Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Book Review: Dream More by Dolly Parton

Pages: 128
Publisher: Putnam
Released: November 1, 2012
Received: Library, Own
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Well, Dolly Parton isn't who I would normally think I should think of when I'm listing off inspirational people, but she undeniably is who I think about. Funny how that works out.

This book is super short and easy to read. I felt like I was sitting with Dolly chatting and she was sharing stories about her life and her thoughts and why she did some of the things she's done. And I drew inspiration from that. Rather than the other way around where people set out to inspire, if that makes any sense? 

I liked it this way. It felt genuine. Her good works (and wow are they good!) made me think about what we could do in my school. Her chapter on learning more and what inspired her to believe in that was well told and emotional. Her humility is charming. Her simple message: Dream More, Learn More, Care More, and Be More is easy to understand and remember, and worth striving to apply.

This is a feel good book in a lot of ways and one that I read through quickly but has stayed with me long after. I bought a copy to keep in my personal library, as I think I'll revisit it again. I also recommend checking out her commencement speech on Youtube, which was adapted and fleshed out to make this book.

Friday, January 4, 2019

2019 Keep the Books Off the Shelf Challenge

Challenge Basics: 

Name: Keep the Books Off the Shelf Challenge
Hosts: Me!
Starts: January 1, 2019
Ends: December 31, 2019
Goal: 15 books
Eligible Books: Books you acquire in 2019

Why I'm Interested:  

I'm not sure if anyone is actually hosting a challenge like this, but it's a challenge I'm giving myself, again. Last year I read a ton off books I acquired in 2018, and rather than feel bad about neglecting my previously owned books, instead I felt like I was accomplishing something with every new book I acquired and read. And I was!

Every year I participate in the Read My Own Books Challenge where I try to read as many books I own as possible. Downside? Those challenges don't count books you acquire during the challenge year, and I think they should! Sure, I know the goal is to read all those books that have been languishing year after year, but what about preventative measures? I think those should be rewarded, too!

(I feel like a health insurance plan)

So, enter my challenge. I'm going to try to make a dent in the books I get in 2019 and therefore whittle down my mountain of books remaining unread on my shelves in 2020 (I can't believe I just wrote 2020...where is the time going?!).

Some books I'm considering: 

As many books from my Acquired 2019 shelf as possible. At the end of the year I'll compare how many books I acquired to how many books I've read from that list to see how well I've done. I'd like to shoot for reading/DNF-ing at least 15 books.

Books Completed:

2. Love, Lies, and Liquor by Marion Chesney
1. Dream More by Dolly Parton

Books DNF'ed: 


Thursday, January 3, 2019

2019 Historical Fiction Challenge

3/15 books

Challenge Basics:  

Name: 2019 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge
Hosts: Passages to the Past
Starts: January 1, 2019
Ends: December 31, 2019
Eligible Books: YA and adult historical fiction books. Non-fiction included.
Levels: I am going to try for 15 books

Why I'm Interested:  

Historical Bio and Historical Non-Fiction: These are the weightier, meatier books that I want to make top priority. They go into detail about actual people and events and I'll learn the most from them. I've thrown in the non-fiction books onto this shelf, too. I've been toe-dipping into non-fiction, and I'd like to continue that toe-dip.

Historical Fantasy: These vary as far as actual historical learning goes. Some have a ton of historical detail, but most just use a historical setting. Some of my favorite books come from this shelf and I don't want to neglect them just because they're not heavy historical fiction.

Historical Lite: These are a lot like the books on my Historical Fantasy shelf, just without the fantasy elements. Usually they're mysteries or romances set with a historical backdrop of varying degrees of detail. They're often easy breezy, fun books and I want to make sure I read them as well.

Books Completed:

Historical Non-Fiction

2. The Medieval Anarchy by Kaye Jones
1. Rotten Rules by Terry Deary

Historical Bio (fiction):


Historical Fantasy:


Historical Lite:

1. Yvonne Goes to York by Marion Chesney



Wednesday, January 2, 2019

2019 Read My Own Books Challenge

0/12 books

Challenge Basics: 
Name: Read My Own Damn Books Challenge
Previous Hosts: Estella's Revenge
Starts: January 1, 2019
Ends: December 31, 2019
Eligible Books: Books you own prior to 2019.
Levels: I'm going to try to read and/or DNF and get rid of 12 books I own.

