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Friday Fav: Libby App Connects to Your Local Library

It’s no secret that I love to read. Over the past few years, I’ve really jumped backed into this hobby. I started the year hoping to read 25 books, and I’m currently over 50! Thanks, Corona.

What’s really made this possible is my phone’s Libby app. It allows me to access electronic resources from my local library. I can borrow ebooks and magazines with the touch of a finger and access them on my phone or e-reader.

One of my favorite features of the app is the ability to put holds on popular titles. I believe each library may have its own queue length. Mine recently increased to allow me up to 15 holds at a time. The amount of time it takes to get each hold has decreased over the year, I think in large part to people staying home more and spending time getting through their to-be-read list. I typically can get new releases delivered in a manner of weeks.

However, Libby also has this new feature that I absolutely love that is also contributing to shorter hold times. When a hold becomes available, Libby gives you the option to deliver the hold now or delay it until a future date that you set. This way, you don’t have to start your 2-3 week loan before you’re ready nor lose your place in the hold line.

If you haven’t check out Libby yet, I highly recommend it. I’m all about inexpensive entertainment, and you – in my opinion – can’t get better than free library books that can transport you to any place or time that’s desired.

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September 2020 Book Recs

I love reading in the Fall. The idea of cuddling up on the couch with a good book and soft blanket sounds heavenly! This last September was typical for the mid-Atlantic. We started the month in Summer and ended in Fall.

Here are quick reviews of the four books I read last month.

Last month I mentioned my new-found love for the Bromance Book Club series. This month I read Lyssa Kay Adams’ second book in her series called Undercover Bromance. This book follows the same male book club but this time focuses on a different member. Braden Mack is a Nashville nightclub owner who can dish out the romance advice to others but has a hard time finding lasting love in his own. It’s another light, fun read with several reappearing characters from the previous novel. I can’t wait for the third book to come out later this year!

Rebecca Serle’s In Five Years was a five star read for me about Dannie Kohan, an ambitious Type-A lawyer who lives in New York City. Dannie has her life all planned out (I can relate!) but gets thrown for a loop when she falls asleep one night and seems to travel five years into the future where she has a totally different life with a new apartment and new man in her life. She seems to forget this dream until four and a half years later when her best friend starts dating the man from Dannie’s dream. I thoroughly enjoyed this non-traditional love story.

I was so excited when my library reservation for Hamilton: The Revolution became available earlier than expected. I reserved the audiobook version because it had a shorter hold AND I wanted to hear Lin-Manuel Miranda read sections of the book. Overall, I loved hearing about how the story came together and details about the various collaborators and actors involved. This book is was written by Lin as well as Jeremy McCarter. Lin narrated the footnotes that he personally wrote. My only complaint is that the footnotes are read at the end of the book reading, so you lose the context for the comments. Many times this didn’t matter, but I may need to borrow the paper copy of the book so I can catch all of his notes.

The Absence of Mercy by John Burley is a thriller about Dr. Ben Stevenson, the small town coroner who is responsible for examining the bodies gruesomely murdered by a killer. I had a hard time getting through this book. The story was told in the eyes of too many (all male!) characters that I sometimes got them confused or couldn’t keep them straight. And, without spoilers, I think the book missed an opportunity to explore the perspective of Ben’s wife, dealing with a possible serial killer so nearby and threatening her family. The book also seemed to just end and felt unfinished. I’ve liked other novels by John Burley, so I would try another, but this one certainly wasn’t my favorite.

Please let me know if you’ve read anything particularly good lately that I should pick up.

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Aug 2020 Book Recs

I read nine books last month, and I want to share with you a couple of my favorites! I had a few really good ones that I just have to share.

Verity by Collen Hoover was excellent. I stayed up way too late one night to finish it. It’s a thriller about a woman writer who agrees to finish writing a book series for another author. The original author is injured, so her husband seeks out a new author to finish the series for his wife. Admittedly, I haven’t read much in this genre. I had a few years in high school where I read everything from Stephen King, but that’s about it. And Stephen King’s work is now just too graphic and too far in the horror realm for me. I definitely picked up some more thrillers after enjoying Verity so much!

Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes is a debut novel by Kathleen West that just published this year. It’s about two mothers in a high school who are dealing with drama and rumors in a highly privileged school. One mother is a teacher with a “liberal agenda” and the others is a “micro-managing, theater mom” of two high school students. It was a quick read in short chapters from various characters’ perspectives that felt all too real.

And my favorite new series goes to the Bromance Book Club by Lyssa Kay Adams. The first book in the series goes by that same title. It is utter fantasy, hilarious, and totally fantastic. It’s like a Hallmark Christmas movie with less cheese (though some!) and lots more laughs. It delivered exactly what I wanted and did it well. It’s about a bunch of celebrity men in the Nashville area who formed a book club to read romance novels and learn how to communicate and form better relationships with women. (Remember, I said it was fantasy!) I read some sections to my husband who politely didn’t mock my book. Just his facial expressions alone, paired with the far-fetched story line, had me belly laughing harder than I have in years.

Let me know if you’ve read anything particularly good lately. I’m always looking for more recommendations.

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Friday Fav: Free Magazines

Years ago I stumbled upon the knowledge that you could get access to many popular magazines for free. They arrive at my door every month as a nice surprise and a reminder to unwind and perhaps end the day curled up on the couch with a cool beverage and some freshly printed reading material.

Sites like Mercury Magazine and ValueMags offer free subscriptions to many popular magazines. You either pick a free magazine currently available on their site or sign up with your email address to receive email alerts when free subscriptions become available. Over the years, I’ve gotten subscriptions to Popular Mechanics, Men’s Health, Better Homes and Gardens, Parents, Family Circle, Redbook, Southern Living, Martha Stewart Living, and HGTV magazine. It’s been great!

What’s the catch? Well, you obviously have to give the company some of your personal information to get the subscription, and they try to upsell you on other magazine subscriptions. (“Get X now for only $2!”) It just takes a few clicks of saying no before you can order the free subscription. For me, it’s a price I’m willing to pay to have free reading material delivered to my door.

I highly recommend checking it out if this sounds like something that might interest you.

Happy Friday!

Photo by Charisse Kenion on Unsplash

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July 2020 Book Recs

I just squeaked in three books in July. I had a hard time getting back into reading this month after putting Olive Ketteridge in my Did Not Finish pile. I exasperated the issue by starting the month with the very long novel Americanah. Here’s my short review of each book I read last month.

Let’s start with Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I wanted to like this book. I kind of did enjoy it. The storyline was interesting. It’s about a young woman from Nigeria who moves to America to further her education and learns what it means to be Black in America. At the same time, her former boyfriend moves to the UK and has his own experiences as an immigrant Black man. Ultimately, the couple meets up again in Nigeria and we see if their love can endure their changes. See? Cool plot, right?

I had two issues with the book. One, it was about 200 pages too long. Two, I felt the book had a bit of an identity crisis. It was trying to be too much. It was a lecture on the America culture and what it means to be Black in America disguised as a novel. The female protagonist is a blogger, so many of her blog posts about American culture are included throughout the book. There were entire conversations added just to have characters debate and share hot political topics, not to advance the storyline or influence character development. I am totally fine with a lecture-based book. I would have read it. I just didn’t like the mixture of fiction and lecture.

Afterward, with a friend’s recommendation, I read Mrs. Everything by Jennifer Weiner. I gave it four out of five stars. This book was more my speed. It was about two sisters who grew up in 1950s Detroit and how their lives diverge from their expectations. It was an interesting exploration of how two siblings who grew up in the same house can have such different life experiences and outcomes.

I ended the month with Emma Straub’s All Adults Here, which I gave five stars. It reminded me of the TV shows Parenthood or This Is Us in many ways, since it’s about family and their multiple dramas. The book is criticized for trying to tackle too many topics in one book, but that didn’t phase me. Like in real life, everyone has their own dramas, life experiences, and challenges that they are dealing with to reconcile their identity with their actions.

