Monthly roundup · reading life

Monthly Roundup: September 2020

Month 438247392838924389792 of the pandemic, folks, with cases on the rise in the US because no one cares anymore, and human lives and suffering mean nothing! It’s utter insanity here. People in my own town are screaming to reopen the schools (while schools a few counties away have had to shut down because their students keep testing positive for Covid-19, and my son’s former high school had to quarantine the entire cross country team because someone went to a meet while awaiting the results of a Covid test that turned out to be positive, but apparently we are incapable of learning anything from anyone and no one will be happy until everyone has permanent lung damage), people are gathering in large groups and breathing and coughing all over each other, and no. one. cares. It’s crazy-making to watch, and I’ve basically been coping by reading every moment I’m not cooking, cleaning, or acting as my six year-old’s office assistant. (Shout-out to all you teachers teaching virtually; you are AMAZING and I love you all.)

I hope you’re all managing to stay sane while the world melts down around us. September seems to have gone by in a flash for me, but time means nothing these days, so maybe it dragged on as long as March seemed to. Who knows? *crazy laughter* Anyway, let’s talk books instead of pandemic.

Ready to recap?

What I Read in September 2020

  1. Living a Life That Matters by Harold S. Kushner (no review)
  2. Nazi Wives: The Women at the Top of Hitler’s Germany by James Wyllie (review to come)
  3. Wayside School Gets a Little Stranger by Louis Sachar (no review, read out loud to my daughter)
  4. Lighting the Flames by Sarah Wendell
  5. Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century by Jessica Bruder
  6. Like No Other by Una LaMarche
  7. In the Neighborhood of True by Susan Kaplan Carlton
  8. Tightrope: Americans Reaching for Hope by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
  9. Overcoming Life’s Disappointments by Harold S. Kushner (no review)
  10. There’s a Boy in the Girl’s Bathroom by Louis Sachar (no review; read out loud to my daughter)
  11. Overground Railroad: The Green Book & Roots of Black Travel in America by Candacy A. Taylor
  12. The Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Lost: A Memoir of Three Continents, Two Friends, and One Unexpected Adventure by Rachel Friedman
  13. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey (no review, though I mentioned it here)
  14. Plum Fantastic (Sugar Plum Ballerinas #1) by Whoopi Goldberg and Deborah Underwood (no review, read out loud to my daughter)
  15. Unseen City: The Majesty of Pigeons, the Discreet Charm of Snails & Other Wonders of the Urban Wilderness by Nathanael Johnson
  16. Broken Faith: Inside the Word of Faith Fellowship, One of America’s Most Dangerous Cults by Mitch Weiss and Holbrook Mohr
  17. They Called Us Enemy by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, Steven Scott, and Harmony Becker (review to come)

Not bad for a month of reading. Two of these were from my own shelves, as per my new reading goal of reading my own books. Eight of them came off of my TBR. Three were read-alouds to my daughter; we loved the Louis Sachars, but neither of us really enjoyed the Sugar Plum Ballerinas book (A+ for diverse characters, though!). Ten non-fiction, seven fiction. That’s a pretty good mix.

Reading Challenge Updates

I finished the 2020 PopSugar Reading Challenge (go me!), so my newest challenge is to read off of my own shelves. I started the challenge late in the month; so far, I only have two read off of my by-the-TV shelf. That’ll increase in October. Watch this space next month for updates! 😊

State of the Goodreads TBR

Like I said, because I’ll be focusing on my own shelves for a bit (and most of the stuff on my TBR comes from the library), this won’t be decreasing at any real rate anytime soon, and that’s something I’m okay with. Last month I had 158 books on here; this month I’m up to 170. The last two library books I have checked out are from my TBR, though, and after I finish those, I’ll read four from my own shelf!

Books I Acquired in September 2020

None!

Bookish Things I Did in September 2020

Nothing but reading on my swing on the back porch every afternoon (and on my chair in the evenings!), but sadly, those days will be coming to an end soon, since the temperatures will be dropping this week. I’m going to miss those hours of quiet outdoor reading…

Current Podcast Love

I’ve been mainly listening to Judaism Unbound, but I find their voices so soothing that it puts me to sleep almost immediately! Hard to get much listening done that way!

Stephanie’s Read Harder Challenge

On hold until life goes back to normal, whenever that is…

Real Life Stuff

I swear, I wish I had time to keep a journal, because it’s hard to remember what happens when all the days kind of look the same…

My son is doing well with virtual college. My daughter is into the swing of things with virtual first grade learning, and I’m basically acting as her personal assistant, signing her in and out of meetings, keeping an ear out for what she’s doing so I can help her with her schoolwork later on, monitoring her behavior to make sure she stays focused (NOT an easy task!), along with getting my regular housework and cooking done and trying to keep up with this blog. It’s not exactly simple, but we’ve adjusted well and my daughter is doing just fine (perfect score on her reading assessment the other day!!!). Her school is attempting to go back to a hybrid model in the middle of October; she’ll remain entirely virtual because I’m not interested in taking chances with her health, our health, or her teachers health. I feel for the families who are struggling with all of this and feel they have no other choice but to send their kiddos, whether because of the difficulties of virtual learning or due to work or both. Nothing about any of this is optimal for anyone.

Her school district is being really awesome and is participating in a program that hands out food (no income restrictions) to its students; if people don’t participate, they lose funding, so twice a week, we schlep over to the school for a bag of breakfasts and lunches for my daughter. It’s amazing of them; the food is surprisingly healthy and my daughter, who spent all of last year pining for school lunches, is in love (it also takes some of the stress off of me, since I don’t have to figure out what to make her for lunch anymore, and she’s got a pile of healthy snacks she can grab so I don’t have to get up- which sounds like laziness, but it’s really just a benefit for my back, which has been kind of terrible lately. I’m still walking and getting exercise, but getting up and down can be acutely painful, so this helps). They’re doing this all this year, and I’m extremely grateful.

Our other big excitement this month: we got a bird feeder! It sits right outside our living room window and I can watch it from my reading chair. We mostly get house sparrows and song sparrows, but we’ve also had a crow of some sort (it stops by so rarely that I haven’t been able to narrow it down more), a cardinal, some sort of what I think is a warbler, a blue jay, and a few hummingbirds at the hummingbird feeder. It’s so fun and relaxing to watch them, though they eat like hogs and are constantly bickering and pecking at each other. I’m looking forward to seeing if the birds we get change or increase in number during the cooler weather.

What’s up in October? Who knows! Our village hasn’t made any decisions about Halloween; I’m not sure how comfortable I feel about taking my daughter out anyway. If everyone wore masks, that would be one thing, but I don’t trust that people will do that (other than in stores where it’s mandated). Either way, we’ve reassured my kiddo that there will be plenty of candy, and we’ll make some special food and watch some kid-appropriate spooky movies. We won’t let her miss out on the fun stuff. 😉

Hang in there, folks. Nothing’s going to get any easier until we work to make it that way, so try not to lose hope; fight with fire for justice and equality for everyone, and keep masking and social distancing, because otherwise, we’re never, ever going to get through this, and people will continue to die and suffer permanent organ damage. There’s been far too much of this already, and it doesn’t have to be like this. ☹

L’shanah tovah, g’mar chatimah tovah, and may you all have a peaceful October filled with amazing reads.

How was your September???

blog tour · fantasy · fiction · YA

#TheWriteReads Presents: Promises Forged (Venators #2) by Devri Walls Blog Tour!

Aloha and welcome to the latest stop on #TheWriteReads’ superawesome blog tour for Promises Forged (Venators #2) by Devri Walls (Brown Books Publishing Group, 2019). If you remember, I was also a stop on the tour for Magic Unleashed (Venators #1) back in March, which at this point is the equivalent of seventy billion years ago, so feel free to click on my first review to give your brain a refresher. I’m here today with a first chapter review, and Devri Walls still has it going on in the sequel to her story of college students whisked away to a land where everything supernatural is real and they have powers they never expected.

When we rejoin our friends, we meet up with Zio, who is connected with her dragon Maegon via her magical amulet. Much to Zio’s delight, Maegon is about to wipe out the Venators. The addition of Beltran, a skilled shifter whom Zio has wanted to control for ages, turned her hunt for them into more of a battle, but now they’re almost in her pocket. Unexpectedly, Maegon is wounded, allowing the Venators to escape. Zio’s rage flares before she manages to control herself and then reshape her plans.

