Archive of ‘My Reading Life’ category

End of January 2024 Book Report

It’s the end of the month, which means it’s time for another book review blog post! It’s been a good start to my reading year. So far, all four books have been winners. My biggest problem now is to figure out what books to read next. I’m doing a Backlist Book Challenge, where certain pub years are given, and I’m supposed to find books on my shelf from that year to read. The first year is 2014. I’ve had one book on my shelf that I’ve wanted to read for a long time. “The Secret Keeper” by Kate Morton was published in 2014. I’ve heard people say that this is one of their favorite books of all time. So, because of those rave reviews and the pub date, it is now further up on my TBR list. That is after I finish the three books I’m reading now. 🙂

But before we get to those books, here is what I read at the end of January.

Family Family by Laurie Frankel

This is such a fantastic book but a tough one to review. I hope this makes sense, and I do it justice.

Many films depict negative stereotypes about adoption. Off the top of my head, there is the rescue trope, such as in musicals like Oliver or Annie and, more recently, The Blind Side. Other movies focus on more dramatic or sinister adoption stories like Orphan (horror) or Losing Isaiah (drama). The only film about adoption that I haven’t cringed at and quite enjoyed is Juno, a compassionate story about teen pregnancy and successful adoption (with a twist).

The book Family Family falls into the compassionate category, thankfully. The main character, India, is a woman who is pregnant at 16 and decides to place her baby with a single mother. India goes on to have a successful acting career that she always dreamed of and later adopts two kids of her own. But after she acts in a movie about a tragic adoption, she feels compelled to set the record straight about these types of stories. She lets the viewing public know that most adoptions are without pain and regret. Her comments set off a publicity firestorm that jeopardizes her career but also brings her entire family back together.

This book had well-developed characters, a terrific storyline, and a heartwarming message. All the things I love about a great read. I love how the author shows how dreams of having a family can come true through adoption. While it can sometimes be complicated, family is family, whether biological or otherwise. There are so many more times when adoption results in a loving and permanent relationship as opposed to what you see in the movies. But I guess those films don’t sell as many tickets.

Books written by this author, Laurie Frankel, are a must-buy for me. I also loved her book, This Is How It Always Is, which is about a family with a transgender child. Family Family has a special place in Frankel’s heart because she also adopted her children, so she speaks from experience. Her author’s note at the end was poignant and compelling. I wish it were at the beginning of the book to set the scene, but I guess it wasn’t necessary. But please don’t skip it. It’s a must read, just like this book.

Things You Save In A Fire by Katherine Center

I try to avoid books that receive a ton of publicity and hype. Too often, I am disappointed. But after many recommendations from friends (Thanks, Meryl! 🙂 ),  I decided to give it a chance.

I’m so glad I did!

Here is the setup for Things You Save in a Fire. Cassie is the only female firefighter in her new firehouse. She has to prove herself to the rest of the squad (I wonder if that’s the correct term… ). She has to deal with poor facilities and a need for more funding for equipment. She also takes her share of teasing and hazing like a champ at first, but then things go a little too far, and she needs to figure out who to trust. Meanwhile, Cassie also moves back in with her estranged mother, and the relationship there is tense but not hopeless.

I didn’t like Cassie at the beginning of the story. She is tough on the outside and disrespectful to her mother, who needs her help. But once she started to melt a little (mild spoiler alert), I liked her more and more.

It was also to have an insider’s look into the life of a firefighter which was interesting. I like reading about different careers that I would never do. I have a new appreciation for these heroes in our communities.

What I’m Reading Next

I’m in the middle of two books right now and have a third waiting in the wings. One is a craft book on writing called “1,000 Words: A Writer’s Guide to Staying Creative, Focused, and Productive All Year Round.” On the fiction side, I’m reading a 500+ page book entitled “The Most Fun We Ever Had.” I was told that if I like the TV show Parenthood, I’d love this book. So far…so good. It’s a library book, and I hope it is eligible for renewal because this will take a while. I also just picked up John Stamos’s memoir, “If You Would Have Told Me.” I heard one podcaster say he clearly wrote this for the paycheck, but I’m willing to try it.

