Currently {February 2020}

Feb 27, 2020

I've seen so many variations of this type of post, but I don't think I've ever participated in one myself! I don't think there's an official source, but I do have to give Lauren from Bookmark Lit a shout out for the inspiration. I've always loved reading her Currently posts – and this one, in particular, gave me some ideas for categories to fill out! I'll post my February recap next week, so you'll see a few things repeated there. But let's dive in:


Currently reading: Lately, I've been taking too long to chose my next read. But while browsing unread books on my Kindle yesterday, I noticed that I hadn't yet read The Harp of Kings by Juliet Marillier, which I received for review. I sampled a few pages and was immediately intrigued, so now I've committed to it. I think...

Currently audiobook-ing: In the mood for a comfort read, I'm listening to Act Like It by Lucy Parker. It's my third time reading it in as many years, and I love it so much! It's everything I needed right now.

Currently recommending: My favorite read this month was If I Never Met You by Mhairi McFarlane, which I recently posted about on my Instagram. McFarlane has been a favorite for years, and she keeps getting better and better! I'll be writing a full review soon for this gem, but this is one you definitely need to read.

Currently on hold at the library: I have two ready to be picked up – Chasing Cassandra by Lisa Kleypas and A Good Girl's Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson. But I'm still in line for more than twenty other books!

Currently pre-ordered: I'm counting down the days until House of Earth and Blood by Sarah J. Maas hits my Kindle. I can't wait! And I've got A Murderous Relation by Deanna Raybourn, the newest Veronica Speedwell mystery, pre-ordered on Audible. But there are so many other March releases I'm anticipating, too.

Currently in my cart: Shockingly, nothing right now! I'm currently challenging myself by doing three months of no spending, and books are included. It's been so good for me that I'm considering extending it past March.

Currently adding to my TBR: I just added a lot of romances to my Consideration shelf thanks to this post, but I haven't added anything to my actual TBR this year thanks to my book buying ban. I make one exception a month and did purchase Open Book by Jessica Simpson in February, but I've already read it!

Currently NetGalley-ing: After seeing Go Fug Yourself's recommendation, I requested Beach Read by Emily Henry. And I got an email offering me What You Wish For by Katherine Center, which I downloaded immediately.


Currently listening: Mostly just audiobooks this month with a little bit of music to mix it up. In particular, the music video for What a Man Gotta Do from The Jonas Brothers has made that song a repeat listen this month.

Currently watching: Nick and I just finished watching the show Timeless, which we both enjoyed. Now I need to figure out what I'll binge next! I'm leaning towards Outlander since I still haven't watched past the first season. But I can't lie... Love is Blind on Netflix might be calling my name, even though it's not something I'd typically watch.

Currently eating: Either delicious meals that my mom has made for us or fast food. Since my baby was born three weeks ago, I haven't been cooking. We're all so thankful for the food deliveries we've received lately.

Currently drinking: Lots of water, since I'm nursing. And I rarely order new things at Starbucks, but I decided to try their Cinnamon Dolce Latte recently and loved it. It's been my go-to coffee order this month!

Currently wearing: If we leave the house, I'm putting on my cute pre-pregnancy clothes because they make me feel like my best self. But at home, you'll find me in leggings, a nursing tank, and a cozy robe. Two very different looks!

Currently bookmarking: I saved a post called 9 decisions that led to a life I love by Em for Marvelous because I loved reading and reflecting on it. What decisions would I point to in my own life? I hope to blog about it soon.

Currently coveting: I've been eyeing several things from The Cambridge Satchel Company, which I know that I don't need. But I haven't looked at much else because avoiding temptation is the key to my no-spend success.

Currently obsessing over: The newborn photos we just had taken this week. The photographer sent me proofs so that I could choose my favorites for editing, and I'm having a hard time narrowing it down. They're all so adorable!


Currently celebrating: All the birthdays! Mine was February 1, my husband's is Leap Day, and I just gave birth to our second baby on February 7. Our sweet boy has stolen our hearts and brought us so much joy already.

Currently loving: Watching my older son with his little brother. He is so loving and tender, and it's just the sweetest thing to see. And on a more superficial note, audiobooks are saving my reading life and bringing me joy.

Currently looking forward to: Being done with postpartum recovery. In a lot of ways, I feel pretty normal and motivated to get things done. But any time I'm too active, my body reminds me it's still healing. Ugh!

Currently procrastinating: Aside from cooking? Probably getting my newborn on a bit of a schedule, including napping in his crib instead of in my arms. But I'll do it soon because I know it will be good for him (and me).

Currently accomplishing: I'm proud of myself for successfully taking my three year old + newborn to the grocery store by myself this week. And I've met most of my February goals, which I'll chat about next week.

Currently researching: All my postpartum and newborn questions! I feel so much more confident this time around than I did with my first, but I still find myself Googling random things that I just can't remember.

Currently thinking about: Nick's upcoming travel schedule for work, which is packed. I'm nervous about it, and wish I could change the timing. But I know I can do it... and can call my mom when I need help or a break!

Currently feeling: So tired – but so thankful, too! These newborn days are such a special season. Even with its challenges, I love snuggling my baby and spending simple, slow days at home adjusting to life as a family of four.

What's Currently going on in your life?

So Obsessed With: The Mini Edition #8

Feb 25, 2020

I've mentioned numerous times how much I love Jane Austen, and recently I've spotted lots of new Austen-related releases while browsing online. There's been non-fiction about her life, gorgeous new editions of her novels, a few fictional stories drawing upon her life and characters for inspiration – and even a recent TV adaptation of one of her unfinished works. And, unsurprisingly, there are always new products (pins! mugs! pouches!) to collect. As I kept adding stuff to my wishlist, I decided to collect it all in one post. If you're an Austen fan too, today is your lucky day. Here are thirteen Austen-related items I've been eyeing lately:

1. Sanditon by Jane Austen (Clothbound Classics Edition)
I have the original 7-book set designed by Coralie Bickford-Smith and have always wished this one had been added, even though it's unfinished. I'm thrilled this released in 2019 with Lady Susan and The Watsons included, too.

2. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (Seasons Edition)
Years ago, I wrote about the fact that I collect editions of Pride and Prejudice. Y'all my collection has grown significantly. I love the associated memories – and I have my friend Lauren to thank for this recent addition!

3. The Illustrated Letters of Jane Austen by Penelope Hughes-Hallett
I own another book of Jane Austen's letters, but who can resist an illustrated edition? This collection of letters has added painting and engravings of Regency England, as well as commentary from Hughes-Hallett.

4. Dress in the Age of Jane Austen by Hilary Davidson
Yes, my obsession with Jane Austen extends to books about Regency fashion, too! I love how non-fiction can deepen my appreciation for Austen's work and give me more insight into life during that time period.

5. The Lost Books of Jane Austen by Janine Barchas
In the nineteenth century, inexpensive editions of Austen's novels were targeted to Britain's working class and sold at railway stations. They were, essentially, mass market paperbacks. This book explores that history!

6. The Austen Girls by Lucy Worsley
I'll be honest, the summary of this one makes me a little nervous! It's a fictional story about two of Austen's nieces. Aunt Jane? I'm intrigued. Add in the fact that it's YA, and we'll see if it lives up to the adorable cover.

7. Miss Austen by Gill Hornby
This book focuses on Jane's sister, Cassandra, and that's an approach I haven't seen before. I'm so excited to see how Hornby reimagines Jane's lost letters. It's always interesting to speculate on why Cassandra destroyed them! 

8. The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner
This made it onto my list of most anticipated 2020 releases, but I had to include it here too! A group of Austen lovers coming together to try to save her Chawton home and legacy = I need it. I hope it lives up to my expectations.

9. The Stars We Steal by Alexa Donne
Although I don't read a ton of Young Adult anymore, I can't resist a science fiction retelling of Austen's Persuasion. It sounds so good! My only hesitation? I feel like it's been done before, so we'll see how it compares...

10. Masterpiece Theater: Sanditon ($27)
We don't have cable anymore, so I wasn't able to watch this week to week. But honestly, I would prefer to binge this anyway! Now that it's out on DVD, I'll be buying a copy so I can watch it anytime the baby sleeps.

11. Jane Austen's Emma (Audio Adaptation)
This isn't as recent as some of the other releases, since it came out in 2018, but it's still on my wishlist. This is a full-cast dramatization of Emma – so, not the unabridged book – but it seems like such a fun listen!

12. Jane Austen Zipper Pouch ($13)
Can you have too many zipper pouches? I love that this one is covered in Austen quotes because it reminds me of one of my favorite mugs (from the same company) that Kelly got me for my birthday a few years ago. 

13. Jane Austen Characters Mug ($25)
This mug is important from the U.K., so that's already a point in its favor. It's bone china and decorated with humorous illustrations of more than 40 characters from Austen's novels. I have too many mugs. and yet...

Are there any Austen-related books I've forgotten?
What's one person/topic you just can't resist?

Creating New Routines (Part 2)

Feb 21, 2020

As I mentioned yesterday, one of my goals for 2020 is: Create purposeful monthly, weekly, and daily routines. I have seen how much routines can make a difference in my productivity! For January, I gave myself two routine-related goals. The first was to brainstorm possible routines that I'd like to implement. Before I could start implementing anything, I needed to figure out what exactly I wanted to do on a regular basis! 

First, I looked at household chores: meal planning, grocery shopping, cleaning, and laundry. I chatted all about that in Creating New Routines (Part 1) yesterday. Once that was done, I started thinking about a few other tasks I'd like to perform weekly and/or monthly. I brainstormed a big list of all the things I said I wanted to do on a recurring basis and then categorized them based on how frequently I felt they needed to be done.

Everything left on my list fell into three general categories. So, here's what ended up on my Monthly to-do list:

The first four tasks are grouped because they're all related to digital photos:
• Download photos/videos from iCloud to my external hard drive.
• Rename the files, which I do based on date taken. For example: 2020-01-02_01.jpg. 
• Backup the photos/videos to OneDrive. I like having them saved in two places!
• Choose a calendar photo for that month, which I'll order from Artifact Uprising in December.

The next three are quick tasks to keep my computer organized:
• Delete/archive emails. I want very little in my email inboxes! 
• Clean out Pocket. I save articles/links here throughout the month.
• Organize desktop. It can get messy as I make blog graphics and such.

The first three are reminding me of the blog posts that I publish every month:
• Monthly Recap – sharing all my favorite things from the past month!
• Goal Check-In – recapping previous month's progress and setting new goals.
• Quick Lit – mini reviews of everything I read the previous month.

The next two are general blog maintenance items:
• Goodreads – basically just add any reviews I've written!
• Update Pages – the list of what I've read and any reading challenge progress.

And the last three involve wrapping up the month in my bookish planners:
• Reading Log – filling out my top three reads from the month, favorite quote, etc.
• Bullet Journal – just making sure it's updated and ready for upcoming month!
• Blog Plan – use my calendar to loosely pre-plan two posts per week.

