Currently | February 2018

February 7, 2018

Anne at In Residence hosts a linkup on the first Wednesday of every month and invites readers to share a few things they’re up to currently, so I’m joining in!

finishing | marathon training. or starting to finish it, really. The marathon is March 18 so we’re really at the tail end of the training plan. I wish I’d kept a weekly or even monthly log of training recaps on the blog, though I guess it’s never too late to start now. I sprained my ankle 2 weeks ago so that’s thrown a wrench into things, but that’s a whole other story.

subscribing | to all the podcasts! I tend to listen in binges. Favorites right now are Happier in Hollywood, By the Book, and The Popcast.

wishlisting | this tote (in the black and white geo pattern) that I am hoping to buy one of these days. Budgeting is hard (but worth it).

watching | The Good Place! I’m thinking of starting This is Us but I’ve never watched it so I’d need to start from the beginning and I’m not sure I’m ready for that kind of commitment right now.

hearting | that (non-filtered) view above from this morning’s workout. Love it so much.

2017 in Review

February 5, 2018

Overall, 2017 was a really great year for me. I turned 24, moved across the country, and started a whole new life. It was the defining kind of year that I’m sure I’ll remember for years to come. Here’s a quick-fire, bullet point look back at the year for me.


January 2017

  • celebrated New Year’s in Vermont with my cousin
  • started my first round of Whole 30
  • met my puppy, Gracie
  • went to Washington DC with my mom, sister, and our exchange student

February 2017

  • the Patriots won the Super Bowl!
  • went to the Patriots parade and then got a terrible cold
  • started a short-term weekend job in the birth certificate department of a hospital
  • it snowed a lot
  • read a lot of books
  • continued to work on my novel in my writing class

March 2017

  • turned 24!
  • my friends threw me a surprise birthday party
  • officially bought my one way ticket to LA!
  • worked at a film festival
  • kept reading lots of books
  • saw Bastille in concert!

April 2017

  • moved to LA!
  • signed a lease for my very first apartment
  • went furniture shopping and spent a lot of money getting settled
  • explored a lot on my own
  • felt lonely at times and let it be okay
  • interviewed for 3 jobs and spent a lot of time on job applications
  • went to the LA Times Festival of Books

May 2017

  • joined November Project LAX!
  • went to a Dodgers game
  • got a California drivers’ license and bought a car
  • started my first real adult job!!!
  • went running a lot, spent lots of time outdoors

June 2017

  • went to Tijuana, Mexico with my coworker!
  • kept going to November Project and started to feel a bit more at home there
  • kept exploring LA
  • went to the beach a few times

July 2017

  • celebrated the 4th of July with an outdoor showing of Jurassic Park
  • got probably the worst sunburn of my entire life at the beach
  • got tickets to a pre-release screening of Dunkirk, which made me feel very Los Angeles
  • started reading more books again
  • went to Harry Potter World (twice!!)
  • went to a workout at the Hollywood Bowl

August 2017

  • did a second round of Whole 30
  • saw Bebe Rexha in concert
  • started hanging out more with people from November Project!
  • went to my coworker’s wedding
  • went to Disneyland!
  • saw David Cook in concert at the Troubadour

September 2017

  • went to San Francisco to visit my friend Mallory!
  • Ran a 10k, went to Disneyland, and went to a Dodgers game – all in one day
  • The very next day, ran a 5k and then went BACK to Disneyland
  • Saw Arizona at the Troubadour
  • went on an overnight running/camping adventure in Joshua Tree
  • fell and rolled my ankle during said overnight adventure
  • saw Niall Horan in concert at the Palladium
  • saw Harry Styles in concert at the Greek
  • went to Las Vegas spur of the moment to the iHeart Radio Music Festival
  • saw Bleachers in concert at the Fonda
  • read a lot of books

October 2017

  • had my first weekend work event
  • got a tattoo for the first time!
  • went to Phoenix, AZ for a Harry Styles concert
  • saw MUNA in concert at the Fonda
  • saw HAIM in concert at the Greek
  • went to We Can Survive at the Hollywood Bowl, where I saw Niall Horan and Harry Styles again
  • went to bed at 2 am that night and woke up at 5 am to go run a 5k with my friend Bri and people from November Project
  • went home to Boston
  • my best friend got married! A bunch of us stayed at the hotel that night and it was the most fun ever
  • flew back to LA on Halloween afternoon

November 2017

  • hibernated a lot – didn’t go too many places or do too much after the whirlwind of the last two months
  • ran a 10k and got a personal best
  • adventured with new friends
  • celebrated thanksgiving at my friend Liz’s house
  • wore a different outfit every day of the month for No Repeat November – and then never wrote a blog post on it! Whoops

December 2017

  • got a half marathon PR!
  • saw John Mulaney and laughed so hard my stomach hurt
  • saw Lady Bird, one of my favorite films of 2017
  • went to Disneyland with people from work
  • saw Cam in concert at the Troubadour
  • got sick 🙁
  • my family came to visit!
  • went to Harry Potter World, Warner Bros Studio Tour (super super cool), Santa Barbara, San Diego, and a lot more
  • spent Christmas in Santa Monica riding bikes on the beach
  • ended the year in an AirBnb in San Diego, asleep before midnight

So there it is: 2017 in 108 boxes. Between the palm trees and sunset pictures, there’s been a lot of heartache and worry and anxiety. There’s also been a lot of joy and discovery and independence. It was a good year.

January 2018 Books

February 3, 2018

I read 7 books in January! Not as many as I would’ve liked, but it was a hectic month. There are Amazon links to the books in this post, but they’re not affiliate links because I don’t know how to do that.