What are you reading? Also, do you have any book-related questions for me? I’m happy to answer them in a future blog post!

Let me know in the comments.




Reading on a Budget

Since I’m not working right now, I have to reimagine my spending habits, especially when buying books. Hopefully, my situation will change soon, but I have to get a little creative for now. So, I asked myself how I’d satisfy my cravings for new books without going broke.

First, I must control the ways I hear about shiny new books. I’m a huge fan of book podcasts, and there are so many of them. Every time I listen to one, my TBR list grows exponentially. This doesn’t mean I rush out to my local indie and whip out my credit card immediately. However, the titles are on my radar, and it is tough to shut off the constant pinging to my amygdala—the part of the brain that generates desire.

So, I went through the book-themed podcasts I listen to on Spotify and unfollowed most of them. Not all of them. I kept the ones that not only have recommendations but also take deep dives into reading topics (like this one about budgeting). I’m staying away from the ones that were primarily lists of book recommendations and nothing else. This required me to make some tough choices. Against my better judgment, I will continue to follow Zibby Owens’ podcast, Moms Don’t Have Time to Read.” Her wonderful podcast includes author talks as well as quality book recs. She is a talented interviewer, and I am always in the mood for advice from seasoned writers.

Other bookish podcasts were easier to unfollow. One is hosted by two women in their 20s who talked too much about #adulting and their upcoming milestone birthdays of 25 and 30. 🙄 Oy! I hope this doesn’t sound like reverse ageism, but I couldn’t take their banter for one more minute. I have children their age, and I respect their opinions. However, as a 50+-year-old empty nester, I will also honor the stage of life I’m in, and book tastes evolve with age. And if these women have good recommendations, I’ll hear about the book from someone else. As the kids say, there is no FOMO here. (IYKYK)

Another way to curb my book spending habits is all about timing. Last year, I participated in No Book Buy July, which encouraged me to revisit the books I own or take advantage of my local library. I am confident that I saved around $350 by borrowing books instead of buying them. I had the pleasure of reading them without having to make room on my shelf. I also prioritize reading library books before others because I know people are waiting to read them when I’m done. The ones I own aren’t going anywhere, but library books have a deadline attached. If I don’t want to go back to the end of the line in the holding queue, I need to finish them.

The library also tells my amygdala to calm the f**k down. The shiny new book I heard about is probably at the library, and I’ll get to it when I get to it. There is no rush. We have plenty of other titles to keep us company—which brings me back to timing.

Instead of declaring book buy bans on myself, I want to pick months when I will buy books. I will choose these months based on special occasions. Whenever I plan to do an indie bookstore crawl, that will be a book-buying month. I’ll also give myself a grace period if I discover a new indie bookstore and want to support it within reason. It’s also my birthday next month, and I usually treat myself to a Boston Kreme donut and a trip to the bookstore.

Shit. I’m starting to see how this plan is already falling apart. Well, I tried. 😀

Okay, lightning round time. Here are a few more (realistic) ways I’ll curb my spending.

  • Consider my Kindle as a platform to read digital books, not download more books.
  • Borrow books from my friends! Lots of them are readers who have books I want to read.
  • Cancel my Audible account, which kills me, but I can always come back to it later. I have enough audiobooks to listen to, and I don’t need to add any more.
  • Treat myself to the books I’ve already purchased (see my pretty bookshelf photo above). Clearly, I was excited about them at one point. Time to remind myself why I bought them in the first place. I know I’ll uncover a lot of backlist gems there.
  • Order bookish gifts online and ship them to those I love. This is an idea from a few fellow bloggers, and it’s a good one. Why else do I have that Amazon Prime account?

In what ways do you curb your spending for something you love? It doesn’t have to be books. It can be anything—crafts, jigsaw puzzles, scented candles, trips to Sephora, etc. Let’s help each other out. Share your ideas in the comments.


Mid-January Book Report

New Book Reviews in 2024!

I’ve decided to do two book reports a month—one mid-month and again at the end. Last year, as I was writing these reviews, I found myself forgetting the storylines of the books I read earlier in the month. This could be due to brain fog, but more likely, I’m just easily distracted by shiny new titles. Does anyone else have this problem? Seriously, who remembers what they ate for lunch yesterday, let alone the plot of the book they read recently (but not that recently!)?

