My 38 Book Journey in 2017 – Answers to your Questions & Stats

My Goodreads goal for 2017 was to read 40 books. Unfortunately, since I kinda sorta planned a wedding last year, I was a tad distracted. But I went into crazy overdrive the last week of the year, and got to 38. So, since that’s 95%, I am still an A student. I am okay with this. I promise, my wedding was A+.

First, let’s take a look at some fun stats:




I asked my friends and family to ask me questions about my Goodreads challenge. Here are my answers! Thanks to everyone who participated!

Was there a setting in any of the books you could see yourself living in? (Katie)
The setting of Radio Girls was 1920s, England, at the beginnings of the BBC. I would have LOVED to be working in that building buzzing with so much activity and the newness of radio. I’d probably be in over my head, but it just sounds so exciting and lively. I’d spend each day marveling at how lucky I was to just BE there.
What one book would you recommend above all others? Did reading it change you, or your views? How so? (Melaney)
Not to sound like everyone ever in the past century, but everyone should check out How To Win Friends and Influence People. It surprised me because all this time, I didn’t really know what it was about. It turned out to be a lot more be-good-to-people-centric than I thought. It gives you clear lessons on how to better communicate with other people, especially when you’d rather throw them out the window. Plus, it’s funny and easy to read. It definitely changed how I think about approaching sticky situations with everyone I come into contact with.
Which book did you have the most expectations for? Did it live up to what you expected? (Kieran)
Oh, Artemis. When I read The Martian, by Andy Weir, it immediately became one of my top five favorite books. I pre-ordered Artemis, thrilled to have the same emotional, smart, and heart-in-throat experience again. I was super disappointed. While Artemis was just as smart, it definitely represents a sophomore slump. Weir hasn’t quite figured out how to write women yet, and the main character is a woman. The plot was not nearly as edge-of-your-seat suspenseful.  I am holding out hope that his next novel will bring Andy Weir back to my favorites list.
Which character did you hate the most? (Katie)
Hate is a strong word. I don’t think I hated her. But disappointment can be worse. Jazz, the main character in Artemis, well, she had huge shoes to fill. Mark, the protagonist of The Martian, became my best friend throughout the whole read. Jazz meanwhile, has dubious morals, is basically written as a man pretending to be a woman (see above answer), and isn’t all that likable. It should be known that I have a REALLY hard time liking books where the main character isn’t an upstanding citizen. Sorry Jazz, but Mark Watney was way cooler.
What was your criteria for book selection? (Christian)
Well, it was really whatever I felt like at the moment I needed a new book. People always ask me, when I mention a reading goal, if I have all the books lined up. I really don’t. I pick my books based on what I am craving. I have all kinds of books stored on my Kindle, plus my Goodreads to-read list is insane. I use those and my physical bookshelf as guidance.
Of course, my company does a book club so a lot of those books were not chosen by me at all!
What constitutes a book? (Christian)
Ha! Christian, my brother, and I spoke about this at about the 48 hour mark at the end of 2017, when the challenge was looking dire. I would not count a children’s book, unless it was Alice in Wonderland or something else that could be considered literary. But even then the length would have to be relatively decent. Books of poetry certainly count, as do books of short stories. I suppose if I don’t feel accomplished just by finishing it, then it shouldn’t really count as a book.
Was there an intentional mix of styles, types, genres, etc…? (Christian)
I try to balance out my nonfiction with lighter fiction, alternating between the two.  I tend to feel genre fatigue if I stick to the same kind too long. I also have a fear of books that are too similar running together, so that helps me naturally mix things up. It really is about what I am in the mood for.
Did you discover anything about yourself through the books you chose or the journey itself? (Christian)
I realized that I really love picking up a book without any idea what it’s about. this accidentally happened a few times this year because of how I have been building my Kindle collection in recent years. I read the Bookbub newsletter every day, and I always mark down books that seem interesting to me in Goodreads. But sometimes, when I am feeling particularly crazy, I go ahead and buy it right away. (They are all discounted, relax.) But then I don’t pick up said bought book till months later when I totally forgot why I thought  it sounded good. So I end up just reading it and enjoying it for what it is, without re-reading the synopsis. The surprises are always delightful, and there’s no expectation to shatter.
Did this [challenge] take the fun out of reading or make it a great competition?  (Christian)
 Generally, no, it did not take the fun out of it. It’s exciting for me to have a goal like this. The only time I think it took the fun out of it was trying to read 5 books in a matter of days to hit the goal at the end of the year. I sped through books and didn’t really get to enjoy them. But seeing as I won’t be planning a wedding ever again, I don’t foresee any more such issues with hitting my goal. (Yes, when I have children, I will lower my reading goal to like…5.)
That’s all, folks! I have already started on my 2018 goal (40 books, for real this time!). At least 20 of these books will be the classics. I realized, to fit into my larger 2018 word Foundation (post coming soon), reading the classics would be a great way to mix up my Goodreads challenge this year. Book #1? The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton.
PS – Read my official review of The Inkblots hereThe Tea Planter’s Wife here, and Colored Pencil Painting Portraits here.