This month, I’m looking forward to reading Verity by Colleen Hoover. I have a bunch of library holds coming available soon too, so it’s stacking up to be a great August.

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My 2020 2nd Quarter Book Recs

I started the pandemic barely finding any time to read, but then we eased into a routine and I found I needed an escape from reality. An easy way to do that was to pick up a library book. From April through June, I read 17 books. Here are the top 5 that I gave 5 stars on Goodreads.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng was a fun, thoughtful read that is now a Hulu mini-series starring Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington. I love the exploration of multiple characters and their relationships with each other as Shaker Heights adapted to artist Mia Warren (Kerry Washington) and her daughter Pearl joining this wealthy suburb of Cleveland. The interplay between the Richardsons family (in which Reese Witherspoon plays the mother and local journalist) and the Warrens kept me reading.

Garrett M. Graff’s The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11 is a historic narrative of how people close to the attacks in PA, NYC, and DC grappled with the day. It was a long, well researched book that broke my heart hearing of the losses, tragedies, tough decisions, and experiences of those impacted. I’m glad to have read it. I’m even more appreciative that this information was documented.

Oh my goodness, I loved Gretchen Rubin’s The Four Tendencies: The Indispensable Personality Profiles That Reveal How to Make Your Life Better! It really helped me to understand my Questioner/Rebel husband who is the complete opposite of me, the Obliger. Basically, my husband needs to understand the logic behind any decision he makes before he’ll do it, and the more you push him to do it the less likely it is to happen. I knew this, but now I understand why a bit more and have some strategies to communicate better with him. I’m mostly an Obliger. If I tell someone I will do something for them, I’m all over it. It will happen, and you can count on me. Now, if I promise myself I’ll do something (like exercise every day), forget it. I’ll break promises to myself everyday to make room to meet an obligation to someone else. This book led to some great conversations with my husband. I highly recommend it.

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty was an engaging read that ended up being more suspenseful than I anticipated. This novel is planned to be a Hulu mini-series as well starting Nicole Kidman, Melissa McCarthy, and Manny Jacinto. Kidman’s character runs the resort with help from Jacinto and other staff. McCarthy and eight others portray the guests in for an experience of a lifetime that they will surely never forget.

Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale was probably one of my favorites. I haven’t really gotten into many of the currently popular WWII era novels out there, but I couldn’t pass this one up. It’s a story about two sisters in France during the time of German occupation and how both chose entirely different paths during the war. The sisters couldn’t be more different, but they share a caring heart and resilience like no other.

I was surprised I didn’t care for one particularly popular book. I abandoned Olive Kitteridge. My issue was that each chapter introduces new characters, so I’d spend half the chapter figuring out who everyone is and how they relate to Olive Kitteridge. I would have done better, perhaps, if I could dedicate my time to read one whole chapter each time I sat down to read. In a world of constant interruptions from kids, that didn’t happen.

Right now I’m enjoying the 3rd Harry Potter book with the kids and making my way through Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s lengthy novel Americanah. I’m well on my way to my 2020 goal of reading 50 books this year.

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Mid-Year Goals Review

Earlier in the year, I posted my 2020 goals. Whelp, I had no true idea how badly the crap would hit the fan this year, so I’m going to need to modify these a bit. Ha!

  1. Take a family trip to Florida – I just don’t see how a trip to Florida will happen this year. We were hoping to visit during spring break this year, so perhaps we can make it happen in 2021.
  2. Read 25 books – With the extra time at home, I’ve already hit 37 for the year and updated my goal in the Goodreads app to 50. I’ll have to post my recommendations from the second quarter of 2020, but my favorite reads from Jan-Mar are here.
  3. Donate a set amount of money to charity – Thankfully, we’ve donated a good portion of our plan already this year and are on track to meet this goal. I’m thankful my husband and I have reliable incomes that allow this goal to be met.
  4. Go on at least 25 dates with my husband, with at least four of them being to new locations – Well, we got about halfway to our goal before COVID started. In its place, we are occasionally adopting screen-free nights to sit outside on our deck or by the fire pit and talk.
  5. Complete two home projects – Done! Our deck has been stained and redecorated, and we created a mudroom space in the garage. I may attempt to talk my husband into working with me to tackle a few more projects this year.
  6. Complete a 5K race – Ugh, well I was hoping to sign up for a race in May, but the ones I was considering were cancelled. Perhaps this fall?
  7. Floss daily – I’ve officially made a habit of flossing. Finally! Yay!