Why I'm Interested:  

I seriously have too many books and they keep sitting on my shelves unread. I did this challenge in 2015 and ended up getting rid of almost all the books I read for the challenge, which means I've carted around and found room for all those books that I didn't even end up liking. Before I move again, I need to reevaluate the books I'm bringing with me and make sure they're books I actually want.

Some books I'm considering: 

Anything on my Own-Unread shelf that I acquired prior to 2019.

At the start of 2019, here's where I stand as far as what books I own and what percentage of them I've read:

26% read of books acquired in 2018 (250)
21% read of books acquired in 2017 (360) 
37% read of books acquired in 2016 (368) 
19% read of books acquired in 2015 (113)
35% read of books acquired in 2014 (80)
47% read of books acquired in 2013 (58)
43% read of books acquired in 2012 (77)
77% read of books acquired in 2010-2011 (146)
81% read of books acquired in 2008-2009 (36)
87% read of books acquired in 2003-2007 (100)
97% read of books acquired in 2002 and earlier (76)

Books Completed:

5. The Medieval Anarchy by Kaye Jones (2018)
4. Rotten Rulers by Terry Deary (2017)
3. Yvonne Goes to York by Marion Chesney (2018)
2. The Perfect Paragon by Marion Chesney (2018)
1. The Deadly Dance by Marion Chesney (2018)

Books DNF'ed:


Tuesday, January 1, 2019

2019 Re-Read Challenge

Challenge Basics: 

Name: The Re-Read Challenge
Hosts: Belle of the Literati (in 2016)
Starts: January 1, 2019
Ends: December 31, 2019
Eligible Books: Books you've already read.

Why I'm Interested:  

Whether it's re-reading for comfort or to revisit old favorites, I want to make sure I enthusiastically dive into re-reading whenever I feel the urge.

Some books I'm considering:

My Special Shelf favorites, of course. Also, books I liked enough or am curious enough to re-listen to on audio.

Books Completed:

4. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling
3. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J. K. Rowling
2. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J. K. Rowling
1. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling

Monday, December 31, 2018

Reflecting on My 2018 Challenges

6 did I do?

The Re-Read Challenge
Goal: Re-read as many books as I want
Books read:7
Goal achieved? Yes!

I ended up re-reading 7 books this year, none of which were on audio. Audio books were a way I ended up rereading a lot of books, but with my current barely-five-minute commute, I don't have much room for audio books right now.

This was an unusual year for rereads, as none of the "usual suspects" made an appearance this year. No Karen White, Amelia Atwater-Rhodes, and L. J. Smith. For the second year in a row now, no Anne Bishop and Sarah J. Maas. These are my standby comfort reads, but 2018 didn't lead me to seek out this kind of comfort read. Or, perhaps the way I approached 2018 had something to do with that. 

Instead, I revisited some old favorites that I hadn't read in years and years, including the Hero's Guide series and Harry Potter. While I wanted the lighthearted humor of the Hero's Guide books in part because I wanted a laugh, I mostly read all of these because they were good books I wanted to revisit again. Refreshing! Last year in my challenge reflection I noted that it was only toward the end of 2017 that I started rereading for re-experiencing an old favorite instead of for comfort and I noted that I wanted to keep that focus in mind this year. I didn't really remember this throughout the year, but it does seem like I followed that desire.

I feel like it's important to remind myself again though, that following what I want not what I think I should do is what is important. Reread for comfort or reread for revisiting, either one is ok.

Goodreads Reading Challenge
Goal: 50 books, then adjusted, and adjusted, up to 86
Books read: 89
Goal achieved? Yes!  

I set a modest goal of 50 books so I didn't feel pressured by quantity and because, I love it when my progress bar says "you're x books ahead!" rather than "you're x books behind." It's much more motivating and makes me feel like I'm totally kicking butt. I figured I might surpass 50 books, but if I didn't, I'd be happy with hitting 50. This worked out well, and I ended up adjusting my goal up and up again. I think I'll start with 50 books again next year, and so if I make that goal then wonderful, but if I surpass it then it's just icing on the cake.