In the dungeon, tied to a chair and unsure of what happened (and exactly how much he had to drink last night) is Ryker, Rune’s ne’er-do-well frat-boy brother. The glowing tattoos on his arms begin to clue him in that this might be more than a frathouse prank or a lesson his sister’s trying to teach him about the evils of partying too much. The entrance of three short, squatty, very non-human creatures brings him back to some bad experiences of his childhood, and he vomits before his anger overtakes him. Escape isn’t difficult, and even when his only weapons against goblins armed with swords and axes are pieces of his broken chair, he’s still aware that those goblins…are scared of him. Hmm. As Zio marches in and explains that he’s awoken in a new dimension where everything supernatural is real, Ryker learns that his sister is there too, along with Grey, his archenemy, but as Zio tells it, they’re working for the evil side. And no, Ryker cannot be taken to them.

YIKES!

Devri Walls’ storytelling style is consistent here, and as much as fantasy isn’t usually my genre of choice, it felt almost like greeting an old friend- albeit one covered in glowing tattoos and cackling evilly alongside a pet dragon- to come back to this series again. The almost immediate mention of Beltran, the trickster-like shapeshifter, piqued my curiosity, as he was my favorite character from Magic Unleashed. Leading with the villainous Zio? NICE. And following that with a scene from Ryker’s point of view? SO well done, as we learned so very little about Ryker in the first story. The info we were privy to came from Rune and Grey, so his point of view here will fill in some gaps for the reader. Is he really as big of a jerk as he seemed? Will he ever learn to appreciate Grey? Are his powers as a Venator as strong as his sister’s? Will accepting that everything supernatural is indeed real finally force him to stop partying so much to cope with his creepy childhood memories?

For fans of the first Venators book, Promises Forged seems to carry on in the same vein, with all the strength of Magic Unleashed‘s worldbuilding. Fantasy isn’t my usual literary home, but Devri Walls definitely has a gift for creating a fascinatingly scary yet intriguing world (that I never want to visit thankyouverymuch!) full of magical and monstrous creatures (none of which I really want to meet!), and her first chapter had me right back in that spooky, drippy dungeon with Ryker annihilating that wooden chair. If you need an escape to a world that maybe makes a little more sense than ours right now, Devri Wall’s Eon in Magic Unleashed and Promises Forged are pretty good choices.

Thanks to TheWriteReads and Devri Walls for including me on this fabulous blog tour!!!

Visit Devri Walls’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

Follow The_WriteReads on Twitter here.

reading life

Comforting Reads for Troubling Times…

Raise your hand if you’re having a hard time reading right now, whatever that means to you.

*raises hand, waves it wildly*

Focusing is difficult. I find myself constantly refreshing various open tabs on my computer, looking for someone or something to make all of this better. And I know that too much time online isn’t good for my ability to focus, but…

Time is also a major factor. Herding my daughter through her schoolwork, helping my son learn to cook (and cooking all the rest of the time), cleaning the mess left by four people and two cats who rarely leave the house, daily hour-long walks with the family- exactly where can I shoehorn reading in???

Some of you are struggling through schoolwork, others are worried about bills and lost jobs, others find themselves with the impossible conundrum of how to care for very young children and still manage a full day of working from home, and so many of us are worried about sick friends and family. It’s impossible, these are impossible demands, and yet here we are, persisting, supporting each other, and doing our best every single day.

We all need a gigantic hug right now (or whatever your preferred form of soothing affection is), so today, I’m serving up some of my favorite comfort reads, which are basically hugs in book form, and who doesn’t love that???

Fiction

What it is: Joy in the Morning by Betty Smith

Why it’s a comfort read: Betty Smith is the author of the beloved classic A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and Joy in the Morning is written in the same clear, fluid style that her fans will instantly recognize. Joy has a similar feel to it. It tells the story of newlyweds Carl and Annie, struggling to make a life together in 1928. Both are young, neither family supports the marriage, and they’re entirely on their own, doing their best to figure things out. Adjust your mindset to what life was like at that time and you’ll find this as charming as I did.

What it is: Fifteen by Beverly Cleary.

Why it’s a comfort read: This is the sweetest romance you will ever read in your life. Fifteen tells the story of a teenage girl’s first love and all the awkward, anxious moments that come along with it. I’ve read this probably more than fifteen times in my life, and each time I appreciate it more. It was first published in 1956 and there are a few bits that are dated (including a friend group trip to Chinatown where Jane is entirely unfamiliar with the food), but it’ll throw you right back into the terrible, wonderful, exhilarating whirlwind of falling in love for the very first time.

What it is: Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen

Why it’s a comfort read: Magic! Gardens with edible flowers that will change what you need them to. An apple tree that throws its fruit at people. Women that can whip up delicacies and concoctions that will not only taste great but will cure what ails you. This is a book you can wrap around yourself like a beautiful silk scarf, that will leave you reaching for a notepad and a spade so you can plan, then plant your own magical garden. Along these lines, you’ll also want to pick up Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman and Charms for the Easy Life by Kaye Gibbons.

What it is: Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

Why it’s a comfort read: If you’re sick of politics as they are, this book is politics as it should be, with the addition of one of the most adorable love stories I’ve ever read. International intrigue, love between a British prince and the son of the American president, this gave me ALL the feels and was exactly the antidote to the existential despair that *gestures broadly at everything* was giving me at the time. If you haven’t read this yet, put it on your list immediately.

What it is: Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

Why it’s a comfort read: Along the lines of Beverly Cleary’s Fifteen, this is the story of a very sweet first love set against the background of a Parisian boarding school for international students. Anna is struggling to define herself in an environment she’s not thrilled to be in, but the presence of floppy-haired Etienne helps…a lot. Super adorable and sweet, and a must-read if you love all things French.

What it is: Love and Other Words by Christina Lauren

Why it’s a comfort read: Macy and Elliot’s relationship is charming and will have your heart weeping and soaring through the clouds. It’s a friends-to-lovers-to-strangers-to…well, you’ll have to read it to find out, but there’s not much better than hanging out in the (actual) closet and reading with these two characters.

Nonfiction

Who says all comfort reads need to be fiction? I’m a major nonfiction fan, so here are a few nonfiction titles that gave me the warm fuzzies.

What it is: The Lord God Made Them All by James Herriot (and really, ANY James Herriot book works here)

Why it’s a comfort read: James Herriot’s stories of his work as a country vet in post-World War II England are utterly delightful and will give you renewed faith in humanity and the beauty of the natural world. I usually steer clear of animal stories, but his books are the major exception to that rule, they’re that good. You’ll be ready to pack up your life, head off to Yorkshire, and buy a farm on a rolling green hill, scattered with cows and goats by the end of each book. I’ve heard that his books make for great family read-alouds, if you’re looking for a way to pass the time.

What it is: Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading by Lizzie Skurnick

Why it’s a comfort read: If you’re a woman of a certain age or if you’re younger and read all those books your mom or cool aunt saved from her childhood, this book will be a joyride back to those cozy days of your youth. Who doesn’t love to reminisce about their favorite childhood books?

What it is: A Girl From Yamhill: A Memoir by Beverly Cleary (and its follow-up, My Own Two Feet).

Why it’s a comfort read: Beverly Cleary, iconic children’s and young adult novelist, has detailed her childhood in Depression-era Oregon. Times were tough; her relationship with her mother was often strained; opportunity didn’t come often, when it even bothered. But somehow, Mrs. Cleary managed, and her stories of schoolwork, playing outside with friends, reworking clothing to make new-to-her outfits, and making the best of every situation will have you feeling like this, too, is doable.

*****

Book suggestions are great (and fun to make!), but we all know the best comfort read is something that relaxes us, that isn’t difficult, that we can sink into like a soft feather bed, and what that is differs for everyone. So in this difficult time, when reading may be tougher than normal or next to impossible, it’s okay to retreat to whatever brings you a moment of peace. Reread that series everyone else hates. Pick up Harry Potter for the forty-third time. Revisit that book you loved as a kid, or grab seventeen ebooks in a row by your favorite author. If it’s what helps bring some calm and quiet to your worried, scattered mind, it’s exactly what you need to be reading right now.

What are your favorite comfort reads?

