Your Guide to Summer Reading

Your Guide to Summer Reading

Hi friends! Even though we’re well into summer, I wanted to do another book post! I’m changing up my seasonal book recommendations and instead sharing a guide to summer reading, rather than a list of titles. Summer reading is a totally different animal to rest-of-the-year reading. Instead, here’s my approach to what I reach for during the summer:

1. Mass-market paperbacks of New York Times Bestsellers (new…or decades old). Summer isn’t a dark, rainy, ponderous time of year for sitting sedentary in your armchair and contemplating philosophy (I mean, power to you if that’s your thing, but I save that for the winter months). Summer is the best season for tucking a paperback of something light and easily digestible into your purse while you head to the beach or the park; nothing that requires a ton of emotional energy, but good page-turners, nonetheless. Use summer to check out the bestsellers you’ve avoided while you were re-reading classic literature the whole year…(ahem…). My current NYT bestselling paperback is At Home in Mitford by Jan Karon, a delightfully easy, summer read.

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2. Memoirs. Summer is a great time of year to read about something entirely new and different, and what could be more different than the first-person perspective of another person’s life? One caveat for me is that they not be too depressing– I love feeling uplifted this time of year (I can read depressing things in fall or during Lent). Memoirs or other first-person experience stories like Mennonite in A Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen or Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes can be hilarious or evocative page-turners. I recently re-read A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson, which recounts his experience walking the Appalachian Trail, a perfect summer theme!

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3. Outside-Your-Comfort-Zone genres and subjects. This really gets at the heart of what I reserve summer reading time for– all the things I just don’t feel like reading the rest of the year. I spend SO much time doing re-reads of books and genres that bring me comfort and familiarity during fall, winter and spring that if I’m ever going to try something new it’s usually going to be during summer. Never tried fantasy? Maybe sci-fi isn’t your thing? For some reason there’s less guilt if you don’t end up finishing a book you start when your days are so full of other outdoorsy things, so testing a new genre feels like less of a commitment. This summer I’ve picked up books about other religions I don’t know much about, and I’m dabbling in contemporary fiction which is unusual for me.

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4. Non-fiction: history. I spend a TON of time reading historical fiction but again, it’s a good time of year to learn things (I guess that’s true of every season!). History is kind of like time-travel, and as summer is the season for travel and adventure, it’s appropriate to be swept away to other times and places. Ron Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton has been flying off shelves for the last few years, and is a good candidate for a summer read. Some of my favorites are Marie Antoinette: The Journey by Antonia Fraiser, and One Summer: America, 1927 by Bill Bryson.

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5. Non-fiction: other stuff. In the spirit of adventure, I’ve picked up a bunch of educational books on all kinds of topics, and though they aren’t the kind of books you read cover-to-cover, they’re the kind you can learn a ton from just by flipping through. Books on raising toddlers, nutrition, home decorating, dieting…not precisely self-help, but books that definitely help when you want to learn more about a specific topic.

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So, there you have it! Happy summer reading, everyone!

What’s In My Cup?

What’s In My Cup?

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I’m sitting in my armchair. It’s early Sunday morning, the sky is unsure of whether to be overcast or to yield to sunshine, an ancient grey kitty snoozes on the sofa, and the ticking of the clock is the only sound disturbing a peaceful silence.

It has been a while since I’ve written anything upbeat, mostly because the death of Anthony Bourdain really hit me like a ton of bricks, and I’ve been feeling quite fragile about it. My tribute to him (while written in one sitting the day-of) took a lot out of me emotionally and it just hasn’t felt right to return to mindless chatter. I wanted to sit in silence for a bit, to mourn him.

But early grey mornings demand spiced tea, and I knew I had to share mine with you– today a loose-leaf masala chai by Mighty Leaf (another tin we got for free when Husband worked at Peet’s). I’m sweetening it with sugar and coconut creamer, but going easy on them because yesterday I officially reached my half-way mark for weight loss! Yay! That’s a journey that has been transformative (literally) and I’m looking forward to writing more about it in the coming months.

Husband comes back today from a four-day camping trip in the high Sierras with his best friend. We haven’t spoken in three days because they’re beyond service range. Usually I’m a big worrier in times like these, but this time around I focused on deep cleaning our apartment and lots of self-care, and I have to say it has been a lovely, quiet weekend with Puffy. I adore these kinds of weekends. I’m so, so grateful to have them. They give me my sanity back after the worries and stressors of the week. Not specifically Husband being away. Just weekends with no obligations except to myself– to tidy, to cook, to read, to putter, as dear Mama-In-Law says. All souls need puttering!

