What I’m Reading Now and a Quick Catch-Up (1/8/18)

January 8, 2018 It's Monday! What are you reading? 29

Look at this…I’m out of my hole! I haven’t written a Monday update in a couple weeks because of various holidays, so lots to cover today. This past week was supposed to get back to normal, but like much of the country, school was canceled for a couple days and it still feels like we’re on holiday break. 

While I wasn’t posting Monday updates, I did share:

Finally, my Rock Your Reading Tracker will be available for purchase on Thursday! If you want to avoid compiling end of year reading stats in 2018, this is your ticket!

Hosted by The Book Date.

This post contains affiliate links (plus: here’s your Amazon Smile-specific affiliate link).

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I finished reading…

Virgin Suicides, Anatomy of a Scandal, Heating and Cooling
The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides (April, 1993)
I had to read this after Annie Spence raved about it in Dear Fahrenheit 451 (which you should also read)! It’s gorgeously written, nostalgic, and wistful. And, Eugenides created simmering tension that had me almost as obsessed with the Lisbon sisters as the neighborhood boys were. PS – the first and last lines are among the best ones I’ve ever read.
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Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughan (January 23, 2018)
An easy read that I didn’t mind in the beginning, but that I was kind of hate-reading by the end. Mini review coming.

Heating & Cooling: 52 Micro-Memoirs by Beth Ann Fennelly (October 10, 2017)
This memoir told in an unique format came recommended by Annie Jones at From the Front Porch podcast (one of my Go-To Recommendation Sources) and was clever, witty, and delightfully random. I read it in under two hours if you’re looking for a super short one!

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Books I Read While on my December Monday Update Hiatus

I’m currently reading…

Wife Between Us

The Wife Between Us
 by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen (January 9, 2018)

I’m only 15% through this psychological thriller (yet another with “wife” in the title), but I’m not turned off yet (which is rare for a psychological thriller for me!) and hope that continues!
Affiliate Link: Pre-Order from Amazon

Upcoming reading plans…

I’m hoping to fit in a library hold or two before starting on my February releases…

Turtles All the Way Down

Turtles All the Way Down
by John Green (October 10, 2017)

I haven’t read John Green since The Fault in Our Stars, but I’ve heard his latest is particularly poignant and well-done. I suspended by library hold until January 8, so I’m hoping I get my hands on it this week!

was reading…

One Year Ago: I’d finished reading Chris Bohjalian’s 2017 January thriller (which has sort of become an annual thing).

Two Years Ago: I was reading one of my favorite books of 2016 by an author I’m hoping will release a sophomore novel this year!

How was your reading week?

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My 2017 Reading and Blogging Stats

January 4, 2018 Stats 19

2017 Reading Stats

Happy New Year, everyone! Your brains are probably on overload getting back into the swing of things at work. But, I’m still going to throw some more stats at you…at least these are fun ones (for bookworms)!

I gotta tell ya, it was a pain to manually compile all these stats. I keep track of the raw data throughout the year, but I didn’t total everything up until the bitter end. That makes for a lot of work come December 31.

BUT, next year will be so much easier because I’ll be using my “Rock Your Reading” Tracker, which automatically tallies all your stats for you (and even sticks them into pretty pie charts) throughout the year. You can see how you’re doing with your stats as the year progresses and have all the totals (and Summary Charts) at your fingertips come year-end. The Tracker will be available for purchase next week, so you too can avoid all the end of year tallying! 

Reading Stats

I blew through my goal of 100 books with a final 2017 count of 114 books. Thirteen were 5 stars compared to eight last year. This is surprising because I felt like this year’s reading was dismal compared to last year’s. Maybe I feel that way because many of this year’s hyped books failed for me. I also continue to be drawn to lighter books that I can read amidst chaos (at playgrounds, sports practices, with kids running and screaming around me, etc).

% Successful Books:
I personally view a “successful” book as a 3.5 rating or higher. 43% (65 of 152 books attempted, which includes DNFs) of my 2017 books were “successful.” UGH – this is too low! I hope to break 50% next year.

Next year I’ll be using my “Rock Your Reading Tracker” (available for purchase next week!), which will automatically calculate this for me throughout the year! 

I read slightly less literary and historical fiction this year and more general nonfiction (thank you, audiobooks!) and mysteries / thrillers. I think I’m getting over my mystery / thriller burnout (loving Emma in the Night probably helped with that).

I listened to 30 audiobooks this year, 26% of my overall reading. This is up from 15% last year and was integral in achieving my 2017 Goodreads goal of 100 books.

I read 32 backlist books (28% of my reading) this year compared to 21 last year. Another area where audiobooks really helped me.

Publishers / Imprints:

Longest Book Read: The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne (592 pages)…also my favorite book of the year! I’m still shying away from long books. They have to be outstanding to be worth it for me…luckily, The Heart’s Invisible Furies was.

Shortest Book Read: A Short Guide to a Happy Life by Anna Quindlen (64 pages)

Diversity Stats

I don’t set particular diversity goals, but I am interested in seeing where my reading naturally falls…

73% of my 2017 reading was by female authors (up from 66% last year) and 70% of my Best Books of 2017 were by female authors.

15% of my 2017 reading was by POC authors, compared to 14% last year. 

Blog Traffic Stats

This year, I focused on continuing to build my Pinterest presence (it’s my #1 social media traffic source), growing my email subscriber list, and spending more time on Instagram. Not surprisingly, this focus is reflected in my social media and blog traffic numbers.

I didn’t really start paying attention to Instagram until November and am still somewhat ambivalent about it. It takes a lot of time, doesn’t directly drive a lot of traffic to my blog, and it’s now harder than ever to build a following because of the new algorithm. But, I do think it helps get my blog name out there in the #bookstagram community and I am gaining followers, so I’ll keep putting some effort into it for now.