White Fur by Jardine Libaire

rating: 4 stars | amazon

The plot:
When Elise Perez meets Jamey Hyde on a desolate winter afternoon, fate implodes, and neither of their lives will ever be the same. Although they are next-door neighbors in New Haven, they come from different worlds. Elise grew up in a housing project without a father and didn’t graduate from high school; Jamey is a junior at Yale, heir to a private investment bank fortune and beholden to high family expectations. Nevertheless, the attraction is instant, and what starts out as sexual obsession turns into something greater, stranger, and impossible to ignore.

My thoughts:
I liked this book a lot but not as much as I wanted to. The cover is gorgeous (one of those ones that feels really nice under your fingers, too) and I loved the mysterious, almost mythical elements that the summary had, but ultimately this book just didn’t live up to the (self-created) hype for me. The imagery was really beautiful and I loved that not everything was spelled out, but I didn’t like the ending. I think I’m really tired of 1980s novels set in Manhattan where there’s a manic pixie dream girl-ish character.


Sing Unburied Sing by Jesamyn Ward

rating: 4 stars | amazon

The plot:
Jojo is thirteen years old and trying to understand what it means to be a man. He doesn’t lack in fathers to study, chief among them his Black grandfather, Pop. But there are other men who complicate his understanding: his absent White father, Michael, who is being released from prison; his absent White grandfather, Big Joseph, who won’t acknowledge his existence; and the memories of his dead uncle, Given, who died as a teenager. His mother, Leonie, is an inconsistent presence in his and his toddler sister’s lives. She is an imperfect mother in constant conflict with herself and those around her. She is Black and her children’s father is White. She wants to be a better mother but can’t put her children above her own needs, especially her drug use. Simultaneously tormented and comforted by visions of her dead brother, which only come to her when she’s high, Leonie is embattled in ways that reflect the brutal reality of her circumstances. When the children’s father is released from prison, Leonie packs her kids and a friend into her car and drives north to the heart of Mississippi and Parchman Farm, the State Penitentiary. At Parchman, there is another thirteen-year-old boy, the ghost of a dead inmate who carries all of the ugly history of the South with him in his wandering. He too has something to teach Jojo about fathers and sons, about legacies, about violence, about love.

My thoughts:
I’ll be honest. I didn’t feel like I initially got this book when I read it. It didn’t make a ton of sense to me. But then I read more online (sometimes I feel like reading others’ opinions helps clarify my own) and I grew to appreciate it a bit more.

This book is so well written. It’s heartbreaking and sad and gritty and raw and it’s not a fun read, but it felt important.


All the Lives I Want by Alana Massey

rating: 2 stars | amazon

The plot:

Mixing Didion’s affected cool with moments of giddy celebrity worship, Massey examines the lives of the women who reflect our greatest aspirations and darkest fears back onto us. These essays are personal without being confessional and clever in a way that invites readers into the joke. A cultural critique and a finely wrought fan letter, interwoven with stories that are achingly personal, ALL THE LIVES I WANT is also an exploration of mental illness, the sex industry, and the dangers of loving too hard. But it is, above all, a paean to the celebrities who have shaped a generation of women–from Scarlett Johansson to Amber Rose, Lil’ Kim, Anjelica Huston, Lana Del Rey, Anna Nicole Smith and many more. These reflections aim to reimagine these women’s legacies, and in the process, teach us new ways of forgiving ourselves.

My thoughts:
I did not like this book. A few of the essays were good, but overall it was not a book for me. I appreciated most of her thoughts about celebrities and our relationships to them. Celebrity culture is super weird – we basically idolize these versions of people that are sold to us, with no real regard for whether that’s their actual persona or not. I wish she talked about this a bit more. I will admit I did skip some of the essays about people I didn’t care much for so she may have done that in those. Also, I misunderstood the title; I thought it was going to be about her actual famous friends. That’s totally on me though.



A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

rating: 5 stars | amazon

The plot:
A Wrinkle in Time, winner of the Newbery Medal in 1963, is the story of the adventures in space and time of Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin O’Keefe (athlete, student, and one of the most popular boys in high school). They are in search of Meg’s father, a scientist who disappeared while engaged in secret work for the government on the tesseract problem.

My thoughts:
Somehow I made it to age 24 without ever reading this book! I liked it a lot and I’m excited to see the movie. A quick, easy read and my first L’Engle novel.


Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by JK Rowling

rating: 5 stars | amazon

The plot:
Harry Potter has no idea how famous he is. That’s because he’s being raised by his miserable aunt and uncle who are terrified Harry will learn that he’s really a wizard, just as his parents were. But everything changes when Harry is summoned to attend an infamous school for wizards, and he begins to discover some clues about his illustrious birthright. From the surprising way he is greeted by a lovable giant, to the unique curriculum and colorful faculty at his unusual school, Harry finds himself drawn deep inside a mystical world he never knew existed and closer to his own noble destiny.

My thoughts:
I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve read this book. I’m committed this year to reading the Harry Potter series all the way through (I’ve said this a million summers now and never done it, but this year I really intend to) and this was obviously the first step!


Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

rating: 5 stars | amazon

The plot:
Coates shares with his son—and readers—the story of his awakening to the truth about his place in the world through a series of revelatory experiences, from Howard University to Civil War battlefields, from the South Side of Chicago to Paris, from his childhood home to the living rooms of mothers whose children’s lives were taken as American plunder. Beautifully woven from personal narrative, reimagined history, and fresh, emotionally charged reportage, Between the World and Me clearly illuminates the past, bracingly confronts our present, and offers a transcendent vision for a way forward.

My thoughts:
I loved that this book was a letter to Coates’ adolescent son. I read it one sitting and I found it an important commentary on what it’s like to inhabit a black body in America. I absolutely recommend it, especially if that’s not your situation.


One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan

rating: 4 stars | amazon

The plot:
You want less. You want fewer distractions and less on your plate. The daily barrage of e-mails, texts, tweets, messages, and meetings distract you and stress you out. The simultaneous demands of work and family are taking a toll. And what’s the cost? Second-rate work, missed deadlines, smaller paychecks, fewer promotions–and lots of stress. And you want more. You want more productivity from your work. More income for a better lifestyle. You want more satisfaction from life, and more time for yourself, your family, and your friends. NOW YOU CAN HAVE BOTH–LESS AND MORE.