The first two are related to my Promptly Journals for my sons:
• Promptly 2 – fill out applicable section in my second's journal (Birth Story, First Month, etc.)
• Promptly 1 – work on getting caught up on the last three years in my first's journal

And the next three are related to my Simplified Planner and PowerSheets:
• Planner Prep – note any birthdays, mark Nick's upcoming travel, add any appointments, etc.
• PowerSheet Prep – review previous month, fill in new month's brainstorming pages, etc.
• Tending List – choose my new monthly goals and put them on this page in my PowerSheets

It might sound like a lot, but so many of these tasks only take a few minutes. I've always had the time to do them but just hadn't developed a system to make them into a habit. To keep myself on track, I created a bookmark to print monthly for my planner, which you can see in the photo above. The number following the item correlates to the week of the month that I want to try to do it. For example, (1) = completing this task the first week of the month.

Before I shift to the small list of weekly to-do items, I wanted to mention my second January mini goal since it's related to this section. In addition to brainstorming routines, I wanted to schedule a monthly planning session. On the last Saturday of January, I went to Starbucks by myself with my planner, PowerSheets, and bullet journal. I spent about two hours there enjoying the quiet time, reviewing the past month, and getting prepped for the one ahead. It was heavenly! I'm definitely doing it again in February, though I anticipate being at home instead.

Most of the items on my initial brainstorm were monthly, but there were a few things that I wanted to do weekly. The first was meal planning, which I mentioned in yesterday's post. Here are my other Sunday tasks:

• Planner Prep – plan for the week ahead, write down any known to dos, add in meal plan, etc.
• Bullet Journal – coloring books read, noting book purchases, and so on (like in this post).
• Reading Log – filling in anything I read during that week (using this same format).
• Cull Photos – delete any blurry photos, duplicates, screenshots, etc. Keep only the best!
• Delete Texts – delete threads I don't need, like appointment reminders or ones using up space.

Because I'm me, I made it into a printable that I keep at the front of my bullet journal. The "Blog" section is to help keep me on track with my goal of blogging two times I week. That's roughly 8-10 posts per month, so I gave myself check boxes for up to 12. It's motivated me to think ahead and schedule posts!

Can you see why I was shocked by how much progress I made in this area in January? I'd planned to just brainstorm potential routines – never imagining that I'd actually feel motivated to start implementing them! Like I said yesterday, I do anticipate pausing on the cleaning routine until we've started to adjust to life with a newborn. But I'm hopeful that I'll still be able to stick with the things I've mentioned today!

I'll share an update on these routines, likely at the end of the year. Additionally, there are other routines or rhythms I'd like to introduce – family traditions like pizza + movie on Fridays, some school-adjacent things for my firstborn, some health and wellness habits, etc. However, most of them didn't make sense to start in this season of my life. I've got them on a list for future consideration, and I'll revisit those when the time is right.

What routines do you have in your life?
I'd love to hear what habits have made a difference!

Creating New Routines (Part 1)

Feb 20, 2020

One of my goals for 2020 is: Create purposeful monthly, weekly, and daily routines. I've noticed that I thrive when I have clear expectations/deadlines in place. When I look back at school and work (or even my most active blogging years), I always had system in place to keep me organized and on track. Lately, I haven't felt as productive. I'm often playing catch up – making a grocery list at the last minute, procrastinating on cleaning, and talking about things I "need to do" at some point. Some have been on my list since my oldest was born almost four years ago!

And it's not like I haven't had the time. As my mom always says, "If you wanted to do it, you'd do it." Because we really do make the time for the things that are important to us, no matter how trivial or how time consuming! I've talked about this before when I discussed finding time to read as a new mom. As I looked at what worked and didn't work from last year, I couldn't ignore the proof that I needed more routine in my life. I know based on my personality and past experience that it will make me more peaceful. I waste too much mental energy when I'm overwhelmed. And I'm sometimes I'm guilty of procrastinating by being productive at something less important.

With a baby due this month, I'm aware that this was a slightly ambitious goal to set for 2020. Life with a newborn doesn't lend itself to predictability. But even a little bit of progress here would make a meaningful difference!

For January, I gave myself two routine-related goals. One was to brainstorm possible routines that I'd like to implement, which I'm going to chat about today (and in tomorrow's post, too). I don't know if it was the new year or nesting, but I got so much more done here than I expected! Before I could implement new routines, I had to figure out what I wanted to do on a regular basis. I decided to start with household chores: meal planning, grocery shopping, cleaning, and laundry. So, here's what I made for myself:

First, I looked at cleaning schedules on Pinterest, listened to a few related podcast episodes, and thought about what made the most sense for me. I wrote out a cleaning schedule, put it into practice, made adjustments based on what I learned, and then laminated my chart and put it on the fridge. Seeing it has been so motivating! There are many ways to break this down, but here's where I ended up. Every day, I want to do four things:

1. Make the beds. It just gets the day off to the right start!
2. 15-minute tidy – just a quick pick up at the end of the day.
3. Dishes, essentially empty/load the dishwasher and don't leave anything in the sink.
4. Counters – wiping down the kitchen counters every night.

And then I gave every day two additional tasks:

Sunday: 1) Meal plan for the week, and 2) take out the trash, which is picked up on Mondays.
Monday: 1) Grocery shop, and 2) do laundry.
Tuesday: On our first floor, 1) dust and 2) vacuum.
Wednesday: 1) Clean the kitchen, and 2) clean the downstairs bathroom.
Thursday: On the second floor, 1) dust and 2) vacuum.
Friday: 1) Clean the bathrooms upstairs, and 2) wash all towels.
Saturday: 1) One monthly task, and 2) two bi-weekly tasks.

As you can see, Saturdays are a little bit different. There are four cleaning tasks that I just plan to do once a month: 1) dusting the baseboards, 2) dusting windowsills and cleaning dirty windows (usually handprints in one or two specific rooms), 3) dusting lights and vents, and 4) wiping down the kitchen cabinets. If you're looking at my chart, each task has a number following it that represents what week I'll do it (1 = first week of the month, etc.).