Overall Traffic Source Comparison:

Top 5 Sources 2016
% Traffic
% Traffic
Google Organic Search 49% 43%
Pinterest 17% 21%
Direct 16% 12%
MadMimi Email 1% 5%
Facebook Mobile 3% 2%

Social Media Network Traffic Source Comparison:

Top Networks 2015 
% Traffic
% Traffic
% Traffic
Pinterest 11% 69% 79%
Facebook 36% 17% 10%
Twitter 27%  8%  7%
Blogger 19%  4%  2%
WordPress   1% 1%

Social Media Growth Over 2016:

Network % Increase in Followers % Increase in Traffic
Twitter  22%  65%
Facebook  29%  16%
Pinterest  128%  102%
Email Subscribers  187%  711%
Bloglovin’  51%  43%
Instagram  80%  82%

Blog Stats

Key Takeaways

  • For the second year in a row, “Sticky content” (i.e. recommendation lists like Book Club Recommendations and Page Turner Books) performed well via Google Search and Pinterest. These pages reside in my main menu and are constantly updated with new books.
  • Lists like “Best Books of the Year, Summer Reading Guide, and my quarterly Most Anticipated Books posts continue to perform well and aren’t going anywhere.
  • My best performing book reviews were mostly Spoiler Discussions. This is illuminating for me because I don’t write many of them. I’ll look for more opportunities for Spoiler Discussions in 2018.

Pageviews / Unique Visitors

  • Pageviews increased 70% over 2016.
  • Unique Visitors increased 57% over 2016.
  • My best months (by pageviews) were February, November, October (in that order). I had a post go viral on Pinterest in February and the Fall months are generally high traffic times for me.

Best Performing Posts/Pages of 2017

Best Performing Book Reviews of 2017 (all mostly Google search)

Most Discussed Posts (determined by number of comments in 2017)

My Personal Favorites

What interesting things did you learn from your reading and blogging stats? Who were your most successful recommendation sources?

Eight 2017 Books I Missed

January 2, 2018 Book Lists 34

2017 Books I Missed

There’s never enough time to get to all the books you mean to in a year…especially after adding even more books from various Best Books of 2017 lists to my TBR! But, y’all know my 2017 wasn’t the best reading year. I normally have trouble narrowing this list to just ten books, but this year I was hard pressed to come up with eight. 

The good news is that I actually managed to read 6 (60%) books from last year’s 2016 Books I Missed list! I’m hoping I’ll be able to do the same this year.

This post contains affiliate links (plus: here’s your Amazon Smile-specific affiliate link).

Eight 2017 Books I Missed

American Radical by Tamer Elnoury (October 23, 2017)
This memoir from an undercover, Muslin American FBI agent fighting terror comes highly recommended by Renee at It’s Book Talk. She called it “the most fascinating book she’s read in a long time” and said it “reads like a page-turning novel.” I’ve always been fascinated by the FBI and anything undercover, so I’m definitely looking forward to this one even if I don’t get to it until Nonfiction November 2018!

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Castle of Water by Dane Huckelbridge (April 4, 2017)
This plane crash / survival page turner got almost no press last year, but a couple of my Go-To Bloggers (Renee at It’s Book Talk and Susie at Novel Visits) raved about it. I’m planning to read it as a potential for my 2018 Summer Reading Guide.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Eveningland: Stories by Michael Knight (March 7, 2017)
This collection of short stories set in Mobile, Alabama right before a major hurricane comes recommended from Rebecca Schinsky on Book Riot’s All the Books podcast and from Kelly at the Fountain Bookstore in Richmond, VA.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips (July 25, 2017)
Liberty Hardy called this page turner about a mother and son caught in a zoo during while a tragedy unfolds “the most stressful book she’d ever read.” It was also an August Book of the Month selection, which is one of my Go-To Bookish Media Sources. Another book I’m hoping will be a potential for my 2018 Summer Reading Guide.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Heating & Cooling: 52 Micro-Memoirs by Beth Ann Fennelly (October 10, 2017)
I actually sampled this series of “micro-memoirs” (some are just a few sentences long) when it came highly recommended from Annie Jones of From the Front Porch podcast (one of my Go-To Bookish Media Sources), but the book is so short, there wasn’t actually anything to sample other than the intro pages. It jumped back on my radar when I saw it on Leigh Kramer’s Best Nonfiction of 2017 list.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Nomadland by Jessica Bruder (September 19, 2017)
Susie at Novel Visits said this investigative story into a growing population of people that can’t retire, so they roam the country living out of RVs and working various jobs was surprising and fascinating. Since then, Tara at Running N Reading and Joann at Lakeside Musing have said good things about it. I’m hoping to read it during Nonfiction November 2018 if not before.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

The Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson (July 11, 2017)
It’s been awhile since I read Joshilyn Jackson (Someone Else’s Love Story), but her latest comes highly recommended from Modern Mrs. Darcy and I’ve been hearing great things about it from tons of others as well. I’m finally nearing the top of the library hold list, so will hopefully read it soon!

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

The Second Mrs. Hockaday by Susan Rivers (January 10, 2017)
Catherine at Gilmore Guide to Books told me I should read this Civil War-era story about a young mother who murders her own child while her husband is away at war back when it came out, but I’m skittish about historical fiction, so I never got around to it. I also don’t think I really understood the premise, which does sound enticing to me. Then, I recently heard it discussed on The Readerly Report Podcast, which put it back on my radar (and alerted me to its short length!), and I now have it on hold at the library.

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What 2017 books did you miss? And, which ones do you realistically think you’ll get around to reading?

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Book of the Month January 2018 Selections: What Book Should You Choose?

January 1, 2018 Book Recommendations 26

Book of the Month January 2018 Selections

This post contains affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links, but I’m also a paying customer.

Welcome to my monthly feature “Book of the Month Selections: What Book Should You Choose?”! Every month, I provide commentary on the books that are chosen as that month’s Book of the Month selections that will hopefully help you choose your pick, and tell you which book(s) I’m going to choose. AND, I provide you with the most up to date version of my Ultimate Guide to the Book of the Month Judges with free, downloadable template (below).

The January picks include a number of judges departing from their usual types of selections. We have a massively hyped psychological thriller, a police procedural, a feel-good love story, a historical fiction set during the Spanish Flu epidemic, and yet another The Handmaid’s Tale copycat. I can’t say I’m super psyched about these selections.

Fantastic news…the Book of the Month “Book of the Year” is The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne (my review)! I adored this book and was sorry to see the traditional media virtually ignore it in their Best Books of 2017 lists, so I couldn’t be more excited to see it top this list!

