My Anti-Bucket List: Things I Never Want to Do

Like most people, I have a pretty lengthy list of things I'd like to accomplish and experience before I die.  Sometimes I'll think about all of the things I've done so far and feel like I've probably made a lot of progress on that list ... And then I think of at least fifty more things I'd like to do, and I feel like I've barely scratched the surface.

But today's post isn't about those things.  Today's post is all about my anti-bucket list.  Whether it's something actually horrible or just something I have no interest in, these are a few of the things I never want to do.

- Go surfing

I know I'm probably in the minority when I say this, but I don't like the ocean.  I think it's beautiful to look at, but beach vacations aren't really my thing.  My biggest problem with the ocean (or deep water in general, really) is that I'm terrified of it.  I'm not a strong swimmer, and even though I took swimming classes with some friends a few years ago to try to get over my fear, I'm still not confident enough in my abilities to spend much time in the water.  Surfing seems like the scariest thing I could possibly do in the water, so I obviously have no interest whatsoever in trying it.

- Live on a farm

I have a lot of respect for people who live and work on farms -- it's really fucking hard work.  And that's exactly why I could never do it.  Getting up early every single day to do hard labor outside and tend to a variety of animals is not something I'd ever want for my life.

- Read War and Peace

I tell myself all the time that I'll "eventually" get around to reading this, but who am I kidding?  I slogged through Anna Karenina for at least six months or more -- I can't even imagine how long it would take me to get through the monster that is War and Peace.

- Eat bugs

I'm very adventurous when it comes to food, and I love trying new things ... But I draw the line at bugs.  They scare the shit out of me when they're alive, so why would I ever want to put one in my mouth?  I don't care if it's dead -- it's disgusting, and I refuse to try it.

- Do hot yoga

I love yoga.  I practice regularly, and even splurged on a fancy, expensive mat.  (I still consider it a splurge even though I used a gift card to purchase it.)  Hot yoga, however, sounds terrible.  I hate being hot.  I actively avoid going outside during the summer as much as possible because I can't stand the heat.  So why would I ever willingly put myself in a situation where I'm in a super hot room and miserable?  Answer: I wouldn't.

- Go to a country music concert

Apologies to all the country music fans out there, but I've never been a fan of the genre.  I'm not that into a lot of other types of music either (like pop or rap, for example), but I can at least name a handful of artists I enjoy listening to.  I can't do that with country music.  I don't like any of it.  Being forced to listen to nothing but country music for a few hours would be a nightmare for me.

- Go on a crazy super strict diet

I've been trying to make better, healthier food choices this year, but that doesn't mean I never eat food that isn't healthy.  I like that I can have Dunkin' Donuts or Qdoba or a giant plate of pasta with tons of cheese and garlic butter once in a while and not feel guilty.  If I were on a crazy super strict diet, I would feel guilty as hell (and maybe a little sick as well since my body wouldn't be used to eating that kind of thing).  I really do try not to eat that shit all the time because it's obviously not good for me (and, let's be honest, also because I would definitely not enjoy gaining a ton of weight) ... But I like to have it once in a while, and I'm not going to feel bad about that.

- Hike the Appalachian Trail

This is something that a lot of people seem to want to do.  (One of my ex-boyfriends actually did this a couple of years ago and loved it.)  It just sounds terrible to me.  I'm not at all an "outdoorsy" kind of person, so this is clearly not something I'd ever consider "fun."  I slept in a tent and didn't shower for four days at Bonnaroo back in 2013 -- I can't even imagine doing that for months at a time (and carrying all my shit on my back all day long as well).  No thanks.

- Stay in a hostel

I love traveling, and I know that hotels can sometimes get really expensive.  Even so, I can't imagine staying in a hostel.  I like to think I could have dealt with it back in my 20s, but let's be real -- I would have hated it.  I like my privacy (especially when it comes to the bathroom), and I get the impression I wouldn't get much of that in a hostel.

- Spend New Year's Eve in Times Square

When I was much younger, I used to think it would be so much fun to spend New Year's Eve in Times Square.  But, while I still love NYC, I don't have any desire to be completely squished in a giant crowd of people in the cold.  And, to be perfectly honest, I generally have no interest in the musicians performing.  I'd rather spend my New Year's Eve going out for a nice, romantic dinner with Eric and then cuddling up on the couch and drinking more wine.  That's what we've been doing for years, and I don't really want to do anything else.

- Move everything to digital format

I'm obviously a fan of the internet -- I wouldn't bother with a blog if I wasn't.  But while technology is mostly awesome and useful, I would never want to completely give up things like printed books, paper planners, and notebooks and pens.  Sometimes I like turning off/putting aside my gadgets and going offline for a while.  I couldn't do that if I moved everything to digital format.

- Drive across the country

I'd eventually like to visit all fifty states (I've only visited twenty-nine so far), but driving across the country doesn't sound like a fun way to knock a bunch off the "to visit" list.  I like road trips for the most part, but I also like having a very specific final destination.  If I'm not really sure how long it will take to get somewhere (or even where I'm going), I'll get annoyed and anxious.  In theory, a drive across the country sounds incredibly freeing -- in reality, it would probably make me crazy.

- Buy a fixer upper

I think it's amazing when people are crafty and can create a beautiful home out of a shithole.  Eric and I are not crafty.  If we bought a shithole, it would remain a shithole until we could scrounge up enough money to hire professionals to fix everything.  And, at that rate, we'd probably end up spending so much that we could have just bought a nicer, move-in ready home instead.

