2019 Reading Challenge: Wrapped!

Holy crap you guys, I just found this lovely little post sitting in my drafts as I went to write my first 2020 Reading Challenge post. SMH! Welp, enjoy this super better-late-than-never recap, and look forward to hearing my first 10 books of 2020, coming soon!

In 2019 I set a goal of reading 40 new books, and ended up reading 64! Here’s the final list:

  1. The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards
  2. The Adventure Zone: Here There Be Gerblins
  3. Wildcard by Marie Lu
  4. Brightly Burning by Alexa Donne
  5. Seafire by Natalie C. Parker
  6. Spindle Fire by Lexa Hillyer
  7. The Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donad Maass
  8. Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  9. Grace and Fury by Tracy Banghart
  10. The Greatest Love Story Ever Told by Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman
  11. Ace of Shades by Amanda Foody
  12. Courting Darkness by Robin LeFevers
  13. The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg
  14. The Glass Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg
  15. The Master Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg
  16. The Alice Network by Kate Quinn
  17. “I Give You My Body…” by Diana Gabaldon
  18. Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman
  19. A Question of Holmes by Brittany Cavallaro
  20. Bridge of Clay by Markus Zusa
  21. The Firethorn Crown– Lea Doué 
  22. Shatter Me – Tahereh Mafi
  23. The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein – Kiersten White
  24. King of Fools – Amanda Foody
  25. Girl, Stop Apologizing – Rachel Hollis
  26. Legacy of Kings – Eleanor Herman
  27. Girls of Glass – Brianna Labuskes
  28. Nine Perfect Strangers – Liane Moriarty
  29. The Last Voyage of Poe Blythe – Allie Condy
  30. Dance of Thieves – Mary E. Pearson
  31. Mirage – Somaiya Daud
  32. Queen of Ruin – Tracy Banghart
  33. Captivate: The Science of Succeeding With People – Vanessa Van Edwards
  34. Shadow and Bone – Leigh Bardugo
  35. Yes, Please – Amy Poehler
  36. The Ladies’ Guide to Petticoats and Piracy – Mackenzie Lee
  37. The Lost Girls – Heather Young
  38. Wicked Saints – Emily A. Duncan
  39. Mistress of the Ritz – Melanie Benjamin
  40. Broken Things – Lauren Oliver
  41. Warrior of the Wild – Tricia Levenseller
  42. Unravel Me – Tahereh Mafi (Once I started on her sequel to Shatter Me, I couldn’t stop. I’m 1000% obsessed with her stories)
  43. Ignite Me
  44. Restore Me
  45. Defy Me
  46. The Huntress – Kate Quinn
  47. Vicious (Villians) – V.E. Schwab
  48. Rooms – Lauren Oliver
  49. Duels & Deceptions – Cindy Anstey
  50. We Have Always Lived in the Castle – Shirley Jackson
  51. Red, White, & Royal Blue – Casey McQuiston
  52. A Very Large Expanse of Sea – Tahereh Mafi (My favorite of the books I read in 2019)
  53. Matchmaking for Beginners – Maddie Dawson
  54. Between Shades of Gray – Ruta Sepetys
  55. The Couple Next Door – Shari Lapena
  56. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo – Taylor Jenkins Reid
  57. The Gilded Wolves – Roshani Chokshi
  58. Truly Devious – Maureen Johnson
  59. The Witch Elm – Tana French
  60. We Hunt the Flame – Hafsah Faizal
  61. The Vanishing Stair – Maureen Johnson
  62. One of Us is Lying – Karen M. McManus
  63. Vanishing Girls – Lauren Oliver
  64. Sawkill Girls – Claire Legend

If I can only recommend one book from this long list, it’s A Very Large Expanse of Sea. It follows a teenage Muslim girl in the wake of 9/11. It’s nuanced and rich and I sobbed, laughed, and was completely engrossed–I read it in about two days, sneaking open my kindle app at work and cooking dinner with one eye glued to Shirin’s story.

One of Us is Lying is an excellent murder-mystery-meets-the-Breakfast-Club. I love a good unreliable narrator, and the fact that there are 4 different points of view telling the reader about a death only they witnessed (and are, therefore, the only suspected murderers) keeps things very interesting.

Matchmaking for Beginners surprised me the most. It was available for free through Amazon Prime, and I’m not really sure what led me to open it–maybe the pale blue cover and a desire for something lighthearted. This book definitely delivered, while also having a thread of deep emotions throughout.