And there are four tasks that I'm doing every other week. On the first and third week of the month, I'm 1) mopping the hardwood floors and 2) disinfecting door handles/remotes (or anything else that's frequently touched). On the second and fourth weeks, I'm 3) washing the sheets and 4) doing a quick car clean (toss any trash, vacuum any spilled snacks, and so on). Yes, I know some months have five weeks – but you get the idea!

While I was at it, I thought about some other tasks that are recurring but less frequent. Quarterly, I'd like to aim to clean my major household appliances: washer & dryer, dishwasher, microwave & oven, and the fridge & freezer. On my chart, the number corresponds to the month I'm aiming to do each one in. For example, cleaning the washer and dryer in January (1), May (5), and September (9). This section may change with time because it's the one I haven't tested yet. But I liked having an overall starting point and seeing how it goes.

Yearly, we need to remember to change 1) the air filter, 2) the fridge filter, and 3) the smoke detector batteries. Also, we typically 4) pressure wash the driveway. And, as a note, I put five things we want to keep on our radar: 1) wash windows, 2) clean carpets, 3) purge and donate, 4) aerate the yard, and 5) get new pine straw for the yard.

I made this chart at the beginning of the month and spent three weeks actually doing it. And I love it! It was taking me less than an hour a day (aside from laundry) and made me feel so much better. I occasionally skipped a task or combined two days into one when I was motivated, but the general system was there. It was so nice to have a few weeks of success under my belt, even though I'll take at least the month of February off. I'm not even going to attempt it with a newborn, but I love knowing it's there when I'm ready to pick it back up!

I've got meal planning on my chart but wanted to elaborate! I've used Plan to Eat for planning and making my grocery lists for the past three years, and I love it. It has streamlined the whole process for me. If I see a recipe that looks good online, I use the "Add to PTE" bookmark to save it. If it's from a book, I quickly type in the recipe name + ingredients and then list the cookbook title and page number in the Directions section. The Plan tab is easy to navigate and rearrange, if needed. And I love that it auto-generates a shopping list based on the recipes I've planned. Then, all I have to do is add stuff from our Staples List that needs to be replenished.

The only problem? I was meal planning when I noticed we were running out of things rather than being intentional about it. The only real change here is the fact that I now plan on Sundays and grocery shop on Mondays! I did something different for February and loosely planned the month in advance, but I prefer weekly planning overall.

Do you have a cleaning or meal planning routine?
Check back tomorrow the other routines I'm trying to implement!

New for Number Two

Feb 18, 2020

After my first son was born, I shared my fifty baby favorites (part one and part two). Registering had been so overwhelming, but I wanted to talk about the things I'd ended up loving. As we were preparing for our second baby, I realized that there was almost nothing that I felt like I had to purchase. We still have most of those fifty items and will happily use them again: the monitor, baby tub, car seat, and so on. We still had lots of baby clothes, too.

But there were still some things I wanted to buy, just because. So, I decided to share the fifteen "new" things we bought for number two! I was going to turn this into a So Obsessed With post but decided not to since I haven't used most of these products yet. Instead, it's just a little shopping post. Hope you enjoy!

When I was pregnant with my first, I saw so many posts recommending backpack-style diaper bags. I ended up being totally fine with the style I'd already chosen and didn't give it another thought... until now. I realized I'd want my hands completely free for both of my boys! I love the color and look of this bag and am so excited to use it.

Want to know where I've got lots of room for improvement with my second baby? Bottle feeding! I nursed my firstborn – and plan to do the same with my second – but I made the mistake of not introducing bottles soon enough. My son basically refused them all. I'm hoping for more success with this baby and bought these to try.

My firstborn barely used a pacifier – he had a WubbaNub that he liked it for a little bit, but it was more about the animal attached than the actual pacifier. Since every baby is different, we have a few pacies to try (one mentioned later in this post) – and I couldn't resist this clip. I got sucked in by the cute babies with them on Instagram!

I don't remember where I heard about this brand, but I made the mistake of joining a Facebook group for it. That was some insanity! I have no desire to build up a stash, but I did pick up one set (gown, hat, gloves, and swaddle) in their Black Friday. This boy has lots of hand-me-downs, but he needed a few special things of his own, too. 

Sorry not sorry, but I'm a sucker for baby products that look pretty. We had a few wood teethers for our firstborn and loved them... but I'm pretty sure at least one was lost to our dog. Struggle. My mom gifted me this gorgeous London swaddle from the same brand, and then I ended up browsing their website. The rest is history.

This might be my favorite thing on the list, solely for the story behind it. While on our beach vacation, my firstborn picked out matching stuffed animals for himself and his baby brother. He got a big one, which he's named BB (for Big Brother) and has legit become his favorite. And he can't wait to give the baby this matching mini one!

I saw this on Instagram and loved it. I'd never considered carrying a silicone place mat + pair of kitchen shears in our diaper bag for eating out, but it makes so much sense. My oldest still likes some of his food cut up, and it can be such a pain to do it. Scissors will make it a breeze! We should get lots of use out of this for both boys.

This isn't the first time I've mentioned this journal, which goes from pregnancy until age 18. I bought a baby book for our first and never filled it out. It just didn't focus on the things I cared about most! When I found these journals, I was sold. I got one for this baby, fell in love, got one for my firstborn and am slowly (but surely) catching up in it.

My mom had a custom Morgan Kelly quilt made for our firstborn, and I ended up using it as the background for monthly photos of my growing boy. When my mom found out I was pregnant again, she immediately mentioned having another quilt made. Here's a little peek at what we chose. It's perfect in his nursery, and I'm in love!

The idea of baby wearing appeals to me, but I didn't do it very much with my firstborn. We loved our structured carrier (an Ergobaby) and plan to use it again. But I wasn't a fan of the wrap I tried! I started researching other options early in this pregnancy because I have a feeling I'll need to be handsfree more often with my second.