- Experience a natural disaster

I've been living in Nebraska for almost nine years now, and my stomach still drops every time I hear a tornado siren.  (Yes, even during the scheduled testing.)  Natural disasters are scary.  I'll consider myself incredibly lucky if I never experience something like that.

- Get arrested/go to prison

I'd like to think that most people would have this on their anti-bucket list.  I mean, going to jail doesn't exactly sound like a relaxing dream vacation.  I could list a bunch of reasons I'd never want to do this, but I don't think I need to.

Now it's your turn.  What are some things that you'd add to your anti-bucket list?

Also, if you've done any of the things on my list, I'd be interested in hearing about your experience!

10 Crime/Thriller Novels From Around the World

In my real life, I enjoy traveling.  I love seeing and exploring new places.  It doesn't matter how near or far they are from where I live -- as long as I'm experiencing something new, I'm happy.

When it comes to my book life, I feel the same.  As much as I wish I could travel the world on a whim, I have responsibilities that I can't ignore.  So if traveling isn't on the agenda for the near future, I turn to books to give me those new and exciting experiences.  Sure, it's not the same as actually being there ... But it provides a nice escape from my day-to-day life and responsibilities.

Today's Top Ten Tuesday post is all about books that take place in other countries.  I decided to narrow the topic a bit and share some crime/thriller novels I really enjoyed that take place in other countries, since I'm a big fan of these genres.

Japanese thrillers can be extremely fucked up, and Confessions was no exception.  The story was twisted and disturbing, and it stuck with me for a long time after I finished it.  

One of my favorite things about Out was the fantastic character development.  The story centered around four very different women who become linked together by a crime, and the author did an amazing job giving each woman a believable backstory. 

This book alternated between the past and present, and I loved the dreamy, surreal feel of the sections set in the past.  I love a thriller with a good twist, and this book did not disappoint.

The Woman Before Me was one of my favorite reads last year.  I really enjoy when my perception of characters and events shifts throughout a story, and this book made me question everything I thought I knew multiple times.

I read this book several years ago, but have never completely gotten it out of my mind.  The story was dark and disturbing, and also gave readers a glimpse of the grittier side of Glasgow.

Some books manage to make the setting as much a part of the story as the characters and plot -- Little Black Lies was one of those books.  And although I felt like I learned a lot about an area I previously knew nothing about, I never felt that the descriptions detracted from the main plot.

Blood Wedding was yet another of my favorite reads of 2017.  This was a twisty mindfuck of a novel, and I had a lot of fun reading about the lives of some seriously batshit crazy characters.

This behemoth was actually a complete trilogy rolled into a single book -- and it was worth the time it took to read it.  I love dark and disturbing reads, and this book definitely fit the bill.

Although only a portion of the novel was set in Sri Lanka, it was an important part of the story.  I appreciated that this book not only told the story of an unforgivable crime, but also gave some insight into some of the difficulties facing immigrants attempting to assimilate into American culture.

It was definitely a stretch to add Big Little Lies to this list, but considering that, like a great thriller, this book kept me up at all hours of the night because I had to know what happened next, I felt it could pass.  (And, really, a major part of the plot relates to a crime ... So maybe it wasn't a huge stretch.)  Regardless, I loved this book -- now I just need to watch the show.

Linking up with That Artsy Reader Girl for Top Ten Tuesday!

Monthly Gratitude: March 2018 Edition

It's time once again for my monthly gratitude post.  I've only been posting these for a short time, but I've found that I really enjoy writing them.  Like many people, I sometimes find myself getting stuck on all the negatives, so it's nice to take some time each month to reflect on some of the good things in my life.

- The best part of my job:

I'm not one of those people who absolutely loves going to work every day.  (Though, really, how many people actually do look forward to working each day?)  Thankfully, I'm not one of those people who dreads going to work every day either.  I'm mostly in the "it's fine and I like earning money, but I could probably name at least twenty things I'd rather be doing" camp.  (My guess is that the majority of people fall under this category.)  I will say, though, that work is never terrible (even during really stressful times!) because I work with really awesome people.  It's definitely true that your coworkers can really affect your job satisfaction, and I feel so grateful to work alongside some really kind, funny, intelligent, and interesting people.

- Something others may take for granted that brings me joy:

I love silence.  As much as I love listening to music and watching TV, sometimes I just want to sit in a quiet room and read or write.  I need to have at least some "me time" every day (even if it's just ten or fifteen minutes) in order to destress and relax, and I generally prefer to do this in silence.  It keeps me sane, and for that, I am grateful.

- Something that makes my life much easier:

As much as I sometimes wish I didn't need it, my car is definitely something I'd be lost without.  Omaha is very much a driving city (the public transportation system isn't great) -- if I didn't have a car, my life would be much more difficult.  It's something I think I take for granted a lot of the time, so I wanted to take a moment this month to think about how grateful I actually am to own a car.

- A feeling:

It may be a little odd to express gratitude for this, but I love a good adrenaline rush.  This is the reason I love riding the scariest rides at amusement parks, watching scary movies, and reading scary books (and why I'd like to eventually do things like skydiving and zip-lining) ... I enjoy that feeling so much.  That mixture of fear and excitement actually brings me joy -- I never feel more alive than I do in those moments.  

- The best thing about March:

I really struggled with what to say here.  I would love to share the actual best thing about this last month, but I'm not ready to do so just yet.  (I'm sorry for being vague, but this is one of those personal things that I'm not comfortable sharing right now.  I should be able to talk about it eventually, just not yet.)  Since I can't share what I'm actually most grateful for, I'll go with something a little more general: I've enjoyed that the month of March has been pretty relaxing.  I haven't been stretched thin with commitments or overly stressed about anything.  I'd call that a win.

