Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Start As You Mean To Go On, 2019 Edition

I find myself in the wee hours this morning pondering what I'd like my year to look like.  I truly believe in the idea that you should start as you mean to go on, and so for me January 1st is an opportunity to spend a day living intentionally.  Part of that includes reflecting on what I truly want from my life, and then turning those reflections into clearly articulated goals/resolutions.

Here's what I'd like to accomplish in 2019:
  1. Continue to do the very hard, but very good work that I began in the fall of 2018 in therapy.  I'm not entirely ready to speak about either the experience or the reasons yet.  What I will say is that I sought someone with a specific focus, and that instinct has proven to be the right one.  For the first time, I have a therapist who's given me concrete tools to change my life, shared resources to help me explore the life I want to live, and challenged me to examine my interior life more critically.  It's a good thing.  Progress has already been made...there's more work yet to do.
  2. Have my second foot surgery asap.  Yeah, it sucks.  But the end results are going to be amazing, and I'd like to get through it as quickly as possible...
  3. So that I can get back to running and tap asap.  I'm not setting any goals or dreaming of any races this year, I just want to be able to move again.  I truly believe that motion is medicine, and it's really hard to do nothing but sit around all day.  (Emotionally, though, I'm cool.  I made this choice willingly, and I'm patient enough to live with the consequences.)
  4. Realistically, 10 books/month is no longer feasible.  However, I do think that a minimum of 80 for the years is possible.  Reading matters to me, it's a part of who I am, and to stay sane I must give it it's due. 
  5. Complete 12 knitting projects. My knitting took a big hit when I went back to work.  Whereas once upon a time I averaged 25 projects or so/year, I'm now under 10.  That needs to change...but I'm smart enough to set the official goal at a reasonable number.  
  6. Rebuild the blog.  I don't know what I ultimately want it to look like, but I miss writing for myself.  It's true that I write a lot for work - and all of that is very important, but very technical and repetitive writing.  After two years of that, I'm feeling a bit depleted.  So much so that I was actually surprised at rereading some old blog posts recently at how good they were.  Yes, it's time to reclaim that talent.  
  7. Over and over and over again, I'm being advised by various of my healthcare professionals to learn to meditate.  I have a yearly subscription to Headspace, and I've used it enough to know that it is something I enjoy and benefit from.....IF I make it enough of a priority to make it a regular practice, which I have not been good at.  Every single day in 2019.  No excuses.  
  8. Devote more time to my work with my church.  I accepted a position for 2019 as a part of the pastoral counseling team, which has already proven to be deeply meaningful to me.  I've felt disconnected for a while, and this feels very good and very needed.
  9. Continue to seek ways to improve my health.  2018 brought more answers....and more questions.  It feels like I know a lot, but have been unable to put it all together.  It also feels like there are still some missing pieces.  I've got a plan in place to make one more big exploration this year to see if I can finally put it all together.  
  10. Build my skills on the ukulele!  This delightful instrument has brought so much joy and fun to my life, and I want to continue to stretch and grow so that I can enjoy it for years and years to come.  
  11. Declutter and purge the house.  We'll never be minimalists...but there is absolutely a lot that we could do to cut down on stuff.  I actually began this process prior to my first surgery, and have been more mercenary about it than I ever thought possible.  It feels good to unburden, and it's also kind of fun to find the hidden treasures.  At the end of the day, the goal is to have a house that brings us peace and joy. 
  12. I have some financial goals which I'm going to keep private.  All that needs to be said is that they are carefully thought out with an eye to the future.  
The very good news is that this list feels very possible, especially as much of it builds on work that's already begun.  Life just gets better and better all of the time, but it takes work and a healthy dose of persistence and patience.  

So here's to a fantastic 2019.  

Let's make some dreams happen.  

Monday, December 31, 2018

December Book Report!

In a perfect world, I read 10 books every single month.

While my world isn't perfect, I did manage 10 books in December...and that feels very, very good.

Here we go!

1. Labyrinth Lost, Zoraida Cordova - I can't at all remember where I learned about this series - probably one of several book newsletters that I follow now.  At any rate, I was absolutely delighted by this YA novel.  Over the last 5-10 years I've become more and more interested in finding writers and books that introduce me to worlds and cultures that are not my own.  Exploring multicultural fantasy has given me an amazing glimpse into new worlds.  (Truthfully, I'm pretty bored with the same old, same old too.)  So it's a different type of magic in this book, and it's a different cultural base...and it was absolutely lovely, all of it.

2. The Mortal World, Genevieve Cogman - The most recent Invisible Library release.  These books hit the category that I call "Jolly Good Fun."  There's a time and place for serious and deep, and there's a time and place for more lighthearted entertainment.  The trick for me is finding writing that's good enough to appease my English Degree, characters that make me care, and plots that make sense.  Yes, yes, and yes.  I'm so glad that Cogman is maintaining the quality of her series  I don't know that I want to read 20 books about Irene, but I'm happy to go along with her a bit longer.

3. Good and Mad, Rebecca Traister - My therapist recommended this one, pointing out that I was going to have to get in touch with my feminine rage if I was going to truly address a few issues in my life.  Highly recommend this book to all of my social justice warrior friends.  You know who you are.

4. The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock, Imogen Hermes Gowan - I'm not going to lie, it took a while to get into this book.  I kept going because I was charmed by the Dickensian feel of it all.  It's hard to get that just right - even though lots of books claim 'Dickensian' as an adjective.  The book flipped for me at about the half way point, and the second part sucked me in and gave me the payoff I needed.  I honestly found one character shift to be highly implausible...but I kind of didn't care because of what it gave me in the end.

5. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Burrows (reread) - Looking for something to watch while working on knit Christmas gifts one evening, I started rewatching the charming Netflix adaptation.  About 1/3 of the way into it, I realized I'd rather reread the book than rewatch the movie...and so I did!  It is a delightful book, and a fairly quick read.
Perfect for a December evening when you want the heartstrings to be tugged.

6. Bruja Born, Zoraida Cordova - And the follow-up to Labarynth Lost, this one focused on a second sister.  The thing that struck me this time around is that Cordova has pulled off a rare trick - she's writing about magical teenagers with an intact and loving family.  For that alone, these books deserved to be read.

Then my birthday happened, and I was given gift cards for books on top of my annual birthday cash...and so I went on a book-buying spree that made my heart sing!  This now annual post-birthday book-buying joy is typically where I go back and buy books that have been sitting on my wish list for too long for no good reason.  (And leading up to it, I did go in and clean out my wish list a bit.  Just a bit.)

7. The Sunlight Pilgrims, Jenni Fagen - Wow.  Just wow.  I've read quite a few books that can be described as environmentally based speculative fiction.  It makes sense given how serious climate change is.  What is interesting to me is that Fagen made a very believable disaster, but that it's both scary and awe-inspiring.  Really, though, this is a book about people, and her characters are very compelling.  You fall in love with them, for all of their imperfections and oddities.  Stella stole my heart, and I'll not easily forget her.

8. The Sisters of the Winter Wood, Rena Rossner - In contention for one of my top five books of the year.  You know I love a good fairy tale, and this is a very good fairy tale indeed.  I don't want to spoil things, but I will say that this takes on a fairy tale that I've not seen in other modern interpretations.  There was a moment part way through when I said to my self, "oh, this is ____" with complete delight.  It's wonderful.

9. Fear the Drowning Deep, Sarah Glenn Marsh - Kicking myself for having waited so long to buy this book.  (NPR's 2016 book concierge, I believe, is where I got the recommendation.)  It's about sea monsters, but it's really about a girl who is coming into her own while dealing with old hurts.  Bridey is another who stole my heart this month, and I find myself wishing I could go to the Isle of Mann to experience for myself.

10. Becoming, Michelle Obama - My eldest daughter bought this for me for my birthday, which is fantastic because I was chomping at the bit to read it.  No secret that I consider myself to be a progressive liberal.  No secret that I love the Obamas - even while having my eyes open to the faults of the Obama presidency.  (I'm not a blind follower.)  No secret that I adore, admire, and respect Michelle.  Her book is phenomenal, hard to put down, emotional, and all the other things.  I appreciate her honesty and candor, and her earned wisdom that she shares.

Thank you, 2018, You Were Very Good to Me

It's a good thing to take a moment at the end of the year to look back with gratitude.  No matter what's going on in the world, I've always found that there are things we should recognize and celebrate.  Here are a few of the highlights of my 2018.

My Year in Review:

January:  I fell in love with the ukulele. 

February: My eldest daughter got her drivers permit and we attended her first dance competition.  I knit a sweater for myself and attended the MOMS Demand Advocacy Day at our state capital.

March: We had a lot of fun on the farm during lambing season, attended two more dance competitions, and I had my first in-clinic sleep study.

April:  We got to go see Hamilton!!!!

May:  I earned my 26.2 at the Flying Pig Marathon in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Highlight of the year, for sure!)  Sean and I were recognized by middle school for being awesome parents.  The girls and I performed in the spring dance recital.  My dream ukulele was purchased.

June:  Sean's aunts visited.  We sent our youngest daughter to the Grand Tetons with a
 school science trip.  Our eldest went to camp with good friends.  I found myself in progressive lenses for the first time, and got blue-light filter lenses.  My dad did his first 100 mile gravel grinder in a new event held in my home town.

July: Second sleep test and MSLT, resulting in a working diagnosis of narcolepsy.  The girls and I went to SPEC - my fifth year as a facilitator, Gillian's first year as a camper, and Tanith's first year as a SPEC brat.

August: The girls and I went to see Hairspray,  and take a day trip to the Nelson.  I was the first to knit in a delightful new bookstore in town.  I had my annual silent retreat to my parents' farm.  I cut back to 3/4 time at work to accommodate my chronic conditions.

September:  We celebrated Mom and Dad's 50th Anniversary (which was actually in August).  A friend and I produced our second "Sunday Morning at Fairview."  I start therapy and begin doing some really hard work.

October: I had a nasty spider bite in a sensitive area.  I've never laughed so much in my entire life.

November: I had surgery to correct the bunion on my left foot.  Very difficult to go through, but the right decision nonetheless.

December: All of the holidays!  It's my favorite time of year, and the whole month was just good.

Books:

In 2018 I read a total of 74 books - 56 fiction and 18 nonfiction.  I started, but did not finish an additional 11 books, having finally figured out that life is too short to push myself to finish books I don't want to finish.

