Some positive news and book reviews

Well, I’ve definitely done more reading this month than last month, so at least I’m feeling accomplished in that respect.  Life does happen between the binding, as I like to say, and there are a lot of things going on in my little world.  I think they are all good for the most part, but only time will tell. 

I’ve been very open and vulnerable in my blog posts and I plan to keep it that way.  It would be a lie to act like everything is wonderful all the time and it’s the harder things in life that tend to shape us as individuals.  All of this to say: read on for a little vulnerability. 

My dad is currently in the hospital and will get to come home tonight.  He had his prostate removed yesterday to get rid of the cancer that is in his body.  The doctor felt good about the surgery and were able to spend more time on it due to not having any other surgeries to do aside from his.  He will have a follow up appointment next week and another appointment on December 9th to ensure the cancer is gone.  I would say this is all in all a positive report on my dad.  It feels great to know that his cancer is likely gone and will just need close monitoring now. 

Coincidentally, while my father was in surgery yesterday, I was busy having a procedure done as well.  Again, this is a positive thing and only time will tell if it stays positive or not. I am fervently praying that it remains positive!

Another positive thing is that my husband and I took a short trip to Door County, Wisconsin and it was absolutely beautiful.  We hiked, kayaked, rode bikes through the woods, and ate well.  We even got to see some family members from a safe distance on our way home. I’m so glad we were able to take that trip.  It’s a place we’ve wanted to go for about as long as we’ve known each other and a place we first heard about together. 

The only negative thing going on is money.  So much money has been spent this month.  I knew it would be an expensive month as we had some home projects and a trip.  I hadn’t planned, however, on the cost of another procedure.  On the plus side, we’ve gotten a new bathtub (which I love), light fixtures in rooms where there were none before, and we now have working lighting outside!  We’ve gone on our trip and soon our roof will be fixed, where there was some major water damage before.  This is all good, it’s just costly and has us watching our pennies a little more closely now. Such is life.  I’m just happy, we’ve been fortunate enough to cover these costs.  Any time I stress about money, I am reminded that it is mentioned more than 800 times in the Bible.  While it’s not good to be in debt, I don’t want money to rule my life or give me undue stress. Everything will be better soon. 

Now let’s talk books! I’ve read quite a few so far this month.  Seven to be exact, and I’m currently reading two and listening to one.  I’m hoping for double digits by the end of this month, but I also hoped to finish a book during Fall break (usually my biggest reading time of the year), and I didn’t finish a single one.  To be fair, we had a lot going on. 

The first book I read this month was The Mother-In-Law by Sally Hepworth.  I was really engrossed in this book.  The back and forth between daughter-in-law and mother-in-law was very interesting, and I kept being shocked by how the mother-in-law acted.  She was a fascinating, but very unlikeable character. Unfortunately, the mystery’s end was not as shocking and left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth.  Initially, I felt like this book would be a 4 or 5 star read, but it started to fall flat.  One thing that really bothered me about this book was the portrayal of a woman with fertility issues.  It hit a little too close to home, but my real problem is that they made this woman seem absolutely crazy all due to her infertility.  That felt harsh and unbelievable. 3/5. 

Next up was A Nearly Normal Family by M.T. Edvardsson, a book that was marketed as a legal thriller, which I was very excited about.  Unfortunately, this book was not really a legal thriller at all.  The courtroom scenes didn’t even start until 3/4 of the way through the book.  The ending, again, fell flat.  It just didn’t feel clever like so many good thriller endings are. While the author’s writing kept me reading, this book felt pretty forgettable.  3/5.  

Then I read The Last Story of Mina Lee by Nancy Jooyoun Kim, a book that at some points, captivated me with it’s use of language, however, the storyline was not captivating.  This may be due to recently reading a book about a mother figure’s relationship with a daughter, which this book was also about, but I just could not get into this book. The chapters change perspectives from Mina to her daughter Margot.  I definitely found Mina more compelling, but again, this book just fell flat and felt forgettable. 3/5. 

