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The Only Skill That Matters by Jonathan Levi

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But the truth is that while it's great to have enthusiasm for learning, enthusiasm without planning cna do more harm than good.

The subtitle of this book -- "The proven methodology to read faster, remember more, and become a superlearner" -- immediately attracted me. I usually only read one or two nonfiction books in a year but wish I read more, especially for personal and professional development. Never mind my perpetual yearning to learn another language or be more adept at some of my woo hobbies.

The Only Skill That Matters by Jonathan Levi
Lioncrest Publishing, 2019
Source via publisher, thanks to TLC Book Tours

I was unfamiliar with Levi and his SuperLearner empire, but found his book to be easy to engage with and understand. At the center of this book is a particular practice of priming one's self for learning and a particular way of studying; and honestly, I wish I had had this book when I was in college. I managed to do well in high school without learning ho…

National Geographic's Almanac 2020

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Breaking bread is the universal bonding mechanism of humanity. At a table, over food, one has no enemies.

National Geographic magazine is a sentimental staple in my life: I grew up on old issues given to me by neighbors and treasured the subscriptions I got for Christmas. I've given up my paper magazines in the name of conservation but am still drawn to that familiar yellow border and the images and knowledge within.

Almanac 2020 by National Geographic
National Geographic, 2019
Copy provided by publisher for TLC Book Tours

I hadn't had an opportunity to pour over any of NatGeo's annual almanacs until offered one for review, and it's an ultra dose of everything the magazine does well, broken up into small, easily consumed tidbits. It's perfect for trivia nerds and kids: most of the topics are covered in two pages or less, broken up with NatGeo's trademark stunning photography or infographics and timelines for context.

Between us, I'm not precisely sure what ma…

Cover Reveal: Dreamland by Nancy Bilyeau

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I loooooooooooooooooooooooove Nancy Bilyeau's books (here's my review of her most recent, The Blue, which was fascinating!) and I'm so excited she has another book coming out in 2020.

Introducing...



Dreamland by Nancy Bilyeau Publication Date: January 16, 2020 Endeavor Quill
Genre: Historical Fiction



The year is 1911 when twenty-year-old heiress Peggy Batternberg is invited to spend the summer in America’s Playground.

But the invitation to Coney Island is unwelcome. Despite hailing from one of America’s richest families, Peggy would much rather spend the summer at the Moonrise Bookstore where she works voluntarily, than keeping up appearances with Brooklyn socialites and her snobbish, controlling family.

But soon it transpires that the hedonism of Coney Island affords Peggy more of the freedom she has been longing for. For one, she finds herself in love with a troubled pier-side artist of humble means, whom the Batternberg patriarchs would surely disapprove of.

Disapprove …

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

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Above them bright satellites transited in the darkening sky and the last hawks were returning to the rest of their nests and around them passersby did not pause to look at this old woman in her black robe or this old man with his stubble.

I was interested in the sci-fi element of this novel -- the magical doors -- and the political implications of it -- migration, borders, identity -- but what hooked me by the heart and left me in tears by the end was the beautiful, complicated, painful, oh-so-realistic relationship of Nadia and Saeed.

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
Penguin Random House Audio, 2017
Copy via the library

Hamid reads his own book in audio, and it was a delightful listen. The philosophical musings felt more organic and natural -- like being in Nadia's mind or Saeed's thoughts -- than when I read them, and the inevitability of Nadia and Saeed -- growing together, growing apart -- felt so much more poignant with someone telling me about them.

Nadia and Saeed meet in uni…

Interview with author Cynthia Ripley Miller

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I'm excited to share my interview with author Cynthia Ripley Miller; I've just started her newest book, The Quest for the Crown of Thorns, a historical novel that is giving me The DaVinci Code-meets-Outlander vibes. Set in 5th century Rome, it's a romantic thriller adventure with fascinating historical elements that have me hooked. If you're intrigued, check out the interview and enter the giveaway at the end of this post.

Do you have any writing rituals or routines?