The other reason I’m going to write two posts a month is because I really want to read 50 books this year. To accomplish this goal, I need to finish at least four books a month. I know I’m a fairly fast and avid reader, so this is doable, even though it is a bit of a stretch. And if you are doing the math, I know that only amounts to 48 books. However, I can sneak a few extra titles in here and there. Some months, I may only read three, while others may read eight novels (see my December 2023 Book Report).

Without further ado, here are two book reviews to consider for your TBR pile.

The Life Council: 10 Friends Every Woman Needs
by Laura Tremaine

The Live Council book coverAuthor and podcaster Laura Tremaine wrote an engaging book about making and keeping friends as adults and creating a sort of cabinet of go-to people you can rely on. She also talks about letting go of friends who no longer fit into your life, which is never easy but sometimes happens.

Her book promises to:

  • Create your own “life council” with the friends you already have
  • Understand the ten kinds of friends every woman needs–and how to find them
  • Learn how to evaluate your friendship circle for what’s working and what might need to change
  • Navigate tough conversations with friends
  • Get excited again about the possibility of new friendships

This is what the book promises, and IT DELIVERS!

As I was reading, I reflected on my friend groups and began to sort them in the categories Tremaine set forth. Some categories were easier than others. And for a few categories, I had no one specific in mind.

For instance, I have a friend I used to work with, and we were both mentally exhausted by the toxic leadership style where we were employed. We have been through hell together on a daily basis and survived it. And the best part is that we continue our friendship to this day, watching and helping each other grow from that shared experience and thrive. She is what the author referred to as my “battle buddy” —someone who has walked with you during a difficult time. There are nine other categories proposed by the author that aptly and accurately describe the friendships I have today. It was interesting to see where some seats need to be filled, and how other seats had more than one person who could sit there.

The Life Council is not only a book you will want on your shelves, but you may want to gift it to a friend or someone you love. I give this book four stars. For those of you who read my Book Confessions blog post, you now know this is the book I was planning on getting for my daughter for her birthday but couldn’t find. I’m ordering it online and sending it to her this week instead.

Being Henry: The Fonz…and Beyond
by Henry Winkler

I grew up on Happy Days and The Fonz. Tuesday nights were must-see TV in my house. The shows were funny, brilliantly written, and always entertaining and family-friendly. Henry Winkler plays such an iconic character, and it’s no wonder he was typecast after the show ended. However, he made the best of it with producer and director credits. And then, he has a comeback story with the movie Water Boy and the popular HBO series Barry, for which he won his first primetime Emmy.

I gave this book three stars because while the behind-the-scenes stories were fun to read, I wanted to know more about his battle with dyslexia and how he came to accept and work through it. I was also sad to learn he had a rough upbringing because he was raised by strict parents who doubted his intelligence and abilities. Back then, I’m not sure if dyslexia was as documented as it is today. Still, his parents could have been a lot nicer and more supportive. While discussing his dyslexia in any TV interview, he didn’t elaborate much more than what I already heard.

Also, this book won the Goodreads 2023 Best Humor Award. But let me say this: this is not a funny book. Henry Winkler writes about his anxiety as a result of his upbringing and dyslexia in a way that makes me feel sad for him. I can empathize with his situation, but I’m not laughing with him like other writers who have written on this topic.

Side Note: This is one of the reasons I don’t read reviews on Goodreads. It’s an online popularity contest. As a reader, I wonder why this book is in the humor category at all. The other choices were books written by actual comedians like Leslie Jones and Amber Ruffin or essay collections from professional writers with a keen sense of humor. My only explanation is that whoever was in charge of this category didn’t read this book. However, if the book were in the memoir category, he might have had a shot. However, he would have gone up against Brittany Spears’s memoir, which won by a landslide. Hence, the popularity contest.

Anyway, Being Henry is a nice story, and his treasured friendships with Ron Howard and John Ritter were especially poignant to read. I’d recommend it, but I would check it out of your local library.

Sorry, Fonzie, I still love you and hope you come to Philly sometime so I can meet you. Above all, you are a mensch!



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