After some three star reads, I finally got to a book that caused a reaction within me: Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb.  This nonfiction book takes a look at a therapist, the counseling she gives, and the counseling she receives.  I really loved that this book shows us all so deeply human.  We are so flawed, yet there is something redeeming in all of us. There were a lot of little life nuggets in here that really stayed with me.  There were also little pieces of psychology history/fact sprinkled throughout and as someone who really enjoys psychology, I loved that aspect of the book.  4/5. 

Book 5 was Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell, which I listened to. I loved the audio actors by the way and really loved that there was a male and female to add to the characters.  The characters, by the way, were so perfectly thought out.  I did get frustrated with them at times, but then I just had to remind myself that they were teenagers. This book focuses on first love and how intoxicating it is, but it also shows the relationship between two outcasts. The chemistry was strong and everything felt so raw and real.  There were also just so many beautiful lines that didn’t feel cheesy to me, but accurate for two outcasts to share.  The ending felt rushed and I didn’t love it, so this one gets 4 stars for me, but they are 4 very shiny, bright stars! 4/5. 

I also listened to Leave the World Behind, a book that fully enchanted me.  Author, Rumaan Alam left me in a book hangover for sure.  I read a sample of this book and felt like I wouldn’t be into the language, so I opted to listen instead to see if I could look past the heavy vocabulary and I’m so glad I did.  The book focuses on two families forced to share a home for the end of the world and asks Can any person be trusted? How would you spend your last minutes? I know a lot of people haven’t loved this book. Some were disappointed by the end, but I loved it.  For me, there was no other way for this book to end.  Leave the World Behind was a cerebral atmospheric novel that wholly pulled me in.  It made me think of that quote “This is the way the world ends, not with a bang, but with a whimper.”  Think of all of the things we’ve experienced, forest fires, intense hurricanes, advanced warfare, extreme weather, etc.  Those are the bangs. By the time the world actually ends, it likely will be a whimper.  I don’t really think the world is ending, but I enjoyed reading this novel and just how deep it really was.  Not only is this a 5 star read for me, but it is also a top contender of mine for best book I’ve read all year! 5/5. 

My last read was Modern Lovers by Emma Straub.  I tried and tried to get into this book, but I couldn’t.  The story focuses on the relationship between former band mates and the lack of one of them in modern day.  The novel is structured in a way that shows the past and present pretty clearly.  Unfortunately, I just did not like any of the characters.  They all felt like has-been hipsters who never got around to growing up, but might just might be begrudgingly doing it in present day. I just wasn’t into it.  I was more annoyed than anything, while reading this one. 2/5. 

I’m currently listening to My Dark Vanessa, reading Betty, and The Invisible Life of Addie Larue.  All of which are amazing so far.  I hope to have them finished by the end of the month! 

Happy reading y’all! 

What’s Normal Anyways?

It’s been almost a month since I last blogged about my readings.  I typically try to blog twice a month, but here we are. Life returned to normal in that I am physically going to work each day, but life definitely is not normal.  My students each have plastic shields around their desks, staff and students wear masks at all times, almost all of the curriculum is online (to reduce paper handling and to keep consistent with e-learners), and I travel by cart now, while my students stay put.  That’s only some of the changes experienced this year. So while I am back to “normal,” nothing is normal about it. 

Needless to say, I’m exhausted.  I barely find 30 minutes to read, because I’m just so tired all of the time.  I come home after a long day, and usually end up accidentally falling asleep on the couch, which turns into me groggily taking myself to bed and then the whole day starts over again. 

I thoroughly enjoyed quarantine.  I mean, I wish it were under different circumstances, but I liked being home and working from home. I straddle the line of extrovert and introvert, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve become much more introverted. When school closed on March 12th, I was worried and scared.  We all were living with so much uncertainty.  We still are, only we’ve become used to this “new normal.”  Believe me, I want things to go wholly back to normal. I want to be able to go out on dates, go to the movies, travel, and also toss my masks in the trash, but this is where we are now.  It will eventually get better. I know.  However, during the last four-ish months of being home, I completed multiple home projects, including planting my own garden.  I’ve read more than I’ve ever read before.  I finally had the time to workout and treat my body better.  I became spiritually more healthy.  Unlike many, while I did watch a few Netflix shows, I didn’t consume myself with television.  I would spend whole days without the TV on.  I was able to spend time with my dogs and they were able to be out of their crates almost entirely.  The past four months, I was able to breathe again and find the joy and beauty in life. 