My thoughts:
I’ve been struggling a lot with focusing on one task at a time and a friend recommended this book, so I borrowed it from her. I don’t think I got as much value out of it as she did (a lot of it has to do with the business word or creating your own venture) but I still took a few good things away from it. My favorite was the chapter about setting up your ideal day. I’d love to read it again in a few months and see if I get anything else out of it.


In total this month:

Total number of books: seven
Number of fiction books: four
Number of nonfiction books: three
Books by people who are not white dudes: six
Total number of books this year: seven

2018 Reading Goals

January 19, 2018

I read 75 books in 2017. I’m hoping to have a post up soon about my favorites from 2017, but if I wait to write that before I write this post, I could be waiting all year. The short version is that because I succeeded in reading 75 books last year, I decided to up my goal in 2018 – with a few extra twists. This is mainly because I love challenges and plans, and having some direction in my reading life is really great.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the diversity of voices in my life and the diversity of voices in my books specifically.

I’m going to read 100 books in 2018 – and 75 of them will be by women and people of color.

This means way less books by white guys. Rachel has a similar goal (but she’s reading way more books than I am!) and I asked her if I could borrow her words for the reason why behind this goal. She says it much better than I can:


“Let me give a little disclaimer here: I do not hate white males. I think they matter just as much as any other kind of person, and my goal to NOT read their books is not because I have some vendetta against white men. But. Here’s the thing: White males are in leadership almost everywhere I go, and their voices overwhelmingly fill my life/mind/bookshelves. This goal is a conscious effort to continue building on my efforts to increase the variety and diversity of voices I choose to listen to and learn from. More women, more people of color, more people of different sexualities, more people with disabilities, more people on different ends of the political spectrum, more people who look/act/think/believe/feel differently than I do.

I will still read books by white males this year, I just want to make sure that I’m consciously choosing diversity OFTEN, not just once every now and then. This will be a major shift in my reading, and I’m looking forward to all that I’ll learn from the voices I’ll be listening to!”


In accomplishing this goal, I’m hoping to bring more voices into my reading.

I’m also going to try to complete the Popsugar Reading Challenge and the Modern Mrs. Darcy Reading Challenge. A friend sent me this list of 46 Books by Women of Color to Read in 2018, and I’d love to read one a month. I’m allowing myself overlap – if I can make one book work for two challenges or even all three, that’s awesome. If not, no big deal. I’d also love to make a dent in the unread books on my shelf.

It’s definitely a lot. I may need to make some sort of spreadsheet to keep track of it all. I might not succeed, and that’s okay. I mainly care about reading the 100 books, with at least 75 of them by women and people of color.

As of writing this I’ve read 4 books so far, so it’s going well. Here’s to lots of happy reading in 2018!

2018 Goals and Word of the Year

January 16, 2018

I finally got a chance this weekend to sit down and write all my goals. I’ve been so busy over recent weeks and I kind of had to force myself to remember that January 1st doesn’t mean anything magical and it’s okay not to have everything set in stone on December 31st. I’m feeling good about all the things to come this year: turning 25, running a marathon, celebrating a year of living in Los Angeles, and a lot more.


WORD OF THE YEAR


I’ve chosen words of the year the past few years. In 2015 it was BOLD. 2016 was BRAVE. 2017 was FOCUS.

My word of 2018 is CONNECT. In all honesty, it’s not the word I wanted to pick. I was ready to choose COMMIT, and then my friend said that she doesn’t think I have much of a problem with commitment. In that ways that matter right now, she’s right; if I put my mind to doing something, I usually follow through.

This year I’m hoping to connect with myself, with others, and with my new community. I’m also hoping to disconnect in order to achieve those things: spend less time on my phone, and more time connecting with the present moment around me.


2018 GOALS


I used my Powersheets to help me identify my goals for the year, by figuring out what worked and didn’t work in the last year, and what I wanted to be different. A little history of my experience with Powersheets: I’ve bought them every year since 2014, I think, but never have I once completed a full set – I usually drop out some time in the spring. Last year my friend Rachel and I even bought them with the promise to ourselves that we would have monthly accountability with each other – and then I moved across the country and she had a baby, so that fell apart.

To prove to myself that I would actually use the workbook for a full year (and to be kind to my budget) I’m repurposing my 2017 workbook. No fun new stickers, but money stayed in my wallet.

Here are the 10 major goals I have for the year:

  • CONNECT with myself by simplifying routines and doing less – committing to one night a week with no plans
  • CONNECT with others by developing community and keeping up with old friends – writing letters to people, committing to calling friends more often, hanging out with people in person
  • Develop heart healthy habits by treating myself well and being positive in my self-image
  • CONNECT with myself through fitness and activity
  • Manage my money well
  • CONNECT creatively through blogging, writing, and Project Life
  • Read 100 books in 2018
  • Finish novel draft
  • Live with less to CONNECT with my space
  • CONNECT with Los Angeles through exploration

Sure, some of them could probably be grouped under the same umbrella (finishing the novel draft could go under “Connect creatively”) and I couldn’t fit the word connect into all of them, but the heart of the goals is what I care about.  More posts about certain goals (especially reading and fitness, as well as maybe some thoughts about financial things) coming as soon as I find the time to write them!


VISION BOARD


The Powersheets encouraged me to create a vision board for 2018, so I hopped on Pinterest and did just that. Here it is:

 

So that’s where I’m at for 2018. I’m excited to see what this year brings!

December Books

January 9, 2018

I didn’t read as much as I’d hoped this month (just four books!) but I did complete my challenge to read 75 books in 2017, which is what I’m happiest about! The picture above has 3 because I was silly and let my mom take the last book home before I got a photo. Can’t win ’em all.