Choose the best Book of the Month selection for you every time!

If you missed it, check out my fun new tool to help you pick the best Book of the Month selection for your taste: my Ultimate Guide to the Book of the Month Judges and free, downloadable template (below) to help you find your go-to BOTM judge!

I’ve added in the most recent judge’s selections, so download the new version even if you grabbed it last month!

Book of the Month January 2018 Selections

The Woman in the WindowWoman in the Window by A.J. Finn by A.J. Finn (Release Date: January 2, 2018)
448 Pages
Average Goodreads Rating: 4.12 on 898 ratings
Selected By: Elizabeth Sile (Senior Editor – Books Coverage, Real Simple Magazine)

What did she see?

It’s been ten long months since Anna Fox last left her home. […]

Anna’s lifeline to the real world is her window, where she sits day after day, watching her neighbours. When the Russells move in, Anna is instantly drawn to them. […]

But one evening, a frenzied scream rips across the silence, and Anna witnesses something no one was supposed to see. Now she must do everything she can to uncover the truth about what really happened. But even if she does, will anyone believe her? And can she even trust herself?

My Thoughts:
The Woman in the Window is a massively hyped debut psychological thriller with a plot that sounds very similar to The Girl on the Train. The publisher is marketing it as great for readers of Gillian Flynn and Tana French and as appealing to readers of genre thrillers and literary fiction. The movie is already in development and it’s been blurbed by big name suspense writers Stephen King (who I don’t trust after Final Girls), Gillian Flynn, Louise Penny, Ruth Ware, and Joe Hill. Library Journal (which almost made my Top 5 Go-To Bookish News Sources) also said it “lived up to the hype” and was a “mature first novel that stands out in a crowded genre.” Goodreads readers said it was good suspense once it got going, but that it had a slow start and some plot holes. Susie at Novel Visits (a blogger I trust) said it was a bit gimmicky and just “so-so.”

The Judge:
Elizabeth Siles is a new “Judge Emeritas,” so does not have a Book of the Month track record. 

Two Girls Down by Louisa LunaTwo Girls Down by Louisa Luna (Release Date: January 9, 2018)
320 Pages
Average Goodreads Rating: 4.1 on 202 ratings
Selected By: Nina Sankovitch (Bestselling Author)

When two young sisters disappear from a strip mall parking lot in a small Pennsylvania town, their devastated mother hires an enigmatic bounty hunter, Alice Vega, to help find the girls. Immediately shut out by a local police department already stretched thin by budget cuts and the growing OxyContin and meth epidemic, Vega enlists the help of a disgraced former cop, Max Caplan. […]

With little to go on, Vega and Cap will go to extraordinary lengths to untangle a dangerous web of lies, false leads, and complex relationships to find the girls before time runs out, and they are gone forever.

My Thoughts:
Two Girls Down is a police procedural and it sounds like genre mystery to me. It’s been blurbed by Lee Child and Michael Koryta, two big name genre mystery authors. Goodreads readers said it was a suspenseful whodunnit, fast-paced, and unputdownable, but that the plot was convoluted and overly confusing. There were also a couple mentions of undefined trigger warnings. Update: Review from Novel Gossip.

The Judge:
Nina Sankovitch chooses mostly literary and historical fiction and has chosen a number of books I’d never heard of. This pick seems to be a departure for her.

Music Shop by Rachel JoyceThe Music Shop by Rachel Joyce (Release Date: January 2, 2018)
320 Pages
Average Goodreads Rating: 3.99 on 1,149 ratings
Selected By: Kim Hubbard (Books Editor for People Magazine)

It is 1988. On a dead-end street in a run-down suburb there is a music shop that stands small and brightly lit, jam-packed with records of every kind. Like a beacon, the shop attracts the lonely, the sleepless, and the adrift; Frank, the shop’s owner, has a way of connecting his customers with just the piece of music they need. Then, one day, into his shop comes a beautiful young woman, Ilse Brauchmann, who asks Frank to teach her about music. […] But Ilse is not what she seems, and Frank has old wounds that threaten to reopen, as well as a past it seems he will never leave behind. […] The journey that these two quirky, wonderful characters make in order to overcome their emotional baggage speaks to the healing power of music–and love–in this poignant, ultimately joyful work of fiction. 

My Thoughts:
Joyce is known for charming, contemporary fiction and the plot of this one sounds like The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry with music instead of books. Eva at Paperback Princess (a blogger I trust) really enjoyed it despite not expecting to and thought it was “kind of a perfect book to combat all the garbage in the world.” Goodreads readers said it was an unconventional love story, a feel-good book, nostalgic, and delightful, but a couple readers who loved her Harold Frye series said it was boring.

The Judge:
Kim Hubbard is my #1 Go-To Judge, so I trust her opinion. Kim’s picks have been eclectic in the past, but The Music Shop sounds more “feel-good” than her past fiction choices.

As Bright As Heaven by Susan MeissnerAs Bright as Heaven by Susan Meissner (Release Date: February 6, 2018)
400 Pages
Average Goodreads Rating: 4.39 on 158 ratings
Selected By: Stacey Armand (“You Be the Judge” Contest Winner)

In 1918, Philadelphia was a city teeming with promise. Even as its young men went off to fight in the Great War, there were opportunities for a fresh start on its cobblestone streets. Into this bustling town, came Pauline Bright and her husband, filled with hope that they could now give their three daughters—Evelyn, Maggie, and Willa—a chance at a better life.

But just months after they arrive, the Spanish Flu reaches the shores of America. […] But even as they lose loved ones, they take in a baby orphaned by the disease who becomes their single source of hope. Amidst the tragedy and challenges, they learn what they cannot live without—and what they are willing to do about it.

My Thoughts:
As Bright as Heaven is historical fiction set during the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic. Its Goodreads reviews are outstanding…I had to dig deep to find anything negative at all. Goodreads readers said the story is well researched and told from multiple perspectives; it’s heartfelt and gorgeously written. People seemed to like the characters and said readers might need tissues. The one negative comment I found was that it was a bit predictable.

