Sunday, December 31, 2023

2023 Reading Highlights

You're not supposed to let the perfect be the enemy of the good (or the good enough) so I'm sharing this year's Reading Highlights without much commentary.  I've provided mini-reviews of most of these books on Instagram -- I'm @booksandcarbs there.  If you have questions about any titles, feel free to leave a comment or email me at  The books below are 2023 releases, except where noted.  The books below haven't been ranked and also aren't in alphabetical order.  Again, not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good (enough).


Fiction Highlights 

Foster (2010) by Claire Keegan
My Husband by Maud Ventura
The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store by James McBride
Vintage Contemporaries by Dan Kois
Amazing Grace Adams by Fran Littlewood
The Half Moon by Mary Beth Keane
Talking at Night by Claire Daverley
Search (2022) by Michelle Huneven
The Foundling (2022) by Ann Leary
The Home-Maker (1924) by Dorothy Canfield Fisher
The Rachel Incident by Caroline O'Donoghue
Maame by Jessica George
Trespasses (2022) by Louise Kennedy

Books I loved (and feel protective of) that you may NOT love ...

Death Valley by Melissa Broder

Big Swiss by Jen Beagin

The Dog of the North by Elizabeth McKenzie
The Rabbit Hutch (2022) by Tess Gunty

Wellness by Nathan Hill

Memoir/Non-Fiction Highlights

Exit Interview: The Life and Death of My Ambitious Career by Kristi Coulter
Kiss Me in the Coral Lounge by Helen Ellis
Hey, Hun: Sales, Sisterhood, Supremacy, and the Other Lies Behind Multilevel Marketing by Emily Lynn Paulson

Life in Five Senses: How Exploring My Senses Got Me Out of My Head and Into the World by Gretchen Rubin

Wake Up with Purpose!: What I've Learned in My First Hundred Years by Jean Dolores Schmidt
Write for Your Life (2022) by Anna Quindlen
B.F.F.: A Memoir of Friendship Lost and Found by Christie Tate
Normal Family: On Truth, Love, and How I Met My 35 Siblings (2022) by Chrysta Bilton

"New Books from Favorite Authors" Highlights
Somebody's Fool (North Bath #3) by Richard Russo
The Five-Star Weekend by Elin Hilderbrand

The Running Grave (Cormoran Strike #7) by Robert Galbraith

Romantic Comedy by Curtis Sittenfeld

Projecting -- December 2023

Creating stuff energizes me.  I don't mind just trying something.  When it comes to crafting, creating, arranging, etc., I do not worry about doing things perfectly.  I am not hard on myself.  I find joy in the doing and, when appropriate, in sharing the finished product.

One of the "lil projects" I enjoy is making floral arrangements.  I buy my vases at Dollar Tree and the flowers at Jewel.  I was meeting two friends for lunch early in December.  I don't see them as often as I would like, and I wanted to bring a holiday treat but not gift-gifts that might make them feel uncomfortable (like, "Oh shit, I didn't buy her a gift).  I put together these arrangements and added some of the beautiful holiday ribbon I found at Sam's Club.

I also wanted to make an arrangement for a friend who was celebrating a milestone birthday.  She's mad for plaid so I found this gorgeous ribbon online and chose colors that remind me of her.  It was a pleasure to assemble and to share!

I am an assistant coach for eighth grade girls' basketball.  My main job is to send the emails and to be on my best behavior so as not to embarrass my daughter.  I wanted to give the girls on both eighth grade teams a holiday treat and a memento of their grade school basketball careers.  I assembled treat bags with candy and lip gloss and then added an ornament to each as well.  The ornaments were simple to make.  I had plain wooden ornaments discs from Michael's (a pack of 50 is very inexpensive).  I painted them orange, added the black lines with a paint pen, and used my Cricut to add the "IC '24" in royal blue vinyl.  I added some Dollar Tree blue ribbon and wrote each girls' name on the back with a white paint pen.  I don't know if the girls were into the ornaments (probably more of an adult thing), but they were excited about the treat bags and may appreciate the memento one day.  If any of these wooden basketballs end up on one of these girls' trees in a dozen years, I will be thrilled!  If not, no biggie, I enjoyed creating and gifting them. 