I prefer writing in the late morning continuing into the early evening. Depending on how much time I have, I'll take a break and step away from it for some fresh air, and then return a little later. When I walk, I listen to music. Often, the words or melody will trigger ideas that I may incorporate into my stories. I'll often write after the dinner hour as well.

Regarding rituals, in my office, I have pictures that represent how I imagine my settings and characters to look. I have talismans that ha…

Can You Ever Forgive Me?: Memoirs of a Literary Forger by Lee Israel

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I had never known anything but "up" in my career, had never received even one of those formatted no-thank-you slips that successful writers look back upon with triumphant jocularity. And I regarded with pity and disdain the short-sleeved wage slaves who worked in offices. I had no reason to believe life would get anything but better. I had no experience failing.

I'd grabbed this as a possibility for my Read Harder 2019 challenge 19, a book of nonviolent true crime. I ended up counting Bad Blood for it instead, but given the slender length of this book, decided to give it a try.

Le ugh.

What an unappealing person! I don't know what Lee Israel is like in real life -- she does admit she's hard to be around, especially during this period of her life -- but the story she details here wasn't funny or charming to me. I'm kind of judging the people who told her she had to recount these adventures.

Can You Ever Forgive Me?: Memoirs of a Literary Forger by Lee Israe…

Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

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I can love you and want you and still not want that life. I'm allowed, all right, and it doesn't me me a liar; it makes me a man with some infinitesimal shred of self-preservation, unlike you, and you don't get to come here and call me a coward for it.

I believe I'm the only person on the planet who isn't in swoons over this book. About a quarter of the way through the book, I found myself irritated as I read, but I couldn't put my finger on what, precisely, was getting to me since it had all kinds of things that should have been insta-wins.

Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
St. Martin's Griffin, 2019
Copy via my public library

It's weird to say this about a novel that is practically just wish fulfillment but I think this book had too much artifice and exaggeration for me to take it seriously. Everything in this book was extreme: the emotions, the language, the pace, the characters. McQuiston took an element and streeeeeeeeeeeeetched to the …

I am Mrs. Jesse James by Pat Wahler

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I've spent so much time praying marriage would be an anchor for Jesse. Do you think he'll ever abandon his wandering life and stay home with you for good?

I won this book in a giveaway last fall and had been meaning to read it as soon as it arrived; and then my wife broke her ankle and we moved and I hadn't unpacked this book until a few weeks ago. It was a perfect read for both of my reading challenges this year -- Historical Fiction and Read Harder's challenge 9, "a book published prior to January 1, 2019, with fewer than 100 reviews on Goodreads".

I will confess to some apprehension ahead of starting this book, though. In this current political climate, in which neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and domestic terrorists are getting mainstream platforming, I wasn't sure if we needed historical novels that offer empathetic views of people who were, and remained, problematic in their lifetimes. (I keep wondering if Melanie Benjamin's The Aviator'…

Supper Club by Lara Williams

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Those evenings, sitting on the living-room floor, laptops to our sides and an array of paper scattered across the floor, drinking wine and listening to music, were suffused with a warmth like nothing else I'd ever felt. I thought of it as the same feeling people get when planning their wedding. It felt enormous and essential and transitory: this papier-mâché beast that we were trying to carve into form.

Did I like this book? Or did I hate it? I'm going to split the difference and just say "yes".

Supper Club by Lara Williams
G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2019
Digital review copy via Edelweiss

To stave off loneliness in college, our narrator Roberta takes up cooking. But this isn't one of those sumptuous, charming foodie novels that has your mouth watering; instead, there was something a little gross, slightly dank, and funky about the food. (Williams has our narrator observe that our appetites tip close toward revulsion.) There was an extreme focus on body that reminded …

The Snakes by Sadie Jones

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On bad days he missed her. He would sit on the train, desperate to be home, staring at his reflection and the other ghostly doppelgängers of his fellow travellers; their possible selves, and he would think of all the things he wanted, that he might never find.