PPS -Want to waste more time at work? Then read my yearly book posts for 2016 and 2015! Yawelcome.


Book Review – 5 Stars forColored Pencil Painting Portraits


…tracing of the reference itself contributes to the final artwork about as much as a chalk outline does to solving a murder.


Consider this: You’re in college and you sign up for class for what you believe is Drawing 101. Your first day, you walk in and it only takes a minute before you realize this class is the capstone for an art major. Oops. But you’re already in love with your professor. She is funny, smart, and knows her stuff! She is patient, kind, and you sort of want her to adopt you. So you go to your advisor, change the class to pass/fail, and spend the rest of your semester barely following along, but learning more than any of your friends will ever know.


colored pencil painting portraitsThis was my experience in receiving Colored Pencil Painting Portraits I picked it thinking I could learn to draw with a medium I had at hand. One page into the book, I metaphorically took my Crayola pencils and -dreaded- cotton-based paper and threw them all out the window. Welp, I was in over my head. I can’t draw and this woman was talking about FIXATIVE and SOLVENT and PAPER TEXTURES. What?!


But I kept reading. One, because I promised myself I’d finish 40 books this year (post coming soon!) and two, because I got this book in exchange for a review.


Aloyna Nickelsen makes this book her labor of love. She takes her expertise and shares it in a charming and thorough way. She has researched science, oil painting, and photography so that she could bring colored pencils into the world of fine art. And so she does!


All the time, she is funny and authentic. Her background as a spiritual person who left a Communist country for a better life is present in her off-handed comments peppered throughout her writing. This is not a woman obsessed with one thing only – she is living a full, beautiful life, and colored pencils are her chosen mastered skill and life’s work. Have I mentioned I wish I could meet her?


Overall, if you’re an artist – of ANY kind – read this book. She taught me more than I ever thought I’d know about art in general. I am sure I will in turn have a light bulb moment at some point in my life based on the knowledge she gave me. And if you do want to be a colored pencil artist, then you MUST get to know this and her other works. She is truly the master of her craft. Though I will never be painting portraits of anyone, with any medium, she made me want to go outside under my proverbial window, pick up my Crayola, and start to create. Even if it looks like the work of a three-year-old.