This morning I picked up Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime memoir, and only three pages in I’m already enjoying it very much! As it’s almost true summer, I’m attempting to read more non-fiction, and less re-reads of all types. This seems like a great one!

Hoping you have a blessed Sunday. What’s in your cup this morning?

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Pools, Pies and Other Happy Things

Pools, Pies and Other Happy Things

Hi guys! Hope you had a lovely weekend. It sure did feel summery for the first time in my neck of the woods. It was hot enough to take a dip in the pool for the first time, but I contented myself with reading by the pool yesterday evening instead, lounging luxuriously in a chaise, a bag of new library books at my side.

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I want to share what I’ve been up to lately, which isn’t terribly much, but even so makes me feel like life is moving a light-speed these days! It’s nuts. I remember the heavy, dragging, almost hopeless feeling of slogging through the winter months (reflected in many of my January, February and March posts), feeling like they would simply NEVER end. Now, the days are flying by and I’m trying to keep up with it all!

The main item on our plates at the moment is health and weight (I know, SNORE). I have good news on this score, finally! I know you have patiently read through many posts of mine where I complain about food, cooking, wanting to get fit and lose weight, and all kinds of thoughts on that topic. As it turns out, I’ve finally developed a food routine that works for me, and I’ve lost nine pounds in the last five weeks, just from altering my eating habits. Husband and I are both adding in regular exercise starting this week (expensive gym membership is cancelled and use of the free gym in our complex is being embraced!). This is a fun and gratifying journey, and I hope to continue until I hit my goal. I’ll share more about what I’ve been doing food-wise in a future post. 🙂

As you know, I have a weakness for things from the 1970s. I also have a weakness for embroidery, which I used to do often for fun while watching T.V. with Grandma, or listening to an audiobook. I’ve been wanting to start embroidering again, and happened to stumble upon the greatest find ever while browsing e-Bay last week: Jiffy Stitchery Crewel Embroidery Kits from the 1970s, unopened, listed by the hundreds online for delighted embroiderers/mid-century fanatics like me to purchase!

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Some designs are more complicated than others, some are PAINFULLY iconic of the ’70s vibe (brown and orange owls, anyone?) and most are just adorable. Because they’re very small designs (they all end up fitting into a 5”x7” frame when completed), they can be done in an evening or two. I ordered myself one for around $8 and completed it over two evenings:

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Oh! It makes me so happy! I can’t justify buying up a whole bunch of these at once, but as they’re inexpensive, I’m definitely going to be getting more here and there to do in the evenings. It’s so nice to have a fun craft to do while watching a movie or listening to music. It makes you feel like you’re accomplishing something while relaxing at the same time!

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After all those months of saying I was going to make a pie, I FINALLY did! I made the strawberry balsamic pie from the Four and Twenty Blackbirds cookbook. Husband generously said it was the best pie he’s ever eaten. As all I did was copy a recipe, I can’t take credit for that but it WAS unbelievably scrumptious and even amid this weight loss journey, I was happy to make room in my daily calories for a few pieces.

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Saturday I made homemade Thai iced tea with coconut milk, and visited two different libraries for all kinds of wonderful books and DVDs. While my stack of books is too huge to share in its entirety, these are two books I’m really looking forward to. I began The First Muslim this weekend and am finding it fascinating. I picked it up because I realized that I know almost nothing about Muhammad or the history of Islam, so I think it’ll make me a more educated person. So far, it’s beautifully written. I haven’t started The Year Without A Purchase yet, but it looks so promising!

The next four weekends are filled with get-togethers, camping trips (for Husband), friends, and summery activities of all sorts and I’m reveling in it. I feel more invigorated and motivated than I have in a long time, and so thankful for that. Husband and I have many other things going on behind-the-scenes that are strengthening our relationship, and it feels good to be in the midst of what feels like a renewal, of sorts.

What do you have going on these days? What are some things currently bringing you joy? Take care, all! ❤

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A Few of My Favorite Things: May Edition!

A Few of My Favorite Things: May Edition!

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Hey world! Here are a few of my favorite things right now:

1. My oldest friend M’s Harry Potter-themed bedroom:

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Yep, that case is way bigger than the picture shows, and it is 100% chockablock full of Harry Potter swag. This is the bedroom of dear friend M who is having her first baby in September. I couldn’t believe this room when I walked in– every detail is Potter-themed. I couldn’t photograph all of it, but a few highlights:

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A mirror of Erised mirror!!

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The wands!! My jaw actually dropped when I first walked in and saw all of the collectible HP stuff. It’s so, so neat.

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Also, she has an adorable kitty who I had to share.

