What I’ve Been Reading: Early 2019

3 words: varied, satisfying, random

Today the focus is on the books I’ve read so far this year. It’s been a nice mix of genres and tone and style, and I’m a happy reader these days. Here’s what we’ve got…

From the Corner of the Oval by Beck Dorey-Stein

3 words: immediate, fresh, candid

Give this book a whirl if you like… reading about life inside the White House bubble, behind-the-scenes accounts, twenty-something memoirs, workplace narratives

Transcription by Kate Atkinson

3 words: evocative, unsettling, gradually revealing

Give this book a whirl if you like… WWII espionage, young women spies, two time periods in one person’s life, England during WWII, some twists and turns in the plot

Sunburn by Laura Lippman

3 words: unsettling, psychological, twisted

Give this book a whirl if you like… twisty stories, unreliable characters, hidden agendas, multiple viewpoints

Less by Andrew Sean Greer

3 words: clever, humorous, sad

Give this book a whirl if you like… a blend of humor and pathos, a clever tone, a story of a gay man examining his life at age 50, a mild-mannered protagonist, finding oneself when running away from problems

Passion and Affect by Laurie Colwin

3 words: quirky, creative, evocative

Give this book a whirl if you like… delightfully eccentric characters, a short story collection offering a variety of life circumstances, the complications of love, interpersonal relationships explored through vignettes

Kitchen Yarns: Notes on Life, Love, and Food by Ann Hood

3 words: warm, personal, evocative

Give this book a whirl if you like… essays about food and life and cooking, memoirs in essay form, reading about the life of an author

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

3 words: comforting, warm, book-loving

Give this book a whirl if you like… books about the power of books, stories of overcoming adversity through community and literature, the story of an author finding her next story, WWII, epistolary novels, stories of unexpected romance

What wonderful things have you been reading lately?

Books I Can’t Wait to Read: Early 2019

Anyone else haunt their library holds list?

I revisit mine like a kid looking through the Christmas toy catalog (they don’t print those anymore, do they?) to eye all the lovely things she craves.

Though, admittedly, by the time I was in 3rd grade, all I craved were books.

Here are the highlights on my library holds list at the moment…

What books are you aching to read this spring?

Our historic (school)house: when truth is stranger than fiction

When talking about mystery novels with The Dear Man a few years ago, I commented that one of the tropes is that detectives in books often live in really cool, unconventional houses.

Think Kinsey Millhone in that rockin’ garage apartment that feels like the inside of a boat.

Or Travis McGee, who actually lives on a houseboat.

Or Magnum, P.I. (OK, that’s 80s TV, but stay with me), who lives in the guest house of that grand estate in Hawaii.

Or my favorite literary abode: Scot Harvath’s home in an 18th century stone (former) church and rectory owned by the U.S. Navy. Who wouldn’t want to live there?

Detectives even get amazing office spaces: Walt Longmire has an office in an old Carnegie library, and Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro run their business from an old church belfry.*

It was one of those things that I thought only happened in books.

Until it happened to us.

We bought an old schoolhouse.

Actually, we bought half of it. There’s an 18-inch-thick brick wall that runs right down the center of the place, and we’ve bought the side we loved best.

The school was built in 1906—and while it’s been remodeled, it still has serious old-building character—and we get to live in it!

I love love love old houses. All my life (except during college, library school, and the first year after) I’ve lived in old houses, and I love their charm and their quirks and their history. Ever since childhood, I’ve adored sitting in my old house and thinking about the former residents reading the newspaper and finding out about the sinking of the Titanic. Or women winning the right to vote. Or the end of a war.

It makes me feel connected.

With this place, it’s an even twistier path to the past, because we’re envisioning students and teachers and the principal, living out their school days here. The other night, we were talking about “duck and cover” during the Cold War and I said, “Oh my gosh. They did that right here.”

So when it comes to listing my favorite things about this house, I get stuck. There’s the history, there’s the delight of living in a school, and there’re those brick walls, and the floating staircase, and the 8-foot tall windows, and the original doors and transoms…

We’re flat-out in love with this place. Sometimes we just sit and gaze at it. Often we don’t want to leave.

What’ll actually launch us out of the house: We’ve made an appointment at the local historical museum, where we’re gonna dig into our schoolhouse’s history. We’re hoping to find photos.

In the meantime, we’ve got a little chalkboard that says Comfort and here we are… reading and cooking and watching the cat and decoding the secrets of our schoolhouse and talking about all the things…

It’s no mystery where you’ll find us.

So tell me…. Has there ever been a point in your life when you’ve said, “I thought this only happened in books…”


Sue Grafton (Kinsey Millhone series)

John D. MacDonald (Travis McGee series)

Brad Thor (Scot Harvath series)

Craig Johnson (Walt Longmire series)

Dennis Lehane (Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro series)

Theme for 2019: Comfort

Serendipity is the one word that describes the path to my choosing a one-word theme for 2019.

I was listening to the Happier podcast while doing strength training, and the episode was about choosing a one-word theme for the new year.