72. The Wonder by Emma Donoghue

★★★☆☆

Lib Wright is an English nurse brought to a small Irish village to observe what appears to be a miracle – a girl said to have survived without food for months – and soon finds herself fighting to save the child’s life.

Tourists flock to the cabin of eleven-year-old Anna O’Donnell, who believes herself to be living off manna from heaven, and a journalist is sent to cover the sensation. Lib, a veteran of Florence Nightingale’s Crimean campaign, is hired to keep watch over the girl.

This one was weird. I held onto it for over a year before reading it (no particular reason, I just never got around to it) and I don’t think it was worth the wait. The writing is beautiful and the setting of the Midlands of Ireland in the 1800s is described so well, but I found it incredibly slow. The book dragged on for about 35% longer than it needed to. I did enjoy the moral issues raised and trying to figure out the mystery aspect of how on earth Anna would survive without food for months, plus the writing.

73. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

★★★★☆

Meet Eleanor Oliphant: She struggles with appropriate social skills and tends to say exactly what she’s thinking. Nothing is missing in her carefully timetabled life of avoiding social interactions, where weekends are punctuated by frozen pizza, vodka, and phone chats with Mummy. All this means that Eleanor has become a creature of habit (to say the least) and a bit of a loner. 

But everything changes when Eleanor meets Raymond, the bumbling and deeply unhygienic IT guy from her office. When she and Raymond together save Sammy, an elderly gentleman who has fallen on the sidewalk, the three become the kinds of friends who rescue one another from the lives of isolation they have each been living. And it is Raymond’s big heart that will ultimately help Eleanor find the way to repair her own profoundly damaged one.

I loved this book! It felt slow at the beginning and I didn’t know what to expect, but I ended up loving Eleanor’s character. Bits of it were very unexpected, and I found her really charming. I loved the way the book dealt with counseling – her experience of going to therapy felt really real and authentic. Bits of this are sad and heartbreaking, and then you turn the page and you’re laughing. Definitely recommend this one – and it’s going to be on my top books of 2017 for sure.

74. Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives by Gretchen Rubin

★★★☆☆

How do we change?  Gretchen Rubin’s answer: through habits. Habits are the invisible architecture of everyday life. It takes work to make a habit, but once that habit is set, we can harness the energy of habits to build happier, stronger, more productive lives. So if habits are a key to change, then what we really need to know is: How do we change our habits? Better than Before answers that question. It presents a practical, concrete framework to allow readers to understand their habits—and to change them for good.

This one was… fine? Nothing amazing (I much preferred The Happiness Project) and I feel like you can get most of what Rubin talks about from her weekly podcast (Happier with Gretchen Rubin). That said, it was a good non-fiction book that got me thinking about why I do the things I do and stopped me from getting as frustrated with others when they just can’t implement the habits they want to do already!

75. A Man Called Ove by Fredrick Backman

★★★★★

Meet Ove. He’s a curmudgeon, the kind of man who points at people he dislikes as if they were burglars caught outside his bedroom window. He has staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People call him the bitter neighbor from hell, but must Ove be bitter just because he doesn’t walk around with a smile plastered to his face all the time?

Behind the cranky exterior there is a story and a sadness. So when one November morning a chatty young couple with two chatty young daughters move in next door and accidentally flatten Ove’s mailbox, it is the lead-in to a comical and heartwarming tale of unkempt cats, unexpected friendship, and the ancient art of backing up a U-Haul. All of which will change one cranky old man and a local residents’ association to their very foundations.

This started off really sad but I ended up adoring it. Ove turned out to be super sweet and lovable, with a lot of struggles that made him grumpy and lonely. I wouldn’t say this one is funny, but it’s well told and well written. From a writing perspective, it’s a great example of “show don’t tell” and a group of diverse characters all with their own backstory.

Total number of books in December: four
Number of fiction books in December: three
Number of nonfiction books in December: one
Total number of books this year: seventy five!!

Currently | January 2018

January 3, 2018

It would appear that I am not super good at blogging “some of the time.” I am either good at doing it regularly, or very rarely. I’d like blogging to be in the first category in 2018, so we’ll se what happens.

I have posts about goals and books and vacations to share, but I’m going to start by linking up with Anne at In Residence for her ‘currently’ series.

Currently…

starting | to ramp up marathon training. to document in a brand new bullet journal. to figure out how I want to approach One Little Word this year. to write out my 2018 powersheets goals.

hoping | that I can wake up early for my workout tomorrow. that I’ll get everything in my apartment cleaned and put away tomorrow evening after a whole bunch of days of it being a mess. that 2018 will bring good things.

scheduling | plans with friends. an appointment to get my eyebrows done. consistent workouts in my bullet journal.

readingWhite Fur by Jardine Libaire, which I just started.

playing | albums on my record player. a game with myself of “how much can I save this month?”

Anne will be hosting Currently again on  February 7, and we’ll be discussing what we’re currently finishingsubscribingwishlisting, watching, and hearting.

 

 

November Books

December 17, 2017

I started off November planning to get through as many of my Book of the Month picks as I could – I’m great about ordering them, but not great about actually following through and reading them soon after I get them. But then library books and book club and freelance work took over, and I concentrated on reading those things instead. This was a pretty good month for reading: I loved some books, didn’t like some others, but I managed to read a ton.


The Power | Naomi Alderman

★★★☆☆

In THE POWER, the world is a recognizable place: there’s a rich Nigerian boy who lounges around the family pool; a foster kid whose religious parents hide their true nature; an ambitious American politician; a tough London girl from a tricky family. But then a vital new force takes root and flourishes, causing their lives to converge with devastating effect. Teenage girls now have immense physical power–they can cause agonizing pain and even death. And, with this small twist of nature, the world drastically resets.

Mixed feelings about this one. The concept is super cool – it’s kind of a genderswapped history, with women in charge – but I didn’t entirely love how it played out. It felt kind of…forgettable? I did enjoy reading it, I just think it could have been better. Maybe I expected too much.