2. Packages from foreign lands!

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My dear French friend G sent me another care-package. Oh my gosh. I documented last year’s haul for you guys, but this one is (if possible) even more awesome. She sent TONS of amazing-scented body products (shower gels, hair oil, perfume!!), pastries, cookies, tea…I’m spoiled. Extremely spoiled. Check out the beautiful perfume!

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A nod to both France and my beloved England. ❤ Husband and I ate TONS of treats the day before yesterday when this arrived, and will continue to do so happily until we run out. Speaking of eating too much…

4. Getting tea at a real tea shop!

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For my birthday I decided I wanted to try a little tea shop in our neck of the woods and Husband was cheerfully game, so we made reservations for the closest Saturday…which turned out to be the day of the royal wedding! That made it even more fun! This place was ADORABLE!

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That’s a view of the table behind us. The tea was delicious, the food was generous and scrumptious, and we joked about making a permanent standing reservation for every Saturday morning. It was such a treat!

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Though you can’t tell from the picture, the scones were warm, and the butteriest, flakiest, most amazing scones I’ve ever tasted in either America or England. We took some leftovers home and I finished them on the couch, re-watching the wedding of the year. It was heaven!

4. Books outside of my usual genres:

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I’m really trying to expand my mind, folks. I have a hard time not exclusively re-reading books I’ve already read 1,000 times. If it weren’t for fear of judgment by my Goodreads friends, I probably wouldn’t read anything new ever again. But even I know that’s silly. So I’ve started two books Husband grabbed at the gigantic book sale last September that have really piqued my interest– ‘The Crisis of Zionism,” by Peter Beinart and “Under the Banner of Heaven,” by Jon Krakauer. So far they’re both very easy page-turners. We’ll see if I actually finish them both, but I’m giving them a try!

And that’s that! A little snippet of what I’m loving today. What do you love these days?

 

Hello April!

Hello April!

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April, beautiful April! A month of true springtime. April showers might bring May flowers, but April really has its own fair share of flowers. The trees in my apartment complex are blossoming their hearts out, filling the air with their glorious fragrance.

Can you believe it has been four months since the beginning of the year? Yikes! Time FLEW! And I hope it keeps flying because we are officially four more months away from our delightful vacation! But I digress…

Lent ended on Holy Thursday, and now that it’s over I can reflect that it wasn’t my most spiritually challenging nor spiritually insightful Lenten season. For reasons expressed in my “One Year Later” post, I struggled a lot with feeling…anything…spiritually. But towards the end, a beautiful book of philosophy came into my life which moved me a lot…and it again reminded me that I am in the middle of the storm, not end. A comforting thought.

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What’s on for April:

April 1st—Easter Sunday!!

April 2nd—Husband’s birthday!

April 8th—Divine Mercy Sunday

April 9th—Feast of the Annunciation

April 13th—National Scrabble Day (I just adore Scrabble)

April 14th-15th—San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival

April 22nd—National Jelly Bean Day

You know, there isn’t a whole lot going on in April, and that is A-Ok with me. We have enough going on with Husband’s school schedule and my various commitments here and there.

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Some things I’d like to do in April:

–Bake a pie! Any kind of spring pie, but perhaps strawberry as they are in season?

–Finish at least two books, ideally three! Last month was a very slow reading month for me.

–Develop a Bay Area Bucket List of things to do before Husband and I move away at the end of the year

–Go see one movie in the movie theatre. I never do this. I love doing this. I must do this.

What do you have planned for April? Take care, all!

 

Best Spring Reads

Best Spring Reads

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Oh, how I love book list posts. As springtime is upon us, it’s time for my seasonal book recommendation post. Spring isn’t quite as evocative as autumn or winter, but there are plenty of chilly and rainy days in spring that necessitate a good book and cup of tea, and also sunny days that necessitate a book in hand while having a picnic or a solo bask in the sun. If you find yourself in any of those, or other springtime scenarios, you might want one of the following books on hand:

Cranford, Elizabeth Gaskell

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This little book, first published in 1853, is a delightful series of vignettes about the (mostly female) inhabitants of the little village of Cranford, located (naturally) in the English countryside. It is sweet, charming, wholesome and engaging. It was also made into a BBC One miniseries that is a who’s-who of great British actors– Jim Carter, Judi Dench, and Michael Gambon among many others make their appearances. I highly recommend this little book for an uplifting spring read.

 

Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen

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Oh, my darling Sense! This is my favorite Austen, and the film with Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet and Alan Rickman is my favorite book-to-movie adaptation of all time. This is a juicy love story, without being sordid (is Austen ever sordid?). It’s a pastoral portrait of women’s lot in Austen’s day, without being superficial. It’s cozy, but complicated. There’s sadness, fear, and regret in large measure, but happiness, playfulness, and romance are even more abundant. It’s beautiful. It’s meaningful. It’s wonderful.