And without really giving it much thought, my endorphins delivered unto me a word:


And I knew instantly that it was right.

What do I want more of? Comfort

What do I want to give more of? Comfort

It’s a word that inspired me, that same evening after my workout, to sit down and read a book. Even though there was filing and tidying to do.

Happy cat, cozy slippers, snuggly throw, hot tea, good book, happy home

So now I’m thinking of ways to make our home more comfortable and our lives more relaxed. There’s gonna be comfort food and comfy clothes and cozy evenings. I’m looking forward to it.

Anyone else have a one-word theme for 2019?

Advent calendar for book lovers

Advent calendar, full of quotations!

Remember how my wonderful and talented friend made me an Advent calendar?

And remember how every year she and I gather quotations to populate each other’s Advent calendars?

We did it again this year.

I love this tradition so much.

And also the related tradition that is practically a holiday in itself: each year, the first time we meet for dinner after Epiphany, we bring the favorite quotes we received from the other.

Here are our favorites from Advent 2018…

My favorites of the quotes I received:

His most remarkable gift, as Laura saw it, was a deep and profound contentment with what he had.  

Caroline Fraser, Prairie Fires

He looked up at her. Kindness was something he didn’t even know he wanted, and here it was.

Marilynne Robinson, Lila

My friend’s favorites of the quotes she received:

Be tough and patient; one day this pain will be useful to you.


One of the secrets of a happy life is continuous small treats.

Iris Murdoch, The Sea, the Sea

It’s a beautiful thing, this tradition, and I feel really lucky to have such a friend.

Anyone else gather favorite lines from books? If so, I’d love to hear one or two…

19 for 2019

Last year I was inspired by the Happier podcast to create a list of 18 goals for 2018. And I got ’em done!

Now I’m excited about 2019… cuz I dearly adore the setting and pursuit of goals.

Here’s what I’ve got in mind for the year ahead…

Yes, it’s lovely… but does it type??
  • Learn Instagram Stories with the Dear Man
  • Spend some serious quality time with our sisters
  • Learn & use 12 new techniques on the blog
  • Decide whether to catalog our home library
  • Perfect my Caesar salad
  • Set a twice-a-month grocery shopping rotation and stick with it
  • Style our kitchen island seasonally
  • Find out if my vintage typewriter actually works… and if so, use it
  • Write a series of blog posts
  • Go on at least 3 history geek trips with the Dear Man
  • Actually go through all those boxes in the basement
  • Have dinner twice monthly with a good friend
  • Do at least 3 of the activities in This Is Where You Belong
  • Fix formatting on all blog posts (cuz that Blogger import was not perfect)
  • Maximize the use of our new Instant Pot
  • Go on a field trip with a good friend
  • Figure out the layout of the den
  • Get the TVs set up
  • Research the history of our (school)house
Home sweet schoolhouse

And yes, it occurs to me that I’ve bitten off more than I can chew… but that’s nothing new.

So I’m launching into the new year with big goals and too many of them… and I’m ready to have at it!

And I mean it when I say I adore goals, and I’m love to hear yours. What are your plans for the new year?

2018: Year in Review

2018… you’ve been completely exhilarating. And completely exhausting.

While my 2018 reading stats are none too impressive, I accomplished all of my 18 for 2018 goals.

And I’m feeling good about that, especially since we accomplished so many other big things that weren’t on the list.

We did some big vacation-y things with our sisters in the first half of the year.

Then there was some mildly unpleasant medical stuff (not part of the plan), which resolved itself well — but still, not fun.

And then we threw ourselves into the search for a home.

And preparing two houses for sale.

And the selling of two houses.

And the setting up of a household together.

And ten zillion little things, like replacing the food processor after both of ours broke at the same time. (For real.)

When I look at the to-do lists we conquered, I’m stunned that we’re still standing. It’s exhausting just to contemplate.

What I learned re-learned: one step at a time. Just focus on the next small act. It’s all we can handle, and it eventually gets the job done. So simple, so comforting, so true.

And now… here we are, and we have a harmonious household and a house we’d choose again & again & again. It’s a good place to sit and contemplate all we’ve managed to accomplish in the past six months. (Though it’s best not to contemplate it too much, cuz we both end up with stunned looks on our faces merely recalling all the work that went into it.)

And now we’ve decorated our new house for the holidays, and it’s so lovely I can hardly stand it. This place is some serious cozy. And we get to live in here. It’s good, my friends.

I wish you all a very happy New Year!

2018 Reading Year in Review

2018: a total mixed bag when it comes to my reading life. Here’s the year-end review…

The bad

So I didn’t meet my Goodreads goal of reading 75 books this year.

And am I feeling comfortable with that? No, I am not.

But… life goes on. And in other (more important ways), my reading year was quite fruitful.

The good

  • I met my goal that 20% of the books I read would be by diverse authors. Hooray! And great reading!
  • I read 19,089 pages. (I’m actually not sure whether this is impressive, but it’s the first year I’ve calculated the number, so I’m happy with it.)
  • In spite of a year filled with some unexpected challenges, I read 65 books.