Monthly roundup

Monthly roundup: April 2020

So March started and then went on and on and on and on, until we were all sure that we were experiencing some sort of bizarre time wizardry and the month actually had 243877234983289 days. And then April started and ended pretty much immediately, leaving us all blinking in deep confusion and wondering what happened. Jeremy Bearimy, anyone???

It’s been another month of weirdness, and we’ve got at least one more to go (and with good reason, because we’re in no shape ready to reopen anything). It’s frustrating and sad difficult to have life be so different, but it’s so, so necessary. The stories I hear from my healthcare worker friends are devastating. Stay home and stay safe, friends.

It’s been an interesting month for reading as well. I’m still only able to read mostly at night, so my reading has slowed so, so much. THAT’S definitely frustrating. I’m doing my best, though, and that’s all I can do right now.

Let’s get this recap started!

Books I Read in April 2020

  1. The Other Americans by Laila Lalami

2. The Governess Game by Tessa Dare

3. My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

4. Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

5. The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis (no review; read out loud to my daughter. A re-read for me)

6. Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea by Guy Delisle

7. Not If I See You First by Eric Lindstrom

9. Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

9. Wiving: A Memoir of Loving, then Leaving the Patriarchy by Caitlin Myer (review to come closer to release date)

10. Concealed by Esther Amini

11. Love Starts Here (A Morgan’s Grove Novel #1) by Traci Borum

12. Harrow Lake by Kat Ellis (review to come)

Ehhh, not a great month in terms of numbers, but again, cutting myself all the slack here. I’m also homeschooling and dealing with my now 6 year-old’s big emotions regarding the loss of school, the ability to see her friends/play with other kids/go anywhere other than walks around the neighborhood, cooking, cleaning, helping my son learn to cook, gardening, reading for my class…life is busier than ever around here! We’re all doing the best we can.

Reading Challenge Updates

Not too bad here this month! The stack of books I had checked out from the library were all off of my lists, so I was able to tackle quite a few of the prompts on the 2020 PopSugar Reading Challenge, and I even added one to the Modern Mrs. Darcy 2020 Reading Challenge, and two to the Book Riot 2020 Read Harder Challenge. Now that I’m through with my library books, though, I’ll have to see what my library offers via ebook that fits into my challenge prompts. I’m up to the challenge!

Here’s what my reading challenges look like right now.

(No change to the second page, so I won’t add that.)

Although I didn’t get that much reading done this month, it almost all went to a challenge, so I’m happy with that!

State of the Goodreads TBR

So, when all of this is over, I’m basically just going to pack my stuff up and move in to the library. It’s the only way I’m going to tackle this TBR, folks.

Last month found me holding steady at 109 books, but thanks to some really great-looking books and a few really inconsiderate ‘awesome things to read when you’re stuck at home!!!1!!!!1’ lists, my Goodreads TBR has ballooned up to a hefty 124 books! (Remember once upon a time when it was down to 78? *weeps gently*) S’alright, though, it just means that someday in the future, I’ll be reading some seriously amazing things. 🙂

Books I Acquired in April 2020

None, with the exception of some Magic Tree House books we picked up from one of the Little Free Libraries during our neighborhood walks. 🙂 My daughter and I will start this series soon; right now, we’re working our way through some old copies of Patricia Reilly Giff’s Polk Street School Kids series, which are fun but occasionally dated, and the kids can be really mean to/about each other. They spark a lot of good conversation about proper behavior and how to treat our friends and neighbors, though!

Bookish Things I Did in April 2020

Uh…I read? At home?

That’s about it.

Current Podcast Love

So, I finished all the back episodes of Unorthodox! I’m trying to keep current on the latest episodes during my solo walks around the neighborhood; the neighbors get to see me laughing like a maniac and nodding along to the wisdom and wit of the hosts. I’ll definitely be keeping up with this show’s new Thursday episodes.

I’m not currently latched on to anything new in particular. Life has been so exhausting lately that instead of listening to a new podcast for ten to fifteen minutes before falling asleep, I begin listening and am out within a minute or two, and even when I wake up during the night, I’m back out within a minute. I’ve got friends who aren’t sleeping well at all, but I’ve been sleeping like the dead, it’s SO weird for me. We’ll see what I’m able to come up with next month, podcast-wise, if anything.

Stephanie’s Read Harder Challenge

Currently on hold.

Real Life Stuff

Not entirely how I pictured my daughter’s 6th birthday, but we celebrated anyway! She was thrilled with her new pajamas, new unicorn shirt, and kids’ Kindle Fire (on which she is playing as I type this; that’s about the only way I can get any kind of work done! Although not always, as she narrates every. last. thing. she does on there…) She had a moment during the day where she wasn’t okay and cried on me for about two hours, poor kiddo, but I’m doing my best to keep things as normal as possible and fun for her, including starting a nature journal. She’s super into that and is really enjoying drawing pictures of the things she sees on our walks (aided by the PlantNet app, which helps us identify the wildflowers that have been popping up in neighborhood yards).

I had a rough day on what was supposed to be my son’s final choir concert. That really stank. Right now, he’s planning on going into choral music instruction in college, with the hopes of becoming a choir director, so if that works out, there will be more of his concerts to attend in the future. But what a bummer of a way to end high school. His school is planning on a virtual graduation, followed by a potential ceremony if it’s safe in July. We’ll go pick up (trunk pick up!) his cap and gown the first week of May. Speaking of which…

My son hadn’t had a haircut since NOVEMBER. He has wildly curly hair and has been in that teenage phase of wanting to see what happens when he lets his hair go. As I told him it would, his hair never got long, it just continued to get bushier and grow OUT and not down. He finally gave up on the last Saturday of April and said, “I’ve had enough. You can cut it.” I had no clippers, only scissors, but guys, he looks SO MUCH BETTER! You can actually see his handsome face again. No pictures, I’m respecting his privacy, but he just looks so nice right now. 🙂

My (Re)Introduction to Judaism class continues via Zoom! We only have three sessions left, which makes me so sad, this class is such a meaningful spot in my week. And along those lines… Right before Yom HaShoah, while searching for some schoolbooks in our basement, I found my husband’s copy of The Holocaust Chronicle by John K. Roth et al. It’s an enormous book, the subject is difficult, and my reading time has been reduced to smithereens, but I’m going to be tackling this little by little as part of my learning, because it’s so, so necessary.

The baby owls from the owl cam that I’ve been obsessing over all hatched, and they are RIDICULOUS, OMG. Who knew baby owls were this cute??? I can hardly stand their little floofy feathers and their goofy little faces. Check them out, and keep checking back if Mama is in the box covering them up. She leaves for longer periods of time now and it’s adorable to watch them bob and stumble around the nesting box on their own. I’m going to miss them so much when they’re big enough to fly off on their own!

The calendar is empty again for May, with the exception of a doctor check-up for my daughter. They still want the kids to come in for those, so she and I will be wearing the cloth masks my friend Meghan made for our family (THANK YOU, MEGHAN!!!!!) to attend that, and scrubbing our hands half to death afterwards. Otherwise, we’ll be here at home, learning, reading, walking the neighborhood, gardening, and generally hanging out. As people in lockdown do, in order to keep their friends, family, and neighbors safe and healthy. 🙂

Stay well, friends. Stay safe, stay healthy, take care of yourself and others. Be the kind of person you want others to be to you. Spread love and kindness, put yourself in others’ shoes, be mindful of how your actions affect those around you. It was kindness and love that got Bill Murray out of his Groundhog Day, and it’s the only way we’ll get through ours. Sending you all love from our lockdown hidey-hole!

How was your April???

Monthly roundup

Monthly roundup: March 2020

Ahhhh, the library. Remember that place? Do you remember ANY places? We used to be able to go places, right?

What a weird, weird millennium this month has been. We started out quietly and have ended up with the majority of us isolated in our homes. To be honest, I saw this coming at the beginning of the month and began preparing accordingly, filling in the few gaps that remained in my pantry (with things like another 50lb bag of bread flour, two pounds of yeast, extra soy sauce, a bulk tub of peanut butter, etc. We’re also well-stocked with toilet paper, so there have been no worries there for us). I also managed a trip to the library the day before it closed, so I still have a stack of books to read- not that I’ve been doing a great job of reading. It’s hard to focus, hard to stop hitting refresh on my computer screen, and I’ve heard plenty of other reader friends say the same thing. So if you’re struggling to get through that stack of books, even though you suddenly find yourself with all the time in the world, you’re absolutely not alone.