I really enjoyed expanding out of my YA-comfort-zone and reading books in so many different genres. Do you recognize any books on my list as favorites of yours? Have any recommendations for 2020? I’m already building my “to-be-read” list–there are so many great stories out there!

Best Nine of 2019

I love the trend of posting your best nine pics of a given year. Not only is it a chance to revisit some excellent memories and gather them all into one collage (remember making actual collages in the 90s, pasting together photos and stickers and ticket stubs? Am I dating myself?), but pulling together nine pictures from across a year reminds you just how blessed you are.

Maybe I’ve just had an extraordinarily *good* year. Maybe I’m just getting better at seeing the positives. Either way, this year I struggled to narrow down my 2019 experiences into nine thumbnail-sized shots. So what are blogs for, if not reminiscing?

At the beginning of the year, we got a perfect snow in St. Louis–enough to disrupt work for a day, not enough to put us on lockdown. One of the neighborhood restaurants opened its patio that night and provided free spiked hot chocolate/hot toddies around fire pits. Such a midwestern thing to do, and such spontaneous, snowy fun!

We also went to our first (and only) musical at the Fox Theatre while in the Lou. Fiddler on the Roof was every bit as magical as I remember it being when I watched it on VHS in middle school (moreso, since it was live, and I was old enough to appreciate what was going on in the story–I did NOT realize how dark it gets in Act II!).

Taking advantage of our location, we did a long weekend in the other Lou–touring bourbon distilleries, appreciating the baseball history, and visiting Churchill Downs. Louisville remains one of my favorite trips we’ve taken, and I can’t wait to visit again!

2019 saw the first newborn member inducted into the Olin Boys’ Club, as well as a whole host of get-togethers and adventures with our b-school buddies. These include Olin’s formal, graduation, and a trip to the Ozarks, to feature a few. The hubs turned 30, which we celebrated with bowling followed by a rooftop bar.

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We also enjoyed adult beverages in the street, because St. Louis.

We visited Chicago and continued an hour north to see Milwaukee (my favorite of the small cities we’ve visited since moving to St. Louis). We popped home in time to watch the Blues win the Stanley Cup. Then began our journey east.

After a pit stop in Indianapolis (and another, not-pictured, in Pittsburgh), we made it to our new home in DC. I worked on polishing my manuscript and query materials, and began seeking agent representation for my novel.

My brother visited during his (too) brief tour of the US before returning to Korea. I bravely (for me) explored DC on my own, between job-hunting and writing. And my in-laws (after at least 8 years of talking about it) *finally* bought a home in Old Town.

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We made it out to Rehoboth Beach, where we discovered we’re no longer used to the brilliance of a sun reflecting off ocean waves.

An agent responded to one of my queries, complimenting my writing sample and requesting more. I couldn’t stop smiling the entire walk home from our new favorite pizza place. My husband bought a car (unrelated, but almost as exciting for him).

Dear friends tied the knot. Others have growing families. I turned 30.

And celebrated with a parade. Okay, that was for the Nationals, since they won the World Series and all. I started a new job with a fun group of people. I watched so much Great British Baking Show that I was inspired…

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The challah that started it all!

I spent time with those adorable faces (and equally adorable sister- and brother-in-law, not pictured). I baked a lot more delicious stuff. Turns out, I’m a baker! #challahatyagirl

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As the year winds down, holiday parties are filling the calendar. Crazy to think there’s only a week left in 2019, and in the 2010s! What a decade it was. Here’s to the memories, friendships, and epic life changes!

And to 2020: No pressure. 😉

Taking a Walk to Clear My Head

Today is one of those achingly beautiful days. The sky is painfully blue, a blue you could gladly drown in, and the sun bathes the multi-colored trees golden. Each breath is crisp with decaying leaves and the promise of frost.

Cars fly through the intersection. A golden-doodle pants at my side, distracted from the sight of the park across the street by a new person to smell. I bury my gloved hands deep in my coat pockets and tilt my face skyward. A light but insistent wind tugs at my earlobes and rubs the tip of my nose, but the sun’s warmth soothes away the sting.

It’s a day that reminds you you’re alive and demands you be happy about it.

The light changes, a shiny pickup and rusted old Honda blurring past anyway. Everyone waits a collective breath, then the dog leads the charge into the crosswalk. Two joggers pass, spurring the dog and its owner faster. I take my time. Forest Park waits patiently.