In addition to a new Wubbanub, I decided to get one more pacifier option for this baby before he arrived. If he wants nothing to do with them, that's totally fine with me. Less work down the road when I'd need to end the attachment! But I wanted to be prepared in case he's the opposite and heard great things about this brand.

This was all my mom's doing! We went shopping for some baby clothes and a few other things, and I mentioned that the rocker/swing-type product we'd used with my first had been recalled. I planned to wait on buying a replacement until later, but she thought we should go ahead and get it. I bet I'll be thanking her for that foresight!

This is the only thing on my list that we haven't actually bought yet! We have a Chicco carseat and stroller, and our oldest hasn't used a stroller in ages. But that might change with the baby's arrival, and this gives him the option to stand or sit on the rear platform or bench seat + has an adapter that works with our car seat.

14. Design Dua Nap & Pack Bassinet and Stand ($180 / $70)
This was at the very top of my "I want this but know we don't need it" list. We have two travel cribs (a bassinet style and a pack-and-play one), so I couldn't justify splurging on this beauty. And then! I found all of it (bassinet, stand, sheet, mattress) barely used on Craigslist for 75% off retail price. Major happy dance would be an understatement.

As I mentioned, I struggled with bottles with my first. Since I didn't go back to work after my maternity leave, I didn't give much thought to pumping. And when I finally tried it, I gave up after a few failed attempts. I'm determined to try again with this one and have heard such great things about this manual pump. I'm hopeful!

Any other baby product recommendations? 
I'd love to hear about them!

Quick Lit: January 2020 (Part 2)

Feb 14, 2020

Welcome back to my mini review round-up! Yesterday, in Part 1, I talked about nine of the 17 books I read in January. Today, I'm sharing my thoughts on six more of those books! At the end of this post, I briefly mentioned the two re-reads I did on audio. If you enjoy this feature, check out other readers' reviews at Modern Mrs. Darcy.

A PERFECT HERITAGE BY PENNY VINCENZI – I read Vincenzi's Spoils of Time trilogy back in college and adored it, and I've always meant to read more from her. Because of that series, I was expecting this to be a historical novel and was surprised when I realized it was contemporary (with a small historical component). Maybe it's because I love makeup, but I thought it was so fun to fall into this book about a businesswoman trying to revitalize a dying British cosmetics company. As I would expect from Vincenzi, there was a ton of drama, more than one affair, and lots of characters to follow. But the shifting POVs worked for me, and I found myself racing through this one. The characters were so engaging, even when they weren't likable. I'm just a sucker for fast-paced saga! I So Enjoyed It.

BEHOLDING AND BECOMING BY RUTH CHOU SIMONS – I haven't read Simons' previous books, but I am familiar with her work from Instagram. When I saw this at the bookstore while on vacation, I couldn't stop admiring the gorgeous artwork. My mom bought me a copy, and I finally sat down to read it (instead of just looking at the art) in January. The writing was lovely, but I do think Simon's art is what makes this book special. Such lovely imagery throughout! I liked the overall theme of everyday worship and how she wrote about it, but I didn't feel like anything was explored in much depth. However, I do recognize this was more of a devotional / coffee table style book than anything else. I So Enjoyed It for what it was, even if I wanted just a bit more from the writing itself.

ATOMIC HABITS BY JAMES CLEAR – With goals and habits on my mind lately, I decided to give this popular non-fiction book a try. Y'all, I wasn't expecting to love it as much as I did! Clear has a straightforward, effective writing style. I finished reading it really quickly, but I can tell it's the type of book I'd like to own so that I can re-read, highlight, and take notes. Clear builds on others' research, but in a way that felt very practical. I appreciated that he focused on how to actually implement strategies to "build good habits and break bad ones" rather than spend tons of time on research and theory. And he did provide plenty of examples, charts, and additional references for further exploration. I So Loved It and can't wait to put it into practice in my own life.

THE STORY GIRL BY L.M. MONTGOMERY – As a huge fan of Montgomery, I'm slowly but surely reading my way through her backlist. The Story Girl has an interesting structure – an adult male narrator looking back at his childhood, which I don't think I've seen Montgomery do before. Sadly, I had a hard time connecting to any of the characters. The summary and title sound like Sara Stanley (known as The Story Girl) will be at its center, but she lacked dimension for me. How many times and ways can I be told that she's a gift storyteller?! This felt like a collection of short stories – every chapter had some type of group adventure/conversation + Sara telling everyone a story. Not my favorite Montgomery, by far. I was only So Okay With It but decided to read the sequel, too. 

THE GOLDEN ROAD BY L.M. MONTGOMERY – Even though I wasn't a fan of the first book, I still wanted to give this a try. I already owned a copy, Montgomery is one of my favorite authors, and it was short enough that I knew I wasn't committing a lot of time to it. Well, I'm sad to say this one was equally boring to me. I cannot overstate how annoying it was to be repeatedly told that Sara was an amazing storyteller. WE GET IT ALREADY! It didn't help that the scenes meant to illustrate this fact just sounded mediocre to me. And it still read like a short story collection, which just doesn't really appeal to me personally. I can't say for sure if I would have enjoyed this more as a child, but I don't think so. I was So Okay With It and don't plan to ever re-read it, even as a read aloud to my kids.

LOVEBOAT, TAIPEI BY ABIGAIL HING WEN – After reading a lot of historical fiction in January, this seemed like a light, fun way to end the month. This story follows Ever Wong after her parents send her from Ohio to Taiwan for the summer to study at Chien Tan, a cultural program to (primarily) help her learn Mandarin. I loved learning more about a new-to-me city and culture. I thought the heroine's struggle with her identity + her parents expectations was really well done, too. That being said, I did feel like a lot of stuff was packed into this story in a way that often felt dramatic but without a lot of depth. At 432 pages, I had issues with the pace. And the romance was too complicated (and rushed) for me. But overall, I So Liked It and would be curious to see what Wen writes next.