My top picks: 

Nonfiction:
Inspired, Rachel Held Evans
Becoming, Michelle Obama
Sleepyhead, Henry Nicholls

Fiction:
The Sisters of the Winter Wood, Rene Rossen
Circe, Madeleine Miller
The Girl Who Drank the Moon, Kelly Barnhill
Spinning Silver, Naomi Novik
Girl at War, Sara Novic
The Essex Serpent, Sarah Perry
The Sunlight Pilgrims, Jenni Fagen
Monsters of Templeton, Lauren Groff
The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O, Neal Stephenson and Nicole Gallant
The Silence of the Girls, Pat Parker

Knitting:
I completed 9 projects this year.  That includes 2 adult sweaters, 3 pair of socks, 2 hats, 1 scarf, and a baby sweater.  That doesn't sound like a whole lot (although it's better than 2017), but given how much my life has changed over the last couple of years I'm grateful to be able to do that much!  Also, those numbers don't tell the full story.  I made considerable progress this year on both my Queen Susan shawl and Gillian's scrapbook blanket, both of which are massive undertakings that take years to complete, even were I not to be working.  So all in all, it was a better year for knitting, and I'm happy to be reclaiming that part of myself!

Best of all:
I'm so very blessed with my family.  They are my everything!
(Photo by Stacie Pottinger of Rogue Studios!)

Friday, November 30, 2018

More Books!

Honestly, Time (yes, with a capital T) just got away from me, and I forgot to put up my September and October lists.  As a consequence, here's yet another big post with three months of books.

Enjoy!

SEPTEMBER


1.  Night and Silence, Seanan McGuire - I still can't quite believe I only recently picked up McGuire's books.  For someone so prolific, she's quite a good writer.  I quite frankly don't know how she's able to put out so much quantity without sacrificing quality.  Night and Silence is the newest October Daye book, and I love the fact that the character is still changing and growing 12 books in.  (I am getting nervous, though.  In my experience when a series gets this lengthy the quality starts to go rapidly downhill at some point....fingers crossed.)  I can't believe I'm going to say this, but I am considering a series reread soon.  I just adore these characters so much!

2.  Suffer a Sea-Change (novella), Seanan McGuire - And a bonus at the end of the book!  This is what happens when you have just a little more you want to say about a character!

3.  Leaving Church, Barbara Brown Taylor - Taylor is, hands down, my favorite Christian writer.  This is the story of how she came to leave her job as a pastor, and what she found afterwords.  It spoke to me deeply, and in many ways I find my own journey reflected in hers.

4.  Cross Talk, Connie Willis - I adored it.  Then I read some criticism of it.  Then I thought about it.  Then I kind of changed my mind, while still having enjoyed the book.  Yep, I agree with a lot of the things that people have pointed out are wrong about this book.  At the very least, it is not up to Willis's usual standards, and I completely understand why people are annoyed with the story.  Her female lead, after all, needs rescuing quite a bit.  Having said that, I still thought it was a fun and engrossing read...and sometimes we just need a book to be fun!

5.  The Black Tides of Heaven (novella), Jy Yang - Jy Yang's novellas are getting a lot of attention.  I think that there's some interesting things in here about gender, the writing is delicious, and goodness knows I love to read fantasy that isn't based on the old Tolkein-esque Europeanish mythology.  But I have the sequel, and I've not read it yet (still not, as of Dec...) and that makes me wonder why.  I'll get to it at some point, but it just doesn't call to me.

6.  She Would Be King, Wayetu Moore - A recommendation from my friend Carrie, who's the manager of our new Skylark Bookshop!  (It's a gorgeous bookstore - and anyone in the area simply must go, and buy lots of books!)  Carrie actually had to dig a copy out of her boxes of new inventory and check it in so that I could take it home with me that day.  It's beautifully written - gorgeous prose, amazing characters.  There's a whiff of magic, and a whole lot to think about.

7.  The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery, Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile - Enneagrams kept popping up in my podcasts, so I thought I would learn more from this basic primer.  The enneagram is an ancient personality typing system built on 9 basic archetypal personality types.  I found the book to be fascinating - and I appreciated the fact that this isn't a 'take a test, find your type' sort of thing.  (Still not sure what type I am!)  I've dug a little bit deeper, and have found some of the information in the book to actually be quite helpful in navigating relationships.

8.  The Hazel Wood, Melissa Albert - Yes, please, I'll take a well-written fairy tale!

9.  Arabella and the Battle of Venus and 10.  Arabella the Traitor of Mars, David D. Levine - These books are jolly good fun, and I still love the idea of skyships.

Giving Up On:
1.  The Dark Dark, Samantha Hunt - This pains me, because I absolutely adored Hunt's debut novel, but I just can't get in to this short story collection.  And I've tried...multiple times.


OCTOBER

1.  The Quick, Lauren Owen (reread!) - I had a friend ask me about some of my favorite Halloween themed books, and in reviewing my old October book blog posts I was reminded of this gem.  It's right up there in my top 5 vampire books, and I really enjoyed revisiting it!

2.  The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, Stuart Turton (UK publication) - One of my very dearest friends partnered with a local author to open a fabulous new indie bookstore.  She told me about this book months ago, and I was intrigued by the reviews which called it a bit of a Quantum Leap/Agatha Christie mash up.  Ahem, I ordered a copy from amazon...which turned out to be not fully ok as it hasn't been released in the US quite yet.  (Where it will be published under the title, The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle.)  The book itself is quite clever, and I enjoyed it a great deal.  BUT, it took me a few months to read (I kept being distracted by other books) and this is not a book that it's easy to set down for a while and pick up at a later date.  I  struggled to figure out at times where I was and what was going on, and I think the reading experience would have been a lot better had I just powered through. 

Movies:  
Only two books? What's up with that?!

