The Monday Check-In ~ 2/12/2018

cooltext1850356879 My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

Life.

20 years of wedded bliss! This past week was our 20th wedding anniversary, although we’re postponing the celebration until a vacation planned for next month. We’ve actually been together for 25 years now, but 20 years ago we decided to finally tie the knot… and it’s been a wonderful adventure ever since.

 

What did I read last week?

The Glass Forest by Cynthia Swanson: What a great read! Highly recommended — check out my review here.

As Bright as Heaven by Susan Meissner: Finished late Sunday — review to follow!

Pop culture:

Working my way through Grace & Frankie, and loving it! I’m about halfway through season 4.

Fresh Catch:

No new books! I’m so proud of myself.

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

Just starting: By the Book by Julia Sonneborn, which is supposedly a modern-day retelling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion. (They had me at Jane Austen.)

Now playing via audiobook:

A Local Habitation by Seanan McGuire: October Daye, #2 — almost done! And once I finish, I plan to keep going with the 3rd October Daye book. I’m loving this series so far!

Ongoing reads:

Book group reads:

  • Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade by Diana Gabaldon: Outlander Book Club has just started a group read of LJ&BotB, two chapters per week. If you’d like to join in, ask me how!
  • My book group’s classic read is Fences by August Wilson.

So many books, so little time…

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The Monday Check-In ~ 2/5/2018

cooltext1850356879 My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

What did I read last week?

Feed by Mira Grant: I am in love with this book. And YAY ME for finally reading it, after having it on my “want” list for so many years.

The Only Harmless Great Thing by Brooke Bolander: This novella defies description — it simply must be read. My review is here.

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah: I was totally blind-sided by how much this book affected me. My thoughts are here.

And in audiobooks:

I finished Rosemary and Rue by Seanan McGuire, the first book in the October Daye urban fantasy series. Loved it! My reaction is here. Moving on to book #2!

Pop culture:

Trying to cram in a few Oscar-nominated movies before March! I managed to watch one this past week:

The Shape of Water was beautiful! I can’t stop thinking about it.

Fresh Catch:

Oops – I may have gone a bit overboard with my Newsflesh obsession:

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

I’m planning to get through a couple of ARCs before returning to zombies…

Now playing via audiobook:

A Local Habitation by Seanan McGuire: October Daye, #2 — loving this series so far!

Ongoing reads:

Book group reads:

  • Lord John and the Succubus by Diana Gabaldon: Our group read of this novella ends this coming week. Next up: Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade
  • My book group’s next classic read is Fences by August Wilson, starting this week.

So many books, so little time…

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Audiobook Review: Rosemary and Rue by Seanan McGuire


October “Toby” Daye, a changeling who is half human and half fae, has been an outsider from birth. After getting burned by both sides of her heritage, Toby has denied the Faerie world, retreating to a “normal” life. Unfortunately for her, the Faerie world has other ideas…

The murder of Countess Evening Winterrose pulls Toby back into the fae world. Unable to resist Evening’s dying curse, which binds her to investigate, Toby must resume her former position as knight errant and renew old alliances. As she steps back into fae society, dealing with a cast of characters not entirely good or evil, she realizes that more than her own life will be forfeited if she cannot find Evening’s killer.

Rosemary and Rue  is the first book in the ongoing October Daye series — and as the first book, it has a lot of heavy lifting to do, in terms of establishing characters, building a world, and setting up the rules of the supernatural system that dictates the possibilities of plot from the starting point onward. Fortunately, Seanan McGuire is supremely talented and inventive, and in Rosemary and Rue, she’s more than up to the challenge of creating a world we’ll want to stay in.

Set in and around San Francisco, R&R starts with a pretty ominous set-up for Toby (October) in the prologue. While chasing her liege lord’s enemy (who’s also his twin brother), Toby walks into a trap and loses the next fourteen years of her life. I won’t say why or how — it’s just too much fun to find out for yourself.

We re-meet Toby in chapter one after she’s returned to a version of her former life, having sworn off anything to do with the world of the fae, determined to live as simply human and ignore the other half of her changeling identity. She’s been burned too badly and has lost far too much to be able to stomach the idea of returning to the intricate systems of fae courts and allegiances and territories. But Evening’s murder sucks her back in against her will, and soon enough Toby is brought face to face with old allies, lovers, and enemies. Her own life is on the line as she tries to solve the murder. If she fails, Evening’s dying curse will take Toby’s life as well.