As usual, I'll end this monthly gratitude post with a quote.  This month's quote comes from the song "Don't Carry It All" by The Decemberists.  I thought it was at least somewhat fitting for the change from winter to spring (though I know it hasn't really felt like spring for a lot of people).

Currently ... March 2018 Edition

When I realized it was time for another "currently" post, I also realized that I really didn't have much to share.  March has been kind of a weird month so far (not bad, just weird), and part of that weirdness is due to my lack of motivation to do much of anything.  Though, to be fair, it's not just a general feeling of "I'm too lazy to want to go out and do anything" ... It's also a feeling of "I spent way too much money in the last month so I'd rather stay home and have a cheap night in."  There's nothing wrong with that, of course ... It just makes for a less exciting life update.  (And a less exciting picture for the post -- I realized the only pictures I've taken this entire month have been of the food we've cooked at home.  So ... That's what you get here.)

Currently I'm ...

- Reading: Lie to Me by J.T. Ellison.  It doesn't satisfy any reading challenge categories, but I randomly picked it after feeling way too indecisive about what to read next.  It's my sixteenth book for the year, which, according to Goodreads, means I'm on track to hit my goal of seventy.

- Watching: Survivor: Ghost Island.  I used to think Survivor was stupid, and I didn't understand why anyone liked it.  It's grown on me, though, and Eric and I watch it every Wednesday evening.  If nothing else, I like seeing people do things I'd never be able to do.

- Listening To: The new album by The Decemberists, I'll Be Your Girl.  I'm not going to lie: unlike most of their other albums, I think this one is going to have to grow on me a bit.  (I hate that that's the case, but I want to be honest.)  Some songs I loved immediately, while others were just okay.  I think it's important for bands to experiment with their sound over time (which is what they've done with some of the songs here), but sometimes I just want more of what I already love so much.

My favorite track is "Rusalka, Rusalka / Wild Rushes" (which can be found below, if you're interested).  It's very much what I'd expect from The Decemberists (a dark story told within the song), and it's beautiful and haunting and epic and most definitely makes the album for me.

- Cooking: A lot of spicy recipes.  I've been on a spicy kick, so I've been taking every opportunity to add heat to the dishes we make at home.  This also means a lot of Mexican/Tex-Mex style meals ... I'm not even going to pretend that I haven't been happy to eat tacos (you can see one of our recent taco meals in the first picture of this post), stacked enchiladas, burrito bowls, and enchilada meatballs multiple times this month.

- Working On:
 Not a lot.  I should probably be working on some of my March goals (which I didn't even make until halfway through the month), but I can't seem to motivate myself to get shit done.  I'm hoping that all the bright red "fails" that pop up when I share my goals at the beginning of next month inspire me to do a better job in April ... But we'll see.

- Buying: For the most part, nothing much beyond the necessities (like gas for my car and groceries).  At the very beginning of the month, I bought what will (hopefully) be the last set of concert tickets for a while.  Well, okay, Eric got them since he had time to come home for lunch and set up three computers in an effort to secure the tickets (see the picture below for proof that this is not a joke), but I paid for them since they were for a band a wanted to see.

If you're wondering which band has such rabid fans that this crazy setup was actually a necessity, the answer is Radiohead.  We'll be heading to Chicago in July to see them, and I couldn't be more excited!  I've been a big fan since I was 12 years old, so they've been on my concert bucket list for 21 years.  This is clearly a very big deal for me!

- Feeling: Pretty lazy, honestly.  I've been trying to get motivated to do some organizing (my closet in particular needs some serious work), but I always seem to find something else I'd rather be doing.  Imagine that.

- Loving: That I'll be visiting my family in West Virginia in just over a month!  I haven't been back home in quite a while, so I'm really excited to see everyone! (Is it weird that I still call it "home" even though I haven't actually lived in West Virginia in 10 years?)

- Hating:
That I haven't been as on top of things lately.  I've definitely been feeling a severe lack of motivation in most areas of my life, but I still hate getting behind on things and feeling like I'm constantly trying to catch up.  A perfect example: my online creative writing class.  I'd say I enjoy it for the most part (and it was free, which makes it even better!), but most days it's hard to feel motivated to come home from work and then sit in front of the computer for a couple of hours to read through a lesson and complete whatever assignments are given.  This clearly extends to blogging as well, since I haven't been the greatest at commenting lately.  Hopefully I'll get my shit together soon and stop procrastinating.  

- Discovering: That I really like the song "Palace" by Sam Smith.  It's not the type of thing I normally listen to, but I heard it a while ago on an Apple commercial and couldn't get it out of my head.  (I guess that means the advertisement was effective?)  It's not a song I listen to regularly (because, let's face it, it turns me into a hot sobbing mess every time), but it was notable enough for a mention here ... Especially since it's so different from most of the music I usually listen to.

- Pinning: Not much (again).  I keep meaning to pin some of the recipes we've made recently so I can easily find them again, but I always forget to actually do it.

- Considering: Attempting to go another full week without shopping for groceries.  We'll have to get a little more creative with our meals, but I think we can do it (and use up some of the odds and ends in our kitchen in the process).

- Planning: Our upcoming trip in July to Chicago.  Well, we're starting to plan for it, anyway.  We have the Radiohead tickets and tickets to a Cubs game, but we haven't booked our flight or hotel (yeah, I know) and we haven't really decided what else we'd like to do while we're there.  We'll only be in town for a long weekend (Thursday through Sunday), but any suggestions are welcome.  We're especially open to less expensive things, as we're trying not to go overboard with spending on this trip.  (Stephanie, I'm hoping you might have some ideas!)