What's up is that I happen to absolutely love scary movies, and for some reason had the hairbrained idea of challenging myself to one scary movie/day through the month of October.  Why?  Who knows.  My month of scary books had grown, quite frankly, stale, and it was time to shake things up a bit  I challenged myself to as many new movies as I could find, indulged in a bit of a period ghost phase in the middle of the month, saw some really great movies (and a few really bad movies...), and had a lot of fun.  It ended up being rather more than 31 movies, though, as I ended up including three Netflix tv series in the mix.

Which leads me to this:  The Haunting of Hill House on Netflix is honest to God the best adaptation I've ever seen in my entire life.  While I have always appreciated the original Shirley Jackson novel, it's always been more of an academic understanding of why it's a great book because I've never particularly loved or enjoyed it.  Taking that book and smashing it up against the idea of a family drama?  Brilliant.  The resulting 10 episodes of television are quite frankly the best exploration of family trauma and grief that I've ever seen.  I'm super cranky about book adaptations....this one is a complete win.

Side note:  I actually love good writing about pop culture, and there's a lot of really good stuff out there about The Haunting of Hill House.  It's encouraged me to go back and start to rewatch already.



NOVEMBER

1. Melmoth, Sarah Perry - Truth?  A bit of a disappointment.  I just loved The Essex Serpent so, so much, and was really hoping that Perry would be a new favorite writer.  Melmoth was a bit of a dreary slog that I had to push myself to get through.  I had trouble actually connecting with the characters, and thought it was all pretty dull.  (Note:  I did part of the book in audio and part in print.  The audio was a tad hard to follow, which may have contributed to part of my issue with the book.  It jumped around a bit and I got lost.)  It's telling that just a few weeks later I can't remember the big reveal....  I did like the ending, though.

2.  Muse of Nightmares, Laini Taylor - Anther bit of a disappointment.  Taylor's Strange the Dreamer was so very unusual in the fantasy world, and I had high hopes for this follow-up. Took forever to get going, though, and I actually put it aside and forgot about it for a while.  (Never a good sign.) Once it got going, I was totally back on board...but it definitely lacked the special magic of the first book.

3. Running on Empty, Janice Webbs - A recommendation from my therapist.  Very needed, validating, and helpful.

4. The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O, Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland - Oh.  My.  Goodness.  This book was so much fun!  I've never read any Stephenson before, and now I kind of want to run out and read all of his other books.  I actually picked this book up on the iBooks sale table - thought the synopsis sounded fun - but I had no idea I would love it as much as I did.  Time travel, witches, awesome characters, a plot complicated but fun....yep, it checked every box for me!

5. Vox, Christina Dalcher (audio) - I'm annoyed by this book.  On the one hand, it sucked me in and I felt compelled to follow along.  On the other hand, the writing is pretty awful, and the reviews are all very accurate in their complaints.  (Yeah, I checked.)  I confess....I stopped listening half way through, checked out the print version, and skimmed the second half to find out what happened. The author has clearly jumped on board with the current trend in feminist dystopias, and she had a fairly terrifying and fascinating concept...but the execution of the whole thing is just bad.

6. The Silence of the Girls, Pat Barker - Now this, on the other hand, was a brilliant, brilliant book. It's the Trojan War told through the point of view of one of the women, Breisis.  I devoured this entire book in two days, and it has haunted me every since.  (For anyone who doesn't know - my minor is in Classic Greek language, I adore mythology, and I have a soft spot for anyone who does a good modern interpretation.)  In a year that also brought us Madeline Miller's Circe....wow.  Top 5 or 10 books for the year, for sure.  

7. Sleepyhead: The Neuroscience of a Good Night's Sleep, Henry Nicholls - This book was literally just published, and it's freaking amazing.  (I preordered it shortly after my diagnosis this summer.)  Nicholls does an amazing job of connecting science with storytelling in order to convey a lot of really important information about Narcolepsy.  Important to note, Nicholls suffers from this condition - it's partially a memoir of his own story - which makes his research deeply personal and urgent.  I picked up some very helpful advice from this book, some of which is already making a difference in my life, and I was deeply comforted.  Even if you don't have a sleep disorder, this is a good read.

Unfinished: 

1. The Last Days of Magic, Mark Tompkins - A sale table book that wasn't so great.
2, The Shadow of the Wind, Carlos Ruiz Zafron - This was recommended years ago by someone I trust, and I've tried - lord knows I've tried.  I've started it probably a half dozen times. This time I made it past the first chapter.  In fact, I made it probably half way through...and then I flipped and read the last chapter and decided life was too short.
3. See What I Have Done, Sarah Schmidt - It's actually quite well-written, and is beautifully told.  I just don't care about Lizzie Borden enough to have finished. Actually, that's not true.  I feel that Borden's story has so saturated our culture that there's not a lot new that can be said about it and so it's quite dull to read yet another variation.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

In Which We Come Back To Ourselves - A Reader's Tale

Once upon a time there was a reader...a reader who found herself losing her ability to read through very mysterious circumstances.  She was sad.  She was distraught.  She missed her books, her best friends, her lifelong companions.  She gave up talking about them because it hurt so much.  Then one day she decided to confess to a friend just how bad the problem had become.  The friend, knowing her quite well, was completely shocked because she knew just how much those books meant to our dear reader.  The friend gave the reader some love, and gently pushed her to figure out just what had gone wrong.

My friends, I've been away for a while, figuring some things out.  I finally have some answers, and am happy to say that life is turning towards the better, slowly but surely.  I will soon share more - I've missed this blog more than I can say.  For now....let's catch up on what I've been reading!

(Just to be clear, this is five months of books, and even thought it's a lot shorter list than it once would have been, I'm not going to go into full detail on everything.)