Inside the park, the sun dapples through slowly-dying leaves. I cross the bridges, first over the metrolink, then over the parkway, and descend to the Victorian footbridge. Wood planks echo underfoot. I take a moment to lean against the black metal railing. A chill seeps through the down of my jacket sleeves. The sun reflects off the water below, and on the far bank, a weeping willow flutters in the wind.

Two teenagers speed past on electric scooters, rumbling across the footbridge. Wisps of breathless conversation drift by as speed-walking moms push their strollers toward the ice rink. I turn right instead, gravel crunching beneath my boots. Here, without the burnt-hued trees shading the path, the sun sinks into my skin. Frigid air burns my nose with each inhalation. Every breath tastes of life.

By the time I reach the statue and pause for a vehicle headed down the road toward the Muny, my fingers are numb despite the gloves. Breath clouds in front of my face and my cheeks tingle. I turn and follow the path back along the creek, past a man calling for his black lab as his little boy cheers on the dog sloshing through the shallow current. Past a couple arguing on a bench near the pond with the fountain spraying rainbows between its jets. Back under tree-cover, a smile for the homeless man curling up on the bench surrounded by brambles and caught-leaves. Across the footbridge, pausing for a cyclist to cross my path. A grandmother helps a toddling child in a princess skirt climb the stairs to the pedestrian overpass. She trades a smile with me over her shoulder then cautions the little girl to “let the lady pass.”

A train blurs below as I cross the second bridge, its rails whistling protests against the cold metal. Somewhere, a fire crackles in a wood-burning fireplace, filling the air with the smoky-sweet scent of home.

It is a good day to be alive.

2019 Reading Challenge: Halfway Point!

Refresher: One of my goals this year is to read 40 new (to me) books. Not to toot my own horn, but I am #crushing this goal…

toot toot

I’m already halfway toward said goal, and nowhere near the midpoint of the year. And before anyone tries to argue that maybe some books are short/superfast reads (like the graphic novel) I’ll have you know #20 on my list was a whopper of 500+ pages (which all flew by, honestly–LOVE me some Mark Zusak!). Without further ado, here are all the lovely tales I’ve met so far this year:

  1. The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards – a child born with down syndrome is sent away to be raised by the nurse who delivered her, unbeknownst to the child’s mother.
  2. The Adventure Zone: Here There Be Gerblins by Clint McElroy, Justin McElroy, Travis McElroy, Griffin McElroy, and Carey Pietsch – it’s the graphic novel version of their amazing podcast!
  3. Wildcard by Marie Lu – a gamer/bounty hunter is enlisted to hunt down a hacker during a worldwide tournament
  4. Brightly Burning by Alexa Donne – Jane Eyre but with spaceships!
  5. Seafire by Natalie C. Parker – All-girl pirate ship on the hunt for revenge…until they learn the captain and first mate’s brothers may still be alive and in enemy hands
  6. Spindle Fire by Lexa Hillyer – a twist on the Sleeping Beauty fairytale, in which Aurora has a blind sister trying to find her true love to break the sleeping spell
  7. The Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donad Maass – pure writing-craft book, but some really great insights for what attracts readers to story and character
  8. Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery – see this post for all my feels
  9. Grace and Fury by Tracy Banghart – sisters separated by bad luck and worse consequences fight to stay alive and find a way back to each other
  10. The Greatest Love Story Ever Told by Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman – ’nuff said, these two are the cutest and their written “oral” history is a delight
  11. Ace of Shades by Amanda Foody – intrigue, a hunt for lost loved ones, high stakes gambling
  12. Courting Darkness by Robin LeFevers – a duology quasi-spinoff of her FANTASTIC His Fair Assassins trilogy
  13. The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg – see link for my thoughts on how adorable this story is
  14. The Glass Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg – the wonderful sequel
  15. The Master Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg – the fantastic ending
  16. The Alice Network by Kate Quinn – two women’s stories intertwine–a young woman searching for her cousin after WWII convinces an older woman, a former spy during WWI to help in her quest. Really beautifully told story based on an actual female spy-ring
  17. “I Give You My Body…” by Diana Gabaldon – full disclosure, this one is about the craft of writing sex scenes. Incredibly helpful for dialogue and action scenes as well. Maybe not so much “for fun” reading (though there are PLENTY of steamy excerpts from her Outlander and spin-off works) wink!
  18. Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman – classic western, complete with a hunt for gold, gunfights with a band of outlaws, and a sexy cowboy who doesn’t realize our MC is a girl at first…
  19. A Question of Holmes by Brittany Cavallaro – the final in her Charlotte Holmes series, one of my favorite book series I’ve come across.
  20. Bridge of Clay by Markus Zusak – I’ve already mentioned how much I adore his writing style. This book is full of his poetic language as well as heartbreakingly beautiful depictions of 5 brothers raising themselves the best way they can. Lots of fist fights, swearing, and love in this book.

