What I’ve been reading lately

What I've been reading lately

 

Because of the move, I haven’t had much time to read lately. Between the actual move itself, starting a new job, and adjusting to our new normal, there just hasn’t been much time or energy to give toward starting and finishing a book. However, I did manage to get a few books read over the summer, so I thought I’d write a quick post to share them with you all. Since I love to give and receive book recommendations, here’s what I’ve been reading lately:

  1. The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker. I read this book in May for book club. I was intrigued by the premise: a coming of age story of a young girl in an “end of the world” type setting, where the rotation of the earth has slowed and is causing the days and nights to continue growing in length. Since I’m not a scientist, I can’t judge the merits of that part of the novel. The story itself was promising enough, and I found the main character to be likable and relatable. It was a page-turner, as I kept hoping for some resolution to the catastrophic plight of the characters living in this altered world. However, no such resolution came, and the book ended rather abruptly for me. My rating: 3 stars. 
  2. 11/22/63 by Stephen King. Though I’m generally not a King fan (I have read some of his older books, which were fine, just not my thing), I read this one upon the recommendation of a good friend. I was a little daunted by the length of the book at first (800+ pages), but it was so worth the time investment. I really enjoyed this novel. There were so many things about it that kept me hooked: the experience of history through the eyes of a modern narrator, the power of nostalgia, the Easter egg references to other King works, the compelling plot, a complicated love story, an enticing mystery, just to name a few! I highly recommend this one. My rating: 5 stars. 
  3. Someday, Someday, Maybe by Lauren Graham. From Parenthood to Gilmore Girls, I’m a Lauren Graham fan, so when I heard she’d written a novel, I knew I had to give it a try. The story is one that Graham probably knows all too well: the struggle of a young actress trying to make it in New York City. Most of the characters were charming and witty, and I found Graham’s play on Salinger’s Franny and Zooey to be an unexpected and interesting nuance to the book. My disappointments with the novel were that the plot was fairly predictable and I found the main character to be kind of annoying at times. I also felt  it ended too soon. My rating: 3 stars.
  4. Landline by Rainbow Rowell. I had never heard of this author prior to the suggestion of my friend Marisa, so I had no expectations going into this book. The main character is a TV writer workaholic who puts herself before the important people in her life, namely her husband. She’s on the brink of the biggest deal in her career, what she’s been working for pretty much all of her adult life, but her marriage is ripping at the seams. After she discovers a magic phone that lets her call into the past, she’s obsessed with the desire to repair the damage she’s done in her marriage. The story is an interesting premise, and though I found the main character to be self-absorbed and selfish (I’m apparently very critical of main characters), I couldn’t put the book down. The subject of a fairly normal married couple growing apart and then rekindling that connection (even across decades) is the meat of this story. My rating: 3 stars.

I’m always looking for good book recommendations, so I encourage you to share what you’ve been reading lately in the comments. Also, if you’ve read any of these books, let me know your thoughts!

Goals for May – how I did and what I learned

 

Goals for May how I did and what I learned.jpg

Well, even though it’s not the last day of May, I wanted to go ahead and report on how I did for my goals this month. To begin with let’s review my goals:

  1. 21 days of no sugar
  2. Read 5 books
  3. Blog 3x/week
  4. Stay within budget
  5. 15 minutes of physical activity each day

How I Did

Have you ever heard the phrase, “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail”? Well, that sums up how things went for my May goals. Since I set these goals without organizing a plan to achieve them, I quickly got off track.

The 15 minutes of physical activity and no sugar goals were abandoned within the first week, honestly. However, I am happy to report that I’m back on the exercise bandwagon, and have been consistently working out the past few days. Our recent family getaway included taking some family photos that were a gut check (literally) about my weight and health. It’s time to get serious, and I’m hoping to stick with it. It helps that I’ve found a YouTube channel with workouts I’m really enjoying. Physical fitness will be a goal for June, so we’ll see if I can stick with it next month.

For the most part, I was able to achieve the blogging goal. I think last week and this week were the only two where I missed the mark, and I’m okay with that.

As I said in my original goals post, I knew the budgeting goal would be a challenge because of the travel we had planned for the month, and that proved to be true. We ended up going over budget in the categories I was hoping to stay under budget in, but I’m pleased with how well we did in spite of the travel. We didn’t exceed our budget by too much, which is remarkable given the extra spending we did this month.

My book goal was pretty lofty for me, so I’m not surprised I didn’t reach it. I’m about to finish my 3rd book of the month, so I’m thinking I should set a goal of 4 books for June to push myself.

What I Learned

As I said before, the primary takeaway I have from my goals for May is that planning is the key to success. This reminds me of a verse in Proverbs, which says something to the effect of “refuse good advice and watch your plans fail; take good counsel and watch them succeed” (Proverbs 15:22 MSG). When I set goals for the future, I need to plan wisely to accomplish them. Accomplishing goals is not just going to happen on its own, and I need to make the effort to succeed or I’ll fail.