April:
Reading actually went fairly well in April.  I was tapering as I prepared to run my first marathon, and found myself suddenly with a whole lot of time on my hands!

1.  The Cruel Prince, Holly Black (audio) - I do love Holly Black.  Her books are true fairy tales, her heroines are feisty and relatable, and her plots are fast-paced and fun...and I love her for all of that.  It was so much fun that I was highly annoyed over the fact that it's just the first book in a series...and I read it well before the next book was due to be released.  Very much looking forward to where the next book takes us.

2.  The Fairies of Sadieville, Alex Bledsoe:  Bledsoe finishes up his Tufa books with this final entry, and it's a beauty.  I love how gently he returned us to so many beloved characters from the series, and am very satisfied with how he left it.  This is a series I know I will revisit periodically, and I highly recommend them to anyone who loves fairy tales that are melded into real life.

3.  The Burning Page and 4. The Lost Plot, Genevieve Cogman: The Hidden Library books aren't perfect by any means, but they are enjoyable romps and these books - the 3rd and 4th books in the series - were both much better than the dissapointing 2nd book.  Love Irene to pieces!

5. The Mermaid's Sister, Carrie Anne Noble: It's sweet, and it's gentle.  It's a fairy tale and a story about love.  I was slightly annoyed with one section that stretched a tad too long....but by and large it's beautiful.

6.  The Star-Touched Queen, Roshani Chokshi (audio):
It's a treat to find a fairy tale that's based on a different culture/mythology.  (meaning, non-European white)  It was a delightful book, and  I feel I must read everything this author has ever written.

7. Circe, Madeleine Miller: If I could wave a magic wand, Miller would produce books at a considerably faster rate than she does.  Without that option, I must rest content in the knowledge that her books are some of the best written interpretations of classical mythology that I've ever read.  In fact, I'm completely blown away by her amazing prose and her interpretation.  I do have a minor in Classical Greek.  I grew up on a beloved copy of Edith Hamilton's Mythology.  Miller is speaking directly to me.

8. The Book of Phoenix, Nnedi Okorafor -
By far one of the best writers of today.  I adore everything that Okorafor produces, and am super jealous that a friend of mine got to meet her.  This book is a companion to Who Fears Death.  Both are must-reads.

9.  Girl at War, Sara Novic -
This is one of the last recommendations I got from Books on the Nightstand.  It's absolutely devastating.  This is the type of book I think we all need to read - to learn empathy, to see with different eyes, to try to understand just a little bit what others go through.  It's a book that hurts my heart, and yet I'm glad I read it.

May:
In which I was exhausted from running said marathon...and then the reading problem reared it's ugly head.

1.  The Clockwork Witch, Michelle D. Sonnier:  Full disclosure, Michelle is an internet friend of mine.  We belong to a rather special private facebook page that's been very meaningful to me over the years.  I was absolutely delighted when she announced that her book was going to be published, and I'm absolutely delighted to share it with you. The worldbuilding was a delight - once again, new enough concepts to me to really peak my interest.

2.  The Girl Who Drank the Moon, Kelly Barnhill -
Such a beautiful book.  Of course it is, it's a Newbery Winner.  (Incidentally, that's the one book award I tend to pay attention to.) Read it, just please read it.   As with all really good children's books, it comes at the truth so much better than any adult fiction I've ever read.

3.  10% Happier, Dan Harris
- A book about meditation for those of us who are pragmatic people who know it would be good for us, but who are somewhat turned off by the bulk of the literature out there.  Harris's story is interesting, and his take on meditation is refreshingly practical and grounded in real life.

June:
Yep, was still having a whole lot of trouble reading.  Seriously...2-3 pages max before I'd fall asleep.

1.  Learning to Walk in the Dark, Barbara Brown Taylor - Taylor is one of my favorite resources for books that nourish the soul.  This particular books gets right to one of my biggest pet peeves in my faith - an idea she calls 'solar' Christianity.  I found it beautiful and thought provoking, and particularly timely given my sleep and nighttime issues that I've been dealing with lately.

2.  Eva Luna, Isabel Allende -
I'll be honest, I wanted to like it more than I actually did like it.  It was, sad to say, kind of a boring read despite the interesting characters and Allende's trademark brilliant writing .

3.  7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess, Jen Hatmaker (audio)
- This book appealed to me greatly because I am feeling the need lately to move towards a more minimalist lifestyle.  While Hatmaker's specific family experiment isn't right for us, I did love her take on the whole concept and the lessons she shared from her experiences.

July:
Trying, really trying.  Found some answers.  Started working to get better.

1. Witchmark, C.L. Polk - I fell in love with this debut novel, and can't wait to see what Polk does in the future!  It's the type of steampunk that I love, and the central love story was about as sweet as can be!  (And a bit unexpected....)

2. Inspired, Rachel Held Evans
- Yes, yes, yes.  This is the book I needed.  It helped me fall in love with the Bible again, and confirmed much of what I hold dear.  So refreshing to read in a world where the Bible is all too often used as a weapon.

3. Spinning Silver, Naomi Novic -
Will be buying in hardback - that's how much I loved it.  If you enjoy fairy tales as much as I do, you simply must take a look at Novic's books.

4. Wires and Nerve, Vol. 2 Gone Rogue, Marissa Meyer, art Stephen Gilpin
- Yep, The Cinder novels are another great discovery of the last couple of years.  (I was late to the boat.)  While I prefer the novels, the graphic novels are perfect for an afternoon of fun.

