year in review: my 2016 alphabet

You know how I said 2015 was a long year? I think 2016 took that as a challenge because WHAT đŸ‘đŸ» THE đŸ‘đŸ»Â HEY đŸ‘đŸ» EVEN đŸ‘đŸ»Â WAS đŸ‘đŸ» THIS đŸ‘đŸ» YEAR. Too much has happened for this to have just been one calendar year.

And personally, it’s been a good year. My own personal 12 months has been pretty dang awesome, especially compared to 2015. It’s just that my Twitter and Facebook feeds have been spitting raging dumpster fire at me the whole time. Living in that tension has been…interesting.

But my year in review posts are for me to talk about my personal year, so let’s all just enjoy that insulated self-indulgence for a few hundred words, shall we?


You may have noticed, but I didn’t make any official New Year’s Resolutions this year. After getting knocked down pretty badly by 2015, I just wanted 2016 to be free of any specific expectations. I just wanted to be happy, healthy, and headed in a positive direction. (That’s some good Southern Baptist alliteration right there, if I do say so myself.)

So since I decided not to give myself any one particular direction for the year, it makes sense that this blog post wouldn’t organize itself into one coherent thing either. So I decided to wrangle it via the oldest sorting hack in the book: the alphabet.

Jackie’s ABCs of 2016

Arc Stories
As in, I got to be a storyteller for them! Arc Stories is a Birmingham storytelling organization that encourages real people to tell their real stories to real audiences. I first went to one of their events in December 2013, and I’ve wanted to tell a story for them ever since. I was so excited to be chosen for this year’s Christmas event; it was an absolute dream come true for me. My story was actually streamed on the Arc Stories Facebook page, so you can watch it yourself here. Warning: There’s a lot of lactose involved.

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Books
As in, I read a lot of them. But not as many as last year or as many as I planned to read. But that’s all cool because I still read some great stuff. You can see all of what I read this year on my 2016 Bookshelf over on Goodreads. For my favorite books of the year, head on over to my Top 5 Reads of 2016 post.

Children’s Choir
As in, I somehow got put in charge of this year’s Christmas musical?? I’ve been helping out with the kid’s choir since 2013, but with the departure of our children’s minister (we miss you, Pavlicks!), I stepped into the musical director role this fall. And it was…woo, boy, it was a journey. Being around the behind-the-scenes of church and church productions since infancy gave me a bit of a grip on how to pull one of these things off, but the learning curve is real, y’all. But now that we’re on the other side of it, I’m so proud of our kids and volunteers and the musical we were able to present.

Doughnuts
As in, I entered into a committed relationship with Hero Doughnuts this year, and we are very happy together. Hands down the best dough in the ‘Ham. Even my father, the staunchest of Krispy Kreme loyalists, is a believer.

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Engagements
As in, both my brother and my best friend got engaged this year! And, like, a lot of other people I like, too. But I’m a little closer to those two, so they’re the ones that make my personal ABCs.

Full-time
As in, it took 2.5 years, but my job was finally advanced to full-time this summer! So now I’ve got my own insurance and a 403(b) and all that other fun stuff that comes with full-time employment.

Gilmore Girls
As in, we got to go back to Stars Hollow for a few more hours. And it was…weird. There are a lot of feelings involved here, you guys.

Health
As in, mine is better than it’s been in years. And I’m talking all the years, not just 2015 (which, as we’ve previously established, was the wooorrrrssssttttt health year of my life). I started eating more vegetables, stopped eating as much ice cream, and actually focused on cultivating personal responsibility for how my body felt. I look in the mirror now and actually like the body I see. Even if it’s not always where I want it to be, I worked for this.

And as for the MS? My one (!) MRI in April was “very positive,” so I don’t have to go back until this April. I’ve had zero symptoms of anything MS-related. Honestly, I forget Lenny the Lesion even exists most of the time. #blessed

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*Honorary mention for Hamilton which I’ve basically just let run my life since Fall 2015*

Intention

As in, I wanted to use “self-discipline” but the S spot is occupied by a higher authority. Essentially, I started being more conscious of my personal habits and how they affect my life. Specifically, I started making my bed every day, weaning myself off my snooze button habit, washing my makeup brushes regularly…it’s a whole thing now.