The Judge:
Stacey Armand has picked a thriller and a Young Adult (YA) in the past, so this choice is a departure for her. I haven’t read any of her past choices.

Red Clocks by Lena ZumasRed Clocks by Leni Zumas (Release Date: January 16, 2018)
368 Pages
Average Goodreads Rating: 4.17 on 99 ratings
Selected By: Cristina Arreola (Bustle Books Editor)

Five women. One question. What is a woman for?

In this ferociously imaginative novel, abortion is once again illegal in America, in-vitro fertilization is banned, and the Personhood Amendment grants rights of life, liberty, and property to every embryo. In a small Oregon fishing town, five very different women navigate these new barriers alongside age-old questions surrounding motherhood, identity, and freedom.

My Thoughts:
Along with Gather the Daughters, The Power, and Future Home of the Living God, Red Clocks is yet another The Handmaid’s Tale copycat (i.e. feminist dystopian). Susie at Novel Visits (a blogger I trust) DNF’d it around the halfway mark with the caveat that she wasn’t fully able to focus on it. As far as where it falls among The Handmaid’s Tale copycats, she said she was liking it better than Future Home of the Living God, but not as much as The Power or Gather the Daughters. Goodreads readers said it was important, tackled big issues, and had beautiful writing, but was slow, hard to get into, and lacked emotional pull. Some readers did say it was worth it in the end if you could make it through the slow beginning.

The Judge:
Cristina Arreola has selected thrillers in the past, so this is a departure for her. She’s not one of my Go-To Judges.

What Book of the Month Club January 2018 selection(s) will I choose?

For the second month in a row, I’m going to skip.

Despite my #1 Go-To Judge (Kim Hubbard) making an appearance this month, the book she selected just does not sound like something that would appeal to me.

If I was a historical fiction fan, I’d choose As Bright As Heaven since the Goodreads reviews are so outstanding.

Make your Book of the Month Club selections by Saturday, January 6th.

What book will you choose this month?

This Month’s Special Deals

In addition to the five January selections, Book of the Month Club is offering one extra this month (which Book of the Month Club members can add to their boxes for only $9.99 each):

NEW MEMBER DEAL: Anyone who purchases a new BOTM subscription will get 1 month free! Use code MYBOTM.

NEW ANNUAL PAYMENT DEAL: BOTM is now a monthly subscription service. However, given that some members preferred paying upfront, they are now offering a 12-month option. Members who sign up for 12 months will pay $149.99/year. That’s $12.50/book, instead of the standard price of $14.99/month.

How to Join Book of the Month…

Book of the Month is a subscription service for people who like to try new books from a curated selection and like to read in hardcover format. Through Book of the Month, you can get a hardcover book for generally significantly less than you’d pay in a bookstore or through Amazon. And, you get to try something new that has been vetted by one of Book of the Month’s well-read judges!

Sign up for any of the subscription plans below and you get to choose one of five books selected by Book of the Month’s panel of judges (including a surprise guest judge). Book of the Month will then mail your chosen book to your house with a cute note. You also have the option to purchase additional books for $9.99 each and to skip a month if you want.

Sign up for a Book of the Month membership (NEW pricing below)!

New members will sign up for a membership that renews monthly:

A book of your choice for $14.99 / month
Add extra books to your shipment for $9.99 each
Skip any month you want
Free shipping, always

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The Best Audiobooks I Listened To In 2017

December 28, 2017 Annual "Best Books" Lists 10

Best Audiobooks I Listened to in 2017

Audiobooks are a relatively new, but welcome, addition to my reading life. It took me awhile to get into a good grove with them. I had to figure out what type of books worked best for me (lighter nonfiction) and the right times to listen (not while I’m exercising), but I’m now confident enough with my strategy to put together a Best Audiobooks I Listened to in 2017 list.

Even though I’ve been in a good listening groove for about a year and a half, you don’t hear much about audiobooks on the blog because I find it hard to review them (taking notes and marking favorite passages is inconvenient with audio!) and the pressure of knowing I’m going to write about them decreases my listening pleasure. But, I’ve been getting more and more requests for audiobook recommendations, so I’m going to try to be better about sharing my favorites here in 2018…most likely in round-up or extremely mini review format.

Audiobooks are also where I knock out lots of backlist books, so unlike my other Best Books of 2017 lists, this one includes books that were published before 2017.

This post contains affiliate links (plus: here’s your Amazon Smile-specific affiliate link).

The Best Audiobooks I Listened To In 2017

A Mother’s Reckoning by Sue Klebold
Columbine shooter Dylan Klebold’s mother (Sue) shares her struggle following the shooting and Dylan’s suicide in this poignant memoir. I was initially skeptical of this one (would she just try to excuse her son’s actions?) and, while she did search for a “why?”, there was much more to this extremely complex story.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Born A Crime by Trevor Noah
The Daily Show host Trevor Noah’s memoir about growing up as a mixed race child in apartheid South Africa is technically a celebrity memoir, but it’s actually not that at all. It is a heartfelt, funny, sad, and warm story about growing up as an outcast in an incredibly oppressive place.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Daring to Drive by Manal al-Sharif
al-Sharif started the campaign for women to drive in Saudi Arabia and this book is the story of her life as well as a stark portrayal of the oppression women face in Saudi Arabia. This is one eye-opening, heart-breaking read and is perfect for anyone who loved The Underground Girls of Kabul by Jenny Nordberg (my review).

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh
My Mom gave me this book when I was pregnant with my first child seven years ago and it didn’t make much of an impact on me. But, Will Schwalbe made me want to try it again in his Books for Living. The second time, it spoke directly to my core…maybe because I had seven years of motherhood under my belt by then.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake by Anna Quindlen
Listening to Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake was like seeing a therapist and falls into the same category as Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things. Quindlen has such a grounded, practical outlook on life that really puts things in perspective and this book could have made my overall Best Books of 2017 list had it been published this year! 

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

My Year of Running Dangerously by Tom Foreman
After CNN Correspondent Tom Foreman’s daughter challenges him to train for a marathon with her, he ends up running 3 marathons, 4 half marathons, and an ultra-marathon in one year. Not only is this memoir about an impressive running feat, but it’s a sweet story of a father and daughter connecting over a shared hobby. 