2023 Year of Books -- Non-Fiction

Wendi Aarons
I'm Wearing Tunics Now: On Growing Older, Better, and a Hell of a Lot Louder (audiobook via Hoopla)
Pamela Anderson
Love, Pamela (audiobook via Hoopla) 

J. Reuben Appelman
While Idaho Slept: The Hunt for Answers in the Murders of Four College Students (audiobook via Libby)

Maria Bamford
Sure, I'll Join Your Cult: A Memoir of Mental Illness and the Quest to Belong Anywhere (audiobook via Libby)

Kate Baer
And Yet: Poems (library book)

Chrysta Bilton
Normal Family: On Truth, Love, and How I Met My 35 Siblings (audiobook via Audible)
Sophie Blackall
Things to Look Forward To: 52 Large and Small Joys for Today (hardcover) 
Kristi Coulter
Exit Interview: The Life and Death of My Ambitious Career (audiobook via Audible) 
Paula D'Arcy
Gift of the Red Bird: The Story of a Divine Encounter (paperback) 

Alba Donati
Diary of a Tuscan Bookshop (paperback)

Jill Duggar
Counting the Cost (audiobook via Libby)
Helen Ellis
Kiss Me in the Coral Lounge:  Intimate Confessions from a Happy Marriage (audiobook via Cloud Library)
Duchess Goldblatt
Becoming Duchess Goldblatt: A Memoir (audiobook via Hoopla) 

Adam Grant
Hidden Potential: The Science of Achieving Greater Things (ebook via Cloud Library)

Paul Greenberg
Goodbye Phone, Hello World: 65 Ways to Disconnect from Tech and Reconnect to Joy (hardcover)

Paris Hilton
Paris Hilton: The Memoir (ebook via Cloud Library)
Samantha Irby
Quietly Hostile:  Essays (ebook via Cloud Library) 

Moshe Kasher
Kasher in the Rye: The True Tale of a White Boy from Oakland Who Became a Drug Addict, Criminal, Mental Patient, and Then Turned 16 (audiobook via Libby)

Minka Kelly
Tell Me Everything (audiobook via Libby)

Harrison Scott Key
How to Stay Married: The Most Insane Love Story Ever Told (ebook via Cloud Library)

Andrea Lankford
Trail of the Lost: The Relentless Search to Bring Home the Missing Hikers of the Pacific Crest Trail (audiobook via Audible)

Sarah Levy
Drinking Games: A Memoir (ebook via Cloud Library)
Katherine May
The Electricity of Every Living Thing: One Woman's Walk with Asperger's (audiobook via Hoopla)
Stephanie McNeal
Swipe Up for More!: Inside the Unfiltered Lives of Influencers (audiobook via Hoopla)
Beth Moore
All My Knotted-Up Life: A Memoir (audiobook via Hoopla) 

Emily Lynn Paulson
Highlight Real:  Finding Honesty & Recovery Beyond the Filtered Life (audiobook via Hoopla)
Hey, Hun: Sales, Sisterhood, and the Other Lies Behind Multilevel Marketing (audiobook via Hoopla) 
Elizabeth Passarella
It Was An Ugly Couch Anyway: And Other Thoughts on Moving Forward (audiobook via Hoopla)
Josh Peck
Happy People Are Annoying (audiobook via Hoopla)
Amy Krouse Rosenthal
Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal (audiobook via Hoopla)
Gretchen Rubin
Life in Five Senses: How Exploring the Senses Got Me Out of My Head and Into the World (hardcover) 
Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives (audiobook via Libby)

Jean Dolores Schmidt
Wake Up With Purpose!: What I've Learned in My First Hundred Years (audiobook via Hoopla)
Britney Spears
The Woman in Me (audiobook via Libby)
John Stamos
If You Would Have Told Me (audiobook via Libby)

Nina Stibbe
Went to London, Took the Dog: A Diary (audiobook via Audible)

Anna Quindlen
Write for Your Life (hardcover)
Christie Tate
BFF: A Memoir of Friendship Lost and Found (ebook via Cloud Library) 

Taylor Wolfe
Birdie & Harlow: Life, Loss, and Loving My Dog So Much I Didn't Want Kids (hardcover)

An (*) indicates a reread.  All ebooks are purchased on sale via the Kindle Store or checked out from the e-offerings of the Elmhurst Public Library.  All audiobooks are from or the Elmhurst Public Library's e-offerings (Hoopla, Cloud Library, and Libby Apps). 

