Book Review: Still Me by Jojo Moyes

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Fans of Jojo Moyes, rejoice! Louisa Clark, the plucky heroine from Me Before You and After You, returns in Still Me. Following up from the plot in After You, Louisa has been contacted by her friend and former colleague Nathan, who also worked with Will in Me Before You, about the possibility of working for a wealthy family in New York.

Despite her newfound love with Ambulance Sam, Louisa needs a fresh perspective and an opportunity to let go of the past, so she agrees to the offer and proceeds to move from London to New York. And not just anywhere in New York, but to 5th Avenue, as the live-in assistant to Agnes, the immigrant (younger, second) wife of an American millionaire businessman.

There are fun parallels to The Devil Wears Prada as Louisa transitions to being a girl about the city, learning how to anticipate Agnes’ needs and helping her navigate obligations inherent with her posh lifestyle. But as her personal assistant, Louisa is also privy to family secrets and when her loyalty causes Agnes’ wealthy husband to question Louisa’s actions, the predictability of the book’s plot becomes less so. Louisa is now faced with the opportunity to reinvent herself again and have the opportunity to embrace her true love: vintage fashion.

As she explores New York City, it becomes a supporting character all on its own – Central Park, the neighborhoods, libraries, and diners she visits all enhance the overall atmosphere of the book.

The character of Louisa is entirely relatable to me with her desires of putting others ahead of herself, living a full and passionate life, and embracing her creative and quirky tendencies. She would definitely be the kind of gal I would want to befriend in real life.

As is typical of Moyes’ writing, she infuses “all the feels” into Still Me: sweetness, humor, longing, sadness, grief, courage, living life to the full, and, of course, love. For those who have loved this ongoing story line, Still Me is not to be missed.

My thanks to NetGalley for access to the digital ARC. https://www.netgalley.com/

 

 

 

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Book Review: Need to Know by Karen Cleveland

NeedToKnow

Need to Know by Karen Cleveland

It’s not often that I feel so nervous about the plot of a book I’m hesitant to keep reading, but I held my breath page after page, wondering what was going to happen next!

Releasing today, Need to Know is a contemporary spy mystery, filled with secrets and lots of questions. Vivian, who is a CIA analyst, finds out her husband Matt is a Russian sleeper agent. What is she going to do? Report him to the Agency? Cover up for what she has found and risk going to prison, leaving behind her four children? Try to bargain with the Russians? How much of her marriage is a lie?

Cleveland weaves a compelling scenario, based in reality, that keeps you guessing from start to finish. If you need a heart-pounding read without objectionable language and not too much violence, Need to Know is for you!

My thanks to Edelweiss for access to the digital ARC. https://www.edelweiss.plus/

 

Learn: Lessons learned from yoga

Photo I took of my local yoga studio

As a very young child my parents enrolled me in gymnastics classes, which I’m sure my educator mother knew was a great way to develop gross motor skills for my little arms and legs. After winning a few competitions in our town, my 5 year old self imagined being the next Mary Lou Retton. However, the next year my mom gave me the choice: gymnastics or piano? I chose piano and three decades, plus a degree in music later, I’m thankful I made this choice since playing for pleasure at home and at church is a part of my identity. (Yet because I’m so petite, I might have made a pretty good gymnast…)

Maybe it’s because I honed my sense of balance and flexibility at a young age, or maybe it’s just the way my body was designed, but when I discovered yoga in my early 20s, I naturally took to this practice.

When I accepted the offer to become an academic librarian in Oklahoma, I met a knowledgeable yoga instructor, also the nurse practitioner at our university, and began attending her classes at the local studio. Eight years and a series of teachers have come and gone but the studio remains a safe haven for me as I roll out my mat, smile or say hello to others in the class, and allow myself an hour weekly to breathe, stretch, and practice some quality self-care.

Last week I attended my first yoga class of 2018 and it prompted me to think about the lessons I’ve learned and why yoga remains an important part of my life.

  1. Fuel up

    Eat a light snack a little while before class. There’s nothing worse than the distraction of thinking about food when you’re in warrior one.

  2. Practice routinely

    The more often I go to class (and practice at home), the more comfortable I am with being able to naturally understand the directions and be in the moment, rather than having to watch the instructor the entire time.

  3. Judgement free zone

    There’s no room to judge myself or others. I’m only there for myself, so I don’t have to be concerned about the person beside me. And unless I need correction from the instructor to not harm my body, if I make a mistake, chances are I can just do the opposite movement the next round.