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel
The true story about Christopher Knight, the man who lived alone in the Maine forest for 27 years before finally being arrested for stealing food and essentials from nearby vacation homes, is strange, but completely captivating. It’s like a mash-up between a wilderness story and a study of the introverted personality trait and came extremely close to making my overall Best Books of 2017 list

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

What I Talk about When I Talk about Running by Haruki Murakami
This memoir is about running. But, it’s also about writing and the two are inextricably linked for Murakami.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

What Made Maddy Run by Kate Fagan
This heart-breaking story of a seemingly perfect (if you looked at her Instagram account) teenager who commits suicide during her freshman year on the Penn State track team is a must-read for parents of young athletes. 

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? by Alyssa Mastromonaco
This behind-the-scenes memoir by President Obama’s former Deputy Chief of Staff is technically a political memoir, but it really doesn’t include any politics. It’s more a juicy, behind-the-scenes look at working in the White House and on Obama’s campaign trail sprinkled with tips on making the most of your career…all told through the voice of someone you’d love to grab a glass of wine with! 

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

What are your favorite audiobooks of 2017?

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My Most Anticipated Books of Winter 2018

December 26, 2017 Book Lists 29

Most Anticipated Books of Winter 2018

It’s a new year with new books…and, a new method for picking books for me!

After many of my 2017 Most Anticipated Books flopped, I re-evaluated my system for picking books. Previously, I’d comb the publishers’ catalogs and Preview lists from various bookish media sources looking for books that appealed to me. But, all I had to go on was the description of the book and marketing material provided by the publisher. There are precious little unbiased opinions out there months before a book is published.

I realized this system wasn’t serving me well and was leading me to waste time with a lot of books that didn’t pan out. So, I’ve changed things up this year…and it will hopefully benefit you too!

My Most Anticipated Books of Winter 2018 list is almost entirely made up of books from trusted sources (to find your personal trusted recommendation sources, check out this post and free downloadable template) who, in as many cases as possible, have already read the book. For the first time ever, I did not look at a single publisher’s catalog to create this list. I’m sharing the recommendation source for each book and will specify if that source has or has not read it yet.

Finally, I’ve already read two of the books on this list myself and can personally vouch for them!

This post contains affiliate links (plus: here’s your Amazon Smile-specific affiliate link).


Grist Mill Road by Christopher J. Yates (January 9, Picador)
You know how I always rave about the 2014 novel, Black Chalk (my review)?! Well, Grist Mill Road is Yates’s sophomore novel. I’ve already read this one and the bottom line is that, despite some structural elements that bothered me, I couldn’t put it down. A dark, twisty, coming of age story about friendship.

The year is 1982, the setting an Edenic hamlet some 90 miles north of New York City. There, among the craggy rock cliffs and glacial ponds of timeworn mountains, three friends—Patrick, Matthew and Hannah— are bound together by a single, terrible, and seemingly senseless crime. Twenty six years later, in New York City, living lives their younger selves could never have predicted, the three meet again–with even more devastating results.

Recommendation Source(s): Trusted author and I’ve already read the book

Tell Me More: Stories About the 12 Hardest Things I’m Learning to Say by Kelly Corrigan (January 9, Random House)
This memoir absolutely spoke to me in a “yes, that’s exactly how it is” kind of way. It’s funny, relatable, and covers all kinds of big life issues including marriage, motherhood, illness, and religion…yet, it’s a light, easy read. This might be for you if you loved Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake or This is the Story of a Happy Marriage.

In channeling the characteristically streetwise, ever-relatable voice that has defined Corrigan’s work, Tell Me More is a meaningful, touching take on the power of the right words at the right moment to change everything.

Recommendation Source(s): Already read by Annie Jones on From the Front Porch podcast (one of my Go-To Bookish Media Sources) and me

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin (January 9, Putnam)
This is not a book that would naturally appeal to me (psychics?! No, thanks!), but the good reports from trusted sources are piling up and my recent enjoyment of The Rules of Magic (another book with magical elements) has made me more open to these themes I don’t normally go for. I just started it and am enjoying it so far. 

If you were told the date of your death, how would it shape your present?

It’s 1969 in New York City’s Lower East Side, and word has spread of the arrival of a mystical woman, a traveling psychic who claims to be able to tell anyone the day they will die. The Gold children—four adolescents on the cusp of self-awareness—sneak out to hear their fortunes.

Their prophecies inform their next five decades.

Recommendation Source(s): Already read by Renee at It’s Book Talk (trusted book blogger), Susie at Novel Visits (trusted book blogger), and Michael Kindness (co-host of the now defunct Books on the Nightstand podcast)

The Girls in the Picture by Melanie Benjamin (January 16, Delacorte Press)
Melanie Benjamin wrote The Swans of Fifth Avenue (my review), one of my favorite books of 2016 and very best of the Brain Candy. This is all I needed to know to grab this book immediately…but, a trusted book blogger has also read it already. So, we’ve got some icing on the cake!

An intimate portrait of the close friendship and powerful creative partnership between two of Hollywood’s earliest female superstars: Frances Marion and Mary Pickford.

Recommendation Source(s): Trusted author and already read by Susie at Novel Visits (trusted book blogger)


Berlin 1936: Sixteen Days in August by Oliver Hilmes (February 6, Other Press)
I have a slight (OK, massive) obsession with the Olympics and became fascinated with the 1936 Olympics in particular after reading The Boys in the Boat. This was the “Nazi Olympics” and it was used by Hitler’s regime as a propaganda tool. I’m certain the events of this story are fascinating and I hope the book about them proves to be too!

A lively account of the 1936 Olympics told through the voices and stories of those who witnessed it, from an award-winning historian and biographer.

Recommendation Source(s): Published by Other Press (the publisher who brought me Quicksand, one of my favorite books of 2017)

The Glass Forest by Cynthia Swanson (February 6, Touchstone)
I love novels about dysfunctional families and literary suspense (though, I hear this one is a slower burn). Plus, this novel is getting fantastic reviews from regular readers on Goodreads.

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Bookseller comes a gripping literary suspense novel set in the 1960s about a deeply troubled family and three women who will reveal its dark truths.