Let’s start this roundup, shall we?

Books I Read in March 2020

  1. I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara

2. Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon

3. The Sun Is Also A Star by Nicola Yoon (both of these books were reviewed here)

4. The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff

5. The History of Love by Nicola Krauss

6. Nine Essential Things I’ve Learned About Life by Harold Kushner

7. It Had to Be You by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

8. Pitching My Tent: On Marriage, Motherhood, Friendship, and Other Leaps of Faith by Anita Diamant

9. A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett (no review, read out loud to my daughter)

10. His Hideous Heart by Dahlia Adler et al (those not linked, with the exception of A Little Princess, are reviewed in this post)

11. Mrs. Everything by Jennifer Weiner

12. In Cod We Trust: Living the Norwegian Dream by Eric Dregni

Not a great month for reading, and an even worse month for reviewing, but I’m cutting myself ALL OF THE SLACK. Everyone is worried and anxious and scared at this time, and it’s not easy to focus. It took me an entire week to read His Hideous Heart; during normal times, I would’ve blown through that in two or three days. But it’s okay. I’m doing the best I can right now, and so are you.

Reading Challenge Updates

So, the good thing is that everything I have from the library, which is still like six or seven books, are from my reading challenge lists, so I’m still working on that for the time being. After that, though, these will have to be put on hold until things calm down enough for the libraries to re-open. Totally understandable. Fortunately, I’ve got PLENTY of reading material here at the house, along with access to ebooks through my library (some of which will work for my reading challenges!), so I won’t run out of things to read anytime soon.

Here’s what my reading challenges look like right now:

There’s a second page to this, but there’s been no change, it’s still blank, so I won’t post that. Nor will I post this year’s Modern Mrs. Darcy challenge, as there’s been no change to that.

I think I only read five challenge books this month, but that’s okay. This year is different in a lot of ways, and how I go about and complete these challenges is going to look different too. ALL THE SLACK-CUTTING GOES HERE.

State of the Goodreads TBR

Still at 109 books, so it’s holding steady from last month, which is good! I’m not particularly worried about it creeping up right now, though. If I find things I want to add and it makes me happy to add them, I’M ADDING THEM.

Books I Acquired in March 2020

None for me that I can remember, but we did buy a math workbook and a 300-page workbook of first grade material for my daughter. Does that count? 😀

Bookish Things I Did in March 2020

Before the world shut down, March wasn’t a terrible month. I went to a library program where a woman did a historical reenactment as Miep Gies, the woman who helped hide Anne Frank and her family. A few days later, I went back to the library (where they already had out a vat of hand sanitizer) for a program on the rock band Fleetwood Mac, which was SUPER fun and interesting! Everything after that, unfortunately, was cancelled, including Nicola Yoon’s visit, and my Judaism class’s Shabbat. Super bummer, but understandable.

Current Podcast Love

Still listening to and loving Unorthodox! I’m not having as much time to listen as I did before, though, since everyone is home and I don’t want to blast it in the kitchen as I cook…

Stephanie’s Read Harder Challenge

Currently on hold until life goes back to normal.

Real Life Stuff

Phew. What a MONTH. And there will probably be more exactly like this, for a while.

The good parts: My husband’s job is perfectly fine and he’s considered essential (his research involves the mouse colonies at the lab, so he’s partially responsible for keeping the mice, which are the culmination of years of research and a LOT of money, alive), so things are okay for us there. He’s working a slightly reduced schedule and sometimes going in at weird times in the lab’s attempt to reduce the amount of people in the lab at any one time, but financially we have zero worries at this time, which makes us very, very fortunate.

The bummers: my son’s senior year. He’s doing mostly okay with this and is enjoying doing school online, but he’s pretty sad about missing all the senior year choir stuff, and I feel really, really sad about this for him. I’m going to miss all his last performances and all the things he’s worked so hard for, including the springtime a capella group. Odds are there will also be no prom (he’s not bothered by this, but I know a lot of other kids are) and no graduation, either. It’s a sad way to end his compulsory education.

My daughter’s kindergarten experience. She’s really missing her friends, her teacher, and the routine of school. We’re doing a full day of schoolwork most days- I homeschooled my son until he was in fourth grade and still have the vast majority of the books I used with him (I kept them specifically in case there was a time when the schools shut down, and boy are they coming in handy), so she’ll be doing well educationally whenever the schools are able to start back up again. We read the first two Molly books in the American Girl series, which led to a lot of really great conversations about rationing and sacrifice and having to make do with what you have (VERY timely right now!), and it helped my daughter to understand better what’s happening and why the grocery stores have empty shelves, and why we can’t afford to waste anything.

My back. UGH. YOU PICKED A FINE TIME TO LEAVE ME, LUCILLE. My back has been utter rubbish the past two weeks. I’ve iced, I’ve heated, I’ve stretched, and still I can’t move without at least wincing and sometimes moaning in pain. It’s come down to me messaging my doctor, and I’m now on a course of prednisone to try to get the swelling down in order to decrease my pain and give me a little better range of motion. Being stuck at home isn’t all that bad for me, but being in that kind of pain was a major downer. Fortunately, the prednisone is making a serious dent, for which I am ridiculously grateful.

My days look like this: wake up, drink coffee, brush teeth and switch from my nighttime sweatpants to my fancy daytime sweatpants, school the girl, lunch, school the girl, walk, clean the kitchen, cook dinner, eat dinner, shower, read, bed. Lather, rinse, repeat (and I’m not complaining; I’m guessing that a lot of your days look similar). I have to say I do envy parents of older kids, those parents who are able to kick back a little and throw whatever you want on TV and not have to worry it’s inappropriate for younger eyes, or who can work on other projects without having to be on Child Destruction Watch or Question Answering Duty every other second. (I seriously, SERIOUSLY feel for the parents who are attempting the impossible in simultaneously homeschooling/supervising schoolwork, working from home, and supervising smaller children. You guys have all my sympathies!) Basically, we’re all struggling in different ways here!

Two things that have been giving me a lot of enjoyment throughout this ordeal:

  1. The Wild Birds Unlimited Barred Owl Cam. We’ve been keeping an eye on this girl since the second week of March. She’s beautiful. Her three eggs probably won’t start hatching until the end of the first week of April, possibly the second, but it’s fun checking in on her and seeing what she’s up to. We’ve caught her with a dead mouse, a squirrel leg, and an earthworm, and sometimes she sharpens her beak on the righthand side of the owl box. Hearing her hoot at other owls in the distance is also pretty wild.

2. The Cornell Lab FeederWatch Cam. These guys, and the waterfowl in the background, can get LOUD. This feeder is often really busy and it’s lovely to watch all the birds- and the stupid squirrels, who constantly try to jump on the platform and often miss, resulting in a huge cartoon-like crashing sound- come and go, and how they interact with each other. It does start to stress me out when the feeder gets low, though!

3. Cincinnati Zoo’s Home Safari. We’re a few behind, but the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens are putting on a ‘home safari’ for the kids stuck at home every day, featuring an appearance by one (or more) of their animals and an educational talk given by the animal’s keepers and handlers. My daughter and I are really enjoying these and look forward to the new ones.

4. Geography Now. Paul Barbato, aka Barby, runs a web series featuring every country (I’m not sure what letter he’s up to now; my daughter and I just finished with the E’s, as we’ve been at this series for a while). Each 10-15 minute video features a fast-paced explanation of a country’s history, demographics, culture, physical geography, and more. Younger kids will need the video paused often so that certain things can be explained to them, but older kids should get most of what he’s saying. We’re using this as part of our schoolwork in conjunction with The Travel Book: A Journey Through Every Country in the World by Roz Hopkins, which I picked up years ago from a yard sale in hopes of teaching my daughter a little more about the world. The book is colorful and awesome, and we’re learning a lot about all the various different countries. Between the book, googling more of the stuff we find in the book (pictures of landmarks and geographical features, languages, music, etc), and viewing an episode of Geography Now, this takes up a good half hour for us every day, and it’s FUN!

My Introduction to Judaism class is still meeting online. While it’s not the same, it’s still a major uplift for me to learn and connect with my classmates. The synagogue is offering a lot of online meetings as well, and my daughter and I were able to connect for a preschool storytime the other morning, which was really nice for both of us.