  4. Breathe

    It’s easy to forget the restorative nature of a deep, cleansing breath. Not only does this provide necessary oxygen to the body, but the simple pattern of breathe in…breathe out creates a calming, centering rhythm to focus solely on this one thing.

  5. Listen to my body

    I am a living human being, so my body is going to respond differently each time I practice. Only I can judge when I need to push myself versus be okay with the basic or modified version of a certain pose.

  6. Don’t give up

    There are times my body screams to release from a strength-building pose (chair, anyone?), but muscles and determination are built when the going gets tough.

  7. Christian perspective

    Sometimes the instructor shares a more universal thought or passage, but as a Christian I often take these broad sentiments and apply them with Scripture I’ve committed to memory, or turn my thoughts to prayer for deeper spiritual growth.

  8. Make the choice

    Like a lot of things worth doing, it’s sometimes hard to pull away from whatever is pressing, but after class I never regret the effort it took to choose yoga over something else that will still be waiting for me later.

yoga

Image source


Is yoga a routine part of your life? If so, what lessons have you learned from your series of practices?

My word for 2018

Adopting a word for the year isn’t a new idea, nor is it original, yet I’ve found it empowering to enter 2018 with a touchstone I can return to time and time again.

Last year, the word ENOUGH seemed to hover in my consciousness quite a bit.

Two years ago it was the Old Testament scripture Isaiah 41:13 (NIV),

For I am the Lord your God
    who takes hold of your right hand
and says to you, Do not fear;
    I will help you.

A week or so before Christmas, a series of conversations, eventful changes, and the song Stay by This Hope propelled me to begin hearing the Lord beckon…

Lean in

(Okay, so it’s really two words, but you get the idea.)

Throughout this new year, I hope LEANING IN looks like:

  • being bold and unafraid
  • being aware and paying attention
  • being patient but taking action when necessary
  • being diligent
  • being intentional
  • being a good listener

And yes, there is a book called Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, which I am currently reading. Even though the specific focus of the book is for women to embody strength,  confidence, and leadership, this overall theme helps inspire personal applications in my personal, spiritual, and professional life and is the perfect tie-in for my word of 2018.


Do you have a word or phrase you’re carrying with you into the new year? Please feel free to share in the comments below.

Knit: Fall & Christmas 2017

At the start of fall I mentioned I was on a knitting hiatus due to what I believe was a repetitive injury strain on my left-hand pinkie.

During this time of rest one creative measure I pursued was revisiting some beloved hand knits made over the past two years and entered them in the county fair.

Wonder of wonder, miracle of miracles, among all the knitters and crocheters (both share the same category) who also entered hand-crafted works of art, I won blue ribbons in the hat category and miscellaneous category (that was most surprising – compared to all the other items in this catch-all group), and a red ribbon in the gloves/mittens category!

Another fall goal was to sew pillows for The Optometrist’s academic office. These red chairs are ones he inherited (and loves) but they needed a fun contrast color. He picked out this blue material with white shapes and lines (looks very scientific or architectural – perfect for him) when we visited Quilts & Quilts in Branson, MO, over Spring Break. I bought two pillow forms and invisible zippers from Michael’s and after using this Hobby Lobby tutorial, I was very pleased (as was he) with the end result!


In other attempts to not chew off my arm since I couldn’t knit, I also had a reminder of how to cross-stitch from my talented mother-in-law.

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And then finally! In about late October, the twinges in my pinkie began to subside for longer stretches of time and I hesitantly began knitting again. Hal-le-lu-jah!

Since I have alternated in knitting hats for Christmas presents, plus a pair of socks for myself.

Pattern: Vanilla Socks with a Fish Lips Kiss Heel (pay for pattern on Ravelry)
Needles: US 1, 40″ circular Signature Needle Arts fixed circular needles
Yarn: Chaos Theory Fiber Arts in the Christmas Chaos colorway
Recipient: for me!

Using the Turkish cast on method, I cast on 10 sts and increased to 56 sts. Knitting these two-at-a-time, toe up, using a Magic Loop. The feet are knit plain/vanilla, Fish Lips Kiss Heel, the leg is all knit, a 2×2 rib for about 1 1/2 inches at the top, then used Jeny’s Surprisingly Stretchy Bind Off.

While I’m not quite back to 100% strength (probably about 94% most days), I’ve begun paying more attention to how my hands feel and if they are sore at the end of a long day of typing, I give them a rest in the evening. But the knowledge that I’m knitting (and playing piano) fairly consistently again is such a gift for me to not only create but engage in a bit of self-care at the same time.