2023 Year of Books -- Fiction

Clare Alexander
Meredith Alone (audiobook via Libby)
Allison Ashley
Would You Rather (audiobook via Hoopla) 

Jane Austen
Sense and Sensibility* (audiobook via Audible)

Kristen Bailey
Five Gold Rings (audiobook via Cloud Library)
Julia Bartz
The Writing Retreat (audiobook via Libby)
Jen Beagin
Big Swiss (library book) 
Audrey Bellezza
Emma of 83rd Street (audiobook via Hoopla) 
Katy Birchall
The Wedding Season (audiobook via Audible)
The Last Word (audiobook via Audible) 
Melissa Broder
Death Valley (ebook via Cloud Library) 

Audrey Burges
The Miniscule Mansion of Myra Malone (audiobook via Cloud Library)
Truman Capote
Breakfast at Tiffany's (audiobook via Audible)
Katherine Center
Hello Stranger (hardcover)
Elysha Chang
A Quitter's Paradise (audiobook via Hoopla) 
Kirstin Chen
Counterfeit (audiobook via Libby) 

Martin Clark
The Plinko Bounce (audiobook via Libby)
Kate Clayborn
Georgie, All Along (ebook via Cloud Library) 
Emma Cline
The Guest (ebook via Cloud Library)
Jenny Colgan
Lessons at the School by the Sea (Maggie Adair #3, ebook via Cloud Library) 
Midnight at the Christmas Bookshop (audiobook via Libby) 

Laurie Colwin
A Big Storm Knocked It Over (ebook)
Sara Goodman Confino
Don't Forget to Write (ebook) 
For the Love of Friends (ebook)

Tara Conklin
Community Board (library book)

Sophie Cousens
The Good Part (audiobook via Audible)
Rachel Koller Croft
Stone Cold Fox (audiobook via Libby) 
Noelle Crooks
Under the Influence (audiobook via Libby) 

Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer
Lavender's Blue (Liz Danger #1, paperback)
Claire Daverley
Talking at Night (ebook via Cloud Library) 
Terri-Lynne DeFino
Varina Palladino's Jersey Italian Love Story (audiobook via Libby) 
Jen DeLuca
Well Traveled (Well Met #4, library book) 

Marcy Dermansky
Hurricane Girl (audiobook via libby)
Lian Dolan
Lost and Found in Paris (audiobook via Hoopla) 

Jennifer Egan
The Candy House (audiobook via Libby)
J.T. Ellison
It's One of Us (audiobook via Hoopla)

Edna Ferber
Dawn O'Hara: The Girl Who Laughed (audiobook via Hoopla)
Dorothy Canfield Fisher
The Home-Maker (audiobook via Hoopla)

Kate Forster
Christmas Wishes at Pudding Hall (audiobook via Audible)
The Upside Down Christmas (audiobook via Audible)
The Christmas Star (audiobook via Audible)
Daisy Alpert Florin
My Last Innocent Year (audiobook via Libby) 

Elyse Friedman
The Opportunist (ebook via Cloud Library)

Robert Galbraith
The Running Grave (Cormoran Strike #7, audiobook via Audible)
Jessica George
Maame (audiobook via Audible)

Xochitl Gonzalez
Olga Dies Dreaming (audiobook via Hoopla)
Tess Gunty
The Rabbit Hutch (ebook via Cloud Library) 
Janice Hallett
The Appeal (The Appeal #1, audiobook via Audible) 
The Christmas Appeal (The Appeal #1.5 via Audible)
Hanna Halperin
I Could Live Here Forever (audiobook via Cloud Library)

Jane Harper
Exiles (Aaron Falk #3, audiobook via Audible)