 

Anne of Green Gables, Lucy Maude Montgomery

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My darling Anne with an E! Another all-time favorite, this charming book teaches us what real family, real friendship, and real love look like. It also teaches us so many things about being headstrong, doing things we regret, cultivating personal character…so many important, often neglected life-lessons taught by beloved teachers in highly realistic and relatable ways. Who doesn’t want to spend a spring on Prince Edward Island? It’s available to listen to for free as an audiobook on Librivox, for those of you who might prefer to give it a try that way.

 

The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett

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Naturally, a story about a garden is perfect springtime reading. I read this classic for the first time last year and loved every second of it. I was a big fan of the 1987 film version with Derek Jacobi, so I knew the story, but the original book was every bit as delightful, mysterious, spooky, and beautiful. A lovely and worthwhile tale, it’s also available to listen to for free on Librivox. A wonderful, floral adventure!

 

The Awakening of Miss Prim, Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera

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I adored this book! It’s about a mysterious man with a mysterious pack of children who live in a mysterious manor house in a mysterious little town that I desperately want to live in. The little town proves to be quite a Twilight Zone…but not in the way you’d think. A charming and funny little book that thrusts the insanity of life in the modern world in our faces, constantly causing us to question what we really believe about daily life as we know it in the societies we have formed. Whimsical and thought-provoking without once being heavy. I highly recommend it.

 

All Creatures Great and Small, James Herriot

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What’s not to love about these true stories from an English country veterinarian? No one writes with such simple, understated wit as James Herriot about such a beautiful topic– new life, animal friendships and life in the English countryside. Are we seeing a pattern here? Be that as it may, stories about lambing are best read in spring!

 

The Complete Tales of Beatrix Potter, Beatrix Potter

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And speaking of lambing, and little furry creatures, no one does them with such charm as our beloved Beatrix. I was given her complete tales for Christmas two years ago and I read it from cover to cover, delighting in the little drawings, the sweet little stories that I knew and loved. Not just for children by any means, re-read these classic tales for yourself and remember why you enjoyed them as a child…or perhaps discover them for the first time if they are new to you. Beatrix Potter’s art is timeless, and her little characters endlessly heartwarming (and occasionally maddening!).

That’s my list! What are your favorite books to read in spring? What are you currently reading, and what do you want to read? Take care!

Current Reads

Current Reads

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It has been an absurdly long time since I devoted any blog real estate to the subject of books, so without further delay, here are my current and recent reads:

 

“A Betsy-Tacy Treasury,” Maude Hart Lovelace

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This adorable collection of the first three Besty, Tacy and Tib books has my heart. I received it as a gift from Brother-In-Law for Christmas and it was so charming, wholesome and heartwarming that I finished it just after New Year’s Day. The day-to-day adventures of three little girls growing up at the turn of the 20th century in small-town Minnesota are decidedly set before my Grandma’s time—she wasn’t born until 1922. However, there was something so familiar and wholesome about the vignettes of the little girls playing in front of their houses, or going up big nearby hills, and thinking up funny little games that it reminded me strikingly of the reminiscences Grandma shared with me about being a little girl herself. This book was a comfort, and allowed me to feel a connection to a simpler, more wholesome time and place. I’ve thought about it often in the last few weeks, and will probably read it again.

“Mansfield Park,” Jane Austen

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I just finished this Austen the day before yesterday, and shockingly, I couldn’t stand it. For the record, I am a big Austen fan! I adored Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice, and really liked the satire of Northanger Abbey. Mansfield Park, however, was plodding, slow, and boring. The protagonist does almost nothing. Every event of consequence in this story happens around her, rather than to or with her. It took her forty-eight chapters to arrive at the only conceivable ending, expected from around chapter two. I honestly can’t recommend this seemingly beloved classic. As Wuthering Heights won my most disliked classic of 2017, so far Mansfield Park seems the front-runner for 2018. It is only January, though. Maybe I’ll find something I like less.

“The Age of Innocence,” Edith Wharton

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Published in 1920, this novel won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1921 and is set in upper-class New York society during the gilded 1870s. I’m listening to it as an audiobook during the in-between moments of my day—on my commute, on walks home from the train station, etc. I’m about ten chapters in and I am struck by how similar it feels to Anna Karenina—a leading lady with a reputation that precedes her, her seemingly guileless flirtation with a married man, and many more details besides. In some ways it reads like a more relaxed Austen, as though an Austen novel and a W. Somerset Maugham novel had a baby this was the result. I think it might be because while the language is less formal than Austen, the high-society gossip is reminiscent of a much earlier era of storytelling. So far, I’m enjoying it. If you follow me on GoodReads, you can see what I think of it when I’m done!