So that’s about it! The calendar for April is wide open, with the exception of my daughter’s birthday at the end of the month. She already understands that there will be no party with family and friends, but that once this is done, we’ll both have a party and we’ll do something awesome together as a family to celebrate. It’s yet another bummer in a whole lot of bummers, but I’m glad she’s so accepting and understanding about this. If this had happened even last year, I don’t think she would have been mature enough to get it, so I’m deeply grateful for the growth she’s experienced this year.

Friends, you’re all in my thoughts and in my heart at this difficult time. Reach out- to me, to your friends, to your family, to each other, to members of your community. Being quarantined and isolated doesn’t have to mean being alone. We’re all in this together; we’re each one of us responsible for keeping each other healthy. Staying home and staying apart is difficult, but it’s necessary, and the sooner we all get indoors and stay there, the sooner this will all be over. But we can still meet up in chat rooms, on Zoom and Facetime and all the other awesome virtual places that make this time a little more bearable. Stay away from each other physically, but connect in other ways. This is a group effort here and we’ll get through it by working as a team. ❤ Please let me know in the comments how you’re doing.

Stay safe, stay healthy, stay at home, and stay connected, friends. I wish you a safe, healthy, peaceful April.

Monthly roundup

Monthly roundup: February 2020

Welcome to March! Winter and spring have been playing a bit of tug-of-war in these parts, with snow and icy winds on some days (although the monster snowstorm that had everyone freaking out ended up being a bust of about three inches total) and 50 degrees and rain on other days. I’ve been combating the cold by huddling under my heated blanket with my books on days I don’t have to be out of the house. It’s been nice!

That’s not to say I’ve had as much reading time as I would like- do we ever? Laundry and cooking and errands all still need to be done, kids need to be driven and picked up. I have a bunch of reading, both in the books we have for class and online articles, that I have to do for my class every week, so that takes up most of my Monday reading time. It’s been a busy but all-around pleasant month, I’d say.

Let’s round up some books, shall we?

What I Read in February 2020

  1. In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom by Yeonmi Park with Maryanne Vollers

2. The Blessings of a Skinned Knee: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Self-Reliant Children by Wendy Mogel

3. The Three Escapes of Hannah Arendt: A Tyranny of Truth by Ken Krimstein

4. People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks

5. The Best of Sholom Aleichem by Sholom Aleichem, edited by Irving Howe and Ruth R. Wisse

6. As A Driven Leaf by Milton Steinberg

7. Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword by Barry Deutsch

8. Let’s Call It A Doomsday by Katie Henry

9. Aleph Isn’t Tough: An Introduction to Hebrew for Adults by Linda Motzkin and Hara Person (this and several other books are included in my post with four mini reviews, found here)

10. Not In God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (no review)

11. How to Disappear by Sharon Huss Roat

12. The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl by Timothy Egan

13. Basic Judaism by Milton Steinberg (no review)

14. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez (no review, read as part of my own personal Read Harder Challenge)

15. Magic Unleashed (Venators #1) by Devri Walls (review to come, read as part of a blog tour)

Not a bad month, although I do miss the days where I was reading 20+ books a month! Some of the things I’ve been reading lately have taken more mental space, though, so I’ve been reading them more slowly and pausing to look up things I don’t understand or further delve into concepts that intrigue me. Basic Judaism by Milton Steinberg, for example, was only 170-some pages and a small-sized book at that, but he’s such an intelligent author that I had to reread things, look things up, pause to write down full paragraphs of things I wanted to remember, etc. Fiction of that length, I could normally blow through in a day, but this book took me several days. Six books ticked off of various reading challenges; it was a much slower month for that.

Reading Challenge Updates

Major slowdown this month! S’alright though, I’m not in a big hurry this year. I’ve been overwhelmed a little with class reading and the stack of library books I brought home last month (I still have three left!!!) and my outside reading for class, plus a book I need to read for an author talk coming up and another one I need to read for a blog tour, plus next month’s book club pick. Throw me a raft, I’m drowning here, people!!!

Here’s what my challenges look like right now.

(I only have books read for THIS page, so I won’t post the blank second page…)

Slowly but surely!

State of the Goodreads TBR

OY. 109 books, people. I’M DROWNING HERE. I’m dreaming of a deserted island, just me, a source of water, food, and shelter, and my TBR. No responsibilities, nothing to do, muscle atrophy no longer exists so I never have to get up and move around again, just endless time to read. Can you believe my TBR was at a cool 81 books a few months ago? *lolsob*

Books I Acquired in February 2020

NONE, thankfully! 😀

Bookish Things I Did in February 2020

It was a good month for bookish things! I heard author Andrew Solomon speak about mental health midmonth; if you’ve never read him before, Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity is incredible (he has others that I really want to read as well). And our monthly library book discussion group discussed In Order to Live by Yeonmi Park. It was a lively discussion and we were all pretty horrified by the living situations there. I came to the group having read several other books on North Korea, whereas this was the first for most members.

I also attended a lecture by Dr. Ross Greene, psychologist and author of books like The Explosive Child. He had a lot of really poignant things to say about kids with challenging behaviors, so at some point, I’m going to read his books for further information.

Current Podcast Love

Still listening to Unorthodox (and loving it!) and probably will be for a few months more, at the rate I’m going. Once the weather warms up, I’ll listen to it while I walk, which might help. I have a list of things to listen to next, but who knows when that will be!

Stephanie’s Read Harder Challenge

So I thought maybe last month I’d let this go for a bit, but I ended up grabbing the copy of Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez that had been lingering on my shelf for like fifteen years at this point.

I should have let it linger longer.

Not a huge fan of this one. I didn’t consider it any kind of epic love story at all, just kind of…a guy with a bizarre lifelong obsession with a woman who couldn’t really have cared less. Also, the guy ended up being a weirdo creeper who was sleeping with the teenager he was supposed to be a guardian of when he was in his 70’s, and there was a lot of talk about bowels (like this example sentence: ‘But the decisiveness of her message shook him to his very marrow, and when he walked into the cool shadows of the drawing room he did not have time to think about the miracle he was experiencing because his intestines suddenly filled in an explosion of painful foam.’), and a mention of liking the scent of one’s own asparagus pee.

So, you know, you can totally see why it’s a classic…

That said, I’m marking it down as the Modern Mrs. Darcy 2020 Reading Challenge prompt of a classic you didn’t read in school. Done!

Not sure what I’ll read next for this; maybe I’ll actually take this month off to play catch up…

Real Life Stuff

Busy month! We attended my son’s school play, The Foreigner, which was hilariously funny. I seriously had tears during a few of the scenes. Part of it was just knowing the kids, but mostly it was because they’re so talented and played their roles so very well. If you ever get a chance to see this play, DO IT. It’s fabulous.

It’s been a busy month for my daughter’s Daisy scout troop, with a lot of different events. She loves it so much, and I’m glad that she’s enjoying it and that her troop is so active. I’m so grateful to her troop leader; I don’t think I could do what she does, so I need to tell her how awesome she is. 🙂

I’m still loving every second of my Introduction to Judaism class. It’s all so moving and resonates with me deeply. I’m getting to know some of the other members in my class and I come home each week invigorated, inspired, and proud of myself for making this leap. I’m so glad I signed up for this. We have a class Shabbat dinner, followed by services, in mid-March and I’m REALLY looking forward to that!!!

March in general is already shaping up to be ridiculously busy. There’s a documentary I’m wanting to see (I missed the one in February due to weather). I’m going to see a presentation on Anne Frank at the library, along with a presentation on Fleetwood Mac. My daughter’s school is performing a musical, so that should be cute, and the school also has what’s known as Heritage Night, where the students and families can share their cultural background via food, music, presentations, etc. Author Nicola Yoon is coming to my area mid-month, there’s a local library book sale (because I totally need MORE books to read right now!), my son has a choir performance, and my library book discussion group will be discussing The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff. SHEESH. Can anyone figure out where I’ll squeeze in time to read???

Here’s to the coming of longer days and good health (begone, corona virus!) for everyone in March!!! How was your February?

Monthly roundup

Monthly roundup: January 2020

Welcome to February!