Little Fires Everywhere | Celeste Ng

★★★★★

In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is planned – from the layout of the winding roads, to the colors of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules.

Enter Mia Warren – an enigmatic artist and single mother – who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenaged daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past and a disregard for the status quo that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.

I absolutely loved this one. It portrays so many different versions of motherhood and mothering. The characters all felt really authentic, especially the high schoolers (which is important to me). I’m excited that I get to discuss it with my book club in January.


And We’re Off | Dana Schwartz

★★★☆☆

Seventeen-year-old Nora Holmes is an artist, a painter from the moment she could hold a brush. She inherited the skill from her grandfather, Robert, who’s always nurtured Nora’s talent and encouraged her to follow her passion. Still, Nora is shocked and elated when Robert offers her a gift: an all-expenses-paid summer trip to Europe to immerse herself in the craft and to study history’s most famous artists. The only catch? Nora has to create an original piece of artwork at every stop and send it back to her grandfather. It’s a no-brainer: Nora is in!

Unfortunately, Nora’s mother, Alice, is less than thrilled about the trip. She worries about what the future holds for her young, idealistic daughter—and her opinions haven’t gone unnoticed. Nora couldn’t feel more unsupported by her mother, and in the weeks leading up to the trip, the women are as disconnected as they’ve ever been. But seconds after saying goodbye to Alice at the airport terminal, Nora hears a voice call out: “Wait! Stop! I’m coming with you!”

And . . . they’re off.

This one made me really nostalgic for study abroad! I liked all the characters and I liked the idea of this one, but it’s another case of it not matching up to my expectations. Maybe because a big part of it is set in Ireland, where I’ve spent a lot of time and I’m super conscious of books being set in Ireland being too cheesy or overdone. This had a bit of that, but not as much as others, which I appreciated, so I don’t think that’s really the issue. Basically, it was intriguing and engaging and I liked reading it, but overall kind of flat. I think it mainly just wasn’t the book for me at the time.


1984 | George Orwell

★★★☆☆

“The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.”

Winston Smith toes the Party line, rewriting history to satisfy the demands of the Ministry of Truth. With each lie he writes, Winston grows to hate the Party that seeks power for its own sake and persecutes those who dare to commit thoughtcrimes. But as he starts to think for himself, Winston can’t escape the fact that Big Brother is always watching…

I know this book is supposed to be a big cultural touchstone and I can see the value in that, but I didn’t like it. I found it difficult to get through and when I finished it I was like “that’s ALL that happens??” One I’m glad I read but that I never need to revisit.


The Women in the Castle | Jessica Shattuck

★★★★☆

Amid the ashes of Nazi Germany’s defeat, Marianne von Lingenfels returns to the once-grand castle of her husband’s ancestors, an imposing stone fortress now fallen into ruin following years of war. The widow of a resister murdered in the failed July 20, 1944, plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler, Marianne plans to uphold the promise she made to her husband’s brave conspirators: to find and protect their wives, her fellow resistance widows.

First Marianne rescues six-year-old Martin, the son of her dearest childhood friend, from a Nazi reeducation home. Together, they make their way across the smoldering wreckage of their homeland to Berlin, where Martin’s mother, the beautiful and naive Benita, has fallen into the hands of occupying Red Army soldiers. Then she locates Ania, another resister’s wife, and her two boys, now refugees languishing in one of the many camps that house the millions displaced by the war.

I read this one for my book club and loved it SO much. It’s absolutely one of the ones I’d recommend of the books I read this year. It’s a post-World War II book that weaves in flashbacks so well, told from the point of view of the widows of German resisters. I’ve read a lot of World War II books but never one from this POV, so I appreciated a new look into events of the war.


Girls on Fire | Robin Wasserman

★★★☆☆

On Halloween, 1991, a popular high school basketball star ventures into the woods near Battle Creek, Pennsylvania, and disappears. Three days later, he’s found with a bullet in his head and a gun in his hand—a discovery that sends tremors through this conservative community, already unnerved by growing rumors of Satanic worship in the region.

In the wake of this incident, bright but lonely Hannah Dexter is befriended by Lacey Champlain, a dark-eyed, Cobain-worshiping bad influence in lip gloss and Doc Martens. The charismatic, seductive Lacey forges a fast, intimate bond with the impressionable Dex, making her over in her own image and unleashing a fierce defiance that neither girl expected. But as Lacey gradually lures Dex away from her safe life into a feverish spiral of obsession, rebellion, and ever greater risk, an unwelcome figure appears on the horizon—and Lacey’s secret history collides with Dex’s worst nightmare.

This one was weird. It felt like a combination of The Girls (which I read earlier this year and didn’t particularly like) and The Crucible, but set in the early 90s. It was super violent and dark and it felt like so many other “good girl gone bad” books that I just didn’t enjoy it.


While Beauty Slept | Elizabeth Blackwell

★★★★☆

“I am not the sort of person about whom stories are told.”

And so begins Elise Dalriss’s story. When she hears her great-granddaughter recount a minstrel’s tale about a beautiful princess asleep in a tower, it pushes open a door to the past, a door Elise has long kept locked. For Elise was the companion to the real princess who slumbered—and she is the only one left who knows what actually happened so many years ago. Her story unveils a labyrinth where secrets connect to an inconceivable evil. As only Elise understands all too well, the truth is no fairy tale.

I read this one in a day on Black Friday! It was a retelling of Sleeping Beauty, told from the POV of her closest lady-in-waiting. It was a good read, but a bit repetitive, and about 100 pages too long. One of those books that I liked but will probably honestly have no impact on me.