5. The Complete What Ukulele Players Really Want to Know, Barry Maz -
No explanation needed.  Am loving learning to play my ukulele!

Unfinished:
Life's just too short.  I retired these to the unfinished shelf, knowing darn good and well I didn't care if I ever finished them.

1.  Tell the Wolves I'm Home, Carol Rifke Brunt - It's just too sad.  Perhaps because of my age, I've always been drawn to such tales from the AIDS epidemic.  They were part of the great awakening of my heart to LGBTQ issues, and  led me to where I am now.  This is actually an amazing book, but it was just too sad, and I couldn't - and didn't need - to do it.

2. Good Guys, Steven Brust - Once upon a time I adored Steven Brust.  He was one of the first two or three fantasy authors that was recommended to me in college, and he would change my reading life forever.  But darn.  This is the second of his recent books that I've bought and not finished.  He's too much of a man's man in his writing.  He just writes the sort of boy books I don't care for.

3.  Gold, Fame, Citrus, Claire Voye Watkins - Actually, it's another quite good book.  Just not my cup of tea for some reason.  Don't regret the purchase  (was the sale table) and did very much appreciate the writing and the world-building.  Just not my thing.

August:
A major life change.  Trying really hard.  Found my reading self again!

1. Strange Practice and 2. Dreadful Company, Vivian Shaw - The first book kept showing up in various lists and in the sale table, so I finally decided to try it out.  I bought the second within minutes of finishing the first and started it immediately.  Before I loved fantasy I loved Gothic horror, and I really enjoyed this delightful take on the genre.  Greta Helsing - doctor for the undead - such a fun idea!  It wouldn't work, though, if there wasn't heart at the center...and these books have plenty of that as well.

3. European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewomen, Theodora Goss -
It pains me to say this.  I adored Goss's first book about the Athena Club.  This one desperately needed a mean editor to cut it roughly in half.  The basic idea was solid, but there were way too many wasted words.  Seriously...it dragged badly in much of the book.  And what happened to Mary's spine?  A disappointment.

4.  Running Is My Therapy, Scott Douglas -
An excellent scientific look into the mental health benefits of running.  It was a little more in depth than I had expected, so I skimmed parts.  Nevertheless, it confirmed what I already knew!

5. Finding Your Own North Star, Martha Beck -
I discovered this through the blog of a fundraising consultant that I follow, and to my delight it's actually a rare case of a self-help book that's actually helpful.  I've been working through it for some time, and appreciate what it's helping me to discover.

6. What Belongs To You, Garth Greenwell -
Beautiful language, and an exploration of human connection.  I don't know that it's for everyone, but I enjoyed it.

7. Wake, Anna Hope -
This was an interesting book about WW1. (I've a soft spot for books about both world wars.)  While it honestly wasn't the best book on the subject that I've ever read, it was most certainly an interesting way to explore what war does to people by focusing on three different women.  Worth reading.

8.  The Essex Serpent, Sarah Perry -
Best book of the month, without question.  On the top 5 list for the year!  When I finished, I felt much as I did years ago when I finished A.S. Byatt's Possession - agitated in a good way, desperate to talk to someone about it, overwhelmed with just how good of a book it was.

9. A Good American, Alex George -
George is a local writer who I've known about for some time.  As he just opened a delightful indie bookstore, with one of my best friends as his manager, I decided I'd probably best read his book!  (I've had a copy for ages.)  I'm actually surprised that I enjoyed it as much as I did.  It's not at all the sort of book that usually tickles my fancy - being the type of lyrical family saga in which not much actually happens other than regular life - but then again, it's about German immigrants in my state, so it touched on my own family.  Glad I finally read it, and am delighted by the new bookshop!

10. The Monsters of Templeton, Lauren Groff -
Wow.  Another amazing book!  Picked it up on a sale table (for no good reason, really) and decided to clear it off of my to-read shelf finally.  The author's introduction did a much better job of pricking my interest than the actual description of the book had, and once I got into it I had serious trouble putting it down.  Was a great way to end my month!

Monday, April 2, 2018

Reading! Catching Up With My Books

Hello All!

It’s been an absolutely crazy few months, with little time to think beyond a crazy family and work schedule.  In fact, I’m contemplating the next steps in my life with an eye towards making life more manageable and enjoyable for all of us becaues I quite frankly don’t know if things are sustainable as they have been.

At any rate, as always I have continued to read, and I want to share my list of books with you.

A few notes first:
1.  For a very long while now I’ve had trouble falling asleep when I try to read at night - which is crazy because my bedtime reading is a lifelong habit so much a part of who I am that I almost don’t know how to live without it.  Nevertheless, one or two pages in I’m seriously fighting to stay awake.  This has seriously cut into my reading time (I’m losing 1-2 hours/evening.), and is annoying the tar out of me.
2.  In a development that’s so very unlike me, I started and didn’t finish probably 6-8 books from January through the end of March.  This is just weird, and I have no explanation beyond a short attention span and exhaustion because of the aforementioned crazy schedule.  Problem identified, I’m going to work to fix it.  You'll also see at the bottom of this post a list of books that I moved to the Unfinished shelf for a variety of reasons.  I may or may not try them again at another time.
3.  Despite this, I still managed to finish a healthy number of books.  Prior to going back to work a year ago, I was reading 10/month, and I have averaged half of that so far in 2018.  Not bad at all.

January and February:

Nonfiction:

1. Braving the Wilderness, Brene Brown - I adore Brown, and this is a must read.  In fact, I think I need to get a print of her ‘strong back, soft front, wild heart’ saying to hang on the wall in my office.  It was needed.

