My Ten Reading Goals for 2019

Are you one of those readers who challenges yourself to read a certain number of books every year? I’m… well, not one of those people. (*lol*) But I do have a consistent reading habit, and the reading goals I set for myself are more or less to guide my book choices throughout the year. For example, I try to prioritize brand new releases I’m interested in so I can stay on top of my favorite genre’s current market. And, as I shared in this post last year, I read at least one poem per day to help me comb through my extensive collection of poetry books.

But what about other goals, like finishing series I’ve already started? Or borrowing books from the library periodically? Yeeeeaaahhhh…. I haven’t been nearly as good with those. So I decided to organize my next year of reading with LOTS of goals. Ten, to be exact. I was a little afraid that creating so much structure could sap the fun out of reading. But now that I see what’s in my queue, these goals might help put a dent in my TBR pile and keep things interesting. Yay!

Without further ado, here are my reading goals for 2019:

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My Favorite Fiction Reads of 2018

Another year has passed, which means another year’s worth of reading to celebrate! Yes, it’s time to share my favorite fiction reads of 2018. And let me tell you: Even though I had a pretty good idea which of the 53 fiction books I finished last year would end up on this list, I’m glad I didn’t share my list right away – because there was a last-minute shake-up!

Like with past best-of reading lists I’ve posted, this year’s showcases my 10 favorite brand new books of 2018 and 10 favorite previously published books. Unlike past years, though, I’ve made two notable changes. First, goodness, there were too many close calls when I tried ranking the books from #1 to #10! So I opted for alphabetical listing by title instead. Second, and sadly, no giveaway this year. As fun as giveaways can be, I can’t give one the attention it needs right now. So I hope you understand my need for keeping things simple, and you still enjoy reading this post regardless.

Ready to dive into the first list? 😉

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Sara’s Favorite Reads of 2017 (Plus, Another Double Giveaway!)

Isn’t it fun to look back on the books you’ve read in the past year? I always enjoy doing this, though I also prefer to wait until January to share my lists of favorites. Somehow the books I read around Christmas and New Year’s have a habit of shaking up those lists – and that certainly was the case again!

Out of the 56 fiction books I read in 2017, I’ve narrowed my favorites down to a top 10 of brand new books and a top 10 of previously published books. Plus, like with my Favorite Reads of 2016 post, I’ve added something fun for readers at the end of this post. 😉 So let’s dive in!

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The Creativity Corner: Autumn 2017 (Plus, I’m on Hiatus for the Holidays)

I guess I should start this post by wishing you a Happy Winter Solstice… But I’m not a fan of winter. 😉 Either way, it’s hard to believe that another season has passed, and what an inspiring and productive autumn it was, creatively speaking. The funny thing is, when I was writing the end-of-summer Creativity Corner, I was already looking ahead to fall… and I realized that October and early November would be the best time to get as much writing done as possible before Thanksgiving and Christmas.

What a fantastic decision that turned out to be – because I’m stunned at how much I accomplished since then! I’ll get into all of that shortly. And as always, feel free to share what you’ve been reading and writing (or revising, editing, etc.) this past season in your comments.
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Favorite Reads of 2015, Part 2: Books Published in 2015 + Reading Statistics

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On Tuesday I shared my 10 favorite non-2015 books I read last year. Today, I share the other Top 10 list: the one for my favorite new books of 2015! 🙂

Like Tuesday’s list, this one will go in ascending order (suspense is the key, remember? *winks*) and will feature a brief explanation of why I included it on this list, as well as links to each review. I’ll also post my reading statistics for 2015, including how many books I read, which genres I read most, and a few random yet interesting bits I discovered along the way. Shall we begin?

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Stacking The Shelves, Vol. 16: Oh Chatham, How I Love Your Indie Bookstores

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Stacking The Shelves is a weekly event hosted by Tynga’s Reviews that shares the books (both physical and virtual) that you recently purchased, borrowed from a fellow reader or the library, won from a giveaway, or received as gifts. Stacking The Shelves will post on Saturdays as new books are added to my shelves.