Three Reasons I Love Book Challenges (and Three Reasons I Don't)

One thing I've learned since I started blogging and interacting with other bookworms online: book challenges aren't for everyone.  And I get it.  I mean, I would say I generally have fun participating in challenges -- but, as the title of this post suggests, I don't love every single thing about them.

Three Reasons I Love Book Challenges:

1.) Book challenges often force me to get out of my reading comfort zone.

I talked a little about the importance of reading outside your comfort zone in this post, and I stand by that.  If I only stuck to "safe" books (a.k.a. books in my favorite genres, books by my favorite authors, books about topics I'm very interested in, etc.), I might never have discovered some of the books I've fallen in love with. 

This isn't always the case, of course -- I've definitely read some books outside my reading comfort zone for book challenges that were horrible.  But at least I gave them a shot. 

The thing is, I probably wouldn't push myself to read books outside my reading comfort zone as often if I didn't participate in book challenges.  It's easy to add a book from a genre I wouldn't normally go for (like historical fiction or science fiction, for example) to my "To Read" list ... But to actually read it?  Sometimes I need that extra little push -- and that's exactly what a book challenge gives me.

2.) I think it's fun to search for books that will fit a certain book challenge category.

I spend way too much time on Goodreads in general, but when new book challenge categories are announced, I can literally spend hours searching for the "perfect" book for each category.  (While simultaneously combing through my "To Read" list, of course.) 

Is this a good use of my time?  Well ... No.  Obviously not.  But it's something I really enjoy, and it makes me happy to make lists and plan (especially if it involves books!).  I think if something brings you joy, it's never a waste of time -- and this brings me joy.

3.) Book challenges inspire me to read more.

I typically read quite a few books in a year.  (To give you some idea, last year I read a total of 69.)  For some people, that's nothing -- I know there are many people who can easily read 100+ books in a single year.  To others, that's a huge number ... In fact, years ago I struggled to meet a goal of 50 books in a year.  I think one year not so long ago I may have only read one or two books because I just didn't have the time.

Anyway, the point is that although I typically read what I would consider a decent amount of books in a year, a book challenge will inspire me to read more books in a shorter time span.  This, in turn, ultimately helps me reach my overall book goal for the year ... Or at least get close.  (Last year I wanted to get to 70, but it just didn't happen.  I was still very close to hitting that goal, though!)  As a person who enjoys setting (and, of course, reaching!) goals, this is both a fun and useful part of book challenges.

Three Reasons I Don't Love Book Challenges:

1.) I sometimes feel like I'm "stuck," forced to prioritize book challenge books over other books I may want to read more.

I'd say that, for the most part, I'm a mood reader.  I try to always keep a large stack of library books checked out so I can choose my next read based on what I'm feeling most interested in at the moment.  (Though this sometimes bites me in the ass because I'm forced to race through the ones with long waiting lists!)  There are times, though, when I don't really know what I'm in the mood for.  Book challenge picks are obviously great options in these cases.

That being said, sometimes I realize, "Oh shit, I really wanted to finish this challenge, and I only have two weeks left to read 4 books!"  I try to plan better, but sometimes it just doesn't happen.  In those cases, I sometimes feel annoyed that I'm stuck reading books I'm not necessarily in the mood for because I just want to finish the challenge.  I know I don't have to do it, and there's no penalty for not completing a challenge ... But I like finishing the things I start.  So I'll usually just suck it up and read the books even if I'm not particularly interested in them at the moment.

2.) Book challenges don't always allow me to cross things off my "To Read" list.

While I'm all for pushing myself to read outside my comfort zone (which may mean, in some cases, looking beyond my "To Read" list for books to satisfy challenge categories), I'm also one of those people who has an ever growing "To Read" list.  Yes, I mark plenty of books off throughout the year, but it's definitely not enough to make a very noticeable dent.

I'm sure most booklovers have this issue -- I mean, there are always going to be new releases, rave reviews, books you stumble upon while clicking through Goodreads, etc.  It makes sense, then, that a "To Read" list will always be growing.  But, while I'd like to think I've been a little better about finding books on my "To Read" list to use in book challenges, I still sometimes feel like I'm neglecting my list in favor of other books.

3.) Sometimes a book challenge can go on for too long (or, conversely, the book challenge feels too short).

I don't really consider myself to be a fast reader.  I'm sure some people would disagree, but I just don't think that I am.  If a book challenge requires that I cram 10-20 books into the span of a couple of months, I sometimes feel like I shouldn't even bother.  I think the most I've ever read in a single month was 9 books, but that was definitely a fluke -- I've never been able to achieve that again.  I don't want to feel pressure (even if it's just personal pressure) to read at a pace I'm not comfortable with, so I typically will either not finish a short challenge or not bother starting it at all.

On the other hand, there are book challenges that last for an entire year.  While I'm not entirely opposed to this (I'm participating in the 2018 PopSugar Reading Challenge, after all!), knowing I have a whole year makes me feel less inclined to read books for the challenge.  To be fair, I've only committed myself to completing 50% of this challenge, but I've noticed that I haven't been as quick to choose books to read that fit the challenge categories when compared with choosing books for a shorter book challenge (like Erin's).

What are some reasons I didn't mention that you either like or dislike reading challenges? 

March Madness: The Book Life Edition

I've been toying with the idea of somehow incorporating a March Madness bracket into a blog post (using books, of course), but I wasn't exactly sure how I'd set it up, choose the "winners," etc.  While looking for inspiration, I stumbled upon this old post by Lauren at Bookmark Lit.  I used her methods as a starting point, asked for advice from Eric (he knows more about sports than anyone else I've ever met), and then went from there.

How I Chose My Initial Matchups:

1.) Only books rated five stars were considered for the bracket.  To keep things simple, I stuck with books read from 2015-2018.  (Basically anything read since I started regularly tracking my reading on Goodreads.)

2.) No rereads were included.

3.) I made an initial list of books that would qualify based on the above conditions, and narrowed it down to a total of thirty-two by omitting any books with questionable five star ratings.  (I never go back and change my ratings, so I primarily relied on my memory and book reviews from my old blog for this.)

I actually only had to eliminate two books, so it wasn't too difficult to make cuts.  (If you're curious, I eliminated Don't Breathe a Word by Jennifer McMahon because I really hated the ending and What She Left Behind by Ellen Marie Wiseman because I think I hastily gave it a five star rating and could never really explain why.)

4.) I cut the list into four sections of eight books each based on when they were read.

5.) I used a random number generator to determine a number between 1 and 8 that would represent each book in each section, then matched up the "seeds" accordingly.

For those who aren't familiar with March Madness brackets, the matchups are as follows:

1 vs. 8
2 vs. 7
3 vs. 6
4 vs. 5

(And don't feel bad if you didn't know this ... I wouldn't have known it either without Eric's help!)

6.) I then chose a favorite from each matchup until I came up with an overall winner.

(Side note: For the purpose of this bracket, each favorite was chosen based on how much I personally enjoyed reading the book.  Since they all received five star ratings, I obviously loved each of these books ... But I had to come up with a way to start eliminating them.  It was really difficult to choose between some of these books, so in those cases, I just went with the book I felt engaged me the most.)

Here is the result:

I know the images are kind of small (at least for the first couple of rounds), so here's a list of the initial matchups:

Top Left:

The End of Everything by Megan Abbott vs. The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng vs. The Poison Tree by Erin Kelly
Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty vs. White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi
The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld vs. Summer House with Swimming Pool by Herman Koch

Bottom Left:

This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper vs. I'm Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid
I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson vs. You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah vs. All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg vs. Cam Girl by Elliot Wake (published as Leah Raeder)

Top Right:

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell vs. The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel
The Woman Before Me by Ruth Dugdall vs. Blood Wedding by Pierre Lemaitre
This Is Our Story by Ashley Elston vs. Confessions by Kanae Minato
The Smaller Evil by Stephanie Kuehn vs. The Boy Who Could See Demons by Carolyn Jess-Cooke

Bottom Right:

Bird Box by Josh Malerman vs. Delicate Monsters by Stephanie Kuehn
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng vs. All Is Not Forgotten by Wendy Walker
The Girls in the Garden by Lisa Jewell vs. The Child Finder by Rene Denfeld
The Mothers by Brit Bennett vs. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

Most Difficult Matchups:

- The End of Everything vs. The Sea of Tranquility

These books were very different, but I feel like I rave about them equally.  The End of Everything obviously wins it all in the end, but this was still a really tough choice for me to make.

- The Nightingale vs. All the Bright Places

Both of these books made me sob hysterically, and they're both books I've continued to think about long after I finished reading them.  I connected on a more personal level with All the Bright Places, though, and I chose it for that reason.

- This Is Our Story vs. Confessions

These two books completely sucked me in and held my interest throughout, so it was an almost impossible decision to make.  This Is Our Story had a slight edge, though, because I found it slightly more engrossing.

- The Girls in the Garden vs. The Child Finder

I think The Child Finder was a better book overall, but The Girls in the Garden was a book that I just couldn't put down.  I felt like it deserved to "win" for that reason.

Thoughts on the Final Result:

I wasn't overly shocked that The End of Everything won the whole thing since I loved it so much, but it was still a little surprising.  After all, that was the first book I ever rated on Goodreads -- that means that nothing else I've read in the last three years has been as good.  (At least in my opinion.)

I tried not to overthink my choices, so hopefully this is an accurate representation of my feelings on each of these books.  I also liked that many types of books were represented in the bracket -- sometimes I feel like I just read a ton of thrillers, but this proves that I've had luck finding amazing books in several different genres.  I was also surprised by the number of YA books that were in the initial thirty-two, and even more surprised that several of them made it past multiple rounds.  This Is Our Story even made it to the Final Four!

Finally, if you're interested in doing this yourself, I used this modified bracket I found from a search for "blank March Madness brackets."  I added the images using the "Layer Manager" function on BeFunky.  (It's free to use, if you're not familiar with it.)  You can use my method to choose your initial matchups, or make up your own.  If you decide to do this, I'd love to know!  If you share your post in the comments, I'll definitely check it out!

Three Things About Me

I posted another three things about me post last month, borrowing prompts from Jana.  I considered borrowing her prompts again this month, but found some others I wanted to use instead.  (Confession: I have no idea where these prompts originated.  I found them on my very old LiveJournal and decided it would be fun for me to see how much I've changed over the years.  I considered posting my old answers with my new ones, but I don't know that anyone else would care about that.)  I also added a couple of additional prompts because I can.

I still haven't bothered to write anything for an "About Me" area of this blog (I know, I know!), but here are more random facts about me.  Because everyone enjoys reading random facts.  (That probably sounds sarcastic, but I actually do.)

Three favorite restaurants:

(In an effort to narrow this down a bit, I'm going to only list restaurants in Omaha that I eat at regularly.)

- Maharaja Indian Cuisine
- Jim and Jennie's Greek Village
- Saigon

Three preferred pizza toppings:

- Macaroni and cheese (no, I'm not kidding)
- Peppers of any kind (I'll even put jalapeƱo peppers on my pizza)
- Spinach

Three movies I can watch over and over:

Fight Club
Being John Malkovich
Pan's Labyrinth

Three gadgets I can't live without:

- My laptop
- My phone
- My Apple AirPods

Three bad habits:

- Biting my nails (I know it's gross, but I do it anyway)
- Hitting the snooze button way too many times every morning
- Eating huge portions (I just love food too much, I think)

Three places I'd like to visit before I die:

- Egypt
- Australia
- Japan

Three favorite places I've traveled to:

- Barcelona, Spain
- Paris, France
- Lhasa, Tibet

Three greatest concerts I've attended in the last 10 years:

- Alexisonfire (2010)
- Chris Cornell (2016)
- Neutral Milk Hotel (2014)

I had to tack on the "in the last 10 years" part in order to narrow it down a little.  It was still almost impossible to choose only three!  I was going to narrow it further (down to the last 5 years), but I really wanted to include Alexisonfire.  (I was so excited to see them live that I thought my heart would burst!)  I feel like I left off so many amazing bands/artists, though.

Three bands/artists on my concert bucket list:

- Fiona Apple
- Nine Inch Nails
- The Mars Volta (though according to Cedric Bixler-Zavala's Twitter, this won't be happening for a long time):
I considered picking Radiohead and A Perfect Circle for this prompt, but I'm going to see both of them later this year.  (Yay!)  I figured it would make more sense to pick bands/artists I may not get to see for a while (or ever).

I like filling these out, but it was somehow more difficult this time.  Maybe I didn't want to be influenced by my previous answers?  I have to admit, though, that several of them haven't changed.  I originally answered these prompts in late spring 2008, so it's been almost 10 years.  I guess I'm consistent.

10 Books That Surprised Me (in a Good Way)

I kind of went back and forth with myself on this week's Top Ten Tuesday topic -- I couldn't decide if I wanted to talk about books that pleasantly surprised me or books that really disappointed me.  I finally settled on the "good" list for a couple of reasons.

First, I felt like I just shared a lot of negative shit/rants in my post about things that irritate me.  I'm not sorry I posted it, and I'm not going to pretend that I'm a super positive person all the time (I most definitely am not) ... But I also didn't want to load up on negative/ranting posts this month.  (At least not two weeks in a row.)

My second, and probably most important, reason for choosing to share books that pleasantly surprised me is that I wanted to talk about the importance of branching out and reading books that may not be what you'd typically go for.  While a few of these fell into my favorite genres, several of them didn't -- and it was a bit of a stretch for me to get past that and pick them up.  Obviously I'm glad I did.

1.) The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay

I'll admit it: for a long time, I was kind of a snob when it came to books that fell under the young adult genre.  I thought they would be too juvenile and too light-hearted for me.  While that's true in some cases (I continue to be very selective with my YA choices and even still they tend to be very hit-or-miss), that was definitely not true for The Sea of Tranquility.  This book was beautiful and heartbreaking and I cried over it more than I'd care to admit.  It was the first YA novel I've ever given a five star rating, and I'll never stop recommending it.

2.) Orphan #8 by Kim van Alkemade

Historical fiction is a genre I don't normally gravitate towards.  I don't know what made me put this book on my "To Read" list initially, but I'm so glad I did.  I learned so much about a particularly horrific part of American history that I previously knew nothing about.

3.) The Man from Primrose Lane by James Renner

I'm a huge fan of entertainment that could be classified as a "mindfuck," and this was no exception.  What surprised me about this book, though, was just how much I enjoyed it.  It had elements from many different genres, some which I typically love (thriller, crime) and some I'd usually pass on (science fiction) ... And somehow they twisted together perfectly to create a captivating story.  James Renner also included references to some of my favorite bands and musicians (Neutral Milk Hotel, The Decemberists, and Tori Amos), and I get weirdly excited about things like that.

4.) The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

The Nightingale pretty consistently received really high ratings and glowing reviews, but I was skeptical.  Obviously it falls under the historical fiction genre (which, as I said, isn't usually my thing), and sometimes when I have really high expectations for a book, it fails to live up to them.  That was definitely not the case here.  I fell in love with the characters, I was completely captivated by the story, and I sobbed hysterically over the ending.  I loved it so much.

5.) Hurt People by Cote Smith

Although this book sounded like something I would really enjoy, I didn't expect to like it as much as I did.  It's definitely a "slow burn" kind of thriller (as opposed to a fast-paced page turner), but I couldn't seem to put it down.  I was torn between wanting to know how everything played out and never wanting the book to end.

6.) The Virgins by Pamela Erens

I didn't expect this book to make me feel so many strong emotions, so I was definitely surprised when it took hold of me and wouldn't let go.  The writing was beautiful, and the story stuck with me.  It seems to get mixed reviews on Goodreads, but I really liked it a lot.

7.) Cam Girl by Elliot Wake (published as Leah Raeder)

I shared a quote from this book for last week's Top Ten Tuesday, and it's a perfect example of why I loved this book so much.  I'm going to be honest: I really wasn't expecting much from this book.  It sounded interesting enough to end up on my "To Read" list, but I thought it would probably just be an okay book that I'd like but not think about after it was over.  I'm glad I was wrong about that!  This book broke my heart over and over, and I still think about the beautiful, lyrical writing and all of the things it made me feel.  I never expected a book with a title like Cam Girl to move me so deeply.