Recommendation Source(s): Susie at Novel Visits (trusted book blogger) via her 2018 Winter Preview (not yet read)

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones (February 6, Algonquin Books)
I love a good marriage drama and this one is getting great reviews from regular readers on Goodreads. I’ve heard you want to go into this one as blind as possible.

Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young executive, and she is an artist on the brink of an exciting career. But as they settle into the routine of their life together, they are ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined. Roy is arrested and sentenced to twelve years for a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit. As Roy’s time in prison passes, she is unable to hold on to the love that has been her center. After five years, Roy’s conviction is suddenly overturned, and he returns to Atlanta ready to resume their life together.

Recommendation Source(s): Already read and loved by Nicole Bonia (host of The Readerly Report Podcast), published by one of my Go-To Imprints

Sunburn by Laura Lippman (February 20, William Morrow)
Lippman is a new-to-me author and I’m always a little skeptical of psychological thrillers. But, Annie Jones (one of my Go-To Bookish Media Sources) said it was “a different kind of thriller,” which are the kinds that generally appeal to me.

New York Times bestselling author Laura Lippman returns with a superb novel of psychological suspense about a pair of lovers with the best intentions and the worst luck: two people locked in a passionate yet uncompromising game of cat and mouse. But instead of rules, this game has dark secrets, forbidden desires, inevitable betrayals—and cold-blooded murder. . .

Recommendation Source(s): Already read by Annie Jones on From the Front Porch podcast (one of my Go-To Bookish Media Sources)


Bachelor Nation by Amy Kaufman (March 6, Dutton)
I should probably be embarrassed to admit that this is one of the books I’m most excited about for 2018, but I’m truly not! Amy Kaufman has covered The Bachelor for the LA Times for years and I’ve been following her on Twitter for awhile now. I’ll be listening to this on audio the very second it’s released!

The first definitive, unauthorized, behind-the-scenes cultural history of the Bachelor franchise, America’s favorite guilty pleasure.

Recommendation Source(s): Honestly, I don’t even need a recommendation source for this one. I’d read it even if people said it was terrible. But, Annie Jones on From the Front Porch podcast (one of my Go-To Bookish Media Sources) has already read it, so there!

Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao (March 6, Flatiron Books)
I love the focus on female friendship coupled with the India setting. Plus, the Goodreads reviews from regular readers are outstanding. Plus, it’s a debut, which I’m always eager to try.

A searing, electrifying debut novel set in India and America, about a once-in-a-lifetime friendship between two girls who are driven apart but never stop trying to find one another again.

Recommendation Source(s): Liberty Hardy (co-host of Book Riot’s All the Books podcast) on Instagram (has not yet read the book), published by one of my Go-To Imprints.

The Flight Attendant by Chris Bohjalian (March 13, Doubleday)
Bohjalian’s page turners always have an unique element that makes them stand out from the sea of run-of-the-mill thrillers out there. I hear the main character in this one may not be especially likable (which doesn’t bother me, but does bother some readers).

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Guest Room, a powerful story about the ways an entire life can change in one night: A flight attendant wakes up in the wrong hotel, in the wrong bed, with a dead man – and no idea what happened.

Recommendation Source(s): Trusted author

Tangerine by Christine Mangan (March 27, Ecco)
I like the 1950’s Morocco setting and the reports of extreme tension in this friendship. Plus, it’s another debut.

The last person Alice Shipley expected to see since arriving in Tangier with her new husband was Lucy Mason. After the accident at Bennington, the two friends—once inseparable roommates—haven’t spoken in over a year.

But soon a familiar feeling starts to overtake Alice—she feels controlled and stifled by Lucy at every turn. Then Alice’s husband, John, goes missing, and Alice starts to question everything around her: her relationship with her enigmatic friend, her decision to ever come to Tangier, and her very own state of mind.

Recommendation Source(s): Liberty Hardy via Book Riot’s 101 2018 Books list (unclear whether she’s read the book yet).

*All book summaries (in block quotes) are from Goodreads (edited for length).

What Winter 2018 books are you looking forward to?

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What to Expect from Sarah’s Book Shelves in 2018

December 21, 2017 Goals 23

What to Expect from Sarah's Book Shelves in 2018

2017 was a bit of an underwhelming reading year for me. I read some great books (see my Best Books of 2017), but there weren’t as many of them as in previous years and they certainly weren’t the books I expected to be great. This got me reflecting on how to really live my best reading life…on how to get better at picking books that I’ll like and making the most of my reading community. And, things started to look up as I tried out some new methods later in the year. This turnaround helped shape my thinking about where to take Sarah’s Book Shelves in 2018…

Live Your Best Reading Life…

Next year, my primary focus will be on helping you live your best reading life…by sharing some real tools to help you pick better books, by helping you make the most of your reading community, and by sharing the same fantastic book recommendations you’ve always gotten.

Get better at picking the right books for you

Picking the right books for your personal taste is absolutely key to enjoying your reading…and it’s hard to do! Some books may sound like they’re right up your alley, but the pieces don’t actually come together well. Publishers may describe a book in a way that appeals to you, only for you to find that the book is actually nothing like the description. And, on and on…

And, everyone’s reading taste is different. Rather than just sharing my own reading on this blog (don’t worry, I’m not going to stop doing this), I’m also going to help you learn how to choose books that are most likely to appeal to you.

Many of my favorite books of 2017 were recommended to me by trusted sources…and were not the books publishers touted as the “must reads” of the year. I realized the source of the recommendation is way more important than the book itself.

New Tools to Help You Pick Better Books

  • “Rock Your Reading” Tracking Spreadsheet – will enable you to easily figure out who your Go-To and No-Go Book Recommendation Sources are throughout the year (plus, will help you track a bunch of other good stuff…including summary charts that automatically populate as you enter your books). Available for purchase in January.
  • Go-To Recommendation Sources Blog Post Series – I’ll be using my “Rock Your Reading” Tracker to find my Go-To and No-Go Recommendation Sources throughout the year and will share my best and worst sources every quarter.
  • Personalized Book Recommendations for Patreon supporters – I’m planning to start a Patreon page to enable you to support the blog financially…and you’ll get some rewards as a thank you for your support! One of these will be Personalized Book Recommendations similar to the free trial of this service that I ran last Spring.
  • Find Your Go-To and No-Go Best Books of the Year lists – free, downloadable tool to help you figure out which Best Books of 2017 lists are most compatible with your reading taste (already available here).