Where I live, January has been cold, gray, and icy as heck. We got some snow, nothing massive, but enough that it got icy and crunchy really fast, and we’re still skating all over the place every time we step outside the front door. My driveway is an icy death trap and I live in fear each time I need to leave the house. My biggest fantasy these days involves winning the lottery (not that we play…) so I can install a heated driveway. Flip the switch to turn it on, leave it until everything is melted, turn it off. (Uh, there may need to be some sort of advanced drainage/water vacuum system in there as well, if we don’t want to be right back at the beginning once all that melted snow and ice refreeze.) A girl can dream, right?

It’s been a quiet month for reading around here; I’ve been busy getting a lot of house things in order and working on some other projects, so I haven’t had as much reading time as I would have liked. Let’s check that out, shall we?

What I Read in January 2020

1. The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis (no review, read out loud to my daughter)

2. Catfishing on CatNet by Naomi Kritzer (now nominated for an Edgar Award!!!)

3. The Only Woman in the Room by Marie Benedict

4. I Love You So Mochi by Sarah Kuhn

5. I Was Born For This by Alice Oseman

6. The Survivors: A Story of War, Inheritance, and Healing by Adam P. Frankel

7. In the Land of Invented Languages: Esperanto Rock Stars, Klingon Poets, Loglan Lovers, and the Mad Dreams Who Tried to Build a Perfect Language by Arika Okrent

8. The Color of Love by Marra B. Gad

9. The Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay

10. Full Disclosure by Camryn Garrett

11. Tangled by Emma Chase

12. The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan

13. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis (no review, read out loud to my daughter)

14. Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal by Mary Roach

15. Opera For Dummies by David Pogue and Scott Speck (no review, read as part of my own personal Read Harder challenge)

Not a bad month in terms of quality of books. Twelve of these fit prompts for the 2020 PopSugar Reading Challenge; one was an impulse grab off the New Books shelf; five were YA (there are a lot of great YA picks for reading challenges, and I definitely find myself reading more YA when I’m participating in various challenges); two memoirs; one historical fiction; four nonfiction (this is a really low number for me for nonfiction, but I like that reading challenges force me to read more fiction. I’d be happy reading nothing but nonfiction the rest of my life, but I’m striving to be more balanced here).

Reading Challenge Updates

And here we are! I’m deep into the 2020 PopSugar Reading Challenge; I like that I’m reading new authors, considering new subjects, visiting new places in a fictional sense. Here’s what my list looks like so far:

Twelve books knocked off this challenge! Just over one-fifth of the way done. I’m happy with that.

State of the Goodreads TBR

*gulp*

It’s not been a great month for my poor TBR. I’ve added so, so many books, what with my fellow bloggers always reading such interesting things, and all these “You’ll Quite Literally DIE If You Don’t Read These Specific Books Being Published In 2020” lists coming out, and award winners and nominees being announced. My TBR started the month at a respectable 81 books, but has since ballooned up to a much more daunting 102. YIKES. I like to keep it under 100, but right now, I’m engaging with a lot of books for reading challenges and for the class I’m taking, so I know it’s going to go up more before it goes down. Quick, everyone leave me alone and do all my housework for me and exercise for me so I can get some reading done!!!

Books I Acquired in January 2020

My daughter and I stopped by a local thrift store on what turned out to be half price day and came home with these books, a huge stack of children’s books, and two dresses for me for only seven dollars! (I wear mostly skirts and dresses and leggings these days, with the occasional yoga pants; jeans pull really badly at my right hip and increase my pain, so dressing this way is, for me, basically the fancier equivalent of sweatpants. Looking nice is merely a side effect!) The books are:

To Be A Jew: A Guide to Jewish Observance in Contemporary Life by Rabbi Hayim Halevy Donin

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman

Hanna’s Daughters: A Novel of Three Generations by Marianne Fredricksson

Missing Max by Karen Young

Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague by Geraldine Brooks

I also grabbed a copy of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Jewish History and Culture by Benjamin Blech, which I’ve read before but not for a very long time. A refresher never hurts!

Bookish Things I Did in January 2020

It was back to the Library Book Discussion Group with me this month! Besides the librarian, who’s a few years younger than me, I’m the youngest group member by about ten years, but I love it. This month, we read The Only Woman in the Room by Marie Benedict, about the actress and inventor Hedy Lamarr. I hadn’t known much about her before reading this, and the book led to some interesting discussion. The librarian also let us know that there’s a documentary about Hedy Lamarr on Netflix right now, titled Bombshell. I watched it this weekend while attacking some of my giant mending pile and it’s really interesting, if you’re into history and looking for something to watch.

Current Podcast Love

Still working my way through back episodes of Tablet Magazine’s Unorthodox; still loving it! I ended up having so many problems with my Podbean app shutting down and not playing stuff that I switched over to the Stitcher app. I don’t like that app as much as I liked how Podbean worked (when it worked), but it’ll do.

Stephanie’s Read Harder Challenge

I’ve finally finished Opera For Dummies: A Reference for the Rest of Us by David Pogue and Scott Speck. The CD that came with the book ended up being so pitted and scratched that it wouldn’t play, but I used Youtube to view and listen to the performances, and they’re all quite lovely. I’d love to be able to attend an opera at some point, and I’m particularly intrigued by Don Giovanni, mostly because of the final scene. I don’t know that I’ll ever be one of those people with season tickets for the opera (mostly because $$$$), but I like knowing more about it. The book itself is a little dated and occasionally makes jokes that haven’t aged well (it was originally published in 1997 and so, in this world, the internet barely exists and you need to actually call the opera box office to buy tickets, which seems like such a quaint concept these days…), including some sexist, fatphobic, and homophobic jokes, so consider yourself warned.

And now that I’ve finished, I’m using Opera For Dummies as the 2020 PopSugar Reading Challenge prompt about a book on a subject you know nothing about (see above graphic in the Reading Challenge section). I knew nothing about opera beforehand, and now I know random things like the stereotype of operas being full of women wearing horned helmets comes from a single opera (Wagner’s Die Walküre, part of the Ring Cycle group of operas), what recitative is, the definition of an aria, what surtitles are, and that you too can chat about opera in groups of opera fans on America Online- if you need help, pick up a copy of America Online For Dummies! (I did say the book was dated.)

I’ve got more to say on my personal Read Harder Challenge in a minute…

Real Life Stuff

The kids going back to school got interrupted with my daughter being sick not long after. Nothing serious, just a random virus that left her with a fever and feeling run down, but it definitely threw my schedule off (poor kiddo, she even put herself down for a nap. Normally, she’s climbing the walls, so if she’s voluntarily going to sleep, you know she doesn’t feel good. I’m anticipating more of this, because her best friend at school came back today after being absent for illness…).

I’ve been trying to keep the house up a little better- not that it was awful before, but I’ve been on a little bit of an organizing streak. I cleared off a shelf in one of my living room bookshelves so I can put my sewing basket and my mending there. It’s the shelf right across from my chair, so my mending is just sitting there, STARING AT ME, which is much better than being tucked away in the bedroom- which is where it used to live and how it grew to such a ridiculous height. I kept putting it off, but now that I’m looking at it all the time, I’m actually getting it done. I even pulled out my sewing machine and turned a pair of torn-up pants into shorts for my daughter and put a satin binding on a blanket for my son (the cheap binding it came with torn and frayed beyond repair in the wash). And I took a grease-stained shirt of my daughter’s and, instead of turning it into rags, covered up the stains with a few heart patches (and added a few extra hearts):

I am seriously the world’s worst photographer, but you get the idea.

That took a looooooooong time to do, as I hand-stitched everything, but she was SO excited; she loves hearts, and this made her really happy. I also patched up an old bra, whose fabric between the side straps had basically shredded, by covering the straps with knit fabric. It worked; I’m wearing it today. 😀

My (Re)Introduction to Judaism course began and it’s so fascinating! It’s a pretty big group, I think about 40 people, and though we’ve only had one class so far, we had some pretty great discussions. I’ve got several books for the class and there’s a lot of suggestions of supplementary reading material, all of which I desperately want to read. I may bypass some of my previously planned personal Read Harder Challenge in order to fit some of this material in while I’m taking the class, so we’ll see. I’m very much looking forward to learning more most Sunday nights through May!