Historical Fiction Challenge
Goal: 15 books
Books read: 44 (18 bio-fic/non-fic)
Goal achieved? Yes! 

I love historical fiction and I wanted to make sure I put some focus on the genre again since it's so easy for time to slip away when it comes to reading (i.e. "has it really been four years since I last read a book in that series??" Sound familiar?).

While I included historical fantasy and historical lite in the list, what I really wanted to make sure I read was biographical historical fiction and non-fiction. Basically, I wanted to learn about history. To that end, I read five non-fiction books, which is less abnormal for me lately but still something I'm impressed with myself for doing, and thirteen biographical historical fiction books.

While I'm counting all of the Marion Chesney books as historical lite, they were surprisingly meaty and painted a very good picture of the time period. I read a reply from the author once where she said something like "although the books are frivolous, the research was grueling" and it shows. I didn't spend any time this year with Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin series, which is disappointing, especially considering how many I read last year and how much I enjoyed them, but not terribly disappointing.

For the second year in a row, Marie Antoinette and Cleopatra didn't make an appearance. I spent time revisiting the Tudors and the Wars of the Roses again, but in both cases from a slightly different angle through the eyes of traditionally "side" characters. The Tudors also got far less time than last year, with the only Henry VIII wife book being the non-fiction Anne Boleyn book.

Last year I said I continued to dabble with Henry II/Richard/Eleanor and Stephen/Matilda, but this year I think I can replace the word "dabble" with something firmer, particularly in regard to Henry II and Eleanor who I feel like I finally know. Last year I toe-dipped with the three Edwards (I, II, and III) and I was hoping I'd spend more time with them this year. Unfortunately Edward III didn't get any time from me, but Edward II got two books and, while it's not on my list because I haven't finished it yet, I did spend time reading Thomas B. Costain's Edward I section of his book The Three Edwards. So, hopefully more to come on the Edwards front next year.

Also notable this year was my foray into Henry III through the perspective of his sister (and her husband Simon de Montfort), which is the first time I've managed to finish a Henry III book. Also incredibly, 2018 was the year I finally found a Victoria book I liked. And I finally finished When Christ and His Saints Slept, which I've been trying to finish for years and years. Perhaps 2018's the year when things started in earlier years finally came together.

Keep the Books Off the Shelf Challenge
Goal: Read books I acquired in 2018
Books read: 54 read, 3 DNF = 57 total
Goal achieved? Yes! 

The point of this challenge was so that I wouldn't continually add to my backlog of unread books on my shelves. Yes, it's important to read though the books I already own, but I think it's equally important to read the new books I get so they too don't languish unread for years.

I got a lot of books in 2018, so I knew I wouldn't be able to read most of them this year. And that's ok. I did end up reading 22% though! Last year I ended up reading a little over 19% and even though I got fewer books this year, that's still a win. If I include the books I acquired this year but read in previous years, that gets me up to 25%. And if I add in the ones I acquired and DNF-ed this year (12) that gets me up to 30%. Yay! I enjoy this challenge and I'll sign up for it again in 2019.

Read My Own Books Challenge
Goal: Read books I acquired prior to 2018
Books read: 26 read, 14 DNF'ed, 10 remove = 50 total
Goal achieved? Yes!

I set a rough target of reading or DNF-ing 12 books this year. Working out to roughly one book a month, I figured that was doable. Really, what I want to achieve with this challenge are two things: First, I want to determine whether or not I should continue lugging these books around with me. Second, I want to not let books sit unread for years on my shelves.

Of the 26 books, 14 of them were e-books and 18 of them were books I got in 2017. So, as far as the first reason for this challenge, many of the books I ended up reading don't apply. However, 12 did, and that was my goal! I also ended up reading 9 books that have been on my shelves for between 2 and 6 years, so that's a win for reason number two. When I add in all the books I DNF-ed and removed, that makes this even more of a win. Removing 25 books this year definitely lightened my shelves (and if I move, that's at least 2 less boxes).

