Recent Reads

I’ll be back soon with a health update, but suffice it to say that despite my best laid plans, 2020 hasn’t been the best year, disease-wise, for me. And that’s not pandemic related, thankfully. Just my regular uncontrolled chronic illness nonsense. But, like many other high-risk folks in this community, I have been self-isolating at home since March.

Which means that I’ve been reading. A lot. Every cloud has a silver lining, right? 🙂 With that in mind, I thought I’d share a few recent reviews across some different genres. They’re also posted, along with a number of others (and all of my reads) on my GoodReads profile. If reading is also your jam, I’d love to connect with you there and swap book recommendations!

Regardless of how you are spending your time during the pandemic, I hope you and yours are doing as well as you can, and finding some peace in these difficult times. xo

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes – Suzanne Collins (pub 2020)

“Ballad” takes us back to Panem, and centers us on two events: the early adulthood of Coriolanus Snow, and the early years of the Hunger Games. Through Snow’s eyes, we learn more about the brutal reign of the Capitol leaders in Panem following the war, and the origins of many of the Games’ most torturous elements.

But, because this prequel mainly centers its narrative on Snow – the ruthless dictator in the original series – it’s hard to feel fully invested in the story. My best analogy is that we’re watching the slow unraveling of Anakin Skywalker, who we already know to be Darth Vader, in the Star Wars prequels. We feel curious, but we also instinctively know that it’s important to keep our emotional distance. Still, for fans of this world, “Ballad” offers a compelling history of the early Games, and allows us to see how their structure evolved to what we see when we meet Katniss Everdeen in “The Hunger Games”. GR Stars: 3

Nothing To See Here – Kevin Wilson (pub 2019)

I picked up this slim novel for two reasons. First, it was in the Modern Mrs. Darcy Summer Reading Guide, and I trust Anne Bogel’s taste (even if I don’t love the book, it’ll challenge me in some way). Second, the premise was too interesting not to check out. The themes of class, wealth, power, and what makes a good parent are not new. But exploring them through kids that spontaneously combust??? That was unique.

Since I finished, I’ve been reflecting on this one. The thing is that, at first, I thought (especially) Madison and even Lillian, to a degree, were a bit one-dimensional overall. Not enough of a journey for either, and neither was super likeable. But upon reflection, I realized that their characters were written in a fairly realistic way, regardless of whether I liked them or thought they grew enough by the end. And I just adored the kids, particularly Bessie and Roland. They made the story for me. If you’re looking for familiar story themes, told in an original way with realistic adult characters, I’d recommend trying this one. GR Stars: 4

Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier (pub 1938)

“I could fight the living, but I could not fight the dead.” I’m a huge fan of both mystery and gothic literature, so it’s inexcusable that I’ve missed this classic in the genre for so many years. It’s the story of a very young (second) Mrs. de Winter – we never learn her name – moving to her new husband’s grand estate, and living in the shadow of his late first wife, Rebecca. Manderley itself is a main character, looming large over the entire story, from the famous first line to the end. And every character in the story is flawed. Through their actions, du Maurier explores themes of loneliness, power/gender roles, revenge, insecurity, and morality. The author brilliantly keeps you on your toes, manipulating your emotions and making you question what you thought you knew (about the story and yourself!) from one page to the next. And Mrs. Danvers…chills!

“Rebecca” is brilliantly done, and despite its original release in 1938, it feels very modern. In fact, it’s easy to see du Maurier’s influence on so many of today’s thrillers. I read this on Kindle, and listened to the Audible version with Anna Massey’s narration, which was excellent. Hitchcock’s first American film was an adaption of “Rebecca” in 1940, which won the “Best Picture” Oscar. A new adaptation with Lily James and Armie Hammer comes out next month (see the trailer here). You can bet I’ll be watching both in the weeks to come! It’s the perfect season to find your way to this classic, in whatever form makes you happiest. GR Stars: 5


Book Review: Don’t Overthink It

TITLE: Don’t Overthink It: Make Easier Decisions, Stop Second-Guessing, and Bring More Joy Into Your Life

AUTHOR: Anne Bogel

PUB DATE: March 3, 2020AB-cover


NOTE: I received an advanced digital copy this book, in return for my honest review.

For those unfamiliar, Anne Bogel is the creator of the bookish universe encompassing the Modern Mrs. Darcy blog and two podcasts, literary matchmaking on What Should I Read Next? and book reviews on One Great Book. I can safely say that, since I discovered her work about 4 years ago, she is probably more responsible for adding books to my TBR shelf (that’s “to be read”, for those that are not up on this lingo) than anyone else. So, now my wife knows exactly who’s to blame for our burgeoning bookshelves. Ha!

Though I could go on about the blog and the podcast, today I want to talk about Anne’s third book, “Don’t Overthink It”, which will be released on March 3rd. In this one, Ms. Bogel takes us on a thought-provoking journey through talks us through the cycle of the chronic overthinker. And boy, did it resonate with me!

Like her two previous (and highly recommended) works, “Reading People” and “I’d Rather Be Reading“, this offering is authentically Anne. Her voice shines through. As I read it, I felt as though I was sitting with her over coffee, discussing both the root causes of overthinking, and strategies to help us overcome the problem. I loved the concrete examples she offered, both from her own life, and from the lives of friends, family, and listeners/readers. From small changes like “complete the cycle” and “everyday indulgences” to big ideas like “live your values” (which sounds easy, but when you evaluate your calendar against what you value, you may find it isn’t), she distills so much worthy information for the reader in this slim volume.

I have always been prone to overthinking. Since I was diagnosed with a chronic illness a decade ago, and as my health has continued to decline, that habit has accelerated. My life is one big decision point. If I attend this event, how much rest will I need? Is there risk of additional pain/fatigue? Do I need extra meds or other accommodations? Which toothbrush will be less painful today? What pants can I button? You get the idea. On top of that, since I’ve been unable to work for the past few years, I’ve been less likely to splurge on anything for myself. After all, I don’t earn income anymore. So, I overthink before I buy even a regular priced book, and frankly, I rarely do.

The questions as the end of each chapter allow the reader to delve more deeply into each principle for themselves. I’ve done some journaling with them, and realized that I often spin far beyond what’s necessary. For example, while chronic illness forces me to weigh clothing options, I can limit my options — and therefore my energy expenditure on getting ready — with a capsule wardrobe. I’ve started working through some of my own income guilt with respect to small indulgences too. And I’m starting to be more intentional about simplifying my routines, while keeping flexibility for life / my illness.

A readable book that inspires real change? That’s just about the best recommendation I can offer. Hope you won’t overthink it, and instead will get yourself a copy on March 3rd. 🙂 Can’t wait to hear what you think!