The other thing I’ve learned through my goals for May is this: the point is not to be perfect, the point is to try. I’m not trying to beat anyone, this isn’t a competition and I’m okay with failure. What I’m not okay with is simply not trying because of the possibility of missing the mark or failing to achieve. I’m glad I’m setting goals, even if I’m not meeting them. The point is to try, anyway.

Did you set any goals for May? How did you do?

Hope Unfolding – A Good Read + a Giveaway!

Hope Unfolding Giveaway

One of my goals for the month of May is to finish reading 5 books, and since that’s a rather ambitious goal, I decided to let the books I started reading in April count towards my goal. One of those books was Hope Unfolding: Grace-Filled Truth for the Momma’s Heart by Becky Thompson. I was drawn to this book initially because Becky is an Oklahoma girl and a blogger. Also, the book is about faith and motherhood, so of course I had to read it.

Becky has an easy-to-read writing style that is relatable and endearing. She unashamedly shares about the messiness of motherhood and she invites you in to share the mess with her. Mamas deep in the trenches of caring for little ones will find this book a refreshing and encouraging read, because Becky’s stories and insights are drawn primarily from this stage of motherhood.

This book will not only provide encouragement for weary mamas, but Becky weaves scripture and biblical insight into her writing to give Hope Unfolding spiritual value, as well. She incorporates a time of application into each chapter through which readers are able to connect that chapter’s themes to their personal experience. She also includes thematic prayers for each chapter, which makes this book a beneficial resource for a small group, especially for moms groups.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from Hope Unfolding:

God is with us in the most ordinary parts of our day. That thread of His presence that ties all of our moments together weaves through each one, leaving none untouched by His grace.Hope Unfolding Scripture reminds us that He is the beginning and the end. And friend, I think He must also be everything in between. (p.80)

God doesn’t see things as they are but as He calls them to be. And that means just like He reached into the mud and pulled out [Adam], Jesus reaches into our messes and pulls out miracles over and over again. (p.120)

Sometimes we pray for a miracle.We pray to be delivered from a season or a situation. And while God is able to do all things, often our rescue doesn’t look like getting off the boat. It looks like being pulled from the fear and finding peace despite the storm. Because even if the boat gives way, even if everything that keeps us feeling safe suddenly breaks beneath us, we don’t have to fear…it was never the boat that kept us from drowning. It was never the security of where we placed our feet that kept us from being swallowed by the deep waters. (p.161)

When we look to our kids to find security in our parenting, we will only be left feeling disappointed. Not because they are a disappointment, but because their need for a perfect Savior does not indicate our failure as mothers. (p.193)

 

Hope Unfolding reads like having a cup of coffee with a friend and sharing about the joys and challenges of mom life. So, I want to give you that experience by offering this giveaway: one copy of Hope Unfolding by Becky Thompson + $10 Starbucks gift card! To enter the giveaway, just follow the link below. This giveaway is only open to U.S. residents, and you must be 18 to enter. The giveaway starts May 9th and will end on May 13th.

Note: This giveaway is not sponsored by Becky Thompson or Starbucks. It is just my special treat for you. 

Hope Unfolding Giveaway

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Goals for May: kick the sugar, read more books, budget better

May Goals

 

Tomorrow is the last day of April, and I’m already looking forward to May. We have a mini family vacation planned with my in-laws, my husband and I are doing a quick overnight trip to Kansas City, and the end of school means my husband starts having Fridays off, so May is promising to hold lots of fun for us.

With the start of a new month, and in looking forward to a new season, I decided to set some goals for myself for the month of May. I believe goal setting is important, pushing yourself to achieve new things and improve your skills are worthwhile pursuits. In fact, one of my favorite writers and theologians, C.S Lewis, said the following, and it’s becoming one of my mottos for life:

You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream. – C.S. Lewis

So, here are my goals for the month of May.

21 Day Kick the Sugar Challenge

For the most part, I make good decisions with food. I tend to eat whole foods, I prefer to cook with real ingredients vs. processed ones, and I try to avoid overly fatty or fried foods (most of the time). However, I have a sweet tooth that begs for attention several times each day. I’m totally guilty of falling prey to the cycle of eat something sweet – experience the blood sugar spike – come down off the sugar high – crave sugar like an addicted fiend – repeat ad nauseum. So, to break free from my candy-coated chains, I’ve signed up for one of those 21-day eating challenges through the Facebook group of a personal trainer friend of mine. In addition to cutting out adding sugar to my coffee, I’ll also have to say no to breads, pastas, etc. throughout the challenge, and keep track of my food each day and share it with the group. Hopefully this accountability will help me stick to the program and overcome my addition to sugar. The really sucky part of this challenge is that Mother’s Day is next weekend, and I would love to celebrate with a big ol’ slice of Cheesecake Factory Dulce de Leche cheesecake.

