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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

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January Book Recs

I’ve been making reading a priority for the past few months, which basically means I’ve switched out TV time for reading time. I’ve always been a reader, and it’s nice to get back to it in earnest. One of the benefits to being a reader with young kids is that it’s a hobby that I can do with them around. And, I like to tell myself that I’m setting a good example for the kids too. I talk with the kids about the books I’m reading, what I’m learning, and why I like to read so much. Of course, we also spend a good amount of time reading as a family each day as well.

I read seven books in January, and here’s a spoiler-free rundown of my favorites.

  • Station Eleven: In short, this story explores what happens on Earth when a pandemic kills most of the population. In hindsight, my timing for reading this book isn’t great. I read it just before the Coronavirus was all over the news. The story has stuck with me, but I’m more attracted to the situations and experiences shared in the story rather than the plot itself. The storyline was just okay. I thought there was more potential in the storyline than what was explored by the author toward the end of the book.
  • Atomic Habits: I had this on my holds list at the library for ages, and it finally became available in January. The author James Clear explores ways to make tiny, atomic changes to your life that can have a significant impact over time. By following the author’s advice, you can shape the life you want. I liked the concepts covered, like habit stacking where you pair a new habit you want to start with a habit you already do. For instance, if you want to mediate each day, do it every day after you’ve brewed your morning coffee. The author explains various psychological concepts, like positive and negative reinforcement, and details how you can use these concepts to shape your habits. It was an interesting book, but the concepts were not new to me. Many of the techniques shared are ones I already practice, but it is a good book that I would recommend to others. I’ll note though that I was a bit annoyed that you have to subscribe to the author’s newsletter to get bonus chapters, which felt like a ripoff and gimmick for the author to get more newsletter subscriptions. I’m glad I didn’t purchase this book.
  • So You Want to Talk About Race: Ijeoma Oluo’s book was enlightening, especially for me as a white woman. Oluo details in plain language various racial-based issues in today’s society. She reveals the complexity of many situations, like Black Lives Matter and police brutality. I didn’t always agree 100% with her perspective in all situations. However, I understood her point of view, learned a lot, and gained a greater appreciation on the difficulties of making improvements, particularly without systemic change.

In February, it looks like my holds on The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck and Sold on a Monday will be available to me through my local library. I always have a long holds list. I’m looking forward to reading more this month!

Photo Credit: Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash