New Books, New Hobbies, New Look: My January Wrap Up!

Posted February 3, 2020 by Amber in Checking In / 0 Comments

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January is the month that lasts forever.

Here in the northern hemisphere, January is the first full month of really, really cold.  Well, at least it is in Massachusetts.  I’m looking forward to the thaw – I’m tired of shivering and numb fingers.  Grateful to have a home and a place with heat, so I try to focus on life’s small blessings instead of the single digit temperatures.

I am not a winter person, I swear. But there’s been a lot of things going on this month, so that can also be exciting!

The Monthly Haul

Um. So.  I tripped and fell and landed in a Barnes and Noble accidentally earlier this month.

It’s not my fault.  We were eating dinner nearby and all I could see through the window opposite me was their sign.  It told me, “When was the last time you visited?  Come, see what I have to offer!”  …  And then I window shopped for books, which was actually amazing because most the books added to my TBR these days are ones I see people talking about on Goodreads or in the blogosphere and it’s been AGES since I was just like… browsing?  So I did the browsing thing and who knows maybe there’s some good books here.  Or not!  Who knows!

I will say, the lady at the check out was super excited about Queen of the Conquered and Izzy + Tristan.  She also wholeheartedly recommended anything by Kiersten White, especially if I like retellings… and I was just like, “oh sweet summer child I have been reading Kiersten White for over a decade”.

I love bookstores.  I wish there was an indie closer to me.

Otherwise, most the rest of these (mostly non-fiction) books are from Audible unlocking their Daly Deals vault and YES PLEASE. 🙂

All the things I’ve been reading

I’ve been really inspired plunges this month with my hardcopy reads andI’m very happy with the progress I’ve made so far.  As I mentioned in my annual goals post, I really wanted to get back to my goal of reading 4 hardcopy books a month, which was hit or miss last year.  I’m really happy to day that so far that has been successful!

I will say – one thing I am unhappy about in my reading so far is my fantasy reading?  If you count Redwall, I’ve read/listened to 5 fantasy novels so far, and none of them was really above a 3 on the Personal Enjoyment scale.  I’m hoping I have a bit more luck with that in February.

There’s been a lot of adult historical fiction so far.  I know that’s not my normal fare, and I do apologize for that shift.  My unowned TBR goes in chronological order and as available and I’ve just hit a pocket of historical fiction?  There’ll most likely be a couple more in February, but I’m almost through it.  For the most part I’ve been enjoying them, but I’m itching for a good fantasy, I really am.

18 books found

★★★★★

★★★★★

★★★★

★★★★

★★★

★★★★★

★★★½

★★★★½

★★½

★★

★★★★★

★★½

★★★★

★★★★

★★★★½

★★★

★★★★★

★★★★

Highlights:

Red Rising / ★★★★★ I know the world doesn’t need to be told that this is a fantastic book, but I’m going to do it anyway.  My anticipation for this one waxed and waned as first I thought it was a fantasy (excited!) then found out it was sci-fi (less excited) then found out it was super hyped (less excited) and then I read it (VERY EXCITED).  It was definitely my favorite listen this month, and one I’d consider using Audible credit on so I had an audiobook copy as well as the paperback my brother gifted me in 2018.

Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future / ★★★★★ I know that most of you are going to disregard this recommendation because the book is older and it’s a bit odd, but honestly?  I couldn’t put it down.  It’s unique and uncomfortable and honest and bitter, with just enough of the strange and unusual mixed in to please my witchy heart.  If you want to try something different, please check out the synopsis on this one and see if it intrigues you.

The Fountains of Silence / ★★★★★ – I really couldn’t let these recommendations go by without highlighting at least one of the handful of historical fiction reads this month!  The Fountains of Silence was my first read and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  The Spanish setting during Franco’s reign is a different one, and the characters were all wonderful.  I’m  totally solid by Ruta Septys’ writing style and I’ve added more of her work to my TBR.

Readathons & Reading Challenges

As some of you know, I signed up for #StartonYourShelfathon earlier this year.  #StartonYourShelfathon is a yearlong challenge to read books you already own, which lines up really nicely with my Great Bookcase Crusade.  To add some extra fun, there’s a lot of graphics for this readathon, and one of the goals is to find constellations.  I’m still working on my first constellation, but I met my personal goal this month, and I’m really happy with how my reading progress is going!

I’ve chosen to work with real constellations, so I’m using the Phoenix as my first one.  Because, of course I am using the Phoenix, how could I not!?  So the red and yellow stars are books read, the light blue star is a goal met, and the dark blue stars are placeholders.  As you can see, I only have 2 more books left to read before I can start on a new constellation!

So far for this challenge, I’ve read:

7 books found

★★★★

★★

★★★½

★★★★★

★★★

★★★★

★★★★★

The red stars are supposed to represent new favorites, so those are The Fountains of Silence and Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future, both of which I recommended above.  That light blue star means I met my goal of reading four hardcopy books this month!

One of the other things I really want to do this year is be more accountable with my Great Bookcase Crusade.  I’ve been running this challenge actively since mid-2017, and I don’t think I’ve ever done a proper check-in for it.

So, for those of you who have never clicked through or read that deeply in my reviews, my Great Bookcase Crusade is my ongoing challenge to read every book on my shelf.  Last I counted, that’s about 800 books, which is a lot.  This is a challenge I expected to take years, and I’m okay with it.

One of the elements of this challenge is not only to read all the books, but to also weed out the ones that I’m not in love with anymore and donate them to my local library.  This challenge and #StartonYourShelfathon go hand-in-hand really nicely because they’re working on books in the same pool.  So this month, I read 7 books towards this challenge, exceeding my goal of 4.  Of this, I am going to keep these books:

4 books found

★★★½

★★★★★

★★★★

★★★★★

I think that if Children of Virtue and Vengeance wasn’t the middle book of a series where I really enjoyed the first book… I would have donated that one.  And it breaks my heart a little bit?  But the other three books I really enjoyed, to the point where I was a little surprised – I honestly thought Glory would end up being a donation item before I started reading it.  Hah!  How quickly the things change.

Of the 7 I read, I’ll be donating 3:

3 books found

★★★★

★★

★★★

I know Gold Rush Girl doesn’t appear in the “read this month” list above – I did read it, but the book doesn’t hit shelves until later this year, so it will be included in that month’s reading haul.  It was a fine book, but not written for me.  Kingdom of Souls took me a long time to get through because I was frustrated with the writing and while I like some of Michael Crichton’s writing… I distinctly did not enjoy Disclosure.

Generally, I’m super happy with my readathon progress this month!  I’m hoping to repeat again in February, but at the very least, I’m shooting to meet that 4 book goal.

Magic and Mischief on the Blog

I mean… undoubtedly the big blogging news this month was the massive redesign.  If you’re just now popping in, then you know that The Literary Phoenix is now a rainbow of bright colors instead of just muted purple, and we’ve gone to an edge of witchiness and magic instead of that stamped vintage feel.  I wrote a whole post on the whys and wherefores of the change if you’re interested… but I really can’t top that news as far as what’s been going on here!

In that vein, I am working on replacing the old featured images with the new style ones.  This is a long process as we’re looking at about 1000 headers (not an exaggeration) plus fiddling with a lot of the posts from 2017 to use the proper internally images.  I thank you all as you bear with me on this!  That does mean for now, some of the suggestions that are generating in my footer are not … easily readable.  I am so sorry for that.

Speaking of which!  I did want to talk about that!  If you scroll all the way to the bottom of my blog, you’ll find something like this:

This is my interesting post randomizer.  I know sometimes when I’m blog hopping, I get particularly drawn into a blog and want to read more, but don’t really feel like digging around for similar types of posts, especially when it’s a blog – like mine – that goes heavy on reviews.  With this in mind, this randomizer will suggest 4 posts at random from different categories: Bookish Things (unboxings, discussions, and book vs. film), Reviews, Around the World (my travel and event posts), and Writing (anything from my process to discussions to NaNo).  I hope the feature is one you guys enjoy – I’m really excited about it as I love those “suggested posts” links WordPress generates.

Okay!

Without further ado, here are all the fun posts you may have missed this month!

 

 

 

 

What Have I been Scribbling?

I was super excited because this year started off really well from a writing perspective.  I challenged myself to continue with my 15 minute ficlets every day, and for about three days, that worked.  Then I forgave myself and said “okay, ficlets, or actual writing” and with that rule, I managed to get through about a week.

Then work got busy again, and my morning time was usurped.  I could be writing more not he weekends, but I’m trying really hard to get ahead on blog posts because I know early spring I’m going to have even less time to devote to my hobbies… which I’m not thrilled about but that’s how the cookie crumbles.

Instead of focusing on the negative bits here, I’m going to focus on the positives.  So here’s what’s happening:

I chipped away a couple scenes from an on-again-off-again WIP.

Sometime in 2015, I started this casual WIP called So I Married a Demon Hunter.  For a girl who does not enjoy paranormal romance, that is exactly where the idea of this one stemmed from.  I like writing this one because it has great settings and two characters who “somehow keep running into each other” and it’s silly and indulgent.  It’s one of the WIPs I may write a paragraph or two in as I’m inspired to do so and have a sliver of time.  But I enjoy writing this one.

Novlr had a massive update and I’m intrigued.

When I first started looking at cloud-based writing services, Novlr was the one I landed on.  I liked what they had to offer, and there was this awesome roadmap, and the startup team had great communication.  I wrote Sprite in this platform for NaNoWriMo and loved it so much that I jumped on one of those early, rare lifetime subscriptions.

Then the platform sort of… faded.  It would crash a lot and I got exasperated.  I left and landed on Dabble Writer, which is what I’ve been using the last couple years.  I will write posts on both these platforms sometime in the future to give more details.

Sometime recently, there was a major update to Novlr and I was digging through emails and discovered the announcement and decided to hop on and see if it was really improved.  And it is.  In fact, it is very good.  And that’s what got me chipping away at novels instead of ficlets.

I was able to work a little on editing Fate.

My scribbled up chapter two of Fate is sitting in my desk drawer at work.  Whenever I get in, I’m supposed to be working on that while I wait for my shift to start.  For the first week or so, I was able to do just that.  Unfortunately, we’ve gotten so busy again that I’ve been putting in OT instead.  My deskmate, Melissa, is also a writer and she’s been doing the same thing as me… both our writing has suffered.  Which is fine – I don’t think I could focus on fun things when I know there’s crushing pile of work waiting for me.  One of my goals this year is boundaries, though, and I’m choosing not to allow myself to do more than 1.5hrs. of OT a day (except emergencies).

Adventures in the real world!

You’ve heard a little of my work spiel so I won’t go into that except to say I know I often announce that I’m exhausted because of work… but I also appreciate that I do not work as many hours as many others, and my work is not physically taxing, just mentally taxing.  I appreciate my job and I’m generally good at it.  I think there are a lot of good things in the pipeline for my team this year, and there will be a lot of change.  I think 2020 will be a particularly grueling year, but I believe we will finally reap some rewards from our labors.

Okay!  No more work talk!

Because it’s January, everyone has goals, because it’s tradition etc. etc. and I’m rubbish at New Years resolutions.  One thing that I have to do (and it’s not a resolution, it’s a doctor-mandated rule) is exercise more.  No.  Exercise at all.  I have never had an exercise routine.  Back in 2016/2017 I was doing yoga every night between work and dinner, but I have been told yoga is not strenuous enough and doesn’t count… and I haven’t been regular with it for 3 years anyway.  So in lieu of the gym (because I hate the gym) I grabbed a Groupon for a local ILoveKickboxing.com studio.  Which is, by the way, one of the worst brick-and-mortar names I can think of.

Here are my feelings on kickboxing:

  1. It has a lot of fun-potential.
  2. I like partner drills.
  3. I hate the warm up.
  4. I can’t get through the warm up without either vomiting or giving myself numerous time-outs
  5. I like the sport of it, but my goals are not to change my body shape.
  6. I like that I feel obliged to go because I signed up for a class.
  7. I dislike that it’s not super flexible because my work hours can be unpredictable.
  8. I like side kicks.

So my class offerings run through February and then my Groupon is out.  I think I’m going to go to my next 4 classes if I can (last week, I ran into overtime that night and missed class) but I’m not going to subscribe.  Less because I’m a quitter and more because it runs $150-$200/month and it would be a great deal if I went daily, or even every other day… but I can only get there 1x/wk. and that’s a lot of money for a class.

I think I’m going to try running, though.  I have a plan with Excel sheets and stuff.  Really, I want to improve my physical health so I can improve my endurance, and I feel like running is the way to do that.  Plus, you know… it’s free?  Maybe running + yoga.  At home.

What’s Coming Next?

Full stop, this is the longest wrap up I’ve written in an age.  January has been a busy month, but in a lot of good ways.

February is going to be even busier.

So blog-wise my big goal for the next month is to keep chipping away at the featured images and correcting the Great Bookcase Crusade page while I’m at it.  I’ve written almost all my discussion posts for February, all I’ve got left is a top ten.  I’m going to continue to push for at least 2 new posts written/week so I can stay a month ahead on my scheduling.

As far as books go, I’ve got a hardcopy TBR pulled from my TBR jar and here are some of the upcoming books that I am sitting on.

Always a wide variety of titles, which is why I love my TBR Jar.  And hey, yes!  That’s an Animorphs book!  4th grade me felt very strongly about Animorphs, and I still have the first 5 or 6.  I somehow feel like they’re not going to hold up, but I’m going to read them anyway!

In my life, I’ll have a few fun things to report – I’m seeing Tove Lo on Monday, and then Finding Neverland: The Musical at the end of the month, so I’m actually getting out and doing things!  I’m excited to share those things and more with you all in the February Wrap Up!

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What did everyone do this month?  Did you get a lot of reading done?  Did you start on a new WIP?  Did you go on any grand (or small!) adventures?  I want to hear all about your experiences – let me know in the comments!

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