All throughout the year I was looking at my 2017-acquired reads as "less good" than those older owned books. But, really, looking at my reason number two for this challenge, those 2017-acquried reads actually represent a win. That's 18 more books that only went unread for a year or less, which is great.

I'm still playing around with how I want to track progress on this, and I think now I may try tracking both percentage of books read and number of books removed that year (I only decided this after I removed the books from 2016 and 2017, so that's why there aren't any removal numbers there). This way if I either increase the percentage or remove books, either way I'm moving toward my goal. The below isn't quite accurate for 2018 because I cleaned up some books that were still showing on those shelves even though I had removed the print copy years ago. This at least gives me a baseline for next year. The * indicates progress in that there was either a change in percentage (for the better) or removal of books.

26% read of books acquired in 2018 (250)
21% read of books acquired in 2017 (360) *
37% read of books acquired in 2016 (368) *
19% read and 4 removed of books acquired in 2015 (113) *
35% read and 1 removed of books acquired in 2014 (80) *
47% read and 2 removed of books acquired in 2013 (58) *
43% read and 6 removed of books acquired in 2012 (77) *
77% read and 6 removed of books acquired in 2010-2011 (146) *
81% read and 0 removed of books acquired in 2008-2009 (36)
87% read and 0 removed of books acquired in 2003-2007 (100)
97% read and 0 removed of books acquired in 2002 and earlier (76)

I still have a lot of books I haven't read, but I think this is going to be a marathon not a sprint. I think I made good progress in 2018 and definitely beat my 2017 progress (which beat my record in 2016). I'll be signing up for this challenge in 2019 and I hope to continue making a dent.

Library Reading Challenge
Goal: Read library books
Books read: 2 read
Goal achieved? ?? 

I'm not sure if this challenge is the right fit for me anymore. I mostly feel the need to keep it around because then every book I read "counts" for a challenge, but do I really need that? I don't know that I do anymore.

I've been enjoying the freedom and lack of stress in reading my own books. I'm also really happy that I've been focusing on my own books instead of library books, which is still so new to me but feels really great. I got out of the habit of going to the library these last few years because my last library was annoying to drive to, annoying to park in, and had annoying hours. Plus, in both this library and my last library I work professionally with the directors, so I always feel like I need to sneak in and hope I'm seen because when I'm in the library getting books for myself the last thing I want to do is talk business.

While a little part of me feels guilty (I should support libraries!) and a little part of me feels apprehensive about letting go of a challenge, I think it's time for me and this challenge to take a break next year. There's always the future.

Reflections and next up

Most of my challenges didn't have a hard number goal, which I like. It allows me to provide focus to my reading without strictly holding myself to an actual number.

I continue to want to read historical fiction and non-fiction, and I love how this challenge helps focus my reading on that. I read even more this year than last year and I hope to read in this ballpark next year, too. 

Last year was the first year I really embraced reading my own books and relaxing my reading rules. I'm happy to say I completely continued that approach this year and I hope to see myself keep this new relaxed approach up next year. I like that these books were a good mix of 2018, 2017, and older books.

I'm also happy I finally let go of books I've been carrying around unread for so long by recognizing that a large part of me didn't actually want to read those books, which is why they were unread for so long. Shedding feelings of obligation, guilt, and "but what if it's The One (when I know it won't be...and if it is, then I can always re-buy it in the future)" was liberating and I feel much better for it.

My hope for 2018 was that I continue reading what I want to, when I want to, and how I want to, and not because I feel the need to adhere to a rule or obligation. Read my own books, appreciating what I have. Recognize and appreciate lessons learned and experiences gained. I'd say that definitely describes 2018, so, success! I hope to continue this approach in 2019.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

2018 in Review: October through December

I made a really big list

It's that time of year again! I started making these lists because I'm a list kind of person, but they've become so much more. I've found myself returning to them time and again almost like a scrapbook. It's been a nice way to reflect, remember, and reminisce.

Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death by M. C. Beaton
Agatha Raisin makes me think of my co-worker in one of the libraries I worked in years ago. She became my friend and felt like another grandmother to me and helped me grow in ways I don't think I was able to fully realize until I got older. Both realize in the sense of be aware of and realize in the sense of put into action. Some things you just need to be the right age for, and I think as I'm getting older those lessons are more applicable to my current life experiences. This friend liked the Agatha Raisin series and reading them now I feel like I'm reading them with her.

Agatha Raisin and the Vicious Vet by M. C. Beaton
...Potted Gardner
...Walkers of Dembley
...Murderous Marriage

I also love these books because I love Agatha Raisin. I read a quote from the author that said something about how she loves writing Agatha Raisin because Agatha gets to say all the things M. C. Beaton would sometimes like to say but she is too polite. I agree! She also said she wanted to create with Agatha a character you might not like but would want to win in the end despite that, and that definitely describes Agatha for me. I love her, and even though I spend a lot of time reading the books shaking my head and saying "Noooooooooo" before Agatha steps in it again, these moments always serve to endear her even more to me.

Deborah Goes to Dover by M. C. Beaton
Ok, one more. I dipped back into this series and enjoyed it immensely. It may not seem like a Big Deal, but my flexibility in going in and out of this series based on my reading mood is Huge for me. 

Isabella by Colin Falconer
This is a strange book because on one hand it's awkwardly written and distant. On the other hand, though, it is genius. Isabella and Edward are both heartrendingly human, with equal doses of human flaws, frailty, and sympathy. Sometimes strange can be genius.

The Death of a King by P. C. Doherty
Honestly, I was really hoping I had found another Daughter of Time. I adore DoT and this book uses the same gimmick of a fictional character conducting an investigation into one of history's mysteries. This time the mystery is the death of Edward II. The clear biases here were in stark contrast to Isabella (here Isabella is every bit the She-Wolf history has maligned her to be), but this didn't annoy me. Sometimes it's fun to delight in a cacklingly evil representation and the image of Isabella carrying around Edward's heart and ordering secret murders was exceedingly fun. Objectively, this was a fun book. In the moment, it was kind of a slog and even though the book is actually pretty short, it felt really long (probably because it has big chapters). Some books are more enjoyable after they're finished than while you're in the middle of them.

The Hero's Guide to Being an Outlaw by Christopher Healy
Ah, just as enjoyable as the others. I'm sad this series is over, but I'm happy they hold up on rereads. The first time I read this book I had so many expectations, hopes, and fears. This time around I knew exactly what would happen and so I could just sit back, relax, and enjoy. While sometimes the suspense of not knowing provides a thrilling delight, I think I actually liked the book more this time around than the first. There isn't just one way to enjoy something, and appreciating the different facets and ways is important.

Thornyhold by Mary Stewart
I read Rose Cottage last year and loved it for its quiet, lovely story. I was hoping for more of the same with Thornyhold and that is exactly what I got. This is one of the first books I bought here in my new home state, but it took me about a year to actually read it. I'm so glad I did. It's a sighing book (you know, *sigh* this book is so wonderful). There's a certain old world charm like The Secret Garden or A Little Princess. The house, the wild land, the charming child, the sweet pets, the lovely romance, and the journey to contentment make this book one I want to revisit again and again.

Agatha Raisin and the Terrible Tourist by M. C. Beaton
...Wellspring of Death
...Wizard of Evesham
...Witch of Wyckhadden
I continued to read Agatha Raisin throughout the month of November, polishing off another four of her stories. I keep waiting to get bored or tired or annoyed with the series, but it hasn't happened yet. I like following Agatha as she muddles through mysteries experiences romances (most horrible, some not so bad), grows, and doesn't grow. I love the characters who make up her circle of friends. I love seeing her try to cook or quit smoking and I love even more when she goes back to embracing her old ways.

Night and Silence by Seanan McGuire
I feel like I'm held hostage to this series. I just want it to end so I can be released and don't feel compelled to read the books anymore! There are elements and vestiges that I like and make me continue reading, but increasingly I feel miserable reading these. Just like a relationship, there may be good parts, but if the overall package is not good, then it's time to call it quits. I think I just need to admit that the relationship is over, make peace with that, and let it go.   