February is already shaping up to be busy. I’ll have three classes this month; my son’s school’s theater is putting on performances of The Foreigner, which we’re looking forward to seeing; my daughter’s elementary school will have a talent show, which I’m sure will be adorable. The author Andrew Solomon is coming to speak in my area again mid-month, so I’m looking forward to hearing him for the second time. There’s a local showing of the documentary Sky and Ground, about a Syrian-Kurdish family seeking asylum, that I’d like to go see, and my son has a choir performance. My Library Book Discussion group is reading nonfiction about North Korea this month, and my daughter has a Daisy Scout meeting and a tea party. I’m exhausted just looking at my calendar this month!!! I’m crossing my fingers I find ANY time to read…

I hope your January got you off to a wonderful, fresh start to the year, and that your February will be full of love, laughter, and excellent reading material. Read on, friends!

reading life

AND HALT!: The Things That Get Us to STOP Reading

As book bloggers, bookworms, and book lovers, there are so many things that cause us to pick up a book (or twenty): a gorgeous cover, a new title from a beloved author, that next book in the series we adore, a novel that features our favorite trope or a nonfiction title about a favorite subject, a recommendation from a friend or fellow book blogger, a title with an upcoming in-theaters film, the list goes on and on.

But we all know far too well that there are just as many things that cause us to throw the brakes and our reading comes to a screeching halt, most of the time unwillingly, and today, I want to talk about all the reasons why we might put those books down.

(I’m cringing even thinking about it, to be honest.)

Let’s do this!

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PAIN

This comes first, because I’ve dealt with this this year, and it was the cause of my longest period of not reading. Right now, my diagnosis stands at degenerative disc disease, sacroiliac joint dysfunction, and spinal arthritis. There might be more, but digging for answers (and then the ensuing treatment for those answers) is prohibitively expensive here in the US, so right now, I’m letting it stand at that.

A massive chronic pain flareup, like the one I experienced in October this year, wreaks absolute havoc with reading time. On normal pain days (because there are no pain-free days!), reading helps me escape, but during an acute flare, the pain demands so much of my attention that trying to focus on anything is like trying to watch the television with a radio blasting behind you at full volume. Keeping your mind focused on the television- or your book- takes an exhausting amount of mental energy, a difficult feat when you’re already worn from being in pain all day.

So what’s a chronic pain sufferer to do? If you can stay awake for them, audiobooks might help here; I simply read a few chapters at a time, and then lost myself in a podcast until I fell asleep. Eventually the flare passes, but not having an end date in sight makes it tough…Hang in there, my fellow pain warriors!

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Real Life

This is probably the #1 reason that keeps us all from reading. Real life. School. Family. KIDS. Chores. Work. Places to go, people to see, things to do, all those obligations outside of the house that you just can’t weasel out of and end up spending the entire time there longing for your book and cozy reading chair.

These are rough times, my friends. While some situations can be audiobook-appropriate (work commutes, time spent maintaining the lawn or doing solo chores like running for groceries), if you’ve got small children that require constant supervision, you can’t always plug in and tune the world out. What’s a reader to do, beyond weeping in frustration?

Long stretches of uninterrupted reading time is obviously our ideal, but when life gets busy, the best you can do is to steal snatches of time here and there in order to get any reading done. Read on the kindle phone app while you’re waiting in line at the store. Read a paragraph here and there while you’re waiting for the noodles to boil during dinner prep. Read five minutes, a chapter, a PAGE, before you fall asleep at night.

(Read while you’re using the bathroom. Let’s just admit that that’s something we all do and there’s no shame. If Paul McCartney can play his guitar in there, we can get our reading on in there!)

This too shall pass-kind of the motto in regards to no-reading situations, amirite???- although never quickly enough for those who love nothing better than getting lost in a good book.

Social Media and Other Technological Timesucks

Twitter. Facebook. Instagram. YouTube. NETFLIX, for pete’s sake.

“I’ll just go on and check a few posts, scroll for a few minutes, watch one episode, search for one thing,” we say to ourselves, that book we’ve been dying to get to nestled by our side, just waiting for us to pick it up and dive right in. “No biggie. Just a few minutes.”

Five hours later, we’re arguing with a racist grandmother from Sheboygan.

Social media and the glory that is Netflix are awesome for so many reasons. Connecting with people who share our interests, listening to voices that have been marginalized in the past but can now be amplified if we choose to do so (and we should!), learning fascinating new things (and, uh, sometimes things that aren’t entirely useful but still interesting, because we’ve all fallen down a rabbit hole of searching for one particular thing, like a certain Harry Potter spell, and coming up for air two hours later on a website about, say, medieval tool usage and its affect on modern day pop music),that movie we missed with friends, there are so many reasons to enjoy the many websites and apps that allow us to forge new connections with each other.

But unfortunately, these sites are also a MAJOR time suck, and when reading time is already at a minimum, blowing forty minutes scrolling through Twitter is a LOT of that reading time down the tubes.

It’s hard to stash the social media and back away from binge watching, and everyone’s method will look different- turn off your phone? Leave it in another room? Read away from the computer?- but the constant pull we all feel towards keeping up-to-date every single second is something every reader needs to learn to deal with.

Books That Don’t Do It For Us

It happens to the best of us. We grab our next great read off the shelf, one that’s come highly recommended or that we’ve been anticipating for ages, only to find…it’s not great.

It might even be awful.

It’s a terrible feeling of disappointment, occasionally of anger, maybe even a little grief in there if the book came from the desk of a favorite author (and especially if that author has written something at odds with our sense of morality). Whatever the reason, putting down a book you’d hoped to enjoy often leaves us with conflicting emotions.

But there’s no shame in DNF-ing; we’re all readers who are strong in our opinions and what we love in our books, and if something isn’t working for us, it’s always okay to put that book down and move on to the next one.

And there’s always a next one!

Unless…

*cue ominous music*

…you find yourself in…

The Dreaded Reading Slump

We’ve all been there. We dive into our latest read, ready to get lost in its world, and…

MEH.

It’s not grabbing us, and we *know* it’s not the book, we can tell the writing is tight, the plot is fast-paced, so we try another book…and another…and another.

All MEH.

MEH, MEH, MEH.

Our brain has quit, our bookworm has burrowed deep into a tight cocoon, and our reading mojo is out the door, leaving us desolate, desperate, and grasping for something, anything to do to fill the hours previously taken up by our most favorite of all hobbies. We don’t even FEEL like reading right now, and it’s a feeling completely alien to us as readers. WHO EVEN ARE WE WITHOUT BOOKS???

So many blog posts and articles have been written (great ones, too!) on how to avoid or pull oneself out of a reading slump. I don’t know that there’s a one-size-fits-all remedy, and it may be that every slump is different and what works for this year’s slump may not work for next year’s. But reader friends, when you slump, you’re not alone, and you’re still part of this brilliant, beautiful community of book bloggers that we’ve all created (and that goes for being on posting hiatus as well!). We’re still here to support you, and who knows, maybe a fellow blogger’s post is what will strike a chord in you and get you excited about turning pages again!

And then there’s the scary one…

BOOK INTIMIDATION

Have you ever walked by a book on a shelf and wished you HAD read that…but you’re too intimidated to actually read it?

This happens a lot with hefty nonfiction tomes and novels of classic literature, things we feel we should read but worry we won’t be able to get through. Maybe we expect the book to be too dry or the style too difficult. Maybe we worry we’re not smart enough to ‘get’ it. Remember all those times in school when we learned that the blue curtains in a novel symbolized the author’s depression and weren’t just blue curtains because the author liked the color blue, and we all sat there going, “…seriously? They can’t just be blue curtains?” Experiences like these prime us for a lifetime of literary self-doubt, and instead of deciding that books can be read on multiple levels, we think, “Well, this stuff clearly isn’t for people like me,” and we turn tail and run. And in doing so, who knows what life-changing books we might be missing out on?

How many books do you have on your shelves right now that you’re scared of?

This is a problem I’ve been tackling in my own life for years. When my son was young, I used to read out loud to him while he played, like his own personal audiobook, except instead of solely reading Dr. Seuss and Margaret Wise Brown, I’d read Charles Dickens and Mary Shelley while he drove toy cars around the living room. He was five when he started interrupting me to ask what a word meant or why a character did something so foolish (this was during a reading of Great Expectations); don’t ever underestimate how much a child can absorb! Reading aloud helped me to get through a large number of classics that I never would’ve felt smart enough to read silently on my own, and in doing so, I greatly increased my reading confidence.