Located on the “elbow” of Cape Cod, Chatham feels like a second home to me. If I don’t go there once each year, my soul throws a tantrum. 😉 And whenever I’m in Chatham, I always visit the two indie bookstores in the center of town: Yellow Umbrella Books, which highlights used books and Cape Cod-centric novels alongside bestsellers and new releases; and Where The Sidewalk Ends, a two-floor “barn-style” shop with a children’s annex that also hosts a Literary Luncheon series during the summer at the Wequassett Resort. If you’re ever on Cape Cod, make sure you visit both of these gems!

As for the books I bought between both stores… Ohhhhhhhhh am I psyched to share this batch with you!

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Recent Reads: July 2015 (Plus, I’m Back from #WDC15!)

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Recent Reads is a monthly reading wrap-up, with mini-reviews of all the books I finished in the past month. I’ll also share what I’m currently reading and any other books that are in the pipeline. Want to share your bookish happenings, too? Feel free to do so in the Comments section at the end!

Back from my blogging hiatus! 🙂 And WOW, Writer’s Digest Conference was AWESOME! I don’t even know where to begin with describing what an invaluable experience it was. So, all I’ll say for now is that I’ll be writing two articles’ worth (possibly three) of conference coverage for DIY MFA.  It sounds like a lot, but I’ve been so “in the zone” that each piece seemed to write itself in a fingersnap. Unfortunately, this means I won’t have time for a Field Trip post here at the blog – but I’ll do a special edition of Stacking The Shelves instead.  Stay tuned for that on Saturday!

Now, Recent Reads. Last month’s debut of the new format went amazingly well. I’m so glad that readers enjoyed the shorter reviews, and that you’ve been understanding of the change in format. Today I’d like to add one more feature that takes advantage of the shorter reviews: Read of the Month, which highlights my favorite book from the past month. That way, you won’t have to search for the highest rating or most positive review. 😉

So, what did I choose as my Read of the Month? What other books did I devour, figuratively speaking? Find out below!

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Recent Reads: “The Distance Between Lost and Found” by Kathryn Holmes

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The Distance Between Lost and Found
Kathryn Holmes
Contemporary Fiction / Young Adult
292 pages

Synopsis:

Ever since the night of the incident with Luke Willis, the preacher’s son, sophomore Hallelujah Calhoun has been silent. When the rumors swirled around school, she was silent. When her parents grounded her, she was silent. When her friends abandoned her… silent.

Now, six months later, on a youth group retreat in the Smoky Mountains, Hallie still can’t find a voice to answer the taunting. Shame and embarrassment haunt her, while Luke keeps coming up with new ways to humiliate her. Not even meeting Rachel, an outgoing newcomer who isn’t aware of her past, can pull Hallie out of her shell. Being on the defensive for so long has left her raw, and she doesn’t know who to trust.

On a group hike, the incessant bullying pushes Hallie to her limit. When Hallie, Rachel, and Hallie’s former friend Jonah get separated from the rest of the group, the situation quickly turns dire. Stranded in the wilderness, the three have no choice but to band together.

With past betrayals and harrowing obstacles in their way, Hallie fears they’ll never reach safety. Could speaking up about the night that changed everything close the distance between being lost and found? Or has she traveled too far to come back?

Rating: 5 / 5

I had first heard of Kathryn Holmes’ debut novel The Distance Between Lost and Found after listening to her recent podcast on DIY MFA. The story’s premise caught my attention on its own. However, hearing Holmes talk more about her story and the importance of creating a believable setting regardless of genre convinced me that I had to read her book. Now that I have, I feel moved and uplifted by the journey I’ve shared with Holmes and her protagonist, Hallie Calhoun.