2.  Mindful Running, Mackenzie L. Harvey - I heard an interview with Harvey on one of my podcasts, and was really intrigued.  Mindfulness and meditation are concepts which the universe seems to want me to learn.  (Seriously...they keep coming up over and over lately.). I am delighted to say that this is an amazing book - very grounded with excellent practical advice and enough stories to make it interesting.  I’ve since incorporated a few of the practices suggested, and have found them all very helpful.  I’ll be returning to them again and again.

3. Runners World Complete Book of Running, 4.  Runners World Big Book of Marathon and 1/2 Marathon Training - Hilariously enough, I read a lot of these books while on a hotel tradmill.  I had checked a bunch of running books out of the library, and these are the two that I felt had the best practical advice.  I’m actually using a training schedule right now adapted from both.

Fiction:

5.  Beneath the Sugar Sky, Seanan McGuire - Another Wayward Children novella, and again...please read these books, they are amazing.  McGuire is one of my favorites now for a reason.  Her books range from silly page turners to deeply lyrical, all with a solid fantasy/fairy tale base.

6.  Binti, 7. Binti: Home, 8. Binti: the Night Masquarade, Nnedi Okorafor - Typically I'm not much of a SciFi fan, but when it's written by Okorafor I am all in.

9. The Grace Keepers, Kristy Logan - This was an NPR 2017 Book Concierge find, and it was achingly beautiful.

March:

Nonfiction:

10. Half the Sky (audio), Nicholas D> KRistof and Sheryl WuDonn - I started this book on International Women's Day, which was perfect timing.  Honestly, I think it's a must-read for women everywhere.

11.  Being Mortal (audio), Atul Gawande (unfinished) - I started this after hearing an interview with Gawande.  It is a fascinating look at the end of life and what we hold important.  I did enjoy the half or so that I listened to, but ultimately didn't feel that there was enough content beyond what I had heard in the interview to finish.  Still glad I read it.  It's given me much to think about.

Fiction:

12.  Dreadful Young Ladies and Other Stories, Kelly Barnhoff - An eagerly awaited pre-order that didn't dissapoint.  True, not every story was a 10...but there were a few that were so amazing that they lifted the entire book.

13.  A Wrinkle In Time, Madeleine L’Engle - I went to see the movie with my daughter, and came home and immediately reread the book to get the stupid movie out of my brain.  OK, that wasn't entirely fair.  I think it's an impossible book to adapt to film, and I understand the decisions that were made.  I think it was a decent attempt, and I adore the casting (except for Oprah, who I just didn't care for in this role.)

14.  Strange the Dreamer, Laini T - Wow.  It's gorgeous.  And fun.  And different.  And now I have to wait for book two?!  Thank you once again, NPR Book Concierge!  (Yeah, it only happens once/year, but it's become a favorite source for new and different.)

15. Borne, Jeff Vandermeer - I enjoyed this book way more than I thought I might.

16.  Tricks for Free, Seanan McGuire - If you have to do 4 hours on a treadmill, I highly recommend having just the right book to keep you from going insane....and this one did the trick nicely.  McGuire's InCryptid novels are her popcorn novels - they hold the attention well, but aren't at all deep and don't concern themselves overly much with fancy language.  I made it through 3/4 the book during my loooooooooooooooooooooong run, and I wasn't bored, so that's saying something!  (As a side note, I very much admire McGuire's amazing output.  The fact that she's got multiple series that she publishes in each year, and that they are all so different from each other...kudos.)

Unfinished:

-.  Winter Tide, Ruthanna Emrys - I found this book on the NPR book concierege, and let me say up front that it's beautifully written and the characters are divine.  My problelm with it was that it had an exceedingly slow pace, and so I struggled to stay with it after a certain point.  Also, I'm so not into Lovecraft....so the new take on it was not that much of an interest to me.  I was reading it as a first intro, which is perhaps why I needed more action and less atmosphere.  This is a book that I fully plan on going back to at some point - when life is perhaps not as crazy and I have more energy to devote to slower books like this.  There is a sequel coming out.  I may preorder it and pick this up again when it arrives.

-.  The Stone Sky, N.K. Jemisin - I know, I know, this is one of the most decorated trilogys in recent history.  Everyone loves these books.  They are great.  They are different and unique and well written....and good grief, I find it a slog to get through them.  Book one had an amazing pay-out at the end, and was so very worth it.  Book two was tough to get through, but I also felt that it was worth it.  Book three....seriously coulndn't get past the first 50 pages or so.  Kept picking it back up, reading a page, and then setting it back down for weeks at a time.

The Philosopher Kings and Necessity, Jo Walton - This pains me, but it was time to give up for a while and set these aside.  The first book in this trilogy - The Just City - truly was an interesting thought experiment which I enjoyed.  I do have a minor in the Classic Greek Language, and anything to do with the Classics generally gives me a bit of a thrill still.  The problem with thought experiments, though, is that they can be a little bit cold.  I found that I just wasn't connected with any of the characters (except perhaps one who dies right away in book 2) and so I just didn't care.  This is another I will hopefully return to at some point in the future.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Reading in November and December

NOVEMBER

1. The End of the Sentence, Maria Dahvana Headley and Kat Howard - Oh my goodness...a writing match made in heaven!  I can't believe how beautiful this book was...and I love the fact that it wasn't quite what I expected.  These two writers are definitly among my favorite discoveries of the last few years, and I love that they teamed up.  The really interesting thing is that together they have a style that's unique from their individual styles.  (usually in team writing I can tell who has added what) 

2.  The Masked CIty, Genevieve Cogman - I so enjoyed reading this book, but at the end of the day I had trouble remembering what it was about a few weeks later when I went to do this report.  Either I'm getting forgetful in my old age or it just wasn't awesome enough to stick real well. I've preordered the fourth book in the Hidden Library series...but now I'm not sure if I want to continue on.  (Haven't purchased the third yet.)  I do love the characters....maybe I've just been tired and stressed? 