Favorite knitting:

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Pattern: Find Your Fade
Pay for pattern by: Andrea Mowry
Needles: US 4, 60″ circular ChaioGoo Lace fixed circular needles
Yarn: Hedgehog Fibres Sock – Pollen, Fools Gold, Bramble, Salty Tales, Pheasant, Dragonfly, Bali
Recipient: I’m keeping this one!

Finished in May when it was really too hot to wear this, it was such a soothing pattern and I’ve enjoyed having it in my wardrobe this fall and winter!

Total knits: 26

Baby booties: 4 pair     Hats: 10     Puppets: 1     Shawls: 3     Dishcloths: 3     Toys: 1     Socks: 2 pair     Fingerless mittens: 1 pair     Ear warmers: 1

2018 knitting goals:

  • Sweater – Since I had a bit of a setback with some pain in my left pinkie finger this fall, my goal of knitting an adult sweater when the weather turned cooler was put on the back burner. I’m determined to see this happen this year! I have a sweater’s quantity of fingering weight yarn and am considering the Hitofude Cardigan in Bare Naked Wools Better Breakfast Fingering in Mocha. And I would also like to consider the Coeur d’Alene sweater as a worsted weight alternative.
  • Heel – I’ve only knitted socks with either an afterthought heel or the Fish Lips Kiss Heel and am anxious to try a different kind of short row heel. Any suggestions?
  • Christmas ornaments – This was the first year in 8 years of living in Oklahoma that I didn’t make Christmas ornaments, because of my sore finger. Still in my Ravelry queue is the Bluebird of Happiness, which I can knit with leftover Hedgehog Fibers Bali from my Fade.
  • Advent calendar – I’ve seen lots of folks on Instagram or Vlogmas videos talking about yarn advent calendars. This seems like a fun way to add some beautiful yarn to my Granny Stripe Afghan!

If you’re a knitter or crocheter, what have been your favorite projects this year? What are you excited to make in 2018?

Read: December 2017

My December reading has included newfound literary Christmas treats, many novellas, and several 2017 buzz-worthy books!

Bonfire

Bonfire by Krysten Ritter

In this fictional debut from actress and knitter (!!!), Ritter’s protagonist Abby is a lawyer who has returned to her rural hometown in Indiana 10 years after graduating high school and escaping to the allure of anonymity in Chicago.

She has no reason to come back and face unanswered questions until Abby’s legal team is sought to investigate claims that a local, do-gooder company is actually responsible for a variety of chronic illnesses and environmental red flags. Abby realizes the task to separate these current incidents from the unexplained behaviors of past acquaintances (many bullied her and were too mean to be called “friends”) is easier said than done.

My thanks to Edelweiss for access to the digital ARC. https://www.edelweiss.plus

TDOAL

The Deal of a Lifetime by Fredrik Backman

Probably best known for A Man Called Ove (which I have yet to read), Swedish author Backman tells a brief yet compelling story in this novella set on Christmas Eve.

Upon its completion I was left thinking about ambition and legacy, and as a Christian, humility and sacrifice.

Book read via: my academic library InterLibrary Loan (ILL)

ChristmasBall

Two Tickets to the Christmas Ball by Donita K. Paul 

I honestly can’t remember where I heard about this book, but it’s been on my Christmas TBR list for several years.

Cora and Simon are two co-workers whose paths have never crossed other than in a business as usual way. But when they both visit the same mysterious bookstore on the same evening and both receive tickets to the wizard’s ball, Divine destiny is giving them a push to take another look at one another.

Filled with a bit of Christmas magic from a Christian’s perspective, this novella was more traditional in its length and made for a sweet, romantic weekend read.

Book read via: my academic library InterLibrary Loan (ILL)

FamilyUnderBridge

The Family Under the Bridge by Natalie Savage Carlson 

This Newbery Honor Book from 1959 casts a heartwarming and dreamy look at a serious topic – homelessness at Christmastime.

When Armand, a beggar on the streets of Paris, encounters a mother and her three children who are now also homeless, he begrudgingly sets in motion an unexpectedly generous approach to helping provide for them in their time of need.

The illustrations by Garth Williams, whom I met as a young girl, are a beautiful accompaniment to this story about kindness and the family you choose.

Book read via: youth collection from my academic library

Chemist

The Chemist by Stephenie Meyer

Recommended by a colleague back in the summer, I began listening to this during my Thanksgiving travels. The narration was well done with easily identifiable character voices. For those familiar with Meyer, the author of Twilight, I promise there are no sparkly vampires in this one!

This spy thriller unfolds well, allowing the reader to get to know The Chemist and how she earned her name from her former job as a mastermind of chemical persuasion for the American government. But questions remain: why is she still on the run, who set her up to interrogate an innocent man and why, and whom can she love and trust moving forward as she seeks answers (and revenge) for those who have wronged her?