In the Unlikely Event  | Judy Blume

★★★★☆

In 1987, Miri Ammerman returns to her hometown of Elizabeth, New Jersey, to attend a commemoration of the worst year of her life. Thirty-five years earlier, when Miri was fifteen, and in love for the first time, a succession of airplanes fell from the sky, leaving a community reeling. Against this backdrop of actual events that Blume experienced in the early 1950s, when airline travel was new and exciting and everyone dreamed of going somewhere, she paints a vivid portrait of a particular time and place—Nat King Cole singing “Unforgettable,” Elizabeth Taylor haircuts, young (and not-so-young) love, explosive friendships, A-bomb hysteria, rumors of Communist threat. And a young journalist who makes his name reporting tragedy. Through it all, one generation reminds another that life goes on.

This is another book I liked but won’t particularly stick with me. There were a lot of characters, and a lot of plot, and I felt like it got bogged down in all of that. It was fun to read an adult book from Judy Blume, who I grew up reading, and it was of course well-written, but it’s not one of my favorites.


Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis | JD Vance

★★★★☆

Hillbilly Elegy is a passionate and personal analysis of a culture in crisis—that of white working-class Americans. The decline of this group, a demographic of our country that has been slowly disintegrating over forty years, has been reported on with growing frequency and alarm, but has never before been written about as searingly from the inside. J. D. Vance tells the true story of what a social, regional, and class decline feels like when you were born with it hung around your neck.

The Vance family story begins hopefully in postwar America. J. D.’s grandparents were “dirt poor and in love,” and moved north from Kentucky’s Appalachia region to Ohio in the hopes of escaping the dreadful poverty around them. They raised a middle-class family, and eventually their grandchild (the author) would graduate from Yale Law School, a conventional marker of their success in achieving generational upward mobility.

This was a quick read that I found very enlightening. The author’s upbringing was so different than mine, and it was eye-opening to read about his life.


The Good Daughter | Karin Slaughter

★★★★☆

Twenty-eight years ago, Charlotte and Samantha Quinn’s happy small-town family life was torn apart by a terrifying attack on their family home. It left their mother dead. It left their father — Pikeville’s notorious defense attorney — devastated. And it left the family fractured beyond repair, consumed by secrets from that terrible night.

Twenty-eight years later, and Charlie has followed in her father’s footsteps to become a lawyer herself — the ideal good daughter. But when violence comes to Pikeville again — and a shocking tragedy leaves the whole town traumatized — Charlie is plunged into a nightmare. Not only is she the first witness on the scene, but it’s a case that unleashes the terrible memories she’s spent so long trying to suppress. Because the shocking truth about the crime that destroyed her family nearly thirty years ago won’t stay buried forever.

I read this one super quickly. It’s really gripping and engaging. It reminded me of a Jodi Picoult book, but less formulaic (and also a bit less emotional). I definitely would like to read more from this author in the future, despite the fact that I tend to dislike thriller-type books.


The Stars Are Fire | Anita Shreve

★★★☆☆

In October 1947, after a summer long drought, fires break out all along the Maine coast from Bar Harbor to Kittery and are soon racing out of control from town to village. Five months pregnant, Grace Holland is left alone to protect her two toddlers when her husband, Gene, joins the volunteer firefighters. Along with her best friend, Rosie, and Rosie’s two young children, Grace watches helplessly as their houses burn to the ground, the flames finally forcing them all into the ocean as a last resort. The women spend the night frantically protecting their children, and in the morning find their lives forever changed: homeless, penniless, awaiting news of their husbands’ fate, and left to face an uncertain future in a town that no longer exists. In the midst of this devastating loss, Grace discovers glorious new freedoms–joys and triumphs she could never have expected her narrow life with Gene could contain–and her spirit soars. And then the unthinkable happens–and Grace’s bravery is tested as never before.

This could have been a good story but I didn’t particularly enjoy it. It was very character-driven, which I’m learning I like in some books and dislike totally in others.


Total number of books in November: eleven
Number of fiction books in November: ten
Number of nonfiction books in November: one
Total number of books this year: seventy one


One more month (really 2 weeks, at this point) to go!

12 Days of Love Letter Writing

December 14, 2017

A couple years ago, I first heard of an organization called More Love Letters. People submit requests for love letters to be written for their friends in need, and then the letters are bundled together and sent to the recipient. The letters come from strangers all over the world, encouraging them to keep going even when times are hard. It’s the epitome of using social media for good.

Every December, the organization runs 12 Days of Letter Writing, a festive love letter campaign to encourage people during the holiday season – and this year, I’m joining in! It began on December 4 and ends tomorrow, but you have until the 20th of December to mail your letters. This means you can absolutely still participate, whether you want to write one letter or 12.

The 12 Days of Love Letter Writing is a perfect way for you to show up this season and help people in need around the world. Grab your friends or classmates, kids or students, and rally together to bring some goodwill into the world this December. All you need is some stationery and a few stamps.


Here’s the MLL request for today, for a sweet 9 year old named Zaden:

Zaden is nine years old. My sister is his third grade teacher. A few weeks ago, Zaden and his family were involved in a head on collision with a drunk driver. Zaden’s seat belt snapped and he was ejected from the vehicle. He survived the accident but with four shattered vertebrae, internal bleeding, organ damage, and the muscles and tendons on his neck were all torn–meaning his head is only attached by his spine. He’s in a full body cast and he has a long road of recovery ahead. He is scared and confused as they are unsure at this time if he will ever walk again. But kids are special, and they have a way of beating the odds every day.

My sister and I would love to give Zaden (and his mother) the tangible love and support of a bundle of letters. We want to show him just how many people are in his corner cheering him on.

I wrote Zaden a letter and you can too! The address to send his letters to is below. If his story doesn’t specifically resonate with you, you can find another recipient (there’s 11 others!) on the MLL blog. I’m committing to writing letters for three more recipients, and postmarking them by December 20th so they arrive on time. You can also find more info here on their site.


If you’re stuck on what to write, here’s my letter to Zaden. It doesn’t need to be complicated; sometimes short and simple can say everything you need to say.