Katherine Heiny
Games and Rituals (audiobook via Cloud Library)
Single, Carefree, Mellow (audiobook via Cloud Library)
Monica Heisey
Really Good, Actually (audiobook via Audible) 
Emily Henry
Happy Place (hardcover)
Sally Hepworth
The Soulmate (hardcover) 
Kristan Higgins
A Little Ray of Sunshine (ebook via Cloud Library) 
Elin Hilderbrand
The Five-Star Weekend (hardcover)  
Winter Street* (audiobook via Hoopla)
Winter Stroll* (audiobook via Cloud Library) 
Winter Storms* (audiobook via Libby)
Winter Solstice* (audiobook vis Libby)
Nathan Hill
Wellness (audiobook via Libby)

Michelle Hoffman
The Second Ending (ebook via Cloud Library)
Gill Hornby
Godmersham Park (audiobook via Hoopla) 

Michelle Huneven
Search (audiobook via Libby)

Jenny Jackson
Pineapple Street (hardcover)

Balli Kaur Jaswal
Now You See Us (ebook via Cloud Library)
Emiko Jean
Mika in Real Life (audiobook via Hoopla)

Abby Jiminez
Yours Truly (Part of Your World #2, audiobook via Libby)
Ethan Joella
A Quiet Life (audiobook via Libby) 
A Little Hope (audiobook via Libby)
Sophie Kinsella
The Burnout (audiobook via Libby)
Mary Beth Keane
The Half Moon (ebook via Cloud Library) 
Claire Keegan
Foster (ebook via Hoopla)

Dan Kois
Vintage Contemporaries (ebook via Cloud Library)
R.F. Kuang
Yellowface (audiobook via Libby)

Mary Kubica
Just the Nicest Couple (audiobook via Hoopla)
Christina Lauren
The True Love Experiment (audiobook) 
The Honeymoon Crashers (Unhoneymooners #1.5, audiobook via Libby)

Tracey Lange
The Connellys of County Down (hardcover)
Ann Leary
The Foundling (audiobook via Libby)

Elinor Lipman
Rachel to the Rescue (ebook)
Fran Littlewood
Amazing Grace Adams (audiobook via Audible) 

Kim Lock
The Other Side of Beautiful (audiobook via Hoopla)
Lindsay Lynch
Do Tell (ebook via Cloud Library)
Kathryn Ma
The Chinese Groove (audiobook via Audible) 
Portia Macintosh
Better Off Wed (audiobook via Hoopla) 
The Faking Game (audiobook via Hoopla)
Long Time, No Sea (audiobook via Hoopla)
Rebecca Makkai
I Have Some Questions for You (audiobook via Audible) 
Jessa Maxwell
The Golden Spoon (audiobook via Libby) 
James McBride
The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store (audiobook via Libby)

Mhairi McFarlane
Between Us (ebook via Cloud Library)

Elizabeth McKenzie
The Dog of the North (audiobook via Cloud Library)

Dervla McTiernan
The Wrong One (audiobook via Audible)

Jenny Mollen
City of Likes (audiobook via Cloud Library)
Annabel Monaghan
Same Time Next Summer (audiobook via Cloud Library)

Meg Mitchell Moore
Summer Stage (hardcover)

Amelia P. Morris
Wildcat (audiobook via Libby) 
Elizabeth Morrow
A Pint of Judgement (hardcover)
Jojo Moyes
Someone Else's Shoes (hardcover) 
Tim Murphy
Speech Team (audiobook via Cloud Library)
Matthew Norman
Charm City Rocks (audiobook via Cloud Library)
Onyi Nwabineli
Someday, Maybe (audiobook) 

Caroline O'Donoghue
The Rachel Incident (audiobook via Cloud Library)

Beth O'Leary
The Wake-Up Call (audiobook via Libby)

Lynn Painter
Mr. Wrong Number (Mr. Wrong Number #1, audiobook via Cloud Library)
The Love Wager (Mr. Wrong Number #2, audiobook via Cloud Library)
Better than the Movies (Better than the Movies #1, ebook via Cloud Library)
Accidentally Amy (audiobook via Hoopla)

Ann Patchett
Tom Lake (audiobook via Audible)
Amy Poeppel
The Sweet Spot (ebook via Cloud Library) 
Tirzah Price
Pride and Premeditation (Jane Austen Murder Mystery #1, audiobook via Libby)
Andrew Ridker
Hope (audiobook via Audible)

Jane L. Rosen
On Fire Island (audiobook via Cloud Library)

Emma Rosenblum
Bad Summer People (hardcover)