Joining small groups
As in, it’s the best thing I did for myself this year. I’ve known for ages that I needed to branch out in making friends, but I finally took that step this fall, and I am so, so grateful I did. The ladies I spent Monday nights with did wonders for my soul, and the crazy people I spent Friday nights/Sunday evenings with did wonders for my extraversion and my laughing muscles. I can’t begin to count the ways I have been blessed through the people I’ve met in these groups.

5 and 10 K races
As in, I ran them. And I’m not dead. In fact, I actually enjoyed myself, and I’m already signed up for my first 5K of 2017. If you had told 2015 Jackie that 2016 Jackie was typing all of this in complete seriousness, her head would have exploded.

Livetweeting
As in, I did a lot of it. #sorrynotsorry

Makeup
As in, it all started with trying to figure out how to work a winged eyeliner look with deep-set eyes, and now my counter is covered in finishing powder and my lipstick collection has its own shelf in my medicine cabinet. It’s a rabbit hole, my friends, a beautiful, colorful rabbit hole that’s sucking up my time and money. I love it.

But seriously, I’ve rarely felt the level of confidence I do when I’m rocking a bold matte lip with a sharp wing. I highly recommend it.

Nature
As in, I didn’t spend as much time in it as I would have preferred. But the times I did find my way out to my favorite trails were some glorious hours. If you’re ever looking for a buddy for an easy/moderate hike, I’m your girl.

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Olympics
As in, it’s an honor just to have been alive to witness the greatness of Michael Phelps. I truly love international sporting events, and, boy howdy, the 2016 festivities did not disappoint. And especially in a year of so much general negativity, it was wonderful to have those two weeks of respite into which we could escape.

Podcasts
As in, I’ve  fully hopped on board this audio train, and my life is better for it. Particular favorites from 2016 include: The Popcast, Shmanners, The West Wing Weekly, Arc Stories, Pop Culture Happy Hour, and Presidential.

Gray sQuirrel
As in, it’s officially my patronus, confirming what I predicted in college. Thanks, J.K. Rowling â˜ș

#Rude
As in, my standard clapback to just about everything in 2016.

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Star Wars
As in, I have willingly given my heart and soul over to this franchise for now and always. Between the residual high from The Force Awakens, the casting of Donald Glover as young Lando in the upcoming Han Solo standalone, and now the avalanche of feelings Rogue One continues to give me, 2016 belonged heavily to Star Wars. The force is with me. I am one with the force.

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Tater Tots
As in, there’s a food truck that specializes in them in Birmingham now, and oh my word, it has enhanced my life so greatly by its sheer existance in the world. Get yo’self to The Tot Spot ASAP.

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Ulta
As in, it’s where all my extra money went. See also: Target, StitchFix, Sephora

Visits
As in, I made a few. To Charlotte to see Shea. To Atlanta on multiple occasions to see Megan and Marshall (and run races). To Dahlonega to see Jay and Lacie graduate. To Greene County and Macon and North Carolina to see family. To Gainesville to see Rachel’s ordination. For happy reasons or sad, it’s always good for the soul to see favorite faces.

Wicked
As in, I FINALLY GOT TO SEE IT LIVE OH MY GOSH! Even without a friend to go with me, I wasn’t going to let myself miss another chance to see this show. So I nabbed a ticket on my own and finallyfinallyfinally got to experience the green-skinned goodness that is Wicked. It was magical, y’all.

EXpectations
As in, I didn’t start out with many in January and instead let myself build goals and steps to those goals naturally as my year progressed. Some were met, some were surpassed, some fell apart, but I think that in all it was the right approach for me in 2016.

Yellow butterflies
As in, I let them (virtually) adorn my head many times this year via my favorite Snapchat filter. Which I also made into my Halloween costume, naturally.

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Zubats
As in, I stopped catching them out of pure spite. We only played this game for a month and yet that was more than enough time for me to hate the darn things.


I can never quite capture everything about a year in my wrap-up post, but this is my best attempt for 2016. It’s honestly been the best personal year I’ve had since college, and I am extremely grateful for everything it has brought and taught me.

But maybe 2017 can be nice for me and for the world in general at the same time? I’m keeping my fingers crossed (which we finally have an emoji for, thank goodness).