So, I’m going to choose to take the good with the bad and be happy with what I can accomplish and not focus on what can’t be done. I have an easier time accepting these goals won’t all be met because the cause is outside of my control. There was a time that the lack of control would really get to me, but I’m okay with it in this instance. At least that’s some growth, and that’s really my driver behind having annual goals in the first place.

Photo by S O C I A L . C U T on Unsplash

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March 2020 Book Recs

Oh my goodness, it feels like everyone under the sun is catching up on their reading during this pandemic. I always have a long holds list with my library so books stagger in about once a week for me to read. I thoughtfully add books to my holds list but forget what they’re about by the time they are available for me to read. It’s a surprise and gift every time I start a new book, which I just love.

Lately, though, the books have been rolling in. Holds that were for more than six months are now down to a number of weeks. I’m glad to see folks are making use of this downtime to stay home, read, and flatten the curve.

Below are the nine books I read in March with a quick few sentence review of each.

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg is a book I read to the kids that I loved reading as a little girl. It’s a story written in 1967 of a brother and sister who run away from home and live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC. While there, they stumble upon a mystery and try to figure out who the artist is who created the museum’s newest statue of an angel. I enjoyed it as an adult as much as I did as a kid.

Next up was Washington Goes to War, which was recommended to me by a co-worker. I don’t often pick up a non-fiction book outside of the pop psychology category, but this was an interesting read since we live in the DC metro area. It is about David Brinkley’s knowledge and information about war-time Washington, DC around the time of World World II. I read it wishing it was more heavily cited though.

March also included another book recommended by a co-worker: The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande. This book could have been significantly shorter, or maybe that it’s that I’m already onboard with the idea of making checklists so I didn’t need a lot of convincing. There were many stories throughout that I’d already heard, like Sully’s “Miracle on the Hudson.”

I turned it around with a much lighter read next with Casey McQuiston’s Red, White, & Royal Blue. This book was said to be similar to the Crazy Rich Asians series, which I loved. I wouldn’t say it was as good as Crazy Rich Asians, but it was a fun, light-hearted read that I enjoyed. It’s a romantic comedy where the First Son of the United States falls in love with the Prince of Wales.

Jenn McKinlay’s Buried to the Brim was my next read. It was the sixth book (and last) in the Hat Shop Mystery series. These are fun, easy reads that are corny and cheesy. I liken it to a Hallmark Christmas movie. I know exactly what I’m getting when I start the book, and it scratches the itch. It’s about a pair of cousins who own a hat shop together in London, make friends, flirt with romance, and always stumble upon a murder mystery.

The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary was a romance with well-developed characters. It’s about two people who work opposite shifts so they decide to cut their expenses and share an apartment. Although they don’t meet before sharing the flat, they start to learn about each other through notes that they leave each other.

I’d been waiting some time to read Celeste Ng’s family drama Everything I Never Told You. It is about how a Chinese American family relates to each other before and after the parent’s eldest and favorite child Lydia is found dead. The dynamics between all characters is explored in an engaging and thoughtful way. It was a moving read. I highly recommend it.

Kiley Reid’s Such a Fun Age was tough for me to pick up and finish because I disliked two of the three main characters. We certainly weren’t supposed to like them, even though they often thought their hearts were in the right place. The novel explores race and privilege with Alix Chamberlain, an upper-class woman who is used to getting what she wants, and her babysitter Emira Tucker. I actually think the book was a great read. Some reviewers complain about the ending, but I thought it was realistic, which is what has this book stand out from the others in this genre.

Last but not least was a classic. I introduced the boys, mostly Mr. 7-year-old, to J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. We are planning to work our way through the series, so what better time than a pandemic to get started!