Grave Ransom by Kalayna Price

Ok, so this is another relationship that's on rocky ground, but I ended up really enjoying the time I spent with this latest installment. I think I was searching for what I didn't get with Night and Silence, and I found it in Grave Ransom. Even though there are some things I'm not loving (the romance is totally stalled), what stood out the most to me (and in stark contrast with N&S) is that I still really like the main character. That matters.

Fillets of Plaice by Gerry Durrell
Now that I know what to expect from Gerry Durrell, particularly from his short story collections, I went into Fillets of Plaice with both eyes open. That's the way to do it, and so I was at turns amused and bemused by Gerry's always interesting and often hilarious adventures, musings, and stories. 
Agatha Raisin and the Fairies of Fryfam by M. C. Beaton
...Love from Hell
...Day the Floods Came
...Case of the Curious Curate
...Haunted House
Ah ha! Finally. Agatha's love life is always filled with ups and downs, but The Love From Hell finally shoved a man out of her life and I hope it's for good! Agatha deserves better, and I love that Mrs. Bloxby agrees with me. I know none of this makes sense if you haven't read the books, but here's the takeaway: I adore this series. Agatha is pure Id (as in, id, ego, and superego). She does all the things I might secretly want to do but I Know Better.

The Fall of Anne Boleyn: A Countdown by Claire Ridgway
A countdown indeed. This book was fantastic. I enjoy reading Claire's blog The Anne Boleyn Files and that was where I stumbled across her books. This one has such short chapters that it was easy to fly through it. The short chapters and to-the-point writing also made the "countdown" feel even more tense and foreboding. The creeping horror and swiftness of Anne's demise is terrifying and Claire perfectly captured this feeling. How do you go from beloved paramour for whom a king would divorce his wife, break with the church, and throw his country into turmoil to, in seemingly the blink of an eye, discarded and decapitated? Chilling!   

The Royal Griffin by Juliet Dymoke
Juliet Dymoke is a new-to-me author, but hardly new. This book was originally published in the late 1970s, but a bunch of her books seem to have been re-released over the past two years. I'm glad, because even though Henry III books are always challenging for me (I just don't like him), this is the first one I've managed to finish. Focusing on Henry's sister Eleanor and Simon probably helped a lot, as they didn't like Henry much either. I liked the first half much more, with the beginning showing a lot more care to character development and the ending rushing through events and focusing less on character development. I'm looking forward to reading more by this author, especially with characters I like more. 

The Enchanted Places by Christopher Milne
This is a gem of a book. I don't think it's for everyone, but I get the feeling that Christopher Milne is more of a kindred spirit than not. His careful musings, childhood memories, descriptions of nature, musings on Pooh and Christopher Robin, slight sadness, reflection on his parents, caution, and joy came through in a very tender way. I feel like this isn't really something to broadcast too loudly, but rather a book to savor, treasure, and keep close.   

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J. K. Rowling
...Chamber of Secrets
Has it really been thirteen years since I last read these books? Surely not. And yet, it has. I've watched the movie so many times between then and now and Harry Potter is so much a part of the fabric of our existence now that it doesn't seem like so much time has passed. There were no surprises in this re-read. I've remembered it all. But it was just nice to spend some time at Hogwarts with Harry and Co. again. I don't know if I'll read through the whole series or just part, but that is a decision for next year.


Life stress intruded more in the final quarter with upheavals at work. That's to be expected with new leadership, and everything will be just fine in the end, but change is hard, particularly for my coworkers. Even though the stress is not my own, it has been stressful for me to be around so many stressed and upset people. My in-laws also came during this time and we've experienced a series of annoying but ultimately fine things.

In some ways I let this all build up. End of the year reflection and writing these lists has helped put things in perspective though, and it's been nice seeing that even though life may have been stressful, my reading experiences have been lovely. As with Night and Silence, the final quarter of the year has been about clarifying what I actually think and feel about things, and then making intentional choices to remove those things that do not bring me joy and focus instead on those that do. Just as Dumbledore advises us not to dwell on dreams and forget to live, it is equally important not to dwell on things that do not add joy to our living.

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