Peace out, 2016.

top 5 books of 2016

2016 wasn’t as kind to my bookshelf as 2015. Most of what I read was good, but not great. I read a lot more duds than I usually do. But there are always gems to find, and, whoa, did the ones I uncovered this year shine.

Instead of ranking them in order, I’m going to give each of my top 5 its own title. Because it’s my blog, and I can do what I want.

*Have I done a December wrap-up yet? No. Will it likely be at least two weeks into January before I do. Yeah. The end of the year is hard, friends, so we’re all just going to live with what we get.


Best Can’t-Put-It-Down: The Woman in Cabin 10, by Ruth Ware

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In this tightly wound story, Lo Blacklock, a journalist who writes for a travel magazine, has just been given the assignment of a lifetime: a week on a luxury cruise with only a handful of cabins. At first, Lo’s stay is nothing but pleasant: the cabins are plush, the dinner parties are sparkling, and the guests are elegant. But as the week wears on, frigid winds whip the deck, gray skies fall, and Lo witnesses what she can only describe as a nightmare: a woman being thrown overboard. The problem? All passengers remain accounted for—and so, the ship sails on as if nothing has happened, despite Lo’s desperate attempts to convey that something (or someone) has gone terribly, terribly wrong


Holyyyyyyyyy schnikes, y’all. This book had me from page one and would not let me go. It hits everything I love in a whodunnit: unreliable narrator, lush setting, timeline jumps…it’s got it all. If you’re looking for something to keep you on the treadmill longer, this book is it.


Best Exploitation of Jackie’s Obsession: Hamilton: The Revolution, by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter

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Lin-Manuel Miranda’s groundbreaking musical Hamilton is as revolutionary as its subject, the poor kid from the Caribbean who fought the British, defended the Constitution, and helped to found the United States. Fusing hip-hop, pop, R&B, and the best traditions of theater, this once-in-a-generation show broadens the sound of Broadway, reveals the storytelling power of rap, and claims our country’s origins for a diverse new generation.

HAMILTON: THE REVOLUTION gives readers an unprecedented view of both revolutions, from the only two writers able to provide it. Miranda, along with Jeremy McCarter, a cultural critic and theater artist who was involved in the project from its earliest stages–“since before this was even a show,” according to Miranda–traces its development from an improbable perfor­mance at the White House to its landmark opening night on Broadway six years later. In addition, Miranda has written more than 200 funny, revealing footnotes for his award-winning libretto, the full text of which is published here.

Y’all. Y’all. Y’ALL. This is way more than just a printed copy of the Hamilton libretto. This is a gorgeous piece of storytelling and record-keeping for a show that will fundamentally shape the world of theatre for the next generations. I legitimately cried multiple times reading it, sometimes from laughter, sometimes from heartbreak. It is funny and touching and wickedly sharp. If you love Hamilton or if you’re just trying to figure out what all the hype is about, this is for you.


Best Memoir: Lab Girl, by Hope Jahren

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Lab Girl is a book about work, love, and the mountains that can be moved when those two things come together. It is told through Jahren’s stories: about her childhood in rural Minnesota with an uncompromising mother and a father who encouraged hours of play in his classroom’s labs; about how she found a sanctuary in science, and learned to perform lab work done “with both the heart and the hands”; and about the inevitable disappointments, but also the triumphs and exhilarating discoveries, of scientific work.

Yet at the core of this book is the story of a relationship Jahren forged with a brilliant, wounded man named Bill, who becomes her lab partner and best friend. Their sometimes rogue adventures in science take them from the Midwest across the United States and back again, over the Atlantic to the ever-light skies of the North Pole and to tropical Hawaii, where she and her lab currently make their home.

One of my most favorite parts of life is watching the eyes of my friends light up when they talk about those things they’re most passionate about. Even if I have no idea exactly what they’re talking about, their love and energy makes me want to be passionate about whatever it is right along with them. Reading this book gave me that same feeling. Even if paleobotany isn’t your jam (and let’s be honest, it’s not many people’s jam), you will finish this book feeling encouraged and energized and full of life. Plus you’ll know some cool new stuff about trees.


Best The-Hype-Is-Worth-It: Dark Matter, by Blake Crouch

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“Are you happy with your life?”

Those are the last words Jason Dessen hears before the masked abductor knocks him unconscious.

Before he awakens to find himself strapped to a gurney, surrounded by strangers in hazmat suits.