3.  Mating in Captivity, Esther Perel (audio) - I'm a bit obsessed with Perel, who I've heard speak in many podcast interviews over the last few years.  In fact, her podcast, "Where Should We Begin?" is currently a must-listen as soon as it's published. This is the book that first truly introduced her to the world, and I find I'm really drawn to the work that she does with couples and relationships...work that is deeply compassionate and real.  Truth?  I would also listen to Perel read the phone book...her voice, accent, and reading style are that good...and so I'm beyond grateful that she read her own book. 

4.  Out of Sorts, Sarah Bessey - Another case of the right book coming along at the right time. I wish I could sit down with Bessey over a pot of tea.  I think she and I would get along quite well.  The premise of this book is that sometimes we need to shake out our beliefs, reexamine everything we thought to be true, and do the work needed to move forward.  My own feelings about church are somewhat conflicted right now...and this was exactly what I needed. 

5.  The Stone Sky, N.K. Jemisin - trilogy wrapping up, I'll now admit it...I don't actually like this trilogy as much as everyone else seems to.  Jemisin is one of my favorite discoveries from the last few years,, but I find this particular series to be unnecessarily difficult to read because of the writing style she utilizes. (note...I didn't finish it...and I may not...so weird.)

6. Artemis, Andy Weir - No, it's not as good as the Martian.  Not by a longshot.  Yes, it was a lot of fun.  I think Weir had the incredible good fortune to hit gold with his first book....and maybe he should have stopped there (?). 

7.  Akata Witch and 

December

8. Akata Warrior, Nnedi Okorafor - I adore Okorafor.  Her books are magical.  Akata Witch has been on my wish list for quite some time, and it's sequel - released this year after a very long wait - has made many best of lists for 2017.  I'd heard the books described as an African Harry Potter at one point, but that doesn't do them justice.  I love them because the characters are complex, and our lead has real emotions and sometimes doesn't think before she acts...in other words, they are real kids who behave in real ways. 

9. Weave a Circle Round, Kari Maaren - A prepurchase, based on the cover blurb by a trusted author.  It was fun, but I don't think I loved it as much as I might have another time.  (If that makes sense.)  Interesting concepts, fascinating time travel elements, excellent characters...yeah, I should have loved it more...probably tired and stressed again. 

(Then my birthday happened...round one of splurging on new books (round two with Christmas money)...and then I had a glorious 10 days off over the holidays, in which pretty much all I did was read!)

10.  Lincoln in the Bardo, George Saunders - I've never read Saunders, and although I've heard his praises sung for years I wasn't sure what to expect.  This was so heartbreakingly beautiful.  I loved every single word, and while it should have been sad I found it full of hope and peace. 

11. The Girl in the Tower, Katherine Arden - I wasn't aware that Arden's The Bear and the Nightengale (which you may remember I reread recently) was the first of a proposed trilogy until I stumbled on this book in my periodic browse through presale books.  I'm such a fan.  These are beautiful fairy tales, and in this book Arden takes her girl who doesn't fit in with the norms of her culture even farther.  I don't know where she's going, but I can't wait to find out!

12.  Turtles all the Way Down, John Green - The truth?  The plot is pretty iffy.  Fortuantely, that's not what you read this book for.  John Green has taken his own struggles with OCD and has created a character who's so very real in her own mental illness that she breaks your heart over and over again.  We need books like this to help teach us awareness and compassion.   And that line about first love at the end?  So very true. 

13. The Power, Naomi Alderman - I'd been desperate to read this book for quite some time.  It's also making the Best of 2017 rounds, and is a wonderful addition to the conversation about gender that we've been having all year long.  I wasn't surprised by anything - the reviews pretty much gave away the plot and the ideas - but wow, it's so very well done.  There's a line at the very end that really blew me away.  Gender and power..these are things we need to be talking about. 

14. Bright Thrones, Kate Elliott - Court of Fives novella.  Instead of adding new information to the series, it told one small portion through a different perspective.  I adore Elliott, and I love the Court of Fives books...but as charming as this was, it was wholely unnecesary. 

15. The Thorn and the Blossom, Theodora Goss - A confession.  This is one of the first books I added to my wish list back when I started listening to the (sadly now defunct) Books on the Nightstand podcast years ago...and yet, I passed it over every time I went to buy books, even though it's survived every purge of my wish list.  I finally decided it was now or never, and so it became one of my Christmas book purchases.  Oh my...it's brief, but it's absolutely lovely.  It's a twice told tale - you get the same story from the two diffferent characters, and while the potential is there for boredom through repetition, the story is short enough, and the perspective shift interesting enough that I didn't lose interest.  Beautiful writing...and let's face it, I'm a sucker for anything that includes a Green Man or Woman. 

16. Shalom Sistas, Osheta Moore - I picked this up on a recommendation from Sarah Bessey, who's blog has become a must read for me.  I cried several times while reading this book.  I want to be a a Shalom Sista, and this has given me some things to think about.