8.) Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

I mentioned earlier in this post that science fiction isn't really my thing.  This book had been given so many rave reviews, though, that I decided I had to read it.  And you know what?  It totally deserved all the great reviews.  It was fast-paced and exciting (I read it in a couple of days), and it also had some elements that really tugged at my heartstrings.  This is one of those rare books that I think most people would like.

9.) A Good and Happy Child by Justin Evans

I read this book before I started using Goodreads regularly in 2015, but I would have rated it five stars if I'd been tracking my reading and ratings at the time.  While I wasn't surprised I liked it (I'm completely fascinated by the idea of demonic possession, so this was my type of book), I was surprised by the beautiful writing and the fact that it actually scared me.  I read/watch a lot of things that are considered scary, but few have gotten into my head the way A Good and Happy Child did.  To this day, it's the only book that has ever given me nightmares.  And, while it probably sounds kind of weird to say that I liked that, I did -- if I'm reading a "scary" book, I want to be scared.  And if a book makes me fear something so much that it begins to infiltrate my dreams, it's a success.

10.) Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding

I read this book back in college, which was way before I started using Goodreads in 2015.  (I think I read this in 2004.  I'm old.)  Chick lit is another genre that I typically don't go for -- I'm not a light-hearted, fluffy, cutesy kind of person and I (usually) don't want my books to be those things either.  I don't know if I just read this book at the right time, but I loved it.  It cracked me up so many times, and opened me up to reading other books in this genre.  While chick lit still isn't really my thing, I've read at least a few books I really liked in this category thanks to Bridget Jones's Diary.

If I passed on every single book that didn't sound like something I'd enjoy, I'd never have bothered reading many of these.  I sometimes choose books outside my reading comfort zone based on the recommendations of others.  I also sometimes choose books outside my reading comfort zone to fulfill a certain category in a reading/book challenge.  And sometimes I actually decide to branch out on my own.  Sometimes the books work for me, and sometimes they don't.  The point is that I gave them a shot in the first place.

I think it's important to push yourself to try new things once in a while.  And, even though this is a really small thing, pushing yourself to read books outside your comfort zone can sometimes be really rewarding.  (Or, if nothing else, it will solidify your stance that you're not a fan of a certain genre, author, storyline, etc.  That's totally fine too -- you still learned something from the experience.)

Linking up with That Artsy Reader Girl for Top Ten Tuesday!

February 2018 Reads

February was kind of a slow reading month for me.  It's obviously the shortest month of the year (so there are fewer days to read!), but that wasn't really the problem.  I think I was just struggling through a reading rut.

It wasn't that the books I chose were awful.  In fact, I only read one book in February that I really didn't like.  It was really just a me thing.  I watched a lot of TV (which is unusual for me), and allowed that to suck away all of my free time.  It wasn't exactly the best use of my time, but it's what I felt like doing.  Regardless, I still managed to finish five books in February.  (Though I did start one of them at the end of January.)

Also, I'm posting this a day early, but I'll be linking up with Jana and Steph (and a bunch of other book-loving bloggers) tomorrow for this month's Show Us Your Books link-up.  Hopefully most of you had better/more productive reading months than I did!

Amazing Books I Highly Recommend

While I didn't read any truly awful books last month, I didn't read any truly amazing ones either.  I really liked several of the books I read ... Just not enough to justify a five star rating.

Very Good Books That Are Worth A Read

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
Completed: 02/15/18
My Rating: ****
Challenge Category: A book that has a (mostly) red cover for Book Challenge by Erin 8.0

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda took me right back to high school.  So many things reminded me of my own high school experience (in a good way): the friendships, the giddy emailing with someone you have feelings for, the amazing feelings that come along with a first love, the theater productions, losing yourself in music ... All of it brought back fond memories.

I really liked the main character, Simon.  He was quite literally a mash-up of my best friend, Kevin, and I.  I love it when I can relate to the characters in some way, so this made reading the book even more fun for me.  I also recently read that a book about one of Simon's friends, Leah, will be released this year.  I'll definitely be checking that out!

One thing that was a very pleasant surprise: the numerous references to Elliott Smith and his music throughout the book.  Elliott Smith is my all-time favorite musician, so it made me happy that Simon loved him so much.  (I also loved the fact that Simon wasn't portrayed as overly depressed or moody or suicidal, which is the way some authors might write a character who is obsessed with Elliott Smith.  Yes, his music got me through some very dark times in my life, but you don't have to be struggling with depression to enjoy it.)

The Elliott Smith references began early on, but it wasn't incredibly obvious.  I kept thinking of "Waltz #2" every time I saw Simon's email address (hourtohour.notetonote), and I'd get the song stuck in my head every time an email chapter popped up ... But I didn't think it was an actual Elliott Smith reference at first.  When, later on, it was confirmed that it was, in fact, a reference to that song, I fell in love with the book a little more.

While the book could be a little cutesy at times, I never found it to be obnoxious -- this was really a sweet, lovely book about friendship and first love that I think most people would enjoy.  It's also been made into a movie that's coming to theaters this week.

The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn
Completed: 02/22/18
My Rating: ****
Challenge Category: A book with an alliterative title for the 2018 PopSugar Reading Challenge

I just knew I would enjoy The Woman in the Window.  I don't always enjoy every buzzed about thriller (that can be evidenced when looking at the books shared under the "Some Thrillers I Didn't Enjoy" category in this post, as well as in my post about popular/high rated books I didn't like) ... But I had a good feeling about this one.  (This feeling intensified when Steph liked it enough to include it in her January recommendations.)