Before a man Jason’s never met smiles down at him and says, “Welcome back, my friend.”

In this world he’s woken up to, Jason’s life is not the one he knows. His wife is not his wife. His son was never born. And Jason is not an ordinary college physics professor, but a celebrated genius who has achieved something remarkable. Something impossible.

Is it this world or the other that’s the dream? And even if the home he remembers is real, how can Jason possibly make it back to the family he loves? The answers lie in a journey more wondrous and horrifying than anything he could’ve imagined—one that will force him to confront the darkest parts of himself even as he battles a terrifying, seemingly unbeatable foe.

I just can’t even with this book. I yelled. I texted “what the heck” to my roommate on multiple occasions. I almost ripped the pages from turning them too fast to try and figure out what in the world was going on. It takes the alternate timeline standards of science fiction past and adds new dimension. Even if you’re not usually a SciFi person, I would still highly recommend this one.


Best Overall: Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi

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The unforgettable New York Times best seller begins with the story of two half-sisters, separated by forces beyond their control: one sold into slavery, the other married to a British slaver. Written with tremendous sweep and power, Homegoing traces the generations of family who follow, as their destinies lead them through two continents and three hundred years of history, each life indelibly drawn, as the legacy of slavery is fully revealed in light of the present day.

I will recommend this book to every person I meet for the rest of my life. It is vivid and engaging and thought-provoking and so intensely good. I read this six months ago and still find myself thinking about it. I own two copies, so pleasepleaseplease let me lend this to you. I promise you’ll love it, too.


May 2017 bring more gems like these onto my bookshelves.

And may 2017 also bring more bookshelves because I’m out of space (again).

2016 bookshelf update: november

Raise your hand if you can’t seem to complete a blog post on time. *raises hand*

Raise your hand again if your 2016 reading goal is suuuuuppppeeeerrrrr off-track. *raises hand again*


Dark Matter, by Blake Crouch

READ. THIS. BOOK. Y’ALL. OHMYGOSH.

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I won’t be able to summarize this one myself, so here’s the Goodreads blurb:

“Are you happy with your life?” Those are the last words Jason Dessen hears before the masked abductor knocks him unconscious. Before he awakens to find himself strapped to a gurney, surrounded by strangers in hazmat suits. Before a man Jason’s never met smiles down at him and says, “Welcome back, my friend.”

In this world he’s woken up to, Jason’s life is not the one he knows. His wife is not his wife. His son was never born. And Jason is not an ordinary college physics professor but a celebrated genius who has achieved something remarkable–something impossible.

Is it this world or the other that’s the dream? And even if the home he remembers is real, how can Jason possibly make it back to the family he loves? The answers lie in a journey more wondrous and horrifying than anything he could’ve imagined—one that will force him to confront the darkest parts of himself even as he battles a terrifying, seemingly unbeatable foe.

This is honestly one of the best books I’ve read this year. It constantly kept me guessing, gasping, and sending frantic text messages to my roommate (who read it before me) that consistently only of WHATTTTTTTTTTT.

[5/5 stars]


Jonah: A Tale of Mercy, by Jimmy A. Long

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Yep, you read that right, folks. My dad wrote a book!

Jonah is a work of speculative fiction, taking the relatively scant biblical account of Jonah the prophet and weaves among it a more detailed narrative. While the author has a propensity toward excessive hyphen usage (😉 ), it’s a pretty nifty read.

And since I’m not content with just giving Dad some free publicity, I will also direct you to where you can purchase your own copy: Barnes & Noble | Amazon. They make great Christmas gifts, wink wink.


Favorite book this month: Dark Matter

Most likely to re-read: Jonah: A Tale of Mercy

Most likely to recommend: Dark Matter and Jonah: A Tale of Mercy


So it’s not looking like I’ll meet even my lowered reading goal for the year, but whatever. I’ll get over it (I think).

Keep reading, and support your local libraries, y’all.

2016 bookshelf update: october

The end of October and beginning of November were rough, y’all. So, ya know, we’re just not going to talk about how late this post is. Nope. Not at all.


Good as Gone, by Amy Gentry

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The Book of the Month Club picks for October were all too, too interesting. But I was good and restrained myself to only ordering one and putting the other two I was most interested in on my library hold list. Good as Gone was one of those.