My daughter was a little too screechy for me to do this (and believe me, I tried!), so now that she’s in school and things are a little quieter here, I’m tackling some harder books, reading a single chapter or a small number of pages per day. Because when it comes down to it, these books, the ones that have us shaking our heads and going, “I don’t think I can…”

They’re just words. Words on paper.

And we’re not going to let words scare us, are we? We’re book bloggers and book lovers. We’re a pretty fiesty, determined bunch. It’s time to face those fears head on and tell them, “You know what? I can do this. Getting those huge books read slowly is still getting them read. TAKE THAT, BOOK INTIMIDATION!”

****

Logic would hold that for people who love books so much, one might have to pry each and every book out of our cold, dead hands, but sometimes, our reader brains aren’t all that logical (case in point: how many of us have gleefully purchased a much longed-for book, only to have it collect dust on our shelves for years? *raises hand, waves it wildly*). There are times for all of us when our reading grinds to a complete stop, and while it’s often an uncomfortable situation, it’s absolutely normal.

We may be readers, but we’re a lot of other things, too, and that’s what makes us such an interesting bunch.

What stops you from reading???

Monthly roundup

Monthly Roundup: June 2019

Once again, a month is ending, and I’m sitting here going, “Holy crap, where did it go???”

No big surprise. I was sick for so long that quite a few months blew right past me. Thankfully, I’m feeling MUCH better lately, and because of that, my reading time has definitely gone down, as I’ve been busy playing catch-up with all the many things I wasn’t able to do when I was sick or taking care of my sick kiddo. And there’s a LOT of it, but that’s okay. Everything in good time. 🙂

We had a nasty start to the summer, weather-wise. Rain, rain, more rain, and weirdly chilly temperatures- up until about 9 days ago, I still wore a cardigan when I went out to do the grocery shopping. And just like that, the weather turned this week and we now need the air conditioner on, because the temps have gotten into the low 90’s. Make up your mind, Midwestern weather!!!

But let’s get down to the more important business at hand: BOOKS.

Books I Read in June 2019

  1. American Prison: An Undercover Reporter’s Journey Into the Business of Punishment- Shane Bauer

2. Big Rock- Lauren Blakely

3. Second Chances- Lauren Dane

4. The Idea of You- Robinne Lee

5. The Solace of Water- Elizabeth Byler Younts

6. Living More With Less- Doris Janzen Longacre

7. Mandy- Julie Andrews Edwards

8. Muslim Girl: A Coming-of-Age Story- Amani Al-Khatahtbeh

9. Tikka Chance on Me- Suleikha Snyder

10. Stalking the Divine: Contemplating Faith With the Poor Clares- Kristin Ohlson

11. Raising the Griffin- Melissa Wyatt

12. On the Outside Looking Indian: How My Second Childhood Changed My Life- Rupinder Gill

13. Ramona Forever- Beverly Cleary (no review, read out loud to my daughter)

14. How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids- Jancee Dunn (no review)

15. The Wrong End of the Table: A Mostly Comic Memoir of a Muslim Arab American Just Trying to Fit In- Ayser Salman

16. Flames of Glory- Patricia Matthews (review to come)

17. Leaving the Witness: Exiting a Religion and Finding a Life- Amber Scorah (review to come)

I figured my reading would slow down once summer picked up, and sure enough, this is my slowest month of the year so far. Still not bad, but that’s what happens when you’re finally able to crawl off the couch and start hosing down the house and working on projects you’ve been putting off for months due to being sick. Not necessarily a bad thing, though. 🙂 Eight fiction, nine non-fiction; that’s more non-fiction than I expected, especially given that I end up reading more fluffy stuff when I’m feeling crummy.

Reading Challenge Update

I’m not currently participating in any reading challenges. It’s a reading free-for-all!

State of the Goodreads TBR

I’m adding this as a new category here this month in order to be better accountable for my reading!

Goodreads is where I keep my TBR list; it’s so convenient to be able to hit that want-to-read button. Currently, my Goodreads TBR list stands at 81 books. It seems impossible to get it below 80; the second it gets close, all the other book bloggers conspire against me and start posting amazing reviews and I’m all, “Oooooooh…”

Books I Acquired in June 2019

Slow month for buying books, but I’m okay with that, as I also need to focus on reading things from my own shelves. I did, however, win a copy of If It Makes You Happy by Claire Kann, from a blog tour (and dang it, I seem to have deleted the email that reminded me which blog it was! If it was yours, let me know in the comments and I’ll give you credit and link back to you. Thank you!), so that was awesome! I love the cover.

Bookish Things I Did In June 2019

Would you believe not much? I had a scheduling conflict with the library book club, so that was out. There was a used book sale, but the more I thought about it, the more I figured I didn’t really need to go. I already have a zillion books on my own shelves that I desperately need to read, so I saved money, saved gas, saved wear and tear on the car and the environment, and I stayed home. I did grab my son and his best friend and make them walk to the library with me one night, though. It’s about a 3 mile walk, round trip, so that was good exercise for all of us, plus both the boys checked out books (my son’s friend recently got a library card for the first time- he apparently really got into reading The Martian by Andy Weir, to the point where he was excitedly texting my son with updates on what he’d read, which is awesome, and he decided he wanted a library card! It always makes me happy to hear about someone finding a book that makes them enjoy reading. Rock on, Seth!).

I did participate in TheWriteReads’ Ben Galley blog tour, a first for me! If you missed my first chapter review of Bloodrush, check that out. 🙂

I’ll miss the library book group discussion in July as well, since we’ll be out of town. I’m halfway through my fourth sheet of ten books for the summer reading program (you can only fill out five!), so hopefully I’ll finish this next month. Must find more time to read!!!

Current Podcast Love

I’m still digging Smart Podcast, Trashy Books. This past month, I’ve enjoyed interviews with Thien-Kim Lam from Bawdy Bookworms, Alisha Rai, Bea & Leah Koch of The Ripped Bodice, Beverly Jenkins, Jennifer Lohmann of NoveList (check your library website for access!), and two absolutely hysterical live shows recorded at the Romantic Times convention. There’s always something fascinating in this podcast; three of the authors I read this month came from suggestions mentioned in one or several episodes. (It’s a TBR killer, for sure!)

Real Life Stuff

Busy, busy month. In the beginning of the month, I was still in recovery from the sinus infection that wouldn’t die (I ended up needing two rounds of antibiotics to finally send it packing; I’ve still got the accompanying cough), and then I had an easily-fixable-but-still-painful issue with my left ear the next week! I’m just going to pack up and move into my doctor’s office; it would make life a lot simpler… Fortunately, we’re all on the mend right now. I’ve gotten a little bit of energy back and have done a few projects around the house that I’ve been putting off due to feeling like garbage, so that’s a start. I’ve got two blog posts to write up yet that I missed out on when I was sick, so to the people to whom I owe posts, they’re coming!!!

My daughter had her pre-kindergarten eye exam and we found out that she’ll need glasses to correct the astigmatism in her left eye. We had to visit a different optometrist to get her fitted with properly-fitting frames, since her head, face, and nose are so narrow, but they’re in and we’ll be picking them up this morning!

My son was away from home for over a week, attending both his Madrigal retreat and then getting dropped off at a week-long summer music program at a university downstate. He celebrated his birthday (17!!!) while at the Madrigal retreat, and the concert his group put on when my mother and I picked him up from the music program was beyond phenomenal. One of the kids who had a solo in one song is apparently going to be on America’s Got Talent, from what my son said. My son seems to have learned a lot from the session, and I’m so thrilled that he had the opportunity to go (I’m also happy he’s home, I missed him!).

July’s going to be another busy month. We usually attend the 4th of July parade in my sister’s town, and at the end of the second week, the kids and I are traveling with my mom to Branson, Missouri for a week. We usually go somewhere with her every summer, and Branson is a new destination for us. My mom loves to get out and explore new places, so this will be a fun trip. That will also mark the cut-off point for my daughter: no more naps! She still naps in the afternoon most days, mainly because she’s often up before 6 am and we all need a nap after that! But with full-day kindergarten coming up, she’s got to learn how to function without a nap, so we’ll have a month to adjust before she’s off to school.

And that’s it for June! How did you do this past month???