Richard Russo
Somebody's Fool (Sully #3, audiobook via Audible)

Anastasia Ryan
You Should Smile More (audiobook via Hoopla)
Julie Schumacher
The Shakespeare Requirement (Jason Fitger #2, audiobook via Cloud Library) 
The English Experience (Jason Fitger #3, audiobook via Cloud Library)
Caitlin Shetterly
Pete and Alice in Maine (audiobook via Cloud Library)
Curtis Sittenfeld
Romantic Comedy (hardcover)

Kylie Scott
End of Story (ebook)

Leeanne Slade
The Rebound (audiobook via Audible)

Elissa R. Sloan
Hayley Aldridge Is Still Here (audiobook via Cloud Library)

Jane Smiley
A Dangerous Business (audiobook via Libby) 
Rachel Lynn Solomon
Business or Pleasure (ebook via Cloud Library) 
Cindy Steel
Faking Christmas (audiobook via Cloud Library) 

D.E. Stevenson
Green Money (ebook via Hoopla)
Bel Lamington (audiobook via Cloud Library) 
The Fair Miss Fortune (audiobook via Cloud Library)

Sarah Strohmeyer
We Love to Entertain (audiobook)

Booth Tarkington   
Alice Adams (audiobook via Hoopla)
Maud Ventura
My Husband (library book)
Elizabeth Von Armin
The Enchanted April* (audiobook via Hoopla) 
Catherine Walsh
Holiday Romance (Fitzpatrick Christmas #1, paperback)

Jenny Xie
Holding Pattern (audiobook via Libby)
Laura Zigman

Small World (ebook via Cloud Library) 

An (*) indicates a reread.  All ebooks are purchased on sale via the Kindle Store or checked out from the e-offerings of the Elmhurst Public Library.  All audiobooks are from or the Elmhurst Public Library's e-offerings (Hoopla, Cloud Library, and Libby Apps).  

Saturday, December 30, 2023

Update ... I'm a Ringleader.

In a rare burst of authorly energy, I posted earlier in December about five extras I was going to try to fit in during the holiday season and dubbed these my "Five Golden Rings."  NTB, but I did accomplish all five, with varying degrees of success.

1.  Walk the Winter Lights at Central Park in Oak Brook.  

This one was easy peasy!  My daughter had two Friday night basketball games at the Oak Brook Park District.  She has to arrive thirty minutes before her games so she and my hubby went inside after we parked the car, and I walked down to the Winter Lights.  The weather was balmy so the walking path was crowded with families and strollers, etc.  I couldn't walk in speed mode, but I enjoyed the jaunt and refrained from barrelling anyone over.  These lights are cheerful and free and they stay up until sometime in February.  Perhaps I'll go back in 2024!





 2.   Sit on the couch with my kids and watch the Mickey Christmas special of their choice.  

We didn't fit this one in until late afternoon on Christmas Day.  It wasn't a fail, but it wasn't the special cozy moment I'd been imagining.  My kids aren't 6, 4, and 2 anymore.  They're 17, 15, and 13.  They all reported for duty and my husband settled in as well.  We watched the the one where Goofy's son Max loses his faith in Santa Claus and the one where Huey, Dewey, and Louie repeat Christmas Day over and over again until they learn the true meaning of Christmas.  We are in a new Christmas era and that's okay. 




3.  Walk to Elmhurst History Museum and enjoy the Lost Chicagoland Department Stores exhibit. 

I totally did this!  I walked over late afternoon on a Friday and spent about thirty minutes taking in this exhibit.  I did NOT grow up in Chicagoland so had very few personal memories or ties to these department stores, but I still enjoyed thinking about the elegance and elevation of the old-fashioned department store experience.  I have my own special memories of taking the bus to the downtown (Hamilton, OH) Elder-Beerman, having lunch with my Grandma Hinkel in their tea room, and her treating me to cinnamon bears at their candy counter.  I also have fond memories of visiting various holiday windows and displays in downtown Cincinnati as a girl. 