If you want something that is a total beach read -- family dysfunction, a marriage challenged, tragic death, decaying French hotel -- but with a slightly literary style, this is that book. It's compulsively terribly irresistible.

The Snakes by Sadie Jones
Harper, 2019
Digital review copy from publisher

Our main character Bea comes from wealth (the level of which we don't discover until later in the book) but strives to live without any help from her family, whom she disdains (save for her beloved, troubled brother Alex). Her husband Dan came from poverty; he wants to be an artist but doesn't feel like they can afford for him to do so. On a whim, he pleads with Bea to take their savings and travel to Italy so they can …

Quick thoughts on Bad Blood by John Carreyrou

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Lying is a disgusting habit, and it flows through the conversations here like it's our own currency. The cultural disease here is what we should be curing...

I've been fascinated first, and horrified later, by Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos, and couldn't fathom this book detailing anything I hadn't already read. HA. Carreyrou shares the details behind his fantastic Wall Street Journal reporting, including the shocking lengths Theranos took to silence him.

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou
Knopf, 2018
Copy from public library
Read Harder challenge

Expanding on his exposé of Theranos, Carreyrou briefly details Elizabeth Holmes' background and her founding of Theranos. The sketchy details that mar the beginning of this endeavor are presented as they develop, and it makes this story even more astounding/horrifying. 

This book is very readable despite the science behind it (or science allegedly behind it, I suppose) although I was o…

Halfway through my reading year: a few thoughts

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I've had to increase my yearly reading goal three times already.

I'm just flabbergasted at that; pretty much since I was pregnant, so the last five years, trying to get in the reading I wanted has been a struggle.

Exhaustion when Unabridged Kid was a babe, and then the struggle to balance parenting and working. Slush-brain and mush-brain. Then, I don't know, disinterest. But unbelievably, this year, something switched.

Maybe it's just that the kid is a kid now, and I'm sleeping a little better; work is brisk and interesting and I've time to read and an interest in reading.

I've read 54 books so far, which I can't even believe.

I've done 16 of the 24 tasks for Read Harder 2019. (And, accidentally, accomplished 12 of the 26 Reading Women challenge).

I'm very, very behind on my historical fiction challenge, but I feel okay with that, because I feel like I can cram those reads in very easily. (I mean, along with romance, hist fic is my catnip.)

Unbe…

Wordless Wednesday, June 5

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Wordless Wednesday today is my working from home tableau. Yes, I use three lipsticks during the day so ensure anytime I'm on a web call, it looks like I have a mouth.

Weekend reads, or it's sunny, sunny, sunny!

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Hoping to finish this New Adult romance, Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston. First Son Alex thinks he loathes British prince Henry but it turns out they maybe have the hots for each other. It's pretty cute and very escapist.

After something like 28 days of rain, we're finally promised a sunny weekend so I'll be doing yard work for infinity. (My front yard is such a jungle that a landscaper actually jackknifed in the road to give me their card so if that's not a sign from the universe, I don't know what is.)

What are you reading this weekend? Or, what else will you be doing?

Karen Russell's Orange World and Other Stories

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Her heart is breaking not to be with her daughter, just as Rae's is breaking not to be with her mother and her grandmother. The breaking is continuous - in the ouroboros of caretaking, guilt and love and fear and love continuously swallow one another.

Unbelievably, my first time reading Karen Russell. I see why she's so popular, though: dramatic, movie-like plots with narrative stylings reminiscent of Byatt, Waters, and Kingsolver.

Orange World and Other Stories by Karen Russell
Knopf, 2019
Digital arc by publisher/library copy

There are 8 stories in this volume. Only one I was truly meh about ("Black Corfu"); the rest were interesting to captivating. "The Prospectors" was like The Shining meets Carnivale -- it was creepy and moody and atmospheric, a historical horror that I could have easily inhaled as a full length novel. Two of Russell's stories take place in a world touched by extreme weather: "The Tornado Auction", in which tornadoes are …