Dear Zaden,

I am so proud of you. I’m proud of you for waking up everyday and for being so brave even though it can feel scary.

Sometimes life is really hard. It doesn’t always feel easy. But there is always good in the world: animals and sunshine and snow and our friends and people out there who love us. There are so many wonderful things, Zaden, and they’re all proof that we’re going to be okay.

You are so strong. It feels like you have a really long road ahead of you, but you are going to endure. You will push against being scared, every single day, until it gets a little easier. Every day, if you take one tiny step forward, it will get better.

I hope that something really good happens to you soon, and that that thing shows you that there is good in the world. I hope that it reminds you there is light to hold onto.

I hope that 2018 brings a whole bunch of brand new great things for you: that you make new friends, that you get to do something fun on your tenth birthday (double digits!), that you know how loved you are.

I’m proud of you, and I know you can do this.

Sending you love,
Ellie


PLEASE MAIL ALL LOVE LETTERS BY DECEMBER 20 TO:

Zaden’s bundle
℅ Persons
PO Box 751
Pleasantville, OH 43148
USA

October Books

November 3, 2017


There are some months where I’m really busy and read very little (like September) and then there was this month, where I was incredibly busy and still managed to read eleven books. It’s probably some sort of procrastination technique, but it’s productive in its own way so I’m going to take it.


The Nightingale | Kristin Hannah

★★★★★

Despite their differences, sisters Vianne and Isabelle have always been close. Younger, bolder Isabelle lives in Paris while Vianne is content with life in the French countryside with her husband Antoine and their daughter. But when the Second World War strikes, Antoine is sent off to fight and Vianne finds herself isolated so Isabelle is sent by their father to help her.

As the war progresses, the sisters’ relationship and strength are tested. With life changing in unbelievably horrific ways, Vianne and Isabelle will find themselves facing frightening situations and responding in ways they never thought possible as bravery and resistance take different forms in each of their actions.

Talk about a book that wants to rip your heart out. I’ve read a million books about WWII and another half million set in France, and yet this one was different. It really made me think about the choices we make and our responsibility to protect other people. You never know how the tiniest thing can have a huge impact. One of the best books I’ve read this year.


Young Jane Young | Gabrielle Zevin

★★★★☆

Aviva Grossman is an ambitious Congressional intern in Florida who makes the life-changing mistake of having an affair with her boss‑‑who is beloved, admired, successful, and very married‑‑and blogging about it. When the affair comes to light, the Congressman doesn’t take the fall, but Aviva does, and her life is over before it hardly begins. She becomes a late‑night talk show punchline; she is slut‑shamed, labeled as fat and ugly, and considered a blight on politics in general.

How does one go on after this? In Aviva’s case, she sees no way out but to change her name and move to a remote town in Maine. She tries to start over as a wedding planner, to be smarter about her life, and to raise her daughter to be strong and confident. But when, at the urging of others, she decides to run for public office herself, that long‑ago mistake trails her via the Internet like a scarlet A.

A good read about reinventing yourself, double standards in politics, and public perception. I loved that it was told in different ways from the perspective of all the women involved. It was also funnier than I expected. I read this for the Modern Mrs. Darcy book club and then couldn’t attend the online discussion because I was on vacation.


The Sun and Other Stars | Brigid Pasulka

★★★★★

After losing his brother and mother within a year, twenty-two-year-old Etto finds himself adrift in his hometown, where every man’s life revolves around soccer, except for his. Frustrated and lonely, Etto is faced with the seemingly impossible prospect of cobbling together the remaining pieces of his life, including his mostly nonexistent relationship with his father, the town butcher.

Things begin to change for Etto when Yuri Fil, a scandal-ridden Ukrainian soccer star and his tough-love sister, Zhuki, arrive in town, and sweep him into their universe of soccer, celebrity, laughter, and fierce loyalty. Under their influence, Etto begins to reconstruct his relationship with his father and learns a few life lessons: that perhaps the game of soccer isn’t just a waste of time—and that San Benedetto, his father, love, and life itself might have more to offer him than he ever believed possible.

This one broke my heart and then slowly stitched it back together. I picked it up on a whim at the library, and I didn’t expect to learn so much from this novel set in an Italian village about a 22 year old grieving the loss of his twin brother and his mom – about grief, about the Italian obsession with soccer, about figuring out how to move on but never forget. The writing was beautiful, but not in that flowery way that’s often hit or miss for me. I loved it.


The Perfect Stranger | Megan Miranda

★★★★☆

Confronted by a restraining order and the threat of a lawsuit, failed journalist Leah Stevens needs to get out of Boston when she runs into an old friend, Emmy Grey, who has just left a troubled relationship. Emmy proposes they move to rural Pennsylvania, where Leah can get a teaching position and both women can start again. But their new start is threatened when a woman with an eerie resemblance to Leah is assaulted by the lake, and Emmy disappears days later.

I shut off my phone, sat on my couch, and read this book entirely in one sitting. I found it captivating, and enjoyed it much more than the Megan Miranda book I read last month.


Little & Lion | Brandy Colbert

★★★☆☆

When Suzette comes home to Los Angeles from her boarding school in New England, she isn’t sure if she’ll ever want to go back. L.A. is where her friends and family are (along with her crush, Emil). And her stepbrother, Lionel, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, needs her emotional support.

But as she settles into her old life, Suzette finds herself falling for someone new…the same girl her brother is in love with. When Lionel’s disorder spirals out of control, Suzette is forced to confront her past mistakes and find a way to help her brother before he hurts himself–or worse.

What I liked about this book: a good YA story, genuinely diverse characters, how it tackled sexuality (especially the main character learning that she’s bisexual) and growing up and figuring yourself out.

What I didn’t: felt like it was trying WAY too hard to be “a book set in LA” (I don’t need the name of every street written out when characters are taking a right turn) and I wasn’t fully satisfied with the ending. It felt a bit like this book was pitched one way, and then didn’t follow through like I expected it to.