The plot of R&R follows Toby’s search for clues and her reinvolvement with characters from her past, some well-meaning, some clearly not. As a changeling, Toby’s magical abilities are only so-so, and each time she engages with a pureblood, she’s at risk. As you’d expect in an  urban fantasy series, Toby is a smart-ass, tough woman with her own set of abilities, not least a talent for thinking on her feet, reading a room, and figuring out how to get what she wants. Still, she has vulnerabilities too, both physical and emotional, and she certainly suffers throughout the book as all sorts of baddies are out to get her and stop her investigation.

I love Toby as a character, and love the odd assortment of changelings and purebloods we meet along the way. Also excellent is the use of San Francisco as a setting. While some of the location descriptions didn’t quite gel with the reality of the area, others (such as the use of the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park) are just brilliant.

I have to give a shout-out to the most endearing and adorable magical creature in the book, a “rose goblin” named Spike. Picture a cat with thorns instead of fur, and you have the basic idea. Just loved it.

I did wish that Toby’s backstory was spelled out in a little more concrete detail. As with many urban fantasy stories, we start in the middle of the action and learn about Toby’s difficult past through various references as we go along. It’s enough to give a general timeline, but I still have questions. What does it mean that she’s a knight? What was the process to become one? How did she first join Sylvester’s court? Maybe future volumes in the series will provide more specifics.

Even thought the solution to the murder wasn’t that difficult to guess, I still enjoyed the revelations, Toby’s realizations about the various people in her life, and the reasons behind the events. The plot is fast-paced and exciting, and I enjoyed the adventure start to finish.

Narrator Mary Robinette Kowal brings her talents to the variety of characters, with accents and intonations and pitches that distinguish them and make it easy to identify the speaker at any given point — not always easy in audiobooks. As with the Indexing books, she does a great job of making the story flow, and I enjoyed her depiction of Toby’s inner life.

Rosemary and Rue was really a fun listen, and I’m planning on diving right in with book #2.

Note: Woo hoo! I’ve started another series from my reading goals list for 2018!
_________________________________________

The details:

Title: Rosemary and Rue
Author: Seanan McGuire
Narrator: Mary Robinette Kowal
Publisher: DAW Books
Publication date: September 1, 2009
Length (print): 346 pages
Length (audiobook): 11 hours, 20 minutes
Genre: Urban fantasy
Source: Purchased

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The Monday Check-In ~ 1/29/2018

cooltext1850356879 My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

What did I read last week?

Miss Kopp’s Midnight Confessions by Amy Stewart: Fabulous audiobook! My review is here.

Still Me by Jojo Moyes: Loved this follow-up to Me Before You and After You. My review is here.

Started and stopped:

I don’t know if it’s even worth mentioning, but I read the opening chapters of two very different books last week — one for book group, one just because — before deciding that I just wasn’t in the mood to continue:

Maybe I’ll go back to one or both at some point… but for now, they’re back on the shelf.

Fresh Catch:

One new book this week:

The cover blurb made me laugh — find out why, here.

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

Feed by Mira Grant: Woooo! I’m so excited to finally be starting the Newsflesh books… because a) I’ve wanted to read these for a long time now, and b) this was actually one of my series reading goals for 2018!

Now playing via audiobook:

Rosemary and Rue by Seanan McGuire: Time for a little urban fantasy… and the start of another series from my reading goals list!

Ongoing reads:

Book group reads:

  • Lord John and the Succubus by Diana Gabaldon: Our group read of this novella continues — contact me if you’d like to join in.
  • My book group’s next classic read will be Fences by August Wilson, which we’re starting next week.

So many books, so little time…

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The Monday Check-In ~ 1/22/2018

cooltext1850356879 My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

What did I read last week?

Read and reviewed:

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld: I loved this 21st century retelling of Pride and Prejudice! My review is here.

Red Clocks by Leni Zumas: Hmmm. See my review here if you want to know what I thought!

Read but not reviewed:

Beneath the Sugar Sky by Seanan McGuire: I was a bit let down by this book, which just doesn’t live up to the magic and wonder of the previous two in the series. The writing is still lovely, but the plot didn’t quite work for me.

Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott: Finished! My book group’s classic read of Ivanhoe came to an end this past week, and I’m so glad to have read it. Another great choice of a book I probably never would have read on my own.

Fresh Catch:

Two new books this week:

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

Still Me by Jojo Moyes: I’m excited to be reading this follow up to After You… if only I could remember what happened in the previous book.

Now playing via audiobook:

Miss Kopp’s Midnight Confessions by Amy Stewart: Another terrific adventure featuring the Kopp Sisters! I have another day or two of listening to go.

Ongoing reads:

Book group reads:

  • Since we finished Ivanhoe this past week, we’re in between classic reads at the moment. Our next will start in February.
  • Lord John and the Succubus by Diana Gabaldon: Our group read of this novella continues — contact me if you’d like to join in.