This story is a family-based mystery/thriller. 13-year-old Julie is kidnapped from her bedroom one night, witnessed only by her younger sister. Despite the best efforts of Julie’s parents and the police, no trace of her is ever found. Until one day, many years later, the doorbell rings. It’s Julie.

And though the family is thrilled to have her home, Anna (the mother) begins to have doubts. Is this really Julie? And if she’s been alive all this time, why has it taken her so long to come home?

The book alternates between Anna’s search for the truth in the present day and the backwards chronological story of Julie/”Julie’s” past. This style of storytelling is one of my favorites, and it helped me speed through the book in an afternoon.

The central turning point of the plot (that I am obviously not going to reveal) makes me curious about the author’s personal experiences with the topic, but it’s not enough to distract. It’s not a perfect book by any means, but it was quite enjoyable and quick-paced.

[3.5/5 stars]


The Mothers, by Brit Bennett 

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[Book of the Month Club pick]

I chose this one as my official BOTM pick because the cover is prettiest. In my world, that’s the most valid of selection criteria.

This story begins with high school senior Nadia Turner and her brief love affair with Luke Sheppard, a 21-year-old former football star and the pastor’s son. But an unexpected pregnancy and the decisions that follow throw both of their futures into hurt confusion.

The novel is partially narrated by a Greek chorus made up of the church mothers. These women tut tut and comment on the lives of Nadia, Luke, and Nadia’s best friend Audrey as they each navigate the years that continue to march on and the situations that arise.

I found this to be a really unique and intriguing story, especially from a debut author. There were parts that could have been stronger, characters that could have benefitted from some more texture and depth, but I’d still definitely recommend it.

[4.25/5 stars]


The Wangs vs. the World, by Jade Chang

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I wasn’t exactly sure how much I would like this one going in, but it turned out to be really unique and fascinating.

The story follow the Taiwanese-American Wang family as they travel across the country toward upstate New York. Charles Wang, the patriarch and founder of a cosmetics empire, finds himself bankrupt after a bad business deal and the Great Recession collide in the worst of ways. So they pack up the old powder blue Mercedes and hit the road toward the countryside home of the oldest Wang daughter, Saina. As they travel, we learn more about each of the members of the family and how they each reached the point where they are. And even once they reach their destination, there’s more to discover about Charles’ motivations and the family history.

While I wish the ending had been resolved somewhat differently, this was definitely a book I appreciated reading. There was a specificity to how each member of the family was drawn and a cultural grounding that planted the novel in reality while allowing for exaggeration and some flights of outlandishness. Really a solid, solid read.

[4.25/5 stars]


Favorite book this month: The Wangs vs. the World

Most likely to re-read: The Mothers

Most likely to recommend: The Mothers, The Wangs vs. the World


So that’s October’s round-up. November’s not going so hot right now, so who knows if I’ll even have something to report in a few weeks. *facepalm*

Keep reading, and support your local libraries, y’all.

2016 bookshelf update: september

Honesty time: I lowered my reading goal from 60 to 50 for the year. Over-ambition wasn’t working for me this year.


A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles

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[Book of the Month Club pick]

So this was another slow reading month numbers-wise, and this book is the reason why. It’s a highly atmospheric novel, set in Moscow and spanning a large portion of the 20th century.

The Bolsheviks didn’t execute Count Alexander Rostov in the summer of 1922. Instead, they sentenced him to a life confined to Hotel Metropol. If he ever took a step outside, he would be shot. He is removed from his luxurious suite and installed in a tiny attic room, hardly big enough to do his morning stretches.

As the years pass and the country undergoes dramatic change, Count Rostov attempts to establish a life within the hotel walls. A cast of characters cycles through the lobby, including an actress, a chef, and an inquisitive young girl, all influencing Rostov’s life as they come and go.

This isn’t a book you devour. There’s too many years involved for that, too much change. Sometimes the pacing fits the story, other times it drags. Overall, a satisfactory read, if a little prolonged.

[4/5 stars]


Behold the Dreamers, by Imbolo Mbue

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[Book of the Month Club pick]

A compulsively readable debut novel about marriage, immigration, class, race, and the trapdoors in the American Dream—the unforgettable story of a young Cameroonian couple making a new life in New York just as the Great Recession upends the economy.

That blurb hooked me before I had finished reading it, and the book hooked me almost as quickly.