I'm happy to say that I wasn't wrong about that.  While it wasn't quite spectacular enough to be worthy of a five star rating, it was pretty damn good.

I was very pleasantly surprised by the writing.  I actually had pretty low expectations because I assumed it was going to be a "popcorn thriller" kind of book.  (And, just to clarify what that means for me: "popcorn thriller" is a category for books with somewhat simplistic writing that serves to propel the action forward and doesn't spend much time on character development or description.)  There's nothing wrong with that kind of book (I've definitely enjoyed my fair share), but I was very pleased when I realized that the writing in this book was more sophisticated than that.  I grew to care about the main character, Anna, flaws and all.

I'll echo Steph's sentiment that this is a great thriller for pretty much anyone (even those who don't usually enjoy thrillers).  It's not overly complex, but it does include a few surprises.  I'll admit that I figured out one of the twists very early on, but that didn't diminish my enjoyment of the book -- I was surprised enough by some of the other twists to still feel excitement over the direction the book was taking. 

It took me a few days to get through it (only because, as I said earlier in the post, I let TV consume my life last month), but each time I picked it up, I didn't want to put it down.  That's definitely a sign of a great book!

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin
Completed: 02/27/18
My Rating: ****
Challenge Category: A book published in 2018 for the 2018 PopSugar Reading Challenge

I have some mixed feelings about The Immortalists.  I clearly liked it a lot ... I mean, I don't give four star ratings to books that I just think are "okay."  I think I just expected a little more from it.  I realize that's kind of unfair, but I began this book with the expectation that it would make me feel things more deeply than it did.

In addition to this lack of emotional response (well, for the most part ... I did get a little teary over one of the sections), I felt like the book was kind of a roller coaster for me (and not in a good way). 

The book follows the lives of four siblings, so it was divided into sections that focused on one sibling at a time.  I loved reading about Simon and Klara -- their lives were chaotic and exciting and beautiful and tragic.  I really cared about those characters.  Daniel's section was kind of "blah" for me, and Varya's section was just okay ... There were a few interesting revelations in these sections, but I didn't feel that pull to find out what happened next.  (This in contrast to when I was reading about Simon and Klara and couldn't put the book down.)

This isn't a bad book by any means.  I thought the premise was interesting and unique.  The author is clearly a skilled writer, and I loved that the book made me ask myself difficult questions.  (Would I want to know when I'm going to die?  How would it change my life if I did?  Would I be more willing to take certain risks?  And on and on.)  I just wanted more than I actually got from the book.

Decent Books That May Work For You

Lamb by Bonnie Nadzam
Completed: 02/11/18
My Rating: ***
Challenge Category: A book with a character's name in the title for Book Challenge by Erin 8.0

Lamb has been on my "To Read" list for quite a while, and only recently became available at my library.  Unfortunately, it didn't quite live up to my high (possibly too high?) expectations.  It just never sucked me in the way I thought it would.

Bonnie Nadzam is, without a doubt, a gifted writer.  The main character, David Lamb, was well-developed and a perfect example of a pedophile grooming his victim -- it's creepy as fuck because it's not overly explicit, but readers can still draw this conclusion based on his actions and conversations with the eleven-year-old girl he abducts.  Sometimes the things we imagine are worse than the things we're shown/told, and that was definitely the case here.

I did love that the book really made me uncomfortable.  I know that probably sounds a little weird, but I enjoy having strong reactions to books -- and Lamb definitely delivered that.  This was a disturbing story that filled me with a creeping dread as it moved along. 

I really wanted to like this book much more than I actually did.  There was nothing really wrong with it, but there was nothing that really kept me engaged either.

Mostly Awful Books I Wouldn't Recommend

100 Days by Nicole McInnes
Completed: 02/04/18
My Rating: **
Challenge Category: A book with a character suffering from a debilitating physical illness for Book Challenge by Erin 8.0

100 Days is an example of the type of YA novels I don't really enjoy.  The writing felt very "young," and the dialogue was often cheesy, bordering on after school special.  This book was also a little too fluffy for my tastes -- since the story focused on a terminally ill girl, I was hoping it would have more substance.

This book was saved from a lower rating because I liked that the three main characters (Agnes, Moira, and Boone) were all misfits in their own way.  I also liked that the author attempted to develop these characters by giving them real problems and insecurities.  But, while I appreciated the attempts at character development, they unfortunately fell flat and the characters felt a little two-dimensional.

I started this book toward the end of January, and it felt like it took forever to get through it.  I just wasn't that interested in it, and I didn't actually care much about any of the characters.  That's obviously bad enough, but it felt even worse in this case because one of the characters was dying and the whole book takes place during the last one hundred days of her life.  You'd think that would get some kind of emotional response from me ... But no.  It didn't.

I do think this book could potentially work for people who like light-hearted (yes, a book about a dying girl is, in this case, light-hearted), fluffy books.  That's not really my thing, though, so it didn't work for me.

Books That Should Never Have Been Published

I'm happy to say that I once again didn't read any truly horrible books this month!

My challenge tallies for the month of February:

Book Challenge by Erin 8.0:
3 books completed
60/200 total points
Total books completed (January-February): 9 books
Total points (January-February): 170/200 points

2018 PopSugar Reading Challenge:
2 books completed
Total books completed (January-February): 2 books