 I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Book Review – The Tea Planter’s Wife

It turned into a golden morning, full of delicate light, and with a pale blue haze drifting over the lake. It seemed strange that after such a terrifying night everything should be so still and normal at the lakeside, with the fresh wetness of the trees and the dew coating the grass. (Excerpt from The Tea Planter’s Wife)
If you’re depressed, or just on your period, don’t start The Tea Planter’s Wife. It begins (and carries through) with an ominous tone. It reminded me of The Miniaturist – one of the few books I have started and promptly stopped. When something makes me sad and anxious, I show it the door.
However, let it be known that I tried reading The Miniaturist in the midst of a dark depression, that I have since conquered. And I started The Tea Planter’s Wife in the midst of PMSing like they warn you about in health class. (You know the kind – everything is awful and the world is ending…oh wait I just checked the calendar, never mind, we’re fine.) Since I’d received this book from Blogging for Books, I decided to carry on and keep reading, lady feelings be damned.
Here we are now, (entertain us), at my blog post for this lush novel by Dinah Jefferies. It was well worth the fight.
Let’s start with the writing. Lush is indeed the word for this novel. It is written beautifully and carefully. The landscapes are vivid even if you’re a literary jerk like me and skim instead of read half the time. And the characters! They are vivid too; in fact, I miss them already.
Now the plot. You will not see any of it coming, really. There were so many roller coaster moments where everything went to crap right after being okay, that I started to think, “oh gosh, this is so dramatic, not realistic.” And then I remembered real life and went, “oh gosh, this is so dramatic, it’s realistic!”
From dragging my feet page to page in the beginning, I read the last two pages as if my eyes were starving. Similarly to my experience with The Fifth Avenue Artist’s Society, The Tea Planter’s Wife made me want to cuddle up to my fiance and never let go till we have lived our own beautiful roller coaster. Damn it, I hate when books make me feel.
The Tea Planter’s Wife is the perfect summer novel for someone who can’t stand crap romance novels and vapid plot lines. It sweeps you away with the story but also leaves you feeling like you enjoyed something of substance. If silly women’s lit is The Real Housewives of Literature, this is the Netflix original series that surprised you into being a fan.
If you’re looking for an escape that won’t make you feel like a twit, grab The Tea Planter’s Wife and enjoy your read.

 I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

The Inkblots by Damion Searls – Book Review

Drink, oh eyes, all your lashes can hold / Of the golden abundance of the world.

An important man in psychological history loved dearly these lines by Gottfried Keller.

If you were a psychology major, like myself, you’ve heard the names Freud, Jung, Milgram, Skinner, and perhaps even Rorschach. You may even have staunch opinions on their theories. No one ever told me, however, what they thought of each other and their work. I never was told that B. F. Skinner was a total snob about the Rorschach inkblots, nor about the strange feud surrounding Freud and Jung, as they pushed aside a smart man you’ve never heard of.

If you are a regular citizen of the world, like myself, you’ve heard of The Nuremburg Trials, Andy Warhol, and Ray Bradbury. No one ever told me, however, how each of these were deeply connected to the inkblots in some way.


The Inkblots, by Damion Searls, is no boring account of a stuffy psychologist. In fact, the decidedly not stuffy Hermann Rorschach dies halfway through this thorough non-fictional account. I reacted to his death like I would a character in a novel. It hurt. But Searls didn’t end there.


At first, I took a little while to get into reading The Inkblots consistently. (Sleeping on the train home almost always feels like the right choice, at the time.) But every time I did force myself to read, I was completely absorbed. This book, with as much information as a textbook, if not more, was anything but dry. Searls categorizes himself as a word person, and this shows in his writing in the best way.


By the halfway point, I was happy to cuddle back up with this thick book when I could. It made me miss being a psychology student. The familiar faces I “knew” in college of Jung, Freud, Rorschach, and Skinner came back into my life. More importantly, I have a newfound respect for Hermann Rorschach – no longer a weirdo with some pictures, in my mind.


Searls paints a portrait of the inkblots through history, from the events that led to their conception, all the way through the author’s own experience taking the Rorschach test today. In narrating the history, he takes the reader on an emotional journey. I found myself rooting for the original integrity of the inkblots as Rorschach intended them.

Finally, I was struck by the sheer impact of one man’s (short) life’s work.