Jende and Neni Jonga and their son have moved to America for a better life. After years of bit jobs, Jende finds his way into a cushy driver position for Lehman Brothers executive Clark Edwards and his family. His hours are normal, and there is enough money to keep Neni in college so she can eventually become a pharmacist.

As the lives of the Jongas and the Edwardses become more intricately entwined, the world is about to learn that Lehman Brothers and other companies have led the American economy to the brink. The effects of this upheaval ripples through both families, reaching into cracks they didn’t even know existed (or refused to acknowledge).

Part of me is surprised that this is the first book I’ve read set among the Great Recession, part of me isn’t. All of me is happy I chose this as a BOTMC pick. It was fascinating and human and I recommend it.

[4.25/5 stars]


Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, by J.K. Rowling

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Fun fact: I own this book in Spanish. I didn’t read it in that version, but that’s beside the point.

Second fun fact: I have no idea how many times I’ve read this book, but it’s a lot.

Am I the only one who really loves CoS? Like, as a book and not just as part of the Harry Potter series? It’s a great narrative that also sets up the massive, magical world we’re all still desperate to occupy a decade later. I will defend this book until I die (and the movie, too, y’all, don’t start with me).

[5/5 stars, obviously]


Favorite book this month: Behold the Dreamers and Chamber of Secrets

Most likely to re-read: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Most likely to recommend: Behold the Dreamers and Chamber of Secrets


Hoping for a bit more speed in my October reading. Also hoping for actual fall weather. I got boots and sweaters to wear, y’all.

Keep reading and support your local libraries!

2016 bookshelf update: august

WHAT A MONTH, Y’ALL. Seven books for the first time in a long time, and it feels so good.


Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God, by Francis Chan

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I’m kind of mad at myself for not writing this review right after reading it because a lot of the fine details are escaping me now. But I did genuinely enjoy reading this, especially since it’s been sitting on my shelf for nearly three years now (oops). I recommend keeping a pencil with your copy as you read because it lends itself to underlining and earmarking quite well.

There was something about some of the phrasings and the tone that was…off? At least in my mind. Nothing was heinously sacrilegious, obviously, but there were some bits that didn’t totally hit with me.

[4.25/5 stars]


Missing, Presumed, by Susie Steiner

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Do I really have to talk about this? Ughhhhh.

Normally I am all. over. a missing person-based thriller, and so I figured this book and I would get along.

No.

So here’s the run-down: Post-grad Edith Hind is missing. Her well-to-do family is naturally distraught, and the police are struggling to find any solid leads. Is it the boyfriend? The best friend? The many-times-a-convict living nearby? The investigation is turning up very little, and the longer a missing person’s case goes on, the bleaker the outlook becomes. Detective Sergeant Manon Bradshaw and her partner can’t make heads nor tails of it.

The problem with this book is that there are too many pieces being played with, and the ones that ultimately attempt some form of pay-off are the ones I wasn’t begging for more of. High-level events happen on the way to the resolution of the case that strung me along just enough, yet the actual answer was too simple to appease the set-up. I think what Steiner wanted was for this to be more of a character piece for DS Bradshaw, but that’s not what I was looking for here (also I didn’t like her all that much).

Compounding my disinterest in this novel was the fact that it left me with a really specific and intense loneliness while I was reading it. Like, I don’t know how really to describe it, only that I was sitting in my favorite coffee shop reading this book and all of a sudden I got very sad in a very specific, lonely way. So all in all, a big thumbs down from me, with only a slight uptick for some bits of solid writing.

[2/5 stars]


The Woman in Cabin 10, by Ruth Ware

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THIS BOOK. THIS BOOK, Y’ALL. After a long string of mostly sub-par books, this was everything I needed. Locked room murder mystery. Possibly untrustworthy narrator. Things that are not what they appear. And it all takes place on an uber-luxury cruise to see the Northern Lights. YES YES YES YES YES.

I flew through this book in just under 48 hours (it’s a relatively short book, but still). I absolutely could not put it down. I went double my usual walking distance on the treadmill because I didn’t want to stop reading. It is absolutely gripping.

The characters aren’t as fully textured as I usually like them to be, but I think more broadly drawn characters are suitable for whodunnits. The rich, suave host. The mystery girl. The snobbish woman who’s prone to backstabbing. The handsome gentleman with a possible secret. Not having to reckon with thickly-drawn characters can be more liberating in a book like this, so I can easily look past a lack of nuanced characterization here.