In January, I also re-read two books via audio. The first was My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry by Fredrik Backman. This was my first Backman, all the way back in 2015, and I have a special place in my heart for it. Listening to it was a treat – I'd forgotten a ton of what happened! I think it might have been hard to follow in this format for a first read, but I thoroughly enjoyed it as a re-read. I'm still So Obsessed With It. The other book I re-read was What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty. I was a lot less emotionally invested in it this time around than I was on my first read. It just felt like something was lacking! It's a great premise and Moriarty executes it well, but something was a little off for me. I think I'd still give it a So Enjoyed It overall, but I'm not sure I'd recommend this format (the narrator wasn't my favorite) or suggest it as something to re-read. Still fun, just fell a bit flat.

What have you been reading lately?

Quick Lit: January 2020 (Part 1)

Feb 13, 2020

Happy February! I set my Goodreads goal to 100 books this year, which I would typically surpass. However, based on my reading the year my oldest was born, it might be more of a stretch with a new baby. Because of that, I wanted to start the year off strong and try to get ahead on the goal! I'm excited to say that I finished 17 books in January, and I'm reviewing nine of them in today's post. the rest will be in Part 2 tomorrow! Also, I wrote two individual reviews in January for books I read last year: Lovely War by Julie Berry and My Oxford Year by Julia Whelan. If you enjoy this feature, check out other readers' reviews at Modern Mrs. Darcy.

HEADLINERS BY LUCY PARKER* – The perfect first book of the year and decade! Parker does hate-to-love so well. I always believe the animosity but can see the attraction underneath it all. Sabrina and Nick are rival TV news anchors who are forced to work together to revive a sinking morning show... or else. With their careers on the line, the stakes were raised. It added the perfect amount of tension to the story! I thought the newsroom was a fun shift in setting from previous books in the series, and the suspicious events added a nice hint of mystery (and comedy!). Parker consistently writes amazing romances with well-developed characters and just enough drama. I'm So Obsessed With It! PS: I'm a sucker for cameos of previous couples and am happy to report you'll find some here.

THE REAL JANE AUSTEN BY PAULA BYRNE – As a huge Jane Austen lover, I can never resist buying anything associated with her. Whether it's non-fiction about her life or fiction loosely related to her works, I'm sold. I've had this particular book on my shelves since 2013, and I put off reading it because I honestly expected it to be boring. I was so wrong – this was fascinating! I loved how Byrne used objects as a jumping off point for exploring key themes in Austen's life. I learned so much! It will enrich the novels for me on future re-reads. Additionally, I was able to borrow it from the library on audiobook and highly recommend that format. The narration was excellent, and I found that I genuinely looked forward to listening and didn't want to turn it off. As you might guess, I So Loved It.

MEG & JO BY VIRGINIA KANTRA – When I first saw this book, I was intrigued by the idea of a contemporary Little Women retelling. But why only two sisters in the title? That's because a sequel, Beth & Amy, is coming! The first book, however, does focus on the two oldest March sisters. It's a dual POV, which I enjoyed. Aside from the opening scene when the girls are younger, everyone is an adult in this story. And I actually thought that was a great decision on the author's part! It was a modern, fun take on a beloved classic. By focusing on their lives as adults rather than their childhood, Kantra was able capture the spirit of the source without doing a scene-by-scene re-creation. It felt more inspired by rather than a strict retelling, and that's a win in my book. I So Enjoyed It!

PARENTING BY PAUL DAVID TRIPP – Tripp is the author of one of my favorite devotionals, and I'd heard equally wonderful things about this book. I haven't read many parenting books at this point, but this one intrigued me since it focused on "14 gospel principles that can radically change your family." Rather than a list of tips and tricks for raising children, Tripp focuses on giving you a biblical perspective of parenting. He focuses on the big picture, and I didn't realize how much I needed to hear what he had to say. It occasionally got repetitive and did give me moments of, "Okay, this sounds great – but how do I actually live this out?" in a practical sense. But overall, I So Enjoyed It. I highlighted so much and will return to it when I need to be reminded of this wisdom.

THE GIVER OF STARS BY JOJO MOYES – Moyes and I have had a roller coaster relationship. She's written some of my all-time favorite books, and she's written a few that I've DNFed. So, I wasn't sure what to think when her latest release was announced. The setting and storyline – Depression-era Kentucky + horseback-riding librarians – was totally up my alley. It felt like such an unexpected choice for Moyes, but it didn't take me long to fall in love with this story. The time period, setting, and the female friendships worked so perfectly. I was caught up in the drama, so invested in the various characters, and couldn't wait to see how Moyes would wrap it all up in the end. It got off to a bit of a slow start, but then I was racing to finish by the end. I So Loved It and am thrilled that was the case!

ROSS POLDARK BY WINSTON GRAHAM – I bought this audiobook on sale a few years ago and hesitated on listening because I wasn't ready to commit to such a long series. But after watching the last season of the TV adaptation this month, I figured it was time to give it a try! Overall, I liked this story and the setting. It was fun to mentally compare it to the first season of the show, too. However, I struggled with the way time passed in the story and wanted more character development. The mining aspect didn't interest me, and it sometimes focused too much on secondary characters who didn't have a clear purpose. I loved the narration, but the book itself was a So Liked It. It felt like a book worth the time I spent reading it, but not a series that I needed to commit to further.