When I work, while this is a valuable job I do, and I do enjoy it, it just takes too much time out of my day when you consider the commute.  I hate going home drained.  Being so exhausted that I can’t do the things I love.  Living for the weekend.  This is not how we were meant to live.  Americans have always been overworked, but I didn’t understand just how badly we were until I got a taste of the other side of things.  Life is so short.  Should we be killing ourselves over a paycheck?

Maybe I’m contemplating life so much and how to enrich it and live my best life, because my dad was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer.  The doctor told him that at this point, he has 8 months to a few years, which does not sound promising, but there is still hope and I believe in a God who does miracles. All this to say, I look at my dad who was (and still is) a workaholic. He’s spent most of his life working his way up in a small town heating and air company.  He doesn’t want to retire until he’s 66 so he can get his full retirement benefits. 

My father is 62.  62.  I can’t believe we are talking life and death with a man so young.  If I knew I was only going to live to be 62, would I live my life differently? Would I put less emphasis on work and money? Would I instead, find a way to live comfortably so that I could enjoy simple luxuries? Maybe I wouldn’t be a teacher. Maybe I’d do some sort of work that I don’t have to take home with me. Maybe I’d go back to school and work on the career I really want.  Maybe I’d work part time.  There are so many things to consider.  Have I been praising the almighty dollar too long? Storing away my money so I can live in a house that’s too big for me?  At what cost though? What is the price of a life unlived? A life of stress and anxiety and exhaustion?  I’m glad I’m finally thinking about this. It’s time I did. 

Anyways, I have read quite a few books, but I’ll keep my reviews brief this time.  Mostly, I listened to a lot of comedic female nonfiction.

I started with Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me and then followed it up with Why Not Me? Both by Mindy Kaling.  I love Mindy.  She’s so funny and real and smart actually, which you probably wouldn’t expect. Some of her essays were stronger than others.  I really enjoyed “Soup Snakes” from her latter book. However I would rate her first book better as a whole.  She seemed to tell more of her growing up and back story in her first book.  Her second book was a little all over the place with a random fiction piece thrown in.  Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me gets 4 stars, but Why Not Me will sit with 3.

Next up, I read a fiction book by one of my favorite authors, Jesmyn Ward.  Where the Line Bleeds was to no surprise lyrically beautiful.  I didn’t enjoy it as much as Sing Unburied Sing, which is my favorite of hers so far. I found myself stopping to re-read a line or sentence just to really savor her unique metaphors. She also created very real characters who spoke in believable dialogue.  The problem, as always is with her books, is that she has yet to master plot.  Once she masters plot, her books will be sheer perfection. 4/5.

I listened to Yes, Please by Amy Poehler. I actually really enjoyed her humor here.  The way this audiobook was set up reminded me of a comedic podcast, which I really enjoyed and she had some good life nuggets in here too.  Clearly, she’s not a book writer, which is what I found with all of these comedian’s books, but this one, listening wise, was really enjoyable. 4/5.

I devoured The Unhoneymooners by co-author group Christina Lauren.  I found myself laughing out loud and rooting for the characters in this rom-com.  As I’ve wrote before, I don’t love this genre, because often it comes across as cheesy or over the top sexual for no reason.  This book reminded me of those great 90s and early 2000s rom-coms I so love. Needless to say, this was a pleasant surprise. (5/5).

I listened to Bossypants by Tina Fey next.  I have to say, her humor and writing is great, but her innocent, everyday voice doesn’t match.  I wonder if I would have enjoyed this more had I not listened to it.  This was the most cohesive collection and also had me laughing out loud.  Though, the beginning essays were not as strong as her latter ones, which made me dislike it initially.  I did end up liking it by the middle and end. (4/5).

My final read this round was Into the Water by Paula Hawkins.  I really enjoyed this thriller.  It was calm and had a slow build, but I was still curious as to what would happen next.  I liked the unique concept of a place with a bad history.  The downside of this novel was that there were just too many characters to keep track of. (4/5).