This was my August Book of the Month Club pick, and I could not be happier with my choice. BOTM is definitely one of the best decisions I’ve made in quite some time.

[5/5 stars]


Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne

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I wrote about this script/book earlier in the month when it was freshly read, and I still hold to everything I said in that post. If you’re interested in debating/dissecting it, I’m more than happy to share in that with you.

[4/5 stars]


The Assistants, by Camille Perri

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Since I had finished Cabin 10 and Cursed Child so quickly, I plucked this sub-300 page Book Fairy gift off my shelf to keep the speed read train steaming along.

In this novel, thirty-year-old Tina Fontana is the assistant to multi-billionare media mogul Robert Barlow. She’s excellent at her job, essentially invaluable, but she’s disgruntled watching her boss treat money like it’s a playtoy when she’s barely making enough to cover rent in NYC.

Due to a technical error, Tina is offered the chance to cash a personal reimbursement that she’s already been refunded. It’s enough to pay off all her student loans, and it’s such a small amount for Robert, so…she takes the chance and cashes the check.

It’s a very strange feeling, reading this book. I’m a chronic underdog supporter, but how do you support embezzlement, even when it’s done Robin Hood style? The author infused much more texture into her characters than I expected for this style of novel, especially in Robert Barlow’s case, which made the experience of reading this all the more confusing. The end does wrap up too simply for plausibility, in my opinion, but I found it to be a great easy-breezy summer read.

[3.5/5 stars]


Still Life with Bread Crumbs, by Anna Quindlin

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This was on a lot of 2014 best book lists, and so I was happy to pluck myself a copy from the library sale earlier this year. I really didn’t know much of what I was getting into, even after reading the cover blurb, but what I found in the pages was a unique, simple, layered, and satisfying portrait of a formerly-famous photographer and what living is like in the years after “life” has begun to unravel.

Rebecca Winter has moved to secluded cabin in a rural New York town for two reasons. One is that she needs inspiration. The other is that NYC is expensive, and she’s barely bringing in any new money. The first reason is mostly a cover-up for the second. How do you support your aging and ailing parents, yourself, and occasionally your adult son when your photography work isn’t making enough money anymore?

While tucked away, Rebecca discovers a friendship, a romance, a dog, and a reinvented sense of self. The other characters play off each other realistically enough, though with a level of “small town kook” to some of them that I mostly found endearing. There were elements of mystery laced through, as well, to satisfactory pay-off. I closed the book with a feeling of calm and peace, not just because of the story itself, but because of the way it was told.

[4.25/5 stars]


The Bridges of Madison County, by Robert James Waller

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I’ve discovered that the internet has very strong feelings about this book. It’s one of the most polarizing books I’ve seen reviewed, if not the single most polarizing. So logically, I fell somewhere in the middle.

Essentially, the story follows as so: A handsome, man of the road photographer rolls into sleepy Madison County, Iowa. He stops to ask for directions from a beautiful farmer’s wife, and immediately they both sense a connection. Over the few days he’s in town (the woman’s family is out of town for the week, of course), they ignite a passionate affair that ends with *SPOILER ALERT* him hitting the road again and her staying in Madison County because she can’t and won’t give up her family.

The main thing I enjoyed about this book was that the writing was really lovely. There are some beautiful pieces of prose in here, and I think that’s a big reason it’s lasted so long in the American literary consciousness. It reads fast, it’s paced well, and it’s definitely engaging.

What I didn’t enjoy was, you know, a “love” story rooted in adultery. A great many books that I read feature plot lines that I take moral issue with, and in most I can ignore them to a decent extent depending on the rest of the book. But this is a very short book with only one plot line, so it’s hard to skim over it.

I found myself comparing this reading experience to reading The Notebook. Both feature women in passion/loveless matches with otherwise-satisfactory men, who fall into affairs with a rugged man of nature. The book is written to convince you that the man who sparks passion is the right choice for our lead female. And in The Notebook, I’m happy to hop on board because no one is married. In Bridges, I’m looking at where Waller is trying to lead and balking because HELLO, ADULTERY??

So anyway. There’s more I could go into, but I’ll leave it here.