The ugly

Good people, I created some charts in Google Sheets to visually represent my year of reading. These charts are not beautiful. Here they are…

So, if you had to predict what I read this year, you’d say, “Nonfiction book by a female author.” And actually, many of my favorites this year were exactly that.

The year ahead

Reading goals:

Other than that, I’m keeping it free and easy. No other goals… just some reading bliss.

What are your reading goals for 2019? Or do you just read & enjoy?

18 for 2018: done!

Early in the year, I set up 18 goals — some big, some small — for 2018.

And then I started pickin’ ’em off…  

And I kept at it, sort of.  

And then completing the list wasn’t looking likely during the Fall Update, but I pulled it off in the end. 

Here’s the account of the final 3 items on the list…

Buy typewriter key jewelry

Way earlier in the year, when I was trapped someplace with only my phone at hand, I scouted out some sources for typewriter key jewelry. And then I sat on it for months, because busy. So in mid-December, I re-did the search cuz the clock was ticking. And while I’d love to be able to wear a bracelet of typewriter keys, I just can’t do bracelets. (They get in my way!) So I went for the necklace. This one.


Memorize five quotes

Done! (I’d share them, but they’re for myself alone*)  

Invite friends for dinner

I’m a nervous chef who performs best without pressure.

And dinner guests = pressure.

Plus, lots of us are tricky to feed (special diets, specialized palate, restrictions, all that stuff).

So I’m calling this good: we invited the Dear Man’s Dear Sister and Dear Brother-in-Law (who definitely are our friends), and we ordered a pizza from a local place that makes deep dish pizzas that one cooks at home. So:

Friends    CHECK

Applying heat to dinner  CHECK

Serving said dinner to said friends CHECK

Stick a fork in it: it’s done!

Here’s the full (completed!) list of my 18 for 2018…

  • Call old friends on a regular basis
  • Buy typewriter key jewelry    
  • Go on southern vacation with the Dear Man and Younger Sister
  • Go on northern vacation with the Dear Man and Older Sister
  • Roast vegetables once a month
  • Burn a candle when writing
  • Buy fresh flowers & watch a YouTube video to figure out how to arrange them
  • Invite friends for dinner
  • Begin meditating
  • Memorize 5 quotes    
  • Visit 3 history geek places
  • Replace long wool coat
  • Bake 2 family recipes
  • Buy warm winter coat & boots
  • Remind myself to slow down once per day
  • Complete 2 of the 3: Book Bingo, Read Harder, and Modern Mrs Darcy reading challenges
  • Zipline
  • Do a deep decluttering of my house

And now it’s on to planning my 19 for 2019…

What’re your favorite accomplishments of the year?

*Not true: The Dear Man knows what they are

Best Books of 2018: my top 10 favorites

Narrowing down my books to my Top 10 of 2018… not too difficult.

But narrowing down my favorite memoir? Impossible. So I went with the 3-way tie that felt right to me.

And there’s a 2-way tie for literary fiction, too. Because I just can’t decide.

And I get to write the rules around here  : )  so here we go…  

Best Short Stories

Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks

Give this book a whirl if you like… celebrity authors, well-evoked characters, short stories from a variety of viewpoints, typewriters

Best Self-Improvement

When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by Daniel H. Pink

Give this book a whirl if you like… exploring everyday life through new eyes, thinking about timing, considering factors that surprisingly affect outcomes, Freakonomics

Best Memoirs (3-way tie)

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah

Give this book a whirl if you like… memoirs of an unusual childhood, reading about life during and after apartheid, outsider narratives

Fifty Acres and a Poodle: A Story of Love, Livestock, and Finding Myself on a Farm by Jeanne Marie Laskas

Give this book a whirl if you like… memoirs of city dwellers moving to the country, middle-aged love stories, a light touch of humor, compulsively readable writing

Heating & Cooling: 52 Micro-Memoirs by Beth Ann Fennelly

Give this book a whirl if you like… tiny snippets of story, memoir in bite-sized pieces, poetic and perfect writing, humor

Best Young Adult Fiction

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Give this book a whirl if you like… a realistic teen viewpoint, reading fiction inspired by current events, contemplating Black Lives Matter, exploring complex issues in a nuanced way, powerfully emotional novels

Best Biography

Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser

Give this book a whirl if you like… discovering the real person behind the stories, learning about a literary legend, learning about the author of children’s classics, American history through the life of one pioneer, overcoming hard times

Best Women’s Fiction

I’ll Be Your Blue Sky by Marisa de los Santos

Give this book a whirl if you like… dual narratives, seaside settings, second chances, finding love, life after a breakup, heroic characters quietly saving lives

Best Literary Fiction (2-way tie)

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

Give this book a whirl if you like… lovely writing, creative use of language, Black Lives Matter, Fates and Furies, he said/she said narrative style, considering social issues through fiction

Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver

Give this book a whirl if you like… big stories, books about complex families, stories about people’s lives falling apart, stories about houses, dual connected timelines, the life of a scientist, individual evolution and evolution of species

So, my fellow readers… what’re your favorites of the year?