Friday, January 31, 2020

January Books

I can't believe my goal of reading 17 books in 2017 (ha, I ended up with 88 in 201777 in 2018 and 67 in 2019!) has morphed into this passion for books. As you can see, my reading has slowed a bit, but my love for books has not! In the past couple years I've added longer distance races (which means more time running/ training and less time reading), we've remodeled our condo (I think it legit took us six months to finish the whole thing... DIY seems to take twice as long {and cost twice as much} as you originally think it will), and I've added another part time job (which means I'm now working 40ish hours a week, cutting down on my reading time). Even still, I love getting my read on whenever I can.

Truth be told, I was never much of a reader when I was younger (CliffsNotes were my best friend when it came to books), but recently I fell in love. Although I may not read at the same speed as I previously did when I first caught the reading bug, I still want to keep the hobby going (and what better form of accountability than to post a list of the books I finished at the end of the month?!). I don't have any set number of books I am shooting to read this year, but hopefully a lack of goal doesn't mean a lack of books completed. So, without further ado, let's jump into everything I read in January!

  • The Testaments by Margaret Atwood - If you ask me my favorite book I'd have a hard time pinpointing one... In fact, a few weeks ago someone has asked a similar question in a Q&A post and I think I ended up narrowing it down to about 15, haha. But, Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale is definitely high on the list. When I saw she was writing a sequel (well, I wouldn't say it is a sequel in the sense of a continued story per say, but it has the same setting as the original, and is set 15 years after the story of Offred), I had to read it. I was on the wait-list at my library for a few weeks but once it became available I had to run over (literally) and pick it up. I'll be honest, I never really have high hopes for sequels (whether it's a movie or a book), but I was pleasantly surprised with this one. {I feel like much of the negativity I've seen around this book is due to the extremely high expectations put on it, but since I went in expecting less than amazing, I really enjoyed it. I didn't go into it thinking it'd be The Handmaid's Tale Part II and maybe that's why I wasn't disappointed as some other readers have been.} As with The Handmaid's Tale, I couldn't put it down. At first I was having an issue trying to keep the different story lines separate (at least of the two younger girls), but once I realized the chapter notations referenced the "writer" of that portion it got much easier. I wouldn't say that this book sky-rocketed into my top ten books of all time, but I definitely will be purchasing it for my collection. I would give it a 9 out of 10.

  • Letters to the Church by Francis Chan - This was one of the books I grabbed on my Hoopla app in December but didn't get around to listening to it until after the beginning of the year. I didn't have any insights on the book when I downloaded it, other than the title and it was on the popular page in my app. I appreciated many of the points Francis raised in the book. I'll be honest, more often than not I like to look at God as "a father" rather than the all powerful entity that He is. I'm not sure if I am explaining it right, but in my mind I tend to think of all the relational aspects of His character rather than focusing on some of the characteristics that it is hard for me to grasp. With that said, I will be the first to admit that I don't necessarily stand at His feet in the awe and amazement He deserves. Francis raised some great points throughout the book, urging us to consider not what others want or need out of church, but what God desires and requires out of church. I did feel as though there weren't a ton of "take aways" from the book, but it did raise some interesting points to ponder. I also appreciated the viewpoints from churches and leaders outside of the US. I would give it a 7 out of 10.

  • Full Circle by Andrea Barber - If you've been around my corner of the InterWebs for a while, you may have seen a picture or two of me with my friend Andrea... although, you may know her as Kimmy Gibler. You see, I met Andrea a few years back when she was getting to know (and then started dating) a friend of mine. Of course I knew she was on a famed show back in the day, but when I met her I met her as a fellow runner. Don't get me wrong, whenever we've been out together you can tell she's a "celebrity" (in the sense that people notice her, want to get her autograph or snap a selfie with her), but she has always just been Andrea to me. With that said, once her memoir went up for pre-sale you know I had to get my hands on a copy. These last couple weeks have been chaotic (starting a new job, having family in town for two weeks, the holidays, etc) so I didn't have a ton of time to sit down and read her book, but once I had a free day that is exactly what I did. I realize I may be bias because I am her friend, but I can't rave about this book more. Andrea bares her soul in this book and I couldn't be more proud. This isn't your typical celebrity memoir, but that's probably because AB isn't your typical celebrity. She shares about growing up as a child actor, about becoming a wife and mother, about her mental health, about returning to "the big screen" after twenty years of being "out of the biz", about REAL LIFE! Like I mentioned, I might be bias, but if you haven't read her book yet, I would highly recommend it (even if you weren't a Full or Fuller House fan, the realness and rawness of it all is something we need more of in this world of picture perfect Instagram posts and curated captions). I would give it a 10 out of 10.

  • Minimalism: 2 Manuscripts in 1 Book: Minimalist Living and Minimalist Home by Joshua Bell and Joshua Hill - If you've been around these parts of the InterWebs for a while (or have noticed my constant "closet clean-outs" on social media), you may know that I appreciate a minimalistic life. I'll be honest and say things don't hold much value to me. I don't attach sentimental value to many items. It is easy for me to let things go, especially because I feel much lighter and calmer having less. This isn't necessarily the case when it comes to the hubby, but we're working on it ;) When I saw this "book" (it's actually two books put together in one audiobook) on Hoopla I thought I'd snag it for my walks to work. I have to say, I enjoyed it. I won't be buying a paper copy of the books, but I did grab a couple golden nuggets out of the pages. Minimalism is not just about downsizing, but about cutting down on the things that don't matter in your life so that you can spend your time and energy to focus on the things that are most important. This includes removing relationships that don't serve you, spending habits that don't align with your beliefs, social media that suck your time and don't give you anything back in return, etc. I appreciated that the book went into further depth than just getting rid of clothes you don't wear. Minimalism isn't just a one time thing (cleaning out your cupboards of expired spices) and moving on, it's a lifestyle. The one negative I had about the book was the reading of it. I'm used to "professional" audiobooks and this one felt a little amateur. The reader would screw up his words and they left it in. It wasn't a huge issue but it was definitely a distraction and something that stood out to me. If you are looking to transition into minimalist living, this would be a great resource (or at least a place to start). I would give it a 7 out of 10.

