. Be advised that it might not help you be less mad at Christians, though.
  4. Still Life by Sarah Winman – Not to be confused with the first Inspector Gamache novel. Beautiful storytelling. I am not finished yet because I keep going back to re-read really exquisite passages. The dialogue is particularly well done.
  5. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern – Another “Why did I wait so long?!?!” title. For years, this book has been recommended to me by people who know what I love to read the most. They were right. It’s so good. There’s not one thing I dislike about it.

What have you read recently that you loved?

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Whew. The holiday season is approaching at a breakneck speed and I am not sure I’m ready. There are a few things I’m looking forward to, such as our mid-week Advent services, the solo I get to sing the first Sunday of January, and the twinkly lights of the Christmas tree, but for the most part, I’m already tired and over it. Here are some things that I enjoyed this week while trying to coax myself into the holiday spirit.

  1. Speaking of spirits, I have toyed with the idea of a wine Advent calendar for years but this may be the year it actually happens. A little celebratory libation to end each day and trying out some new wines? I think so.
  2. Some people love turkey, dressing (or stuffing, if you prefer), and other holiday standards. My favorite holiday foods are the pies. I would eat every single one of these. Except the pot pie, because yuck. But otherwise? Yum.
  3. Earlier in the week, Maggie and I had this exchange:
    Maggie: You know what I forgot about? FoodGawker
    Me: …..
    Me: !!!!!!
    Me: OMG ME TOO
    So I have spent a good portion of time this week strolling down Memory Lane by scrolling back through my saved recipes and remembering all the tasty treats I enjoyed courtesy of this site. Wow, at one point I really did think I was going to make my own cheese. I appreciate my former self’s ambition. That’s adorable.
  4. “I want to line the whole place with bookcases. Then I want to paint them green, because that is the proper library colour, and then I want to fill them with books and be happy for ever.” Life goals.
  5. If you’ve already done your gift shopping…I’m jealous and also do you want to do mine, too? No? Really? You’re just going to sit there and be smug with your I’ve-finished-my-shopping-already face and leave me to suffer? Well, ok then. But if you haven’t finished and want to order things in time for Christmas or your holiday of choice (or January birthdays…I don’t know your gifting habits), Sarah Bessey curates a gift guide that features places that do good in the world in some form or fashion.

What are some things (internet or otherwise) you’ve seen this week that you loved?

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