Book read via: public library (audio CD)

ExitWest

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

The American Library Association’s Book Club Central, has developed a new(ish) partnership with actress Sarah Jessica Parker as their honorary chair. I just love how she describes herself as an avid reader, “To this day, I would never leave the house without something to read. I’ve been running late for things and run back just to get a book” (from American Libraries magazine). I hear you, SJP, I hear you.

Exit West has been the fall selection, which I added to my public library wish list and when I found it wasn’t checked out a few weeks ago, I brought it home with me.

Also mentioned in the NPR Best Books of 2017 list, this contemporary fiction novel depicts two Middle Eastern young adults, Nadia and Saeed, whose friendship and burgeoning love becomes increasingly difficult as safety within their unspecified city becomes painfully violent with infighting between rebels and the military. But rather than be trapped by their surroundings, portals exist in their city (as do they all around the world) allowing them to pass through a door and leave their home location.

While I would classify this as fiction with magical realism, it is steeped in a reality all too common for many who face being a refugee in various parts of the world. The prose is beautifully written and easy to follow, which makes for a beautiful read from a different cultural perspective.

Book read via: public library

FC-JRRT

Letters from Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien

Reading all of The Lord of the Rings series remains an ongoing goal, but this sweet collection of letters has nothing to do with Middle Earth. They have everything to do with Tolkien and his imaginative love shared with his children over the span of about 20 years as he writes and illustrates letters from the pen of Father Christmas.

This is a perfect Christmas read-aloud for members of the whole family but I would suggest using the print version so as to not miss out on viewing his variations of hand lettering and fonts for the different characters, along with the accompanying colorful illustrations.

Book read via: my academic library InterLibrary Loan (ILL)

TheHangman

The Hangman by Louise Penny

This Chief Inspector Gamache novella was written for the Good Reads incentive program for reluctant readers in Canada, thus making it very approachable with the plot and vocabulary. A handful of Penny’s characters from Three Pines make an appearance and only whets your readerly appetite for more!

Book read via: public library Overdrive

SistersFirst

Sisters First by Jenna Bush Hager and Barbara Pierce Bush

Over the past three decades the Bush family has been synonymous with American politics. Without a political agenda, this co-authored memoir by twins Jenna and Barbara lends a very personal and inviting presence to hear their side of the story.

This memoir is filled with candid stories of their childhood, honest explanations of moments in the spotlight, and, most importantly, a deep and appreciative love for each other and their unique family.

Book read via: public library


Next up on the blog: my knitting recap and goals for 2018!

Read: Top 5 of 2017!

Favorite books read in 2017:

(Links below lead back to blogs where I discuss these books in more detail.)

Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan
This was my FAVORITE book of the year, especially via Audible!

Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
Why did it take me over 3 decades of living on Earth to discover this literary kindred spirit?!

Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist
An ideal read when needing to take a breath at the start of summer.

The Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson
Discovering the term “Southern fiction” makes me very excited to read more in this genre in the coming year.

Still Life by Louise Penny
…Plus the next 5 Chief Inspector Gamache books I’ve also read this year – a newfound favorite mystery series.

Total books read: 74

Home library: 13     Public library: 23     Academic library: 9     InterLibrary Loan: 11     E-books: 13     Audio books: 5

2018 reading goals:

  • Seasonal reading
    Over the past two Christmases, I have really enjoyed reading seasonally, so I hope to do more of that through spring and summer this year (as well as fall and winter).
  • Less screen time
    Since this summer, I’ve been motivated to spend less time on my phone and instead reach for a book and hope to continue this diligent bit of self-control into the new year.
  • Diverse reading
    I live by the philosophy that “the right book finds you at the right time.” In September and beyond I have intentionally been more open to reading books with diverse characters and plots, namely viewpoints from African American authors and stories about immigration, and I desire for this pattern to continue to inform my view of the world.
  • Read more from my home library
    Upon viewing my reading statistics, over the past year I’ve leaned heavily on borrowing library books, for which I (and my bank account) are so thankful, but there remain many, many books I need to read on the shelves of my home library.
  • An active TBR list
    Like a lot of people the winter blues can really zap me in January, so having a list of books ready to read and/or request from the library really gets me excited!
    On my short list are:
    • Lean In by Cheryl Sandberg
    • Dear Fahrenheit 451 by Annie Spence
    • Courage is Contagious by Nicholas Haramis
    • Endurance by Scott Kelly

What have been your favorite books of 2017? Are there specific books you are excited about reading in 2018?