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2020 Goals and Progress So Far

As much as I identify as a planner, I never used to be into creating personal goals and New Year resolutions. But, I gave it a try at the start of 2019 and kept it simple. I had goals to drink so many ounces of water a day, cut out evening snacks, and other small steps to lead to healthier life choices. On the whole, I stuck to the plan and am happy with the results.

I wanted to build on my momentum, so at the start of 2020 I created seven personal goals and put them in my planner. I thought about what I wanted to do outside of work that would bring me personal fulfillment that relates to myself and my family. (My professional goals are a separate list.)

Again, I kept them simple or fun. I actually want to do these, not challenge myself so much I get disappointed or feel guilty for breaking them. Here are the goals and my progress so far.

  1. Take a family trip to Florida – On the books, as long as this coronavirus business doesn’t get more out of hand.
  2. Read 25 books – I’m 18 books in already. I’ve cut out a lot of wasted time scrolling online (goodbye, Reddit app!) to read instead and “magically” found the time to devour books. I’ll probably up this goal to 50 later on, if I feel like it.
  3. Donate a set amount of money to charity – This is a fun one! Our family has been discussing what efforts we want to support but haven’t made any final decisions yet.
  4. Go on at least 25 dates with my husband, with at least four of them being to new locations – We are at least seven dates in already, mostly to restaurants. We both work from home on Wednesdays and make lunch a date by going out to eat. So far, we have tried a new Italian restaurant nearby and visited The VOID (an immersive virtual reality experience). Side note, Matt loved The VOID. I was less impressed because it was short and expensive.
  5. Complete two home projects – No progress here yet. At the very least, I want to remodel our half bath and stain our deck.
  6. Complete a 5K race – I have a couple of race options for May. I just need to pick one and register, then I know I’ll train and actually do it. I need a goal to work toward or it will never happen. I’m not super interested in running or exercising in general, but I’m a fan of being healthy.
  7. Floss daily – I have a daily habit tracker (shown above) hanging in my bathroom to remind me to floss. The visual cue is essential or I’d totally forget. I’ve only missed a few days so far!

I review these goals about once a month, just to see how I’m doing and whether I want to focus on any of them for the month. For instance, this month I know I need to actually register for a race and start training. I haven’t run a mile in ages! It should be interesting….

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February 2020 Book Recs

I was able to get a lot of reading time in this February, so I was able to finish six books. Here’s a “tweet’s worth” of a review for each. I haven’t included the novels I’ve been reading to the kids. I love that they’re getting to the age that we can read chapter books together!

The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty was an interesting read. I recommend it. It explores the lives of multiple woman dealing with different types of grief that end up having their lives intertwine. 

Sold on a Monday by Kristina McMorris is about a journalist who makes a choice that has him questioning his morals. It was less thought provoking than I thought it would be and more like a Hollywood movie. It was good for what it was, but didn’t match my initial expectation. I wanted more. 

Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck was perfectly timed given my work stress last month. It focused on shifting your thinking. In short, everyone has problems, so find ones you enjoy solving. I’m glad I read it. 

Juliet’s School of Possibilities by Laura Vanderkam. This novella is a fictional narrative of how to use your time constructively and in a way you find fulfilling. It was a quick read, but given my knowledge of Vanderkam’s work on time tracking, not new content. It’s a good introduction to Vanderkam. 

I found Breathe In, Cash Out by Madeleine Henry to be a fun read. It was exactly what I was expecting. It felt a bit like The Devil Wears Prada, but in banking instead of fashion. I could relate a bit to the consulting work, but thankfully I have never had the same amount of stress, hours, and expectations at my job. 

Malcolm Gladwell’s latest book is Talking to Strangers. It was not my favorite of his work. It focuses on how it’s not always easy to tell if someone is being truthful. Everyone’s experiences are different and frame their view of the world and their reactions to events. I’m onboard with that notion but didn’t find the book compelling.

Please share if you’ve read any good books lately! I’m always looking to add to my to-read list.

Photo credit: Photo by Alice Hampson on Unsplash