THE FOUNTAINS OF SILENCE BY RUTA SEPETYS – From the moment I picked it up, I was swept up in this story. I loved the Spanish setting and the time period because I learned so much that I didn't know. The short chapters and multiple POVs kept the book moving quickly, and I didn't feel any confusion as it jumped around. I did, however, end up skimming over all the quotes/excerpts added throughout. I appreciate the research Sepetys did and can see they were meant to add context, but they seemed largely unnecessary to me. But with all that worked for me, I can only give it a So Okay With It. Why? There was a time jump near the end that I absolutely hated. For me, it took away any climactic tension and left me feeling like the book just fizzled out at the end. Such a bummer!

SAINTS FOR ALL OCCASIONS BY J. COURTNEY SULLIVAN – After loving Sullivan's The Engagements, I had high hopes for this one. And it started off really strong for me! I liked the hook presented in the 2009 storyline and then the jump back in time to explore how these sisters got to that place. As the book progressed, I found almost every single character so frustrating – but was still engaged in the story and in Sullivan's writing. And then. Ugh! The last quarter of this book just tanked it for me. Open endings are hard to pull off, and this one wasn't satisfying at all. I found myself wondering "What was the point?!" and that's never a good sign. I've debated the rating endlessly! It's not quite a full So Disliked It (2) but I'm not really So Okay With It (3) either. So, there you go...

DANGEROUS ALLIANCE BY JENNIEKE COHEN – When I saw this book described as An Austentatious Romance, I was intrigued. Unfortunately, this was a situation where invoking Austen's name did the book a disservice. The Regency heroine is obsessed with Austen's fiction, but the novel itself isn't a retelling of those works. However, referencing Austen in the subtitle made this book's faults all the more glaring. There was barely any chemistry in the romance, and the characters needed more development. Most disappointingly, there was nothing clever in the writing! The plot itself resembled one of Ann Radcliffe's Gothic novels more than anything you'd ever find in Austen. I'm barely So Okay With It, and that's me being generous because I felt more critical due to the Austen angle.

*I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration. This did not affect my opinion of the book or my review.

What have you been reading lately?

A Match Made in Heaven

Feb 11, 2020

Happy (almost) Valentine's Day! Today's Top Ten Tuesday topic, hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, is a love freebie. When I was pondering whether or not I wanted to participate, I finally thought of the perfect idea. Today, I'm sharing 10 popular romantic tropes and highlighting my favorite book that uses it. And, as a little bonus, I've included a quote from each book that exemplifies said trope. So, let's dive right in:

1. Fake Dating:
Act Like It by Lucy Parker

“Are you seriously suggesting I conduct some sort of faux-mance with Richard Troy
 in the tabloids, for the sole purpose of getting a few more bums in seats?”

2. Second-Chance Romance:
Don't You Forget About Me by Mhairi McFarlane

I wish I'd had some warning. Someone of his significance shouldn't be able to simply walk back in without fanfare, without a buildup. It reminds me of that line about death just being another room.
Lucas was dead to me and yet he's in this room. It's impossible.
I mean, I've always known it could happen. But after twelve years, you're convinced it won't happen.

3. Hate-to-Love Romance:
The Simple Wild by K.A. Tucker

“So, if you're charming, what would Bobbie consider an asshole?”
“There's one right now.”
I follow his nod and find a reflection of myself in a window.
He's quick with the comebacks, I'll give him that much.

4. Parallel Universe Romance:
Maybe in Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid

"I know there may be universes out there where I made different choices and they led me somewhere else,
led me to someone else. And my heart breaks for every single version of me that didn't end up with you.”

5. Marriage of Convenience:
Roomies by Christina Lauren

I swallow a gulp of air and push the words out in a rush: “I was thinking thatwecouldgetmarried.
Calvin sits back, surprised.
You,” he says quietly, “want to marry me? For this?”
“Not indefinitely, but for a year or so. I mean, until your run is up and then... we can do whatever we want.”

6. Friends to Lovers:
The Friend Zone by Abby Jimenez

“You know what I think the trick to dealing with family is? I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately.”
 “What?” I said, spreading strawberry jam on my toast.
“Marrying your best friend.” He wiped his mouth with a napkin.
“You marry your best friend, and at family gatherings you deal with your shitty relatives together.
You laugh about it and have each other’s backs.
Share looks and text each other from across the room when everyone else is being an asshole.
And nobody else really matters because you have your own universe.”

7. Falling for Your Best Friend's Sibling:
Happiness for Beginners by Katherine Center

If he was playing me, I was played. If this was just a teenage conquest of his friend's big sister, I was conquered.

8. Roommate Romance:
The Flatshare by Beth O' Leary

Of course, I still haven't actually met my flatmate, which I acknowledge is technically quite weird,
but we've started leaving each other notes more and more often now –
sometimes I forget we haven't had these conversations in person.

9. Royalty Romance:
The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan

I fell in love with a person, not a prince; the rest is just circumstance.

10. Road Trip Romance:
One Plus One by Jojo Moyes

It took Edward Nicholls about fifteen minutes after he had left Danehall estate
 to question what the bloody hell he had just done. He had just agreed
to transport his stroppy cleaner, her two weird kids, and an enormous reeking dog
all the way to Scotland. What the hell had he been thinking?

Can you recommend any books that use these tropes?
Hate to love is my personal favorite from the list!

So Obsessed With: The Mini Edition #7

Feb 7, 2020

Some of my favorite posts are ones where bloggers highlight the products they're loving lately or the things they're currently coveting. I love this kind of content so much that I started highlighting my loves and lusts with So Obsessed With posts. So, here are eight things I'm so obsessed with lately:

I found this on Everyday Reading's blog and suggested it to my parents as a Christmas gift for my son. We've gotten three boxes so far and adore them! My son loves getting mail and the surprise of unwrapping two new books every month. The selections have been great so far, and I love cultivating my son's love of reading.