 

Makeup Thoughts

I was thinking this morning as I did my makeup, about how naturally pretty my mom is, and how little makeup she wears. Most of what I know about techniques and color palettes I learned from YouTube. I was thinking about my own someday-daughter, and what I’d want to teach her about makeup–or if I’d want to emphasize her natural beauty. I definitely have days where I don’t feel pretty until I’ve slapped on some eyeshadow and brow powder, and I wouldn’t want to teach that insecurity to my daughter. I’d want her to see makeup as something fun and pretty that she can wear when she feels like it–like a nice pair of earrings or killer heels. Something that adds a little “oomph” but isn’t necessary.

That got me thinking about makeup as a concept. As I drew a careful line in plum eyeshadow along my lower lashes with the tapered eyeliner brush, I thought of how artistic the act of applying makeup really is. And how cool it is that someone was so overflowing with creativity that they looked at their own skin as a canvas for color and art. Makeup is an artform that anyone can participate in, an art project we wear on our face and show to the world, and often receive compliments on. It’s a touch of beauty in the every day, and that’s awesome in its own way.

Happy Spring 2019!

I’m a day late but (as far as I know) no dollars short so at least I’ve got that going for me!

Last year, I shared a bunch of random flower pics around this time. I was going to share several snow-covered plants this go-round, since we had a couple good snows this year and it IS #throwbackthursday, but I’m thinking *SPRING* now and don’t want to dwell on the cold any longer, so here are some pictures from a trip we took to the Missouri Botanical Gardens last summer instead…

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Rambling Recommendations: Brightly Burning

Brightly Burning by Alexa Donne was the 5th book I finished this year (because OF COURSE I’m counting) and it was such a delight.

It takes my favorite classic: Jane Eyre, teases out all the modern-day young-adult themes I know and love, and plops the storyline on a futuristic space ship orbiting Earth.

Stella, our main character, is a delightful young woman who is both bold and understands her “place” in terms of social structure. I could relate whole-heartedly to her, preferring to keep to her quarters and read or draw rather than socialize with her peers, getting brazen only under the influence of a few strong drinks, or once she’s comfortable. Hugo, the love interest (yes, that’s the role I’m designating for him–I suppose he could be a quasi-antagonist much like the Mr. Rochester he’s based upon), is mysterious and broody, maybe more handsome than the original but I let that slide. Personally, I liked the mysterious Mr. Rochester being so much older (maybe it’s my thing for Bruce Willis making age gaps feel so irrelevant), and so was a touch disappointed Hugo was around Stella’s age–but then I figured it’s way less ok for a 17-year-old to start a love affair with her older employer in this day and age than it might have been in Charlotte Brontë’s time.

I loved that this story had that comforting familiarity of a well-loved story, yet enough new twists/plot points to keep things fresh. More than once I found myself thinking “well Jane Eyre went this direction, but there’s no way for that to happen here” or “how will she handle X if Y is so different in this version?” so nothing felt stale.

If you like SciFi YA (that’s science fiction young adult, mom), hundo p–this book is for you. If you’re a fan of Jane Eyre, I’d also highly recommend this novel.

Rambling Recommendations: The Adventure Zone–Here There Be Gerblins

First and foremost: I wanted to change the name of these posts because let’s be honest, I don’t write very good, balanced “reviews.” I’m only telling you about books I recommend, so let’s call a spade a spade, shall we? It does make for an obnoxiously long title, which I’m beginning to think will be a theme this year. 2019: Because Sometimes You Don’t Need to Make the Long Story Short.

Yup, that feels right.

Anyhoo… on to the recommendation!

Okay, second confession: this is more a recommendation of a podcast than the actual book. Partially because I’ve always felt “meh” about graphic novels and “The Adventure Zone: Here There Be Gerblins” did not really shove me headfirst into a love of them. Don’t get me wrong, the book was thoroughly enjoyable. I just love the podcast adventures of Magnus, Merle, and Taako so much more.