So many books, so little time…

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The Monday Check-In ~ 1/15/2018

cooltext1850356879 My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

What did I read last week?

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman: The illustrated version is such a treat! See below for a link to my post about this book and Saga.

Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots by Deborah Feldman: I finished the audiobook! My review is here.

Binti by Nnedi Okarafor: Another audiobook — I decided to re-read via audio, and although I’m glad I revisited the story, I can’t say that I was terribly impressed by the audiobook itself. This is one book thats’ definitely better on the page.

In graphic novels:

I caught up on Saga! Such an amazing series.

I wrote up some thoughts on Neverwhere and Saga, here.

Fresh Catch:

Three new books this week:

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

I’m FINALLY reading Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld, which has been sitting on my nightstand for over a year now.

Now playing via audiobook:

Miss Kopp’s Midnight Confessions by Amy Stewart: I’m really excited to be starting the 3rd Kopp Sisters book!

Ongoing reads:

Book group reads:

  • Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott: Finally, it’s the last week of my book group’s classic read!
  • Lord John and the Succubus by Diana Gabaldon: Our group read of this novella continues — contact me if you’d like to join in.

So many books, so little time…

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Audiobook Review: Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots


The instant New York Times bestselling memoir of a young Jewish woman’s escape from a religious sect, in the tradition of Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Infidel and Carolyn Jessop’s Escape, featuring a new epilogue by the author.

The Satmar sect of Hasidic Judaism is as mysterious as it is intriguing to outsiders. In this arresting memoir, Deborah Feldman reveals what life is like trapped within a religious tradition that values silence and suffering over individual freedoms.

Deborah grew up under a code of relentlessly enforced customs governing everything from what she could wear and to whom she could speak to what she was allowed to read. It was stolen moments spent with the empowered literary characters of Jane Austen and Louisa May Alcott that helped her to imagine an alternative way of life. Trapped as a teenager in a sexually and emotionally dysfunctional marriage to a man she barely knew, the tension between Deborah’s desires and her responsibilities as a good Satmar girl grew more explosive until she gave birth at nineteen and realized that, for the sake of herself and her son, she had to escape.

Unorthodox is a fascinating look into a world that’s largely unknown and hidden. The insular Satmar Hasidic community in which Deborah was raised has no tolerance for outside influence or interference, and at the same time, leaves no room for individuality or privacy.

All aspects of life are strictly governed, from what to wear to how to speak to what to eat to when to have sex with your husband. As a child, Deborah’s world revolved around family — the grandparents who raised her, the strict aunt who dictated every step of Deborah’s upbringing and education. Even so, Deborah was different, which can be unforgiveable among the Satmar — her father was either “crazy” or “retarded”, depending on who you asked, and her mother left the Satmar world when she left her unhappy marriage, leaving young Deborah behind.

As Deborah grows, she follows the rules carefully, always fearful of the contant watchful eyes and incessant gossip in their close-knit community, yet also yearning to expand her horizons. She sneaks forbidden books from a library from a different neighborhood, hiding Harry Potter and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn under her mattress, and takes the subway into Manhattan to be dazzled by the glimpse of another kind of life.

Still, Deborah does what is expected of her, married at age 17 to a groom she barely knows, enjoying the trappings of being a bride even while the horrible reality of her situation is driven home. The chapter on Deborah’s introduction to marriage is horrifying. Prior to the wedding, Deborah takes the mandatory “bride classes” that all Satmar girls take, learning essential requirements about going to the mikveh (ritual bath), about being unclean for two weeks due to her period (and the ridiculous steps women have to take before being considered clean enough to resume marital relations), how to run a good Jewish home, and then finally, in the last lesson, what sex is and what’s expected of her.

The sex talk Deborah gets is less than informative:

A man and a woman’s bodies were created like two interlocking puzzle pieces, she says. I hear her describe a hallway with walls, leading to a little door, which open to a womb, the mekor, she calls it, “the source.” I can’t imagine where an entire system like that could be positioned. She tries to tell me about the passageway that leads to “the source,” how this passageway is entered, demonstrating with her forefinger inserted into the ring of the thumb and forefinger of her other hand, and making ridiculous thrusting motions. I’m guessing that that motion is referring to the part where they click into place. Still, I can’t see where that spot, that entryway, can exist on my own body. As far as I know, the place where the pee comes out isn’t that stretchy. I finally stop her.

“Um, I don’t have that,” I say, giggling nervously.

The girls of the community are kept so utterly ignorant of their own bodies that she has no comprehension of having a vagina! Things go from bad to worse, as the couple is unable to consummate their marriage for a full year, as clumsy fumbling leads to frustration, which leads to deep anxiety and tension on Deborah’s part, making her physically unable to relax enough to permit her husband to complete the act. It’s horrible to hear the suffering that this young girl endures, with emotional damage heaped on top of physical suffering.

Finally, after becoming a mother at age 19, Deborah begins to secretly seek an outlet for her unfulfilled yearning for independence and knowledge, enrolling in classes, learning to drive, and venturing outside of her community and its heavy expectations. The more she encounters of the outside world, the more strongly she’s convinced that her future lies elsewhere. Ultimately, she finds a way to start a new life for herself and her young son, and finds the freedom she’s longed for all her life.

The narrative is intimate and informative, as Deborah walks us through the phases of a girl’s life, from early education through puberty and into young adulthood, when the entire focus becomes making a good match. We see the structures in place to enforce obedience and strict adherence to the religious rules that govern all aspects of life. The imbalance between the sexes is laughable — a woman’s life has as its purpose creating a home for her husband and raising children. There’s no room for individuality, and people with other interests are either shunned or, like Deborah and her mother before her, must leave entirely in order to have a life that feels true.

The audiobook, narrated by Rachel Botchan, captures the dialogue and the patterns of conversations quite well, as well as conveying the Yiddish terms that are peppered throughout the book. The narration flows nicely, and gives the listener a real sense of Deborah’s inner life, moods, and emotional struggles.

Quibbles:

While I found the story overall quite powerful, there are a few aspects that stuck out and were problems for me.

  • While talking about how unhappy she is in her marriage, Deborah states that she’d never be able to leave without leaving her son behind, because the rabbinical courts would never allow a Satmar woman to leave and take a child with her. Yet in the end, Deborah and her husband decide to divorce, and Deborah leaves with their son. How? Why was she allowed to take the child? What was the legal process? Was there some sort of agreement put into place? There’s no explanation offered, and considering that she pointed this out as a reason for her feeling trapped in her marriage, I needed to get some of information about why this worked out for her.
  • The author has a tendency to ascribe emotions to people based on her interactions with them, and this often rings false. When she goes to the mikveh for the first time in preparation for her wedding, she decides that the attendant “thinks she is better than I am” based on the tone of her voice, and later, when she feels embarrassed during the highly personal inspection that’s entailed, she says:

The attendant’s face is stern, but there is a faint whiff of triumph about her movements… She’s baiting me.

It all comes across as a big case of projection, as far as I can tell. Yes, the ritual is invasive and scary for a young woman who’s never been naked in front of others before and who has no knowledge of her own body, but the author presents the attendant’s feelings as facts, rather than showing that it’s her interpretation of what she sees. And this comes across in several places in the book — Deborah makes assumptions about other’s feelings and motivations, but we have no reason to think that she’s actually right.

  • I would have liked more explanation about Deborah and her husband Eli’s financial situation, as she describes them struggling to afford the basics, and yet they spend an enormous amount of time (and, I assume, money) visiting doctors and therapists and other specialists regarding their sexual difficulties, and later, for prenatal treatment once the pregnancy becomes high-risk. I assume the families support the couple, but it would have been good to have a better understanding of where the money they spent came from.

 

Wrapping it all up:

Unorthodox is a powerful story that provides a startling look into a world that must seem utterly alien to anyone with a secular upbringing. While there are areas that could use more factual grounding and additional information, overall this book provides quite a lot of detail into what constitutes childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood in the Satmar community. It’s easy to understand how an intelligent girl who questions everything and thirsts for knowledge would feel stifled, and perhaps the most remarkable thing is that the author survived in this world for as long as she did.

_________________________________________

The details:

Title: Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots
Author: Deborah Feldman
Narrator: Rachel Botchan
Publisher: Simon Schuster
Publication date: October 2, 2012
Length (print): 272 pages
Length (audiobook): 10 hours, 31 minutes
Genre: Memoir
Source: Purchased

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The Monday Check-In ~ 1/8/2018

cooltext1850356879 My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

Life.

After a lovely week off, which included a trip to Universal Hollywood with my kiddos, it’s back to work for me today. Sigh.

What did I read last week?

A Treacherous Curse (Veronica Speedwell #3) by Deanna Raybourn: Such a fun way to kick off 2018! My review is here.

The Angry Tide by Winston Graham: The 7th book of the Poldark series is a real knock-out — granted, it gets a bit too bogged down in parts by politics and banking, but the human drama is intense and it has a heart-breaker of an ending. I’d planned to take a break before reading more in the series… but now I’m thinking I want to continue a whole lot sooner than originally planned.