In the fall and winter, I'm always in the mood for soup. I meal plan every Sunday, and you're guaranteed to find at least one soup on our menu. I've got some standby favorites in rotation, but this is a recent find that's earned a spot on that go-to list. The combo of cheese, baby gold potatoes, and spicy sausage is a hearty, delicious win.

My sister got a sample of this cream from Sephora and loved it so much that she convinced me to add it to my Christmas list at the last minute. I'm so glad I trusted her! It's thick and leaves my skin feeling so moisturized – but never greasy and hasn't caused any breakouts. The smell isn't my fave, but that's my only complaint. 

Another brand sells a similar product with rave reviews, but I could not justify spending $80 on a product that I'd rinse off my face after twenty minutes. When I found this peel, I couldn't wrap my mind around the fact that it was $7. It had to be terrible, right? WRONG! I've only used it twice a week for a month or so, but I'm obsessed.

My parents have this toaster in another color, and I've coveted it for ages. It's just so pretty! Well, my parents gifted me one last year, and I'm kicking myself for leaving it off my list of 2019 obsessions. It sounds ridiculous, but I legit look forward to making my bagel every morning and smile every time I see it on my counter. A small, simple delight!

After doing some shopping at World Market last year, I'd earned some reward money that was expiring soon. When I was browsing online, I stumbled upon this kettle. I've been drinking more tea lately but have been using my Keurig to heat water. It wasn't a great solution, and this has been so much better! It works well and looks beautiful.

If you read my Christmas wishlist, you might remember that I was on the fence about getting AirPods. I liked them in theory but 1) didn't love the look and 2) was terrified of losing them. Welp, I'm officially obsessed. I know they wouldn't be ideal for everyone, but they've made it even easier for me to listen to audiobooks.

One of my goals for 2020 is to revitalize my faith through daily time with God. I'm trying to read through the Bible in one year! My research led me to this app, and I love it so much. The app is beautifully designed, daily notification keep me on track, and the videos throughout help me understand key themes and put everything into context.

What have you been loving lately?

February 2020 Goals

Feb 5, 2020

I'm excited to review my January goals and discuss my plans for February today! I made a lot of progress this past month, and I attribute that to the fact that PowerSheets kept me on track and that nesting mode kicked in hard. With just weeks to go before my delivery, my productivity soared. I'd love to hold on to that momentum, but I'm also trying to be realistic about what I can accomplish this month. Having a newborn will be the sweetest disruption, so I'm reminding myself to celebrate small things and take it slow!

On My Calendar:
– Celebrating my 31st birthday!
– The birth of our second sweet boy
– My husband, a Leap Day baby, getting a real birthday this year

Currently Obsessing Over:
– Am I allowed to say my PowerSheets this early in the year? I'm thrilled by the progress I've already made.
– Every year, I make and order a photo calendar from Artifact Uprising. The quality is amazing and makes a great gift. I was a little late this year but finally got to it in early January. So pleased with the end result!
– I've long wanted to try a popular facial mask that was just too expensive to splurge on. Thankfully, I found this similar AHA + BHA peeling solution from The Ordinary... and it's only $7. I'm loving it so far.
– For me, a new year means new planners. I'm using an academic year planner for my life, but I'm loving my new reading log and the refresh I've done on my bookish & blogging bullet journal. I'm a sucker for paper products!

Yearly Goals:
(These should stay the same all year, so I'll just do month-to-month progress reports!)
– Read through the Bible in one year.
– Read a devotional every morning.
– Track my spending in the Goodbudget app.
– Blog 2x per week.

January progress: 
– I've stayed on tracking with daily Bible reading using this app.
– I missed five days but was otherwise consistent about reading Paul David Tripp's New Morning Mercies
– Everything I spent in January was added to Goodbudget, so daily tracking is becoming a habit.
– I met my blogging goal in January – and exceeded it by posting 13 times!

Revisiting My January Goals:
Make our family's "20 in 2020" list. (Wrote our list – and posted it on the blog.) 
Plan (and go on!) our last trip as a family of three. (We went to the mountains over MLK weekend!)
Finish my pre-baby checklist! (This was essentially done, minus packing for the hospital.)
Brainstorm possible routines that I'd like to implement. (I didn't just brainstorm routines! I actually made checklists and started implementing them. I'm going to write more about this progress in a separate post.)
Schedule a monthly planning session. (I did this when I went to Starbucks solo on January 26.) 
Cull, download, organize, and backup 2019 photos. (I'm so excited to say I did this for 2019 and 2018 photos!)
Complete the Third Trimester section in the baby's Promptly Journal. (Done with this section, aside from anything I may want to add from my last week or so of pregnancy.)
– Complete Toddler Years 1-3 in my firstborn's Promptly Journal. (I made progress here, though I've got more to do. I did, however, finish all three trimesters, and his birth story. A goal readjustment rather than an incompletion!)
Finalize my 2020 reading challenges. (Set my Goodreads goal, kicked off Picky Pledge 2020, posted my 10 to read in 2020, and decided on my personal re-reading and non-fiction goals. I'm excited for what's ahead!)
– The Contentment Challenge, which is three months of no shopping. (I'm not crossing this out since it lasts three months, but I was mostly successful in January – with one whoops and one small exception I'd pre-planned.)

My February Goals:
– Complete two items from our 20 in 2020 list: gratitude jar and sending snail mail!
– Loosely plan meals for the entire month at the beginning of February.
– Schedule a monthly planning session (at home).
– Write the baby's birth story + first weeks in his Promptly Journal.
– Complete Toddler Year 1 in my firstborn's journal.
– Cull, download, rename, and backup January 2020 photos.
– Schedule six blog posts before baby arrives.
– Finish one re-read and one non-fiction book.
– Continue the Contentment Challenge, which is three months of no shopping.

Do you have any goals for February?
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