Make the most of your reading community

One of the biggest joys blogging about books has given me is a huge community of people who love to read and talk books. Many of you interact with me here in the comments section, on social media, or via email. But, until now, you haven’t had easy opportunities to interact with each other. Your fellow Sarah’s Book Shelves readers are a goldmine for great book recommendations since you all have reading tastes that landed you in the same place!

So, I’m going to help you all talk books and get to know each other better!

Ways to Make the Most of Your Reading Community

  • Reader Survey – in January, I’m posting a survey for Sarah’s Book Shelves readers. This will help me get to know you better as a group, which I’m dying to do! And, I’ll share the combined results in a blog post so you can get a collective sense of who your fellow blog readers are.
  • Private Facebook Group for Patreon Supporters – another reward from the Patreon page I mentioned earlier will be access to a private Facebook group where you can talk to other blog readers, share book recommendations, and hear some unfiltered book talk from me.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on what I’m thinking for 2018! Does it sound appealing? Is there anything you were hoping for, but don’t see here? Anything on here you’re not really interested in?

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The Best Books of 2017 Lists I Agree With…and the Ones I Don’t

December 19, 2017 Annual "Best Books" Lists 50

Best Books of 2017 Lists Agree With

As you probably know if you’ve been reading my blog lately, I’ve had this feeling that I was on a completely different page than the serious literary critics about the Best Books of 2017. But, I didn’t really know for sure…

Then, a light went off…I could find out for sure exactly how far I was off from the serious literary critics. And, even better, which bookish media sources I should pay the most attention to (my best) and which I should ignore (my worst)? And, you can too (by using my free Excel template, available for download below)!

I kept track of as many Best Books of 2017 lists from major bookish news sources as possible and calculated what percentage of their Best Books of 2017 I liked / didn’t like. Now that I know my Best Bookish News Sources, I can use these publications or podcasts to pick better books moving forward!

The Best Best Books of 2017 Lists I Agree With Most

These are my Best Bookish Media Sources…

  1. Sorta Book Nerds Facebook Group, an offshoot of the Sorta Awesome podcast (50%)
  2. Modern Mrs. Darcy / What Should I Read Next? podcast (33%)
  3. Book of the Month Club (25%)
  4. Amazon (23%)
  5. From the Front Porch podcast (23%)

My Observations:

  • I’m calling these bookish media sources “the people’s sources,” meaning their followers lean more “regular readers” vs. book industry insiders. They have broader appeal and lean toward compelling stories and entertaining books.
  • The majority of these sources are podcasts, which I didn’t even listen to over a year ago!
  • I’m a bit surprised that Modern Mrs. Darcy made this list as I’d always thought she preferred lighter, happier books than I do. Goes to show what you can learn from looking at the numbers!
  • Amazon is a goldmine to have as a Best source…they publish Best Books of the Month lists each month, which are a great recommendation source that I hadn’t been taking regular advantage of!

The Best Books of 2017 Lists I DON’T Agree With

These are my Worst Bookish Media Sources…

  1. Kirkus (Literary Fiction -43%, Debuts -25%)
  2. New York Times 10 Best Books of 2017 (-30%)
  3. Publisher’s Weekly (-20%)
  4. Bookpage Editors Picks (-16%)
  5. Bustle (-14%)

My Observations:

  • These are the opposite of “the people’s sources.” Let’s get a bit snarky and call them “the literary snobs.” They take themselves very seriously and lean towards heavy, “important” books.
  • They tend to be compiled by the book editors at each publication.
  • I’m surprised by Bustle‘s presence in my Worst group, as I do normally like their book coverage.
  • I often cite Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly reviews in my Book of the Month Club commentary posts since they publish reviews in advance of publication date. I won’t be doing this moving forward!

Some Random Tidbits

  • Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward appears on 13 out of 23 (56%) of the lists. This is the epitome of a heavy, important book that, while I could objectively see why it appealed to the critics, I didn’t actually like (my review). And, while I appreciate books that convey important messages, I also want to enjoy reading them. And, there are books that accomplished both for me (i.e. this year’s Beartown and The Hate U Give).
  • Same goes for Exit West by Mohsin Hamid, appearing in 12 out of 23 (52%) of the lists.
  • Where is The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne, which was my favorite book of the year and is a serious, important book (my review), but is also a compelling and entertaining story? It only made a measly 4 (17%) of the lists (not surprisingly, 2 of them are among my Best Media Sources)! 

Find the Best Books of 2017 Lists You Most Agree and Disagree With!

  • Download the spreadsheet via the sign-up form below.
  • Follow the spreadsheet’s instructions to find your Best and Worst Best Books of 2017 lists.
  • Trust your Best Bookish Media Sources! Use them to pick books moving forward. Most publish “Most Anticipated Books” and mid-year Best Books list, which are great sources for recommendations throughout the year. Maybe you’ll even find some new-to-you sources you didn’t even realize were in line with your taste!
  • Be skeptical of book recommendations from your Worst Bookish Media Sources.

Give it a go! What Best Books of 2017 lists did you agree or disagree with? What are your Best and Worst Bookish News Sources?

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What I’m Reading Now (12/18/17)

December 18, 2017 It's Monday! What are you reading? 22

I spent last week dotting some i’s and crossing some t’s for Christmas preparations, but I’m finally in a spot where I can relax a bit. Shopping is done, gifts are organized (but not yet wrapped), Christmas cards are finally sent (no thanks to Tiny Prints, whose post-Shutterfly purchase system was beyond annoying), and school activities are over. I’m hoping to get some good reading in this week and enjoy the holidays!

If you’ve still got some holiday shopping to do, check out my Best Holiday Gifts for Book Lovers 2017! I’ve got you covered with book recommendations, the gift for book lovers that keeps on giving, and bookish gifts that aren’t books. Best of all, you can get all this stuff without leaving your couch!