I’m currently reading Night Swim, which is really good so far, and will start Luster soon.  I’m trying to get my reading speed back, but battling exhaustion is hard.

Keep up the good fight y’all and happy reading!

Marie Kondo-ing Life

I don’t know how long you all have been quarantined, but I’m wrapping up week 6 on my end.  My husband, who serves in the military, was away at a military class until last Friday, so it’s been great having him home (finally) this week. 

In the past two weeks, I’ve given a lot of thought to what things “spark joy” in my life.  If you know the reference then you might say I’ve been Marie Kondo-ing my life.  I’ve been thinking a lot about whether I personally value and love myself as the person I am.  If I do love and respect my person, then I need to evaluate all things in my life.  If it’s not bringing joy to me or if it’s causing problems, then keeping those things in my life is not being kind to myself, right? I’ve been pretty introspective and ultimately working towards being the best version of myself.  So my question to you, dear reader, are the things in your life– the habits, the routines, the relationships, and job—sparking joy?  Is there something you need to break away from? Maybe something you want to explore? 

What better time than now to better yourself?

I hope you’re being kind to yourself, offering yourself grace, and taking this time to create positive habits or lifestyles.  I hope you’re allowing this time of social distancing to better yourself.  Why don’t we all just Marie Kondo our lives together!  Anyways that’s all I have for you between my “life binding.”  I hope it gives you pause to think. 

Now, let’s talk books.

Godshot by Chelsea Bieker was one of my most anticipated 2020 reads.  It centered around a cult, which maybe I’m twisted, but I love a good cult story.  I have always found it fascinating how one person’s ego and search for power could culminate in several others blind fellowship.  Typically those people are easily preyed upon, which, from a psychological standpoint, makes them even more intriguing.  Unfortunately, while this book had everything I would want, perhaps my hopes were too high or the execution wasn’t quite where it needed to be or both.  The plot was fine, but it did get a little cheesy by the end.  Perhaps even cliché?  The pacing wasn’t very great either.  My heart completely broke for the main character though, and I would say the character building  as a whole was solid.  This book was decent, but didn’t really stand out as special.  3/5.

I would say Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan was my next book, but I had actually started it several weeks ago.  It was, however, the next book I finished.  I used to read several novels at a time, but don’t typically do that anymore, because I feel like it makes me lose focus.  However, I do make an exception when it comes to lengthier novels.  Anything over 450 pages is a little daunting to me, so I take my time with these longer novels.  Anyways, this particular novel was actually very closely based off the true story of Pino Lella and his involvement in WWII.  It shows the Italian side of the war, an aspect not often looked upon.  Pino is an incredibly likable character and this book definitely made me cry. Boy did it ever.  I was a sobbing mess by the end of it.  However, what really was remarkable about this book was the afterward when we learn each characters’ truth.  As it turns out, Pino Lella was a complicated man who tried to move past the war, but deep down, I don’t think he ever did.  Some of his life is less admirable, but that only made him all the more real.  I really enjoyed this novel.  It was an easy and engaging read that also turned out to be quite the adventure.  I would definitely recommend this book for lovers of historical fiction or WWII based literature.  4/5.

Just last night I finished Sharks in the Time of Saviors by Kawai Strong Washburn, a family saga with roots in magical realism and Hawaiian folklore.  The writing style was somewhat experimentally edgy in that it was so beautifully written, but also had moments of vulgarity from the characters.  I couldn’t decide if this cheapened the writing or if it made it stronger, because clearly the writing was well-done while still holding true to the characters, who, at times, were crass.  Due to this novel’s lyrical prose, it was one to savor making the pacing slower.  Unfortunately, I found myself frustrated with every character at one point or another and kept waiting for everything to culminate in a larger sense plot wise, but it never did, despite it hinting otherwise.  This debut novel had such great potential with it’s hints of magical realism and Hawaiian folklore, and while it was good, it just wasn’t great. 3/5.

Valentine is my next read!  And with this quarantine, I have a long list of books to get to! If you have subscribed to my blog, you are entered into a chance to win Miracle Creek, my favorite book of last year! I will be notifying everyone of the winner on May 1st!  In the mean time, spread the word and read on dear ones!