“Casting Lots: Creating a Family in a Beautiful, Broken World,” Rabbi Susan Silverman

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This book was given to me for Christmas by dear friend H! Rabbi Susan Silverman is the sister of comedienne Sarah Silverman, and this book is a memoir, of sorts, of her life and the creation of her family through both birth and adoption. I’m just beginning this book, but it’s up my alley in so many ways, and I’m so grateful that H chose it for me!

“Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” J.K. Rowlinggoblet

For the majority of the last decade, I kept the Harry Potter audiobooks read by Jim Dale on a constant, unceasing repeat at all hours of the day and night. It was the background to car rides, commutes, quiet times while falling asleep, my companion in laundry folding, exercising, or dish washing. I know the books so well through Jim Dale’s voice that I can recite many long passages with his precise inflection and intonation…they were the soundtrack to my waking hours for years. A few years ago, I stopped listening to Harry Potter. I stopped reading it entirely in any form, actually. Part of this was due to a deep, abiding disenchantment with what I call the “post-Potter” world, which has given us such deplorables as “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” the wholly unnecessary “Fantastic Beasts” franchise, and the unfortunate author’s frequent tone-deaf tweets that leave me with a sour taste in my mouth. I could write my own book on the arc of Harry Potter fan culture (I actually studied it formally my last semester of college), but suffice it to say as much as I adore Harry Potter, I put the books on the shelf for a years-long break, and can’t say I’ve missed them too much (the movies have sustained me). HOWEVER…I recently found myself in need of a delightful story to animate a car ride and found myself turning to Jim Dale’s many-times-over Emmy-winning voice. Book Four is one of my least-read in the series, and it was really nice to revisit. I’ve begun Book Five now that I’ve finished Four, and have to say it’s like having a beloved grandpa read a dog-eared fairytale. Turns out, I needed more Harry in my life.

“Turtles all the Way Down,” John Green

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I’m reaching back into December for this one, as I finished it before New Year’s Day, but I have to include it. “Turtles” is the most recent novel from my beloved author, podcaster, YouTuber, and AFC Wimbledon fan John Green, half of the Green Brothers’ YouTube empire whose creations include Crash Course, SciShow, The Brain Scoop, How to Adult and many others, and founder of many wonderful charitable organizations and drives like the annual Project for Awesome. But aside from all that, he’s the author of “Looking for Alaska,” “The Fault in Our Stars,” and several other novels. I really love him as a person. He’s insightful, interesting, positive, encouraging and empathetic. His novels are generally well written, simple but moving. Prior to “Turtles,” my favorite of his was “Paper Towns,” because it contains a bit of a mystery, though “The Fault in Our Stars” was inarguably a beautiful masterpiece. I think my new favorite is “Turtles,” though. It contains a similar mystery to “Paper Towns,” and while being very engrossing for its intrigue, also deftly addresses mental illness in a heart-wrenching and realistic way. Indeed, he has stated that this book is deeply personal because he suffers from the mental illnesses he addresses throughout this novel. I loved this book, and highly recommend it to anyone looking for an easy but very moving read.

“Trixie Belen, Mysteries 1, 2, 3, and 5,” Julie Campbell Tatham

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My mother loved these girl detective stories when she was growing up. She told me about how she’d get allowance money and then walk to the five and dime alone to pick up the newest one as often as they came out. For fans of Nancy Drew mysteries, Trixie Belden stories are a treat—they are far more realistic in terms of character development and much more fun and engaging. When I was growing up, I read Mom’s first editions over and over again. Unfortunately, they went out of print…and then, happily, were reissued in 2015 with new cover art, the same beloved stories sandwiched between shiny new hardcovers. I received four of the stories as a fun, thrifted Christmas present—Mom just happened to find them secondhand and I was so happy to have them in my possession again! I’m not including them in my GoodReads list because they’re children’s chapter books that I can read in two or three evenings, but if you know me, you know how much I love children’s books! Again, if you’re a fan of Nancy Drew and can find copies of these, give them a try! They do go somewhat in order, so start with the earliest ones if you can’t read them exactly in order.

So, those are what I’ve been enjoying! Here are a few I have on my “To Read,” shelf:

“The Enchanted Castle,” E. Nesbit

“The Time Machine,” H. G. Wells

“A Dog’s Tale,” Mark Twain

Interested in connecting over great books? Follow me on GoodReads by searching my name, Vanessa Jade, or email, missmarch17@outlook.com. What books are you currently enjoying?