Read 5 Books

In the month of April, I finished exactly one book. I started, and have yet to finish, FOUR others. Clearly, my follow-through was lacking this month, and I’m hoping to see some improvement in May. However, as you can tell, 5 books is going to be a rather lofty goal when compared to my record of accomplishment in April. I haven’t decided if the books I started in April should get to count towards the May reading goal. It will definitely be much harder to accomplish if I have to start and finish 5 new books as well as finish those I started last month.

Blog 3x/week

Blogging took a back seat to other commitments in April, and my consistency suffered as a result. Contributing regular content while being realistic about my capacity for blogging should allow me to post three times per week in the month of May. I need to improve in my blog planning, and I’d like to see myself implement an editorial calendar to organize my content and post schedule.

Stay Within Budget

I use the EveryDollar app to track our income and expenses, and I’ve designated a certain percentage of our income to certain expense categories. However, over the past few months, we have consistently gone over budget in a couple of key areas: eating out and miscellaneous purchases. So, for the month of May, I’ve reallocated the budget a bit, and I’d like to stay within budget on every category this month. The biggest challenge I foresee to accomplishing this goal is the travel we have planned for this month, since we will be eating out quite a bit for one of those trips.

15 Minutes of Physical Activity Every Day

I sit in an office all day, and then I come home and sit on my rear for most of the evening. I know 15 minutes doesn’t sound like much, but right now my normal level of physical activity is at sloth status, so baby steps. Also, since my daily schedule is already full, I decided 15 minutes would be more manageable and easier to achieve.  I don’t necessarily have a plan for how to achieve this, yet, but I’ve considered these workout DVDs. If you have a recommendation, I’d love to hear it!

I feel like these are rather ambitious goals for May. As a classic Type-A overachiever, the idea of setting a goal and not achieving it is anathema to me, but I’d rather see myself pursue a goal and not meet it completely rather than not strive for something out of fear of failure. Do you set goals for yourself? What are some of the goals you’re pursuing right now?

March Book Club Book Review: Defending Jacob

Defending Jacob Book Review

Defending Jacob Book Review

Photo Credit: Amazon

Every month, I gather with a group of ladies for book club. This monthly gathering is one of the highlights in my life. When I was growing up, English class was always my favorite subject. I loved literature and I loved discussing all of the elements in a good story. Identifying literary devices was my jam. That’s probably why I went on to study literature, history and philosophy in college.

Anyway, book club is one of my favorite activities. Although, if I’m being honest, we spend a great deal of time talking about life and catching up on gossip and news instead of the book, but we have fun and we still manage to talk about the book at least a little bit. We also take a picture of our meeting each month with the book we read. This is from a few months ago:

Book Club

Book club is exciting because it causes me to read books I might not otherwise hear about or choose for myself. Each month, a different person gets to choose the book, and we have a rotation that we work through so that every one gets a chance to choose. The book featured in the picture above is a book I’ve never heard of before book club, and it was even written by an Oklahoma author and set in Oklahoma City!  It was a good read, I’d recommend checking it out if you’re an Okie (or even if you’re not!).

Tonight my monthly book club will meet to discuss our March book: Defending Jacob by William Landay. I actually finished the book nearly a month ago, so I have been so anxious for this meeting because, I NEED TO TALK ABOUT IT. The struggle has been real, y’all.

So, here’s a little bit about the plot: A successful and respected Assistant District Attorney, Andy Barber, finds himself in the precarious position of having to defend his teenage son, Jacob, against a murder charge. The trial tests the devotion of the parents to their son’s innocence, and it also explores the differences between a father and mother’s relationships to their son. Also, there is an interesting exploration of the role of nature vs. nurture in human behavior. Add to that marital strain and a secret past, and you’ve got a compelling narrative that keeps you turning the page.

What I liked about the book:

  • Maybe it’s the former law student in me, but I love police procedurals, so I really liked how the author wove the trial transcript into the story’s narrative.
  • The story was engaging, I found myself questioning Jacob’s innocence as well as identifying with Andy’s blind devotion to his son. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but I also sympathized with the mother’s dilemma. This broad range of emotions reveals good writing: the author was able to make me identify with all three experiences in a real way.
  • There’s a shocking twist – I like books that keep you guessing, especially when they’re mysteries/crime novels.
  • I appreciated the psychological element to the story. The issues of free will, determinism and self-fulfilling prophecy all factor into the story’s development.

What I didn’t like about the book:

  • This is a bit of a spoiler, but I like a happy ending, and this book doesn’t give you one. I know it’s unrealistic to expect happy endings, because they are rare in real life, but call me a cheesy sap, I like when the resolution is positive for all involved.
  • The book doesn’t resolve the questions it raises about the role of nature vs. nurture in the development of human behavior. I would have appreciated a more thorough exploration of this psychological issue in a way that provides some tangible resolution. That’s probably asking too much, but there it is.

As you can tell, I have lots of thoughts about Defending Jacob, so I’m ready for book club tonight! Have you read any good stories lately? I’m always looking for suggestions!