From war crimes, to treating patients, bitter controversy, to pop culture, the inkblots have been used and abused by humanity. To know the story of the man, and the roller coaster of his legacy, opens our eyes to the deep human ability to change the world, in all it’s ‘overabundance.’ I think that’s what Rorschach would have wanted his biography to teach us, after all.
Note: I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

My 35 Book Journey in 2016 – Answers to your Questions & Stats

My Goodreads goal for 2016 was to read 30 books. But because I am such a nerd, I actually read 35.

Just as last year, beating this goal was a joy. I read many great books, learned a lot, and it felt great to brag to people about the number of books I’ve read. I may be a nerd, but I do love to flaunt it.

First, let’s take a look at some fun stats:


I had my friends on Facebook ask me questions about my Goodreads challenge. Here are the questions and answers. Thanks to everyone who participated!

Swift Kick’s new intern Dee asked me a bunch of awesome questions. So we will start with hers:
Which books were most meaningful for you to read?
I would have to say that The Gospel of John and I Love a Cop. 
The Gospel since it was a big step spiritually for me to read a little of a book of the Bible every night until I read the whole thing. I highly recommend reading isolated books at a time if the whole Bible seems overwhelming.
I Love a Cop was incredibly meaningful because it was a fantastic handbook on how to be married to a police officer without going nuts. Since I am about to do  just that in 2017, this book really eased my fears by giving me clear steps to take for the issues that only police families face. I covered this book in notes and highlights, and then handed it to Kieran so he could learn about our future marriage as well, through my eyes.

Which books challenged you (or your thoughts/ideas/current mindset/etc) the most? (This question was echoed by Kristen as well.)
I think Superbetter did this! It’s all about viewing your life, and biggest challenge, with a ‘gameful’ mindset. This book came at a time during which I was getting over the deepest depression of my life, and, coupled with the Superbetter app, helped me take some control back of my happiness. I still use some of the language from this approach today.

At the same time, Superbetter also affirmed some of the things I knew about thinking positively, while framing them in the science-backed psychology mindset that I am so comfortable with.

Which authors would you love to have dinner with?
I actually HAVE had dinner with one of the authors. Katie Cotugno, author of Fireworks, is married to my fiance’s brother. Bet you didn’t see that coming, did ya?


The next questions are from a few of my other friends. 

Elisa: How did last year’s book list affect this year’s choices?
I don’t know that it did too much, to be honest. I will say that my discovery of Ready Player One lead me to read that author’s new book Armada, and also more books of the science-fiction realm.


Last year’s list probably also helped me be more adventurous with looking for books to read, instead of just going with what I know. On the other hand, doing a book club with my company put a lot of books on this list I never, ever would have read on my own. (For example, The Untethered Soul, The Five Agreements, Deep Survival, Quiet, You Might Be a Zombie.)


Sarath: What book do you think you would need/like to reread to understand more fully? Or to take more out of?
I thing that the one book of poetry I read, 99 Poems by Dana Gioia, is a prime example for this. You can always re-read poetry to get a better understanding. I tend to read quickly, so to read it more slowly would certainly give me an even greater appreciation for the collection. Of course, the same should be said for The Gospel of John, since the Bible is meant to be understood more deeply with each reading.


K’yla: Did you ever feel it was a chore? Or more of a goal? Like did it ever feel burdensome or overwhelming to have a stack of books to read?
Hm, good question. No, I never did. I tend to fly through books so quickly that I knew I was going to surpass my goal back in October. Since I don’t have a predetermined list at the beginning of the year, each new book choice is full of possibilities. I would say the reading challenge is one of those goals that are more to make me feel great than challenge me, since I will always be reading and hitting that number.


I wonder what number of  books will be my downfall…? ;)


Alright, that’s my wrap up about my wonderful 35 book journey! I will say, I think I had altogether better book choices in 2015, because how can you beat Ready Player One and The Martian?

Wishing you a book-filled holiday season and New Year!

PS – Read my official review of The Never-Open Desert Diner here!