[Writing: 4/5 stars | Plot: 1/5 stars | Overall: 2.5/5 stars]


Favorite book this month: The Woman in Cabin 10

Most likely to re-read: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and Crazy Love

Most likely to recommend: The Woman in Cabin 10 and Still Life with Bread Crumbs


August does always seem to be good to me in the world of reading. It’s nice to be rolling through books quickly again. As always, I’m happy to swap recs and dissect books any day, any time.

Keep reading and support your local libraries, y’all.

#keepthesecrets: my spoiler-free thoughts on cursed child

Did I put on my Hufflepuff socks for the sole purpose of writing this post? Yes. Yes, I did. Badger pride, y’all.

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I have never in my life been more nervous to read a book.

With all the mixed reviews (and my own cousin’s vehement vitriol), my copy of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child sat on my kitchen table for nearly two weeks before I finally cracked the cover. And I…enjoyed it. Quite a bit, actually.

Note: J.K. Rowling asked us to #keepthesecrets, so my plan is to be as unspoilery as possible in this post. However, your definition of a spoiler may be different (i.e. stricter) than mine. So if you’re trying to avoid even the slightest hints of spoilers, I suggest you stop reading now.

The first thing about this book is that it’s not a book. It’s a script. That means that we are not getting the full texture of the story on the page. We can’t. That’s not the intention of a script. So while some characterization read flat in places, it allowed me the freedom to imagine how it is taking place on stage, the same way the actors playing these roles in London got to, the same way the actors who eventually play these roles on Broadway will get to, the same way any actors get to who perform this piece in the future. That the beauty of a script. And while it takes a bit of getting used to, I truly liked it.

And actually, for a script, it’s still pretty detailed in regards to the atmosphere. There were stage directions and descriptions of scenery that made my breath catch. While I won’t say I felt as connected to the wizarding world as I did reading the novels, if that experience was a 10m Olympic platform dive, then reading Cursed Child was a diving board cannonball at your neighborhood pool. One definitively has more oomph, but they both get you fully into the appropriate setting.

And as for the plot itself?

It was fun. It was fun to read, fun to react to, fun to analyze. The new characters, especially Scorpius Malfoy, are interesting and engaging to read (Scorpius’ inclusion is not a spoiler, as he has been heavily featured in the theatre promos). I also really appreciated exploring the evolution of relationships previously established in the novels. It wasn’t perfect, but it was perfectly enjoyable.

Yeah, it’s a bit trope-y, a bit fan fiction-esque. I wrote some cheesy HP fan fic myself back in the day (shout out to 2007-09), and between the six unfinished pieces still kicking around on my laptop (no, you can’t read them), I hit three solid plot pieces of this story.

But to be honest, the sheer volume of HP fic that has been written, plus the hours and hours that so many fans have spent reading and analyzing that fic, means that nothing Rowling published about life beyond Deathly Hallows was going to read as truly original. We precluded that end many years ago.

This does bring up the argument “Well, should this have been published at all if it was just going to come off as derivative? Why not just…not?” I understand this line of thought, but I also know that, as a creator, it’s hard to keep something you’re intensely excited about to yourself. I honestly don’t think that Rowling did this just as a money grab. I truly believe that this story was something that, having formed in her mind, she had to share. I may be wrong, but that’s my feelings on it.

There’s a reason Rowling presented this story as a stage play. It’s not quite narratively rich enough for a novel, but it’s got a beautiful intimacy that translates perfectly on stage, aided by some stupendous special effects. The story is allowed to thrive in its smaller nature, to flit between character viewpoints with an ease not given as freely to novels.

Part of me wishes the script weren’t published, that we could all experience the story on stage as Rowling intended. But I’m also truly grateful that there is recognition of the unfortunate inaccessibility of live theatre and that the script was published to help ease that.

I read the script in under 24 hours. I experienced moments of sadness, moments of shock, moments of wonder. I laughed, I gasped, and I shed a tear or two. I was genuinely hooked into the story (seriously, I almost fell off the treadmill while reading).

So, no, this script is likely not going to live on as high a pedestal as the seven novels. There are some plot holes that still confuse me. But it has merit and weight of its own to contribute, and it allowed me to take one more deep, Rowling-given dive into a world I love so dearly.

To be honest, that alone is worth it for me.