Finally, I posted my Best Books (hint: they’re different than the literary critics’ picks) and Best Debuts of 2017 lists and have one more coming (Best Audiobooks I Listened to in 2017). I also have Which Best Books of 2017 Lists Do You Agree With? coming on Tuesday…with a free download to help you find your Go-To and No-Go Bookish Media Sources!

Hosted by The Book Date.

This post contains affiliate links (plus: here’s your Amazon Smile-specific affiliate link).

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I finished reading…

Grist Mill Road by Christopher J Yates

Grist Mill Road
 by Christopher J. Yates (January 9, 2018)
You know those books that you have structural issues with, but you still can’t put down? Well, Grist Mill Road was one of those. Also, once you realize what the cover means, it’s absolutely chilling. Mini review coming.
Affiliate Link: Pre-Order from Amazon

I’m currently reading…

The Party by Elizabeth Day

The Party
 by Elizabeth Day (August 15, 2017)
I’m about 70% through this psychological story (notice I didn’t say thriller…it’s definitely not one) about two British, school friends that culminates at one of their 40th birthday parties. It’s decent, but I’m not dying to get back to it. However, I am intrigued enough to want to see how it ends.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Upcoming reading plans…

It’s the time of year when I’m alternating between backlist books and 2018 new releases…unless library holds throw a wrench in my plans. I’d planned to read The Virgin Suicides last week, but library holds did throw a wrench, so I’ll try to fit it in after my next 2018 release…

Tell Me More by Kelly Corrigan

Tell Me More: Stories About the 12 Hardest Things I’m Learning to Say by Kelly Corrigan (January 9, 2018)
This essay collection by the author of Glitter and Glue comes recommended by Annie Jones at From the Front Porch podcast, one of my Go-To Recommendation Sources.

was reading…

One Year Ago: It was the day after Christmas!

Two Years Ago: I finally read The Handmaid’s Tale!

How was your reading week?

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The Best Changes I Made in 2017

December 15, 2017 Blogger Events 32

Best Changes I Made in 2017

My family went through a lot of change this year and much of my mental space and emotional energy was focused on that. My other outlets had to slide in where they could, so I wasn’t focused on intentionally adding more change to the situation. But, more change did find me.

I’m going to focus on three major changes, all of which I didn’t really intend to make this year, but came about accidentally / out of necessity. One is blogging-related, one is reading-related, and one is neither, but all of them are long-term and on-going.

Linking up with A Month of Favorites hosted by Traveling with TEstella’s Revenge, and GirlXOXO.

This post contains affiliate links (plus: here’s your Amazon Smile-specific affiliate link).

Listened to Online Business-Related Podcasts

This year, I started listening to some online business-related podcasts (The Strategy Hour, Brilliant Business Mom, The Chopped Podcast, Simple Pin Podcast, and Online Marketing Made Easy) and they completely changed my thinking about this blog. For a long time, I’ve had vague ideas of shifting from blog to business, but I didn’t have a consistent business-focused mentality about it. These podcasts helped me shift my thinking from “hobby” to “business (even a small one).” 

There are certain things that many online businesses (including blogs) do as a matter of course, but that book bloggers don’t do for some reason. These podcasts have helped me see that I can and should do this stuff. I’ve already implemented a number of simple tips from these podcasts and have been plotting how to tackle some bigger ones.

I’ll be sharing more about what to expect from Sarah’s Book Shelves in 2018 in a later post, but a lot of it stems from pairing this with my next change…

Figured out How to Pick Better Books

Since starting this blog, I’ve chosen what books to read by combing publishers’ catalogs and various “Most Anticipated Books of X Season” lists, which give you the book’s premise, the publishers’ selling points, and author blurbs (those quotes from well known authors that are on the cover of new books…endorsements, if you will).

I finally realized this system has not been serving me well! The early information I was using to make decisions came from the very people who want to sell as many books as possible (i.e. publishers). So, of course they’re going to slap “THE thriller of 2017”-type labels on books that may or may not be very good. I don’t blame them (it’s their job to create hype), but I don’t have to listen to them.

So, I started thinking about a new system for picking books. Many of my favorite books of 2017 were recommended to me by trusted sources and weren’t on my radar during all that catalog combing. I realized the source of the recommendation is way more important than the book itself.

Over the last few months, I tracked all my recommendation sources and numerically figured out who gives me the best (and worst) ones. I’ll be using this system to pick books moving forward (and I hope you’ll join me!) and integrating this theme into everything I do on the blog next year, including…

  • My Most Anticipated Books of Winter 2018 list (coming on December 26) will mostly be books from trusted sources who, in as many cases as possible, have already read the book. For the first time ever, I did not look at a single publisher’s catalog to create this list.
  • A tool to help you figure out which Best Books of the Year lists are most compatible with your reading taste (coming on December 19).
  • I’m working on a Reading Tracker that will enable you to easily figure out who your go-to and no-go recommendation sources are throughout the year (plus, a bunch of other good stuff)…which will be available for sale in January.

Started Exercising for Longevity

This last change was forced upon me when I threw out my back in February, but I learned some valuable lessons that will serve me well over the long-term.

Up until Winter 2017, I ran a lot (including occasional races) and did Sprint Triathlons. Throwing out my back forced me to drastically cut back my exercising and I haven’t competed in a race since Thanksgiving 2016. The long recovery and endless hours of physical therapy since then have taught me how to exercise for longevity…and that longevity should be my goal now that I’m approaching 40.

What does this actually mean?

  • Don’t go all-out every workout. I should go hard about 2 days a week and convert some of my weekly workouts into recovery workouts at an easier pace.
  • Spend more time on recovery. For me, this includes foam rolling, recovery yoga (I love Jasyoga’s videos), sleep, and stretching.
  • Increase the strength training, cut back on the cardio (which is hard on my joints). I’m now strength training 4 days/week and doing cardio 2 days/week rather than the reverse. And, my strength work is heavily focused on glutes, hips, and core to protect my lower back.
  • Appreciate the ability to just go for a run…at whatever speed feels good to me that day.
  • Listen to my body. If something hurts, stop whatever I’m doing. If I’m really dragging, take some rest. My body is probably telling me something.

What were the best changes you made this year?

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