If you’re looking for a relatively quick, fun, humorous read, definitely check out this book! IF you’re interested in hearing more about this podcast, you’re in luck, because as we’ve established, this year is all about rambling on and on…

The Adventure Zone podcast began as three brothers (Justin, Travis, and Griffin) introduced their father to the wonderful world of Dungeons and Dragons. Considering the nerd-level of my beloved Wildcards, I’m a little shocked this was *my* introduction to D&D as well. Side note about that link: I’m not trying to tell you how to live your life, but you’re gonna want to scroll to the bottom of the page and click “last” to start this bad boy from the very beginning. Partially because that’s how stories work–not starting in the middle or skipping to the end like some monster (Mom)–and partially because they’ve long since moved on to other role-playing games, so you won’t get a taste of that good, good D&D magic if you start with Amnesty. Go all the way back to the very beginning, “Here There Be Gerblins,” and you’ll meet Magnus Burnsides (the folksy human fighter), Merle Highchurch (the ornery dwarf cleric) and Taako from TV (the sassy elf wizard–and quite possibly one of the best characters ever created).  These three characters embark on a series of adventures, following an engrossing storyline that veered almost immediately from the D&D playbooks and was written by Dungeon Master Griffin McElroy, that delighted and enthralled. I seriously wept at some parts, laughed hysterically at most of their antics, and fell completely in love with these characters.

One little “Mom” note: there is a good amount of swearing, some dirty jokes, and a lot of creature-slaying.

Blood and Bones Mix 3

I may be hard at work typing my heart out, but there’s always time for music. I wouldn’t get through most days without it, let alone 30 days of isolation-style writing. So here it is. Back at it with my most recent mixtape list:

  1. Let’s Be Still – The Head and the Heart (One of the loveliest time-out-from-real-life songs I’ve ever heard)
  2. On the Line – Night Riots (My NaNoWriMo 2018 kick-off song! “Digging dreams out of the fire, feeling the doubt getting tighter, no backing down, take me higher!”)
  3. Unholy War – Jacob Banks
  4. *Starboy – The Weeknd, Daft Punk (for better or worse, this is now the song to celebrate my first draft of the Blood and Water manuscript–I just kept saying “look what I’ve done!” to the tune, which had to be followed by “I’m a muthafckn starboy!” PS those are pretty much the only lyrics I understand which makes me feel super-old but it doesn’t stop me from loving the beat)
  5. Stomp Me Out – Bryce Fox
  6. Smoked Out of Heaven – Saint Claire (“All of those tiny hollows”…Possibly my favorite song ever. Broken and beautiful and so poetic…and, not that this will mean anything to anyone but my mom–yet–but it is also a perfect song for my main character towards the end of Book 1/start of Book 2)
  7. The Sound of Silence – Disturbed (sorry Simon & Garfunkel, this version gives me chills every time)
  8. Come Follow Me Down – George Taylor (Fun fact: this music video has snakes in it, so now we’re all stuck waiting until enough time has passed for the video to end before I click back into YouTube to look for the next video…)
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  9. Bury Me Face Down – grandson
  10. Gladiator – Zayde Wølf (find me a better pump-up song, I dare you!)
  11. Marble Floors – Vian Izak, Through Juniper Vale (oh, the whimsy)
  12. Demons – Jacob Lee

You can find the full YouTube list here. If you missed my previous playlists and are interested, you can find Mix 1 here and Mix 2 here.

Rambling Review: A Study in Charlotte

If you love Sherlock Holmes, you will love this book. A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro is the first in an amazing, 4-book series. I am 100% obsessed.

This story begins when Jamie Watson, the however-many-greats-grandson of Dr. John Watson, ends up at a boarding school with Charlotte Holmes (the however-many-greats-granddaughter of Sherlock Holmes, keep up). The way Cavallaro has entwined the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (famed biographer in this world) into the plot and explained the generations of Holmeses and Watsons since is captivating. Jamie is such a lovable character, and (his) Holmes is intoxicating in her mysteriousness as well as her prickly vulnerability.

There are some more “adult” themes that (if memory serves) are only slightly touched on in the original Sherlock Holmes series (i.e. drug abuse), so just a brief note of caution, a “trigger warning,” if you will: this story does deal with such things as the trauma after a sexual assault and teen drug use (it also has some swearing, Mom). On the whole, I think the subject matter is very well-managed and real without being coarse or insensitive.

If you have an Amazon Prime account, right now A Study in Charlotte is free on Prime Reading, so you can dip your toes into this series without the commitment of purchasing the book — but I am confident you will end up devouring it and immediately stocking your library shelf with the next two books (book 4 comes out in March 2019). This is honestly such a well-written and enjoyable series — I would go so far as to say it is one of my favorites.