4.  Do one "extra thing" at church.  

The empty stable early in December.
Full house on Christmas Night

I actually did two "extra things" at church, but neither required much effort so I am not patting myself on the back too hard.  One was that I went to 7:30am mass for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception since, due to space constraints, parents were discouraged from attending the more convenient school celebration.  Not bitter at all.  I'm fine.  Seriously though, I felt like the mass meant more to me because my husband and I had to work a bit to get there.  The other thing I did was attend the lighting of the stable after 4:30 mass.  We processed outside, sang a few Christmas carols, and the lights were turned on so we could all see ... the empty stable.  It was a little chilly, but sweet, and there were cookies afterward (inside).  Also sweet.  To be honest, this activity would typically have been a tough sell for my family, but because my daughter was altar serving and had to process out for the lighting, it was easy for my husband and I to attend as well.  I had intended to try and attend one of the evenings of reflection, prayer, and music, but I didn't make it.  Next year!

5.  Make Peppermint Crunch Puppy Chow and share with a friend. 















I made it, but I didn't share it with a friend because my family's overwhelming reaction was "meh."  To be fair, not one of them is a peppermint fan so I'm not sure why I thought this would be a hit.  Worth a try!  I made my own perfect puppy chow right before Christmas and shared that with friends instead. 

While I wouldn't categorize any of my "five golden rings" as life-changing, most were pleasant and positive and not one was arduous.  By writing them down and publishing them for my 0-3 blog readers, I felt a sense of accountability that was stronger than me shoulda woulda coulda-ing to myself about getting to the Winter Lights or checking out that exhibit before it ends.  Inspired by the sense of accomplishment and satisfaction I feel from grabbing these five golden rings, I have made a list of 24 for 24 that I will be using to get more out of life in the year to come.  Stay tuned. 

Tuesday, December 5, 2023

5 Golden Rings


It's December 5th.  I have two trees up, more than a few gifts secured, and my cards ordered.  I've attended four holiday events and have some more to go.  There have and will be plenty of opportunities to feel festive and connect with friends and loved ones.  

As my kids get older and I get wiser, pulling it all together gets a little easier and little less stressful and chaotic.  I never quite feel that I have achieved the ideal Advent state of anticipation and stillness, but I've made progress.

However, there are always the extras you hope to add to the mix during the Christmas season that usually don't end up happening.  For example, I always think about how wonderful it would be to  make ornaments to attach to gifts, host a caroling party for my daughter's classmates, take a family drive to hit the coolest Christmas lights, or finally make it to The Walnut Room after 22 years of living in Chicago.  

But ... baby steps. 

This year I'm aiming for five little things ... my "Five Golden Rings" for December 2023.  If I go 0/5 or 4/5, so be it, but I'm sharing them here for accountability and inspiration.


My "5 Golden Rings" for December 2023

1.  Walk the Winter Lights at Central Park in Oak Brook.  This is a short but enchanting walk through the woods at the Oak Brook Park District.  Best not attempted on a bitterly cold evening but delightful on a mild night or with proper bundling.  Bonus points if I get a kid or friend to join me, but walking it alone would still count.

 2.   Sit on the couch with my kids and watch the Mickey Christmas special of their choice.  Once Upon a Christmas.  Twice Upon a Christmas.  Mickey's Christmas Carol.  Any one of these gems will do.  It is a cliche, but I feel like it was five minutes ago that my kids had wet post-bath hair and Christmas footie pajamas.  My oldest goes to college next year, and I am craving this moment on the couch with my squad.

 3.  Walk to Elmhurst History Museum and enjoy the Lost Chicagoland Department Stores exhibit.  I drive or walk past the EHM multiple times each day.  I notice the signage for the current exhibit and think, "Oh, that sounds cool, I will check it out."  And then, I don't.  It is free and a five-minute walk from my house.  Again, bonus points if I get a kid or friend to go with me, but solo is fine too.

4.  Do one "extra thing" at church.  Concert?  Prayer service?  Early morning weekday mass?  A talk?  Dealer's choice.  

5.  Make Peppermint Crunch Puppy Chow and share with a friend.  I love making and consuming my own special-recipe puppy chow.  My college roommate blew her family's minds with a Peppermint Crunch Puppy Chow that she debuted at Thanksgiving.  I'm going to give it a whirl.  We don't bake Christmas cookies or make fudge or pour melted chocolate into holiday-shaped molds around here, but we can expand our puppy chow repertoire.  

Stay tuned.