Pop culture goodness:

My family has been obsessed with playing the Hogwarts Battle game. It’s so much fun!

Seriously, if you’re an HP fan, you have to check this game out. You’ll love it, I promise.

Fresh Catch:

Two new books this week — a graphic novel, and a book for book group:

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

A few different things while I wait on pins and needles for this coming week’s new arrivals:

I’m catching up on the last few Saga volumes before starting the newest…

… and I’m getting back to the illustrated edition of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, which looks beautiful.

Now playing via audiobook:

I hit pause on my current listen (below) so that I could listen to Binti instead. I read Binti last year, but need a refresher before book #3 comes out next week.

And once I finish Binti, I’ll go back to…

Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots by Deborah Feldman: I got about halfway through before this past week’s vacation, when I didn’t listen to audiobooks at all. I’m looking forward to finishing — what I’ve heard so far was really interesting.

Ongoing reads:

Book group reads:

  • Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott: My book group’s classic read! We’re reading and discussing two chapters per week, and have only a few more chapters to go.
  • Lord John and the Succubus by Diana Gabaldon: We’re starting our group read of this novella this week! Contact me if you’d like to join in.

So many books, so little time…

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The Monday Check-In ~ 1/1/2018 – Happy New Year!

cooltext1850356879 My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

Happy New Year!

Wishing one and all a joyful 2018… fill with health, laughter, and great books!

Goodreads goal for 2018:

I always love doing the Goodreads reading challenge — I love that it’s a challenge between me and myself, no goals that feel artificial to me, just me and my books and a lot of great reading! Did you sign up for 2018? Here’s my goal:

(I went lower than I did for 2017, because I can’t imagine reading nearly that many graphic novels again in the coming year. But I’ve been wrong before…)

What did I read last week?

The Four Swans by Winston Graham: Book #6 in the Poldark series. I enjoyed it so much that I’m moving straight ahead with #7!

Paperbacks from Hell: The Twisted History of 70s and 80s Horror Fiction by Grady Hendrix: A must for horror fans! Check out my review, here.

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez: Deeply moving YA fiction. My review is here.

Read but not yet reviewed:

Just before the stroke of midnight, I squeezed in two more books in 2017!

  • A Treacherous Curse (Veronica Speedwell #3) by Deanna Raybourn — review to follow.
  • George by Alex Gino – Lovely middle grade fiction about a transgender girl finding her way.

Pop culture goodness:

Anyone else watching The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel? I finished my binge-watch over the weekend, and loved it.

Fresh Catch:

No new books this week!

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

The Angry Tide by Winston Graham: My first book of 2018 is the 7th Poldark book… and then I’ll probably take a break from the series until it’s time for a new TV season.

Now playing via audiobook:

Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots by Deborah Feldman: I’ve listened to about half so far, and it’s super interesting. I’ve had limited listening time lately, but hope to finish up this coming week.

Ongoing reads:

Book group reads:

  • Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott: My book group’s classic read! We’re reading and discussing two chapters per week, and have only a few more chapters to go.
  • Lord John and the Succubus by Diana Gabaldon: We’ll be starting our group read of the novella Lord John & the Succubus next week — contact me if you’d like to join in.

So many books, so little time…

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The Monday Check-In ~ 12/25/2017

cooltext1850356879 My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

Merry Christmas!

Wishing all who are celebrating a day filled with joy… here’s hoping Santa left you some wonderful bookish gifts under your tree!

What did I read last week?

Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich: I was pretty disappointed by this one. My review is here.

180 Seconds by Jessica Park: Lovely, moving YA fiction. My review is here.

Pop culture goodness:

The kiddo and I decided to watch the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I’d never watched the extended editions before. Whew. Great movies, of course, but I feel like I need a vacation after sitting through all three in one weekend!

Goodreads update:

It was nice waking up to this earlier this week:

Onward to 2018!

Fresh Catch:

No new books this week. *patting self on the back*

I did, however, treat myself to some Outlander magnetic bookmarks via Etsy:

Adorable, right? You can find these (and more) here.

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

The Four Swans by Winston Graham: Book #6 in the Poldark series. After watching season 3, I have to know what happens next!

Now playing via audiobook:

Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots by Deborah Feldman: Just getting started, but pretty interesting so far.

Ongoing reads:

Book group reads:

  • Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott: My book group’s classic read! We’re reading and discussing two chapters per week — only three chapters to go, after a wee break for the holidays.
  • Lord John and the Succubus by Diana Gabaldon: We’ll be starting our group read of the novella Lord John & the Succubus in January — contact me if you’d like to join in.

So many books, so little time…

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