The Distance Between Lost and Found is much more than a survival story. It’s about one girl’s struggle to find courage, confidence, and renewed friendship after a traumatic experience, and how getting lost in the wilderness of the Smoky Mountains with two other campers galvanizes her recovery. Holmes tackles several weighty subjects (including bullying and social isolation) during this story, and in a sensitive yet realistic manner. She also offers gradual hints about “the incident,” compelling readers to guess what happened to Hallie until Hallie herself finally reveals the truth. Normally, stories about the painful moments of our teenage years don’t appeal to me, since they remind me of my own difficulties in middle and high school. Not this time. Hallie learns to rise above her situation, and how she evolves is both encouraging and inspiring for teens and adults alike.

Distance doesn’t have a huge cast of characters, and quite frankly it doesn’t need one. By focusing on Hallie and her two companions, Holmes allows readers to get to know all three characters so intimately that they become our friends. Each member of this trio also plays an integral role in the others’ physical and psychological survival in the woods: Hallie for her attentiveness and her sense of responsibility, Rachel for her humor and her listening skills, and Jonah for his Boy Scouts savvy and his gentle no-nonsense attitude. Even after finishing the novel, I can’t say I favor Hallie over Rachel or Jonah, or vice versa. They’re all important and lovable characters in their own right.

Another aspect I enjoyed about Distance was its emphasis on setting. The Smoky Mountains becomes its own character, an expansive and lushly beautiful spirit with a will of its own. Every natural element (flora, fauna, rock, and weather) poses a potential threat; and while Holmes doesn’t shy away from putting the three campers in danger, she lets each peril creep in one by one to avoid overwhelming the reader. Holmes also excels with planting us in the wilderness by engaging our senses. Sound, color, smell, taste, touch  – in every possible way, readers feel like they’re also wandering through the forest and bonding with nature.

Religion can be a touchy subject for some readers, so I’m making a point to say that Distance touches on the subject. That said, the book doesn’t preach any particular beliefs. It instead uses spirituality as a catalyst for exploring all kinds of faith – not just religious faith, but self-confidence (faith in oneself), loyalty (faith in others), and trust. I consider myself agnostic, but I wasn’t offended by the few times when Hallie, Jonah, and Rachel talked about God and whether they believed in Him. The topic rises naturally from the characters’ circumstances, and only when necessary.

What amazes me the most about The Distance Between Lost and Found is how it wasn’t even a blip on my radar until the week of its release. Now, it has a serious shot at being one of my favorite reads of 2015. This is a vividly written, beautifully structured window into the triumph of truth and the human spirit. And with all the news flashes about bullying and the heartbreaking damage it can inflict on children, there’s never been a better time to meet a literary character who chooses not to be a victim. Even if you only read YA contemporaries on occasion, make some time this year for Distance. Even better, share it with a young reader who can benefit from Hallie’s story.

Have you read The Distance Between Lost and Found? What did you think of it? If you haven’t read it yet, do you think you might check it out based on what you’ve read above? Let me know by commenting below or visiting the same review at Amazon or Goodreads.

Playing Harry Potter Spell Book Tag!

Sumaira at Hyper About Books recently shared her Harry Potter Spell Book Tag list and challenged anyone who read it to take part in the game. Well, I couldn’t resist – I mean, we’re talking about Harry Potter, folks! So, here are the ten books I’ve chosen for my round of Harry Potter Spell Book Tag.

1. Expecto Patronum — A childhood book connected to good memories

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Elizabeth Koda-Callan’s Magic Charm Books: Each story tells of a little girl’s struggle to believe in herself using examples such as learning to dance, being cast in the lead role of a school play, and coping with the birth of a new sibling. As a child, I felt connected to the main characters because they were about my age and I could relate to their experiences. What made the Magic Charm Books so special, though, were the necklaces that came with each book. Koda-Callan obviously knew that children often need something tangible to help them apply the lessons they learn. What better – and prettier! – way to help little girls remember the Magic Charm Books’ messages of courage and self-confidence than by offering a necklace with a charm that symbolizes each book’s unique story? Continue reading

Recent Reads: “The Perks Of Being A Wallflower” by Stephen Chbosky

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The Perks Of Being A Wallflower
Stephen Chbosky
Contemporary Fiction / Young Adult

Summary:

Charlie is a freshman.

