A little bit of everything. No, really.
How are you? Are you taking care of yourself?
A couple of weeks ago, I was able to fly to Chicago for a long weekend, and had the absolute best time. I have a group of friends whom I met on the internet because of our love of a newsletter called The Swipe Up and the podcast The Popcast with Knox and Jamie. We’re scattered all over the country (and one in Australia!), but just kind of clicked, and have become real friends over the past couple of years (one of the upsides of technology). So when Knox and Jamie announced a Popcast live show in Chicago, it seemed like a great idea to all meet up for the show and the chance to spend time together in person.
And it was, in fact, a GREAT idea. The friends, the show, the city, the laughter–all of it filled my soul right up. When the 12 of us who could make it to Chicago all stood in a circle staring at each other in three dimensions as opposed to the little screen on my phone, it was surreal. I told them it felt like I was meeting movie stars, except these movie stars are my friends.
The bonus part of the trip is that I’ve been trying to get to Chicago for years to visit an old friend from North Carolina who relocated there with her new husband. What a treat it was to spend a day with her walking along the lake and in cool neighborhoods and laughing and eating and shopping and having an endless conversation about everything from books and art and food to relationships and travel and family and even politics (really!). (also, her husband cooked Indian food for dinner and it was outstanding).
Since I’ve been back home, I just keep feeling so grateful–for the opportunity to travel to a city I love, for friendship, for a supportive family that made it possible for me to get away. I’m grateful for the joy of seeing people do something they’re good at. Kendra Adachi (The Lazy Genius author and podcaster) talks about doing things that help you feel like yourself, and there were so many things about the weekend that did that.
There’s no real overarching point to this anecdote; I’m just still riding the high. And I hope that you are able to fill your cup and do something that helps you feel like yourself soon, even in a small way–a conversation with a friend, a walk around the block on a sunny day, a good book, a trip to the movies, a bear hug from someone you love, an amazing meal, or even just a good laugh session. We can find those things that fill us up right at home, even in small moments. Whatever it is that makes your soul sing, seek it out, and I will too.
What I’m reading…
The Cruelest Month, Louise Penny The best kind of mystery series (in my opinion) is the kind where the author creates a world that lives beyond the singular mystery of each individual novel, and yet, the singular mysteries themselves are also engaging. I’m only three books deep into the Inspector Gamache series, but I really think they hit all those sweet spots. The Cruelest Month was an engrossing, enjoyable read, and probably my favorite of the three Gamache books I’ve read so far.
Love Cliches series (Falling For…) by Emma St. Clair This is a fun, humorous romance series that takes all your favorite tropes and turns them into engaging, entertaining stories about a group of friends and the men they fall in love with. The author does a fantastic job of writing well rounded characters (both the girls and the guys, which isn’t always a given) and a ton of romantic tension while still keeping things very PG (kissing only). My favorite of the series is Falling for Your Fake Fiance, followed closely by Falling for Your Enemy (minus the super cheesy epilogue).
Of Literature and Lattes by Katherine Reay This was a sweet, small-town, slice of life story about a woman who is forced to move in with her mom after her career goes up in flames, despite the fact that she and her mom have a strained and fraught relationship. It’s about a man who takes a huge risk to follow his dream and be close to his daughter. This isn’t my favorite of Ms. Reay’s books, partly because I just didn’t connect with the main characters, but if you’re looking for a feel-good story where you can spend some time in a charming location with an ensemble of mostly charming characters, it would be worth giving try.
The Sentence by Louise Erdrich Slow start, a bit of mysticism in the ghost story, modern Native American culture, a close (too close?) look at the early months of the pandemic and Black Lives Matter tensions and protests of 2020. Tookie was a great narrator. The pandemic lens was maybe a little too close (was the consensus from book club, and I agree. Like reading the author process traumatic events in real time). Makes me interested in reading more by the author.
The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman picks up right where The Thursday Murder Club ends, and is just as delightful as the first book. The central mystery begins with Elizabeth's past comes calling, and I loved getting more of a deep dive into that character. As in the first book of this series, the world and characters Osman has created are so real. The characters might investigate murders and solve high-stakes puzzles, but they also worry about their friends, and gossip about the neighbors. They discuss the merits of adopting a dog, and babysit their grandkids, and fall in love. The juxtaposition of humor and seriousness, and ordinary life with murder, drug dealers, dangerous stakes is so well done, and similar to the Gamache novels, the author has created a whole world that feels like it lives beyond the mystery of the moment.
The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg. This fantasy novel was good, but I just wanted a little more. I really liked the main characters, the creative magic system, the fast pace, and the charming vibe. The world building was a little muddy though. It was too realistic to feel like a fully secondary world, but it didn’t really feel grounded in a real time period either, and the confusion kind of took me out of the story. That said, I liked it even if I didn’t love it, and it was engaging enough that I still plan to try the next book in the series. If you like light, creative historical fantasy with a Victorian/Steampunk adjacent setting, give it a try.
Reckless Girls by Rachel Hawkins. This is the second book I’ve read by Rachel Hawkins and she seems to have a gift of writing sympathetic but kind of unlikeable characters, and endings that are just a few degrees from conventional in the best possible way. Reckless Girls is an atmospheric, twisty thriller set on a deserted island in the South Pacific. The perfect page turner for when you want to get lost in a book (but maybe don’t read if you’re getting ready to do some extended boating).
The Unmissing by Minka Kent. Is two thrillers in one month a trend? The Unmissing was tense and engrossing, with the vibe of a dark and stormy night (without the actual dark and stormy night).The author did a good job of dropping little revelation bombs along the way, keeping the reader on their toes. And one thing I appreciate about both The Unmissing and Reckless Girls, is that neither author sacrifices characterization for plot (because you know I love good characters).
What I’m watching…
The Adam Project (Netflix) Laugh out loud funny and surprisingly heartwarming. It’s a sci-fi story about time travel and saving the world, but it’s really a story about a boy and his parents. It’d be a great movie for family movie night (it’s got some PG13 language, so consider the age of your kids and make that call for your individual family, of course).
Whew! Quite a rundown this month. That’s what audiobooks and short books will do! Here’s a bookish question for you: what kind of book do you like to read when you travel? Does it depend on the destination? the length of trip? or just whatever is next in your queue? Inquiring minds want to know!
I read The Paper Magician a few years ago. It was one of my most disappointing reading experiences of 2017/2018. An amazing magic system with near endless potential was practically wasted over the course of three books.
I'm a bit older now and I may be able to appreciate the nuances a lot better, but I'm fairly certain that I was so angry, I gave the books one star ratings on Goodreads.
Anyway, I'm working my way through your content Amanda. Great stuff.
Just finished The Paper Magician on the flight back from Chicago! And I agree with Sarah- you have great book recs 😊