  • Running with Sherman by Christopher McDougall - I was sent this book by the publisher a while back and finally got around to it this month. I'm not sure why it sat on my shelf for so long before I picked it up, but I am kicking myself for it now. It is the story of a family rescuing a donkey (Sherman) from a hoarder and eventually "giving him a purpose" by training him to run in a burro race in Colorado. If you are a runner you may be familiar with the author, who wrote the best-seller Born to Run. The story of Sherman is such an inspirational one. It tells of over overcoming obstacles, coming together as a community, persevering, finding purpose, etc. I'm not going to lie, there were times in the book where I thought that the hubby, pup and I should pack up and move to a farm in Amish country because it sounded so awesome. Although the main character in the book was definitely Sherman, there were a few detours along the way to give background and context to the burro racing phenomenon (okay, the author didn't necessarily call this sport a phenomenon, but I have run a couple races with a 23 pound wiener dog and had a heck of a time wrangling him for ONE MILE, so the fact that athletes run long distances roped to half ton "stubborn" animals is mind-boggling to me!). The book was easy to read and kept me entertained. Originally I was thinking I might gift it to a friend after I finished it, but now I'm thinking it has earned its place in my library collection. The only negative I have was I felt like there was so much build up to the event and I wanted more from the race (or life after the race). It seemed like there was 300 pages about the training, the people, the adventure (including the trials and tribulations) of getting to the race and 20 pages of the event and then "the end". I felt like it ended abruptly and I wanted more of a conclusion (or maybe I just didn't want the book to end, either way, I was left feeling like the ending wasn't given as much thought or attention as the rest of the story). I would give it a 9 out of 10.

  • Happy Trail by Daisy Prescott - This is another audiobook I "checked out" via my Hoopla app. The synopsis intrigued me (although, it also made me slightly nervous because it was considered an "adult romance" and I didn't want it to turn into a XXX listen). The story is about a park ranger who works on the Appalachian Trail and went out to clear the trail before a bad storm rolled it. A solo female hiker was supposedly still on the trail, so he had to track her down and accompany her to safety. As I'm sure you could guess, the two get stranded due to the storm and eventually fall in love. I know, I know, it sounds a little cheesy, but I promise I was all in. I also appreciated that there was only one sex scene in the whole thing, hehe (if you've read some of my past book recaps, including December's, you may know I can be a bit of a prude when it comes to that sort of thing, which is why I tend to stick to the YA genre to start with ;)). Anywho, the characters were strong, interesting and had a ton of depth. I felt as though I was along for the journey with them (and, yes, it may have nudged me into wanting to hike the AT at some point in my lifetime... cray-cray, right?!). And, as luck would have it, apparently Daisy has some other books about some of the characters that were in this story (and they're also available on Hoopla), so it sounds like I found my next few books to "read". As a novel and entertaining read, I would give it two thumbs up. This would be a perfect pool-side book while you're on vacation (or a great audiobook to keep you entertained on a long drive). I would give it a 9 out of 10.

  • The RBG Way by Rebecca Gibian - I love me some RBG (in fact, I was even tossing around the idea of getting a tattoo of RBG at some point ;)). When this book came up in my Hoopla app I checked it out right away. I have read quite a few books on Ruth, but this was different. This one focused on the secrets of her success - like her dear hubby, Marty, the people who came before her and allowed her the opportunities that she had, her friendships and how she isn't just friends with others who believed the same things as her, etc. I'll be honest, I feel as though I know a lot about RBG and her career, but this was a little bit of a self-help type read and I loved it. It included tons of great advice from a life well lived (and is a rather quick "read"). I put it on my Amazon Wish List so I remember to get a physical copy for my collection. I would give it a 9 out of 10.

  • The Polygamist's Daughter by Anna LaBaron - This was the final audio book I grabbed on my Hoopla app for January. I didn't know anything about it when I "checked it out" other than the title, but was intrigued. Along with Young Adult books, memoirs are a close second favorite genre. I didn't realize this was technically considered a Christian book until later into the story (probably over half way through the book), and even still, I wouldn't say it was in your face. The story itself is so insane it is almost unbelievable. Anna, as the title suggests, grew up the daughter of a polygamist who was the leader of a cult member. What she endured as a child, at the hands of those who were supposed to protect her, is gut-wrenching and unfathomable. It takes courage to tell your story and I can't even begin to believe how hard it'd be to tell a story like this. I listened to this over the course of a day and a half (while walking the dog, cleaning the house, walking to work, etc). It was captivating and having the author read it made it that much more impactful. I would give it a 9 out of 10.

With that, January has come to a close. My reading may not be going gang-busters like it has in the past, but I hope it never completely stops. If you have any suggestions, let me know! I'm always willing to add them to my library wait list!

PS I created an Amazon list that includes all of the books I've read and would recommend to others. Check it out!

What was the best book you read this year?

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