And while he’s not the biggest geek in the school, he is by no means popular. Shy, introspective, intelligent beyond his years yet socially awkward, he is a wallflower, caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it.

Charlie is attempting to navigate his way through uncharted territory: the world of first dates and mix tapes, family dramas and new friends; the world of sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, when all one requires is that perfect song on that perfect drive to feel infinite. But he can’t stay on the sideline forever. Standing on the fringes of life offers a unique perspective. But there comes a time to see what it looks like from the dance floor.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a deeply affecting coming-of-age story that will spirit you back to those wild and poignant roller-coaster days known as growing up.

Rating: 4.25 / 5, and *Unputdownable*

Awwwwwww! Yes, I had to start my review of Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks Of Being A Wallflower that way. I’ll admit that I was already familiar with the story thanks to seeing the film adaptation starring Logan Lerman and Emma Watson (which I adored!). So, I was looking forward to reading the novel when I finally got it – but I wasn’t expecting it would further endear me to Charlie, the introverted, intelligent yet socially awkward protagonist.

The Perks Of Being A Wallflower chronicles Charlie’s freshman year of high school in the form of letters typed by Charlie to an anonymous friend. The novel acts as the character’s diary, revealing Charlie’s observations, secrets, and discoveries about life as well as the darkest corners of his childhood. Readers learn about his anxieties over high school, his family life, and the new friends who open his eyes and change his life forever. The most memorable of those friends are Patrick, a rebellious senior who celebrates and struggles with his homosexuality, and Patrick’s candid, nurturing, and equally free-spirited step-sister Sam, whom Charlie falls for despite her being in a relationship with someone else.

Chbosky’s epistolary format of The Perks Of Being A Wallflower brings the reader so intimately close to Charlie that it’s impossible not to bond with him. You’ll feel his excitement over attending his first party, his disappointment whenever he sees Sam with her boyfriend, his sadness when he recalls his birthday as the anniversary of his beloved Aunt Helen’s fatal car accident. Perks is also an excellent exercise in voice. Charlie’s language is plain and to-the-point; it truly resembles how high school students talk. At the same time, it masterfully explores the depth of Charlie’s intellect and emotions and lifts it all to the surface in ways that readers of all ages can understand and relate to.

I can understand why some people have challenged or been offended by the book’s mature content (mostly drug / alcohol use and sex). However, I wouldn’t place myself among those opponents, even though I chose not to participate in such experimentation as a teenager. Here’s my take: Had Charlie not dabbled in those areas of life, I doubt he would have grown in the way he needed to in order to move on from his past. Sometimes we have to be thrown out of our comfort zone in order to evolve. By the time Charlie writes his final letter, the core of who he is hasn’t changed, but he’s a stronger, more grateful character who’s ready to live life to the fullest.

The only thing I wasn’t crazy about was how the major revelation of Perks was handled. It sneaks up on the reader, without indication that something unspeakable had happened to Charlie when he was younger. Perhaps his younger self didn’t understand what had been going on, and he had repressed those memories until they clawed their way out at the story’s climax. I swear it was approached differently in the film (gradual hints instead of suddenly), but I could be wrong. Regardless, even though I knew the revelation was coming, the book treats it more like a last-minute plot twist than an explanation for some of Charlie’s behaviors.

I knew I loved The Perks Of Being A Wallflower when I finished it, though. It’s the first novel where I wanted to reach through the pages and hug the protagonist – on multiple occasions, and for different reasons. When a story elicits that kind of emotional reaction from readers, you have to applaud the author. That’s the ultimate reason why Perks is a must-have for every YA lit lover’s bookshelf (though the subject matter requires an open mind) and deserving of its recognition as a timeless classic in its genre.

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Deciding whether to buy The Perks Of Being A Wallflower from Amazon? Let me know whether you found my review helpful by clicking here and selecting either “Yes” or “No.”