Amanda Wakes Up | Alison Camerota

★★★☆☆

When Amanda Gallo, fresh from the backwater of local TV, lands the job of her dreams at FAIR News—the coveted morning anchor slot—she’s finally made it: a six-figure salary, wardrobe allowance, plenty of on-air face time, and a chance to realize her dreams, not to mention buy herself lunch.

As the news heats up in a hotly contested election season and a wild-card candidate, former Hollywood actor Victor Fluke, appears on the scene, Amanda’s pressure-cooker job gets hotter as her personal life unravels. Walking a knife’s edge between ambition and survival, and about to break the biggest story of her career, Amanda must decide what she’s willing to give up to get ahead—and what she needs to hold on to save herself.

I loved that this was written by a journalist! That absolutely added to the book; it felt so real that way. The parallels to the 2016 election were uncomfortably spooky. I heard about this one online and read it on a whim; it was pretty good.


Since We Fell | Dennis Lehane

★★★★☆

Rachel Childs is a former journalist who, after an on-air mental breakdown, now lives as a virtual shut-in. In all other respects, however, she enjoys an ideal life with an ideal husband. Until a chance encounter on a rainy afternoon causes that ideal life to fray. As does Rachel’s marriage. As does Rachel herself.

Sucked into a conspiracy thick with deception, violence, and possibly madness, Rachel must find the strength within herself to conquer unimaginable fears and mind-altering truths.

My first Dennis Lehane book, which seems odd for me since they’re often set in New England. I read this one in a day and a half – I really cared for the characters and was exciting to see how it turned out. Parts of it disappointed me, but I’d still recommend it.


The Crown | Kiera Cass

★★★☆☆

When Eadlyn became the first princess of Illéa to hold her own Selection, she didn’t think she would fall in love with any of her thirty-five suitors. She spent the first few weeks of the competition counting down the days until she could send them all home. But as events at the palace force Eadlyn even further into the spotlight, she realizes that she might not be content remaining alone.

Eadlyn still isn’t sure she’ll find the fairytale ending her parents did twenty years ago. But sometimes the heart has a way of surprising you…and soon Eadlyn must make a choice that feels more impossible—and more important—than she ever imagined.

I’m finally done with these books! I liked this one okay. It was a decent conclusion to a series that was a good escape for me over recent months. The first three in this series are definitely the best.


In The Garden of Beasts | Erik Larson

★★★☆☆

The time is 1933, the place, Berlin, when William E. Dodd becomes America’s first ambassador to Hitler’s Germany in a year that proved to be a turning point in history.

A mild-mannered professor from Chicago, Dodd brings along his wife, son, and flamboyant daughter, Martha. At first Martha is entranced by the parties and pomp, and the handsome young men of the Third Reich with their infectious enthusiasm for restoring Germany to a position of world prominence. Enamored of the New Germany, she has one affair after another, including with the surprisingly honorable first chief of the Gestapo, Rudolf Diels. But as evidence of Jewish persecution mounts, confirmed by chilling first-person testimony, her father telegraphs his concerns to a largely indifferent State Department back home. Dodd watches with alarm as Jews are attacked, the press is censored, and drafts of frightening new laws begin to circulate. As that first year unfolds and the shadows deepen, the Dodds experience days full of excitement, intrigue, romance and ultimately, horror, when a climactic spasm of violence and murder reveals Hitler’s true character and ruthless ambition.

My brother bought this for me (at my request) for Christmas a few years ago and I never got around to reading it. I loved the author’s book Devil in the White City, which remains one of my all-time favorite books. This one is sadly not as good. I read this book partially on Audiobook, which I think helped with a lot of the drier historical testimony. I know a lot about the lead up to World War 2 and the war itself, but I’d never looked at it from this specific perspective. I found it interesting, but the book is about 2x as long as it needs to be.


The Song of Achilles | Madeline Miller

★★★★☆

Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the kingdom of Phthia to be raised in the shadow of King Peleus and his golden son, Achilles. “The best of all the Greeks”—strong, beautiful, and the child of a goddess—Achilles is everything the shamed Patroclus is not. Yet despite their differences, the boys become steadfast companions. Their bond deepens as they grow into young men and become skilled in the arts of war and medicine—much to the displeasure and the fury of Achilles’ mother, Thetis, a cruel sea goddess with a hatred of mortals.

When word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, the men of Greece, bound by blood and oath, must lay siege to Troy in her name. Seduced by the promise of a glorious destiny, Achilles joins their cause, and torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus follows. Little do they know that the Fates will test them both as never before and demand a terrible sacrifice.

This retelling of the Iliad took a while to get into. I knew that many of my friends had enjoyed its I decided to push through; without them I think I would have abandoned it. The second half was a lot stronger for me than the first, and I wound up being really glad I read it.


Lincoln in the Bardo | George Saunders

★★☆☆☆

On February 22, 1862, two days after his death, Willie Lincoln was laid to rest in a marble crypt in a Georgetown cemetery. That very night, shattered by grief, Abraham Lincoln arrives at the cemetery under cover of darkness and visits the crypt, alone, to spend time with his son’s body.

Set over the course of that one night and populated by ghosts of the recently passed and the long dead, Lincoln in the Bardo is a thrilling exploration of death, grief, the powers of good and evil, a novel – in its form and voice – completely unlike anything you have read before.

I honestly don’t understand what people liked about this book. I think it’s because it’s too avant garde for me, and I probably should’ve known I wouldn’t like it. It’s told by over 100 different voices telling stories, talking over each other, and giving you information from a graveyard. It’s a little like a play, except…not? I don’t know. I didn’t totally understand it, and I’d love to know why people liked it so much. It didn’t work for me, and if I hadn’t been on a six hour plane ride, I likely never would’ve finished it.


Total number of books in October: eleven
Number of fiction books in October: eleven
Number of nonfiction books in October: zero
Total number of books this year: sixty